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NL West Rotational Overview

A week or so ago I looked at the lineups and benches of the division's five teams by using OPS+, so I figure I might as well do the same with each team's rotation and ERA+. Now keep in mind, both these stats have their weaknesses, but I think ERA+ in particular has a pretty shaky track record as a predictive stat.

Which calls into question why I'm using it to predict stuff. I don't know. Prolly cuz I'm bored, okay?

Arizona 85%

Brandon Webb, 29 - 156
Danny Haren, 27 - 137
Randy Johnson, 44 - 123
Doug Davis, 32 - 111
Micah Owings, 25 - 109

Colorado 75%

Jeff Francis, 27 - 114
Aaron Cook, 29 - 116
Ubaldo Jimenez, 24 - 112
Jason Hirsh, 26 - 100
Kip Wells, 31 - 77

Los Angeles 64%

Brad Penny, 30 - 151
Derek Lowe, 35 - 118
Chad Billingsley, 23 - 138
Hiroki Kuroda, 33 - ?
Jason Schmidt, 36 - 72

San Diego 80%

Jake Peavy, 27 - 159
Chris Young, 29 - 129
Greg Maddux, 42 - 98
Mark Prior, 27 - 64 (2006)
Randy Wolf, 31 - 97

San Francisco 74%

Matt Cain, 23 - 122
Tim Lincecum, 24 - 111
Barry Zito, 30 - 98
Noah Lowry, 27 - 113
Kevin Correia, 27 - 129


Where to begin? Yeah, Arizona is really good, with the best rotation in the NL, and maybe this measure makes them look even better. It's also interesting to me that the Rockies, Dodgers and Padres are all banking on comebacks by players at the bottoms of their rotation, but all three have capable -and in the case of the Dodgers and Rockies more than capable- Plan B's on the farm in case the veterans don't work out.

Speaking of Plan B's, the percentages next to each team represent how many starts in 2007 were made by somebody projected to be in the rotation last Spring. In Arizona's case, because RJ started the season on the shelf, I counted Micah Owings as being their #5 even though it's probably technically correct that Edgar Gonzales had the early hold on the role, so that 85% might be a little misleading. At any rate, even with that, the five teams in the division had just under a quarter of their starts made by guys not in the original one through five.

I'm working on a bigger project involving team depth for the division that I'll post some day before Spring training, but for now, here are some key potential fill ins for each team:

Yusmeiro Petit, 23 - 103
Edgar Gonzalez, 25 - 94

Franklin Morales, 22 - 140
Mark Redman, 34 - 59

Los Angeles
Esteban Loaiza, 36 - 55
James McDonald, 23 - ?

San Diego
Justin Germano, 25 - 129
Clay Hensley, 28 - 59

San Francisco
Patrick Misch, 26 - 105
Jonathan Sanchez, 25 - 75

Figure also that Los Angeles, Colorado and San Diego have some high end prospects that figure to see late season call-ups in Clayton Kershaw, Greg Reynolds and Wade LeBlanc respectively. I'd include the Diamondbacks and Maz Scherzer in this bunch, but I think he -like Casey Weathers for us, and Jonathan Meloan for the Dodgers- will be a big addition to their bullpen rather than their rotation.

Okay, so this gives me a little bit of a framework from which to start making guesses as to what happens in 2008 as far as starters are concerned.

One, Los Angeles' rotation age sticks out like a sore thumb in the division to me. A couple of the other teams have a single 40+ year old Hall of Famer, but LA just seems to be loading in a lot of risk with four starters age 30 or over. They might be forced to push McDonald and Kershaw into the spotlight too fast. I know the White Sox won the World Series a couple of seasons ago with a similarly aged rotation to start the year, but they seemed to be the exception rather than the rule recently.

What's more, I think performance wise, the Dodgers might be overrated outside of Billingsley. Penny had a career year last season, and appears to have gotten lucky with his HR rate early in 2007. Look for him to settle back to Earth. Lowe should be declining at this point in his career and Schmidt already has. LA's just a couple of injuries away (and Schmidt's feels inevitable) from having to rely on three pitchers -Kuroda, McDonald and Kershaw- who haven't thrown a single pitch to MLB hitters to make up the performance gap with Arizona and I just don't see it happening. I know some projections like the Dodgers almost as much as Arizona, but I think LA could conceivably wind up with the worst rotation in the division this year with just a little bad luck.

If everything goes perfectly to plan, San Diego's back end could wind up second only to Shakira's. Unfortunately, if it doesn't, they might end up wishing they signed her to take the mound for them instead. Considering the state of Mark Prior's and Randy Wolf's throwing arms, how Chris Young struggled at the end of last season and Maddux's continuing decline, I just see the Padres rotation as ripe for disappointment. Realize that I'm typically surprised by how well San Diego's pitching after Peavy does, so I'll just throw that out there. I still think they might be scrambling for a starter at the trade deadline.

San Fran and Colorado both have solid, though unspectacular, rotations. Right now, I'd rate the Giants as a bit better, but it's not as much of a margin as their fans would have you believe, and it's not nearly enough of one to make up the ground they lose on offense. Morales is a better replacement than Misch or Sanchez, Reynolds figures to be as well, so by the end of the season the Rockies rotation could be ahead, particularly if the Giants trade one of their starters for a rebuilding plan.

That leaves Arizona as the class in the division. This exercise did nothing to dissuade me from that opinion. If anything, it's convinced me that the difference between them and who I had originally presumed to be second best (the Dodgers) is greater than I thought. The Diamondbacks do look considerably weaker when I do my next check and play the assassination game by taking out each team's top starter and filling in his slot with their best (not necessarily first) near ready replacement option instead. The drop in stuff from Webb to soft tossing RHP's Gonzalez or Petit is huge compared to the difference between Francis and Morales, Penny and Kershaw or Peavy and LeBlanc.

So does the division just go along hoping Brandon Webb gets injured? Pretty much. I think Johnson particularly, but also Davis are vulnerable to injury or letdown and I can also see Haren taking a step back this season from 2007, but without several of those small knocks happening at once or one big Webb injury, I think Arizona stays ahead in starters' contributions for 2008. How far ahead depends on a lot of stuff -like those injuries- that's just not reliably predictable, but I still think there's a good chance that we can stay close enough to allow our offense to make up the gap.

NL West Starting Rotations for 2008

  1. Arizona
  2. San Francisco
  3. Colorado
  4. Los Angeles
  5. San Diego
I'll probably check back next week with the bullpens.