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Two Arms Are Better Than One

By Howard Megdal ~ January 4th, 2011. Filed under: Howard Megdal, New York Mets.

The usual reaction flowed from the news Tuesday night that the Mets signed Chris Capuano and Taylor Buchholz to low-cost, one-year deals. A segment of the blogosphere ridiculed the Mets for failing to make a big splash, while others credited the team for intelligent, low-cost signings with significant upside. And Patrick Flood does a good job breaking down why these two signings are better than the lone signing of Kelvim Escobar last winter.

But there’s perhaps a simpler answer on this issue: the two signings are better than the signing of Escobar because they are two signings instead of one. Allow me to elaborate.

We know that pitchers are inherently risky. So signing a guy like Escobar, and expecting him to succeed, is just foolish. But sign enough arms to form contingency plans, and suddenly the chances that an Escobar Renaissance Season occurs for your team goes up dramatically- whether it is from Escobar, or one of the other arms brought in.

Take a look at the list of low-cost pitchers the Mets brought in between the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010: Escobar, Elmer Dessens, Ryota Igarashi, R.A. Dickey, Jay Marshall, Adam Pettyjohn, Travis Blackley, Josh Fogg, Neal Musser, Bobby Livingston, Kiko Calero, Mike O’Connor.

Over and over again, the Mets signed pitchers without much of any upside. Pitchers like Marshall, Calero and Escobar weren’t recently injured- they were varying degrees of damaged goods when the Mets acquired them. Many others, given their strikeout rates and age, were obviously filler at the time. Fill your organization with pitchers like that, and surprise performances will be rare indeed. Even Dickey- who, to be sure, Mets fans are grateful for- clearly filled the bill as a Pettyjohn or Fogg in the team’s plans.  Simply put, it is hard to imagine what the team thought these pitchers could be-making Dickey seem like the blind squirrel finding a nut than a real ability by the last Mets’ administration to identify low-cost pitching talent.

By contrast, it is obvious what the possible upside is with a Capuano, Buchholz, Boof Bonser, D.J. Carrasco, Pedro Beato and even the returning O’Connor, whose effectiveness at getting lefties out somehow didn’t translate into a promotion to a team in desperate need of additional bullpen arms last season. All six have strikeout rates north of six in their recent pasts, with Capuano and Carrasco topping 7 last season in the major leagues, Bonser at 7.2 in his major league career, O’Connor at 7 last season in Triple-A, Beato at 7.5 in Double-A, and Buchholz at 7.6 during his last full major league season in 2008. Three of the six are coming off of injuries- but all three have worked since those injuries, and are a year removed from the serious surgeries.

In other words, while we don’t know how they will perform in 2011, the collection of low-cost Mets pitchers already offer more upside, collectively, than the group brought in last winter. And it seems unlikely in the extreme that the Mets are finished adding arms. But the best part of all is that each successive signing reinforces the quality of the ones preceding it. As we’ll discuss soon, the Mets are obviously doing the same thing at second base.

It’s very simple. This is how you build organizational depth, especially while your first draft is still some months off.

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Howard Megdal is the Editor-in-Chief of The Perpetual Post. He covers baseball, basketball and soccer for Capital New York, MLBTradeRumors.com, New York Baseball Digest and has written for ESPN.com as well as numerous other publications. He is the Poet Laureate for SBNation New York. His book about Jewish baseball players, “The Baseball Talmud,” is available for purchase on Amazon.com and wherever books are sold. His next book, "Taking The Field", is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and will publish in May 2011.

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1 Response to Two Arms Are Better Than One

  1. Jay

    Thank you for articulating this clear explanation of the difference between the previous regime’s low cost signings and this regime’s.

    From reading around the ‘sphere’ the last 24 hours it’s clear quite a few people have no understanding of this important difference. It’s good to know that some do.

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