Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Small Comparison
By Ben Valentine

A few weeks ago I jokingly mentioned to a Yankee fan that Jae Seo was the new Mets ace. Now, being that it was a Yankee fan who believes all Met fans are ignorant fools who just believe in whatever flavor of the month happens to be performing well, he immediately told me that Seo is a AAAA pitcher who will never amount to anything in the big leagues. He compared him to Aaron Small, saying that there’s no reason to think that Seo will be any better than him in the long run.

Well I naturally disagreed with that at the time. I argued that Seo had major league success in the past which already gives him a leg up on Small. The guy disagreed, but I wasn’t expecting anything much there. Yankee fans have bloated views of their own “prospects” and tend to rail on Met farm hands.

However Small’s name came up again in a conversation I had with another Yankee fan, who is much higher on him. I tried to tell him that Small sounded like a fluke; a journey man minor leaguer who just happens to be on a hot streak. I hadn’t seen his stats, but I was pretty sure outside of wins and ERA, they weren’t impressive. I figured he has just been lucky. The Yankee fan disagreed, saying Small could finally have figured it out. So, in line with the pitching talk seen around here the last day or so, I decided to do a comparison of the two hot New York pitchers, to see who had been better and who was more likely to maintain his success.

Seo: 7-2, 1.98 ERA, 68.1 IP, 53 H, 48 Ks, 10 BB, 6 Hrs, .213 OppBA, .92 WHIP, 6.32 K/9, 4.80 K/BB

Small: 7-0 2.82 ERA, 51 IP, 46 Hs, 24 Ks, 17 BB, 2Hrs, .245 OppBA, 1.24 WHIP, 4.24 K/9, 1.41 K/BB

It’s not even close. Jae Seo has been far and away the better pitcher this season and is far more likely to have continued success at this level. Again, I doubt he will as good as he has been, since I would expect the OppBA to rise to about .250 over a full season and his K/9 to drop a little. But if he can continue to strike out 5.5- 6 batters per nine innings, then he should be at least a solid third starter in the bigs, if not better. That makes it all the more frustrating when Willie Randolph refuses to pencil Seo into the rotation for next season. What else does this guy have to do, pitch the first Mets’ no- hitter? There’s reason to believe he is currently the Mets third best pitcher and one might be able to argue his numbers are better than even Kris Benson’s.

Meanwhile the other shoe is going to drop for Small eventually. Guys who don’t strike anyone out have enough trouble keeping their ERAs down, especially on terrible defensive teams like the Yankees. Usually they get by because they don’t walk anyone. But Small also walks almost as many has he strikes out. He’s been fortunate thus far. And who knows? Like Kirk Saarloos has for the A’s (3.89 ERA despite walking 48 and only striking out 45 in 143 innings), he might just be able to keep it up long enough to get by and help the Yankees make the postseason. But if I were a betting man, I’d say the next time he faces a good offensive team like the Red Sox, he’s going to get lit up like a Christmas tree in December.

By the way:

Kris Benson: 9-7, 4.00 ERA, 149.2 IP, 145 H, 86 Ks, 40 BB, 19 Hrs, .252 Opp BA, 1.24 WHIP, 5.21 K/9, 2.15 K/BB

Seo Willie, tell me why Jae isn’t already in the rotation for next year?

3 Comments:

Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Another reason Small is having such a fluky season is that he's gotten more outs via fly balls then ground balls, yet has allowed fewer than 3% of those fly balls to be home runs. Since all evidence shows that home run avoidance is not a repeatable skill, there's good reason to believe that his home run rate on fly balls should rise to about 10%, the league average. That would give him 7 HR allowed (and 1.24/9 IP)this year, a number a lot closer to his career totals prior to this year. Simply put, guys who don't strike a lot of batters out tend to have wild fluctuations in their stats and rarely remain successful starters for long, unless they don't walk anyone. Clearly, that's not the case with Small. As the sample size grows, so will his losses and ERA.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

As for Seo, his numbers are a bit more reasonable. Prior to this season, he got slightly more fly outs than ground outs, and allowed a HR on 8.7% of his fly balls. This year, that rate is 6.7%. He's also allowed about .8 HR/9 IP, versus a career rate of 1.02/9 IP. While it's not impossible to assume that perhaps Seo has figured some things out which allowed him to reduce his HR rates, even if he does revert slightly to his prior form, it wouldn't make the same impact on his success as it would on Small. In short, Seo seems much more likely than Small to continue his success over the longer term, especially if he's also permanently improved his K/9 IP rate (4.8 career, 6.3 this year) and BB/9 IP rate (2.8 career, 1.32 this year). My best guess...he reaches a mid-point between this year's unreal production and his prior career efforts, maybe 5.5 K/9 IP and 1.8 BB/9 IP. That still makes him an effective pitcher, especially at Shea with a decent outfield defense.

5:41 PM  
Blogger RotoAuthority said...

I think Saarloos's success is somewhat sustainable. He has a 3.07 groundball to flyball ratio, which is #13 in baseball (min 50 IP). Brandon Webb and King Felix are 1 and 2 on this stat.

Small is at a pedestrian 1.60 g/f ratio...it was kind of hoping he'd somehow end up making a playoff start for NY and would embarrass them horribly. But I guess it's better that the Yanks miss the playoffs altogether.

8:17 PM  

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