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2009 NL West in Review: Pitching Staffs

For nearly two decades, Rockies fans have dealt with national analysts and out-of-state fans dismissing the statistics for Rockies hitters, since you know, we play baseball on Pandora the moon.  What has not yet seemingly caught on (unless purple glasses blind me) is an equal amount of credit given to Rockies pitchers for throwing half their innings at least thrice the altitude of all other teams.

Granted, park effects aside, the Rockies have never had great pitching.  From 1993-2004, Colorado finished dead last in NL ERA all but twice, finishing a couple runs ahead of one team those two years.  But those days are gone now.  As has been hinted at and outrightly stated here on numerous occasions, the Rockies were sabermetrically elite in 2009.

Overall, Colorado had the 10th best ERA in Major League Baseball, 7th best in rotational ERA; so even ignoring park effects, Bob Apodaca's staff was impressive.  The starting pitchers also finished 6th in FIP and 4th in xFIP.  Due largely in part of the extremely stout back end of the rotation, our Rockies sat atop all of major league baseball in pitching WAR in 2009.  Naturally, that makes the Rockies look awfully good against the rest of the division.  The following table on Fangraphs' RAR (runs above average) shows why Colorado belonged in the postseason.  Not only are the Rockies on top overall, but they also had the most value in the rotation AND bullpen.

Team Starters Bullpen Batting Total
COL 174.6 46.8 -36.5 184.9
SFG 158.1 43.4 -39.2 162.3
LAD 137.9 45.9 -35.6 148.2
AZ 133.2 36.1 -33.9 135.4
SDP 25.4 24.4 -37.5 12.3

By the way, the Padres' numbers are not a misprint.  They were THAT bad in 2009.  For a more visual comparison and LOLPads, here's the above table graphed.


Note:  For the hitters' series, I computed my own park effects to hitters' positional splits using Statcorner's component splits.  Conversely, the numbers in this article are straight from Fangraphs, though rounding errors apply.

Take the jump for a closer look.


Starting Pitching

I counted fifty NL West pitchers who started a game.  Not surprisingly, the NL Cy Young Award winner is in a class all by himself.  Dan Haren was easily forgotten after he "faltered" in the second half, but his first half provided a LOT of value.  Jimenez is a freak of nature robot that is half elastic titanium, half "gentile" shark and half pure awesomeness.  The real interesting entry below is Jason Hammel, who went from Tampa Bay Ray, to reliever, to best back-end starter in MLB in six months, setting a Rockies record for K/BB in the process.

Rank Pitcher Team WAR
1 Tim Lincecum SFG 8.2
2 Dan Haren AZ 6.1
3 Ubaldo Jimenez COL 5.7
4 Clayon Kershaw LAD 4.2
5 Jason Hammel COL 3.8
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
46 Walter Silva SDP -0.4
47 Josh Banks SDP -0.5
48 Chris Young SDP -0.5
49 Cesar Carillo SDP -0.7
50 Josh Geer SDP -1.5

Other interesting/counterintuitive notes from full ranking of all 50 NL West starting pitchers:  (Note:  even though batting RAR is included in the table, the WAR shown is strictly pitching value)

  • Yes, I'm serious about the bottom five.  This is why the Padres' had the third least valuable pitching staff (via WAR) in MLB.  
  • Jason Marquis and Jorge de la Rosa were hot on Hammel's heels, finishing sixth and seventh respectively.
  • With hitting RAR included, Jimenez is almost 2.0 WAR better than any starter, except Lincecum and Haren.
  • Much was made of Randy Wolf's crazy good irreplacable year and Chad Billingsley's disappointing year, but Billz still provided more WAR than Wolf.
  • The highest ranking Padre on the list is Kevin Correia at 12th.  Ahead of Correia, there was four Rockies, three Dodgers, two Giants and two D-Backs.
  • Only three Padre starters were more valuable than Jose Contreras was for the Rockies as a starter, and all three have been jettisoned.


Relief Pitching

I knew the Rockies had stout starting pitching, but I'm shocked that Colorado's bullpen finished tops in bullpen RAR, ahead of the much ballyhooed Dodger pen.  Again, this is before park adjustments too.  Considering Street's rough April and the miserable couple months early in the season, you wouldn't expect Colorado to be 2nd in the NL.

While Street greatly carried Colorado, a quick glance at the full NL West WAR leaderboards  show that the Rox were successful with depth.  

Rank Pitcher Team WAR
1 Jonathan Broxton LAD 2.9
2 Brian Wilson SFG 2.4
3 Heath Bell SDP 2.0
4 Luke Gregerson SDP 1.8
5 Huston Street COL 1.5
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
72 Will Ohman LAD -0.5
73 Edwin Moreno SDP -0.5
74 Scott Schoeneweis AZ -0.7
75 Duaner Sanchez SDP -0.7
76 Luis Perdomo SDP -0.7

Points to note:

  • Huston Street wasn't as nearly valuable, at least sabermetrically, as you probably thought.
  • Not a single Rockie reliever was below replacement value in 2009. Well, except the two old men whose last name starts with an E.  Still, they totalled just -0.2 WAR, significantly less than -0.8 WAR the wnd best Giants got from their below replacement level portion of the bullpen.  The Padres brought up the rear at -3.2 WAR.
  • Despite having two relievers in the top four in the All-Star Heath Bell and underrated Luke Gregerson, San Diego also filled three of the bottom four slots and 7 of the bottom 12.
  • Rafael Betancourt and Matt Daley proved to be more valuable than the Dodgers' dynamic set-up duo in Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso.  Betancourt was also the most valuable mid-season acquisition, finishing tenth overall.
  • Jonathan Broxton is a beast.  He was worth nearly double Huston Street and was more valuable than all but 11 NL West starting pitchers, including every single Padre.


Pitchers in the Batter's Box

It might seem silly to consider offensive value for pitchers when comparing them to each other.  After all, they all suck nowadays, so there can't be too much separation.  However, consider this:

  • Two Rockies pitchers had more plate appearances than Omar Quintanilla.
  • The difference in value between Randy Wolf and Kevin Correia on the mound was smaller than the difference in value between Jorge de la Rosa's bat and Dan Haren's bat.  In effect, if DLR hit like Haren, he would be the 4th most valuable pitcher in the division, ahead of Clayton Kershaw.
  • The range in value from top (Chris Young) to bottom (Jon Garland) was 1.24 WAR.  
Keep in mind, negative value essentially gets a boost from less plate appearances, so many of the "leaders" just didn't have as many chances to suck.  Here are the Batting Rankings.  Other conclusions:
  • Other than Jon Garland, who spent the entirety of his career in the AL until 2009, the worst two hitting pitchers were Rockies.  
  • Translating batting RAR into a rate, Ubaldo Jimenez was the ninth best hitting pitching in the division (SSS).

That's it for today.  My apologies for the wide gap between articles.  I'll wrap up the series sometime next week, compiling all of what we learned in a maddening, loosely accurate statistical fracas.