Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 3/10/13
A few weeks ago when Jon wrote this article, talking about expectations for the Tribe in 2013 and how they may be a little too high, I immediately conveyed how I thought that article rained on my potential parade of writing about how this team with its flurry of additions in the offseason should be above .500. That led to the conversation that sparked this Jacob piece about our discussion on the Tribe’s amazingly bad starting rotation in 2012. I still want to go through my exercise, using one metric, Jon’s newly fashioned “jWAR” to see how many wins it could potentially get the Tribe to in 2013. Now, before we begin, I realize that this is just ONE metric, a metric that is not without its flaws, but in the new stats revolution, WAR is certainly something that has garnered its fair share of respect. So, take this article as more of a fun piece and not a hard and fast prediction that the Tribe is going to the playoffs or anything like crazy like that. My first reaction when I heard that the over/under for the 2013 Indians’ win total had been set at 77.5 was “huh!?”. The team won 68 games last year while walking through a zombie-like second half where they had tuned their manager out. They had a rotating pile of crap in the bottom three spots of the rotation and in left field. Travis Hafner played just 66 games, while Lonnie Chisenhall played 43 games. They had no offense from the first base or DH spots either. Their young core was hitting the wall it seemed. You had bottom four lineups with the names of Duncan, Marson, Lillibridge, and Carrera (not to mention Cunningham, Damon, Rottino, Canzler, etc.). Adding Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, Michael Bourn, and Mike Aviles to an offense that was essentially dropping only Shin-Soo Choo (and yeah, Travis Hafner, I guess)? That had to be worth more than the predicted 9 win jump right there alone! That’s when I got into the starting pitching argument. Jacob already covered the numbers, but they’re worth noting again. # Team ERA- FIP- ERA FIP Year 20 Orioles 118 107 5.4 4.89 2006 19 Mariners 118 108 5.16 4.65 2007 18 Rangers 118 114 5.5 5.25 2007 17 Orioles 118 118 5.37 5.33 2009 16 Indians 120 109 5.3 4.75 2009 15 Red Sox 121 108 5.19 4.69 2012 14 Mariners 121 115 5.07 4.77 2008 13 Royals 122 110 5.01 4.59 2012 12 Devil Rays 122 121 5.45 5.38 2003 11 Rangers 123 112 5.51 5.02 2008 10 Orioles 124 121 5.51 5.38 2008 9 Royals 126 108 5.25 4.52 2010 8 Orioles 129 118 5.39 4.91 2011 7 Royals 129 122 5.85 5.5 2006 6 Rangers 130 114 6.24 5.41 2003 5 Tigers 130 118 5.71 5.12 2003 4 Devil Rays 131 115 5.62 4.91 2005 3 Indians 133 118 5.25 4.73 2012 2 Twins 133 122 5.4 5.02 2012 1 Royals 135 114 6 5.07 2005   Second worst ERA- this decade! Before I knew that exact figure, I said this in our discussion. “But you see what I’m saying in regards to that rotation being way out on the edge of bad, right? Ubaldo and Masterson had career worst years, Lowe was gone by June, Gomez got torched, Tomlin and Carrasco were hurt, and no one else stepped up. Our bully only got better and deeper and we added Myers. I hope they won’t ride with Ubaldo all year at a 5.00+ ERA clip if he sucks. I think Bauer makes an impact in the second half, and if Zac Mac can even come close to last year, he’s good enough for an end of rotation starter for us. That’s ALL I was trying to say the other day. I’d set the over/under at somewhere around 81. That team had so many ugly things happen last year and still won 68 games. Just a 9 game improvement to me means there were two or three SIGNIFICANT injuries for extended time and a trade of some sorts.” So, to use 2012 as a stepping stone and a barometer of sorts, I grabbed the jWAR of every player who had significant playing time with the Indians last season (Vinnie Rottino was my cutoff point on the hitters with 18 games played, Dan Wheeler my pitching cutoff with 12 innings pitched). This gave me 20 hitters and 22 pitchers contributing to my jWAR figures. The results are below. Hitter 2012 jWAR Pitcher 2012 jWAR Santana 3.6 Pestano 1.6 Kipnis 3.4 Masterson 1.2 Cabrera 3.0 Smith 0.8 Choo 2.9 Rogers 0.7 Brantley 2.8 C. Perez 0.7 Hafner 0.7 Lowe 0.5 Hannahan 0.4 McAllister 0.4 Carrera 0.4 Herrmann 0.3 Marson 0.3 Allen 0.3 Chisenhall 0.1 Seddon 0.3 Damon 0.0 Accardo 0.1 Canzler -0.1 Barnes 0.1 Rottino -0.1 Huff 0.1 Lopez -0.2 Kluber 0.0 LaPorta -0.3 Sipp -0.2 Duncan -0.4 Asencio -0.2 Donald -0.4 Hagadone -0.3 Cunningham -0.5 Wheeler -0.4 Lillibridge -0.8 “Carmona” -0.5 Kotchman -1.3 Jimenez -0.5 Tomlin -0.6 Gomez -0.8 Total 13.5 3.6   So, by jWAR figures, the Indians were about 17 wins above replacement. Baseball Reference defines replacement as about 52-110. That falls right in with how the Tribe actually performed (one more win roughly at 69). The only thing I really left out of the calculation here was pitchers’ offensive WARs, which were essentially a wash. Let’s plug in the new roster additions alone and see what they add to the equation. For the purpose of this argument, I’ve assumed an Opening Day bench of Marson, Aviles, Raburn, and Giambi, Kazmir winning the fifth spot in the rotation, and a bullpen of Perez, Pestano, Smith, Albers, Shaw, Hagadone, and Allen (surely, Matt Capps or others could wind up here). I’ve also made some adjustments to the WARs used where reasonable. First, I used Myers’ WAR from 2011, his last season as a starter (not a stellar inflated value, mind you). Then, I used Kazmir’s ’09 value, because it was his last fully effective season as a starter (argument being that if he pitches as bad as he did in 2010, they’ll go to Bauer, Carrasco, Huff, or someone else). Finally, I added 2011 values for both Raburn and Giambi, because they won’t be on the roster if they don’t contribute at at least those levels. They’ll be replaced by Ezequiel Carrera, Chris McGuiness, or someone else who should hopefully at least provide replacement value. Hitter 2013 jWAR Pitcher 2013 jWAR Bourn 6.2 Kazmir (’09) 1.3 Swisher 3.7 Myers (’11) 0.8 Aviles 1.9 Albers 0.5 Stubbs 0.6 Shaw 0.4 Reynolds 0.2 Giambi (’11) 1.2 Raburn (’11) 0.6 Total 14.4 3.0   17 extra wins? Fantastic! But, wait, there’s the matter of subtracting our, ahem, subtractions from last year’s roster before we go about saying the team will win 87 games (52 replacement + 17.7 above replacement last year + 17.4 extra wins from new additions). Below, I roughly showed the 2012 players that our 2013 additions are replacing. I combined two players when they essentially added up to one season’s amount of ABs/IP. Hitter 2012 jWAR Pitcher 2012 jWAR Choo 2.9 Rogers 0.7 Hafner 0.7 Sipp -0.2 Hannahan 0.4 Gomez/Lowe -0.3 Duncan/Carrera 0.0 Tomlin/Kluber -0.6 Cunningham/Damon -0.5 Lopez/Lillibridge -1.0 Kotchman -1.3 Total 1.2 -0.4   Geez, so despite losing Choo, the rest of the roster wasteland that we replaced with real major league players nearly cancels out his win share value. So, like I had mentioned above, that gets the Tribe to about 86 wins. I swear I didn’t do the math when I made that statement in Jacob’s discussion article. Now, there are some things I haven’t accounted for. First, as FanGraphs points out in their explaination of win values, “First off, wins aren’t entirely linear. A player who is projected as a +2 win player won’t have the exact same impact on a 60 win roster that he would on a 95 win roster. There’s diminishing returns that start kicking in, and there are only so many at-bats and high leverage innings to go around.” So that’s something to keep in mind with the returning players who will hopefully be playing on a better than 68-win team. There’s also the injury issue, because there will undoubtedly be some that affect these predictions. I truly believe, however, that our starting pitching and bullpen depth is better than it was last year, so there shouldn’t be as great of a dropoff in production. Some might argue I’m cherry-picking a bit here, but you know what I left alone? Last year’s contributions from returning Indians. Can Kipnis, Santana, Brantley, or Chisenhall get better? Well, I certainly hope so. Even more important than that, I still have Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez penciled in with 1.2 and -0.5 WARs respectively. Masterson posted his highest career ERA (4.93), ERA+ (79, meaning he was 21% worse than the league average ERA) most walks (88), most HR (18), most HBP (13), most wild pitches (14), a K/BB rate at a 3-year low since becoming a Tribe starter (1.81). If Masterson can pitch anywhere close to his 2011 numbers (3.21 ERA, 122 ERA+, 64 walks, 11 HR allowed, 5 wild pitches, and a K/BB rate of 2.43), then the WAR will be much closer to his 2011 figure of 3.6 instead of 1.2. Ahh, Ubaldo. Ubaldo’s quite a different case. For one, I don’t believe in Ubaldo… at all. I’d love to be wrong and see him last the entire year in the rotation, but with better options on the horizon (Bauer and Carrasco, for instance), if Jimenez doesn’t pitch well a month or two in, the Indians should eject him from the rotation if they want to compete. Last season, Ubaldo had plenty of career worsts too, including ERA (5.40), ERA+ (72), wild pitches (16), homers (25), WHIP (1.61), BB/9 (4.8), K/9 (7.3), and K/BB (1.51). The strikeout and walk numbers were not even close to his past years or any reasonable level of respectability. If he pitches that bad again, he shouldn’t make it to May. I’m not even going to speculate on what good for Ubaldo can be anymore but I will point out that from 2008-2010, his WARs were 3.6, 5.3, and 7.3 respectively. Could Ubaldo be even a 2 WAR player? That could be good enough to stick around and keep the Tribe competitive. So, I guess that’s all I have to say about jWAR and the Indians. I’m putting the win prediction according to WAR at right around 86. I expect our starting rotation to do better than I mathematically figured. Plus, I figure the diminishing returns from more talent on a winning team and only so many high leverage situations will balance that out. 86 wins? That puts us within spitting distance of the Tigers. If they have a key injury, anything is possible. Now, if the young core of Kipnis, Santana, Chisenhall, and Brantley take the next step or Masterson or Ubaldo return to number one starter form? It could be a really fun year. (Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)
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