Saturday, October 28, 2006

Balanced vs Front Loaded Rotation: Which is Better?

Just call me the Kenny Williams of blogging. I've pulled off a trade with the folks over at Mop Up Duty. I sent over an article to them and in return K-Man sent me this masterpiece.

---Using Sabermetrical stats can be useful when looking at certain sets of data – such as comparing players of different eras-- but for the most part they just add a level of confusion. I certainly subscribe to the K.I.S.S. principle in day-to-day life, so it’s time to implement it here. Now that my little rant is over, let’s take care of business!

Recently, one of my esteemed co-columnists at the Mop Up Duty (Early), wrote an article about the Toronto Blue Jays off-season pitching needs. I’m not going to speak for him, so here is a little quote from the comments section of his article:

“… the article is proposing a balanced approach, riding Doc’s coat tails, much like Minnesota rode Liriano’s before the ASG and Santana after the ASG, all you need from the rest of your staff is to play average ball.”

(That reminds me, we’re getting a ton of visitors but few comments. Make your voice heard! If you think we’re on to something, let us know. If you think we’re full of crap, kindly let us know. That goes for us at Chi-Sox Blog too!)

Ok, so the basic assumption is this; Let Roy be Roy, have AJ produce an average AJ type year, and have the rest of staff hover around .500.

Let’s look into this. We all know that Halladay is one of the best, and certainly the most underrated pitcher in all of baseball. He should have a strong thirty or so starts as he does every year. Well, this theory is nothing new to the Blue Jays.

In the past 11 seasons, a Blue Jays pitcher has won the Cy Young award four times. Yet, in each of these seasons the Jays failed to make the playoffs. What gives? Here’s a table that shows the record of the Cy Young award winner, the overall record of the top three starters on that season’s staff, and the combined record of the rest of the staff’s pitchers.

Year - Pitcher

Record

Team Record

Top 3 Record

Rest of Staff Record

1996 – Hentgen

20-10

74-88

44-35

30-53

1997 – Clemens

21-7

76-86

45-31

31-55

1998 – Clemens

20-6

88-74

42-26

42-48

2003 – Halladay

22-7

86-76

47-31

39-45

Ouch. I think it’s pretty easy to see the pattern here. While the top three average a winning percentage 59%, the rest of the staff has an average winning percentage of 41%! That’s not good, not good at all.

What does this prove? I’m not completely sure. It’s certainly open to interpretation. I guess one thing that it does prove is that expecting a .500 record out of your back end starters and your bullpen is a lot to ask. The above examples support a staff that is “front-loaded”, i.e. made up of a few good pitchers at the top of the rotation and a bunch of average and below average pitchers behind them.

Now I’m sure there are better examples out there when thinking of balanced staffs, but I’m going to use teams that had a better record than the Jays in ‘06. These teams made an effort to build a starting staff of at least four solid pitchers, plus a few prospects that had the chance of producing if called upon. (Just a note, I realize that a Bullpen can have a big impact on a team's Win-Loss record, and if anything, these examples are a call for a strong, balanced bullpen as well.)The first table is the combined record of the top three at the end of the season. This stat includes the year-end top three starters, including pitchers such as Wang and Verlander, etc.

Year - Team

Ace Record

Team Record

Top 3 Record

Rest of Staff Record

2006 - Tigers

17-8

95-67

48 - 25

47 – 42

2006 – White Sox

18-7

90-72

47 - 29

43-43

2006- Oakland A’s

16-10

93-69

41-35

52-34

2006- Yankees

19-6

97-65

51-24

46-41

2006- Twins

19-6

96-66

43- 18

53-48

2006 Angels

16-8

89 - 73

40-33

49-40

2006 - Jays

16-5

87-75

41-26

46-49

Here’s a table of these records using pitching depth charts from Opening Day to determine the top three starters. This will obviously not include pitchers like Verlander, Liriano, etc, as they were not among their respective team's top three at the beginning of the season.

Year - Team

Ace Record

Team Record

Top 3 Record

Rest of Staff Record

2006 - Tigers

17-8

95-67

44 - 29

51 – 38

2006 – White Sox

18-7

90-72

42 - 31

48-41

2006- Oakland A’s

16-10

93-69

43-31

50-38

2006 Yankees

17-11

97-65

43-25

54-39

2006 Twins

19-6

96-66

42-30

54-36

2006 Angels

13-11

89 - 73

27- 35

62-38

2006 Jays

16-5

87-75

35 - 17

52-58

As you can see, the winning percentage of the rest of a staff category increases when you look at the second table (i.e. Tigers 51-38 with pitchers other than the season opening top three, vs 47-42 record when adjusted for the season ending top three). This is expected of winning teams, as you hope to have some question marks step up and produce (i.e. Verlander). But not so fast… for some reason the Jays percentage is actually lower at the end of the season than it is at the start!

Again, these stats are open to interpretation, but I can start to see the evidence mounting. The Blue Jays have front loaded in recent history. The other teams in this example took a more balanced approach. And it didn’t always require a bunch of money either. The Yankees and Tigers had two young, farm systems’ players step up (Wang & Verlander). The A’s received production from a player that was a prospect when acquired in a trade (Haren).

Looking at the data, I think the answer is a balanced staff. The question is, how does this get accomplished? ---

(Jeeves' Thoughts)

While K-Man’s team is the Toronto Blue Jays, and most of the data focuses around his team; this is still very relevant to the ChiSox. From the numbers, it does in fact seem like a balanced rotation is best. After all, that’s what won us the title in ’05. So what bearing does that have on ’07? Perhaps we’d be better off sticking with our players, rather than reaching for an expensive pitcher like Zito or Matsuzaka. I’ve heard some people calling for KW to make a strong run at Zito, but I don’t think it is necessary. He carries a high ERA and he doesn’t throw especially hard (remind you of any lefties on our club?); if his curveball is snapping he has a tendency to leave it up, which helps explain his high HR count. I think our best course of action would be to trade one of our starters and plug Brandon McCarthy into the rotation; then we just need to hope that our starters pitch more like they did in ’05.

K-Man is one of the writers over at www.mopupduty.com. They use statistics more than I do, and it results in very insightful analysis, especially if it's about their hometown Blue Jays. So go ahead and take a peak, they get my seal of approval.

6 Comments:

Blogger Jeeves said...

Any other bloggers out tehre wanting to work a trade, drop a comment here or send me an e-mail at chisoxblog@yahoo.com

10/28/2006 2:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is McCarthy going to enter the rotation in 2007? From the outside (non-sox fan) it appeared to me that he could do a job similar to that of a Garcia but at a fraction of the cost. Since you follow these guys, what are your thoughts?

Thanks
Mop up duty

10/28/2006 10:42 AM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

Kenny looks dead set on trading one of our starters and plugging BMac into the rotation. There's also been talk of KW potentially trading two of our starters, but I'm not so sure about that.

10/28/2006 3:57 PM  
Blogger Fornelli said...

I read Mop Up Duty!!

Also, I kinda hope we keep Freddy now. He was pretty damn good after he developed that splitter/forkball.

If you wanna believe everything you hear, one of the guys from Rivalfish was with Buerhle at Game 4, and his wife let it be known that Mark hopes the Sox don't pick up his option for next season so he can go to St. Louis.

If that's true, I say we pick it up and then trade him.

Also, lets go after Zito, I mean fuck it, why not?

10/28/2006 5:06 PM  
Blogger Fornelli said...

Here's the link to that Rivalfish story.

http://www.rivalfish.com/rivalroom/2006/10/rivalfish-breaks-first-real-news-story.html

10/28/2006 5:08 PM  
Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

Yeah, might I direct you guys to a Buehrle Bile File where I predicted this situation. And after I read that Rivalfish story I was tempted to wake the Biler up out of his hibernation just to say WTF! I still might wake the slleping bear. ACtually, maybe it's commendable. He's a Cardinals fan and he wants to play there. If I were a major leaguer, I'd wanna play for the Sox anyday. Think of Rob Mackowiak. If Mark wants to go, let's accomodate him and get something for it. He did his job for us, let's send him on his way.

10/29/2006 4:48 AM  

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