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Thought Experiment: Worst Winning Rotation

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#1 Luke


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Posted 18 November 2013 - 08:37 PM



It seems to have become a truism for some fans that no baseball team can win consistently without a staff full of aces, or at least No 1s and No 2s (whatever those terms happen to mean to you).  The thinking seems to be that you need a Philly style staff-of-aces to have the barest hope of any postseason success, let alone actually reaching the post-season in the first place.


I'm not sure I buy it.  


Aces are nice and I'd love to have a stable of them on the Cubs, just like any other baseball fan, but I wouldn't go so far as to say they are required.  In fact, we can all without thinking too hard start to name some very good baseball teams that had at most one really good pitcher.  


And that got me thinking - just how bad can the rotation be?  


The Challenge


Put together a five man rotation good enough to get into the postseason (by no objective metric - subjectivity only for now (although I do grade myself with fWAR)).


Let's lay the following ground rules.  The team you are building a rotation for is:

1 - Top 5 in defense

2 - Top 5 in offense

3 - Has a Top 5 bullpen

4 - Not Colorado.


Badness here can be measured however you like (including by cheapness if you equate talent with salary).


My Approach


I think with a good defensive, good offensive team, the starting staff needs to do two things: eat innings and not give up home runs.  Not surprisingly, these are two things that very good pitchers do well.  To make sure I kept to the not-so-good ones, though, I forced myself to only select pitchers with an ERA over 4.00.  I also generally avoided highly touted prospects and, to some extent, formerly very good pitchers on a down year.


I went to fangraphs, used 2013 numbers, only considered pitchers who threw at least 180 innings, and looked over several sorts.  Current results are below, in no particular order.


Kyle Kendrick - FIP 4.01.  But, with 182 innings, a GB% of 49.4% and a HR/9 of 0.89 he fits what I'm looking for.  fWAR was just 1.7.

Tim Lincecum - His FIP of 3.74 is much better than his ERA of 4.37, and I'm taking advantage.  This does feel like cheating, though.  Still, 197 innings, 45.3% GB rate and less than 1 HR/9.  He makes the cut legitimately.  His fWAR was 1.6.

Joe Saunders - His HR/9 is higher (1.23) but he did pitch 183 innings with a GB% of 51.2%.  fWAR of 0.6.

Kevin Correa -  185.1 innings is a good start, but he makes the list because he only had a 2.19 BB/9.  He might give the outfield defense a workout though.  fWAR of 1.3.

Jeremy Guthrie - His 211 innings is nice, and his FIP suggests he was worse than his ERA projects.  To be honest there isn't a lot here I like, but the 78.2% LOB rate is nice... assuming he wasn't just lucky all year.  fWAR of 1.1.


And there is my initial staff.  Could that rotation win?  I don't think it would be awful.  With a good defense and some big bats backing it up I think it could snag a Wild Card.  Total fWAR is 6.3.  


Who's got lower?

#2 Brett



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Posted 19 November 2013 - 07:20 AM

With the right team around it, I'm sure that rotation could win. Although the playoffs are a crapshoot, I think its likelihood of success in short series would be reduced, though.

#3 Cubbie Blues

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 07:21 AM

Arroyo would be an interesting one to put in there somewhere.

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#4 Luke


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Posted 19 November 2013 - 08:07 PM

I looked at Arroyo.

#5 FarmerTanColin


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Posted 30 November 2013 - 01:48 PM

This is very interesting my list won't empathize innings as much but more if given the opportunity of more starts how could they have done. And trying to differ from Luke's list.


Roberto Hernandez - 151 innings but only 23 starts . 70%LOB with a 3.6 xFIP, 4.89 ERA. Also a 20.9% HR/FB rate so maybe with some more luck he could be a legitimate playoff caliber guy. 0.2 War last season with a steamer projection of 2.9 for 2014. Also 53%GB rate.


Erik Bedard - 151 innings in 26 starts. 8.23k/9. He is included because you are going to need strikeouts someplace. His GB% was 8 points lower than his career average and with a 70%lob think a good team would have bolstered him.


Joe Blanton - ERA leader with 6.04 in 132 innings over 20 starts and a 44%GB rate. His BABIP was 40 points higher than his career average. HR/FB rate was nearly doubled. 7.33 k/9 and 2.31 bb/9. xFIP 3.84. Led to a -.04 War with a steamer projection to bounce back to 1.2 at least. I think he is the worst fifth starter a playoff team could have.


Aaron Harang and Bruce Chen could make an appearance but Kendrick and Lincecum seem to be the best fits for this exercise.

#6 Featherstone


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Posted 10 December 2013 - 04:50 PM

This talk of rotations and #1s got me thinking. How many #1s are there really in baseball. I came up with 11 in total, feel free to add, subtract, or nit-pick my list. Im curious to what everyone else thinks.


Matt Harvey (Pre-injury of course)

Jose Fernandez

Stephen Strasberg (injury history scares me, but the stuff is there)

Adam Wainwright (grumble grumble)

Clayton Kershaw

David Price

Justin Verlander

Max Scherzer

Chris Sale

Yu Darvish

Felix Hernandez


I came up with a big list of #2s out there, but I was a bit strict on my definition of #1s. 


Sorry to derail your thread Luke, your experiment got me thinking.

#7 Okiecubhawk


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Posted 13 January 2014 - 10:07 PM

More importantly I wonder what could the Cubs do this year with a rotation of lesser pieces:


Ervin Santana: average 1.9 WAR over the last 4 years.  Take out a disastrous 2012 (-1.3) and his average is 2.9

Matt Garza:  average 1.8 WAR over the last 3 seasons.  Reduced by injuries so he is likely more valuable than that.

Scott Baker: average 3.1 WAR in his 5 full seasons in Minnesota.  Whats a safe assumption on him?  Half of that?


Two of those three along with Samardzija, Jackson and Wood is an ultimate rotation of non #1/#2 pitchers. Instead of going big on Tanaka does it make more sense to spend the money on two of those three (or similar) pitchers?  With the Cubs offensive issues and question about the long term viability of potential core pieces I don't think it does.  Doesn't it make more sense to add a potential ace in Tanaka who could still be productive when the offense come along?  Add Tanaka (if the planets align properly), trade Samardzija (if the right deal is there) and see what you have in Arrieta.


A potential rotation for 2014 would be Tanaka, Jackson, Wood, Arrieta and Villanueva/Rusin.  Personally I think it would be best to land Tanaka (again, if the cards fall just the right way.  The Cubs aren't going for him in a vacuum) and keep Samardzija (Unless someone knocks your socks off with a trade offer).  Then your rotation is set as Tanaka, Samardzija, Jackson, Wood and Arrieta.


More likely is that it ends up being Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, Arrieta and Baker/Santana/Rusin/someone else.

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