With 22 games in the bank, the Mets have a problem that I never would've expected going into the season: they have too many starters.
Granted, the starting rotation hasn't been extraordinarily effective, but that's besides the point. The Mets now have six guys to fit into five spaces, and management needs to make a decision. Naturally, my opinion means little - but I do have a suggestion that may differ from the establishment expectation. First, let's look at the current rotation candidates, as well as their 2011 FIP and xFIP (denoted as a triple-slash line, in that order, and provided byFanGraphs).
- Mike Pelfrey - 7.23/4.70/5.57
- Jon Niese - 5.10/3.92/4.06
- R.A. Dickey - 4.10/4.30/4.47
- Chris Young - 1.46/2.56/4.36
- Chris Capuano - 5.95/4.52/3.96
- Dillon Gee - 2.31/3.39/3.68
Which of these pitchers should be "demoted" to the bullpen, however?
Now, as always, the small sample size rule applies. We can't assume that these would maintain over the whole season - and Young and Gee especially need to be taken with a grain of salt, given that they've only made two starts. But in the cases of Big Pelf, Niese, R.A., and CC-Queens the phrase "we are who we thought they were" applies. The peripheral numbers aren't that different than what we might've expected - Pelf isn't doing well, Niese and Dickey are doing okay, and Cap is up and down.
Obviously, since Young is just now coming off the DL, and been so effective, he's got to be in the rotation. The same should be true of Dillon Gee, who has had success in nearly all of his ML appearances up to this point. Not only is R.A. Dickey (strangely enough) probably the most consistent of the bunch, but he's also the only starter with a long-term contract. And I know there have been rumblings about Jon Niese moving to the bullpen, but his peripheral numbers INSIST that he stay in the rotation. He's going to be a cost-controlled starter with consistency for the next five years.
So that leaves two options for the bullpen: Chris Capuano and Mike Pelfrey. Cap has pitched out of the bullpen before. Recently. As in earlier this year. He's had some success there, and since he's only on a one-year contract, the team doesn't have to worry about his feelings being hurt.
With all this in mind, I think the Mets could be better served by making their Opening Day starter, Mike Pelfrey, a reliever.
The major worry here is probably how Big Pelf would respond to such a Big Demotion. He's been a workhorse in the rotation, good for nearly 200 innings for the last few years. But one of Big Pelf's big issues has been his lack of secondary pitches. He lives and dies by his sinker, but his fastball and splitter are so-so and his off-speed stuff (slider/curve/changeup) has been varied, and ultimately not very effective. Perhaps a move to the bullpen could give Pelf a shot in the arm. A couple of mph on the heater and a focus on just the sinker/splitter could be just what the doctor ordered. If Pelf could become a solid reliever, he'd be worth almost as much in trade as if he were a middling starter. And it's hard to believe that Pelf will have continued value if he continues to pitch as poorly as he has over the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011.
There are plenty of rational reasons not to move Pelf to the bullpen. If Pelfrey stays a starter and pitches well, his trade value increases quite a bit. Pelf doesn't have an "out-pitch", something that managers love to see in their relievers, so that may make the transition messy. Most of all, it would obviously be a massive vote of no-confidence on the most consistent presence in the Met rotation over the last three years. And there were a number of reasons I mentioned earlier why Capuano would fit in the bullpen as well.
But make no mistake, moving Mike Pelfrey to a role in the bullpen, even perhaps a leveraged role, could pay dividends later. If he succeeds in the role, he could find new life as a swingman or leveraged reliever. If not, teams could rationalize away the Mets "misuse" of a starter as a reason why Pelf would succeed in their system. But with the talent currently in the rotation, it may be best for the Mets to move their big right-hander to the pen for what could be his last run with the Amazin's before he becomes too expensive or too ineffective.