Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Scouting Report: Nationals at Mets (9/10)

We saw Ayala the closer for the first time last night, and as I noted yesterday, he's throwing a lot more heat. Last night Charlie and Dave said that he's all but abandoned his sinking, two-seam fastball and is now throwing a four-seamer (that's you basic heater, which as opposed to a sinker appears to rise as it approaches the plate), often up in the zone. Guys who throw in the high 90s can blow you away with that, but Luis doesn't throw that hard. Dave asked, "he can't keep getting away with this, can he?"

If in fact that's what he's doing, the answer is almost surely no. But aside from a batter or two last night, I'm not sure that's really what he's doing. Charlie said Luis has "become a fly ball pitcher." But that's definitely not right. Yeah, Milledge flied out, but since going to the Mets, Ayala's flyball rate has been at 25.7%, which is tiny and lower than it's been since his Montreal days.

Fangraphs, where I get my pitch type data, doesn't disinguish between two-seamers and four-seamers, evidently because pitch F/X can't tell the difference (which seems odd, so if anyone has a source I don't know about to track or explain this, lemme know).

I wonder if perhaps as an extreme groundball pitcher if Ayala hadn't lost confidence in the zero-range middle infielders who have been behind him for the last two years in Washington. Reyes and Castillo aren't exactly vacuum cleaners out there either, but maybe the Mets just convinced him to go back to his bread and butter.

Anyway, there's my umpteenth bogus Ayala theory. Probably the difference is just random sample-size fluctuation.

Here's my take on the second of two in Shea. (For more on New York's offense and bullpen, check out my preview of game one.)

Pitching Match-Up
Mike Pelfrey: The 6'7", 24-year-old righty throws a very good sinking fastball, and his other pitches, a slider and a change, aren't very good. But against the Nationals a sinker often is enough, and that's been the case with Pelfrey. In 14 and 2/3 innings this year, he's given up one run on 8 hits and 8 strikeouts.

In fact, this year Pelfrey's been very solid for the Mets, giving them a 3.62 ERA over 176 innings. If he reaches 200 innings with an ERA in the mid-3s, that'll be phenomenal break-through year for him. As you'd guess, he doesn't strike out many, but he gets a ton of groundballs. He's been a bit lucky with a 76% strand rate and really not sustainable 6.0% HR/FB rate, but the main reason for his improvement is that his walk rate has been sliced from 4.83 to 2.80. If he continues that, he'll be a very good option for the middle of the Mets rotation going forward.

Odalis Perez: People have already started chattering about what the Nationals might do in free agency next year, and it does indeed seem like with the strongest class of SPs in recent memory and a hole or two in the Nationals rotation that they'd try to sign someone. And I'll tell you what--if you spent $7-8 million a year on a starting pitcher and got 150 or so innings of 4.20 ERA ball, well, you could do a lot worse than that (coughSilvacough). Why not just re-up Odalis for another year? He'll cost a lot more than the $850k we got him for this year, but if the alternative is Braden Looper for 3 years and $21 million? Shoot, I'll take the devil I know. And if he does this again next year, he could become a type-B free agent and yield us a draft pick if we let him go in 2010. If Odalis commands a multi-year, I'd stay away from that because of his conditioning and head-case past, but for one year at let's say Lo Duca money or less? Like I said, we could do worse.

Perez is still riding high on a slightly inflated strand rate--it was near 80% earlier this year and is down to 76% now, but still it should be closer to 70% given his other peripherals, which would push his ERA into the mid- to upper-4s. Indeed, his fielding independent ERA is 4.92. But he's finishing with a nice little run of solid starts, his command has been solid all year, and at a healthy 31 years old, I don't see any reason why he can't keep giving us the kind of more or less league-average innings that usually costs ten times as much.

Fearless Prediction
(Season record: 25-15)
Mets, 7-1.

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