Thursday Rockpile: Kershaw vs. Webb, which pitcher do our rivals need more?

Steve Foster at Inside the Rockies has added a couple of preview discussion posts for the Rockies catcher and first base positions. Second base should be coming today, it's probably been posted while I've been writing this.

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In case you missed it in the comments to yesterday's Rockpile, Jim McClennan at AZ Snakepit has interviewed Josh Byrnes. While he promises the Rockies come up in part two of the interview next week, he does bring up a concern about the team that I've addressed here in part one, that the Diamondbacks are in a "win now" mode. Byrnes doesn't exactly answer the real pertinent part of that question (that there's an implication that the team will have to rebuild in a season or two) which is wise on his part, so I wouldn't blame him.

We can continue to get a sense of the complete picture in Arizona by putting all the evidence together, and Byrnes' interview as well as this discussion mlb.com beat writer Steve Gilbert had with managing general partner Ken Kendrick do add some clues. The key quote from that one with regard to the NL West would be this:

"Maybe some of them have less need to make changes, and it's not over yet. There are still guys to be signed, but we think our moves, and comparing them to how we stack up against our rivals, we feel better about our chances than even we did this time a year ago. I think we have a better competitive opportunity in our division than we had a year ago."  

This somewhat smacks of revisionist history, because at least until Brandon Webb's issues were known to be serious, the Diamondbacks were considered the most competitive rival to the Dodgers in 2009 by just about every source I looked at and if Kendrick says he didn't think so, either he's lying now or he was lying then. At any rate, this confirms a suspicion that I had that certain unnamed "rival executives" mentioned in a Buster Olney mailbag about a month ago being emboldened by the Dodgers inactivity referred almost solely to the Diamondbacks.

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Troy Renck has a mailbag up in which he delves a bit into the status of a couple of pitchers we haven't talked much about this winter, Casey Weathers and Franklin Morales. Renck's feel is that Morales is better suited as a reliever. I would point out that this reminds me very much of where Jorge De La Rosa was a few seasons ago with Milwaukee, when the consensus was to move him to the bullpen as well. At any rate and regardless of what inning he enters, Morales should be a valuable part of the 2010 team.

Renck also blogs on Yorvit Torrealba and picks up on an interesting question I noticed yesterday, that two of our primary rivals have some honest-to-goodness wild cards in their rotations that they are relying heavily on. Brandon Webb and Clayton Kershaw are both capable of ace level production, but because of Kershaw's youth and inexperience and Webb's shoulder, both could swing far south of that in 2010. If either falters, it's pretty much lights out for their respective teams this season because neither really has a plan B for either of those starters.

Okay, this is where I'm going to segue into a tangent. Who is the bigger risk for their team? A few weeks ago I looked into what the Rockies needed from Jeff Francis (or his replacement if he proves incapable). I knew it wasn't quite what the team lost with Jason Marquis, so maybe a quick version of the same exercise would be useful for the Webb/Kershaw debate.

 

Clayton Kershaw

Last season, according to FanGraphs, the Dodgers had just under 138 runs of value from their starting pitching. Now, assuming that they only need to repeat that performance and not make up any lost ground from the offense or bullpen (which as I asserted yesterday, I'm dubious about) that equates to about fourteen wins. Kershaw himself provided about 28% of that value, or 38.4 runs. In 2010, I think it would be reasonable to assume that for the Dodgers to be competitive, he has to provide more value because A) Hiroki Kuroda isn't likely to totally replace Randy Wolf and B) Vicente Padilla and James McDonald or whoever is their 5th starter won't likely totally replace Kuroda and Padilla/Garland et al that they had in 2009. The slack that remains has to be picked up by Billingsley and Kershaw. So if we're talking 14 wins (140 runs) by their rotation overall, what would be a good breakdown?

  • Billingsley: 4.4 (His fan projection)
  • Kershaw: ?
  • Kuroda: 2.9 (his average for 2008 and 2009)
  • Padilla:  1.5 (his average over the last three seasons)
  • SP#5/6: ? 

I'm not getting into what might be a bit too much optimism for Billingsley, and so far I'm also not considering the likely sub-replacement level production that might be coming from emergency starters (last season the Dodgers had -5.7 runs of value from McDonald, Charlie Haeger and Jason Schmidt) that leaves 5.2 wins to be divvied up between Kershaw and the fifth starter options. Keeping that sub-replacement possibility while they go through a trial and error phase in mind, I'm going to pencil in one win over replacement for their 5/6, leaving Kershaw responsible for an almost exact repeat of his total 2009 performance (including some relief work) of 4.2 wins.

So, unless Kuroda or Padilla come up with unexpectedly valuable seasons, there doesn't appear to be much margin for error here. Kershaw, who will be 22 years old on Opening Day, can not take a step back this year if the Dodgers want to compete.

Brandon Webb

Figuring out what the Diamondbacks need is trickier, just because we know they need more from their starting rotation than they got in 2009 to be competitive, it's just not entirely clear how much more. Looking at he 2009 Giants might be a pretty good start, as they proved at that level of starting performance, they can be competitive with some luck.

So let's say the Snakes have to add 25 runs above replacement to their 133 from 2009 rotation to get up to the 158 that the Giants had and call it 16 wins.

 

 

You'll note that fan projections for D-backs starters are on the pessimistic side, especially, it seems, when compared to those for Dodgers players. At those levels for Jackson and Kennedy, Webb would need to be a 5.1 win starter in 2010 for the D-backs to have 16 wins from their rotation. If Jackson repeats or if Kennedy eats more innings than the fans are seeing, than it would drop the expected Webb contribution to 3.5. So Kershaw's relying on Kuroda and Padilla to provide him some slack, Webb's relying primarily on Jackson.

I don't know. I wouldn't like it if the Rockies were making either of these bets. 3.5 wins is a solid second starter, five is a bona fide ace. That 4.2 required of Kershaw's right in between. Right now, I'm leaning to Webb as the more likely of the two to meet his team's goals, and this is with all due respect to Kershaw, who I think is an ace in the making.

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If this isn't brainy enough for you, Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus (for subscribers) took a look at marginal payroll wins over the last three seasons by division, and as you could probably expect, the Rockies were largely responsible for propping the NL West up in two of those three seasons.

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So I've noticed I've kind of been ignoring the Giants lately, I wonder why my subconscious seems to have written them off as a real threat. Maybe Sunday I'll get into that.

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