FanPost

Standing SP-pat: Fair or Folly?

Alex A was recently quoted as saying that, while the Jays could always use another good starter, he would be comfortable going into 2014 with the existing rotation options. Reaction in the blogosphere ranged from the rational ("just because the Jays haven’t made any upgrades doesn’t mean they won’t be better") to the rabid ("don’t insult our intelligence").

There is an old adage in baseball that the playoffs are a whole new season. If you can make it into October, anything can happen. It seems to be true – in the 20 seasons since the wild card was introduced in 1994, five wild card teams have won the World Series … and another five made it to the Series and lost.

Which begs the question: how good of a starting rotation does a team need to make the playoffs, and how close is the existing Jays rotation to that level?

Consider the aggregate regular-season fWAR of the starting pitching staffs (staves?) of the ten teams that made the 2013 playoffs:

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Compare that to the Jays’ 2013 starting pitchers

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The Jays’ actual starter WAR is likely even lower than 7, as some of the innings pitched (Rogers, Redmond) were in relief. Clearly, if the Jays expect to contend for the 2014 playoffs they will need to see some improvement.

The Jays experienced a lot of bad luck in 2013, and so some improvement should come just from regression to normal luck levels. The Steamer projections for the 2014 Jays call for an increase of 3 WAR:

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An fWAR of 10 is better than the 2013 total of 7, but likely still not good enough to make it into the playoffs. It would be easy to tweak these numbers by assuming nothing but upside – that Dickey returns to his Cy Young form, Morrow and Buehrle play at 2011 levels, and a Stroman / Drabek / Hutchison / McGowan / Jeffries steps up and outperforms expectations. But it is also possible to revisit these figures without assuming any increase in performance levels:

  • In an excellent article on fangraphs, Dave Cameron makes the point that fWAR is based on FIP, which is less relevant to knuckleballers than something like RA/9. Dave recommends that RA/9-WAR be used for pitchers like Dickey, and notes that over the last 3 years Dickey’s RA/9-WAR is roughly 50% higher than his fWAR. So I have increased Dickey’s projected 2013 fWAR by 50% to give an approximate RA/9-WAR of 4.0 over 30 starts.

  • Steamer projects 30 starts for Dickey and Buehrle. I have increased this to their 3-year average of 34 and 32 starts, respectively. I know that they are both aging, but given that neither is a strong thrower and that they showed no signs of decline in durability in 2013, I think a three-year average is reasonable. As WAR is largely linear, I have increased their WAR estimates proportionately with the increase in starts.

  • Steamer projects an aggregate of 57 starts for Morrow + Happ + Rogers. I have increased all three to 28 games. Morrow and Happ started 30 and 28 games in 2011, respectively, so 28 each in 2013 (while optimistic) is not too much of a stretch. Rogers pitched 20 games and 137 innings in 2013 in his transition year from RP to SP, finishing with a strong September, so 28 games and ~170 innings does not seem unreasonable. In each case, I have extrapolated the Steamer fWAR based on the additional starts without any additional increase. I have decreased the innings from Rasmussen, Jenkins and Nolin to compensate.

Here are the adjusted projections.

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The 13.2 WAR figure would be higher than five of the ten 2013 playoff teams, and within 0.5 WAR of the World Series Cardinals. And remember - these adjusted projections do not take into consideration the potential upside from increased performance, or of one of the young SP breaking out.

The "bottom line"? With Steamer 2014 + a bit of optimism about innings, and with (whimper!) better injury luck, the Jays’ existing rotation could be good enough for them to be playing in October - maybe even in the last week!

However, with all that said, I still think Tanaka and Jimenez would look very spiff in Jays uniforms ….!

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