Fangraphs is Wrong about the Pirates Rotation

I respect the opinions of the analysts at Fangraphs.com, but they are dead wrong in their estimation of the current state of the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation.

Fangraphs recently posted an article which assessed the Pirates starters as being in the bottom third of major league rotations. I’m not seeing it.

The major league average xFIP for starting pitchers last year was 3.91. Here are the 2013 xFIPs of the top six starters on the Pirates current roster:

Francisco Liriano:  3.12

Gerrit Cole:  3.14

Charlie Morton: 3.69

Wandy Rodriguez:  4.00

Edinson Volquez:  4.07

Jeff Locke:  4.19

The Pirates sixth best starter had an xFIP of just 4.19, which is in the range of a #4 starter. And Brandon Cumpton, who is likely the Pirates seventh best starter, had a 3.40 xFIP over 30.2 innings in 2013.

That’s real depth.

The top five starters listed above had an average xFIP of 3.60 in 2013 – 31 points better than the league average for starting pitchers. And that 3.60 xFIP would have placed the Pirates 5th among the 30 rotations in major league baseball last year.

But Fangraphs did not make their assessment based solely upon what the Pirate starters did last year. They used 2014 projections. So, let’s take a look at the projections that are listed on fangraph’s pages.

(The projections list FIP, but they do not list xFIP, which adjusts for HR/FB percentage.)

The average FIP for major league starting pitchers in 2013 was 3.95. Here are the FIPs projected for Pirate pitchers. (Average of Steamer, Oliver, and ZIPS projections on fangraphs.com)

Liriano: 3.41

Cole: 3.71

Rodriguez: 3.92

Morton: 3.93

Locke: 4.10

Volquez: 4.16

Cumpton:  4.30

The projections for the top five starters averaged 3.81. That’s 14 points better than the league average for starting pitchers in 2013 and would have placed 9th among all major league teams.

The projections for all SEVEN starters averaged 3.93, which would have ranked 14th of 30 in 2013.

Again, the major league average FIP for starters in 2013 was 3.95. Fangraphs’ own projectionists expect the Pirates top seven starters to have a FIP that is 2 points better than league average. So, how can fangraphs possibly conclude that the Pirates starters are in the bottom third of major league rotations?!

I’m not seeing it.

In a previous post, I looked at the xFIPS of the 139 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings as a starter in 2013 to determine the respective xFIP ranges of #1 through #5 starters. (My methods can be found at this link.) These were the results:

#1.  0 – 3.45

#2.  3.46 – 3.74

#3.  3.75 – 4.03

#4.  4.04 – 4.29

#5.  4.30 +

Here is how the current Pirate starters ranked on the #1 – #5 scale in 2013:

#1.  Liriano: 3.12 xFIP;  Cole: 3.14 xFIP

#2.  Morton: 3.69 xFIP

#3.  Rodriguez: 4.00 xFIP

#4.  Volquez: 4.07 xFIP; Locke: 4.19 xFIP

That is not a bottom third rotation.

 

 

 

457 thoughts on “Fangraphs is Wrong about the Pirates Rotation

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  2. Nice article. I will def keep those xfip numbers in my head when I’m talking about the pirates rotation. I always get criticized when I say Morton when healthy puts up number 2 pitcher stats and hat Wandy is still a solid 3 when healthy. I think these numbers also justify not having to give Burnett 17 million because our rotation is just fine. Along with Crumpton and Tailion, we have depth and top of the rotation impact sitting in AAA respectively.

    • We here so much about #1 starters through #5 starters that I wanted to put some kind of measure to it. Based on the 2012 xFIPs of 139 starting pitchers, you were right about Morton being a #2 and Wandy being a #3.

      The rotation would obviously be better with Burnett, but I think much of what he gave the Pirates can be made up by having Liriano, Cole, Morton, and Rodriguez for the full season. None of them spent all of 2013 on the 25-man roster.

      I really like the Pirates depth. Locke, may be their sixth starter and he has #4 numbers. Baseball Prospectus wrote that Brandon Cumpton probably would be in some other teams’ rotations. His only chance to be with the Pirates out of spring training is more than one injury to starters.

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  5. ” Fangraphs’ own projectionists expect the Pirates top seven starters to have a FIP that is 2 points better than league average.”

    The Pirates Lg Adjusted ERA is lower the other teams due to the park factors at PNC. So having a league average FIP when the adjustments are accounted for would actually be below average. I agree though, I don’t see the rotation as being bottom third. If you are comparing the 5 starters projected to pitch the most innings, maybe they would be slightly below the mid point. But the depth of 6th, 7th, and 8th guys should move them solidly into the top half.

    • Would the park adjustments make the Pirates ERAs and FIPs higher, since PNC is more of a pitcher’s park?

      Either way, I can’t the see rotation as bottom third.

      • Adjusted league averages and park factors impact WAR values. They are part of the calculation for WAR. ZiPS projects the Pirate starters to have a 3.70 FIP, 7th best in the league. However, ZiPS projects the Pirate SPs to only provide 10 total WAR, good for 25th place. A 3.70 FIP is much more meaningful in a hitters park than a pitchers park. ZiPS is projecting the Yankees rotation to have nearly the same ERA and FIP as the Pirates, yet the Yankees are projected to produce an additional 6.5 WAR.

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