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 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.