Sunday, January 28, 2007

MLB Preview 2007 - AL Rotation Analysis

Today’s post is a look at the projected starting rotations of AL teams. This is the first time I have ever attempted such a venture, so the method may be a bit raw, and in need of refinement. The general procedure was as follows:

  • For each team, I identified the projected starting five, and up to two alternates. These alternates were in some cases true swingmen (like Kirk Saarloos on Cincinnati), in other cases rookies expected to make midseason call-ups (think Philip Hughes of the Yankees).
  • With great difficulty, I restrained myself from choosing my preferred rotation, instead relying on my best estimate of the team’s projected rotation. So, my hometown Twins will be running out Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson, instead of Matt Garza and Scott Baker.
  • Pitchers 1-4 are projected to get 32 starts, number five gets 19, six gets 9, and seven gets 7.
  • Pitcher projections are PECOTA’s EqERA, which is ERA adjusted for league, park, and team defense.
  • Pitcher Innings Pitched per start is also projected by PECOTA.
  • Teams are ranked in order of projected ERA. This ranking method does not truly capture rotation value, because it does not account for the number of innings contributed by starting pitchers. All other things equal, more IP contributed by starters is better, because in MLB, the starting pitchers are in general possessed of superior talent to the relievers. For this reason, I have also included a projection of the number of innings contributed by starters (out of 1440 IP).
  • The average rotation EqERA on an MLB scale is 4.50 EqERA.
Without further ado, the results:

Top 2
Boston Red Sox: 4.01 EqERA, 992 IP
Anaheim Angels: 4.06 EqERA, 994 IP

Boston gets top billing on the strength of its top five, with Schilling and Matsuzaka projected amongst the league’s top starters. Wakefield, Papelbon, and Beckett all project as above-average starters as well. However, Boston has almost no depth beyond their top five (Kyle Snyder anyone?), so will definitely deal with downside risk. The quality of the Angels top five is slightly below Boston’s, but they have two reliable backups in Joe Saunders and rookie Nick Adenhart.

Above Average
New York Yankees: 4.22 EqERA, 993 IP
Detroit Tigers: 4.24 EqERA, 968 IP
Oakland Athletics: 4.31 EqERA, 956 IP
Cleveland Indians: 4.39 EqERA, 977 IP
Toronto Blue Jays: 4.40 EqERA, 921 IP
Minnesota Twins: 4.43 EqERA, 944 IP
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: 4.44 EqERA, 897 IP

The starting rotation analysis starts to indicate why it is that the AL totally pwn3d the NL last season – it’s the pitching, stupid! Whereas the NL lineups stacked up with the best of the AL, the pitching differential is huge, with nine of 14 AL teams above average. Oakland and Cleveland appear here due to superior depth rather than star talent, while the Blue Jays are dragged above average due almost entirely to Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett. Tampa Bay puts up good rate stats, but have the second lowest projected IP total in the league – if those projections are correct, that is going to be a taxing burden on a weak bullpen.

Below Average
Chicago White Sox: 4.51 EqERA, 980 IP
Baltimore Orioles: 4.53 EqERA, 927 IP
Texas Rangers: 4.56 EqERA, 898 IP
Seattle Mariners: 4.63 EqERA, 942 IP

The White Sox have fallen a long way from the championship season in 2005, as every one of their remaining starters has regressed. However, the White Sox starting rotation retains an uncanny ability to eat innings. My fearless prediction: a strong start out of the gate (while other teams are increasing their SP workload), followed by another late-season fade. Book it. The Mariners have spent some money this offseason, but they still look like a last place team to me.

Do you even have to ask?
Kansas City Royals: 4.87 EqERA, 839 IP

KC has lost 100 games in three of the last four seasons. That means top draft picks each of those years. They spent money in the free agent pool this offseason. The result: by far the league’s worst starting rotation, to go with the league’s worst everyday lineup. So, they’ve got that going for them.

Incorporating Innings Pitched
As a last step, I incorporate an innings pitched credit or debit. Teams with more starter IP get a credit, teams with less a debit. This produces a linearized ranking of AL teams that is intended to represent true rotation value. The ranking is as follows:

1. Boston Red Sox
2. Anaheim Angels
3. New York Yankees
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Cleveland Indians
6. Oakland Athletics
7. Chicago White Sox
8. Minnesota Twins
9. Toronto Blue Jays
10. Seattle Mariners
11. Baltimore Orioles
12. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
13. Texas Rangers
14. Kansas City Royals

This list is mostly unchanged, with the exception of Tampa Bay and Texas going down a number of spots, and Chicago improving.

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