clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Wednesday Rockpile: Replacing the lost starting pitchers in the NL West

There's an interesting story playing out this winter as the three teams that were competitive in the NL West last season have to replace the better than expected performances of starting pitchers they no longer have, but none of the three are currently looking to outside free agent solutions:

Los Angeles: Randy Wolf, 29.2 RAR, 11-7, 3.23 ERA.

Colorado: Jason Marquis, 36.0 RAR, 15-13, 4.04 ERA

San Francisco: Bryandy Johndowskenny, 10.8 RAR, 14-11, 4.23 ERA

So they are listed in the order that the teams finished in 2009, and probably in the order of the difficulty that it will be for the prospective replacements for these pitchers to match the prior season's production from that rotation slot. Let's go over each of these teams:

San Francisco

Out: Randy Johnson, Ryan Sadowski, Brad Penny

In: Madison Bumgarner

Projected net gain/loss: +2 to +6 RAR

It was probably my blinders as a Rockies fan that had me thinking for some reason that replacing the three-headed Hydra that the Giants had in their fifth slot last season would be more difficult for their top pitching prospect than the RAR apparently suggests. 10.8 runs of value shouldn't be all that difficult for Bumgarner, even if he doesn't live up to the lofty standards that Giants have for him.

I'm going to try a couple of saving throws here so I can keep my purple tinted glasses on: What if the production isn't going to be difficult to replace, but the luck is? The Giants went 16-13 in starts by this trio, which along with the relatively low ERA seems to me to be out of whack for what amounts to a plus one win pitcher by RAR standards 
(maybe not though, according to RAR, the three combine to be about equal to Ross Ohlendorf, who went 11-10 with the Pirates) particularly given the offense behind them.

The second saving throw would be that Bumgarner didn't take a step forward in his development as a pitcher in 2009, and this could portend ill for his MLB future so there's probably more downside than I'm letting on in the above projection. As a fan of an opponent, I hope this to be the case, but more evidence is probably needed. 2009 should be a telling year for Bumgarner, either way.

At any rate, given his minor league track record Bumgarner projects to be worth a little more than the combined 2009 output of Johnson/Sadowski/Penny, so I'm reluctantly giving the advantage to the Giants in the quest for internal rotation replacements.


Out: Jason Marquis

In: Jeff Francis, et al.

Projected net gain/loss: -8 to -18 RAR

The Rockies have the most RAR production to make up of the three teams, but they also have the most proven highest projected internal replacement in Jeff Francis. We'll probably get into what we can really expect from Francis next season in more detail later, but he projects to be about a 25 RAR pitcher next season if his shoulder is healthy. That's a big if, and the drop-off from Francis to Chacin/Smith/Deduno/Rogers/Friedrich isn't a small one.

None of the Rockies potential Francis replacements projects to be as good as Bumgarner, for instance, but because there are so many of them that are at least of midgrade quality, you're probably going to be looking at a survivor boost (meaning whoever does win the competition will be exceeding expectations). At any rate, the real upside for the Rockies would be a good Francis, and he was as just as effective as 2009 Marquis in 2006 and 2007.

The real downside is replacement level in a disappointing year from the AAA crowd, or 3.5 wins lost that would need to be made up elsewhere. To avoid that would be why there are some calls to sign Pedro Martinez and why the Rockies themselves were looking at Justin Duchscherer among other pitchers earlier this winter and currently rumored to be after Tim Redding.  Rather than Martinez or Redding, I'd like the Rockies to make a stronger push to retain Jose Contreras, who has more value as a starter or reliever at this point than those other two options despite being older.

The bottom line is that at this point it does not seem reasonable to expect the Rockies to make up all of the Marquis production with his replacement. There is going to have to be some gain elsewhere on the team, probably at least around a win, to cover what's lost.

Los Angeles

Out: Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland, Eric Milton, 

In: James McDonald/Scott Elbert/Josh Lindblom

Projected net gain/loss: -20 to -25 runs

The problem the Dodgers face is that they actually aren't trying to replace just Wolf's production, but also the production they got from their committee approach to the fifth starter slot in 2009. In all you're talking about 45 or so runs above replacement, and that's assuming Hiroki Kuroda could go a full 200 IP season in 2010 and they don't have to replace his backup as well. At a high end projection, Elbert and Lindblom combined would be able to cover the Wolf and the fifth starter holes, so optimistic Dodgers fans could be coming into 2010 with thoughts that everything's peachy keen on the replacing Wolf front and they could possibly be right. I mean after all, didn't they go into 2009 facing some of these same issues and didn't that turn out okay?

What LA does have going for them is that Elbert and Lindblom do project remarkably well (as well as Bumgarner, actually, but without the hype) and they both have at least some stuff to back the projections up. McDonald, not so much. There are a couple of substantial issues, however. Wolf was both lucky and good, the Dodgers went 22-12 in his starts. Realistic projections would suggest a slightly better than .500 record for either Elbert or Lindblom, and neither should be expected to go 34 starts, 214.3 innings. The gap gets covered by replacement level help like McDonald, which should lower the projections.

The second major issue is that when you're talking about filling one rotation slot with an unproven commodity, you're taking on some risk of a complete collapse by that pitcher, when you want to fill two slots, the chances of failure double. So 2010 at this point looks to be another roll of the dice for the Dodgers when it comes to the starting rotation. If you believe that their success in 2009 with Wolf and the half dozen or so fifth starters they had was the result of some Dodger aura or magic that doesn't ever go away, then there should be no worries, I'm not inclined to believe that though.

Verdict: I think the Dodgers are hoping that the two wins or more they lose in SP production comes from elsewhere on the team.