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   1. SouthSideRyan Posted: September 23, 2008 at 02:47 PM (#2951108)
Harden should really be pitching game 1. He's far and away our best starter.

I'd go Harden-Dempster-Z-Lilly-Harden
   2. Greg Maddux School of Reflexive Profanity Posted: September 23, 2008 at 02:52 PM (#2951110)
Is it possible they plan to use Dempster Wed-Sun and Harden Thu-Tue?
   3. Greg Maddux School of Reflexive Profanity Posted: September 23, 2008 at 02:54 PM (#2951112)
Or maybe Dempster-Harden-Zambrano-Lilly-Harden. The stupid ass schedule would allow it.
   4. Voodoo Posted: September 23, 2008 at 05:25 PM (#2951326)
Hmm...I prefer Zambrano starting games 1 and 5. IMO, he's our best pitcher. Of course the numbers (VORP) say its Dempster...
   5. McCoy Posted: September 23, 2008 at 06:45 PM (#2951438)
If the Cubs have to worry about a game 5 then they will be in bad shape and all of this becomes moot. The Cubs should breeze through the NLDS in 3 or 4 games. If they don't then that means things are going wrong. Some sort of combination of bullpen failing, bats going cold, and the starters getting roughed up.

Start it as Dempster and Harden or vice versa and see who looks the best so that if it comes down to a game 5 you go with the better looking pitcher.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: September 23, 2008 at 06:55 PM (#2951460)
I fear the Cubs are putting too much stock both in Dempster's turnaround and, especially, his home record. Dempster will get game 1 because they want to make sure he's on the mound at Wrigley if there's a game 5.

I'd like to see who we're up against first. If the Phils, I want to move Lilly up in the rotation to help neutralize Utley and Howard (and it would leave him available to relieve in game 5 if necessary).

But generally I'm fine with almost any order of those 4 -- they're all solid. Which isn't to say that they couldn't get lit up. But my biggest pitching concern is the LOOGY slot. The playoffs are when you want 2 lefties you can bring in to get the Utleys, Howards, Delgados, etc. Or at least one. I don't have a lot of faith in Cotts or Marshall against top LHB.

I prefer Zambrano starting games 1 and 5. IMO, he's our best pitcher.

Harden is our most talented pitcher -- i.e. our best. He may be one of the 5 best pitchers in baseball. It's his health and durability that are an issue. Over the last 4 years (just 343 IP), his ERA is 2.55 with 374 Ks, mostly in the AL. In terms of quality, he's well ahead of Sabathia, much less Dempster and Z. Harden's a young Kerry Wood with better control -- and even worse health.

There are still reasons one might prefer Z -- more durable, big game experience, seems to pitch a masterpiece when the team really needs it.

I am worried about Z longterm though. I miss the groundball king of old. He's kept it together amazingly well, but he's been teetering on the edge of slipping from a #1 to a #2 for a while now.
   7. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: September 23, 2008 at 07:04 PM (#2951475)
I fear the Cubs are putting too much stock both in Dempster's turnaround and, especially, his home record. Dempster will get game 1 because they want to make sure he's on the mound at Wrigley if there's a game 5.

It's not like there aren't reasons to be concerned with Zambrano's and Harden's recent performances.
   8. Meatwad Posted: September 23, 2008 at 08:49 PM (#2951612)
even with zambrano just throwing one game it means he will be ready for the beginning of the nlcs which isnt a bad move at all, and with our starters as a whole im not so worried about a game 5 if necessary we can empty out the pen hell use harden and z maybe even be able to go an inning or 2 if needed
   9. Greg Maddux School of Reflexive Profanity Posted: September 23, 2008 at 09:12 PM (#2951637)
Walt's thoughts on the awesomeness of Harden are welcome in the Game Chatter.
   10. Voodoo Posted: September 23, 2008 at 09:24 PM (#2951648)

It's not like there aren't reasons to be concerned with Zambrano's and Harden's recent performances.


It isn't like there aren't even more reasons to be STOKED about their "recent performances."
   11. Moses Taylor loves a good maim Posted: September 23, 2008 at 10:25 PM (#2951716)
--- but he's been teetering on the edge of slipping from a #1 to a #2 for a while now.---

This is the BPro company line (actually, I think they claim he's always been a 2), and every time I see it I ask Dag Nabbit to post the ERA+ by rotation slot. If he doesn't see this by the time I get to my home computer I'll post it.
   12. Fred Garvin is dead to Mug Posted: September 23, 2008 at 10:39 PM (#2951733)
Shouldn't we not talk about this until we know that the Cubs are in the playoffs?

What? Oh, yeah. Cool.
   13. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: September 23, 2008 at 10:54 PM (#2951752)
It isn't like there aren't even more reasons to be STOKED about their "recent performances."

A fool and his money will soon be PARTYING!
   14. Walt Davis Posted: September 24, 2008 at 01:25 AM (#2952110)
This is the BPro company line (actually, I think they claim he's always been a 2), and every time I see it I ask Dag Nabbit to post the ERA+ by rotation slot. If he doesn't see this by the time I get to my home computer I'll post it.

Now this is going to take a while.

We'll dispense with the silliness at the front. Other than the occasional free thing posted here, I haven't read anything from BPro since they went to subscriptions. I think it's been longer than that since I bought an annual. No idea what their company lines are. OK, some idea in that (1) they probably haven't changed much and (2) people here talk about them.

Now, Dag's numbers. Well aware of them thank you. OK, not in the "can cite them off the top of my head" sense but in the "I've been talking about and dabbling in that issue for a very long time now and might well have written some BTF rambling that led Dag to go off and dig up firmer numbers." I meant what I said with Dag's numbers in mind.

Now ... these are from 2007ish (one of the few times I've ever been able to find what I'm looking for in a BBTF search!) but I assume his numbers haven't changed much:

#1 slot - 118 ERA+
#2 slot - 104 ERA+
#3 slot - 97 ERA+
#4 slot - 90 ERA+
#5 slot - 78 ERA+

And Z these days (07-08) is posting an ERA+ right around an average "#1". Of course a top #2 is around a 110 OPS+. This is what I mean when I say he's been teetering around moving from a #1 to a #2. Z used to post ERA+s around 135. He seems to have slipped to a 118-120; it's not far to become a 105-110.

At this point the obvious traditional caveat that it could just be a couple of down years not a lower talent level. And the additional semi-traditional caveat that even if it is a new lower talent level, he still might maintain at this level for several seasons. But that is my concern -- his K rate has dropped steadily two years in a row; maybe it shouldn't, but 100+ walk years scare the bejeezus out of me; and he's just a much different (and much worse) pitcher than he was 4-5 years ago. That ain't good.

Now, back to the "rotation slots". One of the many little factoids I've discovered in my forays into this issue is that the last few years (and it probably goes back farther but I'm a lazy man), the average team gets about 40 starts a year from guys with an ERA+ or 85 or below. That's over 1 "slot". Dag's numbers show the same thing.

Is that a #5? That depends on how you mean it. Most of the guys putting up those numbers were never intended to be in their teams' rotations. Most of those "#5 slots" consist of 2-4 pitchers, not one guy. Those crappy pitchers are pitching all those games because of injury and teams scrambling to fill #5 slots. They are young kids and the classic AAAA starters.

Teams "expect" about 960 IP from their starters over the course of a season. They "expect" their #1 to give them about 210-220, the #2 guy about 200, #3 and #4 about 180, and the #5 guy about 160. But of course it rarely works out that way and guys in the top 3 slots sometimes get hurt.

In the majors last year, you know how many starters had 180+ IP? 62, 2 per team. Do you know what the median ERA+ of those starters was? 115. Z was 28th.

That's a guy on the border of #1 and #2.

Or if you prefer ... Dag's "#1 slot" could be considered something like a "#1.33 starter"; his "#2 slot" a "#2.67"; his "#3" a "#4"; etc. Dag's #5 slot is almost all #6-8 starters I betcha. Z is near the bottom of #1 but still a decent cushion (about 8-10 ERA+ points?) before he's no longer a #1.33.

Z's comparison group isn't really "all pitchers who start MLB games". His comparison group is "guys expected to be #1-#3 starters, give their teams 180+ IP and put up a group average ERA+ around 115." Guys expected to be #1-#3 starters have a great average ERA+ (or projected ERA+) I'll bet you, they probably average right around Z ... unfortunately in any given year, about 1/3 of them either get hurt or mysteriously decline (fortunately, not Z so far) or get signed by the Rangers.

Z's value these days isn't so much his quality (which is obviously still very good) as it is his quantity (durability). I wouldn't be too surprised if there were 50 "better" pitchers in MLB right now. I would be surprised if much more than 35 of those guys will throw 180+ IP next year (hopefully Z will).

But if you define "#1 starter" in terms of "top major league starter", Z is pretty close to falling out of that group.

I once did the Jeff Suppan vs. Kerry Wood comparison. Which would you have rather had? There's no doubt that Wood is the better pitcher. From 2001 to 2006, Suppan's ERA+ was between 93 and 119; from 2001-2006, Wood's was between 104 and 135. But of course from 2001-2006, Suppan threw 1200 innings; Wood 825. From season-to-season, you might prefer Suppan; in a playoff game, you'd prefer Wood (unless he's on the DL :-). (Z is much better than Suppan, that's not what I'm saying)

If you could guarantee me that Z will throw 180+ IP next year, then I'm happy using Dag's numbers and calling him (still) a #1 starter. If you could show me a study showing that pitchers with Z's durability track record have, oh, a 90% chance of throwing 180+ IP next year, then I'll still call him a #1. But if his true talent these days is a 118 ERA+ (and maybe in decline) and he has a 25% (and maybe increasing) chance of missing significant time next year and/or falling off a cliff ... well, that's pretty close to a #2.

Not that I have any sort of magic formula. As I said, Harden is clearly a #1 by talent -- probably one of the 5 best. His chances of throwing 180+ next year are probably under 50% and there's probably another 10% chance that next year is when all these injuries start reducing his ability. Is he a #1?

So, somebody come up with the magic non-linear formula to help us combine projected talent and expected durability to figure out who our top 30 starters are.
   15. Lou Novikoff Cocktail Posted: September 24, 2008 at 04:51 AM (#2952519)
It's always fun to watch a ledge-jumper punch numbers into his calculator as he looks down at the traffic below.

There's some serious examples of Nervous Nellie Disease in this thread. Guys, I have news for you: If the Cubs don't sweep the NLDS it'll be headline news. Four games max is all it'll take -- regardless of how Piniella lines up Dempster, Zambrano, Harden, and Lilly. Yes, the concentrated importance, limited margin for error, and every-pitch-is-magnified atmosphere of the best-of-five series are problematic as far as guarantees of continued dominance are concerned, but when you look down the rosters of the Mets and the Dodgers, can you honestly see any area -- starting pitching, hitting, relief pitching, bench, team defense -- in which the Cubs don't have a decided advantage? Perhaps the Mets are somewhat better in the field, but that's about it.
   16. nick swisher hygiene Posted: September 24, 2008 at 05:23 AM (#2952529)
sure--the Dodgers clearly have a stronger bullpen....
   17. Lou Novikoff Cocktail Posted: September 24, 2008 at 05:56 AM (#2952541)
Yeah, I'll concede that. But that's about it.
   18. Walt Davis Posted: September 24, 2008 at 07:31 AM (#2952553)
Back to my ramble because I realize the 2009 Cubs offer a good example of what I'm talking about.

Can we expect Jason Marquis to be a good 5th starter?

OK, let's assume he projects to a 95-100 ERA+. Check.
Let's assume we have reasonable faith he'll be healthy, give us 28+ starts and 140+ innings. Check.

You might take that ERA+ projection, assuming at least decent health, compare it to the 78 in Dag's table and say "Marquis projects as a GREAT 5th starter."

And you'd be answering the question in the wrong way. That approach answers the question "will Marquis be a good 5th starter ... if the 4 guys in front of him are healthy and effective all year."

And that's what most folks mean by "5th starter" and "4th starter", etc. -- 5th or 4th best pitcher on the team not "group of 4 guys from AAA who took the 30 starts left open by some guy's injury." If you compare Marquis to other teams' "5th best starter of the 2008-9 offseason" he'll come out smelling significantly less rosy -- probably still pretty good (under that mythical projection I gave above).

But of course, in terms of the "league average" numbers in Dag's table, those top 4 guys didn't stay healthy or effective on a lot of teams. On a lot of teams next year, hopefully not the Cubs, their 5th starter will either be hurt, ineffective (and lose his job unless he's on the Rangers) or the team's actual #3 or #4 starter ... and now comparing themselves to those 90-97 ERA+ pitchers in Dag's table ... many of whom were "5th starters" themselves.

Let's take a look at some semi-random ZiPS (it is not a playing time projection tool!). The Mets projected to have 5 above-average starters; throwing about 900 IP. The Padres projected to have 3 above-=average starters and 2 just below (including Tomko!) totalling about 900 IP. The Phils had 2 guys above-average and 3 guys between 95 and 100 totalling about 925 IP. The Brewers had 5 above-average but totalling just 767 IP but a couple innings eaters in the 95-100 ERA+ range. The Cubs had just 3 above-average (one being Rich Hill) with Marquis, Gallagher and Marshall picking up the slack in the 95-100 range. I've avoided bad pitching teams so how about the Pirates? 2 above-average, one just below but you've still only got to go down to about a 90 ERA+ to eat up 950 innings.

An "offseason #5" seems to be around a 95 ERA+ projection which is about an "in-season #3.5".

Here are the rough #1 projected ERA+s for those teams:

Mets 138 Santana (in the AL)
Pads 138 Peavy
Phil 125 Hamels
Cubs 130 Z
Bucs 110 Gorzellany

OK, Z was still projecting quite well. But you can see from that short list that a 118ish wouldn't be that impressive ... and that's limiting #1 to best on team (i.e. some teams will have 2 pitchers better than Gorzellany as hard as that is to believe :-). OK, I checked, you could add Hill, Pedro and Chris Young from those teams. Basically Hill projected as the Cubs #2 with about a 115 ERA+. It is in that sense that Z might be sliding from a #1 to a #2.
   19. McCoy Posted: September 27, 2008 at 02:04 AM (#2957726)
So does the Soto hand injury mean the Cubs will go with 3 catchers into the NLDS?

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