2014 Mets Power Rankings: Pre-Spring Training

The Mets certainly appear to be rebuilding biding their time this 2012 season. So let’s concentrate on the future by keeping track of the present. Thus, the 2014 power rankings, a weekly or every-other-weekly feature where we track the rising and falling stock of the 2014 Mets in the 2012 season. The question: Who is the most important player to the 2014 Mets?

For a player to be eligible for the 2014 Mets power rankings, he must be:

  • In the Mets’ organization
  • Under team control through at least 2014
  • . . . and that’s it

You all voted two weeks ago. Here are the initial rankings, prior to Spring Training 2012:

1. Ike Davis

The consensus #1 pick, and it’s going to take a lot to knock Davis out of this top spot. As it stands, he looks good for 25 home runs, 40 doubles, 80 walks and good defense at first base every year – and that’s at age 25, with room to add pieces to his game. Davis should be hitting his prime in 2014, about the same time the Mets are ready to compete again. He should overtake David Wright as the face of the franchise sometime before that.

That’s a bittersweet thought. I’m going to watch highlights of the 2006 Mets and listen to “The Promise” in a dark room now.

2. Ruben Tejada

I’m proud: The collective you put Tejada at #4, behind Davis, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. But we’re still bumping Tejada up to #2. (Or, really, we’re bumping Harvey and Wheeler down a couple of spots. Explanations for that in their comments, but the short version is that they’re pitching prospects.)

Tejada is here because put up a .360 on-base percentage, hit 15 doubles, and played a fair shortstop in the major leagues as a skinny 21-year-old. The performance is passable, but the key here is the age: An enormous number of young major leaguers grow into all-star players, and Tejada remains younger than half of Baseball America’s top 10 Mets prospects. Tejada has been in the majors for two seasons already, and has a lot of room to improve. That’s why he’s #2.

3. Daniel Murphy

The crowd had him #10 — maybe you all figured Murphy gets traded before 2014, or begins suffering from the opposite of panic attacks, or some other misfortune occurs. That could all come true, but he’s still here for the time being and will be ranked as if he’s here to stay. And since we’re ranking him . . . Daniel Murphy is now a career .292 hitter who can play four positions (two well, one dangerously, and one interestingly). If he can figure out how to avoid dying at second base – my suggestion: doctors rebuild his knee joint backwards so he has legs like a flamingo* – Murphy could give the Mets a run of .290/.340/.450, 10 home run, 40 double seasons, playing all over the field. He’s not going to be the Mets’ best player, but he could be one of their better players for the next few years.

*I know that a flamingo’s backwards “knee” joint is really an ankle joint. Please don’t leave any all-caps comments informing me otherwise.

4. Jon Niese

Niese is #4 here because of his 3.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio from last season and excellent 3.36 mark in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), an ERA-as-it-should-be statistic. The strikeout, walk, and home run rates are right where Niese needs them to be – the next steps are to get the ERA to match and finish the season strong, two things he’s been unable to do so far.

Brain Stumper: Name two facts about Jon Niese you can’t learn from his Baseball-Reference page!

5. Lucas Duda

Readers had him #6, I have him #5 – I think we agree. We all know Duda can hit: He led NL rookies in on-base percentage last season, cracked 10 home runs and 21 doubles, and seemingly hasn’t tapped into all his power yet. The issue is the defense. Duda is a big, slow guy, and big, slow guys generally play first base. Only the Mets have 25 first basemen and a “Jason Bay” on their active roster right now, so Duda goes to right this year. If he can prove himself something better than abysmal in the outfield – more like Josh Willingham than Adam Dunn – he should rise on this list.

6 & 7: Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler

Readers had them #2 and #3; I have them #6 and #7, with Harvey ahead of Wheeler because Harvey is closer to the majors. But here’s why I knocked them down:

Harvey and Wheeler, depending on who ranks them, have been falling somewhere around the #30 spot on prospect rankings this winter. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranked Wheeler at #28 and Harvey at #38; Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked Harvey at #25 and Wheeler at #30. Baseball America hasn’t released their list yet, but they ranked Wheeler as the Mets’ top prospect and Harvey as their second best. The consensus is that Harvey and Wheeler represent the gems of the Mets’ farm system, and the pair are two of the 15 best pitching prospects in baseball (although both are closer to #15 than #1).

How often do these types of pitching prospects – good pitching prospects, top 10-15 pitching prospects – actually pan out?

We can estimate by looking at similar pitchers from past prospect lists. Between 1998-2007, there were 50 pitchers who appeared between the #20 spot and the #30 spot on Baseball America’s list. Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, and Cliff Lee are three of those pitchers; Ryan Anderson, Boof Bonser, and Wilfredo Rodriguez are three more. Mike Pelfrey is one of those 50 pitchers. There’s a variety of names in that group, but of those 50 pitchers . . .

  • Five never pitched in the majors
  • 10 pitched in the majors, however briefly, and finished below replacement level
  • Five became mediocre relief pitchers (e.g., Angel Guzman: fewer than 1.0 career WAR)
  • Eight became Pelfreys (Mike Pelfrey, Jeremy Bonderman: between 1.0 and 10.0 career WAR)
  • Five became decent setup men (Sean Burnett, Jon Rauch)
  • Three became good closers (Francisco Cordero, Bobby Jenks)
  • Four became quality starting pitchers (Edwin Jackson, Gavin Floyd: 10-15 career WAR)
  • Five became good starting pitchers (Rich Harden, Mark Mulder: 15-20 career WAR)
  • Five became top starting pitchers (Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez: 20+ career WAR)

The average is 7.2 WAR per player. If we take these subgroups and combine them into three large groups:

  • 40% were ultimately disappointments: middling relievers, sub-replacement starters, and the pitchers who never made it to the majors
  • 32% became useful pitchers: setup men, closers, or Pelfreys
  • 28% became good pitchers: aces, all stars, and quality starters

Most of them, 60%, became useful major league players – but 40% of them did not, and 72% failed to become more than a solid reliever or a Pelfrey. And these pitchers were all, at one point in their career, as exciting as Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey are today. Most failed to live up to those expectations.

The point being: It is possible that both Wheeler and Harvey become important parts of the 2014 Mets, although it may not be probable. If you imagine the two are a pair of dice, the odds both become quality starting pitchers are similar to the odds of rolling an 11 or higher, while the odds they both fail is similar to the odds of rolling a four or below. Roll a five or six, you end up with one Pelfrey and one bust; roll a seven, you get two Pelfreys; roll an eight, you get a quality pitcher and a bust; a roll of a nine or 10 gets you one Pelfrey and one quality pitcher.

That is to say that half the time, you end up with a single Pelfrey or worse.

Harvey and Wheeler have an enormous amount of upside . . . but they’re also pitching prospects. Even top pitching prospects fail with alarming regularity. I can’t justify putting either pitcher ahead of Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, Jon Niese, or Daniel Murphy, players who are already useful major leaguers for the Mets. And that’s why I bumped them down here.

8. Josh Thole

Thole finished #13 in the reader poll. Bah. Give him some love. It’s easy to concentrate on Thole’s inabilities – he doesn’t hit for power, doesn’t throw well, bought a Cole Hamels dog – but he’s also a catcher with a .350 on-base percentage, doesn’t make many errors, and oh my gosh the dog is deaf and they taught it sign language how cute is that . . .

9. Dillon Gee

He has the second-best career ERA among the Mets’ projected starters for this season.

10. Jeurys Familia

Readers ranked him #5, which again, may be too high for a pitching prospect.

Familia comes in at #90 on Jonathan Mayo’s prospect list, #89 on Kevin Goldstein’s list, so let’s do the same thing we did with Harvey and Wheeler. Let’s take a look at pitchers ranked between #85-95 on Baseball America’s lists between 2007-1998 – that gives us 51 pitchers similar in quality to Jeurys Familia. Here’s how those 51 pitchers turned out:

  • 10 never pitched in the majors
  • 14 pitched in the majors, but finished below-replacement level
  • Seven were middling relievers (fewer than 1.0 career WAR)
  • Seven became useful relievers (more than 1.0 WAR: Danys Baez, Guillermo Mota)
  • Nine became Pelfreys (Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny)
  • One became a top reliever (Jonathan Papelbon)
  • One became a quality starting pitcher (Ricky Romero)
  • One became a good starting pitcher (Erik Bedard)
  • One became an ace starting pitcher (Matt Cain)

The average career WAR is 2.5. If we take these sub-groups and put them together into three bigger groups:

  • 61% were disappointments: Sub-replacement level pitchers, poor relievers, and the pitchers who never made it to the majors
  • 31% become useful pitchers: Middling starters or decent relievers
  • 8% become good pitchers: A top reliever or a good starting pitcher

In other words, 61% of pitching prospects similar to Jeurys Familia ultimately disappoint, either by never reaching the majors, having short careers, or by becoming middling relievers. 61% fail. 61%! The odds are against Familia amounting to anything.

If that sounds too disappointing, we can frame it another way: If these pitching prospects were a single hitter, he’d be hitting .390. So, you know, that’s good.

Anyway, my thinking is that Dillon Gee has to be ahead of Familia, because Gee is already a useful major league pitcher and the odds are against Familia becoming as much . . . are prospects overvalued? If you could have either Dillon Gee or Jeurys Familia, which one would you take? My gut says Familia, but it seems that Gee might be the correct choice . . .

11. Jenrry Mejia

Arm surgery – Tommy John must get tired doing all those operations by himself — forces Mejia below Familia for now. Once Mejia shows he’s healthy, he should move up the rankings. He was sitting in the 40s and 50s in prospect rankings before last season, so imagine his chances are somewhere between Harvey/Wheeler and Familia.

12. Kirk Nieuwenhuis

He’s probably a solid fourth outfielder/starter on a bad team, but there’s still some upside. He’s ahead of the other hitting prospects because he’s the closest to the majors.

13. Reese Havens

Again, there’s still upside. But he can’t stay on the field, and it’s not like the numbers are THAT great. He could fall fast.

14. Cesar Puello

Puello can run, throw, field and hit – and gets hit with enough pitches to make up for otherwise poor plate discipline. If he’s hitting for power in Double-A this season, he’ll move up fast as a possible-impact position player in the upper minors.

15. Wilmer Flores

Flores fell off top 100 prospect lists this winter, and he’s just hanging on in the top 15 here. He’ll be 20 this season though, and a good season in Double-A could turn everything around. But probably not and someone knocks him off real early.

If anyone’s wondering, Hey, where’s Brandon Nimmo, we voted him #11 . . . he’s probably at home. But if you’re wondering where he is on this list, Nimmo will be 21 years old on Opening Day 2014. If he’s contributing to the 2014 Mets, that would be really exciting, if fairly unlikely. There were 15 high school players taken in the first round of the 2008 draft, and just three (Eric Hosmer, Brett Lawrie, and Jordan Lyles) played in the majors at all last season. If Nimmo is in Double-A in three years, that would also be great. We’re not totally discounting it yet — if Nimmo somehow hits his way up to High-A this season, then he’s got a shot at this list. But probably not.

Near misses: Jordany Valdespin, Bobby Parnell, Juan Lagares, Josh Satin, Cory Mazzoni, Justin Turner, Mike Baxter

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17 Comments

Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

17 responses to “2014 Mets Power Rankings: Pre-Spring Training

  1. The research you did on pitching prospects is really excellent. I know the intent of the article was to tone down some of the hype but I actually like these odds. Having two good pitching prospects (Harvey and Wheeler) and two decent ones (Mejia and Familia) is pretty exciting. So, as it stands, we have 4 raffle tickets.

    • Patrick Flood

      Right, and it’s only a 1 in 20 shot you walk away totally empty handed if you have four of them. It’s not necessarily the quality of pitching prospects but the quantity.

      • It’s kind of like drafting defensmen in the NHL. I’m an Isles fan (which is great practice for rooting for the Mets from about 2009-2013) and we’ve got the same thing going for us: about 15-20 “promising” prospects who are nearly all performing very well in minors or on their juniors and college teams… and of whom, we can realistically expect to have one, maybe two stars, another couple of quality guys, maybe another two or three useful parts, and a bunch of JAGs (Just A Guy) and busts.

        And the killer as always – do the Mets know which of their four pitching tickets will pay off, if any? Nope. The lucky thing in being in their spot is that they get to hold them all until they have a better idea: maybe half the numbers get read off and the Mets can see who matches those so far, like the big 50/50 drawing at a local carnival. But if they get close to contention again and it’s time to swing another “put us over the top” deal, they have to hope that they keep the right ticket.

      • AV

        I think Paul DePodesta made the same point during a Mets telecast this past season. I think he said something to the effect of “if 50% of your pitching prospects reach the major leagues, you’ve done extremely well” and that was the reason the team was stockpiling on minor league arms.

        It was during a game the Mets were playing in San Diego so if you have access to the SNY archives you might be able to pull that video and confirm for us readers exactly what he said. :-)

  2. “Brain Stumper: Name two facts about Jon Niese you can’t learn from his Baseball-Reference page!”

    He has a big nose, and, umm…. that’s all I’ve got.

  3. AV

    “Brain Stumper: Name two facts about Jon Niese you can’t learn from his Baseball-Reference page!”

    Not sure if these count for one or two (or not at all):
    1. Jonathan Niese was born on the day the Mets won Game 7 of the 1986 World Series.
    2. He was born on the same day as Pedro Beato.

    • Patrick Flood

      I mean . . . you can learn his birthday from his Baseball-Reference page. I don’t know if that counts or not — we’ll count the two together as one fact.

      • AV

        Agreed, the birthday is on his Baseball-Reference page but the fact that the Mets won Game 7 that same day is not on his page. The Beato coincidence is something I noticed on Mets.com when I was looking up the roster.

        Thanks for the partial credit!

  4. Jon Niese facts:

    1. He always sounds like he’s sedated when he gets interviewed on tv.
    2. He had a 3.36 FIP last season (That’s not on his B-Ref page…you didn’t say not to use Fangraphs/what you wrote!).

    Also, I for one love the use of “Pelfrey” as the name for the generic innings eater. It paints such a vivid picture in my mind.

    • Patrick Flood

      I think it’s a useful word. Like someone asks, “Hey, what’s the deal with Jason Marquis?” And the answer is: “He’s a Pelfrey.”

  5. Great work Patrick. I love that this will be an ongoing list. I also loved the insight and research, especially with the pitching prospects. The only thing I didn’t love…was your lack of love for Jordany Valdespin.

    I don’t know how he doesn’t make the top 15. Even at #15 ahead of Wilmer would satisfy me. That said, if we stop focusing on the detailed negatives (maturity, errors, too many caught stealing), and focus on what he can do (you did this for Murphy, Thole, Havens)…this kid has to be top 15. In two years and with accountability and maturity, his tools could be refined and he could be a real good player for us. Now I know this is all projecting, but I look at what he did too well last year (hit for average, great pop, and stole bases) as a middle infielder, and it makes me drool at his potential.

    • Patrick Flood

      He’d be #16, if that’s any help . . . I went back and forth between Flores and Valdespin for a while. Valdespin is obviously closer, but Flores has more upside. Here’s why I have Valdespin out of the top 15:

      - We’re going on 107 games in Double-A — very good games, but he hasn’t matched that performance elsewhere.
      - You can’t field .920 as a major league shortstop. He’s a second baseman.

      If we’re going to focus on the positives, he’s a step away from the majors, he hit 17 home runs, 32 doubles and stole 37 bases as a middle infielder. A fast start in Triple-A, and he’ll rocket up the list. I’m not sure he’s better than Justin Turner yet, and Turner is already in the majors.

      • I think we’re basically agreed, only you have Flores at #15 and ‘Spin at #16, and I’d switch the two. If you put/keep him at 2B, I think his value goes up in my eyes because that cuts down his errors. Turner might be a better option now, but we’re talking 2014 remember?? :)

        As for Flores, I’ve been saying slow him down and let him develop for years. I’m definitely on the upside bandwagon because he is only 20. I mean I just don’t see the rush. I would take my time and let the kid know sustained success before even ever thinking of calling him up. I mean, If he goes St. Lucie in 2012, Binghamton/New Britain/wherever our AA team is in 2013, and Bufalo in 2014, he would still be playing in the MLB in 2015 as a mostly 23 year old.

  6. Of the two, I’d say Harvey has a better chance of succeeding than Wheeler, mainly because Harvey has decent control which is more valuable than Wheeler’s raw pitching ability. Wheeler is just so hit or miss that its far more likely that he’ll never gain the proper control needed to harness his pitching prowess.

  7. 9. Dillon Gee

    He has the second-best career ERA among the Mets’ projected starters for this season.

    :::weeping softly:::

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