12-28-2010: The AL East arms race


The Red Sox entered into this offseason with six proven Major League starters, and so were never really in the running for Cliff Lee. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz had stellar seasons in 2010, while new signing John Lackey failed miserably and Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka spent significant time on the DL. How does this rotation stack up against the rest of the teams in the division?

I am nearing completion on my first draft of projections of 2011, and here’s what I see in 2011 based on both Major and minor league performances:

Slot BOS TB NYY TOR BAL
1 3.49 3.83 3.48 4.25 4.32
2 4.08 4.09 4.33 4.26 4.56
3 4.15 4.15 4.40 4.28 4.58
4 4.23 4.20 4.57 4.50 4.92
5 4.28 4.44 4.87 4.54 5.12
6 4.70 4.45 5.00 4.65
Wt Avg 4.13 4.18 4.40 4.40 4.73

The run average numbers you see here represent an average of historical ERA and expected FIP, adjusted for age and park. I’ve taken a look at the top six starters on each team’s depth chart (the Orioles only have five at this point, and should invest in an “innings eater”). As you can see, the Sox and Rays have the best starting staffs on paper. We have the more proven commodities, while the Rays have many young starters who have the potential to be much better than what is listed here (also keep in mind that they could prove to be worse).

Who is the best pitcher in this division? David Price had an incredible year, but our statistical model is not quite sold on him yet, putting him well behind CC Sabathia and Jon Lester as the best pitchers in this study. Price is likely to regress a bit, while milliliter and Lester will just continue what they’ve shown they can do month after month.

Perusing these numbers, you might be wondering which run averages belong to Clay Buchholz and Philip Hughes, who both posted ERAs in the low 2s with a lot of wins. The problem is that they’ve only done that one year apiece, and their track records before that were not so pristine. Buchholz, especially, benefitted from a very high strand rate and a very low BABIP against, and is due for some regression, if history has anything to say about it. He shows up with an expected 4.23 ERA. Hughes clocks in at 4.33 for 2011, much of that due to the high HR rates typical of the new Yankee Stadium.

The other thing you see is that Brian Cashman needs to sign or acquire another starter, pronto. Ivan Nova and Andrew Brackman will probably not get it done.

Team-to-team comparison

The last row represents a weighted average, because top of the rotation arms typically throw more starts and more innings than the back end pitchers. I’ve given a 10% bonus to the top three pitchers and subtracted 10% weight from the last three pitchers. Of course, it’s impossible to tell what injuries will do to a staff, but it’s a good bet that the top three are more likely to go 180-200 innings, while the bottom three will probably live in that 150-170 IP zone.

Using that as a rough gauge, the Sox and Rays are in the first tier, followed by the Yankees and Blue Jays, with the Orioles bringing up the rear. They have a lot of hard-throwing youngsters, but that just isn’t enough in this division.

If these numbers look high to you in general, you should consider the difficulty of pitching in the AL East, where some of the best lineups in baseball call home, and Boston, New York and Baltimore all have ballparks which tend to increase run scoring significantly. Even Beckett posted a 5-something ERA last year, and that should tell you something.

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4 Responses to 12-28-2010: The AL East arms race

  1. Pat says:

    If our number 5, (presumably Daisuke), is putting up a 4.28 ERA, I’m ready to buy post season tickets.

    With Marcum, and Pettite out of the division, and Tampa Bay potentially dealing one of Shields and Garza (hopefully Garza), it feels like the division is getting weaker outside of Boston.

    • redsoxtalk says:

      Pat, I agree with you. Daisuke does seem to be on a downward slide, but if you look at what he’s done the past three seasons (especially when healthy, which hasn’t been often), you’ll see he’s a pretty capable pitcher.

      The numbers I’ve posted here are a projected 50% mean run average based on historical ERA and expected FIP based on components (not strictly xFIP), weighted equally. The standard deviation of the Red Sox numbers are smaller than that of Tampa Bay’s starters, meaning they could be way better or way worse.

      Any way you slice it, we have a deep and solid rotation. The primary question is HOW solid and how injury-free can it be?

  2. redsoxtalk says:

    Also humorous (and sad) that our top 5 are all better than Baltimore’s expected ace, Brain Matusz.

  3. Pat says:

    It wasn’t a rip on Matsuzaka as much as me being amazed that the worst ERA in the top 5 is that low. I agree with you completely that a lot of those numbers could end up either a lot better or worse. There’s potential to have four or five starters with ERAs under 4.

    I really hope we see 2009 Josh Beckett instead of 2010 Beckett.

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