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Rotation slots

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The other day, I examined tRA – a fairly new stat – and used it to analyze the Cards’ ’08 starting rotation. As I and others pointed out, it’s yet to be tested in comparison to other stats. Nevertheless, it’s based on pretty sound science. Is it the be-all, end-all of pitching sabermetrics? I doubt it but it should be used in the context of any discussion about pitchers.

There was some reasonable discussion also about whether or not we should even be using this particular stat since it was so knew and hadn’t been tested – either vs. other stats or against time. All that’s fair criticism, in my view, but that’s not how I use the stats I use. There are a lot of good ones out there and I don’t view any as THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH on anything. I look at a bunch of good stats – and I think most would agree that tRA is a good one, if not the best – and draw a picture of a player’s performance. If his tRA is low, his FIP is low, and his K/9 is high, he’s probably a pretty good pitcher and inclined to be good next year as well. If a fielder has a positive UZR/150, a positive ranking on John Dewan’s +/- scale, and a PMR greater than 100, he’s probably an above average fielder. If he’s ranked #1 on 1 scale does that absolutely make him the best…unquestionably? No but it gives us a pretty good idea of how he ranks vs. his peers.

Ok, so I’m back to tRA for today and, specifically, an article posted over at statcorner on rotation slots and their respective tRAs. In the article, Matthew Carruth explains how he determined the average tRAs for baseball’s #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5 starters. He attempted to distinguish between the rotation slots based not only on their tRA+ but also on the number of xOuts (expected outs) they recorded during a given season. In that vein, #5 starters weren’t necessarily the 5th best starters on each team, but rather the worst starting pitchers in baseball. For a more complete explanation, follow the link to the article.

Matthew then took all this data and determined the average and minimum tRA+ for each rotation spot.

AVG tRA+ min tRA+ max tRA+
#1 starters 130 118 n/a
#2 starters 112 106 118
#3 starters 100 95 106
#4 starters 91 86 95
#5 starters 76 n/a 86

The point Carruth makes is that, if your starter is a #4 or #5 starter, there’s no reason to pay a premium for that kind of performance. Pay a lot for the top notch guys and not for 90 tRA+ guys (though those who pitch 180+ innings w/a 90 tRA+ has value in that it avoids having 80 tRA+ guys eat up innings.)

So how did the Cards’ pitchers pitch last year vs. the average?

tRA+ rotation slot
Wainwright 112 2
Lohse 95 3/4
Wellemeyer 93 4
Pineiro 71 5

For what it’s worth, Looper’s tRA+ was 91, putting him comfortably in the #4 rotation slot. Let’s compare the Cards’ rotation to the other teams in the division. These are all last year’s rotations. This only includes pitchers who recorded 100 IP or more last season.

Astros Brewers Cards Cubs Pirates Reds
Pitcher tRA+ (rotation slot) Pitcher tRA+ (rotation slot) Pitcher tRA+ (rotation slot) Pitcher tRA+ (rotation slot) Pitcher tRA+ (rotation slot) Pitcher tRA+ (rotation slot)
Oswalt 119 (1) Sabathia 150 (1) Wainwright 112 (2) Dempster 127 (1) Maholm 107 (2) Volquez 121 (1)
Rodriguez 116 (2) Sheets 128 (1) Lohse 95 (3-4) Lilly 113 (2) Duke 98(3) Arroyo 97 (3)
Moehler 101 (3) Parra 100 (3) Wellemeyer 93 (4) Zambrano 112 (2) Snell 80 (5) Cueto 91 (4)
Backe 74 (5) Bush 97 (3) Looper 91 (4) Marquis 98 (3) Gorzelanny 60 (5) Harang 88 (4)
n/a n/a Suppan 65 (5) Pineiro 71 (5) n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a

Well, tRA+ isn’t a predictive stat so, if it looks bad for us, that doesn’t mean it will be in ’09. tRA* is the predictive stat. If statcorner combined AL and NL stats, the Cubs would have had 5 starters qualify here b/c Rich Harden would’ve easily made the cut. His tRA+ w/ the Cubs was 146. He would’ve given them 2 #1s, 2 #2s and a #3 – not bad. It is a positive, as I alluded to earlier, to have 5 players make the cut here even though Pineiro was caught smack-dab in the middle of the vortex of suck last year. We got a better performance from the fact that he ate up so many innings as opposed to giving them to Mitch Boggs (last year!). The point is that the Cards’ rotation had depth, but not strength and, for us to really be a strong team, it’s going to have to have some strength.

Despite the rotation’s relative depth, there’s reason to be concerned here. To me, it’s a bigger concern than the pen – Fuentes or no Fuentes, Perez as the closer or as setup man or as closer for the Memphis Redbirds. The fact that we’re running Pineiro out there every 5th day and that Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer are our #2 and #3 starters, respectively, is a problem. A lot of Cards’ fans are saying that the Cubs will come back to the pack this season. I don’t see why. Their pitching is clearly better than ours, even w/ Bipolar Betty taking a turn every 5th day.