WITH both PECOTA and ZiPS being unleashed on our world this past week, I felt like it’d be worth it to expand a bit on my piece from last week and talk about the Red Sox rotation at a slightly deeper level.
Projections systems aren’t always accurate. Each have their own quirks, strengths and short-comings, but what they can do in the aggregate, is give us a fairly accurate glance at what the future may hold. So that’s exactly what I’ve done here, today.
ZiPS and PECOTA seem to be favorites among the baseball nerd community, so their projections are included here. The third projection system I nabbed was Steamer – which over the course of the last 2-3 years has been the most accurate projector of pitcher performance in the online baseball community.
What I did here was totally and unequivocally un-scientific. I took the three projections systems averaged them together and then pontificated about whether a player will outperform their projections or not. Don’t bother asking me about my ‘method’, as I don’t have one. I’m just a goof with my own brand of quack science and too many opinions.
Anyway, enough of my yapping – let’s get down to business.
ZiPS: 188.3 IP, 3.97 ERA, 173 K’s
Steamer: 209.0 IP, 3.92 ERA, 172 K’s
PECOTA: 195 IP, 3.63 ERA, 185 K’s
Average: 197 IP, 3.84 ERA, 177 K’s
This might seem conservative to some, but I’d say these projections are reasonably fair. Lester’s experienced a bit of a statistical downturn since 2009. We’ve seen dips in his velocity, FIP and SIERA. His contact % is up, the swstr% is down. We’re not exactly dealing with a small sample size here either, as we’re staring four years of gradual decline in the face. Clearly it’s the kind of track record that shouldn’t be ignored at this point.
The flip side of this is that Lester will be reunited with long lost coach John Farrell, which you’d think would have to help from a comfort standpoint. Farrell has contested that the issues with Lester are mostly mechanical, so let’s hope he’s right.
The other, less talked about piece of Lester in 2012 was his enormous home and road splits. At home, Lester got shelled to the tune of a 6.31 ERA and a .372 wOBAA. His BB/9 was a full walk higher at home then on the road and his BABIP was a sky-high .342. When playing anywhere BUT Fenway, Lester was a completely different pitcher, posting a strong 3.20 ERA and limiting batters to a .290 wOBAA on the back a lucky, but not egregious .276 BABIP.
What’s most telling is the kind of contact Lester gave up at home and on the road. While a gap DOES exist in his LD%, GB% and FB%, it isn’t all that huge. That would suggest that most of his struggles could simply be attributed to an inflated BABIP at home. That alone could make him a decent candidate for a bounce back.
Either way, I’ll remain cautious and say that these are fair projections. If he continues on the statistical path he’s been on, his ERA likely dips into the 4.00’s this year. If the mechanical issues are resolved, a 3.60-ish ERA is likely. The 3.84 average of these seems like the middle ground. Color me sold.
I’d say Lester, for now at least – is PROJECTED WELL.
ZiPS: 147.0 IP, 4.16 ERA, 102 K’s
Steamer: 178.0 IP, 4.45 ERA, 116 K’s
PECOTA: 182.7 IP, 4.21 ERA, 140 K’s
Average: 169 IP, 4.27 ERA, 119 K’s
One of the more important offseason moves the Red Sox made this year was to try and add quality catching in an attempt to try and mitigate the running game. There might not be a pitcher on the entire roster that would benefit more from this approach than Clay Buchholz.
While it’s true that pitcher’s numbers tend to be worse when runners are on base – with Buchholz, they sky rocket. Without men on base, Buchholz sits on a decent 7.09 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9. When runners get on base, his K/9 nose-dives to 4.90. His BB/9 balloons to 3.16. His LOB% with runners on isn’t pretty either, as that sits at 63.0%. When you cap it off with a .38 difference in FIP, you’ve got a guy that if you can get on base against him, you can deal significant damage.
Buchholz certainly isn’t alone on the staff in this regard. Lester’s numbers with men on base aren’t pretty, either – which speaks to the severity of the problem on the team as a whole. But Buchholz’s numbers seem a little bit more robust than the rest of the pack.
I’d surmise that Buchholz is a little bit better this year than what he’s been projected as being. One of the projection systems I omitted here – Bill James’ projections – have him around a 3.64 ERA for the year, while out-running a FIP of around 4.01. While James projections tend to be a bit optimistic, his system is the only one that’s kept consistent with Buchholz’s career habit of out-performing his FIP. I don’t think a repeat of that is out of the question at all here. While I don’t see him posting a 3.64 ERA, I don’t think life in the 3.70’s – 3.80’s is out of the question at all. He should easily net more than 119 K’s.
I’m going to take the BETTER THAN PROJECTED path here – provided he stays healthy.
ZiPS: 163.0 IP, 4.47 ERA, 133K’s
Steamer: 189.0 IP, 4.28 ERA, 145 K’s
PECOTA: 180 IP, 4.26 ERA, 163 K’s
Average: 177 IP, 4.33 ERA, 147 K’s
The projections this year for Ryan Dempster don’t seem to be all that friendly – especially in the strikeout department. Dempster has routinely whiffed north of 160 batters nearly every season he’s started with the exception of last year. While I do see some regression on the horizon for Dempster, it’s really hard to make a case that it’s going to be all that significant – or at least as bad as these projections suggest it might be.
That being said, there are certainly some things to keep an eye on – first of which would be his slightly leaky GB%, which has trickled lower and lower over the course of the past few seasons. Couple that with sagging velocity and the ever-dangerous cocktail of an increasing LD% mixed in with a low BABIP, and it’s hard to not approach him with caution.
The opposing argument would be that he’s still missing bats as well as ever and while he’s been able to run from some creeping peripherals, it’s seemingly reflected in his numbers already – as his ERA has always traditionally outpaced his FIP. What’s good news is that if that regression were to sting him this year, it would actually make him the best pitcher on the team, as it’s unlikely anyone’s sitting around the 3.60-3.70 FIP mark this year, so take that regression with a grain of salt.
In fact, I’d make an argument that even if his peripherals run him down this year that his skills should still be good enough to sustain a positive outcome. His career SIERA, which lies in the 3.70-3.90 range, seems to paint a more accurate picture of what his true talent is and as such, I’d peg him around that mark this year.
Moving to the AL East should hurt him, but I wouldn’t suspect Fenway does anywhere near the damage that some people are predicting. Dempster was as burnt by the short RF porch in Texas as he was protected by it in Chicago. With Fenway’s RF being a little deeper than both and with Shane Victorino on the prowl, Dempster should be a little less homer prone and will likely see some of those gappers get run down thanks to strong defensive support. That would suggest that his weakness (lots of deep FB’s to RF) is mitigated a bit, allowing for more positive results.
With all of that taken into consideration, I have a hard time seeing him regress to the tune of a 4.33 ERA. I think an ERA around 3.90-4.00 seems more realistic as many of his shortcomings should be mitigated a bit due to surroundings. His skill should carry the day.
With Dempster, I’m going to take the BETTER THAN PROJECTED stance.
ZiPS: 121.7 IP, 4.59 ERA, 111 K’s
Steamer: 171.0 IP, 4.06 ERA, 152 K’s
PECOTA: 148 IP, 5.13 ERA, 127 K’s
Average: 147 IP, 4.59 ERA, 130 K’s
I’m honestly pretty surprised that people have as many questions as they do about Felix Doubront. He was a pitcher who clearly threw the most innings of his career last year and once he hit that redline territory, did what most young pitchers in that position have done in the past and imploded. Yet despite that – he posted a 3.81 xFIP.
In fact up until August, Doubront was arguably the team’s best pitcher. While I expect to see him take a few more knocks due to more extensive scouting, I fully expect him to be able to log a solid 150 IP this year and that 3.81 FIP mark seems to me to be solid predictor.
While PECOTA and ZiPS seem incomprehensibly off the mark, Steamer seems to have him right on the money. The ERA might seem a bit high (4.06), but they’ve also got him posting a 3.79 FIP. 171 IP would give him about 20 innings of sucking, which would account for the slightly higher ERA.
I’m going to take OVER THE AVERAGE, but STEAMER WINS THE INTERNET stance on his projections. They’ve got him pegged.
ZiPS: 127 IP, 5.24 ERA, 78 K’s
Steamer: 169.0 IP, 4.79 ERA, 108 K’s
PECOTA: 148 IP, 4.78 ERA, 109 K’s
Average: 148 IP, 4.93, 98 K’s
It’s really hard to argue with these projections, as Lackey hasn’t played in a year, and when he did – he was bad. In fact, Lackey was historically bad. So bad in fact, that his ERA+ of 66 in 2011 tied him for the 20th worst mark since the turn of the century. The 20th century
The good news about that is that it’s literally almost statistically impossible for him to be that bad again; which means Lackey is due for a bounce back, at least in technical terms. What’s kind of hard to grapple with his the reality of Lackey’s poor performance vs. the perception of it.
In 2010, Lackey wasn’t all that bad. He clearly wasn’t worth the money the Red Sox were paying him, but a 3.85 FIP in the #3 spot in the rotation is respectable. To put that into perspective, had that performance occurred last year, he’d have been the best pitcher on the team – by far.
Truth be told, Lackey’s had a not so friendly brush with bad luck. He was saddled with hopelessly awful LOB% that while semi-symptomatic of his suckiness, can’t entirely be attributed to it. His .319 and .339 BABIPS in 2010 and 2011 was equally unlucky. The only shred of luck going in Lackey’s favor is that he did a respectable job of job of keeping the ball in the park, although it really didn’t matter to a hill of beans in the end.
There’s some reason for optimism this season though, most of which I alluded to in my lower level look at the staff last week. His divorce is complete. He’s acclimatized to the city. His elbow actually might work this time and guess what – dude is pretty skinny. While he’s a control pitcher and control is the last thing that comes around post-Tommy John Surgery, he’s been throwing since September, which would leave room for optimism that he should be fairly advanced in his recovery at this point.
Most importantly – expectations will be low. Very, very low. People view the contract as a bust at this point, so anything he can manage to salvage from his time here might be viewed as a positive. Dare I say, a few good outings and he may even build a little momentum?
Yes, I’m bullish on John Lackey this year. I’m not mad at these projections. Truth be told – they might not be that far off from reality. But there have been so many things running around the peripheral of John Lackey’s life for the past three to four years – from health related issues to family turmoil – that you can’t really say this team’s gotten the full Lackey.
What’s even more interesting is that every single projection system – including Oliver and Bill James of which aren’t featured here – all have his FIP outperforming his ERA by over half a run. There seems to be a trend that there’s underlying skill at play here that for whatever reason, has been ram-rodded into the periphery. Lackey certainly hasn’t been a good pitcher in Boston, and his upside isn’t very high, either. But, there’s skill. Skill that I think people in Boston have taken for granted in favor of lambasting him at their leisure.
Deserved or not, I think Lackey might surprise some people this year. He’ll OUTPERFORM THESE PROJECTIONS and turn into a good back end of the rotation arm.