Earlier today I wrote an article looking at what should be expected from each spot in the rotation from a numbers standpoint. That focused on the league averages, and the ERA from each spot. As a side note, I prefer FIP and xFIP over ERA, but when you’re talking about league averages, it really doesn’t make much of a difference. Also, the goal was to look at what teams actually did last year, rather than what they’d be expected to do going forward. That means ERA is a better choice.
For the purposes of this article, I wanted to look at the numbers from today’s article, and apply the rotation rankings to each Pirates’ starter. For this reason, I’m going to focus more on the FIP numbers, since that projects what they should be doing going forward. I included the ZiPS projections for each pitcher, but I mostly went with the 2013 FIP numbers, since I feel that tells the story of what should be expected of these pitchers. Note that this is true regardless of whether the 2013 FIP numbers led to improvements over the ZiPS projections, or a decline compared to ZiPS.
Check out the article from earlier today to get an idea of what is to be expected from each rotation spot. Here is how each spot applies to the Pirates’ 2014 starters.
ZiPS ERA/FIP: 3.21/3.30
2013 Stats: 3.02 ERA / 2.92 FIP
Liriano doesn’t meet the standard of a number one starter based on the MLB average. His numbers from last year were close, and his FIP last year suggests that going forward he would be around a 2.92 ERA. To put that in perspective with the number one rankings, Liriano would have been an ace for about a third of the teams in the league last year. He would have been a number two starter for all but one team in the league last year (the Dodgers).
Liriano’s ZiPS numbers weren’t as optimistic this year, although those are based on his career numbers, and he doesn’t look like that pitcher. I’d say Liriano is closer to his 2013 numbers, making him an ace in a weaker rotation, or one of the best number two starters in the league.
ZiPS ERA/FIP: 3.61/3.76
2013 Stats: 3.22 ERA / 2.91 FIP
Cole is in a similar situation as Liriano. His 2013 numbers are much better than his ZiPS numbers. The 2013 FIP is almost identical to Liriano’s, which means that if he continues that going forward, he would be a number one for about a third of the teams in the league, or a number two for almost every team in the league. I think it’s more likely that Cole repeats his 2013 numbers, rather than putting up the numbers ZiPS projects.
ZiPS ERA/FIP: 4.10/4.26
2013 Stats: 3.26 ERA / 3.60 FIP
Morton looked great last year, and this is a case where I would trust his 2013 numbers over his FIP. The FIP considers past stats, which don’t factor in his new sinker, and which factor in his injured 2012 season. Morton’s FIP last year, if he carries that over this year, would be a strong number three starter, or a number two starter in a weak rotation.
ZiPS ERA/FIP: 3.83/4.15
2013 Stats: 3.59 ERA / 4.42 FIP
It’s really hard to say what Rodriguez could do, especially with his velocity down in his first two starts, and neither start going well. At this point, I’d go with the lowest projection, which was the 2013 FIP. That FIP would make him one of the best number five starters in the league, or a number four starter in a weak rotation. If you go with the ZiPS projections for this year, he’s either a weak number three, or a strong number four. However, the ZiPS projections take into consideration his previous stats, which probably aren’t relevant with his injury. I’d say the weak 4/strong 5 prediction works best.
ZiPS ERA/FIP: 4.50/4.28
2013 Stats: 5.71 ERA / 4.24 FIP
It’s hard to say what Volquez will do going forward. I’m not going to say he’s fixed after seven innings, but I will leave it open that he could have a good year, and do much better than most are anticipating. His FIP is pretty much the same from last year and the ZiPS projections, so that seems like a safe bet to go with for his projection. That FIP would make him a league average number four starter if he maintains that going forward. I think those types of numbers are achievable.
What Do the Pirates Have?
Liriano and Cole are both guys who project as number one starters in a weak rotation, or some of the best number two starters. Charlie Morton projects as a number three starter in a strong rotation, or a number two in a weak rotation. Edinson Volquez projects as a league average number four starter. Wandy Rodriguez looks like a number four starter in a weak rotation, or a number five starter in a strong rotation.
Putting this in perspective, last year there was only one team in baseball with two starters that had a 2.92 ERA or better. If Liriano and Cole pitch like they did in 2013, and their FIP numbers translate to ERAs this year, then they could do just that. If you add in Morton and his projected 3.60 ERA (using last year’s FIP), then you’ve got an average of a 3.14 ERA over the top three rotation spots. Last year there were eight teams who could match or beat that, and one of them was the Pirates.
The weakest spots for the Pirates are with Volquez and Rodriguez. However, if you add those two in the mix, the Pirates are projected for a 3.63 staff ERA. That would make them one of the top seven teams in the league, based on last year’s numbers. The Pirates rotation was in the top seven last year.
Links and Notes
**Over the weekend I’ve been working on adding new writers to the site. I’m still in that process, but we’ll have some new writers starting this week, mostly at the minor league level. Adding new writers is made possible by purchases on the products page of the site. That’s where you can buy our 2014 Prospect Guide, with information on every player in the minor league system. We also now have a Pirates Prospects logo t-shirt available. It’s my goal to keep all of the website content free, while also adding as much content as possible. The more funds received through these products, the more coverage we can add going forward.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.