Friday, April 02, 2004

Baseball Prospectus' unsigned "Triple Play" features the Lads pitching today, and doesn't see much improvement in the rotation. It pegs Colon, Ace Washburn, and Kelvim Escobar as being slightly worse than last year (though Colon and Escobar worse are still better than 2003's trainwreck), with Lackey seeing improvement and Ortiz seeing slight improvement -- but not enough to see him being valuable. They also pass on the useless information that Troy Percival "is 118th of 127 in inherited runners per relief appearance since 1998." Yeah, how often do we expect Troy to enter a game with men on base? Oh yeah, that's right ...

Is there reason to expect Washburn to further decline this season? We know his 2002 was far superior to his 2003 (a 3.15 ERA and 138 ERA+ against a 4.43 and 96). Why was he so much worse? How do his peripherals look, comparing 2002 to 2003?

Looking at his batting average allowed on balls in play, Ace was about the same: he was at .255 in 2002 and .253 in 2003. His career rate? Guess what: .254. So Washburn's decline last year was not due to any bad luck or aberration on this score.

The problem was that Washburn had many more balls put in play against him. His innings were the same for the two seasons (206 and 207 1/3), but look at his strikeouts and homers: his strikeouts decline from 139 to 118 and his homers increased from 19 to 34.

This was, by far Washburn's lowest strikeout rate since his first full season as a starter in 2001, and the lowest in his career (by a smaller margin, against his 2000 season). This was also his highest home run rate since 2001, though lower than his half-season in 2000.

Are these patterns reversible? Well, as we know, Jarrod fell on his left shoulder in spring training, and it was pretty clear all season that he was throwing with less velocity than the year before. Since all Washburn uses, traditionally, is his fastball, those few miles per hour were significant. One extra home run every other start, one less strikeout every start-and-a-half, and poof! Your ERA jumps. (And BPro's PECOTA system, by the way, is unaware of Washburn's freak injury.)

Will Jarrod bounce back? There is every reason to believe he should be healthy this season. I am loathe to reference spring training statistics at all, but he did have 9 strikeouts -- and zero home runs -- in 14 1/3 innings.

I think Washburn's career totals should be in reach; an ERA just below 4.00, an ERA+ right around 115. If he put up his career 115 ERA+ in 207 1/3 innings (what he threw last year), right there the Angels gain 17 runs -- nearly two wins.

(For the curious: I am using last year's standards as reported by BB-ref.com, wherein Ace's league- and park-adjusted context is a 4.26 ERA, against which he put up a 4.43. A 115 ERA+ would be 15% better than 4.26, for a 3.70. A 3.70 ERA over 207 1/3 IP is 85, meaning 17 less earned runs than the 102 Wash allowed last season. He should put expected to allow a handful of unearned runs, but not any more than last year.)

It occurred to me that I could do this analysis for all of the starters. I took the average innings pitched they have thrown their last two seasons, and applied their career ERA+ against the 4.26 to see how many runs we can expect the starters to allow. The results (sorry about the formatting):

Colon 121 237.7 3.52 93
Washburn 115 206.7 3.70 85
Escobar* 104 177.0 4.10 81
Lackey** 100 198.0 4.26 94
Ortiz 98 198.7 4.35 96
*For Escobar, I used the two seasons in which he has pitched the most innings.
**For Lackey, I prorated his 2002 innings pitched per start from 18 to 32 starts.

Totals: 448 ER in 1,018 IP, for an ERA of 3.96.

If Angels starters perform as their career averages, they should be in for a fantastic year. Last year, the Angels top five starters allowed 447 earned runs total, which takes into account the semi-seasons turned in by Ape and Sele. This isn't even counting Shields or Calloway or Bootcheck or Gregg ...

I gotta run, but I'll return to this subject later ...

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