Thursday, January 03, 2008

Overhead Projector, Part II

After the first analytical look at the projections for the 2008 Indians, as determined by Bill James Handbook 2008 and courtesy of Fangraphs.com, the time has come to cast our probing eye to that 6” by 24” white piece of rubber that occupies the center of the diamond a mere 59 feet from the front of home plate and the players that stand atop it.

That’s right, boys and girls, it’s time for the second ½ of the 2008 projections from the Bill James Handbook 2008 (BJH2K8) – the pitchers:
C.C. Sabathia
15-10, 3.56 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.40 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 2.74 K/BB
While BJH2K8 sees a bit of a downturn for Sabathia with a higher WHIP and ERA from his Cy Young Award winning (doesn’t that sound nice) campaign, a projected 3.56 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP are certainly nothing to sneeze at. The big difference in Sabathia’s 2007 to his 2008 projections come from a huge increase in BB/9 (1.38 in 2007 to a projected 2.70, which would be his highest since 2005) which predicates a huge drop on K/BB rate (5.65 in 2007 to a projected 2.74, this time the lowest since 2005). While the Hefty Lefty’s projected numbers look good, they are far from the numbers of 2007 or even his 2006 season, so the statisticians see something in Sabathia’s numbers that indicate that after marked improvement that he showed down the stretch in 2006 and throughout 2007, the Crooked Cap’s 2008 will fall closer in line with his 2005 season that helped the Tribe to a 93-win season. Thus, according to the projections, the aCCe will return in 2008, just perhaps not CCy.

Fausto Carmona
13-12, 3.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.07 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 2.32 K/BB
Like his left-handed counterpart at the top of the Tribe rotation, The Faustastic One is due for a fallback from 2007, according to BJH2K8, with a higher ERA, a higher WHIP, and a higher BB rate. All of that being said, though, the “higher” numbers for all of those projections are far from significant increases as the 2008 projections for Carmona show that the number-crunchers think that his 2007 breakout season was far from a fluke. Essentially, the projections play out to the conclusion that the Indians have a 24-year-old (in December of 2007) stud sitting at the top of their rotation capable of a 6.07 K/9 rate with a 1.31 WHIP every fifth day. That…um…that’s not bad.

Jake Westbrook
11-11, 4.18 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.91 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 1.70 K/BB
Steady as she goes, Mr. Westbrook’s projections have him returning to form after a 2007 that was marred early in the season by a muscle pull. And by “returning to form”, I mean that the innings-eater who will not dazzle anyone, will pitch to contact (combined K+BB/9 rate under 8), and figures to win as many games as he loses. A solid middle-the-rotation starter whose numbers don’t quicken the heart rate, for good or bad, Jake is what he is. His 2008 projections most closely resemble his 2006 season which, while far from dominant, established him as a viable #3 to #4 starter and justified (particularly in light of the Carlos Silva deal) the contract signed by him last year.

Paul Byrd
9-11, 4.45 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 4.60 K/9, 1.65 BB/9, 2.79 K/BB
For those expecting the Byrdman to lose some altitude after a successful 2007 season…surprise! The folks at BJH see Byrd’s 2008 nest full of a lower ERA, a lower WHIP, and a higher K rate than 2007. While the projections don’t quite recapture the pre-Cleveland success that Byrd experienced in Anaheim, Atlanta, and KC, they are (at least) a continued improvement from the 2006 season that had Tribe fans banging their collective heads against a wall. Byrd’s projected numbers are far from scintillating and (outside of some extra hormones and possibly some Crisco) nobody knows how he is still able to baffle hitters, but the folks who look only at numbers and not “stuff” and not “electricity” see a moderately successful 2008 for Byrd, certainly befitting of a #4 starter.

Now we get into the nitty-gritty, with the top 4 in the Tribe rotation spoken for in terms of projection. Whereas the top 4 are pretty black and white, the unknown 20% of the rotation exists mainly in shades of gray and who, in 2007, better personified gray than Clifton Phifer Lee?
Cliff Lee
5-5, 4.40 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 6.80 K/9, 3.30 BB/9, 2.06 K/BB
BJH2K8, unlike many Friends of the Feather, are awfully bullish on Mr. Five and (F)Lee, projecting numbers that would indicate that 2007 was the aberration on the low end for Lee much like 2005 was the aberration on the high end. Interestingly, the 2008 projections are nearly identical to Lee’s 2006 season (same ERA, nearly the same WHIP) with the highest K rate since 2004. Whether or not Lee will post these numbers at the Jake remains to be seen as the Indians do have options past Lee for that 5th spot in the rotation and the possibility of moving him prior to leaving Winter Haven still has to exist in the minds of the Tribe Front Office. However, if Lee is able to right himself from 2007 to settle somewhere in the range of a 4.40 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP with decent peripherals, his existence on the roster and his contract become entirely more palatable for a #4 or a #5 starter.

Jeremy Sowers
6-6, 4.01 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.91 K/9, 2.45 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB
And now, from the “Welcome Back” category (pitcher edition), the boys at BJH predict a triumphant return of the Heady Hurler that we all grew to know and love in 2006 as his 2008 projections fall more closely in line with the 2006 Sowers (actually with a better projected WHIP) than the abomination of his 2007 season. If the Scholarly Southpaw has, in fact, returned to his 2006 form (albeit with the same underwhelming K rate), the Indians’ starting depth will fall in line with the desires of the Tribe brass. Sowers, despite the trumpeting of some that he was a potential #2 starter after a few brilliant starts in 2006, is likely (according to BJH) to settle into the mean of an ERA around 4.00 and a WHIP around 1.40. Again, like Lee (though at a much lower price tag), if this is true – the Indians back end of the rotation will be in good hands as few teams can boast fair, or even middling, 4th and 5th starters.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of concrete numbers, everyone’s favorite baby-faced LHP Aaron Laffey (OK, some still may prefer Sowers) was not included in the BJH2K8 projections. This is unfortunate as there seems to be a wide gap in thinking about how Laffey eventually projects out as a MLB pitcher. One school of thought sees him as a groundball-inducing machine from the left side, with a better K rate and K/BB ratio than Jake Westbrook. Another sees him as a fair prospect who simply parlayed the confidence of a good season in the minors to a great cup of coffee in Cleveland, while past success certainly does not guarantee future results. Even a third exists that Laffey, with his bulldog mentality belied by a “High School Musical” face, is best suited for the back-end of the bullpen given his infinitesimal HR rate despite his propensity to pound the strike zone. While the projections are far from Gospel, it would have been interesting to see where the number-crunchers saw the developmental curve of Laffey going in 2008.

All told, very promising projections for the 2008 rotation with the slight regressions projected for C.C. and Carmona offset (somewhat) by a full season of Jake and a bit of an uptick for Byrd. The big change, of course, is the (relative) success projected for Lee and Sowers which help the depth of the rotation to the degree that it would keep (barring a trade of Lee) the Buffalo rotation of Sowers, Laffey, and Atom Miller at beck and call in case of injury or ineffectiveness. Somewhere, the manager of the Toledo Mud Hens is groaning.

But what of the firemen, the men paid to spell R-O-L-A-I-D-S?
Ask and you shall receive -
Joe Borowski
4-3, 31 saves, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 7.80 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 2.60 K/BB
If you’re looking for the argument that The Big Borowski’s tightrope walk is going to end badly (i.e. falling without a net) in 2008, don’t look at these numbers. BJH2K8 sees a marked improvement in line for JoeBo with a much lower ERA (5.07 in 2007 to a projected 3.90 in 2008) and a much lower WHIP (1.43 in 2007 to a projected 1.28 in 2008) both mainly due to a stat known as BABIP (Batting Average of Balls in Play) which quantifies what happens when a batter actually makes contact with the ball, discounting both K and BB. Since BJH sees Borowski’s K rate falling and BB rate rising for 2008, the difference in BABIP (a whopping .348 in 2007 to a projected .295 in 2008, nearly identical to his 2006 Florida season) is the difference-maker for JoeBo’s projection. The important thing to remember in these projections is that they are just that and don’t take into account “guts”, “intestinal fortitude”, or “ability to separate” – descriptive terms all used by some to get their head around Borowski’s save total from 2007. These projections don’t factor in any of that – it simply looks at hard data and makes projections based on trends and statistical formulas. Even for the person who refuses to call the Indians’ closer anything but “Bloworowski”, the fact that the statheads (who don’t take emotion or a “closer’s mentality” on their spreadsheets) see Borowski improving upon his 2007season, which garnered him 45 saves, this is good news.

Rafael Betancourt
7-2, 3 saves, 2.83 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.00 K/9, 1.88 BB/9, 4.78 K/BB
When a projected 2.83 ERA and 1.05 WHIP represents a regression from the previous year for a pitcher, you begin to fully realize how fantastic Betancourt’s 2007 was. The BJH2K8 projection for Senor Slo-Mo actually falls closer to his 2006 season (in terms of K/BB rate and WHIP) than his 2007 masterpiece while BJH sees Raffy Right’s K rate staying ridiculously high…all while throwing nothing more than a fastball. The projected numbers are certainly suitable for a closer (which many see Betancourt evolving into at some point in 2008), but at this point (particularly if the Borowski projections hold true) Betancourt’s 2008 projections essentially eliminate the 8th inning as a run-scoring opportunity for opponents.

Rafael Perez
5-3, 1 save, 3.33 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.64 K/9, 2.71 BB/9, 2.82 K/BB
Much like his RH counterpart, The Scarecrow’s 2008 projections are a disappointment only if you truly expect him to post 1.78 ERA, 0.92 WHIP campaigns (as he did in 2007) on an annual basis. As the likely 7th inning option, a projected 3.33 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with strong rates and ratios, Perez looks poised to build on his breakout 2007 season, while perhaps not with the same unbridled success that he experienced this past year. His projected K/BB rate remains favorable which bodes well for his long-term future out of the bullpen as relievers (particularly brought on with a lead) are not meant to put baserunners on via the BB. There has been some talk of returning Perez to a starting role (he started 12 games in Akron in 2006 and 7 games in Buffalo last year) but, at this point, if the bullpen role is suiting the lanky LHP and the Indians’ SP depth goes into quality arms in Buffalo, Perez’s best role for the 2008 Indians is squeezing that narrow frame through the bullpen door.

Tom Mastny
3-3, 3.74 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 8.83 K/9, 4.42 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB
If the Two Raffies are thought to “regress” in 2008, BJH2K8 has the Nasty Boy making a big leap forward with marked improvement in his ERA (4.68 in 2007 to a projected 3.74 in 2008), WHIP (1.65 in 2007 to a projected 1.42 in 2008), a higher K rate (8.12 in 2007 to a projected 8.83 in 2008), a lower BB rate (4.99 in 2007 to a projected 4.42 in 2008), and a drop in HR/9 (0.94 in 2007 to a projected 0.34 in 2008). As far as the folks at BJH are concerned the native of Borneo is ready to make the jump to a viable contributor to the back end of the bullpen. While his BB rate remains high, and would likely preclude him from usurping any of the relievers above him on the “bullpen ladder”, the 27-year-old (in February of 2008) may take the step in 2008 to becoming a fixture in the Cleveland bullpen no longer subject to the “Buffalo Shuttle”.

Aaron Fultz
3-2, 3.86 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.29 K/9, 3.64 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB
The projections for Fultz (in terms of a higher ERA) are actually promising as BJH2K8 sees a higher K rate and a lower BB rate (which hopefully applies to less BB with the bases loaded) than 2007. Fultz has certainly been moved down the pecking order in terms of where he fits in the Tribe bullpen, but as long as he is used to start innings and not get the Tribe out of jams (which, of course, is not an desired attribute for a reliever), Fultz should be able to eat up some innings with the Indians behind while not throwing gasoline on the fire.

All in all, an extremely bright outlook for the Tribe pen, even without projections being done for the player I’m most optimistic about (Jenny Lewis) and the most intriguing part (Masa Kobayashi). BJH2K8 projects that all 5 relievers listed above will have ERA under 4.00 with Tom Mastny’s 1.42 WHIP being the highest projected WHIP. All 5 relievers have a K/BB rate of 2.00 or better and the players with the higher BB rates (Mastny and Fultz) figure to fill out the bottom portion of the bullpen.

After years of spending Spring after Spring trying to cobble together a settled bullpen in the volatile world of relievers, the Tribe (at least according to BJH2K8) have both quality and depth residing in their bullpen. A strength of their 2007 team (once Betancourt put a stranglehold on the set-up role) would seem to remain one in 2008 with the depth available in the organization (notably Jen Lewis) to augment the relievers listed above.

And with that, all of the projections (from BJH2K8, at least) are done – its time for the players to hit the field soon…please?
42 days until Pitchers and Catchers Report…
42 days until Pitchers and Catchers Report…
42 days until Pitchers and Catchers Report…

5 comments:

reyorra said...

I was just thinking you could probably add a countdown clock to the page for when pitchers and catchers and then position players report...and until opening day, like you did with the magic number. Just a thought.

t-bone said...

reyorra, your wish is my command.

R.M. Jennings said...

The Texas Rangers got Ben Broussard, Jason Davis, and Milton Bradley this offseason. Add that to John Rocker, Dave Burba, Ryan Drese, and Einar Diaz previously. And... they might make a move for Bartolo Colon. Why do the Rangers like washed-up former Indians so much? What's John Hart's deal?

Nye! said...

59 feet from the back? 59 feet from the front. 60 feet, 6 inches from the back.

Paul Cousineau said...

Fixed.