Pitching wins championships. Defense wins championships. The best defense is a good offense. A watched pot never boils.
These cliches make some sense, but there is no absolute truth to be found among them. The Cardinals won the 2011 World Series with something short of a stellar defense, but it would be woefully inaccurate to portray the team’s often inconsistent offense as the savior of its defense. That leaves pitching or a boiling pot, but I’ll go with pitching.
How good was the pitching for the World Series winners? “Good enough” isn’t a bad response, but just how do we measure “good enough”. In this instance, I’m going to use FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). FIP is basically a statistic that seeks to quantify pitching performance by using a formula to account for the outcome of all plate appearances for which a pitcher is responsible. That is an exceedingly complicated way of saying that FIP is like a pitcher’s ERA without defense being considered as a factor. The premise is that it is possible to assess a pitcher’s performance based on outcomes that are independent of what the defense does.
Rather than regurgitate the formula and go into an explanation about FIP constants, I’m just going to give you a few examples (lower is better just like with ERA).
GOOD: The year Chris Carpenter won the Cy Young Award, his FIP was 2.90. It would be an understatement to mention that 2.90 is “good”. Carpenter was dominant that season. If you believe me when I say that Carp was dominant, then imagine what Pedro Martinez was like in 2001 when his FIP was 1.61. Whew.
BAD: Brad Penny posted a 5.02 FIP in 2011 which was good for 2nd highest FIP for a qualifying pitcher. I’m not picking on Bad Penny, but….well…actually I am picking on him. Moving on.
Consider the FIPs for the Cardinal starters in 2011.
- Chris Carpenter – 3.06 (3.31 xFIP)
- Kyle Lohse – 3.67 (4.04 xFIP)
- Jaime Garcia – 3.23 (3.31 xFIP)
- Jake Westbrook – 4.25 (4.08 xFIP)
- Kyle McClellan – 4.92 (4.34 xFIP)
- Edwin Jackson – 3.55 (3.73 xFIP), 4.01 FIP (4.03 xFIP) as a Cardinal
Based on a starting rotation of Carpenter, Lohse, Garcia, Westbrook, and Wainwright, what are the chances that the 2012 starting rotation is as good as the 2011 rotation? Well, consider some projections from various, legitimate sources (and me, too).
- Carpenter Projections: Bill James – 3.25, RotoChamp – 3.26, Fans – 3.37
- Lohse Projections: Bill James – 4.09, RotoChamp – 3.91, Fans – 4.14
- Garcia Projections: Bill James – 3.47, RotoChamp – 3.31, Fans – 3.48
- Westbrook Projections: Bill James – 4.35, RotoChamp – 4.31, Fans – 4.45
- Wainwright Projections: Bill James – 3.24, RotoChamp – 2.99, Fans – 3.20
Depending on whose projections you use to compare, it could be too close to call. Based on the Bill James numbers, the Cardinals would see a decline for all 4 starters returning from 2011. The drop is then compensated for by the substitution of Wainwright for the McClellan/Jackson duo. Is that good enough?
The answer may depend on what the goal is. If the goal is just to make the playoffs, then I think the starting pitching looks to be in slightly better shape than last year. If you consider a potential playoff run, that’s a whole different story. The top 4 FIPs from 2011 – 3.06, 3.23, 3.55, and 3.67. Projected top 4 for 2012? 3.24, 3.25, 3.47, and 4.09. The implication here is that the Cardinals would be better off in a short series than in a 7 game series. That’s not a horrible prognosis, but they have to get there first.
If you like using FIP, enjoy movies about gladiators, and you are a Cardinal fan, consider Roy Oswalt for a moment. Oswalt was good for a 3.44 FIP (3.95 xFIP) in 2011, and his projects are as follows: Bill James – 3.52, RotoChamp – 3.50, Fans – 3.47. If the Cardinals manage to sign Ol’ Roy, then a FIP around 3.50 could make the top 4 for 2012 look like this: 3.24, 3.25, 3.47, 3.50. Not bad at all.
TIDBIT: The formula for FIP is (13 * HR + 3 * BB – 2 * K)/IP + a FIP constant. Different sources use different constants, so that should be kept in mind when discussing with the rest of the guys on your lawn dart team.
MORE BITS OF TID: I opted to use FIP, because more people I’ve spoken with about metrics use FIP than xFIP. However, xFIP has a lot of value as well, because it removes a pitcher’s HR data and replaces it with the league average rate.
NOTE: All FIP information was obtained from Fangraphs.com, because our research team here at PH8 was too busy working on TPS reports.
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