I’ve been doing a lot of analysis this offseason trying to see how the Pirates stacked up against their NL Central foes in certain aspects last season. I’ve taken a look at several areas of the offensive side of the game to date but as of yet I have not done so for the pitching or defensive side of the game. This is my first attempt at such a comparison. I wanted to take a look at how the Pirates stacked up against the other 4 remaining NL central teams last season on the basis of rotation spots (I’m speaking #1 starter, #2 … #5).
This of course presented problems with defining who I should slot into what rotation spot so as I usually do I made a couple simple, logical, rational decisions. My first decisions was to take all 162 starts from each team and assume a perfect distribution meaning the number 1 starter started 33 times, the number 2 starter started 33 times and the rest each started 32 times. Obviously it doesn’t work this way in reality but I needed a starting point. My next assumption was a way to solve who to slot into what spot. I opted to order all the players who started for a particular team according to the fWAR they produced per start. I then grouped the pitchers together until I compiled the necessary number of starts. Obviously this wasn’t a perfect solution as this caused some players to be counted in two different rotation spots. I handled that by calculating the starter’s average start and assigning the correct number of average starts to each group. The stats I opted to use are ERA, FIP, xFIP, WHIP, K:BB (strike out to walk ratio) and fWAR. For comparison sake I also did this exercise on the NL as a whole and included those results. So without further ado below are the results:
Reds: 2.78 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.65 xFIP, 1.17 WHIP, 3.47 K:BB, 4.8 WAR
Cardinals: 3.81 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 3.35 xFIP, 1.30 WHIP, 3.38 K:BB, 4.8 WAR
Brewers: 3.33 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 3.08 xFIP, 1.21 WHIP, 3.69 K:BB, 5.5 WAR
Pirates: 3.53 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 3.43 xFIP, 1.24 WHIP, 2.94 K:BB, 3.6 WAR
Cubs: 3.04 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 3.55 xFIP, 1.13 WHIP, 3.15 K:BB, 4.1 WAR
National League: 3.14 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 3.38 xFIP, 1.15 WHIP, 3.72 K:BB, 4.9 WAR
Reds: 3.48 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, 1.16 WHIP, 2.89 K:BB, 3.1 WAR
Cardinals: 3.51 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 3.52 xFIP, 1.18 WHIP, 3.61 K:BB, 4.2 WAR
Brewers: 3.76 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 3.51 xFIP, 1.21 WHIP, 4.42 K:BB, 4.1 WAR
Pirates: 3.99 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 4.06 xFIP, 1.22 WHIP, 2.59 K:BB, 2.6 WAR
Cubs: 3.79 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 3.89 xFIP, 1.22 WHIP, 2.73 K:BB, 2.8 WAR
National League: 3.72 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 3.80 xFIP, 1.24 WHIP, 2.90 K:BB, 3.3 WAR
Reds: 3.68 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 3.94 xFIP, 1.24 WHIP, 3.23 K:BB, 2.7 WAR
Cardinals: 3.15 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 3.82 xFIP, 1.16 WHIP, 3.26 K:BB, 3.4 WAR
Brewers: 3.73 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 3.57 xFIP, 1.28 WHIP, 2.82 K:BB, 2.8 WAR
Pirates: 4.72 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 4.09 xFIP, 1.40 WHIP, 2.14 K:BB, 1.8 WAR
Cubs: 5.00 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 4.03 xFIP, 1.31 WHIP, 2.65 K:BB, 1.7 WAR
National League: 3.88 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 3.98 xFIP, 1.27 WHIP, 2.78 K:BB, 2.4 WAR
Reds: 3.74 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 4.18 xFIP, 1.21 WHIP, 3.67 K:BB, 2.5 WAR
Cardinals: 3.82 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 3.74 xFIP, 1.34 WHIP, 2.47 K:BB, 2.9 WAR
Brewers: 3.68 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 3.93 xFIP, 1.28 WHIP, 2.59 K:BB, 2.3 WAR
Pirates: 4.15 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 4.30 xFIP, 1.33 WHIP, 2.08 K:BB, 1.4 WAR
Cubs: 4.80 ERA, 4.87 FIP, 4.61 xFIP, 1.31 WHIP, 2.08 K:BB, 0.7 WAR
National League: 4.49 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 4.22 xFIP, 1.39 WHIP, 2.12 K:BB, 1.5 WAR
Reds: 4.66 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 3.92 xFIP, 1.39 WHIP, 2.59 K:BB, 1.4 WAR
Cardinals: 3.84 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 4.05 xFIP, 1.38 WHIP, 2.03 K:BB, 2.1 WAR
Brewers: 5.52 ERA, 5.12 FIP, 4.55 xFIP, 1.53 WHIP, 2.06 K:BB, 0.0 WAR
Pirates: 4.82 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 4.21 xFIP, 1.34 WHIP, 2.37 K:BB, 0.6 WAR
Cubs: 6.52 ERA, 5.46 FIP, 5.03 xFIP, 1.74 WHIP, 1.23 K:BB, -0.3 WAR
National League: 5.27 ERA, 5.08 FIP, 4.68 xFIP, 1.50 WHIP, 1.74 K:BB, 0.1 WAR
Statistically speaking the Pirates #1 and #2 starters in 2012 performed the worst of the 5 remaining teams in NL Central. The performance of the Cubs pitchers are relatively close but as for the 3 teams that finished ahead of them there is no contest. The #3 and #4 starters for the Pirates performed slightly better than their Cubs counterparts but once again were lagging behind the rest of the division. The #5 starter for the Pirates performed better than the same rotation spot for the Cubs and Brewers but once again was behind the Reds and Cardinals. The numbers I presented seem to suggest the Pirates had the worst rotation in the NL Central last season (Astros excluded) and that actually probably isn’t far off from reality. There could be an argument between them and the Cubs but I would lean towards putting the Cubs ahead of them based upon the numbers.
Obviously this is something the Pirates are going to need to improve upon in 2013. The team can’t be successful if every team in the division is out performing them rotation spot for rotation spot. If you look at the numbers closely you may see the same pattern I do and that is the Pirates appear to be about a rotation spot behind. What I mean by that is the Pirates #1 starter would have made a solid #2 last season and the #2 would have been a solid #3 and so on. The Pirates did not add an ace caliber arm this offseason and though there are some arms in the rotation with that capability (McDonald and Liriano) it is unlikely to expect one will emerge. Down the line Cole may give the Pirates that boost but in the mean time the gap has got to be made up in other ways. The only way to fix this problem without becoming better at the top end is to become stronger and deeper throughout. The Cardinals and Reds last season got below NL average production from their #1 starter but the rest of the rotation (aside from the Reds #2) performed above, and in some cases well above, NL average. That is the same plan the Pirates must use in 2013 but actually to an even greater extent. The Pirates do not have a 5 WAR pitcher to sit atop the rotation so what they need is a rotation of 3 WAR players to help balance out the disparity. Rodriguez, Burnett, McDonald, Liriano and some combination of Karstens, Locke, McPherson, Cole, etc has the talent to do that but it is going to take a little luck to get there but if the Pirates don’t get there and a true ace does not emerge 2013 will likely be yet another season in which the Pirates fall out of contention early on.
Since this is the offseason I have some spare time with no Pirates games to watch so I decided that since I believe the Pirates biggest and perhaps only free agent splash this offseason should be a starting pitcher I decided to look into how the typical starter does. I’m hoping to make this a multi-step series and take a look at a bunch of stats from K/9, BB/9, WHIP, FIP, xFIP, WAR and so on but for now this post deals entirely with ERA. I wanted to see the defining marks between a 1 and 2 starter, a 2 and 3 and so on. So I took a look at the past 3 seasons of baseball that is 14,578 starts accumulated by 423 individuals.
I decided to attribute 2,970 starts to #1 pitchers, 2,968 starts to #2 pitchers and 2,880 starts to #3-#5 starters. There is some math behind this as in the course of a 162 game season a team would go through a rotation 32.4 times meaning the #1 and #2 starters would ideally make 33 starts and the #3-#5 would make 32 starts. Thirty teams, over 3 seasons playing 162 games should come out to 14,580 starts but since we were missing two (probably a game that was rained out and never made up) I took it from the pitcher number that ideally starts game 162 which is the #2 starter.
I then ordered the pitchers by the ERA they have put up as a starter over the course of the last three seasons. This means Shelby Miller, Brad Peacock, Aaron Thompson, Dellin BetancesCesar Ramos and Jeurys Familia are at the top of the list with a 0.00 ERA conversely Ryan Verdugo with a 32.40 ERA is at the bottom of the list. Now obviously these pitchers wouldn’t be considered the best and/or worst starters over the last 3 seasons because with the exception of Peacock who started 2 games everyone I mentioned has only made 1 start. However this still works for my purpose. I made the assumption that the best ERAs belong to number 1 starters, the next best #2 starters and so forth. To figure out the average ERA for a #1 starter I went down the list of ERAs gradually getting higher and adding the number of starts made by the pitcher. Once I reached 2,970 I stopped and moved on to a #2 starter and I repeated this process until I got to the end. Now of course this didn’t work out perfectly and I had 4 pitchers who had some starts in two categories so what I did was assign the ERA to each individual start and broke it apart accordingly. For example Roy Oswalt ended up being the borderline between a #1 and a #2 starter, he has made 64 starts over the last 3 seasons and I needed 28 of them to be added to the #1 starter group and the remaining 36 to the number two starter group. Essentially I broke him into two players one who made 28 starts at a 3.50 ERA and one who made 36 starts at a 3.50 ERA. I also split up the innings accordingly meaning I averaged his number of innings per start and then multiplied that by the number of starts in each category. I did this for the other 3 borderline pitchers as well.
So at the end what this gave me was 5 groups of starters separated by ERA. I then used the total ER allowed by each group and the total IP by each group to come up with an ERA for the group. It was a pretty straight forward process but as you can see the explanation of it can make it sound a little complicated. Below are the results of my breakdown.
#1 Starter: 3.06 ERA
#2 Starter: 3.74 ERA
#3 Starter: 4.12 ERA
#4 Starter: 4.51 ERA
#5 Starter: 5.47 ERA
Average Starter: 4.12 ERA
The ranges were as followed
#1 Starter: 0.00-3.50
#2 Starter: 3.50-3.96
#3 Starter: 3.96-4.29
#4 Starter: 4.29-4.80
#5 Starter: 4.80-32.40
To get rid of the extremes I took away the top 10% and bottom 10% of each category and the ranges and averages doing that were:
#1 Starter: 2.79-3.46 (Average of 3.09)
#2 Starter: 3.56-3.91 (Average of 3.74)
#3 Starter: 4.00-4.27 (Average of 4.11)
#4 Starter: 4.31-4.75 (Average 4.51)
#5 Starter: 4.90-6.37 (Average of 5.34)
I took away the top and bottom 10% just to make sure the extremes weren’t playing too much havoc with the averages. Also this now starts the #1 starters with Justin Verlander and ends the #5 starters with Sean O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan is probably not a common name to most but he has made 24 starts over the last 3 seasons so he isn’t just your typical cup of coffee starter who bombs in his 1 or 2 starts. The numbers as you can see for the most part stayed the same which validates my thought that the extremes really didn’t have much impact.
For reference sake I’m going to look at the Pirates six starters and compare their numbers to the above.. I’m going to use their ERA’s over the last 3 seasons, their ERA’s last season and their xFIP over the last 3 seasons and last year’s as well. The ERA’s should show us how they have compared and the xFIP should give us a fair estimate of how we could expect them to perform.
2010-2012: 4.62 ERA, 3.90 xFIP
2012: 3.51 ERA, 3.40 xFIP
2010-2012: 3.63 ERA, 3.80 xFIP
2012: 3.76 ERA, 4.09 xFIP (with Pirates only it was: 3.82 ERA, 4.42 xFIP)
2010-2012: 4.07 ERA, 4.23 xFIP
2012: 4.05 ERA, 4.17 xFIP
2010-2012: 3.96 ERA, 4.04 xFIP
2012: 3.89 ERA, 3.89 xFIP
2011-2012: 6.36 ERA, 4.49 xFIP
2012: 6.30 ERA, 3.61 xFIP
2012: 3.68 ERA, 4.66 xFIP
So now the next logical step is to ask where these Pirates pitchers rank on the number scale well before we can do that we must decide on one number to assign them. Using the xFIP and ERA numbers available I’m going to make some reasonable estimates and predict the following ERAs for the above 6 starters:
Remember these numbers are just approximations based on some educated guesses by me. Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald and Karstens seem to fit them because that is essentially where they have consistently been. For Locke and McPherson their sample sizes are such that one can’t really get a good feel for them. I put the numbers in between their ERAs and xFIPs and assumed some struggles as young pitchers which I think should put them in 4.40-4.60 range. Basically what I feel comfortable considering either McPherson or Locke for next season is as a 4.50 ERA pitcher. I believe that is a reasonable number for either one to hit next year.
So now the question is what does all this give us?
Burnett: A strong #2 starter, maybe even a borderline #1
Rodriguez: An average to weak #2 starter
McDonald: An average #3 starter
Karstens: A strong #3 starter, maybe even borderline #2
Locke and McPherson: Average #4 starters
So that actually looks pretty good. Two #2s, two #3s and two #4s but alas we know it’s not that simple. Our top two pitchers Burnett and Rodriguez are getting up there in age and could regress. The chances of McDonald being an average #3 starter seem slim as over the course of the last two years he has alternated between looking like a decent #1 to looking like a #5. Karstens is solid and dependable when he is on the field but has durability issues. And Locke and McPherson are young unproven pitchers who could possibly step up and be solid #3s even or could bomb and struggle to hold on to good #5 status. The bottom line is the Pirates have the makings of a decent looking rotation when compared to the rest of major league baseball but there are just so many questions surrounding them that addressing that area this offseason needs to be considered.