We arrive at part 2 of our 3 part series dedicated to how the Giants are shaping up heading into the 2007 season. The first installment can be picked up here for those that missed it.
The NL West this year looks to be jam packed with solid rotations. The Dodgers, Padres, and Arizona all have the potential to be very good. I think that the Rockies are still a work in process and most likely the weakest rotation in the NL West but they could always surprise.
One of the themes for the NL West in the offseason was an arms race to pitching. It felt like every team went out and acquired new pitching to help their staffs. Lets take a quick look at how the other teams are looking in the starting pitching department.
The Bad Guys
Dodgers – Jason Schmidt turned to the dark side and joined the Dodgers, who already have a nice depth of starting options for their rotation. A top three of Schmidt, Lowe, and Penny is nothing to scoff at. The Dodgers will round out their rotation with Randy Wolf and Kuo, possibly giving a chance to Chad Billingsley to compete for a spot in the rotation. A very solid rotation.
Padres – Over the offseason the Padres added dinosaur / future hall-of-famer, Greg Maddux to their rotation, signing him to a 1 year deal with a player option. Chris Young and Clay Hensely both had strong years in 2006. Even though Peavy struggled some, you have to expect that’ll bounce back in 2007. PECTOA really likes Peavy for 2007, predicting him to post a 3.26 ERA and a VORP of 45.5. Throw in David Wells as your #5 starter and you’ve got a staff that is very capable from top to bottom. I think the Padres will have the most consistent staff in the West.
Diamondbacks – Will the return of Randy Johnson go as scheduled? Or will back troubles and father time catch up to the 43 year old lefty? No one can be sure yet but PECOTA likes the Randy Johnson signing, predicting him to post a 3.71 ERA and a VORP of 26.1. There is no arguing that Johnson is on the last legs of his career but I wouldn’t be surprised if he matched those numbers. Which Livan Hernandez will pitch for the D-Backs in 2007? The junkballer that gets results or the junkballer that gets knocked around? Toss in a dash of Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb and Doug Davis and you have the makings of another strong rotation.
Rockies – The Rockies traded their best pitcher in 2006, Jason Jennings, to the Astros in return for Jason Hirsch, Willy Taveras, and Taylor Buchholz. Hirsch has the chance to be something special but I doubt that he’ll start the season with the Rockies. Outside of Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook the Rockies don’t have much. Rodrigo Lopez could be useful in a innings-eater type of way. Byung-Hyun Kim and Josh Fogg could fill the remaining spots in the rotation.
The Good Guys
1. Barry Zito – Oh, Barry Zito. Let me count the ways in which I already love thee. One, Two, and Three. If wackiness was a pitching statistic Barry Zito would post a 1.000% in it. But can this yoga practicing, guitar playing, weirdo actually pitch? That is the question and I think, like most others, Barry Zito will be good in the first 4 years or so of his contract. The back end has a chance to be ugly though.
Zito naysayers will point to his declining peripherals as a sign of the apocalypse to come and they aren’t alone. PECOTA isn’t a big fan of Zito and has him projected to put up an ERA of 4.26 in ’07. In fact, Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus calls Zito merely ‘league average’
PECOTA is not terribly optimistic about Zito, whom it regards as a just a hair better than a league average starter. It thinks that Zito’s next seven seasons are worth $43 million in present value. That’s what PECOTA says.
And if that hasn’t scared you, try this one on for size
Zito’s peripherals haven’t been very good: both his strikeout rate and walk rate were below-average last season, and he also gives up a fair number of home runs. It also does not automatically assume that Zito is going to make 35 starts per season; in fact, a decline in strikeout rate, as Zito has experienced over his past couple of seasons, is often a precursor to a decline in innings pitched.
The potential for Zito to enter a decline is there. But part of me ignores the declining peripherals and hopes that a move to the NL, where hitters have little history with Zito, can only help Zito’s stats for the immediate future. The homer in me sees Zito posting a sub-4 ERA.
2. Matt Morris – Beardy McBearderson had a rough year in ’06. The days of Morris being a strikeout pitcher are long gone as he posted the worst K/9 of his career. Also somewhat startling is that he seemed to have trouble with his control. What else? Oh yeah, his second half was just awful. Whether it was because of his fractured ribs or not, a ERA of 5.85 is cringe-worthy. Of all the pitchers in the Giants rotation, to me, Morris is one of the larger question marks. What he will provide the Giants with is around 200 innings of pitching, preferably closer to league average this year.
3. Matt Cain – Matt Cain had the type of year that you love from a young pitcher with promise. After struggling in the first half of the season where he posted an ERA to the tune of 5.12 some questioned whether or not he was ready for the majors. Cain quickly dispelled that myth with a strong second half performance in which he posted an ERA of 3.26. It is hard to believe that Cain is only 22 and possibly already the best pitcher on the Giants staff. As he learns to cut down on his walks he’ll only get better.
4. Noah Lowry – Noah had a frustrating year in ’06. After a very nice ’05 campaign that had a lot of people excited Lowry went down with an oblique strain in his first game of the season. Lowry came back to pitch with mixed results, never quite looking like the pitcher we saw in 2005. Like Morris, you hope that Lowry’s troubles in ’05 had more to due with injury than anything else. Lowry should be fully healed for 2007 and I think he will improve this year. He has added a nice curveball to his repertoire that should help to keep batters from sitting on his change.
5a. Russ Ortiz – When a team cuts you with 21.5 million dollars remaining on your contract, we’ll, you have to be pretty bad. And describing Russ Ortiz as bad is probably doing him a favor. Ortiz hasn’t posted an ERA in the neighborhood of 4 since 2004 but some weird part of me is nostalgic and hopeful about Ortiz returning to the Giants. I believe that he’ll be the favorite to win the 5th rotation spot. I just hope that he’ll be on a short leash. He seems to be pitching well so far in Spring Training but that isn’t saying much.
5b. Jonathan Sanchez – Sanchez was recently ranked as the #2 propsect in the Giants farm system by Baseball America. The lanky lefthander throws in the low 90s with a nice changeup but the rest of his arsenal is inconsistent. Outside of a Russ Ortiz explosion I believe that Sanchez will end up in the pen, at least for the moment being. A recent article states that the Giants want to give Sanchez a role and let him stick with it. I like his value more as a starter but I don’t know if he has the secondary stuff to succeed yet as a starter. If he ends up in the bullpen he could work on his secondary stuff and its always possible that if and when Ortiz loses the 5th starter job, he’ll be moved into the rotation.
The Giants rotation has the chance to be solid but as usual there seems to be a lot of “ifs” involved. If Cain continues to mature and avoids a sophomore slump, if Zito’s declining peripherals aren’t his demise, if Morris and Lowry can rebound after tough years, well, you get the idea. The talent is there and I think the rotation has a good chance to perform well this year.
I like Zito for the next few years more than PECOTA does and I think he’ll pitch well. I also think that Cain’s second half improvements were a sign of his maturation process. Morris and Lowry are a little more cloudy. Russ Ortiz is Russ Oritz, but the good news is that we don’t need him to be a #2-3 any more, we just need him to eat innings and not explode.
If I had to rank the NL West rotations I would probably put them in this order. Padres, Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Rockies. I think you can almost swap either the Giants and Dodgers with out any problems. The NL West is packed with pitching this year and I can’t think of any recent years when it seems that every team had a rotation that could legitimately compete with each other.
Comment Starter: What order would you rank the NL West rotations? And which Giant starter will win the most games in 2007?