Tuesday, September 05, 2006

AL Playoff Race: The Starters

Starting Pitching

White Sox6.444.725.452.

Lots of numbers here, and without breaking them down further, it's tough to get a grasp of what they really mean. But, generally, it looks like the Tigers and Twins have the best pitching staffs of the group. The White Sox look the worst, while the Yanks look lucky and the A's look solid.

As with offense and defense, I’m going to break the pitchers down on an individual basis. I’ve chosen RA+ and VORP because they compare the pitcher to the rest of the league; BABIP is there to account for any amount of luck being bestowed upon a pitcher (between .280 and .290 is average). This list requires a minimum of 130 innings pitched.

No. 1 PitcherIP/SRA+ (rank)VORP (rank)BABIP
Johan Santana6.831.58 (1)65.7 (1).276
Justin Verlander6.351.41 (3)47.8 (4).288
Barry Zito6.521.30 (5)48.6 (3).282
Chien-Ming Wang6.641.28 (6)46.5 (5).285
Jon Garland6.651.10 (15)30.7 (16).305

A huge hole for the White Sox manifests itself right at the start. You know you have problems when Jon Garland is leading your starters in RA+ and VORP – by a wide margin. As you'll see later, the back of their rotation is superior to their foes, but that's not going to help them down the stretch and in the playoffs. I know hindsight is 20/20, but it looks like Brandon McCarthy would have been a better option to start the year in the rotation.

No. 2 PitcherIP/SRA+ (rank)VORP (rank)BABIP
Mike Mussina6.261.24 (8)39.9 (8).282
Dan Haren6.621.22 (9)43.7 (6).289
Jeremy Bonderman6.501.15 (11)36.8 (11).317
Jose Contreras6.621.08 (17)29.4 (17).283
Brad Radke*5.811.01 (25)20.9 (25).327

* likely done for season

You could reasonably slide Francisco Liriano into this slot, though there are far too many question marks surrounding his injury and return to bank on anything at this point. The A's and Yankees No. 2 starters trump those of the Twins and Tigers, evening out the pack a bit. This will become especially important in a short series.

No. 3 PitcherIP/SRA+ (rank)VORP (rank)BABIP
Kenny Rogers6.071.13 (14)33.1 (13).257
Joe Blanton6.221.02 (22)23.7 (23).332
Mark Buehrle6.500.96 (30)18.9 (28).304
Randy Johnson6.210.90 (35)11.8 (35).279
Carlos Silva5.520.68 (42)-17.9 (42).338

And the Twins fall right off the table. They have a few youngsters that are giving them quality innings, but Silva is the final pitcher on their staff who qualifies for the ERA title. And, of the 42 AL pitchers who qualify, Silva ranks dead last. I've pointed out some errors in numbers in regards to Yankees players, since I'm more familiar with them. Having selected Silva in fantasy baseball – and dropping him within a month – I'm kind of familiar with his horrible start, from which he's recovered decently. Since his decrepit start, Silva has been much better than his 0.68 RA+ indicates. Same goes for Randy Johnson. The problem is that Randy can be good at times, but simply cannot be defined as consistent. I'm going to be biting my nails during Game Three of the ALDS.

Other Ranking PitchersIP/SRA+ (rank)VORP (rank)BABIP
Nate Robertson6.521.09 (16)31.0 (15).278
Javy Vazquez6.190.95 (31)16.0 (31).308
Freddie Garcia6.410.93 (33)14.9 (32).300

While their RA+ figures are below league-average, Vazquez and Garcia aren't horrible. The problem is, their numbers are very close to those of their No. 3 starter, Mark Buehrle. So, in essence, the White Sox have a No. 2 starter, a No. 3 starter, and three guys you could fit into the No. 3 or No. 4 roles. Where have I seen that before? Oh yeah, the Yankees of recent years past. We all saw how far that formula took them.

Nate Robertson's presence here means that the Tigers have four starters – four of 'em – with an RA+ over 1.00. Crazy, huh? I think I saw that formula before, too. Yep, the 2005 White Sox.

Notable Non-RankingIP/SRA+ (rank)VORP rank)BABIP
Esteban Loaiza5.900.9410.9.315
Jaret Wright4.910.9713.0.335
Francisco Liriano6.472.1049.7.286
Kirk Saarloos5.921.0013.7.292
Cory Lidle5.950.9512.4.305

This breakdown makes the Tigers dominance in the starting pitching department most evident. It also shows you the dramatic drop-off of the White Sox staff, whose top starter is only 15th best in the league. With the AL Wild Card race so tight between the Twins and White Sox, I’d normally say that the Twins have a huge edge here. However, there’s an egregious snag there, as the Twins second best qualified pitcher is done for the season, and their third best starter ranks last among those qualified. They do have Liriano readying for a return, but there’s no guarantee as to his effectiveness. Having that 1-2 punch is great, but it is a significant drop-off from there. It looks like this race will be decided over the course of the season’s final series.

Pitching is how the A’s have kept ahead of the pack in the AL West. They have solid Nos. 1 through 3 pitchers, and serviceable options at four and five with Loaiza and Saarloos. They’d be a ton better with a healthy Rich Harden, but they can’t be dwelling on that right now. For the ALDS, they should be a formidable opponent, though their offense may hamper them to the point of elimination rather quickly. Having three great starters with that offense gives you a fighting chance; having three reliable but not great starters with that offense is a ticket to a first-round exit.

And out come the biases. The Yankees may not look particularly strong, as judged by these breakdowns. However, Randy’s numbers are horribly skewed by those six terrible starts back in April and May. He’s since recovered, and is much better than his 0.90 RA+ indicates. This, however, brings up that point for every pitcher on this list. Are his numbers loaded in the front of the season and he’s faltering now? Vice versa? As I Yankees fan, I know that Randy is more at the level of Kenny Rogers and Jose Contreras than at the level of Carlos Silva and Mark Buehrle. And that’s being generous to Contreras, whose numbers were loaded in the first half; he posted a crippling 7.50 ERA in August.

These numbers also don’t tell that Jaret Wright’s stay in the rotation may be close to an end, as Darrell Rasner was impressive against the Twins on Sunday. So yes, while these tables should be telling, there are obvious biases involved. If you notice an inconsistency here – that is, someone whose numbers don’t do justice to their impact -- e-mail me with your argument, and I’ll analyze and post it.

The Hitters