Archive for Mets

Finding Nimmo: Projecting the Newest Met

Michael Conforto was supposed to be one of the Mets’ top run producers this year. After storming through the minors last year, the 2014 draftee wound up being a crucial part of his team’s run to the World Series last year. The year 2016 hasn’t been as kind to him, however, which prompted the Mets to send him back to the minor leagues. In his place, they called up another young outfielder: Brandon Nimmo.

If you feel you’ve been hearing about Nimmo for a while, it’s probably because you have. The Mets drafted Nimmo in the first round out of high school way back in 2011: a time long, long ago, when Mike Trout was still in the minors and Matt Kemp was in the midst of an eight-win season. Although he’s been around awhile, Nimmo turned just 23 in March, making him younger than Conforto.

Based on his early performances in the Mets’ system, Nimmo looked like something of a bust. He hit just .259/.382/.374 over roughly 300 games the low minors from 2011 to -13, and then proceeded to hit a miserable .202/.306/.238 in the Arizona Fall League. Most concerning of all, he was striking out in over one-fourth of his trips to the plate.

But once the calendar turned to 2014, Nimmo began living up to his first-round draft pedigree. He broke out in a big way when he slashed .322/.448/.458 in his half-season in High-A. He came back to earth a bit following a promotion to Double-A, but still managed to put up solid numbers across the board, all while keeping his strikeout rate under 20%.

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Michael Conforto’s Wrist and the Language of the CBA

On Saturday, the New York Mets announced that the team was demoting struggling outfielder Michael Conforto, optioning him to Triple-A Las Vegas. On one hand, the Mets’ decision to send Conforto to the minors wasn’t particularly surprising, as the second-year player had been in the midst of a deep slump, hitting just .148/.217/.303 since May 1.

On the other hand, however, the timing of Conforto’s demotion was potentially a bit controversial in a different respect. As ESPN’s Keith Law noted on Saturday:

Indeed, Conforto reportedly was given a cortisone shot on Tuesday, June 14 to treat strained cartilage in his ailing left wrist.

This is potentially significant because Article XIX(C)(1) of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement forbids teams from sending injured major-league players to the minor leagues. As the provision clearly states, “Players who are injured and not able to play may not be assigned to a Minor League club.” Instead, the CBA requires clubs to place injured major-league players on the major-league disabled list.

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How Much Will Yulieski Gourriel Cost?

Five weeks before the trade deadline, contenders are starting to ramp up discussions on moves that would bolster their rosters for the stretch run, but this year, there’s a wrinkle. For teams looking to add an offensive upgrade, there’s also a free agent to consider: Cuban superstar Yulieski Gourriel. The infielder was the country’s best hitter before he and his brother left the country in pursuit of Major league jobs, and MLB recently cleared him to sign on and get his career underway. Instead of giving up talent from their farm system, a team could simply spend money to add Gourriel, and the ability to upgrade with budget room only has to appeal to a number of clubs.

But, of course, the question will be how much money the 32 year old Gourriel is going to cost. Every team would take him if the price was low enough, but because of the high incentives for large-revenue teams to spend on international free agents, Cuban players have increasingly been getting significant guarantees. And, unfortunately for Gourriel, the last batch of players to cash in after leaving the island have been a miserable failure.

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Danny Valencia, Future Met

Heading into the season, the Mets plan to repeat as National League champions seemed pretty obvious; they were going to beat their opponents with elite starting pitching and an above average offense, hoping those strengths would outweigh their defensive deficiencies and a just-okay bullpen. It was a solid enough plan, and based on their depth chart on Opening Day, we gave them a 51% chance to win the division and a 78% chance to make the postseason. And mostly, those things have played out as expected. The rotation has been fantastic, ranking second best in baseball to this point. The bullpen has been fine, with occasional lapses. The defense has been bad.

But one part of the formula hasn’t really gone according to plan yet; that productive offense hasn’t really come to fruition. To this point, the offense has been a little bit below average, ranking right in the middle of the pack in wRC+ while costing themselves some runs with relatively poor baserunning. And on top of that, the team has distributed their hits in a highly inefficient way, so despite an expected 4.2 runs per game based on their BaseRuns inputs, they are only scoring 3.7 runs per game, third-worst in the majors.

Certainly, health has been part of the problem. First, Travis d’Arnaud went on the DL at the end of April. Then in May, it was Wilmer Flores and and Lucas Duda. June brought David Wright‘s DL stint, and more recently, news that he’ll require back surgery that may sideline him for the rest of the season. The infield has ended up as a patchwork group, and with Michael Conforto and Alejandro de Aza not hitting as well as expected, the outfield hasn’t been able to carry the load. And so now, the team is openly talking about making more additions, and not waiting until the trade deadline to do so.

“I think we might need to do something before,” Wilpon said Monday at the Harlem RBI fundraiser in Manhattan. “The deadline is still four, six weeks away. We’ve got to start playing better baseball now.”

Thankfully for the Mets, identifying a potential spot to upgrade is pretty easy. They’re not going to add an outfielder, most likely, given that group is already crowded, and Conforto and de Aza can both be expected to improve in the second half. Neil Walker has been good at second base, and Asdrubal Cabrera is a good enough player at shortstop to not require a replacement. So, the team is left with just the corner infield spots or behind the plate if they want to upgrade the offense.

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Dillon Gee on Going from Met to Royals Reliever

Dillon Gee isn’t a Met anymore. Nor is he a starter (at least not as his primary role). The 30-year-old right-hander is working out of the bullpen in his first season with the Royals. No longer needed in New York, he inked a free-agent deal with Kansas City over the winter.

Gee was a solid, albeit unremarkable, starter for the Mets from 2011 to -14. Then the deGroms, Harveys and Syndergaards burst onto the scene (the ageless Bartolo, too). That made it time to move on, and Gee is now a long reliever making spot starts for a new team. He’s adapting well. In 12 appearances for the defending World Series champs, he has a 3.98 ERA and a career-best 8.2 K/9.

Gee talked about his transition earlier in the season.

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Gee on transitioning to the Royals and a relief role: “I’m probably a better pitcher now than I was in my earlier years. This is just the role I have now. I kind of got phased out in New York. They obviously had some young studs coming up, and I lost my spot there. I had a few opportunities to remain a starter with other teams, but I chose to come here and contribute out of the bullpen for a winning team.

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The Fastballs Abandoned Michael Conforto

There’s a funny thing about this line of work. We have access to information, so much information, an increasing amount of information, and it allows us to break down almost every single aspect of player performance. Want to know how a pitcher’s fastball has moved? Easy. Want to know where a batter hits groundballs against sliders? No problem. Interested in where outfielders are positioned with a lefty spray hitter at the plate? That’s becoming possible. So much is possible. An incredible amount is possible. Yet we still don’t know anything about what’s most important. If a player is locked in, he stands a chance. If he’s preoccupied, because, say, he got in an argument, or he thinks he left the oven on, he’s probably going to struggle, for no visible reason. You’re worse at what you do when you’re distracted, or when you’re frustrated. There aren’t any numbers for that.

Michael Conforto is in a slump. It’s a bad one, too, and Conforto feels it, and it happens to be taking place when the Mets are somewhat desperate for offense. That doesn’t help the stress, and maybe stress is the real problem. In baseball terms, he could be pressing. There’s no way for us to analyze that. What we can say for sure: In April, Conforto was the second-most productive hitter in the game. Granted, he was behind only Aledmys Diaz, so, April is weird. But since then, the wRC+ has dropped to 42. He’s struck out almost a third of the time. He’s chasing. The Mets don’t think it’s anything mechanical, and they’re prepared to let Conforto play out of this. I assume, at some point, he will. That doesn’t help the slump today. Conforto still feels the weight of his responsibility.

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Bartolo Colon Made History Last Night

Bartolo Colon has been a major league pitcher for longer than the high school kids being drafted this weekend have been alive. It’s likely that he has seen and done more in his major league career than any of these draftees will ever have the opportunity to see and do. He’s pitched in All-Star Games and the postseason. He’s played in 42 different major league parks – 42! He’s won a Cy Young Award and struck out 2,285 batters. He hit a home run! He’s had about as full and productive a career as one can have without being deemed Hall of Fame worthy.

Of course, there are still a few things Colon hasn’t done in his career. He’s never won a World Series or thrown a no-hitter, for instance. But plenty of illustrious careers end without those achievements being added to a resume. There is one glaring and unique empty statistical category remaining on Bartolo Colon’s career stat sheet, though: he has never drawn a walk in his career. In fact, after his two strikeout, one sac bunt performance against Brewers pitching last night, Bartolo Colon now holds the record for most career plate appearances without drawing a single walk.

Most Career Plate Appearances Without A Walk
Player PA BB From To
Bartolo Colon 260 0 1997 2016
Tracy Stallard 258 0 1960 1966
Steve Cooke 193 0 1992 1998
Tex Shirley 164 0 1941 1946
Bob Osborn 151 0 1925 1931
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Modern Era (since 1901)

Although much of Colon’s career has occurred in the designated hitter league, he has now stepped to the plate 260 times in his career dating back to his first career plate appearance in 1997 against the Cardinals’ Andy Benes. From Terry Adams to Jordan Zimmermann, Colon has faced 131 different pitchers and not a single one has yielded ball four.

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PJ Conlon: A Mets Pitching Prospect Evokes Jamie Moyer

PJ Conlon doesn’t fit the profile of a New York Mets starter. The defending National League champions have a rotation populated by deGroms, Harveys and Syndergaards. Conlon, meanwhile, isn’t a power arm. The 22-year-old pitching prospect is your prototypical finesse lefty who relies more on guile than gas.

Twenty-seven games into his professional career, Conlon resembles a half-his-age Jamie Moyer. He looks hittable, but squaring him up is often an exercise in futility. Since being drafted in the 13th round last year out of the University of San Diego, Conlon has allowed a grand total of nine earned runs in 84 innings. On Saturday, he took the hill for the Low-A Columbia Fireflies and breezed through 10 innings on just 97 pitches. He flirted with a no-hitter and held Hagerstown to a lone tally.

Soon after that start, Conlon was named to the South Atlantic League’s mid-season All-Star team. He leads the circuit in both wins and ERA, and ranks second in WHIP.

Conlon was featured in this past Sunday’s Notes column, with his Irish heritage being the main focus (he was born in Belfast). Today we hear from the southpaw on his pitching prowess.

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Conlon on pitching: “I’d describe myself as a shorter lefty who doesn’t have great velocity. I’m about 6-foot and will top out at 91 on a good day. I’m usually between 87-90, but I can run the ball and do different things with it. I don’t really throw anything straight.

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Noah Syndergaard Is an Elite Contact Pitcher, Too

One of the first things taught in any newswriting class is how to craft a compelling lede. You learn about the inverted pyramid, writing concisely, and the importance of employing strong verbs. No professor of mine ever said anything about .gifs, but hey, what’s more compelling than watching Noah Syndergaard pitch? If that doesn’t grab and hold your interest, you’re probably here on accident anyway.

These are the final pitches of the first three batters Syndergaard faced against the Brewers in New York on Sunday, his most recent start of the season:

1

2

3

Ignore the result of batter No. 2. That one is on David Wright. Just focus on what Syndergaard did. He got a ground ball, a ground ball, and then another ground ball. That’s three ground balls.

You know about Noah Syndergaard because of the 100 mph fastball and all the strikeouts. Or at least those would be among the most likely immediate reactions if presented with a silhouette of Syndergaard’s head while being administered a Rorschach inkblot test. And those responses would be justified. It’s less likely that “ground balls” would spring to mind, unless, that is, you’d been paying close attention to Syndergaard’s development as a pitcher, or had recently read this article.

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Yoenis Cespedes Is Still Playing Like a Superstar

Last winter, coming off the best season of his career, Yoenis Cespedes hit the free-agent market, and promptly heard crickets. He watched David Price and Zack Greinke break $200 million in early December, and then saw Jason Heyward set the market for outfielders with a $184 million deal a week later. And then he sat and watched a bunch more pitchers get paid, while he, Chris Davis and Justin Upton sat around waiting for offers that never came. Finally, in January, all three eventually found homes, but Cespedes was unable to land the big deal he was looking for, instead taking a three-year deal from the Mets that gave him the chance to hit the market again this winter, if he so chose.

A quarter of the way through the 2016 season, Cespedes opting out of the last two years of the deal is now a foregone conclusion; the only way he wouldn’t hit the market this winter is if the Mets re-do his deal before he gets there, or if he blows out his knee between now and October. Cespedes has not only carried over last year’s second half surge, but he’s even somehow building on it.

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What’s Wrong With Matt Harvey?

Yes. What is wrong with Matt Harvey? Because if you watch him pitch, it seems like everything is wrong, and yet nothing at all. At least, it’s hard to put your finger on it. You run down the list of things that could explain why he has an ERA near five and the worst ERA estimators of his career, and you find little things here or there. But do you find a smoking gun?

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When Noah Syndergaard Frightened the Dodgers

Over the course of big-league history, there have been a few hundred no-hitters. There have been 66 occasions of a pitcher hitting multiple homers in one game. Scarcity doesn’t automatically mean a superior accomplishment, but what Noah Syndergaard just did against the Dodgers was extraordinary. His first time up, he hit a home run. His second time up, he hit a home run. The last pitcher to pull this off was Micah Owings in 2007, and Owings was more of a hitter, anyway. Here are the MLB.com highlights. This would be no fun without the highlights.

Not that there’s any such thing as a bad home run, but those were big-boy dingers. Syndergaard jumped on a first pitch, and then he jumped on a two-strike pitch. He gets points for diversity, and he also gets points for dumb luck, since the second homer followed four consecutive shown bunts. Instead of moving the runners a little bit over, he moved them all the way over. Syndergaard drove home all the Mets’ runs. He genuinely pitched and hit them to victory. It was one of the better all-around single-game performances in history, I’m sure.

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Meet the All-or-Nothing David Wright

You don’t need to know what spinal stenosis is to know you don’t want it, and to know it’s bad that David Wright has it. No major-league baseball player would choose the condition for himself, and for Wright, the diagnosis raised innumerable questions about the state of his career. When this very regular season opened, there was chatter in the first series that Wright looked stiff, that he looked exploitable and weak. Early on, it looked like Wright could and would be a liability. It would be a most unfortunate turn for a beloved former superstar.

Let’s be clear: David Wright still has spinal stenosis. That isn’t going to change. He is very much limited, but at the same time, as I write this, Wright is sitting on a 136 wRC+, about dead even with his lifetime mark of 134. Wright might be compromised, but Wright has also made things work, and he’s done that by focusing on maximization. David Wright has turned himself into an all-or-nothing hitter.

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It’s Time to Buy into Daniel Murphy

Yesterday, Daniel Murphy went 4-5, hitting his fourth home run of the season in the process, and driving his batting line for 2016 up to .398/.449/.663. His 192 wRC+ ranks third best in the big leagues, and he’s behind only Manny Machado, Dexter Fowler, and Mike Trout on the WAR leaderboards. In the aftermath of yesterday’s hit barrage, I sent out the following tweet.

Many of the responses argued that Fowler is ahead in that race, which is certainly a reasonable argument given what he’s done for the Cubs thus far. A bunch of other responses were essentially along the “small sample size” lines, though. Like this one, for instance.

In general, the premise of this tweet is mostly correct. When you have a large sample of a player’s career performance, you shouldn’t overreact to a 25 game hot streak, and believe that the most recent performance cancels out the longer history the player has provided for evidence of what he’s capable of doing going forward. In Murphy’s case, though, we’re well past the point of this being a 25 game hot streak. For most of the last year, Daniel Murphy has been one of the best hitters in baseball.

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How to Score Runs Off Noah Syndergaard

There’s a vestigial anchor from my baseball past that I drag around — it’s called Red Sox fandom, and it’s attached to a barely seaworthy vessel whose form is an email group of mainly older Boston fans. Most of the debates that happen on the email chain are really just individual manifestations of the argument surrounding process vs. outcome. Like a lot of traditionally-minded baseball fans, most of the members of the group are outcomes people, as baseball fans have been taught to be for the past 100-plus years — focusing on ERA, batting average, etc. I tend to find myself more on the process end of the spectrum, and lately I’ve been thinking about this debate as it relates to pitching — and especially as it relates to Noah Syndergaard

You could argue that no one’s process is better than Syndergaard’s right now — and, most recently, Jeff Sullivan actually has argued that. If the goal of pitching is to limit base-runners — and thus limit runs — the right-hander is about as good as it gets. I like quick ERA estimators like strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%) partly because I’m lazy and partly because I think they’re nifty, and currently Syndergaard is second in K-BB%, which is the best quick ERA estimator we have. Strikeouts? Elite. Walks? Elite. Velocity? Arsenal? Unparalleled. The processes he’s taking to influence positive outcomes are second really only to Clayton Kershaw this season, and for the most part, he’s been rewarded for them. But there is one glaring issue he still has — laid bare in his past two starts — which we’ll get a lot of chances to see below.

All of that said, the main question we’re going to be answering today is: how does a team score runs off of Syndergaard? Every pitcher has to give up runs at some point, no matter how impressive their talent. Today, we engage in a fun exercise to examine those runs. So let’s go through a month’s worth of starts!

A primer for what we’re about to discuss: looking at Statcast data through Baseball Savant, Syndergaard has the lowest average exit velocity among pitchers with a minimum of 60 batted-ball events. Those events include both hits and outs, and it’s testament to the type of contact against him — and the frame for a lot of what we’ll be looking at today. Here’s a reminder of what exit velocity generally means for outcomes. Now let’s jump in, with the understanding that we’re going to skip over his first start of the season, as he didn’t give up any runs. Onward!

Start #2, 4/12/16, 1 ER: Derek Dietrich single. Exit velocity: 74 mph.

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Michael Conforto Is Ahead of the Book on Him

A casual stroll down the stacks of the FanGraphs hitting leaderboards for outfielders yields many interesting takeaways, but perhaps none more interesting than this: among the top 10 outfielders by wRC+, there’s a 23-year-old who played only 45 games above High-A before being called up to the majors last year. He came into this season with the expectation of being a left-handed platoon bat, and now he’s leading the majors in hard-hit rate and hitting third everyday in the sixth-best offensive lineup in baseball. A year can change a lot of things, and it has changed more for Michael Conforto than for just about anyone else in baseball.

Conforto had about as successful a short stint in the majors during 2015 as one could hope for out of a young player with little experience in the high minors — he posted a 134 wRC+ in 56 games, hit a few important home runs in the playoffs, and outperformed the established historical expectations for players in his position. Conforto was good for 2.1 WAR in those 56 games, and the Mets went from a .505 team without him — 3.0 games back in their division — to a .631 team with him, comfortable winners of the National League East. The August/September 2015 Mets weren’t just Conforto, of course, but the Mets needed an offensive jolt, and he provided it. Conforto’s introduction represented a tidy dividing line between mediocrity and wild success, and we’d be fools not to at least recognize the narrative convenience of that line.

That type of introduction to the major leagues is hard to live up to — and yet! Here we are, a month into the season, and Conforto has lived up to them. More than lived up to them, in fact. He’s probably created new expectations, and they’re even loftier, almost impossible ones. We know how easy it is to be wrong about April numbers. It’s folly to think that April assures us of what’s going to happen for the rest of the season. But, while we shouldn’t necessarily expect this current level of production out of him moving forward, he’s showing us a few real improvements so far this season that merit some attention. Conforto isn’t truly this good (no one is), but there’s a reason he’s currently this good.

Let’s start with who he was in 2015. Describing Conforto as a dead-pull hitter in 2015 wouldn’t be accurate, but he was close: he ranked 35th from bottom in terms of batted balls to the opposite field (out of 361 qualifying hitters, min. 190 PAs). Interestingly, he had a hole in his swing, and it was on the inside part of the plate — not really where you’d expect to find it for such a pull-happy hitter. Take a look at his isolated power per pitch location from 2015:

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 12.59.53 AM

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What Pitchers (and Numbers) Say About Pitching in the Cold

Maybe it was the fact that she spent her formative years in Germany, while I spent most of mine in Jamaica and America’s South, but my mother and I have always disagreed about a fundamental thing when it comes to the weather. For her, she wants the sun. It doesn’t matter if it’s bitter cold and dry; if the sun’s out, she’s fine. I’d rather it was warm. Don’t care if there’s a drizzle or humidity or whatever.

It turns out, when we were disagreeing about these things, we were really talking about pitching. Mostly because life is pitching and pitching is life.

But also because the temperature, and the temperature alone, does not tell the story of pitching in the cold. It’ll make sense, just stick with it.

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A Partial Defense of the Team That Traded Noah Syndergaard

It is abundantly clear which team won the R.A. Dickey trade. Acquiring Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, John Buck, and Wulimer Becerra from the Blue Jays for Dickey, Josh Thole, and Mike Nickeas in December 2012 has paid off for the New York Mets in a big way. This isn’t a particularly controversial opinion in need of detailed supporting evidence, but Spencer Bingol covered the particulars of the Mets’ heist several months ago, even before Noah Syndergaard turned into a starter who pitches like a lights-out closer.

Barring something unexpected, the Mets will have gotten more wins at a lower price from their part in the trade than the Blue Jays will have from their part in the trade by the time Dickey’s contract expires at the end of this season. Then the Mets will continue to reap the benefits for several more seasons while d’Arnaud, Syndergaard, and Becerra remain under team control. There’s no way, in an absolute sense, to spin this as anything but a win for Mets and a loss for the Blue Jays.

This kind of retrospective analysis is valuable, but it is a bit simplistic. The interesting question isn’t which set of players performed better; that’s obvious.  The interesting question is if the Blue Jays would have been better off not making the trade.

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The Case for Noah Syndergaard as Baseball’s Best Pitcher

Any half-decent statistical analysis will tell you that Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. This is just about inarguable. Kershaw has pitched at an unbelievable level, and he’s been able to do it for an unbelievable amount of time. He has the peak and the track record, so while there have been other great pitchers, there aren’t any Kershaws, by the numbers. This is why Kershaw gets the best projections. Projections are our statistical measures of true talent, and Kershaw’s talent is alone by itself.

I know, I know, Jake Arrieta. And, yeah, I know, Chris Sale, and Jacob deGrom, and so on. I mean no disrespect to anyone else. Kershaw has just had the strongest argument, so I’m using him here as the point of comparison. Because, you see, we have a new potential contender. We’ve all noticed Noah Syndergaard, and people are starting to ask questions. I see it on Twitter. I saw it in Dave’s most recent FanGraphs chat. I heard it on the Effectively Wild podcast. The big question, which seems absurd but improbably isn’t: is Syndergaard now better than Kershaw? Is Syndergaard suddenly the best?

Let me be straight with you: I haven’t decided. Part of me thinks it’s stupid to even consider. The rest of me thinks we could be on to something. At least, Syndergaard does have a real argument. I’m going to lay it out below as I try to talk myself through the issue.

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MLB’s Most Cost-Effective Rotations

Building a rotation is a difficult task for any organization. Drafting and developing prospects takes time and patience and often yields little in the way of results. Free agency is incredibly expensive not merely for proven pitchers, but unproven and mediocre ones, as well. Trades mean giving up talent and making sacrifices for the future. There is not a best way to build a rotation, but some teams have more limitations than others financially and the most efficient way to build a rotation includes young, cost-controlled starters. Ideally, a team would want the best rotation at the least possible expense. It’s a difficult task, but the New York Mets (to name one team) appear to have accomplished it.

A few weeks ago, FanGraphs previewed the 2016 by using the Depth Chart Projections found here to rank the teams by position. While the exercise itself is most useful for creating context around the projections — and to highlight individual players and teams — the foundation for the whole endeavor is the projections themselves. While often a very small difference exists between certain teams in terms of wins, it’s also true that two equally productive starting rotations, for example, can have very different costs (in dollars). That has an effect on how the corresponding teams can distribute salary throughout the rest of their respective rosters.

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