Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jose's Departure

Jose should be bloody ashamed of himself not going with the 78 fucking
million dollar deal with the Mets; beloved teammates, fans; home-base,
as it were. Talk about the .05%!
-e-mail I received from a friend.

In an alternate reality, where the Mets did sign Reyes:

Fred and Jeff Wilpon are sitting around a shabbily decorated Christmas tree:

Fed: Now, I know that you wanted that bike we saw for Christmas…

Jeff: I sure did pop! It was bright red, and had ten-speeds and a bell and everything!

Fed: Well, son, I sure wish I could have gotten it for you…

Jeff: Gee, you mean you didn’t…

Fred: Well, I really wanted to…but you know how tight money has been around here, ever since we had to spend over a hundred million dollars on Jose Reyes’ contract.

Jeff: I know, pop. But a hundred million dollars sure seems like an awful lot of money, for just one ball player…

Fred: It is, son, it is. But remember, we did it for the fans.

Jeff: Golly, that’s right! The fans sure will be glad to have Jose back! Say, I don’t care about any bike! This is the best Christmas ever!

…I guess what I am trying to say is that it really bothers me when people talk about athletes making too much money. If someone is making too much money, it just seems belligerently myopic to focus on the guy getting the hundred million dollars as opposed to the guy deciding weather or not to give it to him.

On some level, I understand the idea that it would be nice if players were to accept reasonable deals, since even a very modest spots deal represents more than the vast majority of people will ever have a chance to earn in their lives, but if Jose had signed with the Mets for $78 million dollars, the Wilpons would have just pocketed the savings. If they had gotten a bargain on Reyes they wouldn’t have lowered ticket prices—they would have raised them, because Reyes being there would have made them worth paying to see. The most fan friendly thing that they could conceivably have done would be to use the savings for further player acquisitions—and their motive in doing that would be to protect their investment, by making their on field product more successful and more valuable. So, if you are asking Jose Reyes to take a nickel less than his market value, you are basically asking him to give Fred Wilpon free money. What’s that Fred? The government made you give back some of the free money that you made off of Bernie Madoff’s ponzie scheme (which you totally should have known about, you disgusting fucking nit-wit)? Don’t worry Fred, have some more free money in the form of a sweet-heart deal from Jose Reyes-- if there’s one thing that I hate, it’s seeing Fred Wilpon without a pile of money that he didn’t actually work for.

That is why it makes me happy when athletes make obscene piles of money—because at least athletes are good at something. Are you in the top 0.001% of the population when it comes to hitting a round ball with a round bat? Cool, have a giant pile of money. Fred Wilpon has such a giant pile of money that he can dispense these lesser giant piles, yet Fred Wilpon, as far as we can tell, sucks at being Fred Wilpon: he is too dumb to realize when he’s making money on a Ponzi scheme, he hires jack-asses to run his team, and he pisses on his players in the press.* If we have to live in a world where some people have giant piles of money and others don’t, I am much more ok with the giant piles of money being in the hands of those whose unique talents delight and entertain millions, than it being in the hands of actual rich people.

There is something that is sort of like capitalist pornography about athlete contracts. In the real world, people get laid through complex processes, involving longing, loneliness, lust, guilt and shame—in the pornographic world it is much more direct: you delivered a pizza to my house? Ok, let’s fuck. You have a unique and valuable skill? Ok, let’s make you rich. It’s much more exposed than the brand of capitalism that you run across in your daily life: you can look at amounts of money over years, and compare that with player statistics, and the expected value of a win, and watch it all jiggle and gyrate. The key fantasy of capitalist pornography, analogous to the big-breasted blond who just wants to blow everyone, is the spectacle of a worker with actual leverage over his employer selling his labor for the most extravagant price that the market will yield.

The Mets didn’t sign Reyes because the team stinks so much that it isn’t worth making long term investments on the big league level. If there was any cause for optimism about the club in the next three to four years, the contract Reyes signed would represent an expensive, but fair, investment—there isn’t any cause for optimism, so they let him walk. If anyone should be ashamed, I say that it’s the guy who owns the terrible team, rather than the guy who prefers not to play for the terrible team** at a discount.

*I’m alluding, of course, to Wilpon’s asinine comments in The New Yorker from the start of the season. Amongst other things, Wilpon blamed Beltran for striking out with the bases loaded to end game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. While I know that Wilpon isn’t alone in this, I’ve never gotten it: how the hell do you think that losing a seven game series comes down to one at-bat? Sure, if Beltran had gotten a hit the Mets would have won, but lots of other people could have won it for the Mets and didn’t. Fred, you fucking moron, the best parts of your rotation for that series were the mummified remains of Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez (or was he already hurt?)—game 7 was started by Oliver “the-goddam-worst-pitcher-to-ever-start-a-game-7-for-anyone,-ever” Perez, and you have the nerve to blame it on Beltran? Your take-away from that experience is “Beltran is a chocker and should have won it for us,” not “sweet zombie Jesus our pitching is fucking dreadful, how the shit did we make it this far at all?” That’s the kind of thinking that you expect from some Albanian dude who learned about baseball five years ago. What the fuck were they doing in the ‘70s, just handing out free real-estate?

**Everyone is saying "well, you have to understand why the Mets don’t want to sign such an injury prone player,"—but maybe you also have to think about why an injury prone player wouldn’t want to sign with the Mets. If you’re Jose, you have to know that the ultimate success of your career is going to come down largely to how healthy you can stay. And I think that Jose probably has every reason to feel that his best chances for doing that lie with a team called “not-the-Mets.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

This Long Post about Mike Pelfrey is Brought to you by Unemployment!

It was way back in the early days of April: the Mets, against everyone’s expectations, had been scoring runs, but had lost a couple of games behind rotten outings from Mike Pelfrey. After about two hours of listening to callers on the Steve Summers show complaining about Pelfrey’s lack of mental toughness and demanding that he be ought-righted to the glue factory, I had had enough: I called in and very calmly pointed out that the season was all of six days old, and that if we were going to assume that Pelfrey would stink all season we might as well assume that the Mets were going to average 6 runs a game as well, which wasn’t going to happen either. In time, I said, the Mets offense would return to mediocrity, and Pelfrey would go back to being a ‘B+’ pitcher. Steve conceded my point, and admitted that overreacting in the early days of the baseball season wasn’t exactly reasonable, but they had to talk about something, already.

It’s humiliating enough call the Steve Summers show in the first place. It is infinitely worse to have your point proved epically and disastrously wrong. Thanks, Mike.

In 2011, Pelfrey’s contributions to the Mets have ranged from putrid to mediocre. His performance (and the lack of an immediately available alternative) is just good enough to justify continuing to give him the ball; his history is just good enough to offer some increasingly faint hope that he has a run of above average games in him. I still disagree with Steve and his callers and think that Pelfrey’s problems have less to do with his mental state and the stress of being named ‘ace of the staff’ in Santana’s absence, and more to do with his just not being all that good at baseball, but at this point it’s a minor difference: Pelfrey stinks, and the only reason to keep running him out there is because someone has to pitch.

But how much does Pelfrey really stink? Are we harsh on him in light of the fact that every year from 2006 on was supposed to be the year that Mike Pelfrey blossomed into an innings-eating #2 starter? Are we unreasonably kind to him because while he might be a stiff, at least he’s our stiff? How much does he stink compared to other people who are routinely tasked with being the starting pitcher in professional baseball games?

Baseball Prospectus’ Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) is a statistic that tells how many games a team has won by using that particular player, rather than a hypothetical replacement player from the minor leagues or some other team’s discard pile. It is a counting stats (like runs home runs, or innings pitched) rather than a rate stat (like batting average or ERA)—so it is playing time sensitive. The replacement player isn’t league average or real--he just stands for the level of production that you could reasonably expect to get without really trying. So when they say (and they do say) that Mike Pelfrey has a WARP of 0.3 it means that the Mets have won three tenths of a game more behind Mike Pelfrey than they would have behind Joe McSucksatbaseball.

Mike Pelfrey’s WARP of 0.3 has him tied for 9th on the team with Pedro Beato and Dillon Gee. No regular starter on the Mets has a lower WARP. Gee, however, has taken six fewer starts to accumulate his three-tenths of a win above terrible, so Mike Pelfrey’s claim to worst starter on the Mets is pretty rock solid. Jon Niese leads the Mets with a WARP of 3.3; Chris Capuano (2.2) and then R.A. Dickey (1.1) round out the Mets pitchers who have more than one win above replacement to their credit. This, children, is why the Mets aren’t very good.

The Mets start Mike Pelfrey because they don’t really have any choice but to start Mike Pelfrey: its not like they have a ‘potentially good’ pitcher in the minor leagues whose progress Mike Pelfrey is impeding, or any money burning a hole in their pocket waiting to be turned into a ‘league-average’ pitcher. It’s not like their continued devotion to Mike Pelfrey is going to cost them a shot at the pennant (their devotion to five starting pitchers who are not much better than Mike Pelfrey did that long ago). I got to wondering: where would Mike Pelfrey, long believed to be a potential second or third starter on a decent team, fit on other teams pitching staffs? Is there a team in the National League who could improve their rotation by starting Mike Pelfrey?


Philadelphia Phillies:

Pelfrey’s 0.3 WARP would put him in 10th place on the Phillies, tied with Joe Blanton, who went into the season as the Phillies fifth starter—and then got hurt after making only six starts. The Phillies did give eleven starts to Kyle Kendrick, who has a WARP of -0.1. On the other hand, Roy Haladay (5.5) has provided as much WARP as the Mets top two starters put together. Vance Worly (1.6, 14 starts) would be the third best pitcher on the Mets.

Atlanta Braves:

Pelfrey would be the 12th best pitcher on the Braves, tied with reliever Scott Linebrink. No one who has started more than two games for Atlanta has a lower WARP.

Washington Nationals:

Mike Pelfrey would rank 9th in WARP, tied with Ross Detwiler, who has pitched in eight games and made three starts. In five starts Yunesky Maya accumulated 0.1 WARP. Mike Pelfrey would not necessarily crack the Nationals rotation.

Florida Marlins:

Mike would rank 12th on the Marlins, between Leo Nunez/Chris Volstad (0.4) and Ross Detwiler (0.2). Volstad is a starter and wroth almost exactly as much as Pelfrey (sorry, Chris).The Marlins have given 13 starts to players with lower WARPs than Pelfrey’s: Jay Buente (1 start, 0 WARP), Elith Villanueva (1 start, -0.2) Clay Hensley (25 games, 5 starts, -0.2) and Brad Hand (8 starts, -0.4). Pelfrey might be a fifth starter for the Fish, but probably not.


Milwaukee Brewers:

Pelfrey would be in a tie for 11th best Brewer with reliever Sean Green. You might remember Green from such crappy Mets teams as last year’s and the one before that. But then again you might not, because he was hurt for a lot of that time, and wasn’t memorable or interesting when healthy. No one who has made a start for the Brewers has a WARP lower than 0.7—that belongs to Marco Estrada who has mainly been a reliever. Chris Naversson and Randy Wolfe are the worst regularly starting Brewers at 1.7 WARP.

St. Louis Cardinals:

Pelfrey would fall between Octavio Dotel (0.4) and former Met Raul Valdes (0.2) at 10th best on the Red Birds. However, he could probably find a job as their fifth starter. While their top four starters are all comfortably Better Than Pelfrey (BTP), guys like Kyle McClellan and Edwin Jackson have made multiple starts and yielded negative WARPs.

Cincinnati Reds:

Pelfrey would be ranked 9th, with Cuban reliever Aroldis Chapman. Again, Pelfrey probably could pitch for the Reds, where Edison Volquez (16 starts, 0.2 WARP) and Bronson Arroyo (24, -0.2) have been given multiple opportunities.

Pittsburgh Pirates:

Pelfrey would be tied at 9th with Chris Leroux, and worse than anyone who has made more than two starts for the Bucos.

Chicago Cubs:

Palfrey would be tied with Casey Coleman and Kerry Wood for 11th best Cub pitcher. Not only did the former start nine games, but the Cubbies have given 15 starts to Randy Wells, who has pitched to a WARP of -0.3, making the Cubs yet another team who could probably give innings to Pelfrey without dragging down the quality of their rotation.

Houston Astros:

Pelfrey shares his 0.3 mark with Jordan Lyles, Brett Myers and Nelson Figueroa (!!), and it is good for 7th best on the team. Brett Myers has made exactly as many starts as Pelfrey, with the same uninspiring results. N-Fig racked up his 0.3 in eight games and five starts. I don’t even know if he is still on the team nor do I especially care: I imagine that Astros management feels pretty much the same way. Henry Sosa started one game and managed a WARP of 0 and is the only pitcher to start for the ‘Stros with a WARP below 0.3, so Pelfrey could be Houston’s fifth starter without anyone noticing that anything had changed.


Arizona Diamondbacks:

The D-backs also have a large-ish 0.3 club: Micah Owings, Joe Patterson and Juan Gutierrez; it is good for 8th best on the team. Owings (the pitcher who will occasionally pinch-hit) started four games and Snakes have given a total of 18 starts to pitchers with negative WARP value, so the Snakes could probably use Pelfrey as a fifth starter—making the fact that they lead their division all the more surreal.

San Francisco Giants:

If Pelfrey were a Giant, he would be tied with relief pitcher Dan Runzler as the 11th best pitcher on the team. He would be being out-pitched by former Met Guillermo Mota (0.4). He would be out pitching Barry Zito (9 starts, -0.3 WARP). He would not be starting regularly.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Pelfrey would share the 8th rank on the Dodgers with Rubby De La Rosa and Jon Garland, both of whom are starting pitchers. No one significantly worse than them has made multiple starts, so, again, Mike Pelfrey could slip into the back of the Dodgers rotation without anyone noticing.

Colorado Rockies:

Pelfrey’s 0.3 brothers on the Rockies are Houston Street and Aaron Cook (12th on the team) and the latter has been used exclusively as a starter. Kevin Millwood, Clay Mortenson and Greg Rryolds have all started games while yielding negative WARP values, so Pelfrey might provide (gasp!) an upgrade.

San Diego Padres:

In San Diego, Pelfrey shares his 0.3 with relievers Luke Gregson and Kevin Spence, where it ranks as the eleventh best on the team. Anthony Bass, normally a reliever, made one spot start and has accumulated a 0.1 WARP. Other than that, the lowest WARP for a Friar who has started a game is Wade LeBlanc’s 0.6, accumulated in six starts.

So, according to WARP, in the National League, the Diamondbacks and Rockies would improve their rotation with Mike Pelfrey, while the Cardinals, Cubs and Reds would likely do so. The Astros and Dodgers could slot him in without anyone noticing. On no NL team would Pelfrey be better than a fifth starter.

Obviously, this is a very cursory analysis that leaves out lots of factors, among them health. On some clubs the guys who are BTP are injured, or might get injured, and those clubs would not necessarily turn away from Mike Pelfrey in disgust. WARP is clearly not the be-all, end-all of a player’s value, but I think in this instance it gets the point across, and the point is this: Mike Pelfrey exists on exactly the cusp of how bad a pitcher can be before they stop letting them pitch. Pretty much every single team in the National League has found a way to give four out of five games to a pitcher who is better than Mike Pelfrey. According to Baseball Prospectus’ WARP, out of 122 pitchers who have thrown over 100 innings in the major leagues in 2011, Mike Pelfrey is ranked 114th. Mike Pelfrey has been having a horrible, horrible season.

I guess you have to assume that the Pelfrey will be better next year, because there really isn’t any way for him to be any worse. On the one hand, it all isn’t terribly important: it doesn’t really matter who you’re fifth starter is, if the rest of the rotation is good. Some of the teams who have been giving the ball to guys who are worse the Pelfrey are doing just fine for themselves. On the other hand, Mike Pelfrey is clearly a fifth starter or worse this season, and even if he bounces back somewhat, the Mets need to find themselves some reliably BTP starters before they can even think about contending.