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Ranking the Rotations: Projected 2011 Starting Rotations Based on 2010 Statistics (Part Two)

January 3, 2011

Earlier this morning I posted Part One of my look at how the 2011 projected starting rotations compared to one another. As promised, here is Part Two.

Once I was able to project the starting rotations for 2011 for all 30 teams, I was then able to start looking at some numbers. Based entirely on 2010 MLB statistics, I determined totals for each rotation and was able to come up with each team’s total won-loss record, innings pitched, ERA, BB/9, K/9, H/9, and HR/9. I also calculated the total bWAR for each group. Since win-loss records and ERA can be subjective in the sense that many other factors come into play, we will largely disregard them when it comes to comparing the 30 projected rotations. First, we’ll determine the top rotation based on where each team ranks in terms of the rate statistics – BB/9, K/9, H/9, and HR/9. Secondly, we’ll compare them strictly in terms of bWAR.

  BB/9 Rank K/9 Rank H/9 Rank HR/9 Rank
AZ 2.89 10 6.13 24 9.26 25 1.25 30
ATL 2.81 6 (tie) 6.64 20 8.61 10 (tie) 0.82 9
BAL 3.08 19 5.41 29 9.09 21 1.12 27
BOS 3.50 24 (tie) 7.69 4 8.51 7 0.76 5
CHC 3.54 29 7.62 6 8.92 20 0.83 10
CHW 2.81 6 (tie) 6.66 19 9.18 23 0.81 8
CIN 3.02 16 (tie) 6.54 21 8.79 15 1.06 25
CLE 3.50 24 (tie) 5.70 28 9.57 27 0.85 12 (tie)
COL 3.52 27 7.65 5 8.47 6 0.73 3 (tie)
DET 2.91 11 6.98 15 8.66 12 0.85 12 (tie)
FLA 2.86 9 7.39 11 8.89 18 (tie) 0.93 15 (tie)
HOU 3.53 28 7.43 10 8.89 18 (tie) 1.02 23 (tie)
KC 3.62 30 5.92 26 9.73 28 1.15 28
LAA 2.69 4 7.34 12 8.83 17 1.11 26
LAD 3.00 15 7.70 3 7.82 1 0.80 6 (tie)
MIL 2.92 12 7.55 7 (tie) 8.81 16 0.95 18
MIN 2.28 2 6.79 18 9.54 26 0.99 21 (tie)
NYM 2.96 13 5.83 27 9.25 24 0.72 1 (tie)
NYY 3.14 20 7.01 14 8.55 8 0.99 21 (tie)
OAK 2.82 8 6.11 25 7.92 3 0.73 3 (tie)
PHI 1.80 1 7.55 7 (tie) 8.22 4 0.94 17
PIT 3.42 23 6.22 22 9.94 29 0.96 19
SD 3.03 18 7.51 9 9.10 22 1.02 23 (tie)
SF 3.29 22 8.13 1 7.86 2 0.88 14
SEA 2.42 3 6.21 23 8.38 5 0.84 11
STL 2.78 5 6.88 17 8.61 10 (tie) 0.72 1 (tie)
TB 2.97 14 7.22 13 8.76 14 1.18 29
TEX 3.20 21 6.93 16 8.57 9 0.93 15 (tie)
TOR 3.50 24 (tie) 7.94 2 8.71 13 0.80 6 (tie)
WAS 3.02 16 (tie) 4.88 30 10.09 30 0.97 20

I chose to base my overall ranking on the average position each team ranked in the four rate statistics listed. Ultimately I decided to use these statistics rather than something like win percentage or ERA because we are dealing with a number of varying sample sizes. For instance, 6 different teams’ projected rotations pitched over 900 total innings in 2010, led by Philadelphia’s staff which turned in an overall high of 1,064 innings pitched. Meanwhile, Washington’s projected rotation pitched only 470.2 innings in 2010. As such, using the rate statistics gives us a better feel for what the projected rotation did on the field regardless of sample size.

Philadelphia had the best overall BB/9 rate, followed by Minnesota, Seattle, Los Angeles (AL), and St. Louis. San Francisco had the best overall K/9 rate, followed by Toronto, Los Angeles (NL), Boston, and Colorado. Los Angeles (NL) had the best overall H/9 rate, followed by San Francisco, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Seattle. St. Louis and New York (NL) tied for the best overall HR/9 rate, followed by Oakland, Colorado, and Boston.

Kansas City had the worst BB/9. Washington had the worst K/9 and H/9 rates. Arizona allowed the highest HR/9.

If each of the four statistical categories is weighted equally, let’s see what order our projected rotations would rank if we were to come up with a ranking based on overall performance. To determine this, I merely took the average position that each organization was ranked among the four statistics used. For reference, I am also listing the full Top 10 lists from Olney’s two ESPN posts.

Average Rank (BB/9, K/9, H/9, HR/9) Olney, 12/22/10 Olney, 12/24/10
1. Los Angeles (NL) 1. Philadelphia 1. Philadelphia
2. Philadelphia 2. San Francisco 2. San Francisco
3. St. Louis 3. Oakland 3 (tie). Tampa Bay
4 (tie). San Francisco 4. Tampa Bay 3 (tie). Boston
4 (tie). Oakland 5. Boston 5. Oakland
6. Boston 6. Milwaukee 6. St. Louis
7. Colorado 7. Detroit 7. Milwaukee
8. Seattle 8 (tie). Atlanta 8. Chicago (AL)
9 (tie). Toronto 8 (tie). St. Louis 9. Atlanta
9 (tie). Atlanta 10 (tie). Los Angeles (NL) 10. Detroit
  10 (tie). Chicago (AL)  

Naturally there are some variances from one list to the next. That was inevitable. There are likely numerous factors that went into each ranking that unfortunately we cannot specifically look at due to the lack of explanation that accompanies the two rankings put together by Olney. However, it can be safe to say that there likely was a good deal of logic placed on how the rankings were set. Thus far, all I have done is base things solely in an average ranking based on each team’s projected rotation and their 2010 statistics. It is by no means perfect math. But it did provide for some interesting results.

The Los Angeles Dodgers come out atop my list in this instance with their projected rotation of Kershaw, Billingsley, Lilly, Kuroda, and Garland. The group is the only one in which all five pitchers made more than 30 starts in 2010. Only Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Milwaukee can say that their five starters made at least 28 starts. Each of the Dodgers’ projected starters pitched nearly 200+ innings to an ERA under 4.00 (Lilly’s 3.62 was the highest). In addition to boasting a five man rotation coming off of such a season, the Dodgers also resigned Vicente Padilla this offseason which gives them a sixth starter capable of stepping in should one of these players miss time for any reason. Yet, despite all of this the Dodgers were only tied for 10th place on Olney’s rankings and failed to appear in the rankings compiled by talent evaluators. This is a team that is returning their top 3 starters, adding a full season of Lilly, and brought in an innings-eater in Garland to fill out the back of the rotation.

One surprise member of the Top 10 is Seattle coming in at #8. The Mariners struggled to one of the worst seasons on record in 2010 due largely to the inefficiencies and inabilities of their offense. We know that Felix Hernandez won over countless voters by winning the AL Cy Young Award despite a poor win-loss record due to the fact that he dominated some of the very same statistics used in determining these rankings. His 250+ innings pitched also heavily weighed on the team’s projected rotation’s overall position. However, beyond Hernandez the team has little in the way of establish MLB starters in their rotation and a big question mark at the back end as their likely 5th starter did not pitch in the Majors in 2010 (either Bedard or prospect Michael Pineda).

Finally, I wanted to take a look at how the 30 projected rotations would rank based on their cumulative 2010 bWAR. The below chart lists all 30 teams, from highest total bWAR to lowest.

  Total 2010 bWAR based on 2011 projected rotation
1. Philadelphia 20.7
2 (tie). Los Angeles (AL) 14.5
2 (tie). Los Angeles (NL) 14.5
2 (tie). Chicago (AL) 14.5
5. San Francisco 14.3
6. Oakland 13.7
7. Colorado 13.1
8. Boston 12.5
9. Florida 12.3
10 (tie). Chicago (NL) 11.9
10 (tie). Minnesota 11.9
12. Milwaukee 10.2
13. Texas 10.0
14. St. Louis 9.8
15. New York (AL) 9.2
16. Detroit 9.1
17 (tie). Atlanta 8.9
17 (tie). Tampa Bay 8.9
19. Baltimore 8.7
20. Toronto 7.5
21. Seattle 7.1
22. New York (NL) 6.3
23. Arizona 6.2
24. Cincinnati 5.0
25. Houston 4.2
26. San Diego 4.1
27 (tie). Pittsburgh 2.0
27 (tie). Washington 2.0
29. Kansas City 0.6
30. Cleveland 0.0

Using bWAR as the basis of our ranking we once again see Philadelphia atop the list as the best rotation heading into the 2011 season, based on 2010 statistical performance. Olney listed them first in his 12/22/10 article. He then polled a group of talent evaluators who came to the same conclusion on 12/24/10. Based on the average ranking of the major rate statistics (BB/9, K/9, H/9, and HR/9) the Phillies come in 2nd on our list. And as shown above, when it comes to bWAR the group if hands down the best rotation in baseball by a fairly decent margin. Keep in mind, as mentioned earlier, I am assuming the team trades Blanton prior to the start of the 2011 season so my calculations were done with the assumption that Kendrick fills the 5th spot in the rotation behind R2C2 (seemingly the best nickname I’ve seen suggested to date).

This discussion began like any other – a viable question was posed and opinions were offered. However, because initial lists failed to qualify what these opinions were based upon I thought it would prove to be an interesting exercise to take a look at the answers to the same viable question based on certain statistical measurements. It would seem that using two different bases for our rankings we do come up with two different overall rankings. Once again, the system isn’t perfect. The numbers I used are based on 2010 statistics and it would be unreasonable to expect 100% continuity from every pitcher listed. Many of these pitchers will perform better in 2011 while just as many will perform worse. With the current offseason still yet to be completed, many of the projected rotations used for these comparisons may change. Rankings will change based on what statistic is influencing the discussion or even depending on who is making the argument to begin with.

The question of “Who has the best starting rotation?” is one without a singular correct answer, as I stated initially. But it’s certainly a fun topic of discussion as we await the day players return to settle the debate on the field.

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