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March 14, 2014

Pebble Hunting

Sounding the Depths of Each Team's Rotation

by Sam Miller


The problem is, people get hurt. People get hurt, you’re going to expose your lack of depth. There just is no depth. There is no number six. If Joe Blanton pitches an inning this year it will be just a catastrophe for the Angels and I don’t knowShoemaker? Is that number six? Even in my ideal world I’m trying to figure out who is number six. Matt Welch, author of the Angels chapter in this year’s annual, on Effectively Wild.

Every fan thinks his team’s closer is especially shaky, every fan thinks his team’s shortstop should win a Gold Glove, and every fan worries about his team’s starting pitching depth. The last one is with good reason: Since 2000, only 34 teams—about 1.2 per league per year—have had five pitchers make 25 or more starts each in a season. (Of those 34, about 62 percent made the playoffs.) Which means that, as shaky as your favorite team’s fifth starter is, you are overwhelmingly likely to see an extended appearance by the even-shakier sixth starter. And, as Eno Sarris wrote this week, 65 percent of teams will have two starters injured at the same time, which means you and the even-shakier seventh starter are going to be getting acquainted with each other.

The Braves have already seen this happen—fortunately (?) for them, it happened just in time to sign Ervin Santana. What happens for each team if two of its starters get injured in the first week of the season and the sixth and seventh starters are suddenly put into play? An assessment of 30 teams’ sixth and seventh starters, categorized by level of personal tribulation suffered by Frank Grimes:

Methodology: Using BP’s depth charts, and adjusting in only a couple cases to reflect current realities, I identified two pitchers most likely to be called upon in case of injury to current rotation member. Pro-rated each pitcher’s WARP over 165 innings; summed, sorted.

Grimes’ College Diploma Nearly Stolen By a Bird pitching depth
A’s (Tommy Milone, Drew Pomeranz; 2.9 WARP)
Mets (Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero; 2.7 WARP)
Orioles (Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman; 2.0 WARP)
Braves (Freddy Garcia, Gavin Floyd; 3.1 WARP)
Blue Jays (Drew Hutchison, Todd Redmond; 1.8 WARP)

The A’s have two starters in reserve whom PECOTA projects to be considerably more valuable than the Angels’ no. 3, 4, and 5 starters. PECOTA is cautious with Gausman, but it’s not unreasonable to speculate that he could be their best pitcher this year; it’s not inconceivable that any injury to the starting staff could, in a very simple way of doing the arithmetic, actually improve them. Given the bad news they’ve received this month, the Braves’ depth will likely be stretched beyond Garcia and Floyd, and Floyd likely won’t be available until May. However, they start with starting depth a position of strength. As with the A’s and Orioles, an injury or two (if not three) would be more inconvenience than tragedy.

Grimes Impregnates Prostitute pitching depth
Cardinals (Jaime Garcia, Carlos Martinez; 1.8 WARP)
Cubs (James McDonald, Carlos Villanueva; 1.7 WARP)
Brewers (Will Smith, Tyler Thornburg; 1.7 WARP)
Royals (Danny Duffy, Wade Davis; 1.5 WARP)

In none of these cases is the season obituary likely to lead with “Everything went downhill after injuries hit the starting rotation.” All the teams could count on reasonable, major-league quality pitching. But each would consider it a heavy inconvenience to lean on this depth, partly because the switches would cannibalize the relief corps and/or move pitchers from a role in which they have excelled into a role in which they have struggled or are unproven. Still, something good could come of it.

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Related Content:  Starting Pitching,  Pitching Depth

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Raising Aces: Bush Lea... (03/14)
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Pebble Hunting: The Si... (03/21)
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