(Warning: Long post)
(Edit: I’ve updated my data a little, instead of using my Giants projections from my 2009 Team WAR post, I decided to just run CHONE across the board for every team. Overall, this didn’t really change the rankings but I thought it would be fairer to do it this way.)
Today we’ll be examining the National League West by team pitching — both starting and relieving — by using Wins Above Replacement and the CHONE projections. I calculated the WAR for the projected starting rotations and bullpens for the Giants, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres, and Diamondbacks. I’ve set the replacement-level starting to an ERA of 5.50 and for relievers, I’ve set it to 4.50. I could fine tune things a little more if I accounted for park factors in setting my replacement-level, but this is meant to be a rough look at the pitching in the division and not a final conclusion.
A few things before we look at the numbers and a couple of graphs:
- I’ve projected the starting rotations and bullpens to the best of my ability. There’s a good chance a few starters could move around before the season starts because of injury or something else. Don’t freak out if the rotation of your favorite team is a little off. If something looks hugely wrong, please point it out, but don’t freak out if I’ve got someone in the SP3 slot instead of the SP2 slot. If a major starter goes down for a NL West team during the spring, I’ll re-edit the spreadsheet and post an update.
- Please don’t freak out about innings pitched totals. Yes, I’ve got Tim Lincecm projected to throw “just” 195 innings next season when he could probably throw closer to 230 innings. There’s really no good way to project innings and I tend to get conservative with starters when it comes to IP totals. A lot of the IP totals are best guesses. I tried to take into account age and past history when doing these totals.
- Just because something doesn’t conform to your pre-existing ideas of what it should be, doesn’t make it wrong.
- Again, this is a rough sketch of the division and not the end-all final word. I only really know the Giants and some teams’ bullpens were harder to figure out than others.
- I made the assumption that the D-Backs will bring back Juan Cruz and thus, you’ll see him in their bullpen for now even though he’s not officially on the team. I’ve read different reports that he might be coming back to Arizona or the team might be doing a weird sign-and-trade with the Twins to work around MLB’s compensation rules. We’ll have to wait and see.
Now, on to the fun stuff. First, I’ll throw the bulk of the data at you in the form of a spreadsheet and then we’ll look through the starting rotations and bullpens.
Projected Starting Rotations by Wins Above Replacement
By WAR, the division rotations should rank out as: 1. Arizona (+14.60), 2. San Francisco (+14.20), 3. Los Angeles (+11.27), 4. San Diego (+10.72) and 5. Colorado (+7.78).
Before doing the numbers, off the top of my head I expected the Giants to finish 1st for strongest rotation in the NL West. But, the truth is that the Diamondbacks have a very strong rotation. Are they underrated by starting pitching right now? I think so. Adding Jon Garland was pretty big for the team as he’s projected to add nearly +2 wins to their rotation. That offsets the loss of Randy Johnson quite nicely. In addition to Garland, the 1-2 of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are adding +4 wins a piece. That’s a very healthy top-2 for any rotation.
The D-Backs do have at least one concern with their rotation at the moment, Max Scherzer. Scherzer was shut down in January for shoulder inflammation and has just recently started to throw in ST again. He could start the season on the DL until late-April because the D-Backs won’t need their 5th spot until then. I’ve got him projected to throw 110 innings. If he stays on the DL longer than expected, I’m thinking that Yusmeiro Petit will absorb his innings workload. Petit isn’t a bad 5th starter to have, but he doesn’t have the high upside that Scherzer possess.
San Diego is getting a boost from Jake Peavy who is projected to add +4 wins to their starting corps. Chris Young — if healthy — should be worth around +2 wins in 2009. Cha Seung Baek got a very favorable projection from CHONE and could be worth around +2 wins in ’09. Not bad for a free pickup. Much like SF and AZ, Los Angeles and San Diego are dead-locked for the 3rd and 4th best rotations. LA has a strong 1-2 in Billingsley (+3.52 wins) and Hiroki Kuroda (+2.76 wins). Clayton Kershaw is projected to be around +1.95 wins but he’s definitely got the talent to push himself into and beyond the +3 win level.
Losing Jeff Francis hurts the overall Rockies rotation. It’s by far the least potent rotation in the West. Ubaldo Jimenez (+2.25 wins) has a bunch of upside and Aaron Cook (+2.49 wins) is constantly underrated but both of them alone can’t save the Rockies from Jason Marquis and Greg Smith accounting for over 35% of the IP totals for their rotation. De La Rosa is an interesting pitcher but his career numbers aren’t as impressive as his 2008 season.
When we look at the Giants we see a very strong 1-3. Lincecum (+4.91 wins) has the highest projected WAR of any starting pitcher in the NL West. That’s individually better than Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, and Chad Billingsley’s projections. Randy Johnson (+2.51 wins) is someone who should help add some value to the rotation. He’s projected to throw 150 innings with a FIP of 3.92. I think if his health is good, he’s got a very good chance to beat his IP projection by a few starts. Because of poor win totals over the last few seasons, Matt Cain is criminally underrated at times in my opinion. His +3.20 wins would make him the #1 SP on the Rockies and nearly the #1 on the Padres and Dodgers.
Finally, here’s the Top-10 starting pitchers in the NL West by projected WAR.
Click to enlarge. The graph might be a little confusing to read, but I’ve color-coded each bar by team — orange = Giants, dark red = D-Backs, etc. The pitchers are listed left-to-right in the order that they appear in the legend.
The Giants have three pitchers crack the Top-10. The D-Backs rotations has a ton of value near the top with Webb and Haren. The Dodgers fill the middle of the Top-10 with Billingsley and Kuroda. Jake Peavey is the only Padre to make the Top-10 and Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez fill the 9 and 10 spots.
Projected Bullpens by Wins Above Replacement
I think this graph will surprise a few people. By projected WAR’s, team bullpens rank as follows: 1. Los Angeles (+4.37), 2. San Diego (+3.93), 3. Colorado (+3.41), 4. San Francisco (+3.05), and 5. Arizona (+2.94). Yes, at the moment, the Giants bullpen is projected as the 4th best pen in the NL West.
The Giants spent a major part of their offseason with the goal of fixing up their bullpen. Their additions of Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt do help the team, but it’s clear that most other teams in the NL West have stronger bullpens. If you subtract Juan Cruz and his +.75 wins from the Arizona ‘pen, the D-Backs would clearly be the 5th ranked bullpen in the NL West. The Giants problem is that they don’t have one truly dominant high-leveraged reliever. Brian Wilson’s 3.78 FIP is OK but he can’t touch other closers like Broxton, Street, and Heath Bell. I’ve got Jack Taschner throwing 55 innings of slightly-better-than replacement-level relief for the Giants. If the team could replace his 55 innings with a strong reliever, the bullpen would improve. Taschner most likely has a really good chance to break camp with the team. I’d much rather roll the dice on Justin Miller or the Rule 5 Draft Pick, Luis Perdomo, than give Taschner another year in the bullpen.
The Dodgers top two relief pitchers — Broxton and Kuo — are doing the bulk of the work for their bullpen by adding a total of +4.26 wins to their team. Broxton has always been a very good reliever and Kuo was just insanely filthy last season. He’s battled injuries in his career, but if he’s healthy the Dodgers have a very strong back-end of the bullpen. San Diego shouldn’t miss Trevor Hoffman because Heath Bell is ready to step into his position. Bell’s projected WAR of +1.74 is solid. Cla Meredith (+.91 wins) and Mike Adams (+.87 wins) are combining for some good value.
Colorado’s bullpen of Street (+1.57 wins), Corpas (+.52 wins), and Bucholz (+.84 wins) are probably underrated. Buchholz in particular really pitched well last season. Arizona’s bullpen could be a point of concern. It’s got some upside in Pena (+.49 wins), Qualls (+1.24 wins), and Raunch (+.57 wins) but outside of that trio — if Cruz isn’t brought back — you run into guys like Scott Schoeneweis, Tom Gordon, and Doug Slaten. At the moment, Juan Cruz looks like a big key for their bullpen.
The Giants bullpen is improved with Wilson (+1.03 wins), Affeldt (+0.60 wins), Howry (+0.60 wins), and Romo (+0.48 wins) but it’s comparatively weak bullpen to the other NL West teams. If Wilson can really beat his projected FIP by .5 runs, the Giants bullpen could move up as much as 3rd in the NL West. I like parts of Wilson’s game — GBs and Ks — but his one-dimensional approach last season combined with his poor control doesn’t thrill me. The Giants would also do well to replace Yabu’s production with something better if a player in-camp during ST really impresses the team. If Valdez is healthy, and ready to go, he might be that guy.
Here’s the Top-10 relievers in the NL West by projected WAR.
Click to enlarge. Broxton and Kuo look to be the two best relievers in the NL West next season and they are both on the same team. Affeldt just misses the list — he’s the 11th best reliever in the NL West. Brian Wilson ranks last among the closers — Broxton, Bell, Street, and Qualls — but he could potentially pass Qualls if he exceeds expectations. If you look at the distribution of the top relievers in the NL West, you see that the Giants only get one bullpen pitcher on to the list. The Dodgers are top-heavy in their bullpen with the duo of Broxton and Kuo leading the way. San Diego has some modest depth in their bullpen.
The Giants starting rotation has a good chance to be the best in the NL West next season, but the D-Backs were probably underrated by most — including me — in the SP department. Our bullpen played out much weaker than I would have expected, but I’m not too entirely surprised. You get the most bang for your buck by pitching your closer in high-leveraged situations and Wilson just isn’t as good — yet — as Broxton, Street, Bell, and Qualls. That’s a big separation from the Giants bullpen and others. If Wilson does surpass his 3.78 projected FIP, the bullpen will climb up the ladder a little.
Outside of the Rockies, the NL West looks to be a pretty strong pitching division again.
Comment Starter: Surprised about the Giants bullpen projection? How do you feel about the starting pitching projection?