How does the Marlins rotation stack up?


Fellow Maniac Mike recently brought up that the Marlins may need more assistance in the starting rotation rather than in either center field or third base. The Marlins are clearly in disagreement, as they feel that the rotation they have assembled, including free agent acquisition Javier Vazquez and the set of Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez, should be good enough to compete. Here’s what Mike argued in an earlier post:

The Marlins need pitching (and a new owner). They have two starters with an era under 4.0. Why they’d sign Vazquez with a 5.32 era is beyond my understanding. They can make do with any of their centerfield and third base options but they’ll go nowhere again without a better starting rotation.

How can we determine if the Marlins were right to go to Vazquez to solidify their rotation? Do the Fish have enough to compete? To find out, let’s quickly reference the best guess we can come up with for how well these guys will play: the projection systems. I took a look at five different projection sources: the Bill James Handbook, the Fans projections from FanGraphs, ZiPS, Heater Magazine’s recently released Graphical Player 2011 (in which yours truly contributed on the Marlins’ playing time projections and commentary), and my own crude projections. I took a look at each system’s guess at the expected starters’ 2011 ERA, then plugged my own playing time projections to find out an approximate WAR value for each player. Let’s get to the results.

Projections

Player Bill James ZiPS GP2011 Fans Marlin Maniac
Johnson 3.38 2.87 3.09 2.98 2.85
Nolasco 3.92 3.78 4.43 4.07 3.93
Vazquez 3.73 3.92 4.52 4.22 4.34
Sanchez 3.97 3.83 4.15 4.00 3.84
Volstad 4.21 4.61 4.89 4.46 4.36

Is this a rotation equal to that of the Philadelphia Phillies? No, of course not. But the rotation as it stands is not all that bad. While the Bill James projection looks a tad optimistic, while the GP2011 projections a tad on the pessimistic end, I would say that the team’s overall average projections would look just about right. Give 200 IP to Johnson, Nolasco, and Vazquez, and follow that up with about 165 IP for Volstad and 150 IP for Sanchez and you get the following WAR totals using an average of all of ERA listed above.

Player IP Avg ERA WAR Trimmed ERA WAR
Johnson 200 3.03 5.7 2.98 5.9
Nolasco 200 4.03 3.0 3.97 3.1
Vazquez 200 4.15 2.7 4.16 2.7
Sanchez 150 3.96 2.4 3.94 2.4
Volstad 165 4.51 1.5 4.48 1.5

The Avg ERA and corresponding WAR is calculated from an average of the five systems’ projections, while the trimmed ERA and corresponding WAR is calculated from a trimmed mean of the five systems, taking the highest and lowest ERA away. In both cases the numbers looked very similar, so let’s just use the WAR from the overall averages. If the Marlins get 900+ IP from these five starters at around these rates, the team should expect something like 15.3 WAR from its starting pitchers, using the replacement level used in FanGraphs’ WAR. In comparison, the Marlins got 15.8 WAR last season from their starters, but that considers Nolasco as a 2.5-win starter when it was highly unlikely that he delivered 2.5 wins (I’m not as much of a fan of pitcher fWAR). Considering we would expect some regression from Johnson and Sanchez (along with the likelihood of a Sanchez injury dropping his value) I would say the current team projection is not bad at all.

Risk, it’s a good thing

The bonus is the upside/downside risk. Vazquez is projected here as a 4.15 ERA starter, but he could deliver a much better or much worse campaign. The risk inherent in that move is part of the advantage the Marlins may be able to bank on; a surprise successful campaign by Vazquez could vault the Fish into contention. If Sanchez is past his shoulder injury concerns, then he should be able to deliver more innings and be a more effective pitcher than a 2.5-win player. If Nolasco can harness his peripherals and actually deliver a solid season, he may be in line for 200+ IP as well. In short, this team is projected at a risky 15 WAR; that total could vault five wins or drop three or four depending on the non-Johnson contributors. And that is actually a good thing for this team’s chances at contention.

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Tags: Anibal Sanchez Chris Volstad Javier Vazquez Josh Johnson Miami Marlins Ricky Nolasco