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Primate Studies
— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game

Friday, December 29, 2006

Starting Rotation Analysis

Three years ago my White Sox
Fan Brother
and I were talking baseball, something we regularly do.  His White Sox
had just finished another disappointing season behind the Minnesota Twins yet again.
White Sox Fan Brother knew what their problem was.  Their fifth starters’ abysmal
performances had sunk the squad.  That’s hardly fair, I countered.  Number five starters
always stink.  Almost all teams just have a revolving door of craptacular pitchers at the
end of their rotation.  Your bad fifth starter gets evened out by their bad fifth starter.

   
  “Chris,” White Sox Fan Brother replied, “the White Sox fifth starters won only
three games this year.”
    “.  .  .  OK.  Now that does sound bad.”

We both had a point.  You shouldn’t really expect league-average pitching from
your team’s fifth slot.  That happens about as often as getting an MVP caliber year from
your first baseman.  On the other hand, White Sox Fan brother was right; just because
fifth starters normally stink doesn’t mean a team can’t get especially bad performances
from their fifth starters.

How bad was it for that south side squad?  Well, that’s unexpectedly hard to say.
Dan Wright, Josh Stewart, Mike Porzio, and Neal Cotts did indeed combine for only 3
wins in 27 starts with a robust ERA of 6.75.  That’s nowhere near league-average. (They
combined for an ERA+ of 66 if you’re curious).  However, it’s true that teams almost
never get league-average production out of their fifth starters.  Having horrible starters in
the #5 hole did set them back against the competition, but how far did it set them back?

This long dead conversation has ricocheted back into my mind during this year’s
post-season.  Around these parts I read a whole series of rather interesting comments
about the extraordinarily ordinary Jeff Suppan.  In threads like
this one people argued that he was merely a fourth starter.  That struck
me as especially odd because he’s been consistently better or equal to league-average
every year for almost a decade while rarely ever missing a start.

If starters have ERAs a
little worse than league-average (and they do), then a third starter should match that with
#2s being a bit better and #4 a little worse.  The argument that an above-average pitcher is
a number four is hardly exclusive to that particular thread.  For example, Dayn Perry
recently wrote a column where he
calls Greg Maddux a fourth starter immediately after noting that his ERA was
considerably higher than that of a normal starter.  When we treat superior pitchers as
middle-slot men or worse, we cross the line separating meaningful analysis of pitching
and start singing a long lost alternate version of The Who’s “Substitute.”  (“The good
pitcher of my staff was average / And the average was actually bad. / It’s a substitute for
another arm who / Throws like a three but I say’s a five.  / Decent things you see are all
underrated. / You pitch like an ace but I say you’re just #2”).

With White Sox Fan Brother I couldn’t really define what exactly one should expect from the doomed end of
the rotation, and apparently no one else can either.  Yet many of us like to think of a
pitcher in terms of being a number two, three, or a fourth starter or whatever. All teams
have five slots in their rotation, and come hell or high water those slots have got to be
filled.  It certainly would be nice to know what is a good second starter and how many
games the 2003 White Sox lost due to their wretched fifth starters.  So I’ll try to fill that
knowledge gap.

The Boring Stuff: Methodology

The plan is pretty simple.  Using the gamelogs at
retrosheet, and now b-ref, I placed every game a team played into one of five slots
depending on who started.  Then I figured out the ERAs for a team.  Best slot is the #1
slot, second best #2 and so on.  Do this for an entire league and see what the average
production out of each slot is.  To get a decent sample size, I decided to do both leagues
for 2005 and 2006.

Before I get to the fun stuff, let me explain how I divided up all games into the
five slots.  Let’s look at the 2005 Devil Rays as an example.  They began the year with a
five-man rotation of Scott Kazmir, Mark Hendrickson, Hideo Nomo, Dewon Brazelton,
and Rob Bell.  (Not that surprising that they came in last place, is it?)  Those men get
listed at the top of all five slots.  Rob Bell pitched so poorly, even by Devil Ray
standards, that the club tossed him in bullpen after only three starts and had Doug
Waechter replace him.  Waechter’s ensuing starts go in the slot with Bell.  However,
Waechter also wasn’t very good either, and got pushed out of the rotation after twelve
starts.  Seth McClung replaced him and started the final 17 games in that slot.  Any
numbers they piled up as relief pitchers are ignored.  Elsewhere in the rotation, Hideo
Nomo pitched horridly and was finished after 19 starts.  In his place, the Rays put
Waechter back in the rotation.  Waechter had 13 more starts until the year ended.  Those
13 starts go in this slot.  If a pitcher, like Waechter, spent time in different slots, I divvied
up his starts accordingly.  Elsewhere, Brazelton also stunk, and Casey Fossum replaced
him, finishing out the year.  They form a slot together.  Hendrickson lasted the entire
year, but had John Webb spell for him for one start.  Thus I slot Webb with Hendrickson.
Kazmir pitched the entire year, except for his last start when Tim Corcoran took the hill
for him.  Altogether, here’s how each five slots end up:

#1 slot: (Kazmir/Corcoran): 33 GS, 190.3 IP, 80 ER, 3.78 ERA, 114 ERA+
#2 slot: (Fossum/Brazelton): 33 GS, 184 IP, 110 ER, 5.38 ERA, 80 ERA+
#3 slot: (Hendrickson/Webb): 32 GS, 182.3 IP, 125 ER, 6.17 ERA, 70 ERA+
#4 slot: (Bell/Waetcher/McClung): 32 GS, 173.7 IP, 122 ER, 6.32 ERA, 68 ERA+
#5 slot: (Nomo/Waetcher): 32 GS, 175 IP, 128 ER, 6.58 ERA, 65 ERA+

That one isn’t nearly as confusing as others.  Some teams have 2-3 different slot
disintegrate at the same time, and it’s tough to figure out who replaces who, especially if
there are days off involved.  Sometimes a team plays 11 games in 5 days, using a call up
for the extra game.  Then I’ll toss the call-up into the slot in the most disarray, naming
him an honorary fifth starter.  Divided up starters into slots can be exceptionally vexing
(Joe Maddon should be taken out and shot for how he managed Tampa’s starters in
September), and I’m sure there are times it could’ve been done better, but in general I did
a good enough job to make it worth looking at.  When I finish for a team I also figure
their ERA+ using the pitcher park factor info at b-ref.

This creates one personal sore spot for me.  When looking at the results, I’m
going to be focusing almost exclusively at ERA+.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great stat.
Taking the best conventional stat and adjusting it for park and league is a good thing.
However, it ignores defense, which is obviously a problem.  Second, and for me more
annoyingly, anytime you just repetitively beat the reader over the head with the same
damn stat over and over it gets old.  That’s what I’m going to do here because I don’t
have the time or inclination to figure out the entire stat line for every pitcher like
Waechter, and compare all the different slots that way.  I’ll go the boring route instead.

It’s important to note all of this is largely useless for evaluating the quality of
individual pitchers.  Hell, two-thirds of all slots are made up of multiple pitchers.
However, it can be helpful in giving us a clearer idea what we think of them.  No, a guy
with an above average ERA is not a #4, dammit.  Also, it can help evaluate teams.
Knowing what a #2 pitcher is worth can give you an idea what teams are sorely lacking
in that area, and can give us a clearer idea what holes teams have in their rotations.
One final note – sometimes minor errors were made when dividing up starts into
all four categories.  However, I added up all ER and IP for each team and double-checked
that against their actual team-wide starter splits.  I set a minimal acceptable error rate of 3
IP and 2 ER for the entire team.  If the numbers are off by a little, it’s not by a concern-
worthy amount.  Do this for 60 teams and you get . . .

The Fun Stuff: Results

First thing to look at – what exactly is the overall average performance of starters?
I’ll give you the ERA+s for each of the four leagues I used.  In order, it’s the 2006 AL,
2006 NL, 2005 AL, and 2005 NL.  All subsequent lists will be in that order.  Total starter
ERA+s were: 96, 96, 96, and 100.  No idea what went on in the 2005 NL, but it
looks like an outlier.  Even then the starters’ ERA was actually below league-average
(4.23 to 4.22).  An average starter should have an ERA+ of 96-97.  OK, but that’s not
what I’m here to look at.  The real question is how did all five slots come out.  Well .  .

#1 slot: 118, 123, 118, 128
#2 slot: 103, 107, 104, 108
#3 slot: 98, 96, 97, 101
#4 slot: 89, 86, 90, 88
#5 slot: 79, 77, 78, 80

First, the 2005 NL looks like an outlier, especially in the ace (cough-Clemens-
cough) and third slots.  Going by this info, an average ace should have an ERA+ right
around or a little over 120.  That sounds low, but if you think about it, 120 makes sense.
When you think of an ace, you think of someone like Johan Santana or Roy Hallyday, but
that’s not an average ace.  That’s an exceptional one.  I wouldn’t mind that so much but it
then leads people to believe an average ace is a number 2, an average #2 is really a #4
and so on.  An average ace would be someone like John Lackey, who has hovered around
120 each of the last two seasons.  A normal #2 would be about 105-6, #3 around 97, #4 at
88, and your normal fifth starter would have an ERA+ of 78 or 79.  That’s replacement
level pitching for you right there.  Let’s put this in terms of estimated winning
percentage, and a W/L record for 162 games for each slot using pythagenport:

#1 slot .587 Pct. (95-67)
#2 slot .525 Pct. (85-77)
#3 slot .485 Pct. (79-83)
#4 slot .445 Pct. (72-90)
#5 slot .382 Pct. (62-100)

Sounds about right.  Its averages a little worse than .500 because starters ERAs are lower
than league-average, so you might want to adjust it all a little upward if you feel the need.

An average rotation, based on this info would have John Lackey as its ace, Jeff
Suppan in the #2 hole, Javier Vazquez as the third pitcher, Josh Fogg behind him, and
rounded out the rotation a revolving door full of guys like Sean Marshall.  The first four
have been pretty consistent in recent years at posting numbers similar to what’s normal
for those slots.  No one consistently posts numbers around 80 because any such pitcher
would be drummed into the minors or bullpen before that happened.  A Lackey-Suppan-
Vazquez-Fogg-Marshall rotation doesn’t sound too impressive, but it also doesn’t sound
all that shabby.  That’s the point – an average rotation should be average.

That’s only half the equation though.  Along with quality there’s also quantity.
Here’s how many IP teams averages from each slot in all four leagues:

#1 slot: 204.3, 213.7, 210.7, 214.3
#2 slot: 201.7, 194.3, 201, 200.3
#3 slot: 192, 187.7, 188.7, 206.3
#4 slot: 180, 179.3, 194.7, 181.3
#5 slot: 167.7, 168.3, 173, 170.7

Average IP for the slots: 210.7, 199.3, 193.7, 183.7, 170.  Makes sense – the better
starters should end up getting more innings after all.  Also, there’s not as much variation
as there is with ERA+, which also sounds right.  To divide it into innings per start
(because these groups don’t always have the exact same number of starts), it comes out as
6.40, 6.11, 5.95, 5.68, 5.39 for each group.  In case you’re wondering, starters averaged
5.99 innings in 2005 but only 5.84 last year.

   
Well, that should be enough info to address White Sox Fan Brother’s point, and
find out how much the White Sox lost in 2003 because of their fifth starters.  If they’d
had a normally dreadful fifth starter performance and gotten an ERA+ of, say, 78, they
would’ve had an ERA of 5.74 from the cursed end of the staff.  They threw 122.7 IP, so
that works out to 78 earned runs allowed.  In reality they allowed 92, so the difference
between the Sox last starters and normal last starters was a game and a half.  Or was it?
There’s also IP to consider.  At 122.7 innings in 27 starts, they averaged below
average innings, forcing the bullpen to work excessive innings.  Average fifth starters
would’ve tossed 145 and two-thirds innings in those starts.

Here’s where it really gets tricky because I can’t quite figure out how much it hurt
the team to lean on the bullpen that much more.  My first inclination would be to check
how many runs allowed an average bullpen would allow in those 20 innings vs. what an
average fifth starter, but that doesn’t work.  Bullpen’s post better numbers than the fifth
starters do.  Strictly speaking, the numbers say a team would be better off letting their
bullpen handle the entire game as only the very worst bullpens have ERA+s worse than
80.  In reality you can’t do that.  I’ve lazily fumbled my way into a guesstimation: for
every five fewer innings pitched by the starters, it costs the team another run.  I have no
solid mathematical reason for the previous sentence.  Ten innings per run sounded too
low (would 100 fewer innings from a rotation really only is worth 1 win?  Nah).  Three
innings sounded to steep.  Five?  Sure, why not.  The 2003 White Sox lose another 4-5
runs that way.  In total, I’d say the White Sox lost 2 more games because their fifth
starters were bad even by the standards of the rotation’s revolving door.  Looking it up,
the starters only won three games, but the bullpen won a bunch in their starts.  They were
still below .500, but you shouldn’t expect that from your fifth starters.  This tells you both
how bad the Sox back end was that they were a bit below replacement level.  However, it
also tells you how bad such starters normally are.  27 starts at an ERA+ of 66 and it only
cost them two games?  Jeez . . .

Best and Worst Slots

One other thing to check on: what’s the best and worst numbers teams have
achieved from each slot over the last two years.  As long as I’ve got the numbers in front
of me, I may as well check.  I’ll start with the good news – top ten performances from
each of the five slots.  First, the aces:

1) 2005 Astros 221 ERA+
2) 2006 Twins 161 ERA+
3) 2006 Astros 159 ERA+
4) 2006 Dbacks 154 ERA+
5) 2005 Twins 153 ERA+
6) 2005 Marlins 152 ERA+
7) 2005 Cards 151 ERA+
8) 2005 Jays 149 ERA+
9) 2005 Mets 148 ERA+
10) 2006 Reds 146 ERA+

Really, I could’ve just listed the years and ERA+s and you could’ve guessed half the
teams, right?  Nothing shocking, but that’s by far the most obvious list.  It’s worth noting
that Clemens is the reason why the 2005 NL’s #1 starters had such a high overall ERA+.
Toss him aside and the other #1s have an ERA+ of 124, which is equivalent to their 2006
performance.

Here’s the best Robins and Tontos:

1) 2005 Astros 172 ERA+
2) 2006 Astros 144 ERA+
3) 2005 Braves 135 ERA+
4t) 2006 Reds 127 ERA+
4t) 2005 White Sox 127 ERA+
6) 2005 Phillies 121 ERA+
7t) 2005 Jays 120 ERA+
7t) 2005 Angels 120 ERA+
7t) 2005 A's 120 ERA+
7t) 2006 Yanks 120 ERA+

Yup, that’s right.  Not only are the 2005 Astros ahead of both lists, but the 172 here is
better than all but themselves on the first list.  Clemens-Pettitte packed quite a punch.
Clemens-Nieve are in second place in 2006, if you’re curious.
Now for the middle of the pack starters.  You can probably guess who leads this
one, right?

1) 2005 Astros 140 ERA+
2) 2005 Braves 126 ERA+
3t) 2005 White Sox 123 ERA+
3t) 2005 Cards 119 ERA+
5) 2005 Jays 119 ERA+
6t) 2006 Tigers 118 ERA+
6t) 2006 A's 118 ERA+
8) 2005 Angels 115 ERA+
9) 2005 Marlins 112 ERA+
10) 2006 Jays 110 ERA+

In the last two years, all there were 17 slots with an ERA+ of at least 140, and one team.
had three.  No wonder they went deep in the playoffs.

Best fours:

1) 2005 A's 116 ERA+
2t) 2005 White Sox 113 ERA+
2t) 2005 Angels 113 ERA+
4) 2006 Tigers 111 ERA+
5t) 2005 Braves 106 ERA+
5t) 2005 Brewers 106 ERA+
7) 2005 Cards 105 ERA+
8t) 2006 Padres 103 ERA+
8t) 2005 Twins 103 ERA+
10) 2006 Dodgers 102 ERA+

Finally, someone broke up the Astros.  Actually, about half the teams did as the Astros
really fell off after their Big 3.  No huge surprises, but those ‘05 Brewers sure had a deep
staff last year.  I guess technically there’s some evidence that Jeff Suppan could be a
fourth starter.  Every year after 2 teams per league have a fourth starter as good as him.
‘Course that leaves the other 85% of them.  .  .  .
Now, the cream of the crap:

1) 2005 A's 105 ERA+
2) 2005 Cards 103 ERA+
3) 2005 Mets 99 ERA+
4t) 2006 Dodgers 98 ERA+
4t) 2005 Braves 98 ERA+
6) 2005 Brewers 97 ERA+
7) 2006 White Sox 93 ERA+
8t) 2006 Indians 92 ERA+
8t) 2006 Angels 92 ERA+
10) 2006 Tigers 91 ERA+
10t) 2005 White Sox 91 ERA+
10t) 2006 Angels 91 ERA+

The White Sox and Angels both make the list twice.  The 2006 Indians are the only team
on the list with a losing record.  They also underachieved their Pythagoras record by 11
games.

Well, those lists were fun, but also were really easy to figure out in advance.
Let’s have some real fun and find out what were the worst pitching staffs of the last two
years.  The worst “aces” (crap of the cream?):

1) 2005 Royals 84 ERA+
2) 2006 Royals 86 ERA+
3) 2006 Nationals 87 ERA+
4) 2005 Tigers 96 ERA+
5) 2006 Mariners 97 ERA+
6) 2006 Pirates 100 ERA+
7) 2005 Mariners 101 ERA+
8) 2006 Rangers 104 ERA+
9) 2005 Pirates 105 ERA+
10t) 2006 White Sox 106 ERA+
10t) 2006 Red Sox 106 ERA+

What Buddy Baker calls home, Rambo calls hell.  One-third of the teams had a better
fifth starter than the ‘05 Royals #1 slot; including half of that year’s AL.  At the top of the
article, I showed that AL aces score worse than NL ones.  Take a bow, Kansas City.  In
other news, I think I found out why the White Sox didn’t make it to the postseason this
year.  They had no real ace.  However, a shrewd eye will note they had one of the best
fifth starters on that list.  They had one of the most consistent pitching staffs.  Then again,
so did the Royals last year, but that’s a whole other story.  It’s amazing how good most of
these worst aces are.  Over two years and I can only find three teams worse than 96.  Boy,
are those three teams worse than 96, though.  When I looked at the Birnbaum database I
used for my
initial managers study, I noticed that every single pitching staff
Frank Robinson ever managed underachieved.  He’s consistent.
Here are the most rotten second bananas:

1) 2005 Royals 79 ERA+
2) 2005 Devil Rays 80 ERA+
3) 2006 Nationals 83 ERA+
4) 2006 Royals 86 ERA+
5) 2005 Rockies 87 ERA+
6) 2006 Orioles 90 ERA+
7) 2005 Padres 91 ERA+
8t) 2006 Orioles 92 ERA+
8t) 2006 Red Sox 92 ERA+
10) 2006 Phillies 93 ERA+

Yeah, that’s right – only three teams have a #2 as bad as the ‘05 Royals #1, and one of
them was the Kansas City squad.  The Phillies went from having one of the best second
starters one year to one of the worst the next.  I bet the folks in KC and Baltimore wish
they had that sort of inconsistency in their rotation.  Worst thirds:

1) 2005 Devil Rays 70 ERA+
2) 2005 Royals 74 ERA+
3t) 2006 Nationals 80 ERA+
3t) 2005 Padres 80 ERA+
5) 2005 Reds 82 ERA+
6) 2005 Rockies 83 ERA+
7) 2006 Royals 85 ERA+
8t) 2006 Cubs 86 ERA+
8t) 2006 Mariners 86 ERA+
10t) 2006 Mets 87 ERA+
10t) 2006 Orioles 87 ERA+

I’ll say this much for the 2006 Royals – they had an incredibly consistent top three slots.
There’s the 2006 Cubs.  Get used to seeing them.  Greg Maddux took up two-thirds of
that slot.  That should tell you how badly his replacements fared after the trade.  It’s
amazing that the Mets, the best team in the NL last year, ends up on this list.
The fourth starters:

1) 2005 Royals 63 ERA+
2t) 2005 Reds 68 ERA+
2t) 2005 Devil Rays 68 ERA+
4) 2006 Cubs 71 ERA+
5) 2006 Orioles 72 ERA+
6t) 2006 Cards 73 ERA+
6t) 2005 Padres 73 ERA+
8) 2005 Rangers 75 ERA+
9) 2006 Nationals 79 ERA+
10) 2005 Giants 80 ERA+

The good news for the Royals is that, for the first time, both teams aren’t on the list.  The
2006 Royals were tied for twelfth worst with an 82.  The bad news is the 2005 Royals
were in last for the third time, doing even worse than Eric Milton.
One last mess – any guesses who will be the worst of them all?

1) 2006 Cubs 60 ERA+
2t) 2006 Yanks 62 ERA+
2t) 2005 Royals 62 ERA+
2t) 2005 Reds 62 ERA+
2t) 2005 Astros 62 ERA+
6) 2005 Rangers 64 ERA+
7t) 2006 Orioles 65 ERA+
7t) 2005 Orioles 65 ERA+
7t) 2005 Devil Rays 65 ERA+
10t) 2005 Padres 67 ERA+
10t) 2005 Tigers 67 ERA+

The Cubs didn’t have the worst staff top-to-bottom, but they definitely had the worst
bottom.  Please note that the ‘05 Astros, with their uber-brillant top 3 starters, are tied for
second worst here.  That’s a heckuva fall.  Three teams on this list made the playoffs, but
then again fifth starters don’t mean squat in the playoffs.  The worst performance in the
2005 AL was the KC Royals’ fifth starter.  The second worst performance in the 2005
AL was the KC fourth starter.

Team Comments
Some various news and notes about the various teams that I uncovered while going
through this.  Alphabetic order by city

Anaheim Angels, or whatever they’re called
In
Evaluating Mangers, Part 3, I postulated that under Scioscia the
Angels had exceptionally solid starting pitching.  Not necessarily the best aces or second
slot guys, but far better than most teams fifth starters.  If anything, I underestimated how
quickly they become good.  They’ve been in the AL’s top four teams in the #2 hole both
years.  They’re always in the top five in every slot except for their ace.  Their ace has
been “only” sixth best each year.  When each slot can give you an extra win or two,
you’ve got a damn good shot to contend every year.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Last year, they had a great ace obviously as Webb won the Cy Young, and one of the best
fifth slots as well.  The middle was mediocre.

Atlanta Braves

In 2006, Smoltz was only barely above average as aces go, but that’s much more than can
be said for the rest of their rotation.  Their #2 slot (Sosa and James) pitched like a #3.
Their third hole (Hudson) acted like a fourth starter.  They’re remaining 61 starts had a
combined ERA+ of 78.  Even worse, those last two slots averaged less than five innings
pitched between them.

Baltimore Orioles

A few weeks ago I downloaded individual and team starter info from ESPN.com’s stat
pages.  I wanted to see what team, if you shorn its ace from it, would have the worst
remaining starting staff.  I was sure it would be the Carlos Zambrano-less Cubs.  Nope.  It
was the Birds sans Eric Bedard.  They had the worst #4 in the league and second worst 2,
3, and 5.  Leo Mazzone’s arrival was supposed to help, but it didn’t work out like that.
Leo Mazzone and Bobby Cox are to pitchers what sodium chloride is to our diet.
Together they make a combination so perfect that many pitchers wither without their aid.
Apart, they’re downright noxious.  The parts are less than the whole for them.  In 2005,
the Orioles they were 10th or worse across the board in the AL.

Boston Red Sox

Last year, the AL East had the worst starting pitching of any division I’ve seen.  One
thing I look at is one-pitcher slots.  These aren’t aces.  These are slots where every single
inning and start is accounted for by the same pitcher.  There’s usually about 50 such slots
a year in MLB.  Last year the entire AL East had three, one fewer than the White Sox had
by themselves.  Another thing to look at is slots in complete disarray, which I define as a
slot where no pitcher has more than 15 starts in it.  There were thirty such slots, with the
2006 AL East containing four, and two other slot (both on Tampa) missing by the
thinnest of margins.  The 2006 Red Sox had two of those slots in complete disarray.
Their fifth starters weren’t that bad (ERA+ 81), but their fourth starters pitched like fifth
starters, and their second and third starters (Beckett, and Wakefield & friends) both
pitched like fourth starters.  When Kevin Jarvis shows up in your ace slot (he filled in for
Schilling), even if it’s only for three starts, you’ve got trouble.

Chicago Cubs

You probably knew the Cubs had a really strong ace pitcher in Carlos Zambrano last
year, but did you know they had very nice production from their #2 hole as well?  Honest
to God, they did.  Sean Marshall began the year in the rotation, supposedly until Prior or
Wood or Fergie Jenkins was ready to go.  He lasted most of the year and pitched .  .  . not
good, but not horribly.  However, Rich Hill replaced him and was fantastic.  Combined,
the Cubs had a #2 hole ERA+ of 112, the fifth best in the league.  For perspective, they
also had the fifth best ace slot.  The only teams in the league last year with a better 1-2
punch were the Cards, Reds, Astros, and maybe Rockies.  Who knew?  Both Hill and
Marshall pitched outside the #2 slot and were dreadful on those occasions, mauling their
individual numbers for the season.

The back end was comically bad.  They’re #5 hole – the worst slot in all creation
– began with Glendon Rusch.  Formerly a reliable back-of-the-end starter, Rusch could
barely keep his ERA under nine in his five starts before getting dumped.  In his place
came a not-ready Rich Hill, who for four starts was even worse than Rusch.  Jae Kuk Ryu
arrived and had one start where he allowed more runs than recorded outs.  That paved the
way for Rusch’s return.  In three starts he was even worse than before.  Mark Prior was
supposedly ready to pitch at this point.  There are two theories about what happened to
him this year.  One says that he had arm problems.  The other claims a malevolent
hypnotist convinced him he was Glendon Rusch.  The 2006 statistical record can support
either claim.  After three starts, his arm needed a rest, so Rusch came back yet again.  He
actually did alright in his only start, so he spent the rest of the year in the bullpen.  Prior
came back and spent the next five games making people nostalgic for Bryan Hickerson.
At this point, after four pitchers two-thirds the season, the Cubs gave the ball to a twelve-
year-old Tatum O’Neal.  Wait, no, that’s not right.  Their improvement wasn’t that
dramatic.  They went with Juan Mateo.  He was absolutely wretched, and thus
represented a massive improvement for this slot.  Before Mateo (B.M. – an appropriate
acronym for this bunch) the Cubs pitchers threw 102 innings in 23 starts for an ERA of –
are you ready for it? – 8.47.  When it’s hard to distinguish your starters’ ERAs from
Fellini movies, you’ve had a rotten year.  Aside from one start where Les Walrond
spelled for him, Mateo finished out the year.  The slot ended with an ERA of 7.71.

No wonder, when Maddux left the third slot was in such horrid shape.  Five men
combined for ten starts (as bad as that sounds, they went through the first four in only
five starts), averaged less than 14 outs per start with an ERA of 7.48.  Combined, their
fourth slot, fifth slot, and post-Maddux third slot averaged 4.6 innings in 74 starts with an
ERA of 7.06.  So they didn’t pitch well at all, but they tried to make up for it by not
lasting long.  Gawd.  That’s an ERA+ of 65 over nearly half the team’s starts.  No other
team in the NL that year had a worse than 70 from their fifth slot.  I reckon the Cubs
starters allowed 60 more earned runs than a normal fifth, fourth, and third starters
would’ve in that time.  Meanwhile, they also threw 75.3 fewer innings than they should
have.  Using my 5 innings per run short hand, the Cubs’ inability to have ordinarily
blunderful back-of-the-rotation pitching cost them 7-8 wins.  Jesus.  H.  Christ.

Chicago White Sox

Possibly the most stable set of starting pitchers in baseball over the last two years.  Last
year their #1 slot had an ERA only 0.60 better than their fifth slot.  Their starters threw
more innings last year than any other rotation in baseball.  Their #3 pitcher performed
like a #2, but unfortunately for them so did their ace.  They were also the only team to
have over 100 earned runs in each slot, symbolizing both their durability and their lack of
excellent quality.

Cincinnati Reds

In the previously linked “Evaluating Managers, Part 3” article, I noted that Jerry Narron
has done a good job throughout his career improving his pitching staffs.  Well, one secret
to last year was Narron’s decision to find his horses and ride them hard.  Arroyo and
Harang combined for 70 starts in the Reds’ 1 and 2 slots.  Result: the Reds top two slots
had more starts and innings than any other.  He also resurrected Eric Milton.  This came
in handy as the back of the rotation was a train wreck.  Both 4 & 5 slots pitched like fifth
starters, and neither had a single pitcher pick up more than 15 starts in the slot (Ramirez
had four of his nineteen starts in Milton’s space).  The year before Narron was loyal to a
fault.  Despite having the worst starting rotation in the league, the Reds had a very stable
staff as few guys were yanked out.  The way he and Dave Miley ran that team, Cincinnati
fans could be forgiven for thinking loyalty was a four-letter word.  Milton never missed a
start while posting a sub-70 ERA+.  Normally I’d assume he just had a horrible ending,
but no, he was getting better later in the year.

Cleveland Indians

Last year, they had the fifth best ace in the league, fifth best #2 hole, fourth best #3, third
best #4, and the second best fifth slot.  They combined that with the second most
formidable offense.  Sometimes, the Pythagoras W/L record really does tell you more
about a team than it’s real record.  The year before they were extremely consistent: they
had the sixth best 2, 3, 4, and 5th slot performances.  Kevin Millwood and three starts
from Davis had to mess that up with the fourth best ace performance.

Colorado Rockies

Strange but true: the Rockies had one of the best and most consistent starting rotations in
baseball last year.  Their main five starters threw all but 8 games.  It could’ve been
higher, but for whatever reason the club went to a six-man rotation in September, having
different kids take one turn each starting only to be replaced by a different one.  I’m sure
there’s a reason for that (maybe some starters had sore arms and the club wanted to go
easy on them?) but it sure looks weird.  Made for a real mess trying to jimmy them into
five slots.  (I just divided them up between their worst two starters).  Only the Astros had
a better 1-2-3 in the league last year.

The year before was a very different story.  Their 3, 4, and 5 holes all posted an
ERA+ of 83.  Yoiks.

Detroit Tigers

What an incredible turn around.  Their #1 slot performance in 2005 (ERA+ of 96) was
only slightly better than their fifth slot (91) the next year.  They had the third best #1 in
the league, second best #2 (119 to the Yanks 120), best #3 (118, while next best was
110), best #4 (111 to 99), and its last slot was only a hair behind league leading
Chicago’s 93 ERA+.  The year before they were in the bottom half of every single slot.

Florida Marlins

If the 2006 AL East was the worst pitching division, then the 2005 NL East was by far
the best bunch of starters.  Every team’s third slot had at least a 100 ERA+ and only
Washington was below 108.  Florida had one of the best 1-2-3 punches in the game that
year behind Willis, Beckett, and Burnett.  They also had one of the steepest drops
between their 3 and 4 starters.  Their bottom of the rotation only cost them about a win,
but it’s an especially notable drop after the top three.  Next year, they were really solid
through the fourth slot (third best ERA+ in the league, and best outside of the west coast),
but Willis had a down year.

Houston Astros

The 2005 Astros had the biggest drop off in quality from 3 to 4 starters of any team in
this study.  That’s entirely because they had such a freakish good #3.  Their #4 was every
so slightly above average with an ERA+ of 92.  However, they also had the single biggest
drop off of any team between their fourth and fifth starters, as Wandy Rodriquez as
friends scored a 62 ERA+.  The next year they again combined the best 1-2-3 combo in
the game (though the Rockies’ Aaron Cook passed up Pettitte as the best individual #3)
with an unimpressive by any standards end of the rotation.

Kansas City Royals

Do you want to know just how bad a manager Buddy Bell really is?  Let’s compare how
his handling of a pitching staff to the job Dusty Baker did last year in Chicago.  As noted
above, KC – especially the ‘05 Royals – had some of the worst pitching ever.  While the
‘06 Cubs had the worst single slot of them all with a 60 ERA+, the ‘05 Royals narrowly
missed that mark with a runner up 62.  Baker, realizing the immense mess his end of the
rotation was in, kept hustling pitchers in and out of that slot, a half-dozen in all.  In KC,
the slot began with Jose Lima and . . . that’s was it.  Insane as it sounds, one of the worst
slots in recent times was held down by one pitcher.  His ERA wasn’t as high as the pre-
Mateo 8.47 mark the Cubs had, but it was at 8.39 in June.  Sure, he averaged over five
innings a start, but when you’re that bad you might be better off with an extra inning
from the bullpen.  There’s a difference between loyalty and idiocy.  When it comes to
managing a starting rotation, Bell apparently isn’t nearly as savvy or shrewd as Dusty
Baker.  Choke on that one.

In both evaluating managers studies I did, Buddy Bell came off as one of the
worst managers in baseball history.  His handling of Lima reinforces that point.  I know
the club doesn’t have much talent, but the lack of talent doesn’t fully explain how bad
KC’s starters have been.  In all, they’re 2005 rotation had a combined ERA+ of 72, worse
than over 90% of the slots in the last 2 years.  Ten starter slots and not a single one has
posted better than an 86 ERA+.  Of the 300 slots looked at in this study, 216 have bested
that mark.  That’s 72%—74.5% of the non-Royals teams.  In 2005 the D-backs got more
out of 14 starts of the charred remains Russ Ortiz and 19 from Claudio Vargas.  Do the
Royals really have no one that good?  The next year the Orioles cobbled together a slot
from Ortiz’s rotting cadaver, a small helping of Daniel Cabrera, a dash of John Halama,
and a few months from a green Adam Loewen.  It did better.  In 2005, Dusty Baker’s
fifth slot posted better than 86.  Some managers have been able to get their pitchers to do
better than expected.  That was true back in the days of Joe McCarthy and Bill
McKechnie just as it in the 21st century with Tony LaRussa and Cox/Mazzone.  No one
improves under Bell’s tutelage.  He’s had Scott Elarton, Mark Redman, and Zach
Greinke and still can’t get a single slot to pitch like an average fourth starter.  It’s
possible to be both bad and underachieve and that’s what has happened the last two years
in KC.

Take Greinke, for example.  Greinke may not be good enough to live up to the
hype (last year the definitely incorrect Eric Enders tabbed him as his preseason pick to
win the Cy Young Award), but not only has he floundered, but he’s done it with
psychological issues.  And that was after regressing throughout the previous season.  The
Royals just became the first non-freshly-minted expansion team to lose 100 games three
straight years in over a half-century.  It really takes some doing to distinguish yourself
from the 1980s Mariners, 1970s Rangers, 2000s D-Rays, Littlefield Pirates, and Kansas
City A’s, but that’s what the Buddy Bell Royals have done.  Kudos, gang, kudos.

Los Angeles Dodgers

They had the best fifth slot in baseball last year, with Brett Tomko, Odalis Perez, Aaron
Sele (all but one of the starts for both Sele and Perez), and Greg Maddux combined for a
98 ERA+.  Only San Diego and Detroit had better fourth starters than the Dodgers did.
There was very little difference between their 2, 3, and 4 slots, which had ERA+s of 106,
103, and 102 respectively.

Milwaukee Brewers

Their 2005 rotation was one of the most stable ones in recent years.  Their #1 slot
(entirely Doug Davis) had an ERA of 3.84 and their #4 slot (Victor Santos and Rick
Helling) came in at 4.00.  Their fifth slot wasn’t that far off at 4.37.  Essentially, they had
four number two starters and a third starter.  Since it’s more dangerous to be dependent
on 4-5 guys coming through than 2-3, this well-balanced approach is often hard to
maintain, and sure enough they couldn’t reproduce it.  In 2006 they got worse production
from their third starter than from the previous campaign’s fifth slot.  Their last two slots
barely accounted for 325 innings, far fewer than most back-of-the-rotations do.

Minnesota Twins

Unexpected result #234: the 2006 Minnesota Twins, with one of the greatest 1-2 punches
in baseball in Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano, only had one impressive rotation slot
for the whole year.  Santana’s of course.  Liriano replaced Carlos Silva in the rotation
after Silva pitched like an honorary Cub.  When Liriano went down Matt Garza came in
and was almost as bad as Silva.  In 16 Liriano starts they had an ERA+ of 233.  In the
remainder, Silva/Garza posted an ERA+ of 59. (Yes, slightly worse than the Cubs’ fifth
starter).  Combined it wasn’t even good enough to overcome Brad Radke and Scott Baker
for second best slot on the team.  Thus, unlikely as it sounds, Liriano ended up in the
league’s eighth best 3rd slot.  This went along nicely with the 9th best second slot, 11th
best fourth slot, and ninth best fifth slot.

It’s incredible.  They won 95 games with an average offense, and below average
performances from four-fifths of their rotation.  Heading into 2006, they still got Santana
and their bullpen.  If – and this is a HUGE if – they can find average second and third
starters (essentially about 400 innings of league-average pitching) to replace Liriano and
Radke, they could win 95 again even without two of their three big starters from last year.
Looking at their squad from last year, they might have half of that already with Boof
Bonser.  That’s the glass-half-full version. The alternate perspective was their non-
Santana staff wasn’t very good last year with Radke and Liriano, and they’re both out of
commission now.  Look out below?

New York Mets

This is the Bizarro version of those old Miracle Mets squad.  That team had lousy hitting,
this one had an offense loaded for bear.  That squad had a fantastic pitching staff, while
this one had – I kid you not – an ERA+ of 80 from its bottom three rotation slots.  How
the hell do you win 97 games when you have fifth starters taking the hill over half the
time?  Added bonus: because the Mets nursed Pedro Martinez early in the year, those
bottom three slots accounted for more starts (100) than any other team in baseball in
either 2005 or 2006.  The difference between the Mets back three and normal 3-4-5
starters is 28 runs.  As a general rule of thumb, it should be easier to replace a #5 starter
or even a #3 starter than an ace.  Then again, one of their two good slots went to Tom
Glavine, who is likely leaving.  They had the fourteenth best #3 pitcher (all Steve
Tracshel in this case) and were tied for fourteenth in the fifth slot.  Amazingly, they were
tied with their NLCS foe, the Cards.

Out of the 300 slots looked at, 298 had at least one pitcher pick up at least 10
starts within it.  The exceptions were the 2006 Cubs’ fifth slot, where Juan Mateo led the
way with only nine starts, and the 2006 Mets’ fifth slot.  The Mets began the year with
five starts from Brian Bannister.  When he went down with an injury an unready John
Maine came in for one start.  Then they brought in the patron saint of the fifth slot, Jose
Lima, for three starts.  Then came Alay Soler, who posted eight starts in this slot, the
most of anyone.  He stunk,  and by the All-Star Game they’d given Lima his fourth and
final start of the year.  They called up Mike Pelfrey who was barely better than Soler.  He
was gone by early August.  Next came Cincinnati acquisition Dave Williams, who
pitched as poorly as the others.  Late in the year they brought in the clearly incapacitated
Pedro Martinez.  They ended up with 34 starts (partially because I had to play a little
loose because their rotation was too messed up to easily fit into five slots) of horrible
pitching.  This means they have a good shot to be as good or better next year because it’s
easier to aid a team with glaring holes than a really solid one.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot the best difference of all between them and the ‘69
squad: this time they blew it in the postseason.

New York Yankees

The 2005 rotation was a triumph of shucking resources and cash at a problem.  Trying to
figure out who went into which rotation slot in midsummer 2005 may have been the
single most impossible part of this project.  The back of the rotation disintegrated at the
same time, they kept on having back-to-back days off, and just to keep me on my toes,
Randy Johnson missed starts on two separate occasions in the midst of it.  At the far end
of an unimpressive rotation, six separate men (Carl Pavano, Tim Redding, Tanyon
Sturtze, Aaron Small, Jaret Wright, and Derrick May) found time in the fifth slot.  Yet,
they actually weren’t that bad with a combined ERA+ of 89.  They’re fourth slot was also
in the league’s top half (barely) with an ERA+ of 90.  With Shawn Chacon cleaning up
much of the mess Kevin Brown and Sean Henn made elsewhere, their third slot came in
with an ERA+ of 91.  Combined, their back three slots were perfectly had an ERA+ of
90, which is ever so slightly better than the typical average of 3-4-5 starters.  That’s all
that team needed.

In 2006 the rotation’s midseason meatball surgery didn’t work quite so well.
Shawn Chacon began the year by turning into a pumpkin.  Aaron Small came in and was
far worse.  Kris Wilson held the fort and was worse than Small.  Sidney Ponson came in
and was much worse than Wilson.  After eighteen starts they had an ERA of 8.12 from
that slot.  Cory Lidle’s arrival helped, but it was still the worst rotation slot in the least
impressive division for pitching.  The rest of their rotation was actually pretty good
though, and they only had 28 starts in the #5 hole.

Oakland A’s

Some teams like to use the occasional days off to give their starters an extra day’s rest.
Under Ozzie Guillen the White Sox always do that, causing their slots to be divided up
neatly 33-33-32-32-32 with multiple slots filled up entirely by one pitcher.  At the other
extreme, in 2005 Kirk Saarloos made every start assigned to his slot, yet only had 27
starts on the year.  He was baseball’s best fifth starter over the last two years.  The A’s
were in the league’s top five across the board that year, and best in the fourth slot as well
with Barry Zito.  They essentially had 2 slots pitch like #1s, a third slot miss by a little, a
fourth slot halfway between a normal 1 and 2, and their last slot pitch like a prototypical
second starter.  If the Cubs had the worst back-of-the-rotation known to man (and good
God lord almighty did they ever) than the A’s had the best.

Let’s see how many wins they gained from those buggers at the end of the
rotation.  Without adjusting for their IP vs. normal IP (too much a pain), I figure Saarloos
allowed 23 fewer runs than a normal third starter, Zito 30 fewer than a normal fourth, and
Harden/Kennedy/Etherton/Glynn combined for 18 fewer runs in the #3 hole.  That’s 71
runs saved, worth 7 wins.  With a normal bottom three the 2005 A’s would end the year
with an 81-81 record.

As was the case in Milwaukee, it was tough to maintain production from that
many guys at once.  Last year they were only in the league’s top five once (fifth place in
the last slot).  To be fair, they were sixth twice (second and fourth slots).  Their last three
starters all pitched like normal #4s.

Philadelphia Phillies

Looking at their slotting, the 2006 Phillies look like they had a number 2 starters, three
#4s, and a #5.  Brett Myers was fine, but the two guys that filled in for him (Bernero and
Fultz) gave up 11 ER while recording an equal number of outs.  Not innings – outs.  In
their fifth slot, Jaime Moyer minimized the hemorrhaging after Scott Mathieson and
Ryan Madson had combined for an ERA of almost 6 while averaging less than five
innings per game over 22 starts.  The year before they had a normal staff, except that in
place of a number five starter, they had an extra #1.  Damn shame for them they couldn’t
have put the 2005 rotation on the 2006 squad.

Pittsburgh Pirates

In 2005, they had an adequate back of the rotation, but it made up almost the entire
rotation.  Paul Maholm and Zach Duke pitched so well in place of Odalis Perez that the
team’s ace slot came off like a normal #2.  (Not all of Duke’s starts came in this slot and
there were two other pitchers doing a bad job in 1-game shots).  After that the Pirates had
three #4s (essentially Mark Redman, Dave Williams and the King of 4’s Josh Fogg), and
a #5 (what used to be Kip Wells).  In 2006 they essentially ran a similar rotation.
Pittsburgh used to be the world’s leader steel production.  Now it’s the nation’s top
producer of fourth starters.

St. Louis Cards

In 2005 they had, from top-to-bottom, one of the strongest staffs in baseball.  They had
the third best ace slot, fourth best #2 pitcher, third best performances in the 3 and 4 holes,
and the league’s best performance at the last spot.  You know who was responsible for all
their starts in the #2 hole?  Jeff Suppan.  HA!

Next year Carpenter maintained but no one else did.  Suppan returned back into
his normal self – an average second starter.  Their third slot performed like a fourth slot.
Their bottom two slots – Jason Marquis, Mark Mulder, Chris Narveson, and all but one of
Antonio Reyes’s starts – were worse than dreadful.  They combined for an ERA of 6.16,
and an ERA+ of 71.  Was LaRussa subletting his office out to Buddy Bell two days a
week or something?  Together, these pitchers tossed about as many innings as they
should have, but allowed 36 more runs than typical fourth and fifth starters would have.

San Diego Padres

In 2006 they had an ace (Chris Young), and three number twos (Jake Peavy plus Clay
Hensley, Woody Williams and their fill-ins).  They only had an 85 from the five hole, but
that was good enough for third best in the league.  Like I said at the top, fifth starters are
rarely any good.  An average top of the rotation combined with a superior back end to
form one of the more impressive rotations in the league.  That’s pretty damn impressive
given that the year before their bottom three slots combined for an ERA+ of 73.

San Francisco Giants

Their 2005 rotation was similar toa normal starting staff, except that instead of an ace
they had a second fifth starter.  Result: they their starters’ cumulative ERA+ was
thirteenth best in the league.

Seattle Mariners

They’ve had some exceptionally weak top of the rotation starting.  Their highest ERA+
from any slot over the last two years is 101.  That’s the worst in the major leagues, unless
you want to argue the Royals are still in the league.  Given that, their overall rotations
have been better than one would guess.  In 2006, for instance, they had two #3s, two #4s,
and a #5.  They ended up with one of the best fourth slots in the game.  Their rotation
ended up with an overall ERA+ of 89, twelfth best in the AL, which tells us something
about how important it is to have solid frontline pitching.

Tampa Devil Rays

In September 2006, Tampa manager Joe Maddon went to a 6-man starting staff of Jae
Weong Seo, Jason Hammel, J. P. Howell, Brian Stokes, Tim Corcoran, and James
Shields.  I can’t call it a rotation, because that word implies a level of organization and
order that was completely absent in Tampa.  It looked like Boles got one of those ping-
pong ball sorters they use for the lotto drawings, put in a ball to represent each pitcher,
and used that to determine who would start each day.  Tim Corcoran would pitch on three
days rest, then five, then eight.  Brian Stokes went two weeks without starting any only
one bullpen appearance in between, then went out on four days rest.  No one went on the
DL, and they combined for only two relief appearances, but there certainly wasn’t any
method, just madness.  The only bit of sanity was, come what may, Seo went out there
every fifth day.  It’s like Maddon spent Labor Day weekend reading a book on Casey
Stengal’s managerial tactics.  Alas for him, the book must have been written by Buddy
Bell.  Well, they had the league’s ninth best rotation so I shouldn’t complain too much.
They didn’t have a real #2 starter, but made up for it with two fives.  Thank God for Scott
Kazmir.

Texas Rangers

This is a team that needs to get better production from the back of its rotation.  Their
fourth and fifth starters in 2005 combined for a 70 ERA+ while averaging barely five
innings a start.  Meanwhile, their 3 slot (Chan Ho Park & friends) pitched like fourth
starters.  They actually had an effective 1-2 combo in Kenny Rogers and Chris Young.  In
2006 everything moved toward the middle.  They had two #2s, a #3, and two #5s.  At
least this time their back slots combined for an ERA+ of 77, but this time they averaged
less than five innings per game.  Two steps forward, and a step-and-a-half back.

Toronto Blue Jays

In 2005 I, alongside a bunch of my fellow SABR nerds, watched them play a game in the
Skydome.  The general consensus was that they were the hardest type of team to
drastically improve, because it was fairly solid throughout their roster.  Just goes to show
what a bunch of clodhoppers we are.  Over the last two years no team in baseball has had
such a sizable gap between the quality of their top three slots and their bottom two.  In
2005 they were second best in each of the top three slots (mostly Roy Hallyday, Josh
Towers, and Gustavo Chacin) in the AL.  Neat bit of symmetry.  Their drop in quality
between third and fourth slots is the largest of any team in this study though, from 119 to
86.  They also had a rotten fifth slot leaving their last 60+ starts with an ERA+ of 79.
The seven teams with winning records in the AL that year had the seven best fourth and
fifth slots in the league.  The Jays went 80-82, providing evidence of the importance of a
good rotation end (“good” being a relative term here of course).  In 2006 their top three
slots all ranked in the league’s top three.  Again, their fourth and fifth starters were in the
bottom half.  Even worse, neither of those slots averaged five innings a start.  No, typical
fourth and fifth starters weren’t going to get them in the playoffs last year, but it cost
them at least two games.  In many years, 89 wins would put them in the running for the
postseason.

Washington Nationals

In 2006 their starting staff posted an ERA+ of 82, which was worse than any other
rotation in either major league baseball or Kansas City.  They’re last place finish was
truly a team effort as they incredibly did it while getting slightly above average
performance from their fifth slot (79 ERA+ with a league averaging 77).  Essentially,
they had one #4 starter, and four #5s.  The year before they, like every team in the 2005
NL East, had a decent 1-2-3 combo.

Big Heaping Gobs of Raw Numbers
I figure some of you would like to see the actual numbers (this is btf after all)..  It’s the
ERA+ for all rotation slots and the team’s total ERA+ for its starters that year. First is
2006, with the AL teams beginning and the NL clubs finishing:

Team    1       2       3       4       5       All
ANA     123     111     102     99      92      105
BAL     120     90      87      72      65      84
BOX     113     92      92      83      81      92
CWS     106     104     103     95      93      100
CLE     124     107     102     97      92      104
DET     128     119     118     111     91      113
KCR     86      86      85      82      75      83
MIN     161     103     97      83      74      99
NYY     123     120     100     87      62      96
OAK     115     107     92      89      89      98
SEA     97      96      94      92      71      89
TBD     127     97      93      83      79      94
TEX     104     104     98      81      72      92
TOR     138     111     110     86      71      102
ARZ     154     104     97      90      88      105
ATL     126     96      91      83      75      93
CHC     131     112     86      71      60      89
CIN     146     127     102     81      77      105
COL     127     115     114     85      79      102
FLO     119     111     107     98      80      102
HOU     159     144     108     89      76      109
LAD     124     106     103     102     98      107
MIL     111     106     94      92      73      95
NYM     126     113     87      84      70      92
PHI     107     93      90      87      80      91
PIT     100     100     95      85      83      92
STL     141     107     89      73      70      92
SDP     121     109     103     103     85      103
SFG     122     111     100     90      75      98
WAS     87      83      80      79      79      82

And now 2005, in the same order:

Team    1       2       3       4       5       All
ANA     121     120     115     113     91      110
BAL     108     92      88      84      65      86
BOX     106     96      96      94      89      94
CWS     142     127     123     115     91      118
CLE     140     108     100     91      89      120
DET     96      94      92      90      67      88
KCR     84      79      74      63      62      72
MIN     153     119     109     103     87      112
NYY     111     101     91      90      89      97
OAK     127     120     118     116     105     117
SEA     101     98      86      84      75      88
TBD     114     80      70      68      65      77
TEX     120     107     91      75      64      89
TOR     149     120     119     86      73      106
ARZ     124     99      90      88      82      96
ATL     143     135     126     106     98      120
CHC     131     108     101     90      87      102
CIN     110     104     82      68      62      82
COL     117     87      83      83      83      89
FLO     152     118     112     84      71      105
HOU     221     172     140     92      62      120
LAD     112     107     96      84      69      93
MIL     110     107     106     106     97      105
NYM     148     118     108     99      99      113
PHI     122     121     108     100     90      108
PIT     105     94      93      90      80      92
STL     151     119     119     105     103     118
SDP     134     91      80      73      67      86
SFG     109     96      93      80      79      91
WAS     127     106     100     86      77      98

 

Chris Jaffe Posted: December 29, 2006 at 01:46 AM | 52 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Mister High Standards Posted: December 29, 2006 at 04:06 AM (#2270577)
Chris - can you comment on how good a job teams do at sloting their best pitchers 1-5. How often is the number 3 better than the number 1? Obviously from the average numbers it doesn't happen all that often, but is it a 5 time a league season event or a 10 or a 1?
   2. eriqjaffe Posted: December 29, 2006 at 05:29 AM (#2270651)
I'd love to see you run the numbers for 2003, just to see if I was right or not.
   3. OCF Posted: December 29, 2006 at 06:29 AM (#2270681)
...can you comment on how good a job teams do at sloting their best pitchers 1-5. How often is the number 3 better than the number 1?

Why does it even matter? A start is a start. #1 pitcher and #3 pitcher aren't distinct position. The only thing that matters is who to skip if you're going to skip a spot because of off days - and most teams have someone bad enough to skip. Starting on opening day is an honor, but it means at most one extra start over the year, if that.

And if your ace has a 110 ERA+ while the guy you'd have figured as your #4 has a 145 ERA+, then come playoff time ... you're probably going to rely on the guy everyone thinks of as your ace, and you're probably not wrong to do so.
   4. Slinger Francisco Barrios (Dr. Memory) Posted: December 29, 2006 at 02:45 PM (#2270778)
Beautiful bit of research, Chris. Very necessary, a correction to the "my guy sux" school.

I'd love to see you run the numbers for 2003, just to see if I was right or not.

Brothers, geez. Let me guess, you're the younger one. 8-)
   5. eriqjaffe Posted: December 29, 2006 at 03:12 PM (#2270799)
Brothers, geez. Let me guess, you're the younger one. 8-)

Nope!
   6. JolietJake Posted: December 29, 2006 at 04:12 PM (#2270820)
I suppose what all this tells us is where the poor hitters are.
   7. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: December 29, 2006 at 04:24 PM (#2270824)
Chris - can you comment on how good a job teams do at sloting their best pitchers 1-5. How often is the number 3 better than the number 1? Obviously from the average numbers it doesn't happen all that often, but is it a 5 time a league season event or a 10 or a 1?

Hmmm. . . hard to say. I organized my 1-5 based on ERA, so the number 1 slot is always the best, third slot is always the third best, etc. Generally, it looks like they know what they're doing. The #1s, when they're worth a dang, have all or almost all the starts in a season. #5s are almost always in flux. If you get a #3 slot in greater flux than the #5 slot, then that usually means a midseason call-up did fantastic, saving a slot previously in total disarray. You get some occassional bits of utter senselessness, like Buddy Bell leaving Jose Lima in the rotation all year long despite pitching worse than everyone else, but that doesn't happen too often. You get some instances where a pitcher with a good reputation has an off year, and ends up slotted worse than his reputation, but I still don't necessarially (dammit, can't spell that word correctly) fault them for that. For example, in 2006 Buehrle was the #5 guy for the White Sox, but he wasn only a half-run worse than the #2 guy, had been a better pitcher, and until his midseason melt down was better than some of their other starters.

I'd love to see you run the numbers for 2003, just to see if I was right or not.

I do try to answer that for the 2003 Sox in the article. It's the last two paragraphs before the "Best and Worst Slots" section. It didn't cost them the division, as I figure the difference between what they did and what normal fifth starters would've done was surprisingly only 2 wins. I checked at retrosheet once and while the starters only won 4 games, the bullpen won a slew in their starts. Also, they skipped their fifth starters more often than just about any teams do now, further minimizing their negative impact.

Why does it even matter? A start is a start. #1 pitcher and #3 pitcher aren't distinct position. The only thing that matters is who to skip if you're going to skip a spot because of off days - and most teams have someone bad enough to skip. Starting on opening day is an honor, but it means at most one extra start over the year, if that.

As I mention in the article, in terms of analyzing individual pitchers' performances, it is useless. However, I think there are two advantages. First, it helps us analyze a team's rotation. Saying a team's #5 starter is below league average isn't tremendously useful because those guys almost never are. Going strictly by ERA+, you're better off not having a fifth starter, which obviously isn't feasible in modern baseball. Second, it helps perception. One thing I've noticed since the litany of "Jeff Suppan sucks" comments that came out of the post-season is that people have an inflated view of how good a second starter is, or a third starter, or, well, really any slot. Good production from a slot is derided as mediocre, and people call average production bad. Improper perception leads to misguided analysis.

Second, guys are skipped in rotations far less likely than you'd imagine. In the 2006 NL, only two out of 80 slots contained less than 30 starts. Amusingly, neither were fifth starters (Atlanta's fourth slot had 28 GS -- 1 Rameriz, 15 Thompson, 9 Cormier, and 3 Shiell -- and 29 in Milwaukee's fourth slot (17 Sheets, 5 Everland, 7 Jackson).

And if your ace has a 110 ERA+ while the guy you'd have figured as your #4 has a 145 ERA+, then come playoff time ... you're probably going to rely on the guy everyone thinks of as your ace, and you're probably not wrong to do so.

Well, I realize the point you're making, and to some extent agree (it's what I was getting at with my Buehrle comment to MHS), but if you got a guy with an ERA+ of 145, you really need to depend on him. Only 3 guys in the NL who qualified for the ERA title did that good last year, and none outdistanced it by 10.

Brothers, geez. Let me guess, you're the younger one. 8-)

Nah, he's four years older.
   8. base ball chick Posted: December 29, 2006 at 04:24 PM (#2270825)
chris

will you please explain how you come up with a 200 ERA+ for roy oswalt?

he is great but he hasn't NEVER had a number like that in any year.
   9. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: December 29, 2006 at 04:34 PM (#2270832)
bbc,

I didn't. With the 2005 Astros, it's Clemens in the #1 slot, Pettitte in #2, and Oswalt at #3. He's listed with a 140 ERA+ here. In 2006, Oswalt (combined with one start from Sampson) were in the #1 slot. That works out to a 159 ERA+ (Sampson tossed 7 shutout innings in his one start assigned to this slot).

I should note that sometimes the ERA+s I give for a slot taken up by one pitcher are a little different than what you see at b-ref. For example, b-ref gives 2005 Oswalt an ERA+ of 141, and here it's 140. That's because I figured ERA+ in a quick'n'dirty, basic fashion. Take league ERA, divide by pitcher's ERA, adjust by park factor. It isn't 100% perfect, but (shrugs) close enough.
   10. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: December 29, 2006 at 04:35 PM (#2270834)
I suppose what all this tells us is where the poor hitters are.

Huh?
   11. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: December 29, 2006 at 05:28 PM (#2270856)
averages for playoff teams...

#1 135 (Carlos Zambrano)
#2 115 (Tom Glavine)
#3 105 (Brad Penny)
#4 95 (Matt Clement)
#5 83 (you know, someone bad)

So, on a playoff squad, Jeff Suppan is more of a #3 than a #2.
   12. 'zop sympathizes with the wrong ####### people Posted: December 29, 2006 at 05:30 PM (#2270859)
It would be interesting to see how much effect scheduling has on Team Starter ERA+. If, say, teams can skip their 5th starter anywhere from 3-6 times over the course of the season, and margin between the average ERA+ of starters #1-4 and the ERA+ of starter #5 is ~20 (100 to 80), then the extra 3 starts thrown by the number 5 probably costs the unfortunate team about 1 win over the course of the season
   13. Slinger Francisco Barrios (Dr. Memory) Posted: December 29, 2006 at 05:54 PM (#2270866)
Nope!

Dang! 8-)
   14. sliver7 Posted: December 29, 2006 at 05:58 PM (#2270868)
Tampa Devil Rays

In September 2006, Tampa manager Joe Maddon...

I'm gonna continue being picky here until it's gotten: It's Tampa Bay. Not Tampa alone. You think the New York Yankees wanna be called the York Yankees or the New Yankees?

Otherwise... a very informative article, and very interesting. Thank you!
   15. bhoov Posted: December 29, 2006 at 06:41 PM (#2270883)
How can the 2005 White Sox have sig. better ERA+ at all starter positions than CLE and yet still have an overall starter ERA that is worse than CLE. I understand how that is theoretically possible (a much greater number of innings from the 1 and 2 starters), but just looking at the numbers it seems that something is wrong with the total 2005 CLE ERA+ numbers. Their average starter ERA+ is greater than all of their pitchers except their ace.
   16. My guest will be Jermaine Allensworth Posted: December 29, 2006 at 06:47 PM (#2270886)
How can the 2005 White Sox have sig. better ERA+ at all starter positions than CLE and yet still have an overall starter ERA that is worse than CLE.

Park effects?
   17. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: December 29, 2006 at 06:49 PM (#2270889)
MCoA -- Interesting. I wonder, however, if the 2005 NL - with it's leaguewide 100 ERA+ - is an outlier that skews it. Last year only 1 of the 8 playoff teams had their third starters give an ERA+ over 103.

If, say, teams can skip their 5th starter anywhere from 3-6 times over the course of the season, and margin between the average ERA+ of starters #1-4 and the ERA+ of starter #5 is ~20 (100 to 80), then the extra 3 starts thrown by the number 5 probably costs the unfortunate team about 1 win over the course of the season.

I would've thought that going in, but fifth starters are skipped far less than I would've guessed. Total number of starts by slot for 2005-6 combined (per team in parathesis):

1 - 1978 GS (33.0)
2 - 1958 GS (32.6)
3 - 1954 GS (32.6)
4 - 1938 GS (32.3)
5 - 1892 GS (31.5)

They're skipped a little bit, but only a little bit. Two things going on here. When you have two or more slots held down by substandard pitching and/or in flux, it makes it a little harder to do. If nothing else, the slot with the worst production can shift from month-to-month. Second, sometimes having a slot that's a revolving door actually increases how often they get starts.

Example: Pitcher Ned starts on May 5, and is terrible. He gets bounced from the rotation. In his steed, the team opts for Prospect Joey. But Joey pitched on May 3, and is scheduled to go again May 8. They could hold him back, and sometimes do. Sometimes, though, the guy scheduled to start on May 8 isn't pitching that well either, and could probably use an extra day off.

So Joey pitches again on May 8. If he does OK, he'll stick around. But maybe he doesn't. He gives up 27 runs in 2/3 of an inning. Back to the farm for him. So Ned gets brought back to the rotation on May 11, preserving everyone else's normal turn, aside from the Joey-induced extra day off.

Or maybe a starter is just a bit nicked, and can't make his start. Mind you he isn't injured enough to go on the DL, but he just needs a few extra days off. If there's a day off in the schedule, he'll get skipped. Or a AAA will be brought in, but if that's the case, the kid gets no extra day off. Or if you play 11 games in 10 days, I'd put the extra starter in the most craptacular slot. Or maybe your ace has a weak arm, and instead of skipping the fifth starter whenever possible, he gets an extra day's rest.

The 2006 Mets were something of a perfect storm for all this. Pedro needed his rest for the first half of the year, and at his age Glavine could use that, too. Meanwhile, the back end was in total disarray. I ended up assigning 34 starts to their fifth slot, 36 (!) to their fourth slot, but only 62 to their top two slots.

Otherwise... a very informative article, and very interesting. Thank you!

Much appreciated. It's always nice to get feedback from people so passionate about this stuff they catch errors with the D-Rays. I'll try to watch that from now on.
   18. OCF Posted: December 29, 2006 at 06:52 PM (#2270892)
... but if you got a guy with an ERA+ of 145, you really need to depend on him.

I probably shouldn't have said 145 - that was overkill. I could have made my point with 125. One of the examples I was thinking of was the 1967 Cardinals: Bob Gibson had a 110 ERA+ in 24 starts (missing a big chunk of mid-season with a broken leg), a 22-year-old Steve Carlton had a 110 ERA+ in 28 starts, and 29-year-old rookie Dick Hughes, who started the season as a long reliever and was pressed into the rotation because of injuries, had a 123 ERA+ in 27 starts (37 games). The Cardinals had time to arrange the World Series rotation any way they wanted to, and Gibson started games 1, 4, and 7 - as he very well should have.
   19. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: December 29, 2006 at 06:59 PM (#2270899)
Dang.

Fixed?


Well, at least it wasn't bold.

How can the 2005 White Sox have sig. better ERA+ at all starter positions than CLE and yet still have an overall starter ERA that is worse than CLE. I understand how that is theoretically possible (a much greater number of innings from the 1 and 2 starters), but just looking at the numbers it seems that something is wrong with the total 2005 CLE ERA+ numbers. Their average starter ERA+ is greater than all of their pitchers except their ace.

They did? (check) Holy crud! . . . wait, that Cleveland team ERA+ can't possibly be right. As near as I can tell, I took the league ERA, divided by the Cle starters' ERA, and then divided by the park factor. I should've mutliplied by the park factor. Aiding to the confusion, Jacobs Field played as a massive pitchers park that year. They should have an team wide starter ERA+ of 104.

Sorry about that.
   20. Fred Garvin is dead to Mug Posted: December 29, 2006 at 07:17 PM (#2270911)
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   21. Fred Garvin is dead to Mug Posted: December 29, 2006 at 07:20 PM (#2270914)
Anyway, great article Dag. I've heard you allude to this research at times, but hadn't seen everything spelled out. However, I do want to quibble . . .

Some teams have 2-3 different slot disintegrate at the same time, and it's tough to figure out who replaces who, especially if there are days off involved. Sometimes a team plays 11 games in 5 days, using a call up for the extra game. Then I'll toss the call-up into the slot in the most disarray, naming him an honorary fifth starter. Divided up starters into slots can be exceptionally vexing (Joe Maddon should be taken out and shot for how he managed Tampa's starters in September) . . .

If you're referring to the '05 Rays whom you used as an example, Maddon wasn't the manager -- it was Lou Piniella. 2006 was Maddon's first season.
   22. Darren Posted: December 29, 2006 at 07:31 PM (#2270921)
Dag,

Great stuff. Forgive me if I'm misunderstanding, but Jarvis was considered the "ace" of the Red Sox rotation at one point for the sake of your study? Why do it that way? It makes sense on a certain level because then you factor in durability for each slot as well as a replacement level.

But overall, it just seems like a bad idea to me for a number of reasons. In this case, for example, Schilling, because of when he missed starts, was replaced by a sub-replacement-level pitcher. However, if he'd gone down at a different time, Lester would have taken his spot. Also, what happens if Schilling returns and replaces Wakefield, but Jarvis stays in the rotation?

This study--which is ambitious, informative, and interesting--seems to have the same problem as Sackmann's over on THT. That is, in looking at slots, rather than actual pitchers, you're setting up a not particularly useful standard. The temptation is to look at your #5 slot's stats (80 ERA+ and 170 IP) and compare my team's #5 starter to that to see if my team has filled that role well. But if I do that, I'm going to be comparing an actual #5 starter to a combination of #5, 6, 7, etc. starters. It's an unfairly high standard in IP and unfairly low in ERA+. (Perhaps it was not your intention to use this as a standard to compare pitchers to, but it sounded that way to me.)

What I would suggest is that if to establish averages for #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6 starters, you rank starters by VORP (or something like that), then divide them in to groups of 30. The first 30 are average #1s, the next 30 are average #2s, etc. It's not perfect either, but I think you'd see a lot more realistic IP numbers. (And yes, I know it's probably been done before).
   23. Starlin of the Slipstream (TRHN) Posted: December 29, 2006 at 07:43 PM (#2270928)
But Darren, teams don't use 6 or 7 man rotations. When the "7th" starter is pitching, he's starting in the 5th starter spot. For almost every team, the 5th starter slot is a revolving door of crap.

I really like this study. It yields intuitive results in stats that are immediately recognizable and easy to make sense of.
   24. DetroitMichael Posted: December 29, 2006 at 07:44 PM (#2270930)
I'm gonna continue being picky here until it's gotten: It's Tampa Bay. Not Tampa alone. You think the New York Yankees wanna be called the York Yankees or the New Yankees?


You know, there's a reason why the Devil Rays sometimes are referred to as the "Tampa Devil Rays" sometimes but the Yankees are never called the "York Yankees." It's because the "Tampa Bay Devil Rays" despite being the official name is silly. Except for folks in houseboats, the population that supports the Devil Rays doesn't live in or on Tampa Bay.

If someone consistently refers to the "Hudson River Yankees" and the "Tampa Devil Rays," then you can complain about inconsistency. Until then, "Tampa Devil Rays" strikes me as reasonable.
   25. Addicted To Glove Posted: December 29, 2006 at 07:56 PM (#2270939)
Along the same lines as Darren in #22, perhaps grabbing the top 30 performances by a staff regardless of who made them as your "ace" of that staff, and so on. It would give you a basis for what each slot looks like on a team by team basis, and an average for each "slot" as well
   26. Darren Posted: December 29, 2006 at 07:58 PM (#2270941)
But Darren, teams don't use 6 or 7 man rotations.

They don't use 6 or 7 man rotations, but they almost all use 6 or 7 (or 8 or 10) starters. If I'm going to sign someone to be my #3 starter, the standards above are pretty useless to me in determining whether I've found a good guy for that role. If I were to compare him to the 60th-90th best starters from previous years, though, I could get a better sense of whether I've got a good #3.

When the "7th" starter is pitching, he's starting in the 5th starter spot. For almost every team, the 5th starter slot is a revolving door of crap.

That's a good point. Maybe #5 is an exception here because, as you state, it's often just a succession of lousy pitchers. The IP might be irrelevant WRT to durability because guys are often yanked in and out of the role.

And I liked the study too. I was only quibbling with how the findings might be applied.
   27. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: December 29, 2006 at 07:59 PM (#2270943)
If you're referring to the '05 Rays whom you used as an example, Maddon wasn't the manager -- it was Lou Piniella. 2006 was Maddon's first season.

I'm pretty sure I was referring to the '06 Rays there. (checks records). Yeah, '06. Don't know if they had 11 games in 10 days, but they certainly were the most screwed up staff I've ever seen.

Great stuff. Forgive me if I'm misunderstanding, but Jarvis was considered the "ace" of the Red Sox rotation at one point for the sake of your study? Why do it that way? It makes sense on a certain level because then you factor in durability for each slot as well as a replacement level.


You answered the question for me there. He wasn't the ace, but the guy filling in the ace's slot. When I talk of aces or #2s here, I generally mean the ace slot, or the #2 slot. It can be messy and I'm a little sloppy in defining it like that though.

But overall, it just seems like a bad idea to me for a number of reasons. In this case, for example, Schilling, because of when he missed starts, was replaced by a sub-replacement-level pitcher. However, if he'd gone down at a different time, Lester would have taken his spot. Also, what happens if Schilling returns and replaces Wakefield, but Jarvis stays in the rotation?

Shockingly, Jarvis wasn't as bad as you might think. He gave up 9 ER in 15.7 IP, a 5.17 ERA. With park factors, he was well above replacement level.

This study--which is ambitious, informative, and interesting--seems to have the same problem as Sackmann's over on THT. That is, in looking at slots, rather than actual pitchers, you're setting up a not particularly useful standard. The temptation is to look at your #5 slot's stats (80 ERA+ and 170 IP) and compare my team's #5 starter to that to see if my team has filled that role well. But if I do that, I'm going to be comparing an actual #5 starter to a combination of #5, 6, 7, etc. starters. It's an unfairly high standard in IP and unfairly low in ERA+. (Perhaps it was not your intention to use this as a standard to compare pitchers to, but it sounded that way to me.)

I'll repeat what I said in the Sackman thread. I believe the best way to look at this is by divvying them up into five slots because teams have a five man rotation. All season long, clubs and managers endeveour to fill those slots with the 5 best pitchers available at every moment of the season.
   28. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: December 29, 2006 at 08:03 PM (#2270945)
Along the same lines as Darren in #22, perhaps grabbing the top 30 performances by a staff regardless of who made them as your "ace" of that staff, and so on. It would give you a basis for what each slot looks like on a team by team basis, and an average for each "slot" as well

I dunno, to me that seems a bit much. I based this on the notion that every five days, you need to have someone go out there, and the team has to choose how it is. No one chooses when a pitcher will have a good day.

The above method also opens up a real park factor nightmare, too.

And I liked the study too. I was only quibbling with how the findings might be applied.

I appreciate the feedback. I understand how some might prefer to divvy up the starters in different ways, but this is the way that makes the most sense to me.
   29. Darren Posted: December 29, 2006 at 08:07 PM (#2270951)
But Dag,

Why should I compare my #3 starter to [25 starts of the average #3 + 5 starts from a #6 + 2 starts of the #7]?

Shockingly, Jarvis wasn't as bad as you might think. He gave up 9 ER in 15.7 IP, a 5.17 ERA. With park factors, he was well above replacement level.

Okay, poor example then. How about the Twins, where one starter slot was filled by Liriano and another by Garza? Does that make sense?
   30. Kiko Sakata Posted: December 29, 2006 at 08:13 PM (#2270955)
If I'm going to sign someone to be my #3 starter, the standards above are pretty useless to me in determining whether I've found a good guy for that role.

But the whole idea of looking for a "#3 starter" is silly. Depending on how you define it, a team's "#3 starter" is just the starter who is better than all but two other pitchers on the team's staff - and obviously that's going to be highly team-dependent.

When it comes time to evaluate how good a pitcher is that you've signed, the relevant comparison is how much better he is than the guy he's replacing in your rotation - and the guy he's replacing is always going to be the guy who, before the signing, was your #5 starter, right?

The one thing I see about looking at these numbers - and this is very impressive work by the way, Dag Nabbit - is that pitcher health is a HUGE factor that is sometimes underappreciated in our little community. Comparing to these numbers, EVERY team looks like they have above-average starting pitching going into spring training - or, at the very least, above-average 4th and 5th starters. As somebody pointed out, I think in the other similar thread, Jason Marquis was an above-average #5 starter last year with his 6.02 ERA.
   31. base ball chick Posted: December 29, 2006 at 08:15 PM (#2270961)
chris,

i see what you did.

- grinning

but thing is that oswalt was in the #1 slot all year and clemens was #3, no matter how they pitched. i know that oswalt faced a lot more aces than roger did.

it was oswalt, pettitte, clemens as 1,2,3 for 3 years straight. and yes last year WAS a mess.

sigh
   32. Jim Wisinski Posted: December 29, 2006 at 08:19 PM (#2270966)
The Rays don't play in Tampa though, plus Tampa Bay isn't just the body of water, that designation is also given to the eight county region in the area.
   33. DetroitMichael Posted: December 29, 2006 at 08:32 PM (#2270976)
I realize that the Devil Rays (hey, you omitted the word "Devil"!) don't play in Tampa itself, although it's not usual to call teams by the largest city near them even when they play outside of the city.

To me, the name "Tampa Bay" sounds silly. I know they'd like to believe that it refers to the metro area, but was that term really in widespread use before sports teams coined the term?

I know I'm being at least as picky as the original poster, but if one is going to make a picky criticism, it ought to be more sound than this one. People omit portions of the name "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" all the time too. Live with it.
   34. DetroitMichael Posted: December 29, 2006 at 09:04 PM (#2271014)
-- should be "unusual"
   35. Patrick L. Kennedy Posted: December 30, 2006 at 05:26 AM (#2271262)
But St. Petersburg isn't a backwater like you seem to imply. St. Pete has 250,000 people in it. This isn't like some suburb that builds a stadium for a major city, St. Pete and Tampa are very close to each other in population, and none of the area's sports teams could survive without the other place. The area is the 12th largest media market in the country for a reason, and no individual city is responsible for it. And as a matter of fact, the area has always been called the Tampa Bay area now that you bring it up. The introduction of sports teams to the area may have popularized the term, but to describe an area that has always been fairly spread out, the term "Tampa Bay" was used. You don't really seem to have a knowledge of the area's history, for good reason, but Tampa and St. Petersburg are generally fierce rivals, and both competed against one another for the longest time to get a baseball team. To refer to the team as the "Tampa" Rays incites a lot of people, because the Rays are Pinellas County's only professional sports team, and it should be recognized as such.
   36. Michael Posted: December 30, 2006 at 06:38 AM (#2271279)
Does anyone read hardball times? If so you'll see a similar study that chops the rotations in a different way posted at http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/how-good-is-your-4-starter/ the day before this article was published with the follow up at http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/more-fun-with-rotation-numbers/

I think I liked the hardball times method better than what was here in that it said essentially we need 32 starts from each slot 1 through 5 and assign the starter with the best ERA to #1 for however many starts he gets up to 32. If there are any starts left over (let's say he only pitched 20 games) then we assign 12 games of the 2nd best starter on the team (assuming second best pitched at least 12 games) and take the weighted combination as the #1 pitcher in that slot. I think that is a sensible assignment that doesn't worry about Clemens being a #3 just because of who he took over for in the rotation.

A similar conclusion is reached that #4 and #5 pitchers are much, much worse than people think.

In fact:

Lg #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
MLB 3.60 4.14 4.58 5.10 6.24

was the conclusion.

Makes one wonder what "replacement" level really is for starting pitching.
   37. Dr. Vaux Posted: December 30, 2006 at 06:47 AM (#2271282)
About as bad as you can imagine. Or what they Red Sox got for most of last season.
   38. Anthony Giacalone Posted: December 30, 2006 at 05:20 PM (#2271374)
I'm gonna continue being picky here until it's gotten: It's Tampa Bay. Not Tampa alone. You think the New York Yankees wanna be called the York Yankees or the New Yankees?

Be thankful. I've taken to calling the simply the Tampa Rays. St. Pete can be damned!
   39. Anthony Giacalone Posted: December 30, 2006 at 05:41 PM (#2271378)
BTW, I was just joking about St. Pete. Tampa and St. Pete are as much of Sister Cities as any two towns can be.
   40. Walt Davis Posted: December 31, 2006 at 08:34 AM (#2271665)
OK, getting to this late, but I tend to agree with Darren. As Chris says in the article, 2/3 of the slots are combinations. So is Jeff Suppan a #2? Should I compare him to the average #2 slot production -- which is a mix of "true" #2s and crap -- or should I compare him to the "true" #2s?

Buried in the bowels of BTF, with some error that makes the article not display in full even if you find it, is an article I did a number of years ago, mainly looking at the history of relievers. But in defining relievers, I also came up with a definition of "starter" and "swingman". Even I don't remember exactly, but "starter" was something like a pitcher for whom 90% of his appearances in a season were starts; "reliever" was something similar only I think moreso -- I think no more than 2 starts in a season; everybody else was a "swingman."

In that configuration, "starters" had an above-average ERA+ and this would include guys called up for just 1-2 starts if all they did was start. And swingmen sucked.

Anyway, the point is that, under that set of definitions, Suppan probably is basically an average "starter." However, probably something like 30% of a team's starts will be made by swingmen in an average year. Still, on the (high-priced) FA market, you're buying either (intended) starters or relievers, not swingmen. So for Suppan, the average "starter" is probably the appropriate comparison group.

That said, much of Suppan's value has been that he's consistently made 30+ starts and pitched 190-210 innings. Not many "starters" have done that so consistently so, if you believe his past durability is predictive of future, you obviously need to incorporate that into the comparison. Which brings Darren's VORP idea into play.

As to the article, I would love to have also seen things like:

% of starts made by the opening day rotation (both overall and by rotation slot)
ERA+ broken out by opener/replacement (overall and by slot)
W-L by slot (both team and pitcher if that's easy ... after all, this was your brother's point :-)

(Note it would be great if we could use "intended" rotation rather than opening day for cases where some starter has to miss the first couple starts because of a minor injury, etc. but I don't want to get greedy.)

Those first two might go a long way to answering the Suppan question. His ERA+ slots him as a #2, maybe a high #3. But I wouldn't be surprised if he averages 20% more starts than the average "true" #2, making him a high #2, maybe even sneaking into #1 territory.... if we think we can count on those 200 IP.
   41. dugaton Posted: December 31, 2006 at 09:08 AM (#2271670)
This is good stuff, but I do think the emphasis on the 'Suppan issue' is a bit misleading. As far as I can see, there are two arguments about Suppan regularly made:
1) that Suppan's true talent level isn't as good as his ERA+ suggests, he simply pitched in front of a good defence.
2) that Suppan, although part of the second-tier of major-league pitching, is not worth more in terms of value added to a roster than, say, the second-tier of major-league outfielders (say, guys ranked 18-36), but will undoubtedly get paid more (although I'm starting to think, in the Carlos Lee world, that this one might not be true).

People use terms like #1, #3 starter quite glibly not because they don't understand what #2 performance is, but because they use it as an indicative term, very context dependent terms. For example, it's like calling Eric Byrnes a good fourth OF when he's actually a decent CF - it's not that people don't think he's a good CF, it's just that in their perfect world he wouldn't be in their starting OF, it being Ichiro!/Beltran/Drew or something. As someone mentioned earlier, Suppan arrives in Boston and he becomes a #5 starter. If he turns up in Pittsburgh, then he might be a #1. In Milwaukee, if you're banking on Sheets and Capuano to give you 200+ innings, he's a number #3; if you think they won't last the year, he's a #1. But does any of this actually change his value?

Suppan will be a good number #2 if he gets you a high number of innings with no injuries. But how many pitchers in the league can you say that for? In the AL, last year, anyone wtih a 103 ERA+ would be a good #2, so any AL pitcher that projects to a 4.45 ERA or better will be a + at #2, in the NL about 4.30 or something.

Looking at the Detroit Tigers for next year:

Jeremy Bonderman 24 3.60 15 8 31 31 205.0 197 82 21 56 176
Justin Verlander 24 3.89 14 9 28 28 171.0 167 74 17 47 130
Andrew Miller* 22 4.11 9 6 27 17 127.0 122 58 8 58 93
Kenny Rogers* 42 4.14 14 10 32 32 198.0 213 91 19 61 91
Nate Robertson* 29 4.21 13 11 32 32 199.0 204 93 25 64 135
Humberto Sanchez 24 4.42 7 7 19 18 108.0 105 53 10 51 85
Jair Jurrjens 21 4.53 7 7 25 25 147.0 161 74 16 38 77
Zach Miner 25 4.73 8 8 30 24 139.0 143 73 16 63 85

So, there's a good case that Bonderman is a good #1, Verlander an average #1 and Rogers a below-average #1 (or a very good number 2). Then there's Robertson, who will be a good #2, Miller and Sanchez who might be an average number #2, and Jurrjens who would be a below-average #2. Then you have Zach Miner, who would be a bad number #2 but a good number #3. That's 3 number 1s, 4 number 2s and a number 3.

Now, the Tigers are stacked this year, of course, but what will make these players, all of whom have #2 or better potential, actual #2s is whether they get injured or not. So saying player x should perform barring injury like a good number #2 is actually a fairly safe statement; the problem is factoring in injury and resulting ineffectiveness.

Again, though, this is where guys like Suppan might hold his value, because maybe he is less injury-prone that some of his contemporaries.

Good stuff, anyway.
   42. dugaton Posted: December 31, 2006 at 09:27 AM (#2271671)
Oh, and on a tangental point, because the threshold for good #2ing is so surprisingly low, and because injury is heavily affected into it, there will be lots of pitchers who are projected to be decent #2s but no rotation in baseball (well, virtually no) would call them in #2 in their rotation (providing they had any sort of staff). For example, should the Mets have given up Heilman for Jaret Wright, even though on last year's ERA+ (and give him a point or two for leaving the AL) he's a below-average #2? So you can still be a #2 and surplus to requirements.

Again, I think this is great stuff, but I'm not sure it helps us get any better at valuing contributions from pitchers, because the overriding factor that decides rotation spot and production is injuries.
   43. Gaelan Posted: December 31, 2006 at 01:27 PM (#2271684)
This is just as wrong as the THT times article for just the same reasons. The crucial, argument destroying, point, has been made over and over again and people refuse to see it. Frustrating.

Anyway while this article does demonstrate that replacement level starting pitching is really bad it unequivocably does not demonstrate that #4 or #5 starters are worse than people think. In fact given the reaction to both of these articles I would now say that #4 and #5 starters are much better than the people in these threads think. Both of these articles are poorly thought out and completely misleading. However given the way bad ideas have a way of spreading around here I have already seen people use these kind of arguments to argue that Jason Marquis is actually not a bad fifth starter despite the fact that he is the worse starting pitcher currently in a five man rotation.
   44. GuyM Posted: December 31, 2006 at 02:12 PM (#2271688)
This is just as wrong as the THT times article for just the same reasons.

What is the shared flaw? The THT article ranks pitchers by actual ERA performance, which is misleading at both the high end and low end, as MGL argued. But isn't the approach here of grouping pitchers by their 'slot' quite different? It's not using actual performance to rank pitchers. In fact, it seems to me this approach probably overstates the ability of true #5 starters, in that teams will sometimes put pitchers in the 5th slot who are not in fact perceived to be the 5th best (such as a promising rookie). Why do you see both articles as having the same problem?
   45. Walt Davis Posted: January 01, 2007 at 09:36 PM (#2272096)
This, and the THT article which is not as good as this, demonstrate two things: (1) replacement level pitching (i.e. 6th, 7th, 8th starters) is even worse than we thought and (2) #1, #2, #3, and #4 starters ARE worse than we thought because they keep getting hurt all the time.

Yes, in terms of "true talent" or ability, Jeff Suppan is probably a low #2, high #3. Heck, maybe he's a low #3. But Jeff Suppan has made 30+ starts and thrown 188+ IP for the last 8 years. In the past at least, he has been way, way, way more durable (and consistent) than almost all the starters in baseball. Past durability may or may not be predictive of future durability. If it's not, then sure teams should make FA starter decisions based heavily on "true talent"; but if it is, then Jeff Suppan is pretty clearly a #2.

Which gets back to Darren's idea of looking at VORP or a similar statistic which combines quality and quantity of performance. Unfortunately VORP's a pain for us non-subscribers to work with so I'll use WARP3 for my cherry-picked examples (alas WARP 3 includes hitting for NL pitchers). I don't know who folks think of as a "true #2" but I'll agree that Suppan has way less talent than AJ Burnett. Over the last 6 years, Burnett has 23.1 WARP3; Suppan has 26.7. Over the last 6 years, Penny has 24.3. Kerry Wood, quite healthy for 2001-2003, has 28.3. Over the last 5 years, Beckett has 22.2, Prior 22.3 and Suppan 21.3.

Based on past performance, Jeff Suppan is gonna give you 4-5 WARP every year. Lots of "true #2s" (and even #1 talents as many of those above guys are) are either gonna give you 6.5 or 2.5. Given that in those injured seasons you're likely to replace their innings with a guy with an ERA of 6+, that "slot" is going to seriously underperform Suppan's "slot" in those years and often come out about equal over a number of years.

This isn't to suggest that Suppan's numbers are outstanding even for a "#2". Over the past 6 years, even with injury problems, Pettitte has 35.5 (though that might be #1 territory).

The key question about Suppan isn't his true ability level but whether his past durability is predictive of future durability. There are obviously other concerns such as his age and whether that along with relatively low K rates is predictive of substantial decline in his ability. But if the probability that Suppan, over the next 4 years, will give you 125 starts and 750 IP is way higher than the chances that Lilly or Meche or Schmidt or Beckett or Burnett, etc. will, then he's a pretty valuable property and most likely a "#2" starter.

And that's gonna be true no matter how you look at "real slots". Maybe the reality is you can expect 25 starts from your #1, 25 from #2, 25 from #3, 25 from #4, 25 from #5 and 37 from replacemets. If you can count on a "#3 ability" pitcher taking 5-7 starts away from the replacements every year, that pitcher is most likely gonna be as valuable as the typical "#2 ability" pitcher in his 25 starts plus 7 replacement starts.
   46. GuyM Posted: January 01, 2007 at 10:12 PM (#2272108)
I think this is a very important point, with the big caveat that we don't really know how predictive past durability is. GMs seem to give it some weight (K. Wood), but not as much as you might expect.

BTW, if your point #1 is correct, this makes the Suppans (avg. talent, high durability) even more valuable than the WARP numbers suggest. Let's say replacement level is really more like 6.5 than 6.0 R/G (30% above average rather than 20%). In that case, all these pitchers gain value in direct proportion to innings pitched -- roughly 1 win per 160 IP -- which will most boost the value of those with the most durability.
   47. Kyle S Posted: January 01, 2007 at 11:50 PM (#2272153)
Nicely put, Walt. When you consider Suppan retrospectively, he has performed at the #2 starter level (or thereabouts) for the past several seasons. However, people care about the future when they sign players, not the past. Compared with a guy like Beckett or Burnett, all Suppan has going for him is durability. A nice thing to have, don't get me wrong.

Has anyone ever studied how likely durable pitchers are to stay durable in the future, especially compared with "flaky" starters? If not I might try to some night this week.
   48. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: January 02, 2007 at 04:49 PM (#2272354)
Awful flattering to see this thing keeps gurgling back up on occassion . .

Taking a general look back on this thread, the question is when is this study useful and when is it useless. For examining individual pitchers, it's useless. A lousy pitcher who is a good fifth starter is still a lousy pitcher.

Another danger spot comes when how replacement starters can warp findings. For example, Brett Myers missed two starts, and his replacements did dreadful, lowering the Phillies' ace hole. Meanwhile, Pettitte misses a start and his replacement throws a shutout. While that does tell us something about the quality of the team's back up starters, there is a sample size fluke going on. This can screw up the numbers for a given team. While one team's sample might get screwed up, I think overall there's something useful here. In the four leagues looked at, the league-wide ERA+ for the different slots is largely the same everytime. The 2005 NL is a bit higher, and things are a little different in the ace slot (The Royals drag down the AL), but if you have a pitcher who can give you 33-34 starts, 210 innings, and an ERA+ at 122 or so, that's perfectly typical production from the ace slot.

Compared to the Sackmann study, which I find really cool also, I think the main advantage of this one is that this does more to factor in durability. Your worst 32 starts ain't all in one slot but generally spread out in the rotation doing fill-ins in several slots, hence making a man like Suppan a little more important than one might guess. Sackmann gave his study's results in ERA. Here's this study in terms of ERA (slots 1 through 5):

2006 AL: 3.86, 4.43, 4.64, 5.14, 5.79
2006 NL: 3.66, 4.20, 4.70, 5.21, 5.82
2006 MLB: 3.75, 4.31, 4.67, 5.18, 5.81
   49. GuyM Posted: January 02, 2007 at 05:44 PM (#2272385)
Chris:
Given your methodology, about what percentage of the time would you say the pitcher in the 5th slot is the pitcher perceived (by the team) to be the weakest of the 5 starters in the rotation at that moment? Do you think that's the case for 75% of the 5th slot starts? 90%? (Apologies if you've already answered this above.)
   50. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: January 02, 2007 at 08:37 PM (#2272483)
Given your methodology, about what percentage of the time would you say the pitcher in the 5th slot is the pitcher perceived (by the team) to be the weakest of the 5 starters in the rotation at that moment?

Extremely difficult to say. First, I only follow two teams (Cubs, Sox) close enough to say how their slots are perceived by their teams. Second, the difference betwen the #4 and the #5 slot often isn't that great. Looking at it, the difference between the two slots was less than 0.25 ERA for 8 teams, & between 0.49-0.25 for six more. In many of those cases, it's perfectly legitimate to not have a clear idea what the fifth slot is. (If you're curious, among the other sixteen teams, exactly half had the difference greater than 1.00 ERA and the remaining eight were between 0.99 and 0.50). Also, there are several problems in trying to determine perception vs. reality. Let me use the Sox as an example.

Last year, their #5 starter according to this was Mark Buehrle. Now, he wasn't considered the #5 guy largely because he was so good prior to this year, and frankly I'd agree that prior performance is a valid thing to take into account. That's especially the case because there was so little difference betwen him and #4 starter Vazquez (0.11 in ERA). Heck, he was only 0.61 behind the ace.

Finally, for much of the year Buehrle wasn't pitching like the #5 guy. He was doing pretty good until an epic mid-summer meltdown. People were definately aware how bad he was pitching in that stretch, and knew he was the worst starter at that period, but that's a little different from saying he's the fifth starter for the full season.

In fact, the fluxuating performance out of the fifth slot is common as that's almost always of revolving door of sucktitude. Making it even more confusing, the #4 slot is also often a revolving door of sucktitude. For most teams, what qualifies as the fifth best starter changes from month-to-month. And it's almost impossible to know which slot did the worst over the full season because there are so many changes in the course of the year who really knows or remembers all the pitchers in a given slot.

For example, the Red Sox fifth hole consisted of Wells, DiNardo, Pauley, Lester, Snyder, Hansock, and Gabbard last year. Meanwhile, their fourth slot had Clement, Snyder, Johnson, Wells, and Tavarez. Can't tell the players even with a scorecard. The fourth slot had a 5.57 ERA and the fifth slot a 5.70. I'm sure Red Sox nation knew their backend stunk, but I don't blame in the least for not being able to say which was fourth and which was fifth. Heck, after Wakefield went down their third slot consisted fo Gobbard, Johnson, and Snyder -- all of whom also pitched in the bottom two slots. In situations like this divvying up slots is more art than science. And it really points out a central artificiality to my whole approach.

Looking it up, I'd say teams know who their fifth slots are when it's reasonable to know that.

FWIW, the teams with the biggest gaps between their fourth and fifth starters were the Yanks, Jays, Mariners, Mets, Marlins, Brewers, Cubs, and Giants.

The Yanks had no more than 11 starts (Chacon) by anyone in their fifth slot. Cory Lidle ended the year in that slot and was put in the bullpen for the playoffs.

Toronto's fifth slot had 12 starts from Josh Towers, and 14 from Marcum, along with various replacements. Their fourth and fifth slots were also in disarray, but wow that Towers sucked.

Seattle had a very stable rotation, but Joel Pineiro (remember when he was good?) was horrible. After the squad traded Moyer, though, there wasn't much difference between the fourth and fifth slots.

The Mets fifth slot I cover in the article. No one with more than 8 starts. Their fourth slot had five pitchers in it, most of whom really sucked, but El Duque was alright. When he wasn't in, there was reason not to know what the fifth slot really was.

The Marlins are strange because their fifth slot changed over the course of the season. Early on it was Brian Moehler, but he got replaced by Sanchez, who was fantastic. That ended up being the fourth slot as the Mitre-Nolaco-Mohler combo did far worse. Nolasco was OK, but not nearly as good as Sanchez, while Moehler-Mitre combined for 40 ER in 55 IP. The fifth slot was wherever Brian Moehler was, and it looks like the team knew that, given how they jerked him out of teh rotation.

Milwaukee's fifth slot looks pretty obvious. Check that. Again, their fifth slot changed in the season. Early on the worst performance was in what was the season's fith slot. Ohka had 18 starts and was clearly worse than Sheets, Capuano, Davis, or Bush. He went down and was replaced by four men. The first three were truly wretched (a combined 39 ER in 23.3 IP - GACK! - By Hendrickson, de la Rosa, and the undead Rich Helling. When they finally found someone semicompetant in Villanueva, he outpitched the fourth slot for the last month.

The Cubs I covered in the article. Their fifth slot had an ERA of 7.71, fourth slot of 6.31, and third slot of 5.39. Speaking as a fan, though, it was almost impossible to tell the difference between the last two slots, though. One was a slot dedicated to waiting for Mark Prior to become unhealthy enough so they could pretend he was healthy, and the other was dedicated to the same thing for Kerry Wood. The main difference is that the fourth slot had Carlos Marmol allow "only" 45 ER in 67.7 IP over 13 starts. That's enough to set it apart from Rusch/Prior/Ryu/cyanide, but from the fan's perspective you really can't tell the difference when it's a matter of being 2 runs per game below replacement level or merely 1 run. And both slots were a revolving door with at least a half-dozen pitchers each. Making it even more confusing: the third slot was even worse than both of them after Maddux got traded.

Finally, the Giants. Looking at it, I certainly hoped the Bay Area faithful notcied Wright was their worst starter. I can only assume they noticed his replacements (mostly Hennessey, but also Sanchez and Fassero) were even worse. It really was the fifth slot all year long.

Getting back to your question, I assume teams know who their worst starter of the moment is, but that changes considerably as the year goes on. Heck, look at the above examples -- those are the teams with the greatest difference between 4th and 5th slots, and even there it usually changed.

Teams usually know which pitchers need to be replaced, and really that's the only important thing. If you have 3 pitchers who need to be replaced who really cares if you think of the fourth as the fifth and vice versa? The outstanding exceptions to this is the 2005 Royals & Reds, who left Lima & Milton in all year while guys pitching better were jerked out of the rotation. Even then there's mitigating circumstances (both had established track records, the entire Royals staff stunk, and Milton had just signed a big contract).
   51. GuyM Posted: January 02, 2007 at 08:56 PM (#2272488)
Thanks. It sounds like a team's worst two pitchers, at an given time, would pretty consistently be assigned to slots 4 and 5. Is that a fair generalization?

And let me pose a related question about the methodology: if the #2 starter goes down for the season on June 1 with an injury, will the new starter go in his "slot" so long as he follows the #1 guy in the rotation, even if he clearly is the new #5 in terms of ability? Or do you bump the others up a slot and assign the new guy to slot 5? And if it's the former -- based strictly on rotation sequence -- would you say teams are pretty quick to reorganize the rotation so that rotation order follows ability/performance, or are weak pitchers often allowed to remain in the 2 or 3 'slot' for extended periods?
   52. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: January 02, 2007 at 09:11 PM (#2272499)
Thanks. It sounds like a team's worst two pitchers, at an given time, would pretty consistently be assigned to slots 4 and 5. Is that a fair generalization?

Yup. For every team that has a stable fifth starter, there are multiple teams with no fourth starter, and some teams without a real third starter.

And let me pose a related question about the methodology: if the #2 starter goes down for the season on June 1 with an injury, will the new starter go in his "slot" so long as he follows the #1 guy in the rotation, even if he clearly is the new #5 in terms of ability?

Yup. I don't assign a slot ranking until the end. First I just figure who replaced who as best as I can, then add up their numbers, then label them "first slot," "fourth slot," or whatever.

Take the Twins, for example. Liriano ended up in their third slot despite pitching with a sub-2.00 ERA as a starter. Initially, they had Carlos Silva, who allowed 45 ER in 46 IP in 8 games. Then came Liriano for 16 starts. Then they ended the year with Mat Garza pitching poorly. Making it that much more confusing, Silva spent almost no time in the bullpen. He came back very quickly and replaced Scott Baker in the rotation. Mind you, Baker pitched better than Silva, but Silva had teh better track record, and it fact he did pitch better the rest of the way than Baker had earlier. But don't cry too much for Baker, he got a shot back in the rotation later than year, allowing 16 ER in 14.7 IP in the fifth slot before getting bounced. He then came back and finished the year when Radke went down, pitching reasonably well.

Like I said, it doesn't really make a difference if you define one guy as your fourth starter and one as your third, just as long as you know who is pitching bad enough to earn a demotion and who isn't.

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