2011 NL Best and Worst Pitchers

Finally getting caught up on my statistical analysis as I head into the 2012 Spring Training season…  First of all, God Bless Sean Lahman, whose baseball database makes it possible to write queries and look at statistics using a Microsoft Access relational database…  The rest is doing the math.

When I review best and worst pitchers, I look at the total number of runs saved relative to the league average pitcher.  I get data for runs allowed per nine innings, then adjust for the pitcher’s home park and finally I adjust for the defense of the players behind that pitcher.  The best pitcher is the one who saves his team the most runs – the worst is the pitcher who costs his team the most runs.

Top Starting Pitchers of 2011:

Roy Halliday (PHI) 45.37 saved runs – 233.2 innings
Cliff Lee (PHI) 43.94 – 232.2 innings
Clayton Kershaw (LAD) 37.81 – 233.1 innings
Cole Hamels (PHI) 34.28 – 216 innings
Ian Kennedy (AZ) 31.53 – 222 innings
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 20.82 – 156 innings
Jair Jurrjens (ATL) 17.56 – 152 innings
Jhoulys Chacin (COL) 17.53 – 194 innings
R.A. Dickey (NYM) 15.92 – 208.2 innings
Vance Worley (PHI) 15.53 – 131.2 innings

You want to know why the Phillies won 100+ games, it’s because they had three of the top four starting pitchers, and a fourth who wound up in the top ten.  Even Roy Oswalt (not listed) was an above average pitcher.  Clayton Kershaw was a fantastic choice for the NL Cy Young award, but the numbers suggest what we all know – Roy Halliday is the best pitcher in baseball.

Worst Pitchers of 2011:

Bronson Arroyo (CIN) 27.88 (extra runs allowed)- 199 innings
J.A. Happ (HOU) 25.44 – 156.1 innings
Derek Lowe (ATL) 25.20 – 187 innings
Livan Hernandez (WASH) 24.16 – 175.1 innings
Ricky Nolasco (FLA) 23.26 – 206 innings
Casey Coleman (CHI) 22.88 – 84.1 innings
Edinson Volquez (CIN) 22.31 – 108.2 innings
Jonathan Sanchez (SF) 21.19 – 101.1 innings
Chris Volstad (FLA) 20.64 – 165.2 innings
Barry Zito (SF) 19.3 – 53.2 innings

The guy who usually tops this list is a starter who keeps getting run out there as if his team has no other options.  Certainly, the Reds should have been able to address the Bronson Arroyo problem by now (nearly 30 extra runs allowed than an average pitcher over the course of 199 innings), and running him out there every fifth day was problematic.  The Marlins have the same issue with Ricky Nolasco.  He’s got amazing stuff, but for some reason keeps getting hit.  If he doesn’t turn things around, the Marlins will have to find another option.  By the way, the Marlins can’t afford to have two guys on the bad list and make the playoffs.  The Brewers used to be on this list – and then they got five league average pitchers to match up with their amazing offense and made the playoffs.

By the way, this is total runs that one player cost his team.  Barry Zito, for example, was far worse per inning than Arroyo.  Had Barry been allowed to throw 200 innings, at the rate he was going he would have given up close to 75 extra runs.  The Giants had other options, so Zito was removed from the rotation before any further overall damage could be done.

Top Relievers of 2011:

Eric O’Flaherty (ATL) 24.99 (runs saved) – 73.2 innings
Tyler Clippard (WASH) 21.58 – 88.3 innings
Jonny Venters (ATL) 21.58 – 88 innings
Craig Kimbrel (ATL) 16.36 – 77 innings
John Axford (MIL) 15.50 – 73.2 innings
Joel Hanrahan (PIT) 15.41 – 68.2 innings
Fernando Salas (SD) 14.76 – 75 innings
Mike Adams (SD) 14.15 – 48 innings
Sean Marshall (CHI) 14.08 – 75.2 innings
Ryan Madson (PHI) 12.63 – 60.2 innings

Few surprises here – guys who gave up hardly any runs in a decent number of innings.  The Braves certainly had the best bullpen in 2011.

Worst Relievers of 2011:

Hong-Chih Kuo (LAD) 18.39 (extra runs allowed) – 27 innings
Aneury Rodruiguez (HOU) 14.62 – 85.1 innings
Ryan Franklin (STL) 14.17 – 27.2 innings
Dan Runzler (SF) 13.84 – 27.1 innings
Matt Maloney (CIN) 12.54 – 18.2 innings

I’ll cut off the list at five – guys who make this list are people who wind up in AAA or released before you know it.  Still Kuo was bad – basically six runs worse than any other guy every nine innings he pitched.  Aneury Rodriguez was the lone exception…

2010 Season Forecast: Tampa Rays

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 84 – 78 (3rd AL East)
2008: 97 – 65
2007: 66 – 96
2006: 61 – 101
2005: 67 – 95

Runs Scored: 803 (5th AL)
Runs Allowed: 754 (7th AL)

Season Recap:

Optimism reigned supreme on the heels of an amazing run into to the World Series.  I warned you, however, that while the team looked good there were reasons to suspect that the Rays might under-perform.  The Rays were good, but couldn’t catch any breaks on the road and, as such, couldn’t keep up with the Yankees or Red Sox when the race got going.

The Rays were never really out of it despite a 9 – 14 April, and after a fantastic June (19 – 7) were in the thick of the race.  Unfortunately, the Yankees blew the doors open in July and August while the Rays suddenly got flat.  Scott Kazmir, unhealthy and unproductive was sent to Anaheim.  Carlos Pena, leading the AL in homers at the time, broke his wrist.  Troy Percival was injured and eventually hung up the spikes.  When September came calling, the Rays were far enough out to throw in the towel – and they did, fading from 13 over .500 to just six over at the end.

Pitching:

In 2008, backed by a sure-handed and mobile defense, the pitching over delivered.  In 2009, the defense slipped and a few holes were discovered in the rotation.  Matt Garza became the ace and James Shields – usually dependable – gave up 239 hits in 220 innings, 29 of them homers.  Scott Kazmir made just 20 starts and finished with an ERA just shy of 6.00…  Andy Sonnestine, as warned, was eminently hittable, finishing with a 6.77 ERA and earning the Anti-Cy – the pitcher costing his team the most runs with his below average pitching.

Two good things came out of the experimenting required by Joe Maddon.  Rookie David Price showed flashes, winning 10 games, and Jeff Niemann was even better, making 30 starts, winning 13 games, and showing good control and command.

In the bullpen, Troy Percival made just 14 appearances, eventually having to be replaced by J.P. Howell at the back end of the bullpen.  However, Maddon used a committee as required, as Randy Choate (5), Grant Balfour (4), Joe Nelson (3), and four others wound up with saves.

Looking ahead, the Rays should have a decent enough rotation.  Shields should bounce back some, Garza is back, Niemann returns, Price will get 30+ starts, and rookie Wade Davis should pick up 20 – 25 starts.  If Davis is even 10 runs below average, he’s saving the team 25 runs over last season.  15 more starts of David Price will be worth another 30 runs.  I like the rotation to be at least 50 runs better than in 2009.

The bullpen adds closer Rafael Soriano from Atlanta and returns the core of what has been a very dependable bullpen – Howell, Choate, Balfour, and Dan Wheeler.  I like the bullpen to be at least 15 runs better than in 2009 as well.

Catching:

Dioner Navarro is back – hopefully lighter than last year, as his bat slipped mightily in 2009.  He’s essentially a league average backstop – right on the average against the run, has a decent reputation with handling the pitchers but isn’t as mobile as you would like.  Kelly Shoppach was signed from Cleveland to back up Navarro – and he is good enough to take up the slack if Navarro slips some more.

Infield:

In 2008, the infield defense was a big reason that the Rays won the AL East.  However, Carlos Pena showed signed that he might not be as mobile as he had been as a gold glove caliber first baseman.  Additionally, his batting average fell to .227, though he did continue to get on base and knock out homers.  Pena has had an up and down career and, nearing 32, his prime seasons are nearly over.

Akinori Iwamura went down to a horrible knee injury, but returns to play for Pittsburgh.  The reason Iwamura was allowed to move was the remarkable season of Ben Zobrist, who fielded his position very well and broke out with 27 homers and a .407 OBP.

Jason Bartlett hit better than expected – finishing at .320 with a .490 slugging percentage – but ankle injuries affected his range and he went from someone worth of a gold glove to someone challenging Derek Jeter for the worst range at short.  One hopes he finds his old mobility, but if he produces 103 runs of offense, nobody will notice.

Evan Longoria remains the best third baseman in baseball – he looks like the new Mike Schmidt.  A 40 homer season wouldn’t be out of the question, as he finished with 33 homers in 2009 and had 44 doubles, too.

Backing this unit up is Willie Aybar, who can play third and first and hit well enough.  Reid Brignac is a prospect who appears to have hitting skills but hasn’t shown range in the field.

Outfield:

Carl Crawford returns in left field, as good a fielder as there is out in left and a very productive hitter.  Crawford is known for his 60 stolen bases, but he added 51 extra base hits while hitting .305.

B.J. Upton will be the wild card of 2010.  Battling shoulder and leg injuries, Upton’s range numbers in the outfield were problematic and he finished at .241 and didn’t slug .400.  For a while, Upton was at the top of the lineup and getting in the way.  If he bounces back and shows the form he displayed in the 2008 World Series, the Rays will get 30 extra runs of offense and 20 extra runs of defense.  If not, the Rays may not be able to compete.

Gabe Kapler and Gabe Gross shared right field (with Ben Zobrist, until he moved to second base).  Both are acceptable in the field, but don’t add much to the offense.  Matt Joyce, formerly of Detroit, may get the nod in 2010.  He’s got young legs and potential at the plate – 30 homer power though he might not make it if he doesn’t curb the strikeouts.  Desmond Jennings, a prospect at Durham, might sneak in and take over as well.

Backing these guys up are Zobrist and Aybar, as well as DH (and disappointment) Pat Burrell.  Burrell’s 14 – 64 – .221 season meant that the Rays will give former Ranger Hank Blalock a shot at the DH role in 2010.

Prospects:

Looking at AAA Durham, you see people who have already gotten a shot…  Justin Ruggiano has some power and speed but is a bit old as a prospect.  Reid Brignac and Matt Joyce are already Rays.  Among the pitchers, Wade Davis is going to make the roster after going 10 – 8 for the Bulls with a 3.40 ERA and a 140/60 K/BB ratio in 158.2 innings.  Jeremy Hellickson will likely start at Durham in 2010, but was 6 – 1 in nine starts at the end of the season last year with 70 Ks in 57.1 innings.  Hellickson is the ace in waiting for now.

Hellickson had 11 starts for AA Montgomery, winning three of four decisions with 62 Ks, 14 BBs, and only 41 hits allowed in 56.2 innings.  Only reliever Paul Phillips looked ready for AAA.  Aneury Rodriguez is young (22) and pitched okay for the Biscuits but could stand to improve his control.  The best hitter in AA was Desmond Jennings, who finished at .316 with 37 steals (caught just five times), earning a nod to Durham where he hit .325 there with 15 more steals.  Jennings could take over in centerfield if Upton gets hurt.

A+ Charlotte has a few pitchers to watch in AA next year to see if they can continue to command the strike zone in Jeremy Hall, Alexander Cobb, and Darin Downs.  All three had good ERAs, good strikeout and walk numbers, and winning records.

Bowling Green (A) featured Matt Moore, a live-armed kid who fanned 176 but walked 70 in 123 innings.  Josh Satow was the closer, getting 20 saves, strikeing out 65 and walking just 15 in 63 innings.  Andy Finch and I saw Tim Beckham and Kyeong Kang when touring the midwest last summer.  Beckham has the air of stardom and is still a teen.  Kang looks to have a little power, hit .307 and had a .390 OBP.

The Rays have a young roster, and they have PROSPECTS.

Outlook:

I like the Rays to be very competitive.  Unlike 2009, where I thought the team might take a step back from the World Series peak, I see reasons for optimism.  I think the starters, absent Sonnestine and Kazmir’s poor performances, will show improvement.  I like B.J. Upton’s chances of having a breakout season.  And, I’m optimistic that the Rays can close games better than in 2009.  Working against that is the fact that I think Zobrist may slip, Pena might age, and Bartlett may have peaked as a hitter.

I think the Rays will score a few more runs – maybe 810 – but allow a lot less, possibly as few as 680 runs.  If so, the Rays will win 95 games.  Working against this is the strength of the division, which includes what should be an improving Baltimore club.  So, despite what the system tells me, my hunch is that they might fall a few wins short of 95, and it might mean barely missing the playoffs.  Still, the system says 95 and that’s what I am putting on my board.

2009 Season Forecast: Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies
74 – 88 (3rd NL West) 
Scored 747 Allowed 822

Quick Season Summary:

Colorado was coming off the heels of a remarkable stretch run that got the Rockies into the World Series for the first time.  With a young power core and decent pitching, the Rockies hoped to build on a successful 2007.

It didn’t happen.  Instead, injuries to Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Barmes, Jeff Francis, and Todd Helton meant a slow start.  A 9 – 19 May buried Colorado, and even though they played well in July and August, the good times ended when they gave up on the race in September.

Tell Me About That Offense:

While Coors field still is a haven for hitting – the humidor has helped, but it can’t fix everything – the Rockies actually had several good performers.

Chris Iannetta is a solid hitter with okay power, and his backup, Yorvit Torrealba, is tolerable.

Todd Helton was basically league average, with his back and other injuries cutting into what historically had been solid performances.  Garret Atkins has nice counting numbers, but anywhere else would be league average.  Barmes and Ian Stewart were decent, but Troy Tulowitzki had a tough sophomore season, finishing as a below average hitter.  Fortunately, he hit well after the all-star break.  Until then, he was atrocious.  Backup Omar Quintanilla was even weaker, though.

The outfield featured Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe, who both were very good – Holliday will be missed.  What they needed was a centerfielder who could hit.  Willy Taveras isn’t the answer – he had a .310 OBP and 68 stolen bases can’t possibly make up for not being there more often than not.  I like Ryan Spilborghs – a great player, and too good to be a fourth outfielder.  Scott Podsednik hit like a fifth outfielder.

And the Defense:

Bad.  Only Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were worse.  The average defensive efficiency in the NL was 68.7%.  Colorado only turned 67.6% of the balls in play into outs – basically adding 9 points to every hitter’s batting average.

Iannetta and Torrealba were tolerable behind the plate, scoring as average in things like errors  and mistakes, mobility, and stopping the running game.

Todd Helton remains a fantastic fielder, but Garrett Atkins was atrocious as his backup and is below average at the position he normally plays – third base.  Tulowitzki is a remarkable fielder, his range is exceptional and he’s good at avoiding errors and turning double plays.  Unfortunately, Omar Quintanilla wasn’t very good backing him up – and he was even worse at second base.  In fact, nobody plays second well – whether Barmes (-8.5 range), Jeff Baker (-12.1), or Quintanilla (-22.1).

Matt Holliday is an average fielder in left, Taveras still shows good range in center.  And then there is the worst right fielder in the NL – Brad Hawpe.  Hawepe’s range was graded at – 16.2, adding an unnecessary 47.6 runs to the other team’s scoreboard.  Hawpe made just 1.57 plays per nine innings – the average right fielder is going to be around 2.  So, basically he was allowing a hit every other game that someone else would have gotten.  Based on 2008, he’s a DH waiting to happen.  Podsednik and Spilborghs were decent backups.

Pitching:

When you think that the defense is horrible and the park is killing them, you have to give Colorado pitchers the benefit of the doubt.

Jeff Francis, injured and making just 24 starts, finishing with a 4 – 10 record and a 5.01 ERA, was actually slightly better than league average as a pitcher.  Aaron Cook, who doesn’t strikeout too many guys was solid – 22 runs better than average.  Ubaldo Jimenez, one out shy of 200 innings, was nearly 20 runs better than the average pitcher.  Jorge De La Rosa was league average.  The fifth slot was troublesome – Greg Reynolds, Livan Hernandez, and Mark Redman were a combined 38 runs worse than average.  Most teams would be happy to have four decent slots in the rotation, and Colorado had them.

It’s hard to get a read on the relievers because they pitch in so few innings and half of them are in dire straits.  But, Ryan Speier was actually pretty good (7 runs better than average), Glendon Rusch was decent, Manny Corpas was above average.  Taylor Buchholz, Jason Grilli and closer Brian Fuentes were all great – 12 to 15 runs better than the average NL pitcher.  You just always can’t tell because of where they pitch.

What is Different for 2009?

Injuries stole Jeff Francis and Taylor Buchholz.  Jason Marquis comes from Chicago where he’ll give them three good months and then management will wonder what happened after July 1.  Matt Holliday was traded to Oakland for Greg Smith and Huston Street.  Brian Fuentes was signed away by the Angels – he’ll be missed.  Manny Corpas or Huston Street will get first dibs on saves.  Dexter Fowler or Seth Smith will play center with Willy Taveras having gone to Cincinnati.  Good for Colorado.

Marquis wasn’t that bad; he and Greg Smith will be league average – if you can tell with that defense.  More innings with Barmes and Tulo would help – especially if Barmes can step up some at second base.  A full season of Helton defensively would be great, too.

Actually, having gone through this, I’d be optimistic for improvement.  A healthy Helton would provide 10 runs of offense, which will help with the change from Holliday to Spilborghs in LF.  Fowler may actually hit better than Taveras – so right now – that’s a net.  If Tulo returns to form and Barmes plays up to speed, that could be 20 extra runs even with Holliday leaving.

And, defensively, we’re talking 20 extra runs removed with Tulo, Helton, and Dexter Fowler in center.  Spilborghs could be better than Holliday – maybe it’s 30 runs better.  And, if Smith or Jason Hammel are close to league average, that could be another 30 runs by not having to put last year’s fifth starters out there.

So, that puts the Runs Scored/Runs Allowed ratio at 767/772 – pretty much a .500 season.

Down On the Farm…

Everybody hits well in AAA Colorado Springs.  The two that stood out were 25 year old Jayson Nix, a second baseman with a broad spectrum of offensive skills, and Seth Smith – both of whom will be on the Rockies.  All of the pitchers there have scary ERAs – only Greg Reynolds was young (22) and he wasn’t ready for the big show.

AA Tulsa is also tough on pitchers, but Brandon Hynick has some skills and great command.  Chaz Roe is only 21 and showed control, a few Ks, but serves up a few homers.  I like Casey Weathers, who has a great strikeout pitch, but a little less control.  Dexter Fowler hit .335 here, with walks and a few stolen bases.  Matt Miller hit .344 with a little power and some plate discipline.  He might make it, but is running out of years – he’s 25.

The best player in A+ Modesto was likely Michael Paulk – who has Mark Grace numbers, if not his glove at first base.  He’s 24 and could replace Helton in two or three years.  I like Aneury Rodriguez, a 20-year-old with a good ERA and better K/W numbers.  Another 20-year-old, Jhoulys Chacin made 12 starts, walked only 12, and fanned 62 in 66.1 innings after smoking hitters at Ashville (10 – 1, 1.86, 98/30 K/W in 111.1 innings).  He’ll be on the Rockies as soon as it makes sense to use him – perhaps 2011.  Perhaps sooner.