A three year Indians review: The Starting Rotation
Next up in the three year review series are the starting pitchers. I wanted to handle this group on the whole and will use some advanced stats to try and show how things have changed for the Indians.
At the start of the year this was a weak link position for the Indians. I was like many who expected this team to fail because the pitching would be atrocious, and I thought this while expecting a solid season from Brett Myers.
For this piece I am going to change the stats up I look at a bit. I am keeping WAR and the same rules still apply to it, but I am adding in two new stats for evaluation: walk rate (or BB%) and xFIP.
The first new stat is walk rate (BB%). It is rather straight forward and measures the percentage of faced batters the pitcher walks. The reason I choose it is simply a walk is bad; it means the pitcher not only let a hitter on but he had to throw a lot of pitches to do it. A one pitch single is a better outcome in most cases than a five pitch walk.
The other stat is one to learn and know as it is getting used more and more. FIP stands for fielding independent pitching; it allows you to measure the long term probability for a pitcher. Pitchers have very little control over balls in play so FIP measures what pitchers do control (walks, strikeouts, home runs) and thus allows a better evaluation of a pitcher.
xFIP changes things a bit by changing a pitchers home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have given up. The reason is that home run rates tend to have some fluctuations and instability to them. The nice thing is it is evaluated on the same scale as ERA so it is easy to tell what it means for a person who is unfamiliar with the stat.
Now instead of going one by one through the staffs, I plan to take the five guys who had the most starts and that will comprise each year’s numbers. So for WAR it will be a total but for xFIP and BB% I will then average those pitchers to give a total.
Indians 2013 - 9.8, 116 games started
Indians 2012 - 3.1, 125 games started
Indians 2011 - 8.6, 123 games started
Last season the Indians biggest weakness was far and away their starting pitching. They could not find any type of stability with last year’s staff. The WAR for Justin Masterson in 2011 and 2013 are both higher than the Indians total value from their starters in 2011. An average staff for a season would have a WAR around 10, and only two players this year project out to values over 2 and that is Masterson and Corey Kluber.
Still, the consistency from Scott Kazmir, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Zach McAllister all being near league average has been huge. For the first time in years the Indians have had the luxury of knowing not only who the starters will be but also that they will keep them in the game. Over the last three years, 2013 is the only time the Indians have had five starters whose WAR’s are over one and had twenty starts in that year.
For this stat 8.5 is average, above 10 is horrible, below 6 is fantastic:
Indians 2013 - 8.62
Indians 2012 - 8.94
Indians 2011 - 6.88
One could call the jump in 2012 and 2013 the Ubaldo effect. For as well as he has pitched this year his BB% still remains terrible. His walk rate is well over ten, but he is not the only offender.
This team in general walks a lot of players. Masterson’s rate is nearly ten, McAllister's is near 9, and Kazmir's is near 8. The Indians are just walking too many guys, throwing too many pitches and having to go to the pen earlier in games than they should have to. The upside is that Jimenez and Masterson do have lower rates than in 2012. This explains how a team with 16 shutouts can have only three complete games this year.
Same rules as ERA as 4 is average, low 3’s great, approaching 5 is awful:
Indians 2013 - 3.73
Indians 2012 - 4.59
Indians 2011 - 3.94
Once again the numbers show the Indians have had their best pitching staff over the last three years. They are not a group of stars - there is not really a single name that would be well known nationally - but a group that has performed better than anyone could have hoped. They have had only twenty starts by pitchers outside of the set five.
The Indians fell apart last year when the offense died and the pitching was awful. This year the hitting has slumped again, but the pitching has kept them in the playoff hunt. The team xFIP is nearly a run lower than last year, which seems to be the reason why this team has not collapsed completely even with the offensive woes.
By looking at these three stats, it becomes clear that the Indians starting pitching staff is the best they have had in some time. They are putting up solid numbers across the board and really are responsible for keeping them in the hunt this year.
I know a lot of people are ready to let Jimenez and Kazmir walk, but as history has shown us, finding solid pitching is something much easier said than done. When you can find an arm you can rely on, it can be very hard to replace. The Indians haven’t been able to draft and develop many starters over the years - the last successful one wasJeremy Guthrie afterall - so they need to try and keep what they have and keep adding to the mix with youth from the minors.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org