When the Rockies brought back Jeff Francis last year after releasing Jamie Moyer, the move made sense based on injuries and lack of any other reliable starters. I was not sure I agreed with the decision to keep him with the team for 2013 and I am curious as to what to expect from him this year. With his first action coming this Sunday, let's look at a couple of different methods for projecting his production in 2013 and if it makes sense to keep him on the roster.
Of the many different projection systems in use, here are two projection systems as shown on Fangraphs.com:
Steamer: 8-6, 4.50 ERA with 120 IP in 20 starts; WHIP 1.35, 5.01 K/9, 2.16 BB/9
Oliver: 8-11, 5.13 ERA with 167 IP in ?? starts; WHIP 1.51, 5.29 K/9, 2.05 BB/9
I find these projections to be fairly odd for a couple of reasons. For example, Jeff Francis has not had an ERA below 4.82 since his great 2007 season and has not had an ERA below 5 as a Rockie since that year. Projecting a 4.50 ERA seems highly unlikely and seems to be a product of a failed computer model.
Further, both projections show higher walks than he has allowed in each of the past four years and lower strikeouts than any year except his time in Kansas City. These projections may assume this because of age, but Jeff has shown a consistent decline in walks allowed per nine as he has gotten older. I decided to take a look at how pitchers like Jeff Francis fair at 32 and try to interpolate what that means for him.
Baseball Reference has a similarity system (explained here) that compares player's careers. Francis has had similar career numbers to several former Rockies, to include Josh Fogg, Armando Reynoso, and John Thomson. In fact, his closest comparison is Mark Redman who finished his stellar career with a couple of nondescript partial seasons with the Rockies.
Averaging out the age 32 seasons for the 10 players whose careers most resemble Francis provides the following numbers: 6-7, 4.83 ERA with 100 IP in 16 starts; WHIP 1.48, 5.48 K/9, 3.65 BB/9. However, several of these pitchers were no longer starters at age 32 so I decided to go a little further and try to interpolate how changes in their careers based on age would affect Francis and his year.
Of the pitchers that are compared to Francis, only four pitched significant innings as a starter at the age of 32 (Redman, Reynoso, Dave Mlicki, and Nate Robertson). It was a bit subjective but based on their trends from ages 30 to 32, and comparing them to the trends in Jeff Francis' numbers, I came up with a projection of: 9-11, 5.62 ERA with 140 IP n 25 starts; WHIP 1.4, 5.55 K/9, 2.00 BB/9. Not horrible by Rockies standards, but nothing to necessarily write home about.
So what does all of this mean for the Rockies and why should you care? It means we have a 32 year old starting pitcher who, if healthy, provides back-end of the rotation type numbers. Does it make sense to keep him on a rebuilding team? Does he allow the Rockies to develop their young pitchers outside of the limelight of the majors, or will he be taking valuable MLB innings away from a young pitcher who needs the experience?