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Wednesday Morning: The Trouble With #4

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Brew Crew Ball's Jeff Sackmann gets referenced by me a lot, usually because he creates things that have such an easily accessible, yet profoundly significant appeal that it's hard to resist. This was the case this morning with his article, "How Good is Your #4 Starter at the Hardball Times. If you've read this blog frequently, you know I've touched on this many times in regards to the Rockies in 2006 -that the bottom of our rotation was grossly deficient compared to our divisional foes- but now thanks to Jeff, there's a handy table that clearly breaks this fact down. I'll edit out the rest of MLB (you can click through the link to see that table) and just point out the ERA by rotation slot in the NL West in 2006:

Team    #1      #2      #3      #4      #5
ARI     3.10    4.20    4.60    4.90    6.39
COL     3.78    4.15    4.24    5.45    6.00
LAN     3.52    3.76    4.34    4.65    5.75
SD      3.41    3.64    3.78    4.22    4.91
SF      3.59    4.18    4.72    4.95    5.18

Okay, our top 3 starters don't look that appealing at first glance, kind of mediocre at best (our #1 was only equal to San Diego's #3, yeesh they had some lucky seasons from Hensley and Young last year) but realize that this table doesn't consider park effects which would have brought us closer to the top as far as #'s 1-3 are concerned. The trouble arose once you got past Jennings, Cook and Francis to the Byung Hyun Kim and Josh Fogg slots in the rotation. Here, even park effects couldn't mask how bad our bottom two were, although accounting for home fields would bring us a little bit closer to our fellow cellar dwellers, AZ and SF as well as the second place Dodgers. Funny how this coincides so well with how the divisional standings wound up, isn't it?

So, projecting what we know about the changes that have been made for 2007, will the Rockies fare any better? Compared to Arizona and San Francisco, I can say that we will at least fare no worse. Doug Davis was the same pitcher statistically as Claudio Vargas last season, and Livan Hernandez's  Fielding Independent Pitching stats show him to be somewhat of a fraud as a number two for the D-backs. The Giants meanwhile, won't be able to replace Jason Schmidt's production. But what about the Rockies being able to replace Jason Jennings? I don't see Jason Hirsh stepping into this role right away, but what I see in Hirsh plus Buchholz is two pitchers capable of putting up an ERA in the 4.50 to 4.90 range next season, which would fit within Sackmann's analysis of a #3/#4 pitcher (Buchholz's FIP actually showed he had a flukishly bad season in 2006, an xFIP of 4.61 was derived from his secondary stats). If that's the case, we would only need one of the trio of Fogg, Kim or Oscar Rivera to provide similar production to make up in depth at the bottom what we would lack at the top. San Diego succeeded in part last season by not having one slot go over a 5.00 ERA, and the Rockies could find themselves in a similar position next season.

That of course is speculative conjecture, and it might paint too rosy a picture. The Rockies certainly have a less predictable staff than the rest of the division thanks to the inexperience of Hirsh and other candidates and the still uncharted effects of the humidor on the pitchers. Los Angeles looks solid both at top and on the bottom of their rotation, and San Diego only needs one of the pair of Hensley and Young to prove themselves for real with a second standout season to be a factor. Still, I'm comfortable with a prediction that our entire rotation will be in the middle of the pack within the division next season, meaning if we want to win, we'll have to make up ground with our offense and bullpen.