2013 Expectations: Top of the Rotation

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

AJ Burnett

Burnett, who has already been named the opening day starter, is the clear unquestioned leader of the Pirates staff. Burnett isn’t quite as effective as your typical number one pitcher but is a significant upgrade from the number one starters the Pirates sent out there just a few seasons ago. Headed into last season he was coming off two rough seasons for the Yankees but he rebounded nicely compiling a very strong seasons. The Pirates and I’m sure fans are all hoping he can repeat his 2012 success in 2013 but realistically that doesn’t seem very likely to me. Burnett is getting up there is baseball years at 36 years old and while his 2012 season was nice he tailed off towards the end of the year. His campaign in 2012 did not appear to be exceedingly lucky so expecting a complete collapse back to his 2010-2011 years is probably unrealistic as well but still his 2013 numbers are likely to be worse than his 2012 ones. Last season Burnett managed to keep his walk rate below 3.0 BB/9 innings something he has rarely done in his career. I see Burnett still being a very strong rotation arm for the Pirates but the walks will likely increase and that will have the snowball effect which cause regression to set in. I’m seeing an ERA in the upper 3s, say around 3.90, a WHIP in the 1.30-1.35 range and strike out and walk ratios around 7.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 respectively. Last season Fan Graphs had him pegged as a 3.4 WAR player and he won’t reach that level in 2013 as I see him around a 2.5 WAR player with a maximum of a 3.0 WAR player.

Wandy Rodriguez

Rodriguez has already been names the second man in the rotation and I think the Pirates will benefit from having for the entire season. Rodriguez has seen his strike out rates slip in the past few seasons and that coupled with his age of 34 years old is a definite red flag. Still he has managed to keep his numbers fairly steady and there is reason to believe he will continue to do. He isn’t a true #2 starter like the Pirates will be counting on him to be but he is a durable arm who should give the Pirates a lot of solid innings and that in itself has a lot of value. Rodriguez has been transforming himself the last couple of seasons from a power pitcher to more of a finesse one and he has been fairly successful and my expectation is that he will continue to be fairly successful. Overall I see a Rodriguez posting an ERA not to dissimilar to Burnett’s ERA. His ERA should be in the high 3 range around 3.8-3.9, his WHIP should remaining fairly steady around 1.30 and I see his strike out rate improving slightly to around 6.5 K/9 and his walk rate remaining strong at about 2.7 BB/9. Overall I see him having about the same value as Burnett meaning he should be about a 2.5 WAR player. I would say Burnett’s maximum performance for 2013 is better than Rodriguez’s but Rodriguez is probably the more dependable of the two meaning he has less of a chance to fall of a cliff this year.

James McDonald

Now we are not really in the top of the rotation but McDonald certainly has top of the rotation stuff. No single player was a better microcosm of the Pirates successes and failure in 2012. When McDonald was riding high so were the Pirates and when he fell apart the Pirates did as well. He is the ultimate variable for the Pirates pitching staff in 2013. His strong first half to the 2012 season suggests he could be the top of the rotation arm the Pirates need but his late season collapse suggests he could just be another AAAA arm. Chances are his value will fall somewhere in between. The last two seasons have seen McDonald post the exact same ERA of 4.21 so when predicting an ERA for 2013 it is hard not just to say that is about what he will do again in 2013 but then again there is such a wide array of possible outcomes for McDonald that it is impossible to know just exactly what he will do in 2013. Personally I’m expecting a more consistent pitcher who will pitch slightly better than his overall results from the last two years. The numbers won’t be a whole lot better but I think they will be better. Taking a stab at his statistics I think he’ll have an ERA around 4.10, a WHIP in the 1.30 range and ratios around 7.7 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 respectively. I think overall this will make him a nice middle of the rotation arm and that he should be worth approximately 1.5-2.0 WAR for the Pirates in 2013.

Francisco Liriano

If there is a bigger wildcard for this pitching staff than James McDonald it is Liriano. Liriano, like McDonald, could wind up just about anywhere from Cy Young contender to a complete mess. There is also the added intrigue of the broken right arm which will likely cause him to miss the first month of the season. Still if you are looking for a high upside guy Liriano is most certainly that. All the projection systems I’ve seen seem to think he will do fairly well in Pittsburgh and by that I mean keeping his ERA in the high 3s to low 4s. In reality I don’t have the slightest clue what to expect from Liriano, however I will add I don’t see him completely blowing up and I think he’ll at least be a solid back of the rotation option for the Pirates but of course I’m hoping for more. I think on the low end we’ll see a 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 4.6 BB/9 type of seasons from Liriano and on the high end I think we could see a 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 type season from Liriano. I tend to think the low end has a better chance than the high end though. So lets split the difference and lean towards the low end and call for a 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 type season. I’m thinking that should put him somewhere in the vicinity of 1.5-2.5 WAR so again let’s go down the middle leaning toward the low side and call it 1.8 WAR.

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