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Bill James and the 2011 Rockies Rotation

Every season, Bill James, as well as numerous others, release projections on the 2011 season. If you aren't familiar with projection systems, cruise on over to Heltonfan's Projection System Primer to get a quick rundown.

Basically, projections are supposed to give us an idea what players are going to produce in the upcoming season. Again, just an idea. But it gives us a jumpoff point to discuss our expectations of the 2011 season.

Obviously, no projection system is 100% correct, because as Heltonfan points out, they don't account for breakouts, they don't account for catastrophic failure, and certainly not injury and such.

Let's look at the Rockies' projected 2011 rotation and how Bill James sees them all balancing out.

We'll start from the bottom up, just past the jump.

Off Topic

We're looking at Jason Hammel as the #5 starter this year. The biggest strength of Hammel that we've seen is putting up 30 starts in both years with the Rockies, and doing it in an absurdly consistent fashion - 2 straight seasons of 30 starts, ~177IP, 3.70 FIP, 3.81 xFIP. It's disturbing, really

Bill James sees it getting slightly worse for Hammel, but not really. He sees him making that 30-start mark, and 179IP, with a 4.53 ERA (which more or less averages his past 2 seasons with Colorado) and a 3.99 FIP. Really, I'm not gonna argue much with the projection. A HR here or there, definitely fewer walks (James sees Hammel with a 2.92 BB9 - which is still excellent - while his 2 season in Colorado have yielded a 2.14 BB9 and 2.38 BB9), but more or less the same season.

Jhoulys Chacin doesn't have much of a major-league track record yet. Given the split of relief appearances and starts, James doesn't see Chacin making all of his appearances as the starter - in fact, he doesn't see Chacin sticking the whole season. The issue isn't really that he doesn't see Chacin as being a starter, but more the fact that he doesn't really have that track record needed to get a good idea of what to expect out of him. Check out Chacin's 2010 review.

The traits James DOES see in Chacin are decent strikeouts (8.23 K9), roughly the same level of control (4.17 BB9), solid HR prevention (0.83 HR9), a 3.75 ERA, and 4.03 FIP. Honestly, coming out of our #4 starter, I don't think there's room for complaint there either. Much as I'd like to object with it, a lot of it make sense. Decreased strikeout numbers and increased walk numbers will probably just come naturally as hitters and scouting all catches up to Chacin. Much as I'd like to see Chacin's peripherals improve, if Colorado's defense backs up Chacin the way I hope they will, that 3.75 ERA looks pretty reasonable.

Aaron Cook lands the #3 spot based on the whole seniority thing, and as we discussed last week, probably ranks lower in the rotation based on actual performance numbers. We haven't gotten to Cook's 2010 review yet, that should be coming up in the next 2 weeks. Long story short, Cook was having trouble throwing his sinker for strikes. This resulted in a more hittable Cook and a BB9 increase from 2.68 in 2009 to 3.67 in 2010.

James sees a rebound - well, at least he sees Cook returning to career levels, or thereabouts. 25 starts seems about right, 136IP. I know that I have the mental image of Cook being a 33GS, 215IP kind of guy, but the fact is that he just can't seem to avoid the bizarre nagging injuries. We all know they're never shoulder injuries, but it's things like his oblique, problems with his feet, pulmonary embolisms, really unexpected kinds of things, but the fact remains that anyone looking at Cook's career without the fine-tooth comb that we have is going to see a guy who doesn't give you a full season for that reason.

The good news is that while James is expecting only 25 starts, he's also expecting a 4.43 ERA, 4.36 FIP. Not outstanding numbers by any measure, but they're not entirely outlandish, given the career 4.41 ERA, 4.38 FIP.

Jorge De La Rosa clocks in as the #2 after signing his 2-year, $21.5M extension with the Rockies (with the player option and ensuing team option). DLR had that weird finger injury earlier this year which knocked him out for nearly 3 months. You can read De La Rosa's review here.

James sees a season coming up from DLR that lines up relatively well with his 3 years with the Rockies: 27GS, 178IP, 4.45 ERA, 4.27 FIP. While DLR has seemingly turned that corner in his career since being traded to Colorado, James sees his strikeout rate dropping to 8.14 K9, his BB9 making a step up to 4.25 BB9 (which isn't that far of a leap), and otherwise kind of just following a slight improvement on his career line. I'm firmly in the camp that DLR has become better than most projection systems are going to suggest, that he really DID turn a corner, that he's a 8.6 K9, 4.0 BB9, 0.95 HR9 pitcher with an ERA/FIP somewhere right around 4. It's not great, but even with the measures taken to attempt to neutralize Coors Field, it's still a hitters' park. The only real difference I'd see from James' projection is a K/BB ratio closer to 2 (which isn't unreasonable, given that he hasn't had a K/BB below 2 while in a Rockies' uniform).

Finally, Ubaldo Jimenez. How do you follow the single best pitching season in Rockies history? How do you project after a breakout like that? Well, again, projections aren't there to project a breakout, or a massive collapse, they're looking to try and find that steady middle ground that takes the player's full career and age into account, and see what comes out.

The easy things to take into account things like games and innings pitched. James sees a full 33 starts from Ubaldo and 216IP. Those make sense, given that he's pitched 33+ starts in every full season he's pitched. His first full season he hit 198.2IP, and the next 2 seasons saw 218 and 221.2IP. Workload doesn't seem to be a big question mark.

Performance, on the other hand, is where things are going to get a bit more questionable. James sees strikeout numbers that trend more toward his first 2 seasons (both sub-8 K/9) and the same with walks (first 2 season both above 4 BB9). Ubaldo's expected to give those 216IP with a 3.63 ERA and a 3.68 FIP. The immediate reaction is obviously going to be one of disappointment, especially following a 2.88 ERA / 3.10 FIP season.

While I don't entirely agree with that ERA figure, or really that FIP figure either (I expect more strikeouts and fewer walks), one fun thing to remember is this: If Ubaldo puts up the stat line that James is expecting, it would rank 3rd in Rockies history for ERA (for starters pitching 162 innings or more), with the top 2 marks being Ubaldo's 2010 and Ubaldo's 2009. It's really tough to expect anything following such an exciting pitching season. One one hand, we could expect him to remain the same or even improve, and on the other hand, we could expect a regression. If you asked me to just guess at a 2011 ERA, I'd say 3.30, without taking anything into consideration other than my best guess. Ubaldo's 2.88 ERA in 2010 was fantastic, but probably a bit lucky too. Either way, Ubaldo looks to have a pretty solid 2011.

All said and done, the Rockies' starters gave a total of 955IP at a 4.21 ERA, while leading the majors in WAR. Just looking at James' projections, we're seeing 860IP from just the 5 aforementioned pitchers at a 4.14 ERA. Granted, if healthy, Chacin, De La Rosa, and Cook will likely contribute more to the inning load, and hopefully drop that ERA a few decimals, but the gaps between the two inning loads will be filled by the team's depth. Remember, Rockies fans, the more innings we get out of Ubaldo, DLR, Cook, Chacin, and Hammel, the fewer they have to ask Felipe Paulino and Esmil Rogers to pitch, and the fewer outings of pure overwork they'll have to dump onto Matt Belisle.

Couple of quick links:

Drew Silva of THT echoes Jack Etkin in saying that the Rockies could get off to a better April start, given weak competition in the first month of the season. Something's gotta give in April, right?

Steve Henson of Yahoo Sports examines the offseason of the Rockies in a series covering every MLB team before ST.