If I Don't Write, Then I'm Okay: Mea Culpa for Being Gone and an Analysis of the Starting Pitching

Hey all, first I wanted to apologize for being A.W.O.L. the past month or so.  I've been pretty busy as I quit my job in New Jersey and moved to Illinois to go back to school.  I've been following the team and watching the games, but until now, it's just been too hectic to get a chance to write.

Anyway, last week, the Drunks posted a piece about Brandon Morrow's disappointing performance on 17 August in which they happened to mention that it's been easy to overlook how good the Jays starting rotation has been this season.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look and see just how good our top four have actually been.

According to Beyond the Boxscore's power rankings, our very own Toronto Blue Jays remain one of the best teams in baseball (fourth, actually, and ahead of the Red Sox).  The pitching staff as an whole does not look too impressive in terms of actual team ERA (4.10), which puts the Jays at 8th in the American League, not too much to write home about, even accounting for the division.  However, by FIP (3.96), the Jays are far better (3rd in the AL) and they are fourth in the league in xFIP (4.14).  And don't forget that this team just lost the best pitcher in baseball, who has been worth between six and seven wins already.  But let's look at the members of our rotation who are still here.

 

Shaun Marcum (11-7, 3.70 ERA, 151.0 IP)

By just about any measure you use, Marcum's rebounded from his surgery tremendously well this season.  As the traditional stats listed above show, he's had plenty of success.  As you dig a little deeper, you see that it hasn't just been a case of managing to strand runners and hoping that balls don't find holes.  Marcum remains a flyball pitcher (just a 38.7% GB-rate), but he hasn't been the recipient of extraordinary luck on flyballs (9.8% HR/fly vs. league-average around 11%), as we can see with an xFIP (3.93) roughly the same as his FIP (3.82).  In spite of an HR-rate (1.13 HR/9) higher than league-average (0.95), Marcum's managed to stay successful by striking out plenty of batters (7.51 K/9) while being even stingier with free passes (1.97 BB/9) than he had been prior to Tommy John surgery.  Particularly when he's ahead in the count, Marcum's pinpoint command of his entire arsenal keeps hitters guessing.  At a K/BB-ratio of 3.82, Marcum's fourth in the AL (not including Dan Haren).  All told, Marcum has been worth 2.6 Fangraphs wins above replacement (Fangraphs uses FIP) already and could certainly be worth three wins by season's end.

 

Ricky Romero (13-9, 3.50 ERA, 167.0 IP)

Although Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero have both seen plenty of success this season, the two are very different pitchers.  Not counting Jake Westbrook, Romero has the second best GB/FB-ratio in the AL and the sixth-best GB-rate (54.0%) in general.  After so many folks thought Romero would experience a sophomore slump this season, he's turned around and improved greatly on last year's performance, striking out more than half more per nine (7.76 K/9 vs. 7.13 K/9) and trimming his walk-rate by more than three quarters of a batter (3.18 BB/9 vs. 3.99 BB/9).  His walk-rate is still about league-average, but he's made up for it by keeping the ball on the ground so well (3.40 FIP and 3.60 xFIP).  He's shown to be a workhorse as well, as he's 10th in the league in innings pitched.  Overall, at 3.7 wins above replacement so far, Ricky looks like he's going to continue to be a tremendously valuable pitcher for us for years to come.

 

Brandon Morrow (9-6, 4.39 ERA, 137.1 IP)

At the time, the Brandon-for-Brandon swap AA pulled with the Mariners seemed like a good idea for the Jays.  Relief pitchers can only provide so much value and Johermyn Chavez is still some ways from reaching the majors.  Now the move seems like an absolute steal.  As we all know, Morrow got off to a rocky start by all metrics (but particularly more traditional ones as through his first seven starts he was 2-3 with a 6.69 ERA and walked 26 in just 35 innings).  In his 17 starts since then, he's been brilliant, pitching 102 1/3 innings (around six per start) with an ERA of 3.61 and striking out 119 (10.47 K/9) while walking just 36 (3.17 BB/9).  All told, he's struck out 165 (10.81 K/9, first in baseball by a full strikeout per nine), walked 62 (4.06 BB/9) and induced grounders about 40% of the time.  He's had some good luck on fly-balls (6.7% HR/fly), but has had some rough luck stranding runners (his 69.1% strand-rate considering his strikeout numbers is very low).  His low strand-rate likely results from very bad luck on balls in play in general (BABIP-against of .341), which more than cancel out his good luck in suppressing homers (4.39 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 3.71 xFIP).  Fangraphs has him at 3.4 wins, so it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for him to reach four, though it might be tough if they shut him down (and perhaps they should, as he only pitched about 125 combined innings between MLB and AAA in 2009).

 

Brett Cecil (10-6, 3.90 ERA, 131.2 IP)

Since his callup, the 24-year old Maryland native has shown tons of improvement and proven that he's capable of being a major league starter already, maintaining his strikeout-rate (6.49 K/9 vs. 6.65 K/9 in 2009) while cutting down on his walks considerably (2.87 BB/9 vs. 3.66 BB/9 in 2009) and halving his HR-rate (0.89 HR/9 vs. 1.64 HR/9, though this may be largely luck-driven, as the improvement in his groundball-rate, from 42.6% to 44.1%, is not enough to justify such a large change in HR-rate).  Cecil's FIP (3.90) is actually equal to his ERA, though his xFIP is a shade worse (4.20).  Up to this point, Cecil has given the Jays what are essentially 131 2/3 innings at a little better than league average, which may not sound terribly impressive, but there is tremendous value in being average.  Fangraphs has Cecil at 2.1 wins already, the equivalent of which would cost $8.6M on the open market.

 

For a team whose top four starters all entered the season under team control, it is quite impressive that all four of them have produced more than a league average player over a full season already (2.0 wins over a full season is league average).  Together, the four have been worth almost 12 wins above replacement.  The Jays starting staff as an whole (which includes starts made by Jesse Litsch, Dana Eveland, Marc Rzepczynski, Brian Tallet and Brad Mills) has pitched to an FIP of 4.14 and been worth 114 runs above replacement, good for fourth in the American League and ahead (!) of the much more frequently discussed Tampa Bay Rays' staff's 91.7 by more than 20 RAR.  All I can say is that this is the kind of staff that anchors contenders.

Today's title comes from the Dismemberment Plan song "If I Don't" off their oddly-titled album !.

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