Braves Rewind: 2010 Fan Projections for Starting Pitchers

Continuing our look back at last season's fan projections (as voted on at FanGraphs), this week we'll look at how the Braves' starting pitchers stacked up to what fans thought they would do in 2010. For more on the projections for starting pitchers, read my original FanPost from last year. Here is a statistical breakdown of what the fans expected for each of our top 6 starters:

 Projected Pitcher Starts IP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 WAR
SP1 Tommy Hanson 30 185 3.26 3.33 9.05 3.06 4.6
SP2 Jair Jurrjens 34 205 3.34 3.72 6.63 2.94 4.1
SP3 Derek Lowe 32 194 4.04 3.70 5.85 2.46 4.0
SP4 Tim Hudson 29 177 3.61 3.83 5.85 2.54 3.3
SP5 Kenshin Kawakami 35 163 4.14 4.18 6.29 3.04 2.3
Backup Kris Medlen 10   78 3.92 3.43 9.12 3.23 1.3

The Braves' projected total of 18.3 WAR from their starters was easily the highest in the division. Unfortunately, the starters--while still very good--didn't match that total. While Tommy Hanson nearly reached his projected WAR, he was the only one who did. Of course, the FanGraphs pitching WAR figures come with a gigantic caveat, which I'll get to in a minute. But for now, just compare our starters' actual numbers to the projections above:

 Actual Pitcher Starts IP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 WAR
SP1 Tommy Hanson 34 202.2 3.33 3.31 7.68 2.49 4.3
SP2 Jair Jurrjens 20 116.1 4.64 4.19 6.65 3.25 1.3
SP3 Derek Lowe 33 193.2 4.00 3.89 6.32 2.83 2.7
SP4 Tim Hudson 34 228.2 2.83 4.09 5.47 2.91 2.7
SP5 Kenshin Kawakami* 16   85.1 4.85 4.23 6.22 3.38 0.9
Backup Kris Medlen* 14   84.0 3.86 4.14 6.64 1.71 0.9
Backup Mike Minor*   8   39.1 6.18 3.82 9.38 2.29 0.6
Backup Brandon Beachy   3   15.0 3.00 2.48 9.00 4.20 0.5

* The stats in the table represent these players' numbers as a starter only. I'll cover relievers next week.

Overall, that's 13.8 WAR, which was good for only 3rd in the division, though it was still above average. The Braves in 2010 were undone by injuries to Jurrjens and Medlen, but they had good depth to see them through, with 8 starters being worth at least half a win. There's a lot more to these numbers; I'll get into a few of the bigger issues after the jump.

Derek Lowe, despite being worth 1.3 WAR less than his projection, was actually almost exactly as good as he was projected to be on a rate basis and pitched almost exactly the projected number of innings. I'm not sure what caused the WAR discrepancy, but I'm guessing a big part of it is due to the replacement level (the "R" in "WAR") being much higher than anticipated. It was the "Year of the Pitcher" and all that (this angle was overplayed, but it has some truth), so the same performance in absolute terms was worth a bit less on a relative basis.

Now on to the big caveat mentioned above. I know you're thinking, "Hey, wait, Tim Hudson was awesome this year! Why was he only worth 2.7 measly WAR?" Well, that'd be because FanGraphs uses FIP to compute their WAR, and Hudson's FIP was nothing special in 2010. There are definite advantages to using FIP--for instance, it lets us know that guys like Minor, Jurrjens, and Kawakami are probably not as bad as their ERAs would imply--but one of the disadvantages is that a few pitchers get shafted. (This also explains how KK and Medlen have the same WAR despite nearly a full point ERA difference.)

The types of pitchers that are unfairly judged by FIP are those that have demonstrated an ability to inhibit hitters' batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Most pitchers can't do this to any appreciable degree, but a few can--notably, knuckleballers, Mariano Rivera, and Hudson--and since FIP doesn't consider balls that are hit in play, it will underrate these pitchers. Hudson, in more than 2200 career innings, has held batters to a .280 BABIP (.300 is normal for this era), which is obviously not just random chance. Granted, his ERA probably overrates his performance, since his .249 BABIP in 2010 was unsustainable even for him, but FIP definitely underrates him.

At any rate, you should probably take the Braves' 13.8 starting pitcher WAR and especially Hudson's 2.7 WAR with a grain of salt. For comparison, Baseball-Reference's WAR (bWAR) puts Hudson at 5.4--exactly twice as much--but it also really underrates Hanson (2.5 bWAR) and Lowe (1.7 bWAR), among others. There's no perfect WAR, to put it bluntly.

For what it's worth, here are the WAR standings for the NL East rotations:

Actual_vs_projected_sp_war_medium

Surprisingly, the Marlins come out on top (though just barely). Josh Johnson's great year, plus a resurgence from Anibal Sanchez, were the main reasons. If the Philies don't trade for Roy Oswalt (2.0 WAR), they probably finish about even with the Braves, thanks mainly to the amazing Roy Halladay (guess which WAR value is his?). The Nationals, as expected, brought up the rear, but they did have one bright spot. That 2.6 WAR came from a certain phenom who only pitched in 12 games. Unfortunately, the invincible Mr. Strasburg proved vincible after all, or at least his right arm did.

Finally, let's check out how the Braves' starters compared to their projections, as well as the MLB average, in five categories: strand rate (LOB%), hit rate (H/9), walk rate (BB/9), homer rate (HR/9), and strikeout rate (K/9). The gray, black-bordered pentagon represents the MLB average in each category for starting pitchers only. A point within this area indicates a below-average performance, and one outside it indicates an above average performance. Basically, more green is good.

Actual_vs_projected_-_sp_medium

The Braves, overall, did about as well as expected. They were above average in preventing hits, walks, and especially homers, and a bit below average in strikeouts. They did a bit better than expected at preventing walks and striking guys out, but a bit worse than expected at preventing hits and homers.

All in all, it was a pretty solid rotation in 2010, and one that could be even better in 2011. True, Medlen will miss most of the season and Hudson will likely not be quite as good, but Hanson could easily become a full-fledged ace, Jurrjens should bounce back, and Minor or Beachy should provide good value in the 5th spot. If our starters stay reasonably healthy, they should be worth at least as much WAR in 2011 as they were in 2010. It won't be enough to match the Phillies' rotation, but then it doesn't really have to be. It just has to be good enough to get the team to the playoffs again.

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