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THT, 5th starters, and the White Sox

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The Hardball Times ran a two part piece on the average ERAs of your typical #1-5 starters. (Part 1) (Part 2) I thought I'd take a look at how the Sox stacked up.

Lg #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 MLB 3.60 4.14 4.58 5.10 6.24 AL 3.70 4.24 4.58 5.09 6.22 NL 3.51 4.04 4.57 5.11 6.26 SOX '06 4.28 4.52 4.54 4.85 4.99 07 ZiPS 4.21 4.36 4.55 4.69 5.05
As noted in Part 2, the White Sox had the most consistent starting staff in baseball. Not only did the starters post remarkably similar ERAs, they did so while making 159 of the 162 starts. Unfortunately, consistent mediocrity doesn't result in playoff appearances. Not in the AL, at least.

Here's what the rotations for the 2006 playoff teams looked like.

Lg #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 MLB 3.40 3.81 4.34 4.91 5.80 AL 3.36 3.75 4.27 4.93 5.65 NL 3.43 3.87 4.41 4.89 5.95
Playoff staffs had two starters that could be considered #1's, and 3 solidly above average starters. Their 5th starters were surprisingly -- surprising to me, anyway -- far below average. I would have expected them to be close to league average.

While I don't think this influenced Kenny's decision to ship out 2 starters, I do think it's noteworthy that playoff teams didn't seem to have that 5th quality starter that many Sox fans and all Chicago area columnists assume the Sox need to compete in '07. I've listed the Sox '07 Zips for Vazquez, Buehrle, Contreras, Garland, Haeger (in that order) in the top chart, but I think some of those numbers need a little more input.

  • Vazquez' good peripherals always lead to nice projections, but this one I think is warranted. It took Coop a year to "fix" Contreras, and Vazquez was showing flashes of consistency at the end of last season. I think 4.21 is a good projection.
  • Buehrle was the Worst Starter in Baseball after June 31st, but he's got a lifetime ERA of 3.81 and only in his '06 season did he post a ERA north of his Zips. I'd put his projection around 4.00.
  • Contreras' ZiPS have to contend with his erratic control prior to the '05 All-Star break, which helps explain why ZiPs projects a 4.55 ERA for a guy who's posted a 3.93 ERA in his last 400 innings. Like Buehlre, I'd put his projection right around 4.00.
  • Garland doesn't strike out a lot of guys, so his projections are never optimistic. On his career, however, he's shown the ability to have some control on balls in play. Early '06, when he was getting hammered, appears to be the exception. After his breakout '05, I expected him to come back to Earth with an ERA around 4.00 thanks to his decreased BB rate. I still feel the same way, but lets add a touch for his '06 regression, say, 4.20.
  • Finally, Haeger's ERA is actually understated thanks to the high number of unearned runs that occur thanks to his knuckleball. So while I wouldn't be surprised if he put up a 5.05 ERA, it would probably feel much more like a 5.55 ERA. Lance Broadway's ZiPS ERA is 5.35; Floyd's is 6.14, and Danks is 6.21.
The projections for the top 4 are optimistic, no doubt, but I still think they're realistic in that I'd give each player about a 25% chance of exceeding my adjusted projection. What I'm trying to say is if the first 4 starters perform about how we, as optimistic fans, expect, the Sox should make the playoffs even without "can't miss McCarthy" and World Series hero Garcia.