In yesterday’s post we projected the Giants positional players for 2009 using Wins Above Replacement or WAR. Today we’ll be finishing the team by projecting the pitchers. If you’re new to the concept of WAR, scroll down to yesterday’s post for some introductory links. I’ve assumed that you’ve already read them and I won’t go into much details in this post.
Some assumptions before we get started:
~ I’m using the Dodger Sims method for calculating WAR for our pitchers. You can read about how to calculate it for yourself, here.
~ I’ve set replacement level for starters at 5.50 and relievers at 4.50
~ I’ve also included a leverage index for the relievers and starters. This doesn’t really affect the starters, but pitchers that work in late game higher leveraged situations — closers and setup men — will get a boost to their WAR numbers.
~ For pitcher projections I’ve used a combination of Marcels, CHONE, and ZiPS. I tried to use CHONE more for players without major league data.
Let’s examine the spreadsheet:
- In the post yesterday, we talked about the 20 win gap that the Giants would have to make up with their pitching in order to be competitive in the NL West. Fortunately for the Giants, their pitching, once again, will be their biggest strength. As of now, I’ve got the Giants pitching — starters and bullpen — projected to be worth around +17 wins above replacement. It’s not the +20 wins that we were aiming for, but it’s pretty close. Those extra 17 wins added by their pitching moves the Giants to an 82-83 win club. We’ll talk more about this later, but for now let’s examine the pitching more in depth.
- Our starters, by WAR, shake out as follows: Tim Lincecum (+4.95) Matt Cain (+3.42), Jonathan Sanchez (+2.07), Randy Johnson (+2.06), Barry Zito (+1.62), and Noah Lowry (+0.32). Tim Lincecum is really, really, really good and much of the rotation’s success will be tied to his ability to stay healthy and pitch at a dominant level. Matt Cain often get’s overlooked, but he’s adding almost +3.5 wins which is very good, it makes him more valuable than Randy Johnson and Sanchez who both are chipping in for around +2 wins a piece. Zito is adding about +1.6 wins and I’ve got Noah Lowry throwing 50 innings of slightly above replacement level ball.
- I’ve got new guy, Randy Johnson, projected to throw around 150 innings in 2009. I don’t think we can expect much more from the 45-year-old even though he threw 180+ innings in 2008. Much like the defensive numbers, I try to stay conservative for innings pitched projections. You’ll notice that none of our starters broke the 200 IP mark, despite having two pitchers — Lincecum and Cain — who surpassed that mark last season. Back to RJ, even though he’s projected to ‘only’ throw 150 innings, his 4.20 FIP is still quite good making him a valuable addition to the starting rotation.
- Marcel, ZiPS, and CHONE all remain semi-optimistic on Barry Zito. I would love to see him post a FIP of 4.65 but I won’t be holding my breath.
- You can see why many still remain high on Jonathan Sanchez. He’s projected to contribute as much as Randy Johnson in 2009. Despite his high ERA in 2008, he displayed some very nice underlying peripherals — mainly his ability to miss bats — last season. If Sanchez has a ‘breakout’ season, the rotation could pick up 0.5-1 wins.
- I frankly have no idea of what to expect for Noah Lowry next year, so I tentatively penciled him in for 50 innings pitched. If you really disagree with that assessment, you can replace him with 50 innings of a generic replacement level pitcher. It will slightly knock down the win total for the rotation, but nothing drastic. The Giants aren’t depending on Lowry next season and we shouldn’t really expect much from him.
- Talking money with the starters, Lincecum is still an amazing value — the best in baseball? He’s projected to put up just under +5 wins as a starter making him worth something like $24M for such a performance. The Giants are paying him beans, for now, and he’s rewarding them very nicely. Matt Cain is also a very good value. He’s pitching more like a $16M pitcher than the $2.65M he’s getting paid. Randy Johnson is valued between $9-10M and he’s making a base salary of $8M, making him a fair market buy for the Giants. Sanchez is getting paid the league minimum and is projected to pitch more like a $10M pitcher. The Giants have several very cost-effective pitchers in the rotation, the one pitcher who isn’t, is Barry Zito. Zito will earn $18.5M next season and is projected to pitch closer to a $7-8M pitcher. The Giants are nearly paying Zito twice for what he should be earning. That’s not good.
- In total, the rotation is adding +14 wins above replacement to the team. Tim Lincecum is responsible for nearly 35% of the wins provided by the rotation. If you ever needed a reason why the Giants should not grind his arm into dust and keep him healthy, there you go.
- Now, to the bullpen. The revamped ‘pen is headed by Brian Wilson (+0.86), Jeremy Affeldt (+0.87), Sergio Romo (+0.51), and Bob Howry (+0.30).
- The bullpen is adding about +2.75 wins to the overall team and it could bump up a little if Wilson can out pitch his projection. Though, I think a 3.75 FIP for him is pretty spot on. The bullpen might change a little between now and the start of the season — Hinshaw could get bumped, as well as Taschner — but these shouldn’t impact the total WAR for the ‘pen by that much. I think we might see a pitcher like recent Rule 5 selection Luis Perdomo get a chance to pitch in the bullpen. Yabu isn’t guaranteed of a spot this year and Justin Miller might be a darkhorse candidate to win a spot.
- Overall, the bullpen looks much improved. The Giants essentially replaced Tyler Walker and Vinnie Chulk with Affeldt and Howry.
- You’ll notice that I added in 80 innings for ‘Other Relief Pitchers’ in the bullpen. This should take care of guys getting the call to fill in spots in the bullpen. We’ll assume that they’ll be league average relievers — an ERA of 4.50 — and no better or worse. Think of these ‘Other RP’s’ as guys like Geno Espinelli, Osiris Matos, Erick Threets, etc.
When you combine position players and pitchers, I’ve got the Giants projected to be an 82-83 win team next year. That should put them pretty close to contending in the National League West. There was some good debate in the comments section from yesterday’s post on just how many wins it should take to win the NL West. Some thought my assessment of 86-88 wins was a tad high. I think around 85 wins could bring the division home. I don’t necessarily think it’s likely but, the Giants are a better team heading into 2009 than most people realize. I think the big ‘if’s will be as follows: if Sandoval can defend adequately at third, if Tim Lincecum will continue to be a +4-5 win pitcher, if Randy Johnson can throw 150 innings, if Aaron Rowand can rebound defensively, and if the new bullpen additions pitch as well as they are projected to. Mix in a few breakouts or repeat performances — Fred Lewis shows that his 2008 was for real — and the Giants could be in the mix.
This team won’t score a lot of runs, but the pitching should allow the Giants to be better than they look by just their batting lineup. The rest of the NL West is either in transition, looking for parts, or in flames. Meanwhile, the Giants have a semi-competitive team that didn’t mortgage the future for the Adam Dunns of the world. They haven’t traded Sanchez for Jorge Cantu — yet! — and are in a position to surprise a few people if things break their way. Best of all, even if things go wrong, players regress, and the team doesn’t win 80+ games in 2009, they’ll be in a better position for the 2010 season and beyond.
Comment Starter: Can the G’s contend?