10:13 am Jun. 1, 2012
Ordinarily, the return of an average-hitting catcher and promotion of a Triple-A reliever wouldn't have much impact on a team's performance. But these are not ordinary times for the New York Mets.
So with Josh Thole set to join the team on Friday, after missing the past several weeks with a concussion, and Elvin Ramirez replacing Manny Acosta in the bullpen, the team should be getting significantly better.
The difference between Thole and the catcher he'll likely be supplanting in the starting lineup, Mike Nickeas, is dramatic. In 92 plate appearances, Thole, playing at his career norm, was worth a win over replacement. But Mike Nickeas wasn't playing at replacement level. In 70 plate appearances, he was about half a win below replacement. So merely having Thole play those Nickeas games would have been worth about 1.5 wins so far in the first quarter of the season, and another 4.5 wins extrapolated over the rest of the season.
To put that in perspective, the Mets are 1.5 games out of first place. And Jose Reyes' 2011, great as it was, was worth only 4.7 wins above replacement level.
The effect could be even greater in the bullpen. Ramirez is replacing Chris Schwinden on the roster in all likelihood, but at the start, he'll be taking the innings previously occupied by Manny Acosta, who was outrighted to Buffalo earlier this week.
Acosta was so bad, it is almost impossible to express his ineptitude. His E.R.A. was 11.86, a large part, though by no means the whole reason, why the Mets have a league-worst bullpen E.R.A. of 5.45. If Elvin Ramirez had been pitching in Acosta's spot, and posted a very pedestrian 5.00 E.R.A., the bullpen E.R.A. would have dropped nearly a full run, to 4.51. That's still bad, but not nearly so extreme.
And per WAR, Acosta was worth nearly two wins below replacement level, an astonishing total for a pitcher who threw just 22 innings all season. Again, those two wins would have put the Mets into first place. Over the remainder of the season, that's a difference of another six wins. Now, Acosta was unlikely to continue pitching at such a horrific rate. But he was unlikely to do so for as long as he had, and the Mets were right to make this change.
There's ample reason to think Ramirez, a hard thrower with three pitches who has dominated at Triple-A, will be far better than your typical replacement reliever. But even if he's merely competent, the Mets will enjoy a significant upgrade. With a difficult upcoming schedule, they can use the help.
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