First Pitch: Why the Jon Niese Trade Is Probably Better Than You Thought

Today, the St. Louis Cardinals signed Mike Leake to a five-year, $80 M deal. As you may remember, a few weeks ago I posted a comparison between Leake and Jon Niese. That comparison seems perfect to bring up once again with today’s move.

From 2011-15:

Leake – 3.83 ERA/3.76 xFIP/8.9 WAR

Niese – 3.79 ERA/3.70 xFIP/10.5 WAR

There isn’t a huge difference here, as they’ve basically been the same pitcher over that amount of time. The contracts are where the deals really separate.

The Cardinals have guaranteed Leake $80 M over five years. Meanwhile, Niese is only guaranteed $9.5 M for one year, with two option years remaining. The total deal would be worth $30 M over three years, or about $6 M less per year than Leake will receive, without the final two years and $32 M extra at the end of the deal.

Simply put, Niese is under a very team friendly deal when you look at what he would have received if he was a free agent this off-season.

Of course, the Pirates did have to give up Neil Walker to get this team friendly deal. Using the traditional trade values, if we assume Niese reverts back to the 2.0 WAR per year pitcher, and Walker remains a 2.7 WAR a year guy, then the Pirates gave up $6 M in value to get $7.5 M in value.

Part of the appeal with the Walker trade was the deal Niese has. This deal makes him much more affordable compared to the guys on the open market, which allows the Pirates to add other pieces. They also aren’t blocking prospects in the future. And the deal gives them some trade value with Niese in the future when they no longer need him, as his team friendly deal will look much better to the alternatives on the market.

But a lot of this assumes that Niese will still be productive and will be in demand following the 2016 season (or whenever he is no longer needed). That’s also the most important thing here, as dealing for a guy who is affordable only makes sense if that guy is also productive.

There are multiple reasons why I think Niese will be productive, ranging from his track record prior to 2015, to the Ray Searage factor, to the fact that the Pirates have been very successful finding bounce back pitchers who can exceed their values. But perhaps the biggest reason I think Niese can bounce back with the Pirates might be one of the most overlooked parts of the off-season so far.

The Pirates have replaced Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, which means we now get to hear on a daily basis how many home runs they’ve lost from the 2015 team. What rarely gets brought up is the fact that those two were poor defenders, among the worst at their position, and part of what made the Pirates a poor defensive team in 2015. The Pirates will replace Walker with Josh Harrison at second base, and the full upgrade for Alvarez at first hasn’t been revealed yet. Harrison represents a defensive upgrade over Walker, and it won’t be hard to upgrade over Alvarez.

Niese has one of the best ground ball rates in baseball. Put him in front of a good defense, employing defensive shifts, and add in the fact that he’s a lefty pitching half his games at PNC Park, and you’ve got a lot of reasons to expect good things. Do I expect him to be the next breakout ace to join the Burnett/Liriano/Volquez/Happ group? No. But I do expect him to have a 2.0 WAR or better, and wouldn’t be surprised if he matched Neil Walker in value.

There were arguments today that Leake is the fourth or fifth starter for the Cardinals, while Niese is currently the third starter for the Pirates. That’s true at the moment, although the off-season is still incomplete. The Pirates could still add another starter, bumping Niese down to the number four spot. He could get bumped down another spot when Tyler Glasnow and/or Jameson Taillon arrive, depending on how the rest of the rotation is performing. And that will make for a strong rotation in the future, possibly on Opening Day if they add another starter this off-season.

Today’s deal with Leake reminds us how valuable Niese is as a pitcher. The fact that the Pirates have him on a ridiculous team-friendly deal only makes him more valuable. That, alone doesn’t make the trade work out. But if the Pirates use that savings on another rotation upgrade, along with smaller upgrades to the rest of the team, then we could be looking back at this move as another big off-season steal by the Pirates.

**Only two days left to buy your gift subscriptions in time for Christmas. We offer one year and three year gift subscriptions, complete with a customized gift card that you can print out and give to your friends or family members. We also offer a gift package that includes the 2016 Prospect Guide, although the book won’t arrive until after Christmas at this point. All of our options can be found here.

**Pirates Still Interested in Mat Latos? Speaking of adding another pitcher, they’re still getting connected to Latos. If they can get him to bounce back, then he would be a great number three option in this rotation.

  • The Niese – Leake comparison is not that straight forward. Leake is a young pitcher who gradually improved over time while Niese was a more established pitcher. My guess is that Leake will be the better pitcher over the next 2-3 years. Whether he can justify the salary difference is more questionable.

  • Tim,
    The prospect guide is terrific…I am wearing it out. Might I suggest charging a dollar or so more next year and going for a more durable, heavier cover. Mine will be dog eared in a month or so.

  • Tim, you did a lovely job on the guide this year. Thanks for the Christmas gift! Looks terrific, and small enough to fit in my tiny mailbox.

    Hope you are having great holidays.

  • What is Kinghams status?

    • Still throwing on flat ground recovering from TJ surgery – about half way through his recovery. No official target date at this time

  • On a slightly different topic, this is that time of year where we get some more insight into “the plan”. They are at the 40-man limit now. So every addition means someone goes (or at least the Pirates risk pushing them through waivers-which clarifies their value). Of course, these are minor moves but still of some interest. Having said that, Neal always seems to have a surprise. Questions to be answered are:

    -If Florimon is the next released, we’ll know that Neal isn’t banking on Florimon and S-Rod as the back up INFs?
    -If one of the bullpen guys are released (Rondon, Scahill, Lafromboise, etc.), we’ll get a better idea of how that is shaping up.
    -If Goebbert is released, we’ll know Neal is still looking for OF/1B depth

    • Florimon won’t be released, and isn’t going to be the backup IF unless there is an injury. Serpico and HANSON are the backups. Why does everyone here overlook Hanson?!?

  • I would rather have Leake! More valuable all around. Pitching and hitting!

  • Its very simple in my eyes. Its a worse trade for this year, But the next 2 years we win the trade. Id rather have Walker so for 2016 I think we lose the trade, But in 17 & 18 we win the trade as Walker wasn’t resigning with us.

  • Justin Morneau, need I say more?

  • Good article! It reminds me of a time back in the 70s when I was in an argument in college where I argued that someday a baseball player would have a salery of one million dollars. Now a decent pitcher can be considered cheap at 10 million!

  • Very good! However, my problem is with their other acquisitions or lack of them. The 1b issue remains an open sore. Unless they cure that, it will remain an unsuccessful offseason.

  • Any mention about any shirt-stealing clauses? If so … maybe the Cards can back out in a year or two, if Leake slides back to his old ways

  • Poor Walker, he could not have gone to a worst team than the Mets. The media and fans will eat him alive if remains the same as he was as with the Pirates. Especially when he hits his .260s and starts opening his mouth.
    Niese will be a nice starter and so will Latos if he joins the Pirates. If anything ails either or both of them I am sure Dr. Searage will have a remedy.

    • Honestly not sure about Walker’s personality. I have always liked him but have always had an anecdotal sense that he is a bit negative – overly focused on his singular viewpoint and his definition of fair. (All this swirl about him not really trying in AAA and then complaining after being traded hasn’t helped.)
      Now I am also curious how he will react to unfair expectations by the NY press. Will he pout and nosedive this season? Or will he focus on sticking it to Neal by having a great “walk” year?
      If he pouts, it will say something about his “intestinal fortitude” that maybe we are better off without him. And if he is better than normal, that will make me believe he didn’t focus enough while here…

      • He isn’t going to pout, this is his contract year. The bigger question is whether his defense will be exposed by lack of shifts.

  • Tim – why are you comparing the Pirates infield defense for 2016 to the Pirates infield defense for 2015 in order to support your thought that Niese will bounce back? Shouldn’t you be comparing the Pirates 2016 infield defense to the Mets 2015 infield defense?

  • Tim being passive aggressive towards NMR with this article!

  • I’d love to see Jeff Locke get bumped out of the rotation.

  • Several people in the PBC Asylum got their Prospect book yesterday. I didn’t. No more Mr Nice Guy, Tim. And you thought NMR could get contrary???!!!! 🙂 🙂 : )

  • This analysis does something that not a single Pirate reclamation project has done to date: pay current prices for the *hope* of future, better, production.

    Where as Walker is already a 2+ WAR player and projects to remain, Niese *has* to return to that level just to justify the trade as even, and there’s little opportunity to develop excess value given his low ceiling.

    Same with the option years. Niese *has* to return to a 2 WAR pitcher just to cover the contract cost, again, with little opportunity for excess value.

    With all the pitching lined up to join the 25-man in the next year or two, paying Jon Niese +$10m for 4.00 FIP production will only be a good use of payroll if something goes terribly wrong.

    • It IS a calculated gamble, for sure. There are no sure things in sports.

      For all we know, Leake could go down with an injury and the Cards could be wasting $18 mil.

      • Other than being topical, not sure why the Leake comp has been such a focus.

        JA Happ, coming off a 3+ WAR season, signed for $6m more than Niese will get over the same period if all his options are exercised. And he also wouldn’t have cost Neil Walker.

        • But JA Happ is a 33 year old journeyman with a career xfip of 4.2, who in his career had never even come close to 3 WAR and had never touched 2 WAR. Perhaps the Pirates realized that his success last year is unsustainable, and chose to go with a 27 year old with a career xfip of 3.7. If Happ can have success to the tune of 3+ WAR than surely Jon Niese can surpass that. Or so the thinking goes.

          • Niese is 29, and the rest of this comes down to what factors truly contribute to success as reclamation projects.

            Comparing the three years prior to 2015, Niese had *outpitched* his xFIP by 0.20 and held an 18.1% K-rate to a 6.5% BB-rate with a 49% GB-rate. Happ *underperformed* his xFIP by 0.37 and held a 20.6% K-rate to an 8.9% BB-rate and 40% GB-rate.

            In hindsight, Happ had the indicators that have led to successful Pirate reclamations in the past. Niese, not so much.

            • Niese is a reclamation project?

              • What else do you call a guy with past success and current failure looking to regain his standing as a quality pitcher?

                • One down year does not strike me as a reclamation project. It sounds unfair to Niese. AJ Burnett was a reclamation project, Volquez for sure, Happ as well. But a pitcher with one down year after four 2+ WAR seasons. I see him as a likely bounce back candidate. But who really cares about the label I suppose

            • I was strongly in favor of signing Happ for 2 years and an option. But I also think the idea of regression to the mean has to be applied to pitchers as well as hitters. Why can you insist that Harrison had a career year at the plate in 2014 that is unlikely to be repeated, but think Happ”s 2015 success justifies future production at his 2015 level rather than regression to the mean of his career?

              • Maybe because I never said that Happ’s 2015 success justifies future production at his 2015 level?

                It should be terribly obvious that JA Happ is *not* a 1.85 ERA pitcher moving forward, but his success in Pittsburgh came with improvements we know to be more sustainable than others. He wasn’t a complete product of BABIP or homerun luck. He struck out 8% more batter than his career average and walked 4% less. Regressing those rates halfway back to career averages leaves him at about 24% K / 7% BB, which was about exactly where Cole Hamels fell last season. AJ Burnett posted 20% K / 7% BB as another comp. I don’t think it would be crazy to see Happ post FIP’s around 3.75 over the course of his contract if he’s able to make the changes stick.

                Harrison’s 2014 breakout was fueled by an unsustainable BABIP and an ISO far above anything he’d ever done that wasn’t supported by an increase in batted ball distance. He benefited from the placement of his contact more than the quality, which should never be considered a true talent.

                • Nicely reasoned, but I’m not on board with the idea that batted ball placement isn’t a learnable skill. Former Bucs 3rd baseman Fred Sanchez was a prime example of this. He hit far more doubles than his power deserved by placing the ball down the lines. I have hope that Harrison may grow in that regard. He gave signs in 2014, then choked a little trying to justify his contract and then was injured. So I give him a bit of a pass in 2015. If he stays healthy I think he could repeat 2014. We’ll see.

          • Happ’s 2 months with us did not convince me that he has turned it around. I suspect the old ‘caught lightning’ theory.

        • I think they will dump Niese (not pick up the option)if the young arms come up and perform. So it comes down to not wanting to commit the cash in years two and three to Happ, who has much better swing and miss stuff than Niese, and no health issues. And of course we keep Walker while Kang recuperates and some rookies get their feet wet. I think they missed on Happ and took a low ball offer on Walker to get something done.

    • After all the success Pirates have had with similar type Pitchers, is it really fair to say it’s “hope?” At what point in time do you recognize Pirates scouts, analytics and coaching staff have a successful system of identifying Pitchers who will perform better when wearing a Pirate uniform?

      Now I will say, the loss of Benedict is the unknown in this equation.

      • Because Niese is most certainly *not* a similar type of pitcher, Scott. None other than Neal Huntington has said so himself.

        http://blog.triblive.com/bucco-blog/2015/12/10/niese-is-a-new-model-for-pirates-high-floor-low-ceiling/#axzz3v4AIiK97

        Couple things worry me about Niese as a reclamation. He doesn’t have the trademark xFIP < ERA indicator, the velocity, or the swing and miss stuff that the Pirates have targeted in the past. He already makes heavy use of the sinker and doesn't have control/command issues. Plainly put, he no longer had the stuff to be a 2 WAR pitcher last year. That's a whole 'nother animal than what the Pirates have dealt with in the past.

        Also, we're talking about a guy who partially tore his rotator cuff – close to the death sentence for Major League pitchers – and purposely altered his delivery last year in order to improve his health, which had failed him every year since 2012. The Pirates tried to alter Charlie Morton's delivery last year to improve his health with similarly poor result.

        If one of the trademark Pirate Way approaches to fixing pitchers is getting them back into mechanical habits that they succeeded with in the past, what happens if those same habits also cause his injuries?

        • Agreed, Walker almost is a guaranteed 2.5 WAR. A lot of things have to go right for Niese to match that – things that didn’t go right in 2015 for the Mets.
          Accordingly, we should have had the Mets over a barrel since they were trading a 0 WAR pitcher who was owed $9.5 in 2016. They needed a 2B and didn’t have a place for a $9.5 million lhp bullpen option. This trade should have been something like Niese and $4 million (or Niese and Blake Taylor) for Walker.

        • And Happ had that type of stuff before he got to Pittsburgh ??? In what alternate universe ? I watched the guy in AA when he was young and he wasn’t a power pitcher even then.

          • Over the three seasons prior to joining the Pirates, JA Happ had a 20.6% K-rate and a 106 FIP-.

            Over the three seasons prior to joining the Pirates, AJ Burnett has a 20.0% K-rate 106 FIP-.

            But by all means, I defer to your expert scouting opinion from ten freaking years ago when Happ came through ‘toona.

        • All very good points. He certainly has the potential to be the next Wandy much more than the next Frankie.

          Still I trust Pirates scouts saw something in him which made them trade for him. Let’s “hope” it plays out in Pirates favor.

          • Hey I loved Wandy!

          • I joked with you last week about Huntington banking on soft-tossing, pitch to contact arms as the new market inefficiency but in all honesty, there’s most certainly a chance that they do see something here. Maybe they’re banking on hard throwers losing effectiveness as more clubs value contact hitting. Maybe they’re going to get a plus-plus defender at 1B and plan to go full-on run prevention mode. Maybe they’re going to stock the pen with multi-inning arms and pull the #3-#5 starters after the third time through the order.

            I’m unimpressed with the direction they’ve gone, but there’s still plenty of options for them to make it work.

            • Niese is just one guy, not a trend. Vogelsong is likely a 3 month placeholder made necessary by Taillon’s injury. If the #3 they sign (hopefully) is a soft tossing lefty you’ll have made an insightful point.

  • Travis Sawchik brought up a good point in his blog yesterday. We’ve lost two LH hitters, Walker and Pedro and have replaced them (so far) with two RH hitters. We only have ONE LH hitter in our lineup, GP, in a park that is suited better for LH hitters!

    This could be a problem?

    • It would only be a problem if your home field was built for left-handed hitters. Oh wait…

    • They’re looking for a lefty 1B.

      • I know; how long have they been looking now, 3 or so years. The closest they have come to a decent 1b of any kind was Justin Morneau and he didn’t want to play in Pittsburgh. I’m sorry to be a complainer but they do so well with pitchers but not decent hitting 1b’s. I guess I have been a Pirate fan too long. BUT that won’t keep from hoping.

        • Take a look what’s out there, and has been out there for the past three years. 1B is not the treasure trove of great hitters it once was. Especially from the left side.

      • Since Willie Stargell retired.

    • Lee, I’ve talked to friends about this for some time. There certainly
      are advantages to be a left handed hitter at PNC. Remember when
      we had a pair of left and right handed hitting catchers? We used
      to have a switch hitting 2nd baseman and over the years have
      had some real good left handed hitting first baseman and left
      fielders. I would like to have 3-4 left handers in the lineup most
      days when we play at PNC

      • One one other note, remember, I am not an expert, but
        would Dave Parker currently be in the HOF if he had
        played much of his career in PNC between the home runs
        and the doubles he would have hit off the wall?

        • The misperception is that PNC is friendly to LH hitters. It’s not! It’s slightly less than average for LH hitters. It’s very bad for RH pull hitters.

          Our RH hitters can use this to their advantage by “using the big part of the field” as Hurdle says and increasing their 2B/3B totals. They also can do as Cutch often does and hit the ball the opposite way with power.

          Also, the CF fence is eminently reachable for batters of both persuasions especially in the heat of summer.

          I hope this leads to a more contact oriented approach, especially with two strikes. I think we’ll find some kind of LH platoon 1B but overall, this will be a RH heavy lineup.

          I see our batting average rising dramatically this year to offset the loss in slugging percentage. And I think it will be fine.

  • Thought this was cool. Kinda feel bad for Walker, just wondering how this affects Niese,
    http://www.hittrackeronline.com/detail.php?id=2015_1396&type=ballpark

  • One issue — Niese’s home games have come in a pitcher’s park, Leake’s in a hitter’s park. If you look at just their road stats, Leake’s have been a lot better.

    • Also has a clean health record and has pitched almost 100 more innings over the last three years than Niese.

      In a league that’s lost $1.3 billion to pitcher injuries, it’s easy to understand why health and consistency are rewarded over a simplistic trip to FanGraphs.

      • I suspect that Leake will pitch better for the Cards than Niese will for us.

        Plus, Leake has been a Pirate killer. I could be wrong, but I think he is 9-3 vs us. I sure wished he had gotten out of the NL Central.

        • I’m not as worried about Leake as I am for what this says about the Cardinals moving forward.

          Even with Lance Lynn out for the season, Waino > Wacha > Martinez > Garcia > Gonzalez with Lyons and Cooney as depth and their own uber prospect Alex Reyes on the way is pretty freaking good.

          They’re clearly comfortable enough with their finances that they can make an investment in Leake as a luxury. A fail safe for injury and under-performance. That’s bad news.

          • Reyes is suspended. Doubt he pitches in the show this year…

          • What hasn’t been mentioned about Cards staff is how big of a part of their success can be tied to Molina? As y’all probably know, Molina went under knife again to see if they can fix a botched surgery. If Molina is lost, what does that do to their staff’s effectiveness?

            • I sure can tell you what I *hope* it means. 😉

            • Interesting point you bring up about Molina. I wonder if anybody could determine how their staff did when Molina was sidelined in ’14. IIRC that was a limited season for him.

            • Introduce them to Jed Gyorko, Jonathan Broxton and Bryan Peña.

        • That was my first thought leefoo. Pirate killer returns to NLC!

      • True enough, but in my opinion Cards still made the riskier move by guaranteeing him 5 years. Under no circumstances will Pirates organization be hamstrung long-term w Niese. Cards very well may.

      • $1.3B?! Good lord . . . .

    • Plus, Leake could’ve played 1b for us on his off days! The man can hit!

      🙂

    • Actually this is only true in the ERA category. According to Fangraphs their still very close in FIP and xFIP.

      Mike Leake Career Road ERA 3.48 – FIP 4.16 – xFIP 3.90
      Jon Niese Career Road ERA 4.22 – FIP 3.90 – xFIP 3.73

      So if you believe in advanced stats that argument doesn’t really hold water. If you don’t then it is a valid point.

    • xFIP removes all of that. It’s calculated based on a pitcher’s fly balls, walks, hit batters, strikeouts, and innings. None of those stats are park specific. So the ERA numbers would be off with those considerations, but the xFIP numbers shouldn’t be impacted.

  • Ok, I hate to do this, but I will take a very negative approach here.
    If we do have a bad season and are out of it by the trade deadline,
    we can bring up the young guns for experience and trade Niese
    and his very team friendly contract for some more young talent
    and get very good value.

    Just a thought… Sorry for the negative outlook…

    • Ok, I’ll be happy to do this. Cole is a 19 game winner, maturing into one of the eilte pitchers in the game. Arguably, we have the best OF in the game. I would not trade our catchers for any duo in the game. We have a top flight bullpen. And more talent is on the way. BTW, we’ve improved our IF defense and pitching staff with the trade and release of Walker and Pedro, respectively.

      • Norcal…………..don’t fooget that signing of that stud, Vogelsong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        🙂

      • Shh, you’ll incur the wrath of NMR with posts like this. 🙂

      • NorCal
        1) Cole is a 19 game winner, maturing into one of the eilte pitchers in the game. (Yep, I agree and more talent like him on the way.)

        2) Arguably, we have the best OF in the game. (Right there with you.)

        3) I would not trade our catchers for any duo in the game. (Ditto, nice players with great attitudes.)

        4) We have (HAD) a top flight bullpen. And (BUT) more talent is on the way. OK.

        5) BTW, we’ve improved our IF defense and pitching staff with the trade and release of Walker and Pedro, respectively. (Unfortunately, unlike football, pitching and scoring runs wins in baseball.)

        6* (I’ll add one more) We have a great group of young men who represent us, the city, and themselves very well with great attitudes
        and good personal decisions,

        In conclusion, Major League Baseball is very competitive and this is certainly enough to win more than we lose, but are pieces missing
        to keep us from going further than the past couple of years.

  • I suspect the critics of the Walker-Nurse trade have less of a problem with the monetized value of the transaction than they do with Niese’s ceiling as a Pirate. Niese just does not appear to be much of an upgrade compared to Morton. Team fans had hoped for much more.

    I see 2016 as a transitional season. It will be defined by the success or failure of the organization’s top prospects. To my mind, the complaints about the Hot Stove acquisitions miss the point, the point being that, the Pirates cannot improve greatly but for successful reclamation projects or through the development system players.

    • Steve…I agree that, if our top pitchers don’t pan out and Bell is equal to or worse than Pedro at 1b, we are in a world of hurt.

      We’re running out of reclamation projects.

      • The Bucs will never run out of reclamation projects….

        In a perfect world, they could get to the place where they don’t have room for them…

        -BB

    • Trading for expected amd hoping value while giving up actual value is not a.good trade strategy and not what how they have been trading prior when successful

      • Actually trading value for undervalued options has been a part of their strategy. Unloading a few guys prior to FA is what PGH does, and fans always hate it.

        Agree with it or not, yes PGH does give up current value for seemingly lesser value.

        • And here I thought you took the week off work… 😉

          You missed yesterday when I stole Tim’s lunch money, gave him a wedgie, and kicked his puppy. Apparently.

          • Short vacation before heading home to “enjoy” dealing with family for the holidays lol.

            I see quickly skim through that episode, and what a good time for a vacation it was.

          • The mob did turn on you……it was a bit scary to watch. I felt like one of the town folk in High Plains Drifter watching the sheriff get whipped in the street.

        • You’re going to have to name even one example of what you just claimed…

          • Trading a guy with higher market value than the return pieces?

            Joel Hanrahan. Travis Snider.

            • Joel Hanrahan was arguably worse than Mark Melancon in 2012, had red flags on his health, and only one year of control remaining at arb-3 prices. Pittsburgh fans overrated him because of TEH SAVES, but it wasn’t reasonable to expect more. Huntington got fair value.

              I’ll also highly disagree with your classification of the Snider trade. Brault and Trapley were more than fair value to receive for Travis Snider’s two good months of Major League Baseball.

    • He should be a whole lot more consistent than Morton. For whatever reason, Charlie was unable to generate his electric stuff into wins on a consistent basis.

  • Besides first base do the Pirates plan on upgrading their offense? Like maybe second base?

  • Is McCutchen a poor defender??
    I think using statistics he is. I am not sure he truly is.

    Walker was slower than when he got here, and was never quick, but I am curious if Pirate shifts make second baseman look worse than they really are?

    • I’m sure I’ve read here that statistics show that Cutch is a below average, or very close to average defensive Center Fielder compared to other starters. Marte is a better CF, but you don’t ask the MVP to move off center.

    • Actually, this is the biggest beef I have had with the “defensive liability” of Walker. Every stat that I have seen that “determines” defensive ranking quietly ignore shifts. So Walker was doomed, as is Cutch, and other Pirate’s fielders for the use of defensive shifts. As others have noted, most of what was hit to Walker he fielded. He made a lot of diving stops and turned the DP with no issues. The eye test said he was a better second baseman then he was given credit for. I have stated that here before and I stand by my statement.

      As far as I am concerned, it was Huntington’s ego that got in the way with any long term deal with Walker, Tim’s view not withstanding.

      Can you tell I am still pi%%ed off with this trade? Its not against getting Niese, but how we got him.

      • Another point of view on this is the Pirates were FORCED to use shifts because Walker had such a limited range. We began to see more and more hitters take advantage of the gaping holes on the left side as the Pirates shifted to cover Walker.

        I for one would not mind seeing a little less shifting this year with a more athletic 2B. If you BABIP as a measuring stick there is little evidence that shifts have that much impact on the game since the league average BABIP really has not changed even though more and more teams are using shifts.

      • Walker was only poorly ranked on range/UZR. Everywhere else he was reliable +. I am with you on this one, Walker is better than portrayed on this site and we will see evidence of that this year with his replacements.
        A guy I know who used to date the girl who lives next door to the guy who scoops the poop from Neal’s yard said Tim doesn’t like Neal because Neal cut short an interview with Tim in spring training….something about invading his space and not enough range.

    • Shifts are discarded for UZR purposes. Walker ranks low in terms of UZR. So the shifts wouldn’t impact him.

      • Tim, was just thinking today. I’m looking forward to
        your “flowchart” for this season like you did last year
        with the “what ifss” someone is injured etc.
        That was really great! I kind of would refer back
        to it during the season. Just thinking right now,
        is the possible flowchart a little “skimpy” right now?
        Will we still need to sign some AAAA free agents
        to fill in for the “just in case” situations.

    • Is that a serious question ?

  • Good article with some advanced metrics mixed with a whole lot of common sense. I am not sure I consider JHAY a better defensive 2B option than Alen Hanson, but he makes the most sense to start the year at 2B. And, Josh Bell was rough around the edges defensively in his first year at 1B, but statwise, he was better defensively than Pedro. More chances, less errors, better fielding percentage, and a much better range factor. And, most importantly, his number of errors declined as the season progressed.

    But the key for the Pirates in 2016 is the starting pitching options that will start the year at AAA. This franchise and it’s fanbase needs to see at least two of them promoted to the majors during 2016, and for these guys to do well once they get to the Pirates. They do not have to be #1/2 good, but, as you inferred, Taillon or Glasnow could be our #3 pushing Jon Niese to #4. Next on my list of things to improve would be situational hitting which includes a lot, but a good start would be more putting the ball into play and less whiffs. Both Bell and Rogers, who I thought was a 3B (?), are guys who are contact hitters with the ability to develop more power as they mature – same with Polanco.

    • emj, I agree quite a bit. Perhaps the most important fact not said here is that Neil wasn’t resigning here… regardless the reasons, so get value for him for several years and they did that. I think the Mets underestimated Neise, and we will be the beneficiary of that. I actually expect him to be as good as Liriano.
      The defense part I may take some exception to however. PRNW was exceptional in terms of reactions and hand coordination, IE: he really turned the DP well. We take a hit there. I would prefer Hanson defensively at 2b, and long term I see him as being a very strong contributor to the team… but his bat doesn’t appear to be ready yet so using him as a utility is a great introduction to the bigs. JHay is your starter at 2b, Mercer is the SS, and Kang is the 3b. All strong defense, but I’ve heard that Rodgers is all bat and no glove… he may be an upgrade offensively though!

      • Walker fielded every thing he got to…the problem was the number he ‘got to’. He was a good DP guy, tho, I agree.

        • Walker was very good on the turn, making relays, taking throws, and he had sure hands. His teammates called him a leader. He had a low error count, and three of those were Pedro mishaps covering the bag. He had issues with range…..period. I will bet anyone on this site that JayHay will make more errors at second this year than Walker last year, even with Pedro gone. I challenge the assumption that we are a better defensive team with Walker gone and a super utility guy replacing him.

          • Jhay will have more opportunities to make errors simply from getting to more balls in play. Number of errors isn’t really the best way to measure defense.

          • I think I would take that bet, but errors are not the best judge of defensive skill since they can be subjective depending on a official scorer’s opinion. Is it fair to JHay to get an error trying to field a ball that Walker wouldn’t have gotten within 2 feet of?

            Baseball-reference.com has Walker at -10 for his career in Rdrs while JHay is +8 at 2B a much better indicator of overall aptitude.

            Another thing many ignore is other than HR’s and RBI’s JHay’s offensive numbers, including SLG, are better than Walkers over the past 3 years. RBI’s are not a fair comparison since JHay often leads off while Walker has batted further down the lineup including significant time in the 4 spot. Hr’s are exciting but really don’t usually impact the game as much as some fans think.

          • Challenge all you want to. The guy would’ve been lost without shifting.

          • Hopefully Hanson moves up in June to push Harrison to super utility.

      • Neise couldn’t even stay in the rotation and has similar numbers to morton over the last few years and you expect him to be as good as liriano. First we r having a the best offseason in the central now this, what is going on man!??

      • The Mets would have been better off keeping Neise as depth and trading one of the young hard throwers ( Harvey ? ) for the great return they would have been sure to have received. Now they have a weak infield defense along with some holes in that OF & order that de Aza won’t help cure.

        • Niese is a hard working, blue collar pitcher who just keeps coming at you. Not gifted with that mid-90’s velocity, but very, very few LHSP’s have that. I really appreciated the numbers Tim posted in comparison to Mike Leake – NH did get an excellent return for Walker, and the option years for Niese give the Pirates a real comfort zone.

          BTW, I saw that Jeff Andrews had been promoted to Associate Coordinator of Pitching for the Rangers. One of the true nice guys in professional baseball. Also noticed Tony Beasley is on the Ranger coaching staff.

    • You’re point about situational hitting is the most poignant view expressed here. Our players are simply horrible at making simple contact, when a simple single is all that is needed. Freddie Sanchez is the last player who developed that kind of bat control. But surprise, I would include Chris Stewart in this category as well; if he were to play more regularly, I would not be surprised if he hit > .300.

      • Russell Martin was a terrific situational hitter, and Cervelli was pretty good last year too. I do agree that they need to get better as a team at situational hitting. As good as Marte is, this is the biggest hole in his game.

      • At times, not even a single is needed – just putting the ball into play behind the runners when the situation requires as much.

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