Oswalt a nice consolation prize

Posted on July 10, 2010 by

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OK, so the Mets lost out on Cliff Lee. If you are worried about Hisnaori Takahashi making it through a lineup three times or R.A. Dickey’s long ball troubles you still want the Mets to land an impact starter. Houston’s Roy Oswalt is still there for the taking. Let’s take a quick look and see how Oswalt and Lee stack up to each other this season:

 

Along with his insane walk rate, Lee has been quite a bit fortunate this year, especially with his HR/FB rate, which checks in at 4.0 percent. For someone who essentially throws as many fly balls as grounders, this is a nice category to be overachieving in. This is also the highest strikeout rate for Lee since 2004 and is 88 points above his career average. His HR/9 of 0.43 is less than half his career rate of 0.96 and his LOB% of 73.6 is slightly better than his lifetime mark of 72.4 percent.

Meanwhile, Oswalt is succeeding thanks to his highest K% since 2001 and a .266 BABIP. But his BB/9 , HR/9 (0.83) and LOB% (74.6%) are all worse than his career marks. Aside from his W-L record, this looks like a typical Oswalt season. He had a down year last year with a 4.12 ERA, but Oswalt had an ERA between 2.94 and 3.54 for seven consecutive seasons before 2009.

Lifetime, Oswalt has a 3.22 ERA, 3.35 FIP and 3.57 xFIP. This year his numbers in those categories are 3.08, 3.33 and 3.48, respectively. This is not a career-year for Oswalt – this is who he is as a pitcher.

In 2009, Oswalt suffered from hand, wrist and lower back injuries. The back injury is the main concern, as Oswalt has what Baseball Injury Tool calls “Degenerative Disc Disease.” Spine-health.com says this sounds worse than it is. “[T]his condition is not strictly degenerative and is not really a disease.” The site goes on to say:

• Part of the confusion probably comes from the term “degenerative”, which implies to most people that the symptoms will get worse with age. The term applies to the disc degenerating, but does not apply to the symptoms. While it is true that the disc degeneration is likely to progress over time, the low back pain from degenerative disc disease usually does not get worse and in fact usually gets better over time.
• Another source of confusion is probably created by the term “disease”, which is actually a misnomer. Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease at all, but rather a degenerative condition that at times can produce pain from a damaged disc.

Disc degeneration is a natural part of aging and over time all people will exhibit changes in their discs consistent with a greater or lesser degree of degeneration. However, not all people will develop symptoms. In fact, degenerative disc disease is quite variable in its nature and severity.

A power pitcher with a bad back is never a good thing. Concerns about Oswalt’s physical health should not be dismissed lightly. But at the same time, it is not a given that he will be sidelined, either. Since 2002, Oswalt has made 30 or more starts in seven out of eight seasons and the one year he failed to reach that plateau was 2003, when he was limited to 21 starts due to a groin strain.

For a pitcher with red flags surrounding him because of health problems, Oswalt has been remarkably durable. He is throwing as hard as ever, as he has an average fastball velocity of 93.0, compared to a 93.1 lifetime mark. Oswalt also throws plus pitches with both his slider, which he throws 16.8 percent of the time, and his curve, which he utilizes 15.8 percent of the time.

So, how much should the Mets be willing to give up in order to get Oswalt? We now have a baseline to work with, given what the Mariners received for Lee from the Rangers. However, it seems like Oswalt should cost less for a variety of reasons:

1. Rightly or wrongly, Lee was considered a better pitcher.
2. Lee did not come with the same injury concerns that Oswalt has.
3. Lee is a year younger.
4. Lee is a free agent at the end of the season, while Oswalt comes with an $18.5 million salary in 2011 and the same amount the following season, albeit with a $2 million buyout.
5. Oswalt has a no-trade clause and while he stated that he is receptive to being dealt to a contender, it is likely he will want to be compensated for waiving that right.

How many teams can afford to pick up his salary, are in the hunt for the playoffs and are willing to give up value in order to get Oswalt? Another factor to consider is that Lee was already succeeding in the AL with the DH. No one knows for sure how Oswalt will fare having to go against deeper lineups with a DH. Few thought Jake Peavy would struggle the way he did this year before going on the DL. It is not a huge issue, but it might give a team like the Yankees or Red Sox pause.

The good news about trading with the Astros is they need just about anything, so a club should have no problem matching up its young talent with areas that Houston needs. Because of his remaining contract, which also includes a portion of his $18.5 million due this season, I would not be willing to give up Jenrry Mejia for Oswalt. But just about every other minor league player would be on the table.

The Astros currently start Angel Sanchez and Jeff Keppinger as their middle infield duo. Top prospect Jiovanni Mier is hitting .225 with 1 HR in 79 games for Low-A Lexington. I would look to start an Oswalt package with either Ruben Tejada or Reese Havens. The Astros would likely want a pitcher back, too. Do either Brad Holt or Jeruys Familia have any trade value these days? After taking Mejia off the board, I would give them any pitcher on the roster of St. Lucie, Binghamton or Buffalo to complete the deal.

Wait, it is Ed Wade we’re talking about – the Mets should look to sweeten the package with a middle reliever. Manuel Alvarez is tearing things up and has advanced from A-ball to Triple-A with a 7:1 SO:BB ratio, so let’s throw him in there, too. Tejada, Familia and Alvarez for Oswalt.

One last thing to consider in an Oswalt deal is the difference between Minute Maid Park and Citi Field. Oswalt would be going from one of the best hitter’s parks in the NL to one of the better pitcher parks. This year he has a 3.48 ERA at home and a 2.45 mark in road parks. Minute Maid has been neutral in runs this season but has a 1.226 factor for home runs. Citi Field is last in runs and 27th in HR.

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Posted in: Perspectives