New York Mets

Sleepers & Busts: Jonathon Niese, Justin Verlander

After kicking off this series last week with a look at Kenley Jansen and Michael Young, we continue today with a pair of starting pitchers.

Just a friendly reminder: The labels bandied about here -- "sleeper" and "bust" -- are relative to average draft position, courtesy of Mock Draft Central. For example, Carl Crawford would have provided sufficient value in the 24th round last year, but since he went off most draft boards in the first or second, he became a bust. You get the idea.

Jonathon Niese, Mets, ADP: 218.75

For some, Niese's appearance in a piece like this will elicit sleeper-list fatigue, while others will see it as an opportunity. Indeed, Niese has been a preseason breakout candidate a couple years running now, and those who've invested (hopefully not too heavily) have yet to be rewarded. However, the lefty's 2011 peripherals suggest that this could finally be The Year.

Last season, Niese flirted with periphs befitting a bona fide No. 3 fantasy starter: 7.89 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 51.5% GB rate. Just for kicks, compare those to Ricky Romero's: 7.12 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 54.7% GB rate. Niese bested Romero in two of those three categories, which, as Meatloaf tells us, ain't bad.

If you pour Niese's 2011 peripherals into the SIERA blender, it spits out a tidy 3.42 figure. Fantasy owners would have gladly taken an ERA in that neighborhood, but instead they were (mis)treated to a 4.40, rendering Niese a decent streaming candidate but hardly a must-own. Romero owners, meanwhile, laughed all the way to the bank with a 2.92 ERA/3.78 SIERA.

The one-run difference twixt Niese's ERA and SIERA can mostly be explained by his below-average strand rate of 67% and his alarmingly high .333 BABIP. Ground ballers typically have higher BABIPs than their flyball counterparts, and the Mets' infield defense is no great shakes at this point, but with a little more luck, Niese's BABIP will trend closer to .300, and with it, his ERA and WHIP will both come down.

With Niese's peripherals already rivaling pitchers who are being drafted far sooner (11 rounds, in Romero's case) than him, the southpaw is one to keep in your back pocket. He's had a couple injuries (unrelated to his arm) already in his career, so don't reach too far, but you'd be wise to regard him as someone who could bring real value to your roster if things break right rather than someone who's just filling out the back of your rotation.

Justin Verlander, Tigers, ADP: 8.81

Verlander, the winner of both the AL Cy Young and AL MVP in 2011, is a classic example of a fantasy commodity who's a victim of his own success. The right-hander was a fixture as a fourth-round selection (at least in my drafts) for several years before his fortune-addled 2011, and now some foolish owners are drafting him with their first pick.

Simply put: Don't be That Guy. Verlander is a terrific pitcher, but in terms of the peripherals, he didn't become appreciably better in 2011 than he was in 2010, 2009, or 2008. And more importantly, there was no way of predicting in which of those seasons his SIERA would be closer to 3.00 or 3.50. To his credit, Verlander refined his already solid control last season, whittling his BB/9 down to 2.04, but it was his well-above-average 80% strand rate and freakishly low .236 BABIP that were the real culprits.

To be clear: I have no reason to believe Verlander will be anything less than his career-average self in 2012. That should place him safely in the third round -- maybe the fourth depending on your league, although I find it hard to believe he'll last that long. But for the right-hander to warrant a first-round pick (or any pitcher, for that matter), he'll need to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the pitching field, which is an impossible standard and tought to predict.

To wit: Let's say Verlander wins 18 games, strikes outs 219 in 224 1/3 innings, and posts a 3.37 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Great season, right? Indeed. However, in 2010, when Verlander put up those very numbers, he was No. 41 overall on ESPN's Player Rater.

Reigning RotoAuthority champ Tom Warman suggests that taking a hurler before No. 15 overall is too soon in this new Era Of The Pitcher, and I tend to agree. Verlander should be a perfectly suitable fantasy ace once again in 2012, but he won't produce like a first-rounder, so be sure to pay accordingly.

Can David Wright Bounce Back?

Mets third baseman David Wright will most likely be drafted between the 12th and 18th pick in your 2010 fantasy league.  If you have a pick or two in that range, your decision whether to draft him could affect your team's chances greatly.  In 2009 drafts Wright seemed like a safe choice at 3rd overall, yet his .307-10-72-88-27 line had some labeling him a bust at year's end.

Was Wright truly a bust?  According to ESPN's Player Rater he ranked 7th among third basemen and 64 among all players.  Obviously he was a letdown in the power categories, but if you blame this pick for losing your league you're just making excuses. 

More importantly, what can we expect from Wright in 2010?  You may recall that Wright was struck in the head by a Matt Cain fastball on August 15th, an injury that he admitted remained in the back of his head a month later.  Wright told Newsday's Anthony Rieber, "You see a ball that kind of comes up and in, it makes you flinch a little more than normal."  The symptoms from that injury caused Wright to dip to 535 ABs in '09, so we'll assume he jumps back to his typical 600.  As for the mental aspect, we can only guess whether the time off will straighten him out.  Wright had his worst month of the season after returning from the beaning in September.

Projection systems don't know about the mental side of the Cain beaning.  They also can't tell us whether moving to Citi Field got into Wright's head.  Assuming 600 ABs, here are three projected lines:

  • Baseball HQ: .295-20-96-103-23
  • Bill James:  .302-23-99-100-24
  • CHONE: .305-24-104-102-21

Very similar results...they're all just penalizing him for '09 by predicting fewer than 25 HRs.  But more simply, Wright averaged 29 HRs in the four seasons prior.  A return to 30 HR is entirely within reach for the 27-year-old.  Any logical forecaster is going to say Wright's power will return and his strikeouts will come back down in 2010.

On the other hand, Citi Field isn't going anywhere.  Greg Rybarczyk of Hit Tracker Online has suggested Wright lost nine home runs to the new park in 2009.  If he'd hit 19 bombs and driven in 85, it would've been easier to write off '09 as a blip.

We've learned that Wright is likely to bounce back to some extent, though he's riskier than ever.  In my tentative batter rankings, Wright is 17th.  I am not one to spring for a pitcher in the first few rounds, so my question is how many hitters I'd rather take than Wright who will not be there for a subsequent pick.  Though my early rankings have 16 hitters above Wright, Holliday, Reyes, and McCann may be available with your following pick.  There are nine players - Pujols, Hanley, Braun, A-Rod, Utley, Kemp, Howard, Cabrera, and Fielder - I'd have to take before Wright.  Beyond that, I'm not convinced that Teixeira, Longoria, Lincecum, Mauer, Kinsler, and Crawford need to go before Wright.

There's my current debate - Teixeira, Longoria, Lincecum, Mauer, Crawford, and Kinsler vs. Wright.  One point in Wright's favor is that he's projected to give balance - above-average contributions in all five categories.  Drafting exactly 12th (in a 12-team league) might make the decision easier, as you could take Wright and one of the six back-to-back.

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Citi Field: Pitchers' Park?

Eric Simon talked to Greg Rybarcyzk of HitTracker, who believes the Mets' new stadium will play as an extreme pitchers' park.  Might be worth inflating your projections for Johan Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Francisco Rodriguez, and J.J. Putz.  And whatever other starter they end up signing.

HitTracker is useful for fantasy baseball players, by the way.  For example, Mark DeRosa led MLB with nine "lucky" home runs in 2008.  A lucky home run is defined as "a home run that would not have cleared the fence if it has been struck on a 70-degree, calm day."

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J.J. Putz Trade Examined

Mets GM Omar Minaya pulled off a blockbuster trade Monday, adding J.J. Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed to the organization.  Let's take a look at the fantasy baseball ramifications.

Of the three players the Mets added, Putz should have 2009 mixed league value.  The common refrain in the fantasy mags next year might be that Putz lost all his value because he's become a setup man.  That's not true.  If healthy, Putz could be among the best setup men in baseball.  Based on his 2006-07 numbers, he's capable of striking out 80-100 with microscopic ratios.  Plus, he's moving to the NL.  There's also the possibility that Francisco Rodriguez gets injured or isn't available three days in a row, leaving save chances for Putz.  Pick him up in the late rounds and be rewarded.

The Mariners received Aaron Heilman, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, Franklin Gutierrez, and three minor leaguers.  Heilman is intriguing - he could be squeezed into the rotation, or he could remain in the 'pen and even find save chances.  He could be useful if he rediscovers his control, but should be a bench pickup at best.  I'm not thrilled with the fantasy value of the rest of the package, though Gutierrez could have his uses if you spot-start him against lefties.  And he did toss up a .313/.389/.476 line in the season's final two months.  He should be the Ms' regular center fielder.

The Indians inserted themselves into the deal rather than go all-out to try to get Putz to keep.  Joe Smith and Luis Valbuena do not figure to have fantasy value in '09. 

MLB Trade Rumors: Alfonso Soriano to the Mets?

The latest MLB trade rumor picking up steam is Texas second baseman Alfonso Soriano moving to the Mets for prospects.  Back when Soriano was rumored to be going to Cleveland, we delved into his stats a bit to determine his true value.

Our conclusion was that Soriano has a wealth of fantasy value but much less real-life value.  His below average on-base skills and moderate stolen base success rate aren't overcome by his huge power numbers.  Nonetheless, Soriano is a great player for you to target in a trade at this point in the season.  Moving from Ameriquest to Shea would certainly have a detrimental effect, but not enough to cause concern in fantasy baseball.  As we stated before, try to deal a replaceable closer for a commodity like Soriano. 

Stepping outside the realm of fantasy for a moment, should the Mets make this trade?  The short answer is no.  For a team with a major problem getting the top of its lineup on base, Soriano doesn't help.  His fielding is not spectacular either.  There also remains the question of what talent the Mets would have to surrender.  One could almost see a repeat of the Scott Kazmir scenario here. 

If the Mets are forced to give up their top prospect, outfielder Lastings Milledge, this trade would be a terrible one.  The Mets are just on the fringe of the wild card and can't afford to continue abandoning future stars.  Milledge was excellent in A ball last year, and has just been promoted to AA.  He's only 20 and the world is his oyster.  In a Texas Rangers 2007 outfield, Milledge could be a force to be reckoned with.

And as with Kris Benson, the Mets will feel compelled to sign Soriano to a long-term deal in the offseason to justify their mid-season trade.  Minaya has been wise to go after only the best available players so far, but Soriano would be a misstep.      

Team By Team Sleepers - New York Mets

The Roto Authority would like to start off this New York Mets entry with a non-Met aside. 

Man, Eric Milton is terrible this year.  We're talking worst-signing-of-the-century bad.  Worse than Christian Guzman even.  It's one thing to want Milton on your team for three years.  That's bad idea number one.  But to want to pay him $8 mil a year?  Next time I negotiate something, I want Eric Milton's agent involved.  That guy could negotiate an Eskimo to sign up for three years of ice cube delivery for $25 million.  Either that or Reds GM Dan O'Brien is dumb.

On to that other New York team, the Mets.  At this point, many expected the Mets to be better than two games over .500.  It may be related to how bad their infield is besides David Wright.  Speaking of Wright, if a fellow owner does not appreciate him for some reason, offer the world to pick him up.  If you are out of the race, try a dump trade like Manny Ramirez for Wright.  Wright is only 22 and he's developing more power and stealing more bags.  Plus, Willie Randolph is hitting him 5th now.  If the Mets ever get a few players in front of him who actually get on base, Wright should be able to drive in 110 or more.

Even The Roto Authority did not expect the excellence of Kris Benson.  Benson has shaken off all distractions and put up some nice numbers, justifying his bloated contract slightly.  Benson is 30 now, doesn't strike a ton of guys out, and gives up a decent number of home runs.  He makes a pretty good sell-high candidate.  He may have a few more good years left, but if you can pick up a young guy with upside go for it.

A Mets pitcher to look for for your 2006 or 2007 fantasy team is Yusmeiro Petit.  Provided Petit isn't traded to Tampa Bay in a moment of idiocy, he will be a solid Major League starter for New York.  He's putting up some nice numbers at AA right now and is very polished.  This year he was rated the fourth best pitching prospect by Baseball Prospectus (interestingly, right behind Scott Kazmir).   

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