Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Best Rotation in the AL East?

Leading the charge in 2012

I read an article from Yahoo! Sports stating that, going into the 2012 season, the Tampa Bay Rays have the best rotation in the AL East. At first I wasn't really surprised to see that, but after reading the article and seeing that they only went over the top 3 in the Rays rotation, and then saw the rest of it almost as an afterthought, I decided to see how the Rays rotation stacked up against the Yankees rotation.

I chose Baseball Reference's version of WAR to compare all the pitchers. I'll admit that I don't quite understand how either B-R or Fangraphs do their WAR calculations, but I know they're different. So I took a shot and choose B-R. Hey, I had a 50/50 shot at which is better.

Here is the proposed 2012 rotation for the Rays, with their 2011 bWAR as well as some notes afterwards on whether we can expect an increase or decrease in that stat -

James Shields - 6.1 His career average bWAR in a season is 2.95, and being 30 years old I really don't think he can keep up that career high bWAR from last season. So I expect to see a drop.
Jeremy Hellickson - 4.2 Hellickson had a pretty low strikeout rate of 5.6, and coming into his 3rd season in MLB, I fully expect is bWAR to drop. I really think a bWAR of around 3.0 sounds about right.
David Price - 3.7 David's bWAR in 2010 was a 5.3, and generally a rookie pitcher does very well due to the "surprise factor". I mean, it's hard to prepare for a pitcher you've never seen before. But even though I don't see him being a 5.3 pitcher again, I think getting up to around 4.5 is reasonable.
Jeff Niemann - 1.1 After 3+ seasons in MLB I believe we've seen him strikeout as many as he ever will, even though his strikeout rate has gone up in each of the last three years. Coupling that with the fact he had the same bWAR in 2011, I don't see any change happening here.
Wade Davis - .2 Wade had a bWAR of 1.8 in 2010, and in 2011 his strikeout rate dropped for the 3rd straight season. Although I'm not totally convinced he'll have a higher bWAR in 2012, I'll go ahead and assume he will to be on the safe side.

Let me point out that there's a good chance that Matt Moore could be in the rotation for the majority of the season for the Rays. He did throw 164.1 innings last year (combined majors + minors), so theoretically he could throw around 200. However, I read the chat transcript over at MLBTR where Tim Dierkes implied that Matt wouldn't have a full workload for Tampa Bay. Seeing his innings go up from 123 in 2009 to 144 in 2010, I can see where the Rays may limit him a bit.

So what about the New York Yankees projected rotation in 2012?

CC Sabathia - 6.9 CC has had an average bWAR of 5.4 with the Yankees, and that 6.9 is his career high. So a reduction is to be expected. Although judging by his three-year average I don't see it going down by much.
Hiroki Kuroda - 3.7 Hiro's bWAR in 2010 was 2.5, and coupled with the fact he's moving to a much tougher league/division, I don't think I'm alone in expecting his bWAR to go down a bit in 2012.
Ivan Nova - 3.6 So far in MLB Ivan's strikeout rate has been 5.4, and that bothers me a bit. Not to the point that I'd like to see the Yankees shop him in a trade or something, but I don't see how he continues where he left off from last season.
Michael Pineda - 2.8 Although Robinson Cano's friend is moving to a tougher division, he was still in the American League, his strikeout rate is pretty high, and it's hard not to see a 23 year-old improving.
Phil Hughes/Freddy Garcia - 0.0/3.4 I'm going to go ahead and use their average bWAR as a guess as to what either one will do in 2012, because I see Freddy's going down while Phil's would go up. So a 1.7 sounds about right.

Notice that I'm assuming AJ Burnett is not going to be on the team, and therefore would not affect things. Call it wishful thinking or what-have-you, but I'm leaving AJ out of it.

Above I lined up the pitchers based on their 2011 bWARs, and I'm going to keep it that way in the head-to-head part here. The winner of each battle is in bold.

CC Sabathia vs. James Shields
Hiroki Kuroda vs. James Hellickson
Ivan Nova vs. David Price
Michael Pineda vs. Jeff Niemann
Phil Hughes/Freddy Garcia vs. Wade Davis

The second match-up was no mistake, as I can see both men being equal to one another. So at this point it looks like the New York Yankees have the better rotation going into 2012. However, we have to remember that Matt Moore could be around for 175 or so innings, and if we use him instead of Wade Davis I'd have to give the edge to the Rays pitcher.

So in conclusion, I believe that the Rays and Yankees 2012 projected pitching rotations are even. Perhaps that's not the conclusion Yankee fans were looking for but keep this in mind... the Bombers scored 160 more runs than the Rays last season, and I don't see that changing.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)