Written by Larry Hodges (alias larrytt)
Sure, we definitely could really use more depth in the starting rotation. But it's not as bad as some make it seem. Let's look at what we actually have and what they did last year.
Tillman: 33 starts, 206 innings, 3.71 ERA
Gonzalez: 28 starts, 171 innings, 3.78 ERA
Chen: 23 starts, 137 innings, 4.07 ERA
Norris: 32 starts, 176 innings, 4.18 ERA (with Orioles and Houston)
Tillman and Norris made every start, Gonzalez only missed four, and even Chen, who was injured, missed only about nine. So we have a relatively hardy group here.
Now we throw Gausman into the mix. He has never been on the disabled list, and as far as I know has no injury problems. From another thread, projections from Steamer, Oliver, PECOTA, and ZiPs project his ERA next year as 3.97, 3.94, 3.86, and 4.28. (Disclaimer: I only vaguely know about these four groups, but I'm assuming they know something about what they're saying.) Let's say say 4.00. Then we have five starters who, when their ERA's are averaged together, come out to 3.95. (It'd actually be lower since our better starters would get more innings.)
Assuming Gausman meets these projections and continues to be healthy, then based on last year, we'd only need about 13 starts from someone outside these five starters. Let's be conservative, and say 20.
So for 142 games, we have starting pitchers with ERA's of 3.95. Now assume we make up the other 20 games with starters with 5.00 ERA's. Realistically, they'd pitch less innings per game than the other pitchers, and so would have less effect on the starting pitching overall ERA. But that just hides the fact that we'd have to bring in relievers early, and that probably won't work out well. So let's assume they work they same number of innings on average as the others. (Let's be conservative here.) Then the starting pitching ERA comes out as 4.08. Realistically, since our better pitchers (such as Tillman) will pitch more innings, it would be more like 4.00.
Where does this put us in the AL East? Last year the starting pitcher ERA was as follows:
TBR: 3.81
BOS: 3.84
NYY: 4.08
BAL: 4.57
TOR: 4.81
So around 4.00, or something close to that, combined with a strong offense, would likely keep us in the hunt for the playoffs.
Some things do need to go right for this to happen, of course. Gausman has to live up to projections. Norris has to pitch in the AL East roughly like he did outside it. (And remember that if he or Gausman is the 5th starter, they'll have fewer starts.) And we have to have relatively healthy starting pitching, with no major injuries.
Throw in last year's offense, with perhaps improvement from Wieters and Markakis, and we're looking pretty strong. Bottom line - to make the playoffs, a team has to play well, so if we're looking to make the playoffs, we have to assume that our playes will play well and be relatively healthy. If they do, then things get interesting.
Secretly (OK, not so secret now), I'd just as much like to bring in one more good hitter than another starter. Bringing in another starter improves us about as much as the difference in his WAR and the weakest of our current starting five, which isn't really much. (Plus the games where we have an injured starter.) Bringing in another good hitter could match or exceed that. Bad pitching knocks teams out of contention, but with decent pitching, the offense can carry the team just as much as pitching.
Having said all this, it still would be nice to add a sub 4.00 ERA starter to the mix for depth and to give us better starters in those projected 20 games when a starter is injured.
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