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Community Projections 2008, Part III: Starting Pitching

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First, a quick glance back at last week's installment, where we cast the runes and looked at the outfield. It seems that we're going to have a speedy trio, with all three projected to steal 20 bases or more. That'd be impressive - last year was the first time in franchise history we had more than one player reach that mark in the same season - but Young and Byrnes seems like locks to get there again, so it really comes down to Upton. And there's little doubt about his raw speed, so it all comes down to whether he has the savvy (and, perhaps, whether he gets the opportunities) on the base-paths.

Both Byrnes and Young are expected to be around the same number of homers; Eric loses ten points of average while Young, it's hoped, will gain around 25. As with the 'neutral' projections, Upton sees the biggest variation, though no-one reaches Bill James' levels of lust. :-) In the overall poll, for who will hit the most home-runs, Young was the easy winner, getting 62% of the votes. Mark Reynolds made a credible showing, with 22%, and Conor Jackson came in third on 8%, though again, every nominee received at least one vote from somebody.

#1. Brandon Webb
2007: 3.01 ERA, 18-10, 1.19 WHIP

Bill James; 3.39, 16-10, 1.25
CHONE: 3.49, N/A, 1.27
Marcel: 3.39, 14-9, 1.27
MINER: 3.43, 15-9, 1.26
ZIPS: 3.01, 18-7, 1.14

Webb followed up his Cy Young award season by throwing more innings, striking out hitters faster, and dropping his ERA for the third-straight year. Where do you go from here? Well, it'll be interesting to see what difference the arrival of Haren makes; in his five years with Arizona, Webb has never had a rotation-mate finish better than three games above .500. There's now a legitimate #2 to back him up, and this could help take some pressure off Webb, in the same way the arrival of Curt Schilling allowed Randy Johnson to take his game to the next level.

Two things will help significantly. First, he needs to keep the walks down, and there are signs he can do this; in the first four months, he averaged 3.14 BB/9, but over the last two dropped that down to 1.94 BB/9. Also, whatever crypto-Satanic hold the Rockies have over Webb, needs to be broken. Even excluding the playoffs, they had a 5.77 ERA against our ace in six starts, and he managed only one win. Contrast, say, the Dodgers, against whom he was 4-0 with an ERA of 0.92. Expect teams to stack their lineups with lefties, who batted 73 points better against Webb last year; they'll still struggle.
AZ SnakePit: 3.05, 19-9, 1.21 WHIP

#2. Dan Haren
2007: 3.07 ERA, 15-9, 1.21 WHIP

Bill James; 4.10, 12-10, 1.31
CHONE: 3.62, N/A, 1.19
Marcel: 3.80, 12-10, 1.24
MINER: 4.11, 14-11, 1.19
ZIPS: 3.92, 14-11, 1.20

With Haren having no history at Chase and no recent history in the National League [he did play for the Cardinals until 2005, before being traded to Oakland], it's very hard to come up with numbers here. To what extent will the benefit that comes from facing the pitcher rather than a DH, be countered by moving from a pitcher-friendly park to the hitters' haven which is Arizona? I'm not even sure whether the predictive numbers quoted above were made before the trade or after it, and so may or may not take these factors into account.

He has shown himself capable of eating innings, making 34 outings and throwing 217 or more innings each of the past three seasons, since he became a full-time starter. His K/9 ratio has improved too, from 6.76 to 7.10 to 7.76, while the walks have remained fairly constant, around 2.1 BB/9. Last year, he did fall off significantly after the All-Star break, opponents' OPS going up from .583 to .813; this continued a trend seen in 2006 [.693/.775], and a large part was due to his home-run rate ballooning from 0.76 up to 1.25 HR/9. That concerns me, but Haren should still be a more solid and effective #2 than the systems seem to expect.
AZ SnakePit: 3.45, 15-9, 1.26

#3. Randy Johnson
2007: 3.81 ERA, 4-3, 1.15 WHIP

Bill James; 3.25, 9-5, 1.11, 119 IP
CHONE: 3.81, N/A, 1.19, 144 IP
Marcel: 4.46, 7-6, 1.30, 109 IP
MINER: 3.81, 9-7, 1.30, 135 IP
ZIPS: 3.99, 9-8, 1.15, 142 IP

The Big Unit is the Big Questionmark this year. How many innings will he pitch, seems at least as important a question as how well he will pitch in them. Most estimates seem to be moderate on this matter, which is what you'd expect, and average out round about the 22-25 starts at six innings per, mentioned by Bob McManaman in a recent article. However, those estimates ignore the fact that it won't be enough to get the Big Unit to 300 wins. Except for the strike-shortened year of 1994, no full-time starter has won 16 in 25 or less starts since Spud Chandler went 16-5 in 1942 - and he had seventeen complete games.

Is that a significant driving force? If the Big Unit reaches the break on pace to come up a couple short and in a pennant chase, I think we could find him willing to go to the well more often down the stretch. All, of course, assuming he stays healthy. I'm thinking - okay, let's be honest, hoping - we could see something like John Smoltz, who won 17 in 26 starts for the '98 Braves, pitching only 167.2 innings. Of course, he was 31, not 44. But dammit, this is Randy Johnson, the man who killed a bird with one pitch. I dream of a 300 remake, and Johnson yelling, "Madness? This is Arizona!" before kicking Johan Santana into the Grand Canyon. Dammit, despite paragraphs littered with "hope", "assume" and "dream", give me my optimism and let me be.
AZ SnakePit: 3.33, 16-6, 1.18, 165 IP

#4. Doug Davis
2007: 4.25 ERA, 13-12, 1.59 WHIP

Bill James; 4.36, 10-11, 1.47
CHONE: 4.50, N/A, 1.51
Marcel: 4,58, 10-10, 1.51
MINER: 4.52, 11-11, 1.54
ZIPS: 4.66, 10-12, 1.50

All being well, Davis will find himself at the back of the rotation, and on that basis, we don't really need much more than him keeping us in games. He's been at .500 or within one game of it, every year for the past five, and I don't expect too much of that to change. The key thing is whether Davis can improve his control: last year, he hardly did so, shaving only 0.07 off his BB/9 rate, and a 1.59 WHIP is simply unsustainable with a 4.25 ERA. The signs aren't good elsewhere: opponent's BA increased and strikeout rate decreased, continuing the trend from 2006. Davis is now getting to the stage in his career where he can't afford to walk people, because he will give up hits and can't reach back for a K.

That said, it was clear in 2007 that Davis still occasionally had it, for example, the August 3rd game where he three-hit the Dodgers for eight innings in LA. But here's the most telling stat, indicating how crucial control is to his success. In 13 starts when he walked two or less last season, Davis was 7-2; when he walked more than three, he went 2-6 in nine outings. But one thing likely won't change: over the past four years, Davis has batted .069; that beats only Ian Snell's .066 among all players with 100+ PAs. Doug truly is the anti-Owings. And that's as good a segue was you can expect.
AZ SnakePit: 4.40, 12-12, 1.50

#5. Micah Owings
2007: 4.30 ERA, 8-8, 1.28 WHIP

Bill James; 4.32, 11-12, 1.39
CHONE: 4.50, N/A, 1.39
Marcel: 4,30, 7-7, 1.30
MINER: 4.41, 7-9, 1.30
ZIPS: 4.47, 8-9, 1.38

Interesting to note that Owings and Webb each made 29 starts in their first year for Arizona, both in their age 24 seasons. Obviously Webb's performance on the mound was rather better [ERA 2.84 vs. 4.30] but it's certainly possible Owings' was the second-best year ever by a D-backs rookie pitcher, even discounting entirely the startling performance with the bat. That does have to be taken into account when assessing his value; basically, it's likely Owings will rarely, if ever, be pinch-hit for, and this should extend his innings pitched in 2008.

He was a rookie, so it's curious that none of the projection systems expect him to improve his performance this season. He got significantly better, even as the year wore on, dropping his ERA from 4.84 in the first half, to 3.72 after the break - in his final ten starts, covering 59.2 innings, opponents batted just .195 against Owings. Hell, even Jake Peavy allowed a higher BA last year (.208). We can't really expect that over the course of 33 starts for Owings this year, but his performances should be among the best by a #5 starter in the National League. His hitting is merely an added bonus to that.
AZ SnakePit: 4.20, 12-9, 1.25 WHIP

Acknowledgment should be made of those outside the top five, though with no credible concept of how many starts they might get, projections are just about impossible. Edgar Gonzalez would seem to have the first shot at any spot starts needed, but we may also get contributions from Yusmeiro Petit, Billy Buckley and (if he survives the cut) Dustin Nippert. While we have solid starters in Webb, Haren and Davis - a minimum of 33 starts over the past three years by each member of the trio - and Owings should be good to go, rotation fillers are essential. We've never had more than three Arizona pitchers reach thirty starts, and over the first ten years have averaged 28 games per season from those outside the top five most-regular starters. I think our #6 starter(s) are as good as anyone else's.

Today's comment starter. Shouldn't really need one today - I'm looking for your pitching projections, duh! But the bonus question for the projections is this: how many home-runs will Micah Owings hit in 2008?

Poll

Most wins?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Doug Davis
    (1 vote)
  • 8%
    Dan Haren
    (7 votes)
  • 6%
    Randy Johnson
    (5 votes)
  • 3%
    Micah Owings
    (3 votes)
  • 80%
    Brandon Webb
    (65 votes)
81 votes total Vote Now