Fangraphs Projects Mets to Have Second-Worst Rotation in Baseball. They’re Wrong.

By: Brian Mangan

Just a quick hit for today, as we covered the Mets’ rotation at length in our season preview article published on Monday.

The news is right there in the headline – Fangraphs projects the Mets to finish 29 out of 30 in terms of WAR (wins above replacement) generated by their starting rotation.  Here are their projections for the Mets:

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(fangraphs: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2014-positional-power-rankings-starting-pitchers-16-30/#more-147563)

These projections are absurd, and kind of lazy.  Although the writer states in his article that the Mets’ rotation could be better, they are not playing to win in 2014 and therefore “What the Mets rotation is and what it could be are two very different things.” Also, projections are projections and I wouldn’t expect the writer to jerry-rig them simply because I am optimistic about the Mets rotation.

However, the Mets rotation is going to be much, much better than advertised above.  Not only are the projections for individual players not likely to be accurate, but the projections on playing time look pessimistic as well.

Take, for instance, Dillon Gee, projected at 0.7 WAR.  As we wrote in our preview article: “Dillon Gee posted a 2.74 ERA in the second half of the season last year with great peripherals (53K/15BB) yet nobody expects that his step forward was for real . . . Over the last two seasons, Gee has posted xFIP of 3.54 and 4.00, but Steamer projects him to a 4.31 ERA.”  Even if you don’t buy Gee as improved and ready to take a step forward, he had a 3.93 FIP in the second half last year, a Madduxian K-BB ratio, and he’ll be playing in front of an improved defense.  Forecast of a regression to a 4.15 FIP is silly.

With regard to Jon Niese, we wrote this on Monday: “Should Niese be healthy, he may be a pleasant surprise for the team this year. From 2010 to 2012 he posted WARs of 1.7, 2.4 and 2.2. Should he merely replicate his 2012 season, he would exceed his projections (of a miniscule 1.1 WAR) by a substantial amount.”  Niese is presently struggling with injuries, but the team expects him to be ready by the start of the year.  He’s projected for a 3.72 FIP, but only 123 innings.  If he beats either of those, he’s going to reach 2 WAR.

Ultimately, for the Mets to be looking at a staff like the one listed above, nearly all of the worst case scenario things would have to happen: Matsuzaka will have to be bad but still be allowed to have twelve starts, Colon will have to turn in his worst season in 4 years, Wheeler will have to show little to no improvement in year two despite “stuff” scouts have raved about for years, Gee will have to pitch worse than he did last year and the year before, Mejia will have to regress from his great cup-of-coffee and this strong spring to post a dreadful 3.94 FIP, Niese will have to be hurt and ineffective, and Montero and Syndergaard will be limited to 66 innings total despite both of them being projected to have K/9’s of 8+ in the majors with FIP projections of 3.65 and 3.40 (which means they would be dominating in Triple-A).

[FN] On the topic of Mejia, Eno Sarris published a great piece on him today at fangraphs as well.  Eno is always on point.  He stated: “the slider has been revelatory (27% whiffs, 50% ground balls). That alone is a “sit up and take notice” moment, but in order to tell it like it is, you have to mention that his change-up was great all along (18% whiffs, 71% ground balls).”  Mejia has great stuff.  If he’s healthy, and leans on that slider, he could be great, just as he was last year in his limited action.

Some of these things might happen.  Heck, some of these things are almost guaranteed to happen.  But for all of them to happen would be impossible, even for the Mets.

Does anyone expect a Mets rotation of Colon-Wheeler-Gee-Niese-Mejia (with Syndergaard and Montero ready) to be demonstrably worse than Andrew Cashner-Ian Kennedy-Tyson Ross-Eric Stults-Robbie Erlin (SD) or Jeff Samardzjia-Travis Wood-Edwin Jackson-Jason Hammel-Carlos Villanueva (CHC) or James Shields-Jason Vargas-Jeremy Guthrie-Bruce Chen-Yodano Ventura (KC) or the blech worthy Twins rotation (Nolasco-Correia-Hughes, Pelfrey, Gibson)?

If the Mets have health, it’s not crazy to think that the rotation could have a floor of 10 WAR total. I’ll take my chances with this rotation any day, and we’ll see at the end of the season who is eating crow, me or fangraphs (hint: not me).

N.B. I love fangraphs, I love projections, and I love WAR.  But there is good use of statistics and bad use of statistics.  For the author of this particular fangraphs article to not look at the Mets’ placement on the list and go “wait a second, this is wrong” is lazy at best.  As I’ve said in many articles, WAR is a great tool; but any jabroni can sit down and crank out WAR numbers and call it a day.  It takes a real baseball fan and a real analytical mind to take those numbers, as a starting point, and crank out some coherent and useful analysis.  

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Brian Mangan is an attorney living in New York City, and vividly remembers his excitement in 2003 when the Mets acquired Pedro Astacio as a reclamation project.  He soon after stopped pinning his hopes on reclamation projects.  He also vividly remembers thinking Yusmeiro Petit was the best prospect in baseball.  He soon after stopped pinning his hopes on prospects with gaudy stats and no scouting praise.

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