A Statistical Look at the 2010 Diamondbacks Pitchers

Yesterday we began looking at the PECOTA statistical model for the Arizona Diamondbacks developed by the Sabermetricians at Baseball Prospectus. Today we will pick up the discussion by looking at the Diamondbacks pitching staff.

There are many that believe the problems of the 2009 Arizona Diamondbacks occurred on April 6, 2009 when staff ace Brandon Webb left the game after just four innings on Opening Day and never returned.

Every team deals with injuries and the good teams overcome those injuries and move ahead. But when it is your star pitcher who is lost for the season and the level of depth in the organization is minimal, that’s not something easily fixed.

Webb would end up having shoulder surgery and the Diamondbacks were forced to make a decision shortly after the World Series whether to pick up Webb’s 2010 option or let him become a free agent.

They chose to take the risk and keep their ace under contract one final year. A lot of the success of the 2010 season will be tied to how well Webb returns from his injury pitching in what amounts to his contract year.

Webb is still listed as the ace although that title could just as easily be awarded to fellow right-hander Dan Haren. For the 2010 season the PECOTA statistics suggest Webb will start 19 games and pitch 119 innings.

That workload is roughly half what Webb had done prior to 2009 begging the question of whether the computer is suggesting that Webb’s shoulder is not in nearly as good of shape as he suggests in interviews.

The computer suggests that Webb’s performance will return but not nearly to the dominating level as before the injury. The model puts his 2010 numbers as a 3.76 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 94 strikeouts with a 8-6 win/loss record. Webb’s 2010 VORP is a respectable 23.7.

With Webb’s injury, Haren stepped into the role as number one starter. He had an All-Star caliber season in 2009 and the statistics suggest another dominating year. As the number two starter Haren is forecast to pitch 212 innings with 32 starts.

Haren is always among the league leaders in ERA and 2010 looks to be the same with a 3.26 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. The model also suggests Haren will strike out 196 batters in route to a 15-8 record and a 53.7 VORP which is more than double any other pitcher on the Diamondbacks staff.

Arizona made headlines at the Winter Meetings when they sent fireballer Max Scherzer and reliever Daniel Schlereth to the Detroit Tigers as part of a three-way deal that landed Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy to Arizona.

Jackson is penciled in as the number three starter. The statistics suggest that he will struggle a little going from the American League to the National League. His 2010 estimated statistics have him pitching 187 innings in 31 starts.

His ERA will balloon to 4.46 with a 1.42 WHIP. The statistics suggest he will strike out 133 batters and earn a 10-11 record while maintaining a 22.7 VORP. This is not exactly what the Diamondbacks are hoping for given the amount of young talent they gave up.

The second pitcher in the transaction was Yankees youngster Ian Kennedy who has been injury prone in his career so far. The statistics suggest this may still be the case with Kennedy throwing only 110 innings in 20 starts.

His ERA is not too bad at 3.76, the same as 2010 Brandon Webb. His WHIP is a 1.33 with 97 strike outs and a 7-5 record for a 21.7 VORP.

Going into Spring Training the fifth starter’s spot is wide open. Based on running several statistical models, Baseball Prospectus suggests Billy Buckner will get the nod as the fifth starter. Given his last few starts in 2009 that is very likely.

Like last season Buckner will undoubtedly struggle with consistency in 2010 throwing 146 innings in 25 starts. His ERA is projected to be 4.40 with a 1.39 WHIP, 105 strike outs, an 8-8 record, and an 18.6 VORP.

With Spring Training quickly approaching there are several questions on closer Chad Qualls surgically repaired knee. If we are to believe the statistical models, Qualls will not only fully recover but will be durable appearing in 60 innings with a 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP with 54 strike outs and 35 saves.

Overall the pitching staff does not look as dominating as before but still look to be one of the better staffs in the National League. All of these individual statistics will be meaningless if the team does not come together.

One thing working to the Diamondbacks advantage is the other members of the National League West did not appear to strengthen their teams any more than Arizona which should make for a wide open race for the divisional title.

According to the statistical models at Baseball Prospectus, the Diamondbacks offense will improve and they will have enough pitching to post an 87-75 record. This would be welcomed news to Diamondbacks fans as it would mean a 17 game improvement from 2009.

The good news doesn’t stop there. Baseball Prospectus is projecting Arizona to win the NL West finishing a game ahead of the Colorado Rockies, four games in front of the Los Angeles Dodgers, five games ahead of the San Francisco Giants, and 16 games over the San Diego Padres.

While I would love nothing more than to open the season at Chase Field by unfurling a 2010 NL West Championship banner, last year was a stark reminder that no matter how good your team looks to the computer or on paper, it is what you do with the 162 games on the regular season schedule.

Hopefully on October 3 we will be revisiting this post and offering up a sacrifice to the computer Gods in thanks for their accurate prediction. I’ve got an old IBM laptop that will be perfect for the occasion.

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