06/26/2009 11:56 AM ET
Evans, Nieve provide unexpected boost
Can both players keep up their hot starts?
By Michael Salfino / SNY.tv
Fernando Nieve may be lucky so far, but he's helped hold together an injury-riddled Mets pitching staff. (AP)

I admit to thinking that, given their spate of injuries, the Mets would be on life support at the beginning of the second and final leg of the Subway Series at Citi Field on Friday night.

Like most objectively minded followers, I figured that the Mets desperately needed a major trade or two given what I perceived as a dearth of Minor League reinforcements. Of course, the Phillies have helped matters by being dreadful, losing 10 of their last 12 games. And if they had been swept by the Mets instead stealing two at Citi Field, the Phillies would be 3-17 since June 4. Yikes. And we thought Omar Minaya had problems.

But the Phillies are world champs, and we have to expect that they'll put it together late. So assessing the long-term likelihood of the new Mets is of paramount importance. So let's kick the tires and get inside the numbers on the two most prominent recent additions -- Nick Evans and, especially, Fernando Nieve, who has been shockingly effective -- or shockingly lucky.

Evans has started the last two games, both wins, at the expense of Daniel Murphy, whose line-drive rate has regressed to the mean (20 percent vs. 31 percent last year), taking down with it his batting average on balls in play (.257 vs. .382 last year, with average for all players at about .300).

I do think Murphy is still showing great promise as a hitter -- his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 22-to-22. When that's even or better, you should be hitting over .300 unless both the strikeouts and walks are very high.

But Evans is starting now at first against righties and producing, so Murphy will be sidelined until that changes. How likely is it that Evans continues to produce?

An opposing National League scout informed me this winter that Evans' upside was "average regular." He liked how Evans drove the ball and admired his defensive versatility despite average tools but was concerned about a regression in plate discipline in 2008. Let's see how Evans's strikeout-to-walk ratio held up prior to his Big League promotion.

It was pretty terrible -- six walks and 16 strikeouts in 204 plate appearances. And he had a .661 OPS in two Minor League stops, including a putrid .445 mark at Triple-A Buffalo, which earned him a demotion to Double-A. At Binghamton, Evans got hot prior to his callup with nine multi-hit games in June. Even accepting that he was impressive in Spring Training and might have been suffering from Big League-itis in Buffalo, this is hardly a confidence-inducing resume. So while he is hot now and might continue to provide some short-term benefits as a result, Evans is very unlikely to be a better hitter than Murphy at any point going forward.

The annoying thing about the Mets when it comes to player development is that they seem to have no respect for prospect pedigree as determined by their own scouts. Murphy had a very short leash this year, especially considering the baggage of manning a new position and the very obvious role bad luck played in his performance. Are the Mets similarly going to fall so easily out of love with Fernando Martinez because he failed to produce as a 20-year-old getting his first taste of The Show?

Nieve shocked me by throwing 94 mph in that first start against the Yankees but he quickly lost his velocity in that game. Still, averaging 92.4 is nothing to sneeze at -- only 20 qualifying starters do better. 92.4 is exactly what Joba Chamberlain is averaging (please don't tell that to Mike Francesa or he'll go on an hours-long, Diet Coke-fueled rant).

But if you start at 94 and then finish at 90, is that much worse than maintaining 92-ish? I think so. But Nieve has defied that line of thinking.

Whenever someone has been successful, you can bet that you can find some good luck in his performance. Sure, Nieve has stranded 91.8 percent of baserunners (average is about 70 percent). He's allowed a .181 average on balls in play (average is .300). But his fielding independent ERA (FIP) is 3.88, which I will take any day from a guy pulled off the scrap heap.

Also note that in 100-plus Major League innings, Nieve has allowed homers on over 14 percent of fly balls (average is about 10.5 percent). This year? 3.6 percent. And he's been an extreme fly-ball pitcher (47.5 percent fly balls, a figure bested currently by only four qualifying starters -- Ted Lilly, Chris Young, Johan Santana and Jered Weaver).

I'm rooting for Nieve because he's a story you can really get behind, but so was Nelson Figueroa briefly last year. My head says the same fate is likely in store for Nieve.

Michael Salfino is a nationally syndicated columnist and regular contributor to SNY.tv.
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