Fantasy fallout: Mets sign K-Rod, acquire Putz in three-team trade (Part 1)

K-Rod is pumped to be in New York, but how will the move affect his fantasy value? (Icon/SMI)

This has been one of the craziest Winter Meetings in recent memory, to say the least. THT Fantasy will be rolling out analysis on all the big doings throughout the day, so be sure to check back often. The Mets have been one of the busiest teams over the past couple of days, signing Francisco Rodriguez and completing a three-team trade to bring in J.J. Putz for the back-end of their bullpen. The full trade looks like this:

Mets receive: Putz, Jeremy Reed, Sean Green
Indians receive: Joe Smith and Luis Valbuena
Mariners receive: Aaron Heilman, Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, Jason Vargas, Ezequiel Carrera, and Maikel Cleto

In addition to these players, there are a lot of other players who will be indirectly affected by the trade, so let’s dive right in.

Fallout: K-Rod and Putz

The Mets’ plan is clearly to use K-Rod as their closer and Putz as his setup man. This drastically decreases Putz’s value as he goes from a closer with essentially no competition to a setup man for one of the elite closers in baseball. Let’s check out the numbers for these two guys, accounting for the ballpark and league changes.

Francisco Rodriguez
For sections that are divided, the left section shows his numbers with the Angels and the right shows his numbers translated to the Mets.
Suggestions for improving the clarity of these tables are welcome.

| YEAR | AGE | IP   | LIPS ERA | K/9         | BB/9      | xGB%    | BABIP       | HR/FB     |
| 2006 |  24 | 73.0 |     3.02 | 12.1 / 12.1 | 3.5 / 3.5 | 36 / 37 | .287 / .275 | 7.7 / 9.3 |
| 2007 |  25 | 67.3 |     3.39 | 12.0 / 12.1 | 4.5 / 4.6 | 41 / 42 | .309 / .295 | 4.8 / 5.4 |
| 2008 |  26 | 68.3 |     3.64 | 10.1 / 10.2 | 4.5 / 4.6 | 43 / 44 | .296 / .281 | 6.2 / 7.1 |

While the move from the American League to the National League is usually a positive one, it seems like there will be little affect on K-Rod’s numbers. His strikeouts and walks will remain relatively unchanged while his BABIP should drop and his HR/FB should rise. This should all equate to very little difference in his final numbers. Now, you’ll notice that his LIPS ERA is on a three-year rise, culminating in a not-so-elite 3.64 mark in 2008, mostly due to the two-point drop in K/9.

We do need to take note that LIPS assumes a roughly league average BABIP and HR/FB. Elite relievers like K-Rod are able to post well-below average numbers in these categories, so he could definitely exceed his LIPS ERA by 0.75 points or so.

Surely you’ve heard by now of K-Rod’s lost fastball velocity (91.6 MPH in 2008 after being above 93.3 from 2005-2007). This — in addition to the additional MPH he added to his change-up this year (further bridging the gap in speed between his fastball and change to just 7.5 MPH) — likely makes up a good portion in that decline.

Omar Minaya has said that he’s looked into the fastball decline and still heavily pursued Rodriguez, though I wouldn’t consider Minaya one of the top GMs in the biz. In the same breath, he said that K-Rod’s change is still one of the best in the game (courtesy MetsBlog), but looking at that low speed differential and his PITCHf/x data, that really isn’t the case. It’s good, but not great.

Regardless, even if K-Rod doesn’t regress at all to his 2006 and 2007 numbers, he should still be a fine fantasy option. Closers are closers, and the vast majority of their value comes from saves. K-Rod’s expected ERA, WHIP, and strikeout numbers should be lower than they were at this time last year, but the difference isn’t very large. If you’re into drafting closers early (I’m not), then K-Rod is a fine choice after guys like Jonathan Papelbon, Joakim Soria, Joe Nathan, and Mariano Rivera are gone.

J.J. Putz
For sections that are divided, the left section shows his numbers with the Mariners and the right shows his numbers translated to the Mets.
Suggestions for improving the clarity of these tables are welcome.

| YEAR | AGE | IP   | LIPS ERA | K/9         | BB/9      | xGB%    | BABIP         | HR/FB      |
| 2006 |  29 | 78.3 |     2.55 | 12.0 / 10.8 | 1.5 / 1.4 | 48 / 50 | 0.311 / 0.310 | 6.7 /  7.9 |
| 2007 |  30 | 71.7 |     2.90 | 10.2 /  9.2 | 1.6 / 1.5 | 41 / 42 | 0.200 / 0.199 | 9.2 / 11.1 |
| 2008 |  31 | 46.3 |     3.98 | 10.9 /  9.9 | 5.4 / 5.1 | 40 / 41 | 0.350 / 0.354 | 8.0 /  9.6 |

While K-Rod’s numbers should remain the same, Putz’s should actually decline. While Safeco Field has a general reputation as more of a pitcher’s park, it actually inflates strikeouts by a huge nine percent. It also inflates walks, but not nearly enough to compensate for the full-point drop in K/9. He’ll also allow a few more homers, while his BABIP should remain about the same. Unlike K-Rod, though, Putz’s BABIP and HR/FB seem to be about league average, so the LIPS ERA should be pretty accurate.

His biggest problem in 2008 was his control, and boy was it a problem. Shea and the NL will help it just a bit, but he’ll need to make legitimate strides to improve his raw control. It’s very possible his injuries were the cause of these problems, so a complete and total bounceback is a definite possibility. Back in June, our own Chris Neault said this about Putz’s injury;

Symptoms of ulnar neuritis can vary, but generally include numbness or tingling of the small and ring fingers, medial elbow pain and lack of grip and pinch strength (kind of important for pitchers to be able to feel and grip the ball).

If Putz was having trouble feeling the ball in his hand, that could absolutely lead to poor control. Even if his control does come back, he’ll still be a setup man, severely limiting his value.

The only bright side here is that K-Rod has long been looked at as an injury-risk. I’m really not qualified to say whether or not he is, but that’s going to be Putz’s only chance at closing games in 2009. He’s worth a flier as a late-round pick as he could very well be the game’s top setup man next year, but that’s about all I’d be willing to spend on him.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

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