Putting Sabermetrics To The Test: The Rotation

If you haven’t already, I’d suggest reading the introduction to this series before continuing below with my 2011 predictions for the pitching staff. All statistics mentioned were taken from FanGraphs. If you have any complaints with these predictions, you are more than welcome to share your opinions in the comments below. However, before you complain about my predictions, please note that this is the first time I’ve ever seriously done predictions before, and many of the numbers are simply educated guesses. Also, the luck stats I’m looking at are mainly being used to predict that pitcher’s 2011 ERA and batting average allowed; everything else is as I just said, an educated guess.

Typically, luck statistics for pitchers include batting average on balls in play (BABIP), home runs per fly ball (HR/FB), line drive rate (LD%), and the percentage of runners stranded on base (LOB%). Other statistics may also be used when evaluating a pitcher here, even if they are not mentioned in that player’s summary. Additionally, I’m willing to bet some of you will dislike the fact that I’m predicting a player’s win/loss record with these stats. To be honest, the records I’m predicting are somewhat based off the player’s ERA, but anything could happen. We may see someone repeat Phil Hughes’ 2010 (18-8) or Kevin Millwood’s 2010 (4-16).

Francisco Liriano

2010 stats: 14-10, 191.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP, .249 BA, 9.44 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 0.42 HR/9, 1.26 WHIP

Liriano is my unquestioned ace of the staff from 2010, even though many people felt that he pitched poorly against good teams last year – an argument I debunked earlier this offseason. I know that 200 innings is the magic cutoff for starting pitchers, and Liriano failed to reach that last year. However, he also had 31 starts, which is 2-3 fewer than what a SP would achieve if he pitched in every scheduled start in a season. Assuming Liriano continued his ~6 inning per start rate, he would have gotten past 200 innings in the majors for the first time in his career.

One of the first things that catches the eye is the disparity between Liriano’s ERA and FIP. The sparkling FIP – good for 3rd in MLB, behind Josh Johnson and Cliff Lee, and ahead of Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander – was due to Liriano’s great K rate, solid BB rate, and tying for the 3rd fewest home runs allowed for the whole season. The ERA was inflated due to a high BABIP rate, which is likely why some fans thought Liriano struggled last season.

I see Liriano’s ERA and batting average allowed taking a dip this year because of last season’s FIP and BABIP, respectively, with most of his other statistics remaining the same. However, I expect him to give up a few more home runs this year, but if he continues to keep his groundball rate above 50%, the added home runs will still be manageable.

2011 predictions: 15-7, 3.22 ERA, .225 BA, 9.27 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 0.78 HR/9

Carl Pavano

2010 stats: 17-11, 221 IP, 3.75 ERA, 4.02 FIP, .263 BA, 4.76 K/9, 1.51 BB/9, 0.98 HR/9, 1.19 WHIP

Pavano is the guy that many fans considered to be the true ace of the staff in 2010, and his ERA and ability to pitch deep into games certainly reflected that. After all, he did finish the year with 7 complete games, which tied him for second most in 2010.

Even though his ERA and FIP were fairly close to each other last year, some people have given Pavano’s ability to repeat 2010 some doubt, due to his declining K/9. However, his ability to induce grounders for the above-average infield defense to gobble up and avoid issuing walks helped him to his sub-4 ERA. Looking beyond that, he was average in allowing home runs (both per 9 innings and per fly ball) and he stranded runners just slightly better than average. Using these, I’d expect a slightly worse season for Pavano, but fans will still be pleased with his year.

2011 predictions: 14-10, 4.04 ERA, .278 BA, 5.23 K/9, 1.74 BB/9, 1.02 HR/9

Brian Duensing

2010 stats: 10-3, 130.2 IP, 2.62 ERA, 3.85 FIP, .245 BA, 5.37 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 0.76 HR/9, 1.20 WHIP

Duensing is one of those guys that has baffled me so far. After the 2009 season, I was convinced that his ERA would regress into the ~4 range. However, he actually improved in 2010 in many pitching categories, with the exception being his HR/9 (which only increased by 0.01 points) and HR/FB (+1.9 %). While there’s a voice in the back of my head that still second-guesses this thought, I’m willing to bet that Duensing is not as good of a pitcher as we believe, because BABIP, LOB%, LD%, and FIP all suggest that he’s going to regress this season. Just in case Duensing really is the second coming of Matt Cain, I’ll be a little nicer than I want to be in the predictions.

2011 predictions: 12-11, 3.94 ERA, .280 BA, 5.12 K/9, 2.28 BB/9, 0.97 HR/9


Nick Blackburn

2010 stats: 10-12, 161 IP, 5.42 ERA, 5.07 FIP, .299 BA, 3.80 K/9, 2.24 BB/9, 1.40 HR/9, 1.45 WHIP

Perhaps undeservingly, Blackburn was handed a rotation spot early in spring training. While he pitched well this spring, we don’t know for sure if he’s indeed returned to his 2008 and 2009 form. While his BABIP has remained consistent for his career, his K/9 fell for the third straight season, Oddly enough, though, he posted his best groundball rate for his career (though was still worse than Liriano and Pavano, two pitchers that aren’t heralded as much as sinkerball pitchers) and the same was true for his line drive rate. Simply put, it appears as though the culprit is his inability to strike out hitters and the increased number of home runs. Unless Blackburn gets lucky or figures out a way to get more swinging strikes, I don’t see him improving very much in 2011.

2011 predictions: 9-14, 5.14 ERA, .296 BA, 4.08 K/9, 1.96 BB/9, 1.26 HR/9


Scott Baker

2010 stats: 12-9, 170.1 IP, 4.49 ERA, 3.96 FIP, .275 BA, 7.82 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 1.22 HR/9, 1.34 WHIP

Baker is one of those guys that seems to always pitch worse than his FIP suggests. With the exception of his 2008 season when he posted a 3.45 ERA, Baker’s ERA has always been at least 0.29 points higher than his FIP in any season of his career. He has always been a flyball pitcher, so it’s not uncommon to see him with a below-average HR/9 rates even when his HR/FB is average or better. Speaking of batted ball rates, Baker tends to allow a high percentage of line drives, likely because he tends to throw pitchers high in the zone. Some other things to note were that his K/9 was at a career high last season, as was his BABIP. I feel that Baker will improve enough this year that some of us will stop referring to him as “Moon Shot Scott.”

2011 predictions: 13-8, 4.13 ERA, .251 BA, 7.57 K/9, 2.13 BB/9, 1.15 HR/9

Note: I deliberately avoided writing predictions for the bullpen because relievers are some of the most volatile players in the majors. I’d liken it to predicting how a player would perform in spring training. I bet very few of us would have guessed that Luke Hughes would lead the team in HR this spring, just like very few (maybe even none) would have guessed that Juan Portes would have hit so many homers last spring. Or how about the fact that Justin Morneau hit under .200 last spring? You just never know…


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