Saturday, June 6, 2009

First Third Projections - Pitching

[With the completion of Game 54 on Thursday, the regular season is exactly one third over. The sample sizes are getting larger by the day, and it's now getting to the point where it's not exactly too early to be making any assessments.

We can't draw any firm conclusions, but now seems as good a point as any to take a look at some projections. We've done two things here: first we've taken statistics from the first third of the season and done a simple extrapolation for a full season. Below that, we've taken ZIPS (Updated) projections from the awesome FanGraphs. This is easily the better predictor of the two, as it takes into account what each player has already done this year as well as historical performance to project what the end of season numbers will look like.

Matt examined the offense earlier. Below are the five starters and three relievers who warrant comparisons to their projections. We excluded Brain Bruney, Edwar Ramirez and Damaso Marte since their returns are yet to be determined. We didn't look at Chien Ming Wang because his extrapolated numbers project him to give up 90 runs in 12 starts.]

(Click on any chart for a larger view)

A 3.46 ERA isn't gaudy by any means, but after stumbling out of the gate CC Sabathia has certainly settled down. He's won four out of his last five starts and threw 8 innings of three run ball in the one he didn't. CC's K's are down and walks are up from his career norms, but both of those stats are trending in the right direction. ZIPS has a more favorable projection than the extrapolations and my gut feeling even is a little more bullish than the ZIPS.

Two complaints with Joba's numbers: He's walking 4.6/9IP and only lasting about 5 2/3 IP per start. These two things are both influenced and counterbalanced by Joba registering nearly one strikeout per inning. He gets deep in the count looking for the put-away pitch, driving up his pitch count and giving out some free passes, but can neutralize threats by tallying K's. This explains how he can simultaneously sport a 1.44WHIP and a 3.71ERA. His start on June 1st showed huge steps forward in both of these departments (8IP, 2BB).

Like Joba, Andy Pettitte's WHIP is predictive of a much higher ERA. Unlike his young rotation mate, it's not as easy to explain. Pettitte is giving up comfortably more than a hit per inning and walking nearly 4 per 9. His strikeout rate isn't high and he's only induced 4 double play balls. The answer lies in the fact that of Pettitte's 77 hits, 55 have been singles. He's always had an uncanny knack for allowing baserunners and not giving up many extra base hits goes a long way towards limiting the damage.

It's the 11 long balls allowed, the grand slam to Jason Varitek in particular, that have inflated A.J. Burnett's ERA. The walk rate is fairly high but he's still striking out twice as many as he is giving a free pass to. The ZIPS projection has AJ's ERA coming back down, but assumes that he will make three fewer starts than he is on pace to and toss about twenty fewer innings. That would be the equivalent of roughly one stint on the DL, which wouldn't be too shocking, given his injury history.

Hughes has already thrown more big league innings than he did all of last year, with a lower ERA, so does this classify as a step forward? He's won three games (0 last year) and has strong K/9. The thing that is killing Phil, just like Burnett, is his HR rate. Allowing a HR roughly once per five innings is too high for a Major League starter. He'll be back in the rotation at some point, but it will be interesting to see how he looks out of the 'pen.

Mo gave up three runs in April, three runs in May and is now sitting awfully close to his career ERA of 2.29. He's walked one batter in 22 innings while striking out 28. He's picked up 12 saves thus far, on pace for 36. His career average? 38. The man machine is a model of consistency in a role where such steadiness, especially over the long term, is incredibly tough to find. Cherish Mo.

For some reason, the ZIPS for Phil Coke predict him making 10 starts, which is rather curious considering he's no better than the Yankees 9th or 10th option within the organization. This is lone example of where our predictions might be more relevant than the ZIPS. A 1.14 WHIP should be good for a better ERA than 4.50, but forgive me if this sounds redundant... he gives up too many homers (5 in 22IP). Once that rate declines, so will his ERA. The bad news is that 4 of those knocks came in May, not exactly an indicator that the ratio is headed in the right direction.

Okay, last but not least... Oop, no, he's actually least as well. Jose Veras. Here's the good news - He's giving up fewer than one hit per inning! Here's the bad news - Everything else. In 22 IP, he's allowed 14BB, 16ER, 3HBP and 4HR. If he didn't throw 96mph he would have been DFA'd a long time ago. ZIPS thinks his ERA will come back down, which it had better, provided he has any interest in remaining a member of the Yankees.


And finally, no extrapolation needed for this one, a look at the starting staff and the bullpen as whole units.
Both Matt and I were initially surprised that the bullpen had an ERA that was close to as good as the starting rotation's. But it makes sense when you consider Chien Ming Wang has given up 30 runs in 18 2/3 innings and Mo is always back there keeping the bullpen's number down. Relievers are both walking and striking out more per nine innings but starters are allowing more hits, partially due to a .37 difference in BABIP.

The most surprising discrepancy between the two (highlighted on the far right on the chart) was that relievers have given up nearly as many HR as starters (35 to 39) in only 54% of the IP (171 to 316). That's a pretty huge disparity, and a ratio for relievers (1.84/9IP) that should come back down to earth eventually.

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