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Surveying The Starter Market

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The CHONE projection system now features its own site, complete with individual player pages. It's a neat site and provides rough estimates of each player's value if you do a little defensive guess work. Of particular interest for the bored Mets fan, however, is the free agent section, which features projections for several Japanese pitchers. Much has been written about the Mets pursuit of Lowe and Perez, but perhaps just as importantly, Minaya has been linked to a few Japanese free agents, namely Koji Uehara, Kenshin Kawakami, and Ken Takahashi. Below I've compiled the CHONE projections for most notable free agent starters and calculated their FIP.

Jon Garland 189 98 53 20 4.38
Kenshin Kawakami 122 105 32 15 3.86
Derek Lowe 171 106 45 12 3.66
Pedro Martinez 76 58 29 11 4.70
Oliver Perez 166 147 84 24 4.83
Ben Sheets 148 109 36 15 3.77
Koji Uehara 50 47 11 5 3.28
Randy Wolf 122 94 50 14 4.38

The inning projections are a bit odd, but a quick glance at those FIPs has the NPB players stacking up well against their MLB counterparts. Uehara's projection assumes relief work, but Omar apparently views him as a starter. This approach seems best, since Uehara's best skill, control, suits a rotation job better. He had a long track record of success as a starter before injury forced him into a full-time bullpen role during 2007. Uehara seems to be working back towards starting and, for the Mets' purposes, a solid #3 starter is much more valuable than a soft-tossing reliever. CHONE's projection of him as a reliever can't be directly used to project his abilities as a starter, but at least gives a glimpse of his upside. So, excluding Uehara for now, here are the starting candidates with my own estimated playing time, a Wins Above Replacement player value, and the salary that should merit:

Jon Garland 4.38 190 1.99 10.94
Kenshin Kawakami 3.86 170 2.76 15.20
Derek Lowe 3.66 200 3.67 20.20
Pedro Martinez 4.70 160 1.13 6.22
Oliver Perez 4.83 190 1.04 5.72
Ben Sheets 3.77 170 2.93 16.14
Randy Wolf 4.38 170 1.78 9.80

Two names you don't hear connected to the Mets very often, Sheets and Kawakami, compare favorably. Most people have an opinion on Sheets and whether the Mets should sign him, but Kawakami is more unknown. NPB tracker characterizes him as "slightly better than Hiroki Kuroda." That comparison reminded me of another interesting comparison I previously stumbled upon and can only describe as a microcosm for all baseball discussion on the internet. I'll let you sort that one out on your own (if you want), the point being Hiroki Kuroda was a great sign for the Dodgers and his comparison to Kawakami adds legitimacy to these projections. If the Mets get Kawakami or Uehara for something around the 3/35 that the Dodgers signed Kuroda, they could have a real bargain. Throw in Sheets or Lowe into that mix and they could have a real good rotation.