The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

 

Kiss 'Em Goodbye

Forgot to mention this in my last entry, but the Baseball Prospectus and ESPN Insider teams are collaborating on a series called "Kiss 'Em Goodbye," in which we provide postmortems for the teams that have been eliminated from contention. ESPN's Buster Olney provides one take, a BP author summarizes our preseason expectations for the club and provides a more statistically-driven take, our Kevin Goldstein weighs in with some prospect information, some draft and trade rumor stuff is thrown into the mix along with a preliminary outlook for 2010... you get the idea.

I've contributed to two of these thus far, last week covering the Brewers, and this week the Indians. Interestingly enough, both teams had something in common: rotations that outside of one guy, largely stunk on ice. Here's my take on the Brewers:
Despite reaching the postseason last year for the first time since 1982, PECOTA pegged them for an 83-79 season, with an 18.5 percent chance at winning the division and a 10 percent shot at the NL Wild Card. Interestingly enough, even given the free-agency departures of [CC] Sabathia and [Ben] Sheets, the team projected to be stronger on the run prevention side (sixth in the league) than on the scoring side (ninth), a counterintuitive forecast given the fact that six of the lineup's eight projected regulars are between the ages of 25 and 29 — or in their statistical prime as far as their expected production. Fielder and Ryan Braun have certainly lived up to expectations, ranking third and eighth in the league in EqA, respectively. Although Rickie Weeks suffered a season-ending injury in May, and J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, and Bill Hall all disappointed, the team got solid enough work from the likes of Mike Cameron, Craig Counsell, Casey McGehee, and Felipe Lopez that they actually rank third in the league in team EqA. On the other hand, the rotation has been an utter disaster.

Key stat: 5.59

That's the ERA of all of the Brewers' starting pitchers aside from Gallardo, whose 3.84 mark is the only one that's better than the park-adjusted league average. Braden Looper (4.77) has eaten innings but done little else worthy of note. Jeff Suppan (4.87) and David Bush (5.85, including 8.24 since the end of May) have combined injury and ineffectiveness, while Manny Parra (6.42) has been dreadful. Fill-ins Carlos Villanueva, Seth McClung, and Mike Burns combined for a 7.25 ERA as starters, not only revealing the organization's sheer lack of rotation depth, but also compromising their bullpen depth via their absence from the relief corps (in the cases of the first two) and their short starts. As a unit, the Brewers rank 15th in the league in Support-Neutral Winning Percentage (.444), and dead last in rotation ERA (5.19).

The fault here lies with Melvin for his failure to replace Sabathia and Sheets with anything approaching adequacy. Getting a full season out of Gallardo, who was limited to just four starts in 2008 due to a torn ACL, was enough to partially offset those front-end losses from the rotation, but when it came time to open the wallet last winter, the best the Brewers could do was to sign Looper to a one-year, $4.75 million deal with incentives and an option. The bigger problem, of course, is the four-year, $42 million deal they're still paying to Suppan, who's rewarded the Brewers with a Looper-like 4.80 ERA through 91 starts thus far. Freed of that obligation, they might have been able to afford another midrotation starter who could have helped keep them afloat
As for the Indians...
Key Stat: 5.75

That's the ERA of the starting pitchers aside from [Cliff] Lee, who was traded to the Phillies on July 29. The only starter besides Lee with at least 10 starts and an ERA below 4.92 is Aaron Laffey, for whom the team didn't even have space in the rotation until the season was already going down in flames. Laffey's also the only starter this side of Lee with a Support-Neutral Winning Percentage above .500. For all of the bullpen's woes, the starters simply didn't give the Indians a chance to win; aside from Lee, their combined SNWP is just .431.

In retrospect, it's clear that the cast that GM Mark Shapiro assembled behind Lee offered too much risk. Shapiro's plan hinged on rebounds from mostly-lost 2008 seasons by Carl Pavano, Anthony Reyes, and [Fausto] Carmona — with a comeback from Tommy John surgery by Jake Westbrook supposed to provide a mid-season lift. None of those pitchers miss many bats, so it's not terribly surprising that the Tribe staff is last in the league in strikeouts. Pavano was erratic and homer-prone; the team eventually dealt him to the Twins in early August. Reyes made just eight starts before needing TJ surgery. Carmona put up a 7.42 ERA through 12 starts before being sent all the way down to A-ball to iron out the mechanical problems which first took hold last year. Despite an initially promising return, he's been pummeled for a 10.72 ERA over his last five starts. To that unhappy brew, add a parade of lefties (Zach Jackson, Jeremy Sowers, David Huff) each more hittable than the last, and rough introductions for a couple of mid-season acquisitions (Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco), and you've got a rotation whose ERA bests only Baltimore's, but without the high-upside prospects which mitigate the Orioles' showing.
Definitely a pair of disappointments, though I'm more optimistic about the Brewers' chances of rebounding than I am of the Indians, who appear headed for a very lean year, with or without the braintrust that got them into this mess.

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Comments:
"I'm more optimistic about the Brewers' chances of rebounding." How do you figure? Gallardo - fine. Suppan - crap, but ours for one more year (you called it, Jay). Looper - no choice, have to extend an offer. Bush - done. Parra - head case. What's left - Narveson? Even if the hitters shoulder the load, and Hoffman leads an adequate bullpen - how can The Crew overcome such a dismal starting rotation in 2010?

Feeling one and done,

Aaron, Jr.
Milwaukee, WI
 
The rotation needs A LOT of work, no doubt, but the nucleus of the lineup is still young and productive, and the path to contending is shorter for them than it is for the Indians. Which isn't exactly relevant, given that they're not even in the same division, but that was what I was trying to say.
 
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