Fun with Bill James’ projections: The StartersBy
You know, I never really got into fancy statistical analysis until recently. Don’t get me wrong, I understood the importance of OBP and detested RBI and pitcher’s wins as means of evaluating players, but stats like VORP, EqA, wOBP, WARP1, 2 and 3 never did much for me. But once I took the time I understand what goes into each stat and what exactly they represent, it became clear that fancy acronyms had a place in the game.
Projections however, well they’re still not exactly my cup of tea. Using numbers to examine what a player has done in the past is one thing, but using them to essentially predict the future is another. It’s an educated guess really, but an educated guess that can’t account for factors such as weather, injury, a sick child, etc. The crew at Baseball Prospectus does one hell of a job with their PECOTA projections, but in the end it’s all just a guess, a guess that shouldn’t be used for anything but fun.
While we wait for the Yanks to open their season with two new faces in their rotation, we can check out what sabermetric mastermind Bill James expects out of these players. Provided at the indispensable Fangraphs, James’ projections are a fun way for us fans to gaze into the future, to guess at what might become. The good stuff starts after the jump (don’t read anything into the order, it’s just alphabetical).
AJ Burnett, RHP
Projection: 14-11, 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 32 GS, 224 IP, 199 H, 88 BB, 218 K, 21 HR
James sees Burnett blowing by the 200 IP plateau for the second straight year, throwing nearly three more innings in 2009 than 2008 despite pitching in two fewer games. There’s small declines in strikeout rate (8.76 Kper9, down 0.63), walk rate (3.54 BBper9, up 0.04) and HR rate (0.84 HRper9, up 0.07), but nothing significant. Unlike 2008, James sees Burnett outperforming his FIP (3.73), something pretty uncommon for a pitcher on a bad defensive team. If he ends up having a season like that, Burnett will have earned every cent of his $16.5M salary.
Phil Hughes, RHP
Projection: 9-5, 3.35 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 22 GS, 125 IP, 110 H, 46 BB, 122 K, 9 HR
So … that’s interesting, huh? Hughes projects to have the third best ERA in the league while getting his most significant big league exposure. Projected totals of an 8.78 Kper9, 3.31 BBper9, 0.65 HRper9 and 3.29 FIP are in line with what Jake Peavy did for the Padres this year. It should be noted that the Marcel Projections aren’t nearly as optimistic, expecting a 4.45 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 6.96 Kper9, and 0.96 HRper9 out of Phil in nearly 40 fewer innings. We here at RAB expect great things out of Phil Hughes, but this great that fast? Not bloody likely. We’d love to see it though.
CC Sabathia, LHP
Projection: 16-10, 3.48 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 34 GS, 240 IP, 226 H, 70 BB, 205 K, 21 HR
The big horse that is CC Sabathia keeps it going according to James, as he’ll log his third consecutive season of 240 IP or more (the last pitcher to do that was Randy Johnson, who did for five straight years from ’98-’02). Sabathia is projected to remain a well above average pitcher, though not quite as ungodly as he was in ’08, or as dynamite as he was when he won the Cy in ’07. Instead, CC’s expected to have a season similar to the one he had in 2005, the year before he cemented his status as the best lefthander in baseball not named Johan. The Yanks haven’t had a pitcher throw that many innings in a season since Andy Pettitte in 1997, and I imagine Sabathia would get Cy Young consideration with a season like that.
Chien-Ming Wang, RHP
Projection: 13-9, 3.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 30 GS, 200 IP, 208 H, 58 BB, 92 K, 11 HR
After having his season cut short by the flukiest of on-the-field injures, Wang is expected to get right back on the horse and contribute another 200 innings of above average production. James sees Wang having a season extremely similar to the one had in 2007, which means the Wanger will return to being the rock of stability we’re used to him being. The most interesting number to watch with Wang is his GB/FB rate, which (believe it or not) has been declining for three straight years (3.09 in ’06, 2.51 in ’07, 2.41 in ’08) while his line drive percentage has gotten worse (16.9%, 18.3%, 22.1%).
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So James sees the Yanks getting 96 starts out of their top three, a certain best-case scenario. Add in a campaign that would undeniably make Hughes the best fourth starter on the planet, and everything looks nice and rosey for the Bombers. If the Yanks bring back Andy Pettitte or replace him with Ben Sheets, they’re looking at another 29-30 starts of projected sub-3.70 FIP pitching. James’ projections for Al Aceves, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy aren’t available, so we’re out of luck there. However if just one of those guys is anywhere close to league average in 2009, then the Yanks should have their best rotation in a long, long time.
Remember, these are just projections and in no way represent what the three of us here at RAB expect out of those four pitchers this year. Those are some gaudy numbers, and to expect all four to perform like that is as unrealistic as it gets.
Next week: the starting nine.