This series was a lot of work, but it was also fun to go through each organization and look at some of the interesting projections that ZIPS has spit out for various starters. The projections listed below are a combination of rate stats projected by Dan Szymborski’s system combined with my estimation of innings pitched and then a calculation of WAR based on the combination of my quantity estimate and Dan’s projection of quality. These aren’t intended to be exact projections, which is why we’ve rounded to the nearest half win, but I think they’re probably going to fair pretty decently – I did do my best to ensure that the total IP and WAR projections lined up very closely with league totals from last year, and I tried to figure out the seven or eight most likely starters for each franchise – the depth chart information isn’t always crystal clear for every team, so I had to make some guesses, but I think the selections are reasonable in most cases.
There were definitely some surprises once I finished the calculations and sorted from top to bottom. If this a purely subjective exercise based on my opinion, some teams would move around a decent amount, but I’ve tried to make it clear where I think the ZIPS rate stats might be too high or too low on a specific group, or gave an explanation for the thinking behind the IP total. Besides the shocker in the top five, I’m pretty comfortable with most of these, and think they line up with general consensus pretty well.
Since we’re covering so many players and it just got incredibly long, we’ve split this post in two, with the second post set to run in a couple of hours. But, enough ramblings, on to the rankings.
30. San Diego Padres
Last year, the Padres rotation ranked 26th in WAR, and over the winter, they traded away their best starter. It may very well prove to be the right move in the long run, but for 2012, this rotation is pretty lousy. Luebke’s Major League numbers aren’t supported by his minor league track record, so he’s more solid starter than ace in the making. Petco may help keep the raw stats down, but make no mistake, San Diego’s starters are going to cost them games this year. The good news for Friars fans is that they’ve got a lot of good young arms on the way, and the sooner guys like Erlin and Wieland make it to the Majors, the better the team’s chances of competing will be. For this year, though, it probably won’t be very pretty.
29. Pittsburgh Pirates
I’ve listed eight guys on the depth chart, but I can’t project any of them for more than 130 innings, so it looks like the Pirates are going to do rotation-by-committee this year. Bedard and Burnett could provide some value when they’re on the mound, but ZIPS isn’t overly high on the younger arms in the rotation and doesn’t like the back-end guys at all. Morton’s still a bit of a wild card and McDonald may have more upside than is represented here, but the Pirates have essentially assembled a bunch of guys from the infirmary and are hoping that they can find five guys who can keep their arms attached all year.
28. Colorado Rockies
|Jorge de la Rosa||COL||50.0||3.8||8.2||1.0||0.5|
Young arms with upside like Chacin, Nicasio, and Pomeranz give the Rockies the makings of a potentially solid rotation… next year. In 2012, ZIPS is expecting these guys to be average at best, and then the rotation is basically filled with an innings-eater and a bunch of guys who might be okay or might be terrible. The Rockies will be playing mix-and-match all year, and the hope should be that they can find three or four guys to rely on for 2013. The experimentation is going to cost them wins in 2012, however.
27. New York Mets
I like Jon Niese. I think he could turn into a really nice starting pitcher, maybe as soon as this year. But, even with some optimism there, if he’s your ace, your rotation needs some work. And the Mets rotation definitely needs some work. The back-end is amazingly thin, and the team desperately needs Johan Santana to stay healthy and pitch well in order to keep from having to rush too many kids to the big leagues prematurely. And, unfortunately for Sandy Alderson, the guys behind Niese aren’t exactly world beaters either. Dickey is okay, but Pelfrey’s not great, and those guys make up the middle of the rotation at the moment. Going forward, the Mets probably need to replace at least three of their five starters, and if Santana doesn’t bounce back, it gets even uglier. Good luck, Sandy.
26. Houston Astros
If I had to bet on one rotation finishing the year with the worst numbers, I’d probably bet on Houston. Their current group includes a couple of good arms, but Wandy Rodriguez has been on the block for a while and could easily end the year in another uniform. The Astros are in full-on rebuilding mode and won’t hesitate to use the season as an extended tryout camp, and that could lead to a second half rotation that is more experiment than attempt to really compete. If Wandy sticks around, their rotation will just be not good instead of awful, but the chances that he gets moved create serious potential for a league worst rotation in Houston this year.
25. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles rotation is actually pretty tough to project. With both Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada, we’re basically just guessing. They could be good, they could awful, or they could be anything in between. Toss in Brian Matusz’s inconsistency, and 60% of the rotation could be essentially qualified as wild cards. ZIPS thinks Britton and Hammel will be roughly league average, so if the three coin flips come up positive, this rotation could be not awful, but if they all go the wrong way, then the Orioles will probably have the worst group of starters in the AL.
24. Chicago Cubs
I like what Theo Epstein did this winter, and I see more potential in guys like Wood and Volstad that what ZIPS is projecting, but regardless, this isn’t a very good rotation behind Garza, and ZIPS expects a pretty good sized step back from him as well. If you believe that Garza’s 2011 performance was more breakthrough than career year, you could bump this total up a bit, but even the rosiest projection is going to give the Cubs with a below average rotation this year.
23. Cincinnati Reds
When I ran the numbers and ordered by team total, I was shocked to see the Reds this low, but ZIPS is just not a big fan of Bailey or Leake, and top top it off, it hates Bronson Arroyo with the passion of a 1,000 burning souls. Of course, after watching him give up so many bombs last year, Reds fans probably feel the same way. Personally, I like Leake a lot more than ZIPS does, and I think Bailey could be quite a bit better than this as well, so I think the Reds are quite likely to outperform this projection. But, Latos doesn’t stack up with some of the other aces around the league, and the rotation has a lot of question marks at the back end. It’s possible that I’m just overrating Cincinnati’s starting pitching, and ZIPS is providing a needed reality check here.
22. Oakland Athletics
Okay, let’s talk about the elephant – ZIPS loves Tom Milone. Well, kind of. It projects a fantastic 3.28 FIP from him, thanks to a miniscule walk rate and decent enough strikeout and home run rates. However, ZIPS also projects a 4.02 ERA for him, so the system either thinks he’s going to post a crazy high BABIP or a crazy low strand rate. I’m guessing Milone is just the kind of pitcher that projection systems in general have trouble with, and he’ll underperform this projection. But, if you’re an A’s fan, you have to like the fact that ZIPS isn’t sure that going from Gonzalez to Milone is actually a downgrade. Besides the soft-tossing righty, however, the A’s have a lot of guys who are probably only going to spend about half a year on the team. Colon, Braden, and Anderson have health issues, while Parker and Peacock are both likely going to be on innings limits and might not break camp with the team anyway.
21. Kansas City Royals
I’ll give them this – the Royals have depth. Paulino is projected to be the team’s best starter, and then the Royals can run out six guys who all project about the same on a rate basis, giving them seven arms who each have some value as a big league hurler. Depending on who they pick to fill out the rotation, Crow could end up back in the bullpen, which would free up innings for a guy like Duffy, but the alignment doesn’t look like it will matter too much – they’re going to run out a group of five starters that aren’t bad but aren’t good either. Before the Royals become legitimate contenders, they’re going to have to add a legitimate quality starter or two.
20. Arizona Diamondbacks
Along with the Reds placement, this is the one that I expect to ruffle the most feathers. The D’Backs were one of just six teams to get 1,000+ innings out of their rotation last year, and with Kennedy and Hudson at the front end and Bauer and Skaggs on the way, it’s not like there’s age related decline to worry about. But, in reality, the D’Backs staff just overperformed last year relative to their talent levels, and ZIPS expects some real steps backwards in 2012. Replacing Collmenter and Saunders with the young kids could lead to some real improvement, but Arizona doesn’t have as much depth here as they think, and their front-end guys aren’t as good as their performances last year made them look. There’s certainly potential for a really good rotation in Arizona, but it might come in 2013 instead of 2012.
19. Toronto Blue Jays
With Romero, Morrow, and Alvarez, ZIPS sees the makings of a strong rotation going forward, but the lack of quality at the back-end looks to be a real problem this year. That said, there is some talent there, and it’s not completely out of the question that a guy like Drabek could find the form that made him a real prospect a few years ago. If the Blue Jays want to contend for the second wild card, though, they’d do well to get a solid veteran who would raise the floor of what they could expect from their #5 starter, and keep an implosion from the young kids from ruining their season.
18. Atlanta Braves
The issue here isn’t talent as much as it is health. Tim Hudson’s out for at least the beginning portion of the season, Jair Jurrjens has a litany of health issues, and Tommy Hanson remade his delivery in order to take some strain off his shoulder. The Braves have the depth to deal with a patchwork group, but they lack a true ace at the front, and Teheran and Delgado might not be ready to be more than stop-gaps at this point. Strong seasons from Beachy and Minor would certainly help stabilize things in Atlanta, but for this year, there are going to be a lot of questions that need answering.
17. Milwaukee Brewers
Greinke and Gallardo are a really good 1-2, but Marcum’s September collapse and miserable performance in the playoffs, combined with lingering shoulder problems, mean that this rotation falls off very quickly. Wolf is a nice #5 starter, but he’s penciled in as the #4 for the Brewers, and while Narveson is somewhat useful, they might want to make room for Wily Peralta sooner than later. Especially with Greinke in his walk year, the team would benefit significantly if he was able to claim a rotation spot at some point this year and pitch well enough to hold it for 2013.
16. Washington Nationals
I was relatively conservative with the innings projections for Strasburg and Zimmerman, so if you think both can stay healthy and pitch something close to a full season, you could bump the Nationals up quite a bit here. Even just giving both of those guys an addition 30 innings would push Washington’s rotation into the top 10, so don’t get too upset over the placement here. There’s obviously a lot of potential here – how well their rotation performs basically depends on how many innings they can get from their young ace, and how quickly they can dump Lannan on someone else.