It's not stealing if it's on a blog.
As with the position players, there's an approved method for turning projected pitcher performance into runs and wins. When you lay it all out at once, it looks pretty overwhelming, but the core element is FIP. FIP (Fielding-Indepedent Pitching) seeks to accredit those things to the pitcher only those that are definitely within the pitcher's control. According to FIP, this boils down to strike outs, walks and home runs. Once adjusted onto the proper scale, it's denominated in runs per 9 innings, which is exactly what we're looking for. This is basic DIPS theory and FIP itself is well-worn. It consistently beats past ERA in predicting future ERA and as far as us non-proprietary stats folks are concerned, it's the industry standard.
So what happens when you take the projected FIP from the three best projection systems out there for all relevant starting pitchers in the AL Central and combine that with exhaustive analysis and some solid layout choices?
You get this. Truly awe inspiring and highly informative. Very, very useful distillation of a lot of number crunching between CHONE, PECOTA and ZiPS. Mr. Fingers has undertaken a serious task and already has 2/3 of MLB done. And it saved me a serious time committment. But the plagiarist in me couldn't leave well enough alone. So I imported everything into a google doc and sorted everyone by WAR prorated to 180 innings pitched.
It's Neck and Neck!
Quibble if you will with certain projections, but it's pretty clear that the three systems see this as a highly competitive group of pitchers. Everyone except the Tigers have two 3 win pitchers and most have access to plenty 1-2 win sorts as well. The Royals lack comparable depth, which leaves the Twins, Sox and Indians to fight it out for best rotation.
This can turn on a number of factors. To stay Sox-oriented, Gavin Floyd is one. He's not at all liked by the projection systems and, seemingly, not exactly a candidate for an extension given the circumstances. On the other hand, it's finally become standard in saber-circles to at least begrudgingly admit some respect of Kenny, thanks to a litany of moves along the lines of Gavin's acquisition. I think the standard SSS editor position is that he's a good candidate to become a league-average type starter. That'd be a win or so upgrade and an approximate replication of his 2008 season.
Additional complications include Cliff Lee's actual talent level. His 2008 jump in GB rate and subsequent decline in HR make sense together and suggest a new level of performance. But he was a 7 win pitcher in 2008 and is closer to 3 for his career. That's a serious disparity and this analysis may well seriously understate the Indians staff as a result. Liriano and Danks are similarly possible aces that come with their own drawbacks. For Liriano, the question is exactly how good he can be post-TJ. With Danks the worry is the innings increase he saw from 2007 to 2008, though personally I think the Sox track record, his relatively few pitches thrown and his overall athleticism will make it a non-issue. He was a 5 win pitcher last season and can be again.
All in all, though, I think the Twins are in the best position. They aren't too young, but have both talent and depth between Liriano, Slowey, Baker, Blackburn and the hoard of possible back-enders. Not to mention, the Twins teach pitching exceptionally well. Every one of them has at least good command and control and the top three can get the K as well. Like larry, I think the Twins are the favorite to be revealed as the tallest midget when the tiny blankets are thrown off.