Monday, January 26, 2009

2009 Pitching Rotation

According to accounts, such as Hank Schulman, the pitching rotation will be Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, and the #5 starter, Sanchez or Lowry.

As others have noted, such as McCovey Chronicles and Bay City Ball, that is a pretty good rotation order. As Bochy has noted in recent interviews, like on KNBR, he likes this rotation because it splits up the lefties. As Chris/Xanthan notes in Bay City Ball, having Zito in #4 spot is pretty good. I think he should be past the point where he's insulted by his spot in the rotation and be focused more on pitching well no matter where he is in the rotation.

Obviously, it's do or die for him and the contract and he's already got two strikes against him. I think this is the season he finally delivers what we have been hoping to get from him with this contract. As I noted in previous posts, he struck out more in 3 games sequences in 2008 than he has since his early years. He's also working out like a demon this off-season with Wilson and I think Wilson's hang-loose attitude could rub off on Zito and help him not over-think so much when he pitches in 2009, which I think hurt him as the contract weighed on him.

As I noted here on Bay Bridge Baseball, I think that the Giants should start Sanchez no matter what and just keep Lowry in the bullpen as long relief/spot starter. I don't think that there is any way his arm is ready for a full MLB season and let's him get acclimated to MLB again while being backup should any starter goes down or is ineffective, particularly Randy Johnson since he's going to be 45 years old.

Meanwhile, Sanchez is on the brink of a breakout season where he could warrant a premier middle-lineup hitter in exchange next off-season if he puts it all together. It would be a total waste to put him back in the bullpen in face of that, particularly since if we put Lowry in the rotation and he puts in another nice season, he's still not going to net us a middle-lineup hitter in trade.

Either way, an OK Sanchez or Lowry should mop up against other teams' #5 starters, they should end up doing very well for themselves in the win column. Most team's #5 are lucky if their ERA are in the 5's, and whoever wins should be good for ERA under 5.

I believe that the competition between Sanchez and Lowry is mainly manufactured to 1) give Sanchez compeitition so that he doesn't mail it in during spring training and 2) give Lowry further incentive to do well and prove that he's back in spring training so that he doesn't mentally give up had there not been any spot available for him to win, plus to show respect for what he had done previously as a starters for us. I believe that Sanchez should win the "competition", thus allowing Lowry to sit in the bullpen and work his way back to the rotation.

Also, given the extreme youth (Cain and Lincecum) and age (Johnson) in the rotation, it might make sense for the Giants to go with a 6 man rotation after the All Star break, or starting in August, where most makeup games for rained out games are scheduled, with the 6th man's spot skipped where there is actually a free day that week. And if Sanchez does prove to be inconsistent again in the first half of 2009, then we could switch him to the bullpen and start Lowry, assuming Lowry was successful in the first half, and hopefully build value for trading Lowry in the off-season since he's still cheap for 2010 assuming he can start OK. Or make him and Lowry alternate being the 6th rotation skip.

I think being in the #3 spot will help Cain in that the opposing starter will be that much less talented and he will finally put together a winning season in the 12-15 win range, and perhaps even have an outside shot at winning 20. Given how well he has pitched plus improvement, his ERA should be in the 3.5 ERA range and most middle rotation guys have an ERA in the 4.5 range, yielding a Pythagorean of roughly 20 wins. Not likely, but I think he finally ends up with more wins than losses in 2009.

Lincecum, barring any setback, god forbid, should do alright for himself again being the ace of the staff, though not 18-5 good, maybe more like 15-10 good. Being at the top of the rotation instead of #3 will mean he face better pitchers generally, but if he can continue to keep his ERA under 3.00, as he has since the end of May 2007, it won't matter much who we face, he'll be winning games with him starting.

Johnson I think will be in the worse position out of the starters. He had a competitive enough ERA in 2008 for a #2 starter (a THT study had ace starters under 4.00 ERA, #2 starters in the low 4's or better, #3 starters in mid-4's, #4 starters in high-4's, and #5 starters in 5's and 6's), but assuming some decline due to his age, that means that he's probably going to be seeing a losing record overall assuming that other team's #2 continue doing well. That works for the Giants brass because Johnson is a rental and the main point with him is not to have a winning record in particular but to reach 300 wins, take some pressure off the young starters, particularly Cain, Zito, and Sanchez, and impart some sage mentoring to Lincecum, Cain, and Sanchez. And should he succumb physically to age finally, Lowry should be there to take over the rest of the season, which gives Lowry some early rest to build up strength and get used to things again. The only way his contract don't work is if he injures himself early and don't pitch much if at all for us.

Overall, I think we have a strong rotation that will pitch well for us and be one of the top rotations in 2009 in the NL. I think the offense will be improved enough for that to translate into more wins and get us to .500 or nearly so. While the offense will still be below average as most fans still complain about, that is not the point, for as long as the rotation and bullpen are above average, that should be enough for us to win our share of games and be competitive in the poor NL West division.

And a Gung Hay Fat Choy to everyone! Go Giants!

7 comments:

  1. I agree that Sanchez would start over Lowry(if healthy). The one thing that may hurt Sanchez in ST could be his potential absence. I know that this is just speculation that he would actually be on the team or not.

    Yes, w/ Sanchez or Lowry I agree that is is still avery solid rotation. Though I really dont see the Giants going to a 6-man rotation even though it does make sense to give arms like Lincecum some more time to recover between starts.

    There was an interesting post on http://www.minorleagueball.com/2009/1/5/709839/young-pitcher-abuse

    minorleagueball about young pitcher abuse. Is this also a reason behind you 6-man rotation?

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  2. Was talking about the the WBC and Sanchez in the 1st paragraph.

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  3. Thanks Ryan for your comment and clarification.

    Yeah, forgot about Sanchez's possible absence. I'm hoping that the national team realizes that his rotation spot is in jeopardy if he isn't with the Giants in spring training and leave him off the team. Hopefully, it's like the Oscars, it's an honor just to be nominated.

    No, I appreciate your linking to that post, but that was not the impetus for my advocating the 6-man.

    There were a number of factors that led me to suggest that. First, I had done informal, rough research and found that pitchers who threw 3500-4000 pitches in a season seemed to have a down season within a season or two. I don't consider that to be "sky is falling" like others, just another indicator point that I want to reduce starters' usage going forward. Adding a 6th starter late in the season would do that.

    Second, Bochy at some point had thrown that out as a possibility last season, from what I remember. Else, I probably wouldn't suggest this, I mainly mention because of the concern for the above plus that he had at least thought of this subject before.

    However, another factor is also in play here for me. Lowry can be a valuable trading chip but he won't get us full value if he's relieving. If he can come back and start regularly for us and do as well as he has done before, then with his cheap contract for 2010 plus cheap option for 2011 (cheap in that he's as a good pitcher as he was before), we should be able to get a nice prospect or two for him, though not the middle-lineup guy we need.

    Personally, I think PAP is over-hyped by people who fawn over BP like they can do nothing wrong. Read Bill James rebuke of the PAP system in his book on pitchers and pitching. Though it technically applies to an old system, as one person has pointed out to me before, I find that his criticism attacks the basis of the system, no matter how advanced it has or will become. Basically, he said that while he has no doubt that BP was sincere in their efforts, when you start off from the wrong concept, then no matter what you do to dress up the pig, it's still a pig.

    I happen to agree. Humans are all different. Some can smoke like an 19th Century factory and live to 100, while others can eat well, stay fit, and die young anyhow; some can have cholesterol counts in the 800's and never have any heart problems, while others live a life with no indicators and fall dead of a heart attack.

    So while I think PAP did a useful thing initially with the attention it brought to the issue of pitch count and so forth, I don't know that their methodology is that all robust in terms of linking PAP to pitchers getting injured. Of course, they keep much of that hidden in their black box, maybe I'll be more impressed if I knew the background of their research methodology, but that's on them for keeping that info not publicly available for public consumption.

    For example, Lincecum's PAP has been mega-high since his first college year. Like the poster noted, "NOT A TYPO", because he had PAP in college that were miles and above beyond what any other pitcher was doing.

    So tell me this (rhetorical question), when does PAP work? Lincecum is 24. He has had mega-high PAP since he was 19, at least, who knows how much he threw in high school. That is 5 seasons of mega-high, NOT A TYPO, PAP scores. One would think that given all the worry over Lincecum's high PAP that at some point in the last year or two something would have happened to his arm, based on what PAP is saying. Other pitchers with high but not NOT A TYPO have entered the professional ranks injured, but Lincecum has not even shown any signs of injury.

    So when is it suppose to kick in?

    This is similar to all the dire warnings I used to hear about Rueter, every year people would throw DIPS out and complain about him, and he would go out and have another good season. Of course, after nearly 10 years of warnings, he finally did what they all were saying he would do.

    I think that people are getting too amped up over the pitch count, the pendulum is gone too far the other direction. There is no magic number at which every pitcher suddenly fatigues and damage themselves. It is an art still and not a science.

    Bochy and crew are aware of pitch count. They appear to be monitoring it and the pitcher to make sure he's not straining. Lincecum was clearly weakening in late 2007 and they went ahead and shut him down, even though he didn't want to be shut down. In 2008, when he was going good, they let him have another start.

    People act like the Giants don't know what they got, but they do. You just don't want to baby him either. You stretch him out and see what he is capable of. You pull back on the reins when there is signs he is having problems.

    Maybe it still leads to him having arm problems. At least I am satisfied with the process that the Giants are using to take care of our pitchers and figure out what to do with him. We are not going to find out what our pitchers can accomplish by babying them when there is no need to be cautious. There were plenty of pitchers in the history of baseball who could take a lot of usage and innings, and no system that mechanically tallies abuse points will help you figure out which players are capable and which aren't.

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  4. Hey Martin, a clarification on Lowry. His contract isn't through 2010 with an option for 2011. It's up this year with a $6.25 million club option for 2010. We'll see how events transpire, but at the moment I'd say the odds are against his being part of the team in 2010. Honestly, despite the Giants proclamations of a competition between Lowry and Sanchez, I'm with you that it doesn't really seem that likely to me. If Lowry's pitching at all I'd like to see him in Fresno on a nice long rehab assignment at the beginning of the year while he builds arm strength back up and particularly works on his command and control with the new surgically repaired forearm. I tend to agree with Sabean that anything from Noah at this point is found money but I wouldn't count on him for anything.

    And secondly, I think when you go through the rotations, you put a little too much emphasis on matchups of 1 v 1, 5 v 5, etc. With off days, it seems to me that within a couple weeks of the start of the season (if not right off the bat) those straight matchups just don't happen that often.

    Oh, and lastly, Woody only really had 3 good years with SF: '97, 2000, and '02. Otherwise he was brutally bad in '99 and '05 and generally below average in '98, '02, '03, and '04.

    ReplyDelete
  5. OK, sorry I got the years wrong, but I knew he had one year plus option left. Thank you for the correction.

    I don't think so about the rotations. I play fantasy baseball regularly, and I have found that when my pitchers fall on the same day, they regularly pitch on the same day. Maybe an off-day here and there switches things around, but that holds true pretty well for the most part from what I remember. Where things get muddied up is those teams with rain-outs and there is a shift in the rotation, plus those rainouts then affect August.

    But yes, I should note that this is an observation on my part, not a "truth".

    I disagree on Rueter. While below average in 1998, 2001, 2003, and 2004, the ERA+ was all in the low 90's, not that bad. Remember, the ERA for the league is inflated by relief pitchers. They generally have a lower ERA.

    So, for example, in 1998, he had a 92 ERA+ for his 4.36 ERA season, which you call generally below average (you repeated 02 but I assume you meant 01). Out of pitchers with over 145 IP, of which there were 54, he was 37th.

    Now some might look at that and think that he's in the bottom half of starting pitchers but what is forgotten is that being a major league starter in the majors who can put up a lot of innings is quite a skill. While he's 37th of 54 starters with 150 IP, I use that to limit the comparison set to give a truer view of how rare that is for pitchers to both throw that many innings and at that high a performance level.

    Furthermore, that's 54 pitchers out of 80 rotation spots in the NL. Thus 32 spots are taken for the #1 and #2 starters on each team, putting Rueter in the #3 spot, but high in that slot, close to being a #2 starter, only five spots away (37th vs. 32nd). That's a pitcher above the median point for starters and close to being a #2 starter for a team if talent was spread evenly across all 16 NL teams.

    But if you look at his stats for walks and strikeouts, people thought that he wouldn't last very long. Well, in 1998, his K/9 was only 4.9 and his K/BB was only 1.79, and yet his career lasted another 7 seasons of generally good work. That's what I meant, people had been waiting for Rueter to stop being effective from his early beginning and yet he pitched generally well for another 6 years plus his final season.

    So he's below average but only slightly below average, and there's no shame in being the 37th best starter in your league, that puts you squarely in the middle rotation slot and he was close to making #2 in the rotation.

    And it wasn't like I was saying he was the best, I mainly felt that he didn't get his due from fans, he had a generally good career, on the borderline of becoming excellent, but people always downgraded his achievements. A pitcher who can deliver a low to mid 4 ERA and around 200 IP per season is valuable to have on a team.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Other Rueter numbers:

    Year -OPS+- KR - NL Starter
    2000 108 3.96 4.69
    2001 91 4.42 4.50
    2002 120 3.23 4.27
    2003 93 4.53 4.43
    2004 92 4.73 4.44
    2005 72 5.95 4.25

    Remember, OPS+ takes park factors into account. 2003 and 2004 represented a shift for AT&T from pitcher's park to a neutral/hitter's park. Previously it was below 95, but jumped from 91 in 2002 to 100 in 2003 to 103 in 2004.

    And in 2008, NL Starters had a 4.43 ERA and NL Relievers had a 4.08 ERA, for an example of the difference between starters and relievers.

    ReplyDelete
  7. OGC,
    I agree that PAP is interesting, though should not apply to all players the same way. I look at Tim and Matt as players that know how to get deep in the games. Another contributing factor could be that with the Giants low scoring offense, and the two pitchers that refuse to give up runs, that Bochy may have felt that even with a 100+ pitch count that they still gave the team a better chance to win than going to a member of the Giants 2008 mediocre 'pen.

    ReplyDelete

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