Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bubbleheaded Optimism Radiates From The Toronto Star

We're now welcoming FireJay newbie, Dave Perkins.

Jays have the pitching to contend

No they don't. Their pitching is playoff caliber, but it doesn't come close to make up for their offensive shortcomings, especially if David Eckstein starts at shortstop over slick-fielding John McDonald. Ground ball pitchers getting hundreds and hundreds of balls slapped Eckstein's way. ACK!

Even with subtractions, the Jays go north with more pitching, front to back, than either the Red Sox or the Yankees, it says here.

It says where? Are you reading from something? If so, this is plagiarism!

Boston has Josh Beckett and his bad back to consider; he didn't fly the 21,000 kilometres to and from Tokyo, possibly because nothing is worse for a bad back than flying.

Beckett will be out of action for a little bit, then most likely he'll be back pitching and awesome.

They also have Curt Schilling on the long-term DL

Good thing they have 6 starters.

DL and are counting heavily on talented kids Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz is a stud. There's nothing wrong with counting on him. Most likely, he'll be the 2nd best starter on the team this year.

The Yankees are holding their breath on Andy Pettitte's bad back, plus Mike Mussina looked washed-up much of last year.

I'm going to stop you right there. You are arguing for a team containing A.J. Burnett by saying Andy Pettitte has injury problems? Sure, it's a concern, but Andy threw 215 innings last year.

They have outstanding young arms in Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, but what are the odds all three will come through under intense pressure?

Decent. And the odds that at least two will come through are very, very high.

The Jays have a slight edge in that their young pitchers, namely Dustin McGowan, Shawn Marcum and Jesse Litsch, have more experience than the Boston and Yankee kids.

You're being ridiculous. "Experience" is not an adequate substitute for "skill", and it certainly does not trump it. Hughes, Buchholz, Chamberlain, and Kennedy are all better than those three pitchers.

Kids aside, would you trade Toronto's top three starters – Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and McGowan – for the first three of either New York (let's say Chien-Ming Wang, Pettitte and Hughes)

That's pretty close actually.

or Boston (Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Lester)?

Plug in Buchholz for Lester, and yes, absolutely, I would make that trade in a heartbeat and you'd be crazy not to. And yes, I am talking about just for this season.

Not me.

Because you overrate Dustin McGowan to the extreme and have no clue that Clay Buchholz is better than Jon Lester.

Toronto's lineup, which has been dreadfully powerless down here this spring, will not score runs the way New York's and Boston's will. That's a legitimate concern. But pitching is the backbone of any good team and because Toronto's pitching looks better, at least to these eyes, than either of their rivals, this might be a more interesting summer than most if not all of the past 14, depending on health issues.

You know what? You're right. Sure, San Francisco won't be able to score runs to save their life, but they have damn good pitching! And that's the backbone! This might be an interesting summer for them.....

(Side note: I've been thinking about this a lot, and am inclined to believe that hitting is more important than pitching. Baseball is 50% scoring runs, 50% preventing runs. A small but significant part of preventing runs is defense, so it can't all be pitching. Scoring runs is almost all hitting.)

It usually does and the critical component in all this is Burnett. If he's healthy and gets 30-plus starts, this team could contend. If he breaks down again, they'll be scrambling for pitching again.

If this happens, and James Shields gets injured, the Blue Jays have a great shot at 3rd place.


Anonymous said...

I'd actually take Toronto's top 3 over both the Yanks and Red Sox, honestly. I think the Red Sox have better pitching because of depth, not because they're top-heavy.

You seem to be falling into the same trap as Perkins. He overrates McGowan, but you're giving Dice-K way too much credit.

I'd reorganize them so that you're looking at the Sox as Beckett/Buchholz/Dice-K. Beckett's probably going to be a bit better than Halladay, though even that's not a sure thing. Looking at Fangraphs, which lists everybody's projections for 2008 from Bill James, CHONE, marcel, MINER, and ZIPS, 4 of the 5 systems project Halladay to have a better ERA and FIP than Beckett.

Burnett's injury-prone, but when healthy he's a top-flight pitcher. I'd rather have Burnett than Dice-K, and I'd probably rather have him than Buchholz for this season alone - even if Clay has a monster first full season, he's unlikely to get a full allottment of innings just to protect his arm. I know, Burnett = injury, but you can't automatically assume injury. You probably can assume Buchholz will get innings limits (even the most generous numbers I've seen suggest he's going to get less than 150).

McGowan, too, isn't great, but he's a good 3rd starter. I'd take him over Matsuzaka, though admittedly there's only 1 season's worth of data. Dustin, though, last year had a better ERA, better WHIP, lower FIP, and both players had approximately the same BABIP level relative to their respective LD%s (McGowan gave up only 16% line drives to Dice-K's 18%, explaining his .20 points of lower BABIP). He's also younger.

Perkins overrates McGowan (by a bit), but you're overrating Matsuzaka by even more, I think.

pnoles said...

Very good points, anon. I confess, I didn't give Dice-K that much of a thought. I'd still give the nod to Boston, personally, because Halladay's declining strikeout rates are a concern, and I have the reverse sure thing / risky viewpoint on Buchholz v Burnett. I say the fact that Burnett could easily miss 1/3 or so of the season makes him riskier than Buchholz, and thus, less desirable. Their expected innings pitched are probably similar, and if that's the case, I'd take the more sure thing so the team can plan accordingly. But I admit, your BABIP/LD% data is making me back off a little bit.

I also feel I should clarify something...I by no means am comparing the Blue Jays offense to that of the Giants....but the Jays have much tougher offensive competition in their division to the point where it becomes a similar handicap.

Chris W said...

The problem with Burnett is the two caveats: "when healthy" and "he is a top-flight pitcher"


The amount of innings Burnett has pitched in the past 5 years:

165, 135, 209, 120, 23

Only one of those years can be considered an acceptable amount of innings for a "top flight pitcher".

Off to a bad start.

In those last five years, Burnett's ERA+

119, 115, 115, 112, 89

Very good, but top flight? Not in the way you mean.

Look--Burnett has nasty stuff, but he's not had a year in the past 5 years that would be characterized as "dominating" and even his best year (2002) saw him posting a 3.30 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP--good numbers, no doubt, but not "Top Flight" numbers.

Better than Dice-K? In 2007, certainly, but most people expect Dice-K to improve, as he hardly put up the dominant numbers people expect. Does that mean he WILL improve? Certainly not...but there's much reason to except they will given his nearly 9 K/9 and his 201/80 K/BB ratio.

The learning curve is a difficult thing to measure, but Dice-K gave every indication that his stuff is as good as Burnett's.

As for Halladay vs. Beckett, it's certainly a close call...with both pitchers being dominating when healthy, posting microscopic WHIPs and excellent K/9 and K/bb

Halladay at his best has been better than Beckett at his best, walking almost NO one and striking out a ton, but since his Cy young year in 2003, Halladay's K #'s have gone way down and his BB numbers have stayed about the same. It's gotten to the point where going into 2008 it's pretty hard to say he's a significantly (or even measurably) better pitcher than Beckett--especially given that Beckett is 2-3 years younger than him.

The third starters are a tossup--both too young to say much with any certainty, but both showing great promise

Certainly you MIGHT take the Blue Jays over the Red Sox rotation, but you just as easily might not...which I read to be PNoles's point.

pnoles said...

I like that perspective, Chris. Halladay is a decent bet for regression this year. Not like a 4.20 ERA is anything to sneer at, but it's definitely within the realm of possibility for a pitcher losing his ability to whiff major league hitters.

Anonymous said...

Hi guys, it's the 'Anonymous' from above. Anyway.

I agree that there's some concern about Halladay, but even with his lower strikeout rates he's still projected, as I noted above, to have a better season. Largely, I think, because of his superior control relative to that of Beckett. Halladay's K/BB ratio, even the last two years, has still been extremely good (unrelated note: his 2005 was absolutely absurd - his K/9 was almost identical to his K/BB), and probably will again be in the 3-4 rage.

Beckett posted his best BB/9 last year by such a huge margin, I'm not totally sure that's sustainable. I'd expect improvement, for sure, but this is a guy that averaged a little worse than 3 walks per 9 for his entire career, and he suddenly rips off 1.8? I don't expect him to fall all the way back, but a bit of a dropoff is probably coming. Very true, though, that Josh is younger. Not much less of an injury risk, though - he seems to always get dinged up at some point.

I'm coming around to your point somewhat re: Burnett vs Buchholz. However, as Chris W noted, even with his injuries Burnett's pitched 120 or more innings 4 of the last 5 years. Buchholz likely won't go much (if any) more than that even if he never so much as catches a cold. That being said, I'll agree that I overvalued Burnett, but not for the reasons you stated. Though I think you were cherry picking a bit, Chris. His best ERA season was one in which he got lucky, which is why his WHIP wasn't that great. In '04, '05, and '07 he had better WHIPs, but had less luck, so had worse ERAs. 2004 in particular was unfortunate, especially given he got hurt. His WHIP was 1.17 (approaching dominant, though not quite there), he had about 8.5 K/9, a 3 K/BB ratio, and less than .7 HR/9. Those are all very good numbers.

The reason I overvalued Burnett is, I've come to realize he's over the hill, even moreso than his numbers might indicate. His FIPs bear this out. From 2002 - 2006, throwing out 2003 (not because we're ignoring his injury issues, but because the small sample size distorts the year-by-year data I'm using here), these were his defense-independent ERA rankings:

7th, 9th, 9th, and 17th. 2002, 2004, and 2005 he was pretty unquestionably #1 starter material when healthy (again, I'll submit that his health is an issue, but even major health issues have still generally permitted him to pitch as much or more than Buchholz will). Even in 2006, he was still throwing at a 1/2 starter level. But in '07, an odd trend cropped up. His K rate actually ROSE, after having declined significantly from '05 to '06. I think it's because he's throwing much harder, and is losing control. His BB/9 jumped from 2.6 to 3.6 (the highest in 4 years), and far more damaging he's lost the ability to prevent home runs (suggesting, to me at least, that he's making more mistakes, usually an indication of control issues) giving up 1.25/9 innings, way above the .7ish average of his more successful seasons. That's why, even though his WHIP was only 1.19 and his BABIP was pretty low, his FIP was far worse. High strand rate, and an artificially suppressed BABIP due to more home runs.

So I'll say Halladay's a wash, give you Buchholz slightly over Burnett (I'm not totally going for Buchholz simply because Buchholz could still flame out, as unlikely as it does seem at this moment - the guy's very young), and I think McGowan and Dice-K are probably equally as likely to beat one another. Halladay == Beckett, Buchholz > Burnett, McGowan ?? Dice-K (since they're both kind of question marks, call it ==). Chalk one up for the Red Sox, I suppose.

Though, I will take issue with one statement: "Certainly you MIGHT take the Blue Jays over the Red Sox rotation, but you just as easily might not...which I read to be PNoles's point."

Let's go back to PNoles's article: "Plug in Buchholz for Lester, and yes, absolutely, I would make that trade in a heartbeat and you'd be crazy not to. And yes, I am talking about just for this season."

Those don't jive, Mr. Jazz Man. I agree that you could make a case the top 3 on the Red Sox are better than those on the Blue Jays. I think you've done that, and I think you've actually convinced me of it, as I noted above. But it's still by a very slim margin, which is really more what I took issue with - I think I laid out at least a moderately convincing viewpoint that one might desire the rotation of the Blue Jays.

Anonymous said...

Doh. For Burnett, where it says "That's why, even though his WHIP was only 1.19 and his BABIP was pretty low" -- it should say "That's why, even though his WHIP was only 1.19 and his BABIP was about right (an LD% of only 15.4 explains his .271 BABIP)".

pnoles said...

At the very least, you have definitely convinced me that my knee-jerk "I'll take that in a heartbeat" response was an overreaction.

There's one more concern I have about the Blue Jays trio. Last year they all finished between 11 and 20 in GB/FB (min 120 innings pitched). All three of them have outperformed their DERAs of late (by like 0.20 or so), and I think that's due in no small part to the glovework of John McDonald. We're going to see this season how they fare with David Eckstein behind them instead.

pnoles said...

ugh...when I said outperformed their DERAs, I meant ERAs beat their DERAs.

John said...

what the heck? I come here for snarky sarcastic bullshit and I get thoughtful, intelligent analysis?