I’ve already taken a look at the 2013 ZiPS and Bill James projections for the Jays, but this week I kind of wanted to take a different approach to looking at some of the numbers forecast for this year’s club, and rather than go back through what we’ve already half-assedly looked at, it seemed a good opportunity to look at what some of the other number-spitting systems are telling us. Fortunately, there are several still out there, including CAIRO, available as an Excel file at Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, and quite nicely updated, formatted, and composed by individual team at RotoChamp. We can see the Jays’ team RotoChamp page here.
Now, be warned: some of these projections seem awfully light [read: mostly too scary to contemplate seriously]. So… don’t get too alarmed. Especially since, as I seem to mention every time I begin a post about projections, they’re all kind of a bit pointless anyway. Or, at the very least, hardly to be taken as the gospel. On the other hand, as you’ll see, it’s not easy to make the case that they’re terribly off target. And besides, what the hell else are we going to talk about? Let’s see what the robots are saying, concluding today with part two: the the rotation. (Sorry about the trad stats).
R.A. Dickey: 211 IP, 3.17 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 184 K, 52 BB
Why he’ll be better: The projection here seems to be splitting the difference between the very good Dickey we saw in 2011, and the excellent one from 2012. That’s perhaps problematic because of the way that Dickey has continued to refine his knuckleball– he got noticeably better in the second half of 2011, lowering his ERA from 3.61 to 2.87, his wOBA against from .316 to .289, his FIP from 4.19 to 3.26, and his xFIP from 4.04 to 3.85. And, since the projection is using it, his WHIP from 1.32 to 1.12. He maintained those sorts of levels for the duration of 2012 (albeit with some second half slippage), generated considerably more swinging strikes. Plus, he was just about as good on the road in 2012 as he was at home, and was better in 2011, so he’s no pitcher’s park creation. It’s a tall order, but especially in terms of strikeouts and innings pitched, he can exceed these numbers.
Why the projection is about right: The projection here is already rather generous, verging in spots more towards his 2012 numbers than his 2011. Changing leagues may help at first, as hitters who haven’t seen his current incarnation get used to him, but National League clubs scored 4.22 runs per game in 2012, posting a league-wide wOBA of .312, compared to 4.45 and .318 for the AL. The quality of competition is better, and moving to a far more hitter-friendly environment– and a division with a pair of classic, hitter-friendly joke stadiums– may slow him down in addition to the natural regression to the mean that should be expected. It’s certainly not a bad projection, but his Cy Young campaign will be very difficult to repeat.
Josh Johnson: 157 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 132 K, 48 BB
Why he’ll be better: Johnson pitched a full, healthy season in 2012, and has said that he really started to find his form by the end. Not all of the numbers bear that out– his FIP and xFIP actually went up from the first half of the season to the second– but some certainly do. His ERA dropped by half a run over the course of the year, his wOBA against dropped 30 points, and his WHIP went from 1.39 to 1.15 in the second half. It’s also hard to get a proper read on his 2012, on the whole, as he spent much of it tinkering with a curveball, which was new to his repertoire starting the season previous. Turning to it is almost certainly a consequence of the fact that his velocity hasn’t quite returned to where it once was, and in 2012 it allowed him to maintain– and actually increase a little bit– his strikeout rate over the course of the year. He used the pitch before he succumbed to injury in 2011, and though his velocity then wasn’t as great as before either, he pitched to a 1.64 ERA and 2.64 FIP over 60 innings. Given that he’s another year removed from his shoulder problems, and this much deeper into the development of his curve, if he stays on the field, a better season than this is certainly doable.
Why the projection is about right: The innings may not be what Jays fans are looking for, but the ERA and WHIP are both improvements on 2012 and the strikeout rate is only a little bit off from what he provided the Marlins. Even if he finds more success as he continues to come back from the shoulder issues that have derailed his last couple season, he also has to deal with switching into a better hitting league, not to mention pitching in a home park with a much more offence-friendly environment. Add in the fact that he’s turned to a curveball to compensate for his decreasing velocity and it certainly seems fair to not expect him to suddenly show up as the 5.5- to 6-win ace he was at his peak. The projection looks pretty fair, all things considered.
Brandon Morrow: 124 IP, 4.05 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 111 K, 50 BB
Why he’ll be better: Sure, Morrow only threw 124 innings in 2012, and has dealt with some kind of injury issue in each year since 2008, but it’s not like the oblique trouble that sidelined him in this season was related to any arm issue from the past. In fact, Morrow’s arm seemed healthy, and while the strikeout numbers weren’t as impressive as previous years, he pitched much more efficiently, inducing a career high ground ball rate, posting a career low walk rate, yet still being able to rear back and rely on pure stuff when it was needed. It’s easy to forget, especially those of us who look more to the peripherals, that Morrow’s ERA in 2011 was 4.72 and was 4.49 the year before, which maybe makes it understandable why the projection seems so far off last year’s 2.96 ERA. But the peripherals were always there, and in 2012 he pitched as though he’d finally figured it all out– certainly enough to expect better than this.
Why the projection is about right: As much as some numbers moved in the right direction for Morrow in 2012, his FIP was about the same as it was during his 4.72 ERA 2011 season, and his xFIP was a half run higher, as his HR/FB% was a touch low. His strand rate was abnormally high, as well, which all helps add up to the fact that, that despite the sparkling ERA, he was definitely not as valuable to the Jays as he was in 2010, when he walked an extra batter per nine innings, but struck out more than three more, and when FanGraphs’ WAR had him at 3.7 wins (in 146 innings), compared to 2.4 (in 124 innings) in 2012. Our eyes made us want to believe that he was turning into an ace, but some of the numbers just weren’t as kind, and a dip back to something like what’s being projected here isn’t out of the question– especially given the injury problems that seem to crop up every season.
Mark Buehrle: 200 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 111 K, 41 BB
Why he’ll be better: Buehrle may be getting older, and he may be switching back to the American League after single turn in the National League, and Toronto may be a much less pitcher-friendly place to play than in the cushy AL Central, but still, since an off year in 2006, his ERA has only cracked four once, and his WHIP has been equal-to or better than 1.30 in four of six seasons. His strikeout and walk rates have trended in the right way over the last two years, after a couple of down ones, and while some of that must boil down to facing pitchers in 2012, or the fact that he’s lost a half mile off his fastball velocity– it dipped to just 85 in 2012– at 34-years-old he’s still a long way from passing the point of no return for a soft-tossing lefty. And it’s not like he was working with a lot more velocity than that to begin with, so he could very conceivably hold those gains, even with a league switch.
Why the projection is about right: Buehrle’s groundball rate and HR/FB rate took a dip in 2012, contributing to a poor season overall, by his standards, which is a little alarming, given that he was expected to be better off in pitcher-friendly Marlins park. Bouncing back to something closer to his career norms in those departments will go a long way towards beating this projection, but switching back to the American League, to the AL East in particular, and having to more frequently face a club like the Red Sox, who are built to positively mash lefties, and to pitch in an unfriendly Rogers Centre environment doesn’t bode well. Nor does the fact that he’s rather steadily slipped from a consistent four-ish win guy from 2002 to 2008 (save high and low outliers in 2005 and ’06), to a three-ish win guy from 2009 to 2011, to just 2.1 fWAR in 2012. It won’t be easy to reverse that trend at his age, and it may translate into a year like the one projected– decent, but maybe not quite at the level Buehrle’s being paid for.
Ricky Romero: 193 IP, 4.58 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 137 K, 89 BB
Why he’ll be better: First off, if Romero is walking that number of hitters again, he certainly won’t be hitting that innings total. But it’s hard to believe it’s going to come to that again. Romero had surgery to ease pain in his throwing elbow that dogged him all season long, and that he may have pitched through to the detriment of his numbers. Even if we don’t believe the surgery will unlock the old Romero, we still have to think that the numbers he posted in 2012 are so way off what we’d seen before that they just can’t be taken seriously as a new normal. Peripherals have never exactly been Romero’s best friends, but could he really be worse next year than the season in which he produced career lows in ERA, FIP, xFIP, HR/FB, strand rate, groundball rate, walk rate, strikeout rate, line drive rate, swinging strike rate, first pitch strike rate, and more. Literally across the board, Romero was the worst he’s ever been, and there’s so much of that built into the projection that he only has to halfway bounce back to exceed what’s expected of him here.
Why the projection is about right: We act like Romero’s 2012 was one gigantic shitty monolith, but those of us who can bear trying to remember ought to realize that it wasn’t quite that. He tinkered with everything, and absolutely nothing worked– he posted his worst FIP and xFIP of the season in the month of September, for example. So, the idea that everything that was wrong is just going to magically disappear is a little fanciful. The elbow surgery gives some hope– perhaps it was elbow pain that was preventing him from throwing first-pitch strikes, which led to relying on his fastball too much, which led to his getting bashed all over the yard, but if it was, it doesn’t jump out at you in terms of any kind of different release point or major mechanical change. It’s no foregone conclusion that he isn’t simply lost.
Yeah… so I said this was the last piece like this I was going to do, but if it gets really boring around here in the next week or two, maybe I’ll look at some relievers and miscellaneous folks coming off the bench or in the minors.