Saturday, 10 March 2012

Projecting Performance: Starting Rotation

Projecting Performance will be a series outlining each position of the Blue Jays roster with my thoughts on who should play the position and how well I expect them to perform for the 2012 season. Up first is the Starting Rotation, with the Infield and Outfield coming in subsequent weeks.

In 2011 the Blue Jays starting rotation definitely wasn't a strong point. It saw twelve different pitchers start a game and 20 starts given to Jo-Jo Reyes (Yes, that Jo-Jo Reyes). Those 20 starts ranking third most among Blue Jays pitchers (Ugh). Going forward things look much brighter. As it looks to be shaping up so far, rather than having innings whisked away by giving starts to Brad Mills and Luis Perez, the Jays look to be transferring those starts to higher upside arms in Dustin McGowan and Henderson Alvarez. Beyond that the Jays have quite a few players in the minors that could be pushing for starts in 2012 including Drew Hutchison, Deck McGuire, and maybe even Chad Jenkins. Without further ado the player breakdowns.

Ricky Romero
Between 2009 and 2011 each year the Jays had a new Opening Day starter. In 2009 it was Roy Halladay, in 2010 it was Shaun Marcum and in 2011 it was undoubtedly Ricky Romero. With that said it looks like for the first time in three years there will be a similar face starting come Opening Day and that would be Ricky Romero.

Each of the last three years Romero has been consistently improving, culminating in a 2011 season that saw him pitch to 2.92 ERA, but only a 2.9 fWAR. Though it was encouraging that Romero pitched deeper in to games and ultimately got to 225 IP, there was a couple other factors that diminished his perceived performance.

For starters it is true, Romero did have a 2.92 ERA in 2011, but numbers like his 4.20 FIP or 3.80 xFIP or 3.78 SIERA suggest that things may be different in 2012. The likely reasoning behind this being that for one Romero's home run rate jumped back up to a 1.04 HR/9, which is significantly higher than the 0.64 number that he posted in 2010. As well, though Romero's .242 BABIP may suggest otherwise, Romero actually seemed lucky in 2011. The reason being that in 2011 Romero's LOB% was much higher than his career average at 79.2% and his LD% was much lower at 14.2%.

The Verdict:
Ricky Romero did have a fantastic year in 2011 in terms of ERA, but not so fine in terms of his peripheral stats. Despite the possibly luck driven 2011 I actually expect Ricky's peripherals to be better in 2012, but it looks like the ERA will come back down to earth.

WAR Prediction: 3.0

Brandon Morrow
In 2011 Brandon Morrow was Brandon Morrow. He struck out a ton of batters, he walked a ton of batters, and he produced a xFIP and SIERA that was much lower than his ERA. Numbers like his 3.53 xFIP suggest his ERA should be much lower, but he has yet to have produced to that level. It isn't a question of the stuff either, Brandon Morrow has some of the better stuff in the league, it just hasn't translated to enough big league production.

Steve Slowinski of FanGraphs suggested that Morrow may need to add another pitch to become more effective. Could that pitch be the cutter that Morrow added late last season? Its quite possibly could, because the cutter is known as a ground ball inducing pitch, which in the past has been precisely Morrow's problem.

After he added it late last season, the first couple of games whilst using it didn't turn out so well, but in the last three Morrow finished strong. Not that this means too much because it is far too small a sample to really make anything of it. With that said it will surely be interesting to see how Morrow does with a developing cutter in 2012.

The Verdict:
Morrow is always cited as a breakout candidate and this may finally be his year. He is developing that third pitch and he's going in to his third full year as a starter. His peripheral stats don't look to get too much better in 2012, but it seems like this is the year his ERA may actualize.

WAR Prediction: 3.5

Brett Cecil
Cecil seems to me to be one of the most peculiar players at this year's Spring Training. At the start of Spring Training, most people (including myself) seemed to think that Brett Cecil had the No. 3 starter spot locked down. Now upon further investigation I'm having second thoughts.

Yes, Brett Cecil did have a 2.6 fWAR season in 2010, but since then he has been lack luster to say the least. He dropped 1 MPH off his fastball last year, and in his first Spring Training start he was reported to have topped out at 88 MPH and averaging around 87 MPH.

For most guys losing that much in velocity is detrimental and to a guy like Cecil is could be career ending, that is assuming its permanent, which it's likely not. Nonetheless the drop in fastball velocity is discouraging for both us fans and maybe even for Farrell too as Stoeten inferences at Drunk Jays Fans.

What's most discouraging about Cecil is the fact that there was nothing really in 2011 that makes me think he should improve in 2012. Rather than returning to 2010 form, in 2011 Cecil seemed to regress back to his 2009 season, which as short as that 2009 season was it was not very good.

The Verdict:
Unless Brett Cecil gains back some fastball velocity, improves on his offspeed pitches, or becomes Bruce Chen 2.0, it seems doubtful that he'll get back to a level where he could be a No. 3 starter. Initially I and what seems like many others thought Cecil would simply return with some new found form after the whole weight loss story, but after some number crunching it showed that supposedly Cecil was pretty lucky in 2011 and still wasn't very good. That is never a good combination.

WAR Prediction: 0.5

Henderson Alvarez
There's not too much to say about Henderson Alvarez from a statistical standpoint. He started 2011 in HiA Dunedin and astonishingly climbed all the way to the big leagues before the September roster expansion. Once in the big leagues he seemed to perform much better than anyone had expected, but one does have to be aware of the relatively small sample size.

Going forward it is likely that Alvarez's insane 5.00 K/BB ratio comes back down to earth because he doesn't strike out enough guys for that to be sustainable. However it doesn't mean that he won't be able to perform. In fact Kevin Goldstein said that, "Henderson Alvarez's ceiling is close to what Ricky Romero is today."

This is obviously quite encouraging for Alvarez's case because after a pretty terrible 2010 season Alvarez was forced to repeat HiA Dunedin and his prospect status seemed to have been permanently tarnished.

The Verdict:
There isn't nearly enough statistical evidence on Henderson Alvarez to do any real analysis. With that said considering what Kevin Goldstein said to be true, it isn't unreasonable to expect  at least No. 4 starter like production with the potential for much more, not only in 2012, but beyond.

WAR Prediction: 2.1


Dustin McGowan
Dustin is the miracle pitcher, the man who no one thought would ever return. All the odds were against him, but he battled through it and started his first MLB game in 3 years on September 6th. The narrative is with him, but now McGowan will once again have to face adversity. This adversity being the question of whether he'll actually be able to pitch. He didn't do to well in terms of stats at the end of 2011, but then again it was less than 25 innings.

The reports out of spring seem strong so far. After McGowan's first start today. Gregor Chisholm reported that he reached 96 MPH and was averaging around 93, which would be about where he was velocity wise, back in 2008. Mike Wilner also pointed out that, "[McGowan's] fastball had good life and the slider had great bite."

All of this is great in theory, but McGowan still has yet to consistently produce at the major league level since coming back from injury. He seems to have the same stuff, and on the FAN 590's JaysTalk Wilner noted that he felt "just like the other pitchers" in the sense that he wasn't be held back at all. As well he'll surely be given plenty of chances as he is essentially the Jo-Jo Reyes of 2012 being a starting pitcher who is out of options, which almost makes him a shoe in for a rotation spot. Just hopefully he doesn't take on Reyes' performance level as well.

The Verdict:
I'm not really sure what to expect out of Dustin McGowan in 2012. He seems to be relatively similar in terms of stuff as he was in 2008. The only problem is he has yet to show that he can sustain that stuff over the course of a full game or over the course of the season. That right there could really be his Kryptonite this season, but it could also not matter at all. The only way to see what McGowan truly is will be innings and time and that won't come until the regular season.

WAR Prediction: 1.5 (Only because of a possible innings limit)
Kyle Drabek
Last, but certainly not least is the former top prospect Kyle Drabek. In a lot of ways Drabek is like Henderson Alvarez, but also different at the same time. They are similar in the fact that both have under 90 innings of MLB pitching experience and both have a possible No. 2 starter ceiling, but are polar opposites in terms of their production in their first taste of the big leagues. As stated before Alvarez was fantastic last year and well Drabek kind of wasn't.

However both have the same relative pitching ceiling, which why I thought both should have a chance to prove themselves in 2012. Obviously Alvarez has the edge having performed well in his big league time, but Drabek hasn't been terrible in Spring Training either and at this point I'd rather see him in the rotation that Cecil.

The reason being that at this point Cecil's ceiling appears to be a No. 3 starter at best and at this point he may not even reach it. Where as this year Drabek could be a serviceable No. 5 with upside for so much more.

The Verdict:
Unfortunately like Alvarez, with Drabek there isn't enough statistical evidence to do any real analysis. Instead we have to turn to the scouting reports, which are unsurprising high on Kyle Drabek. He still has the talent, he still has the stuff, he just needs the command, which I don't expect to come this year. Though with some repetition and major league innings it could very well be Drabek's year come 2013. In my opinion he just needs to be given a chance.

WAR Prediction: 0.8 (Only because I don't think he will get the chance)

Look for Part 2 of Projecting Performance, which will be on the Blue Jays Outfield, the post will likely come out sometime later this week. 

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference



6 comments:

  1. Nice write up Matt,

    I'm in agreement with Morrow, McGowan and Cecil ( although I don't see him having a #3 ceiling). I think people are being harsh on Romero as I see a pitcher who has found his strengths and is really hitting his stride. There could be a 4+WAR season. I still remember guys talking about how filthy his stuff is and that he was tough to catch because the ball moved so much.
    Even with your calculations we could see a This could be a 11WAR rotation how does that compare?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome analysis! A very good read. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Confused about this line:

    As well, though Romero's .242 BABIP may suggest otherwise, Romero actually seemed lucky in 2011.

    Generally speaking, an abnormally low BABIP would suggest that a pitcher did get lucky.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It is true that generally BABIP is a luck stat if you will, but the what I was trying to show is that it isn't the only one.

    A few others are things like LOB% and LD%. Romero's LOB% was absurdly high, which suggests he was lucky, and his LD% was absurdly low, which also suggests he was lucky.

    My point was that BABIP isn't the sole luck stat and if you look outside BABIP you would find other factors, such as LOB% and LD% which negate what is stated in the low BABIP.

    Hope that helps

    ReplyDelete
  5. That makes sense. The phrasing just made it sound like you were implying that his BABIP made him seem unlucky.

    ReplyDelete