**EDIT** Changed content relating to Bonderman and Carlos Torres. Torres is in Japan, Bonderman's thinking retirement.
Continuing from last week, it's time for further adventures with projection systems. This week: the starting pitchers. The above table is what you get if you take a straight average of the ERA projected for the top 5 starters from each team.* If I were, say, to take that average ERA and give each group 1000 innings, I could figure out how many wins per 1000 IP each staff is worth. Since the Sox are the best across the board, I made the table a little different. Think about it like games back in the standings. The Sox are at 0, with the Twins and Tigers some number of wins behind:
For the record: these have been rounded to the nearest win. Last week, it was clear that the Twins had more talent in their lineup than the Sox or Tigers by a couple wins. Unlike the Tigers, the White Sox make up the deficit with strength in the rotation. There are caveats however. Like last week, this method ignores health. Normally adding that back in would put the Sox further ahead. But in this case, there's Jake Peavy. If he were to split the season with some other starter with a 5.00 ERA, the Sox would fall right back to the starting pitcher pack. Given the uncertainty involved in each injury, it makes a lot of sense to say Justin Morneau:Twins::Jake Peavy:White Sox.
My method also neglects depth beyond the top 5. That's partly because I don't see it being an issue. The leftovers include guys like Brian Duensing and Jeremy Bonderman, not to mention Chris Sale. Nobody's going to replace an ace with those guys, but they are still pretty solid guys who can slot in comfortably for a mid-to-back of the rotation injury. Observe:
Duensing may actually make the Twins rotation if someone comes out looking flat, since there are a few outstanding questions that may require Spring Training to resolve. Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn both had minor offseason surgeries, and while Liriano seems to be more than all the way back from Tommy John, he's definitely established himself as flimsy. Kevin Slowey had surgery in 2009 and also came up limp in 2010. And of course, Carl Pavano and his stache time-traveled to the present from 1880. That's bound to have adverse effects.
Baker, the presumptive number 2, has already had a setback and his career numbers are beginning to suggest that he's worse than his peripherals. The same may be said of Slowey in a year or two. Even with all those questions, the Twins will still probably be good as long as Liriano's healthy. Staff dominance is probably out of the question, as they've got as much risk 1-5 as the Sox have including Peavy, but they'll be in the top half of the league.
Like Duensing, I said Bonderman qualifies as "solid" which doesn't mean he's as good as Sale or Duensing. Just that if he's got to replace anyone past Verlander or Scherzer for a half-season, no one will really notice. On the other hand, it's looking like he might not even play baseball this year, so maybe the Tigers will have depth issues. Brad Penny is most likely to prove me wrong on that count. He only made 9 starts last year, but he's been good when he's been healthy and he's still hitting 94 mph with his heater. Porcello gives them some upside I guess (which both Marcel and the fans pick up on), but he'd really have to add some velocity to impress me. Phil Coke is going to lose a few ticks, so he's likely just to be some guy out there. So I'm with ZiPS: Verlander and Scherzer and pray for Sain.**
Compared to their fellow contenders, the Sox actually have the most to lose in case of injury to one of the top five. This is in part because Chris Sale will be stashed in the pen, but also because Peavy is the most likely to go down. Don Cooper has said he doesn't want to be moving Sale back and forth between roles and it seems that upper management agrees with him. At least for now. If that's the case, the options are slim. Tony Pena has enough pitches to make it work okay and he's not terribly vital in the pen. I'd peg him for around a 5.25 ERA if he had to start. Carlos Torres is
probably worse than Pena, but not worse than replacement level the next Tom Selleck. Nobody outside of John Danks can really replace a fully functional Peavy, but neither Pena or Torres is really fit to fill in for the top 5.
Given the set up, you might think it obvious that they'll run with Sale if they have to. Hopefully your history of guessing Kenny Williams' intentions are better than mine. I was positive Ken Griffey Jr. would never play center field. That aside, it's worth mentioning that the timing of a hypothetical Peavy injury makes a lot of difference. If he makes it to August, a four man rotation starts looking pretty good. In which case, you're only losing the difference between Peavy and the other four starters. That ain't much and it sets a nice bar for Peavy to (hopefully) clear. If Peavy can be the Real Jake Peavy from opening day until August, the Sox will be in good shape. If they've got Real Peavy while Morneau struggles with his comeback, they'll be the division front-runner.
*I filled in Brad Penny and Phil Coke's fan projection myself, which is cheating but I don't think it really makes a huge difference. I also didn't use Brian Duensing b/c Marcel and the Fans think he's going to relieve part time and that screws with the projection. Plus, I'm guessing the Twins see Duensing and Blackburn as about the same, but they're paying the latter $3M this season. Not true for Duensing.
**Zombies are hip.