There's no doubt that this is the Diamondbacks' main strength, and it's probably fair to say that they will go as far in 2009 as their rotation will carry them. Last season, the 1-2 punch of Brandon Webb (ERA+ 138) and Dan Haren (ERA+ 137) was unmatched in the National League for quality and durability. They were the first NL duo to go 215+ innings each, with such a good ERA+, since Pettitte and Oswalt for the 2005 Astros, and much will be riding on them again. Doug Davis and Jon Garland fill out a rotation which, top-to-bottom, could be the best in all baseball, especially if Max Scherzer lives up to our expectations.
Health is going to be a big part of the equation. Few NL teams have four starters who throw 200 innings in a season - in the past decade, only the 2003 Cubs have managed it, but everyone bar Scherzer is certainly capable of it for Arizona. Webb has done so five straight seasons and Haren four, while Garland has seven straight with more than 190. Davis, of course, was derailed by that pesky thyroid needing to be removed last year, but safe to say, that won't be needed this season. If the Diamondbacks can reach that mark, they should be in very good shape. What do the projection systems reckon?
#1. Brandon Webb
2008: 226.2 IP, 22-7, 3.30 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
James: 222 IP, 15-10, 3.36 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
CHONE: 209 IP, 13-10, 3.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
Marcel: 197 IP, 16-8, 3.34 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
ZIPS: 225 IP, 18-9, 3.08 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
Not too concerned with these projections, since over the past couple of years, I'm pretty sure they've shown a consistent tendency to under-estimate Webb [I'm staying vague there, as the 'Pit search function is proving a bit buggy]. I'm pretty safe in saying Webb's ERA will be better than 3.70, and I tend to think nearer three. His wins may not quite stack up as fast - nine by May 15 won't happen this season - but he'll have 25 or so quality starts, and that'll be 25 chances for the team to win. Can't ask for more than that.
AZ SnakePit: 225 IP, 19-8, 3.15 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
#2. Dan Haren
2008: 216 IP, 16-8, 3.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
James: 210 IP, 13-10, 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
CHONE: 203 IP, 12-10, 3.77 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
Marcel: 190 IP, 13-9, 3.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
ZIPS: 214 IP, 15-9, 3.41 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
Looks like the main reason for the down turn projected is a belief Haren won't have quite the same level of control. In 2009, he allowed 1.67 BB/9 IP, but these systems have him anywhere up to 30% higher. Have to say, 13 wins seems low: with a bit better luck Haren could have had twenty wins in 2008, since in his nine no-decisions, he had an ERA of 2.79. Expect some of those to become victories this year. Otherwise, no reason to expect anything much different from this year.
AZ SnakePit: 215 IP, 18-8, 3.29 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
#3. Doug Davis
2008: 146 IP, 6-8, 4.32 ERA, 1.53 WHIP
James: 159 IP, 8-10, 4.42 ERA, 1.48 WHIP
CHONE: 154 IP, 7-10, 5.08 ERA, 1.62 WHIP
Marcel: 152 IP, 8-9, 4.59 ERA, 1.54 WHIP
ZIPS: 151 IP, 8-10, 4.58 ERA, 1.51 WHIP
Since 2001, only six pitchers have managed an ERA+ of better than 105, despite a WHIP of 1.53 or above. Doug Davis is four of them. Of course, we'd rather he didn't walk quite so many people, but he seems to have a genuine talent for pitching from the stretch. Doug's career OPS with men in scoring position is 58 points less than with the bases empty: the NL average last season was 27 points the other way. Maybe those walks are for the best...at least, keep telling yourself that during his starts in 2009.
AZ SnakePit: 185 IP, 10-10, 4.40 ERA, 1.52 WHIP
#4. Jon Garland
2008: 196.2 IP, 14-8, 4.90 ERA, 1.51 WHIP [with Angels]
James: 186 IP, 9-11, 4.69 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
CHONE: 187 IP, 9-12, 5.01 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
Marcel: 179 IP,11-9, 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
ZIPS: 191 IP, 10-11, 4.71 ERA, 1.54 WHIP
Garland makes the move from the American League, and is coming off his worst year (by ERA+) since his rookie one in 2000. He's only 29, so I'd expect him to return to something closer to his career average of 4.47. He'll be helped by facing the pitcher too: certainly, park effects will counter some of that, but his entire career has basically been in hitter-friendly stadiums. He's been working on his cutter this spring, and if that's proves usable, it'll be an excellent weapon to have in his arsenal when needed.
AZ SnakePit: 200 IP, 12-10, 4.49 ERA, 1.41 WHIP
#5. Max Scherzer
2008: 56 IP, 0-4, 3.05 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
No James projection available, so subbing in for that one.
Pecota: 155 IP, 10-8, 3.93 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
CHONE: 83 IP, 5-4, 3.69 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
Marcel: 68 IP, 2-4, 3.84 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
ZIPS: 112 IP, 8-6, 3.70 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
We now leave the land of 'projections' behind, and enter the kingdom of more or less educated guesswork. Those innings totals are certainly low, but given his lack of work last season, are understandable. We certainly hope he sticks in the rotation, and if the other four eat as many innings as we hope, the bullpen should be able to cope with five, hopefully stellar, innings from Scherzer on the fifth day. His raw tools will serve him well, but he will need more than that - I'd expect a few bumps, but a solid season seems likely. Any ERA below four, if he hits 150 IP, will have to be classed a success.
AZ SnakePit: 151 IP, 12-9, 3.80 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
#6. Yusmeiro Petit
2008: 56.1 IP, 3-5, 4.31 ERA, 1.05 WHIP
Bill James: 76 IP, 4-4, 4.03 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
CHONE: 117 IP, 6-7, 4.36 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Marcel: 75 IP, 4-5, 4.32 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
ZIPS: 110 IP, 5-8, 5.07 ERA, 1.37 WHIP
Much as I like the Petit Unit, I'd be perfectly happy if we don't see him at all in 2009, except in mop-up roles. However, the odds are very much against us getting through the year with five pitchers, and he's probably next in line. The good news is, the systems expect a drop-off from his insane HR rate of 1.92/9 IP. On the other hand, none of them expect Petit's BABIP of .220 to continue either. The mean of the four projections comes in at an ERA of 4.44, and I'd be more than willing to settle for that from a sixth starter. However, I tend to think it'll be somewhat higher - though I hope to see shoewizard frothing at the sabermetric mouth, albeit contentedly.
AZ SnakePit: 85 IP, 5-5, 4.65 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Finally, I changed the poll question from the obvious one about most wins - it's a foregone conclusion it'd be Webb, with a side order of Haren. Instead, let's go with who'll have the most strikeouts: last season, Dan took that with 206 to Webb's 183. However, Max Scherzer K'd more than a batter per inning in his rookie season - over 150 IP, the same pace would give him 177 K's, so he may not be far off the chase either.