Inside the Stats: Projecting The Starting Rotation

Inside the Stats: Projecting The Starting Rotation

In this week's edition of Inside the Stats, Adam Miller takes a look at the numbers for the A's starting rotation. Find out what the stats say to expect from the A's starting five for the rest of the season.

In the last installment of "Inside the Stats," we looked at the A's struggling offense and how the majority of the team's hitters were performing well below their career averages. While the offense can still not seriously be characterized as anything but struggling (3.52 runs/game, "good" for 28th in the majors; 3.08 runs/game in their last 12 games), some of the players are showing signs of life. Two of the most important players, Eric Chavez (.292/.370/.375 in the last seven days) and Erubiel Durazo (.375/.423/.667 in the last seven days), have begun to heat up. The runs will come, although with the recent injury to Nick Swisher, it's apparent that the team lacks a true right-handed power bat until Crosby and/or Swisher returns.

It's been the pitching (widely identified by the "experts" in the off-season as the A's biggest question mark) that's kept the team above water while the offense has struggled. The pitching staff's 3.48 ERA is sixth-best in the majors and third-best in the AL. The bullpen (2.61 ERA) is also sixth-best in the majors, and the starters (4.03 ERA) are ninth-best. This week, I'm going to dig a little deeper to see what's behind the starting pitching success, and see if there are any trends that indicate whether this is sustainable. Next week, I'll look at the bullpen.

Starters

Name

Age

W/L

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

BB

K

HR

H/9

BB/9

K/9

HR/9

K/BB

G/F

#P/IP

Blanton

24

0-2

2.67

30.1

26

10

9

9

10

4

7.71

2.67

2.97

1.19

1.11

0.95

15.2

Harden

23

2-1

1.82

34.2

29

10

7

10

32

1

7.53

2.60

8.31

0.26

3.20

1.11

15.8

Haren

24

1-3

4.11

30.2

26

18

14

16

29

2

7.63

4.70

8.51

0.59

1.81

1.65

16.9

Saarloos

25

1-2

5.64

30.1

29

19

19

14

6

1

8.60

4.15

1.78

0.30

0.43

2.07

16.0

Zito

26

1-4

5.84

37.0

37

27

24

11

20

5

9.00

2.68

4.86

1.22

1.82

0.85

17.3



Joe Blanton: That 2.67 ERA is going to be short-lived if his HR and K rates stay at those levels. Luckily, there's evidence in his past that those will change: his career HR/9 rate going into 2005 (mostly in the minors) was 0.53, and his career K rate was 8.29. The downward spike in the K rate especially is just too much to expect it not too improve. Blanton's control (only 68 walks in 365.1 career minor league innings) also points to some sustainability of his success.

Rich Harden: If the improvements he's shown in his walks and homeruns allowed are for real, Harden is going to have a monster season. His career homerun rate of 0.72 (prior to the 2005 season) was not terribly high, but he's cut that in a third so far this year. But the real key is the walk rate; down from a pre-2005 rate of 4.12 BB/9, a real change here could signal his ascension from good pitcher to elite pitcher. That change may be sparked by another type of "change": the changeup that Rich worked on this off-season and has added to his repertoire this year.

Dan Haren: Danny's got one major problem so far this year – control. Harden's reduction of his walks by 1.52 BB/9 is being cancelled out by Haren's jump from 2.98 BB/9 pre-2005 to 4.70 BB/9 this year. He's striking guys out, doesn't allow home runs, and keeps the ball on the ground (1.65 groundball/flyball ratio)…getting his control back to pre-2005 levels would make Haren a sleeper candidate for a stand-out season.

Kirk Saarloos: Saarloos doesn't have electric stuff, but he's got better stuff in his arsenal than a 1.78 K/9 rate would indicate. His career rate is just about league average – 6.06 K/9 – in 159.0 IP. His other problem this year has been his walk rate, which is a full batter per 9 over his career average of 3.17 BB/9. Another reason to be relatively optimistic about Kirk is his 2.08 groundball/flyball ratio (versus a career ratio of 2.19), putting him 16th in the majors in that category. Keeping the ball on the ground means keeping the ball in the park.

Barry Zito: Barry hasn't been 2002-spectacular by any means, but he hasn't pitched as bad as his record would indicate. There's a concern that he's become very hittable, though. After allowing 7.22 H/9 from 2000-03, he's up to 9.13 H/9 in 2004, and 9.00 H/9 in 2005. It can't be explained by an inordinately high BABIP (batting average on balls in play), either. His .299 BABIP in 2004 was near the approximate league average of .302, but his .269 BABIP so far in 2005 would indicate that Zito's actually getting a little lucky, hit-wise. However, Barry seems to have some sort of ability to keep the BABIP below average, with a .255 BABIP from 2000-03. Assuming a league average of .302, that's a BABIP+ of 116 (which means he was 16% better than the league in this category). One encouraging sign for Zito is that his walk rate is down from 3.41 career to 2.68 in 2005. His strikeouts are down, but you can expect him to improve on the 4.86/9 IP; Zito's only had one season below 6.89.

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