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Oakland's 2013 Rotation According To ZiPS

Part 3 of our series about 2013 ZiPS projections and Athletics Nation predictions.

What role will Dan Straily play in Oakland's 2013 rotation? And will he deliver his minor league calling-card (strikeouts), or his Major League one (home runs)?
What role will Dan Straily play in Oakland's 2013 rotation? And will he deliver his minor league calling-card (strikeouts), or his Major League one (home runs)?

In the last week, we've made predictions about Oakland's outfielders and infielders by weighing 2012 stats, 2013 ZiPS projections, and any other relevant information we had to work with. Today, we're going to look at the starting rotation.

To combat the effect of fluctuating workloads, I am presenting the stats as rates rather than raw totals. If you think that Brett Anderson will only make 15 starts rather than 28, then we can still agree on how many batters he'll strike out or walk per 9 innings (K/9, BB/9) or how often he'll give up homers (HR/9). If you want to turn the rates into raw totals, then divide the player's innings total by 9 and multiply it by the rate which you want to extrapolate. To put these rates into context, click here to see how Fangraphs describes them; an average K/9 in is about 7.1, and an average BB/9 is about 3.3. (Note: I would prefer K% and BB%, but ZiPS doesn't project those). I've also included my favorite pitching stat, strikeouts per walk (K/BB).

Brett Anderson

2012 stats: 35 innings (6 starts), 2.57 ERA, 6.43 K/9, 1.80 BB/9, 3.57 K/BB, 0.26 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 83 innings (15 starts), 4.00 ERA, 6.16 K/9, 2.16 BB/9, 2.85 K/BB, 0.86 HR/9
2013 Alex: 168 innings (28 starts), 3.03 ERA, 6.89 K/9, 1.95 BB/9, 3.53 K/BB, 0.78 HR/9

If you have Tommy John surgery, then your ZiPS projections are essentially worthless. The system sees that you've barely pitched in the last two seasons, and follows that pattern for the next season. On top of that, it curiously assigns a career-low K/9 for Anderson, while increasing his walk rate and normalizing his home run rate.

I believe that Anderson is much, much better than ZiPS is giving him credit for. He's a stud, and when he's healthy he's an ace. Most guys need some time to work back from a major injury layoff; Anderson fell out of bed last year after 14 months off and spun off 5 beautiful starts in the middle of a pennant race, then pulled his oblique and returned 3 weeks later to toss another gem in the playoffs. His low walk rate is for real, and I think that he'll strike out a few extra hitters as he puts his elbow surgery further in the rear-view mirror. The home run rate will normalize, as ZiPS suggested, which is why I bumped his ERA up to around 3. (The K/9 and HR/9 I chose for him are just his career averages.)

I put Anderson down for 28 starts, which is probably optimistic. I have no doubts that his elbow has recovered, but he has yet to prove that his body can hold up to a full MLB season. His career-high in innings (175.1) came in 2009, and that's the only full season he's pitched in the bigs. A prediction of 28 starts means that I don't think he'll go down with a major injury, but he will almost certainly miss a start here or there with a muscle pull or something minor. For his innings, I simply gave him an average of 6 per start, which is exactly his career average.

Jarrod Parker

2012 stats: 181.1 innings (29 starts), 3.47 ERA, 6.95 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 2.22 K/BB, 0.55 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 195.2 innings (33 starts), 3.77 ERA, 7.04 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 2.22 K/BB, 0.64 HR/9
2013 Alex: 205 innings (33 starts), 3.38 ERA, 6.95 K/9, 2.53 BB/9, 2.75 K/BB, 0.70 HR/9

For the first time in this series, ZiPS actually seems to like an A's player! It is not predicting a terrible crash to Earth for Parker, but rather a virtual repeat of his 2012 rookie season. For a 2nd-year player in the ZiPS system, that is high praise.

I'm not going to vary too far from last year, either. First off, I'm predicting that Parker stays healthy. He had a career-high workload last year, but he never faded down the stretch and he was solid in the playoffs. I'm giving him the full 33 starts, and bumping his innings up over 200. I kept his K/9 rate from last year, because I have no specific reason to predict a change. I do think that he'll decrease his walks, though. Last year, his BB/9 was 4.34 in the 1st half, and 2.06 in the 2nd half. When a youngster makes major progress like that in the 2nd half of a season, it's a good idea to take notice because it often carries over into the following season. On the other hand, I'm increasing his home run rate. His ability to limit homers stretches back throughout his minor league career, but I'm still regressing him slightly toward average in that department; 0.70 is still an excellent HR/9 rate.

Parker's ERA reflected his true performancelast year. I'm putting him down for a decrease in walks, but a slight increase in homers, so I've kept his ERA mostly the same. I consider that to be a conservative estimate, because Parker might go nuts this year.

Tommy Milone

2012 stats: 190 innings (31 starts), 3.74 ERA, 6.49 K/9, 1.71 BB/9, 3.81 K/BB, 1.14 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 173.1 innings (29 starts), 3.95 ERA, 6.75 K/9, 1.61 BB/9, 4.19 K/BB, 0.88 HR/9
2013 Alex: 210 innings (32 starts), 3.55 ERA, 6.94 K/9, 1.51 BB/9, 4.60 K/BB, 1.10 HR/9

For the second time in a row, ZiPS is mostly happy with a 2nd-year A's player. That should give you an idea of just how good Parker and Milone were as rookies last year. ZiPS thinks that Milone will improve in all 3 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) stats - he'll strike out more hitters, walk fewer, and give up fewer homers. Somehow, it has his ERA going up despite all of this, but let's not worry too much about that.

I'm giving Milone 32 starts because he has no current health issues or injury history, and a slight bump in innings because he's an efficient pitcher who can work deep into games. As with Parker, I've looked at Milone's 1st and 2nd half splits to get an idea of the progress he made last year:

K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
1st half 5.98 2.08 2.88 1.25
2nd half 7.16 1.21 5.91 0.99

He was good in the 1st half. He was Cliff Lee Lite in the 2nd half. I don't see him getting his K/9 any higher than that this year, so I capped him at 6.94 - one hundredth below Parker, which is my way of saying that Parker will strike out more hitters. I've taken his BB/9 down a notch from last year - keep in mind that the 1.51 I've put him down for would have ranked 2nd only to Lee in the entire Majors last year (in reality, Milone's 1.71 rate ranked 6th in MLB). However, I think that he will always be susceptible to the occasional homer, because if you can only throw 88mph then your mistakes are going to be very hittable. The key for him is limiting the baserunners ahead of those inevitable homers and doubles, so that they aren't too damaging.

It's no secret that Nico and I have extreme, homerific love for Tommy Milone. Last spring, I had already decided that he was going to turn into a Cliff Lee clone sometime in his career, which is a terrible comparison because Lee throws 3-4 miles faster than Milone does. On the stat sheet, though, they do the same stuff - strike out more batters than you would expect, walk absolutely nobody, and let the rest take care of itself. Milone will continue to progress this year, and he will post a K/BB above 4. Write that down. Or don't, because I already did.

A.J. Griffin

2012 stats: 82.1 innings (15 starts), 3.06 ERA, 7.00 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 3.37 K/BB, 1.09 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 171.1 innings (31 starts), 4.20 ERA, 6.36 K/9, 2.47 BB/9, 2.57 K/BB, 1.16 HR/9
2013 Alex: 184 innings (32 starts), 3.72 ERA, 6.80 K/9, 2.11 BB/9, 3.22 K/BB, 1.09 HR/9

ZiPS isn't as confident about Griffin as it is about Parker or Milone, which makes sense because Griffin doesn't have nearly the track record that those two do. It thinks that he will decline in all three FIP stats (K, BB, HR), and that his ERA will shoot up.

I'm not sure what to expect from Griffin. He came absolutely out of nowhere last year; after pitching at four different levels of the minors in 2011, he blasted through AA and AAA and had immediate success in the Majors. When a player rises that quickly, it's a good idea to prepare yourself for a bit of a comedown the next year. Therefore, although I believe in Griffin, I'm going to be conservative in my predictions for him. I'm knocking his K's down just a little bit, but keeping his BB's and HR's in line with last year because I simply don't have any reason to change them.

Despite keeping Griffin's FIP stats about the same, I've raised his ERA. That is because there were two other peripheral stats from last year which I won't consider to be sustainable unless he proves them to be so over the next couple of years: BABIP, and Left On Base percentage (LOB%). Griffin's BABIP of .264 may or may not be sustainable, but until he builds up a larger body of work we have to assume that it could rise up toward league average as more batted balls turn into hits. Similarly, LOB% is something that some pitchers have shown the ability to excel in. However, it's usually high-strikeout pitchers who consistently strand more runners than average, and Griffin's rate of 81.3% is quite a bit higher than the league-average of 72%. Between a slight dip in K's, a slight increase in BABIP, and a few extra baserunners scoring, I think that Griffin's ERA will go up by a significant amount. He'll still be average or slightly above-average, though, which is excellent for a #4 starter. I've put him down for 32 starts, because that's how many he made last year between the minors and Majors and I have no specific reason to predict an injury.

Bartolo Colon

2012 stats: 152.1 inning (24 starts), 3.43 ERA, 5.38 K/9, 1.36 BB/9, 3.96 K/BB, 1.00 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 127 innings (20 starts), 4.11 ERA, 5.31 K/9, 1.63 BB/9, 3.26 K/BB, 1.06 HR/9
2013 Alex: 150 innings (25 starts), 3.95 ERA, 5.05 K/9, 1.56 BB/9, 3.24 K/BB, 1.10 HR/9

ZiPS sees an old man who is likely to decline and unlikely to pitch a full season. Yep, sounds about right.

Colon has already proven that he can succeed in his late-30's despite eroding physical skills. His once-powerful fastball has dropped down to about 90mph, so he has learned how to locate it with pinpoint accuracy and give it enough movement to sneak onto the corners of the plate for called strikes. The obvious question, then, is what kind of benefit he got from the testosterone he was caught taking last year. Did that add zip to his fastball? Did it help with his longevity over the course of the season, or even his stamina in individual starts? Did it have any effect at all?

I'm not going to try to answer those questions. All I can go with are the things which I know. Big Bart is going to turn 40 in May, so he's probably never going to improve again unless he learns to throw a power knuckler or something. I expect that he'll strike out fewer hitters, walk a few more, and give up a couple more homers, for a slight overall decline. He could also have a massive decline and wash out of the rotation in the 1st half, but I'm going to predict that he holds his own and does about what he did last year, except slightly worse. Either way, remember that 16 of the 17 homers he allowed last year were of the solo variety. That's probably not a sustainable trend, so the homers he does give up this year will do a bit more damage.

I put Colon down for 25 starts. Since he's missing his first start for the end of his PED suspension, his max will be 31. I cut off another 6 starts to account for a couple of DL stints, but 25 is still a generous prediction for a questionable 40-year old in horrible physical condition. I can't stress enough that this entire prediction is a serious best-base scenario for Colon, and of all the guys on this list he is the one with the biggest chance of completely tanking. Darn it, I almost made it through an entire discussion of Colon without using the word "biggest."

Dan Straily

2012 stats: 39.1 innings (7 starts), 3.89 ERA, 7.32 K/9, 3.66 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB, 2.52 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 170 innings (31 starts), 4.18 ERA, 8.10 K/9, 4.18 BB/9, 1.94 K/BB, 1.11 HR/9
2013 Alex*: 144 innings (27 starts), 4.65 ERA, 8.45 K/9, 3.85 BB/9, 2.19 K/BB, 1.52 HR/9

ZiPS is actually pretty optimistic. It thinks that, given the chance, Straily will be solid this year. It also doesn't think that homers will continue to be a specific problem for him like they were last year.

Let's start with the asterisk next to Straily's prediction. Since he will begin the season in AAA (after covering for a suspended Colon in Game #5), he almost certainly won't be making 32 starts. Removing injury from the equation, it seems unlikely that the team would give up on any of the top 5 guys in fewer than 6 starts, so I'm capping Straily at 27 starts (32 minus 6, plus the one at the beginning to cover for Colon). So, here's your asterisk:

* This is his personal best case scenario - start the year in AAA, but come back up in early May and finish out the season in Oakland. In reality, I think it's more likely that he ends up making about 15 starts, give or take.

As for the rest of my prediction, I'm clearly not that high on Straily right now. Honestly, I'm really worried about his home runs. He gave up 11 in only 39 innings last year, which is just horrible; the fact that 8 of them came with the bases empty is the only reason he had a decent ERA. Well, that and his unsustainable .225 BABIP and 90.7 LOB%. After leading the entire minor leagues in strikeouts, his K/9 fell to around league-average in the Majors.

So, here's my mixed bag of good and bad news. I'm predicting that his strikeout rate will rise a bit as he gains more MLB experience, but that he'll continue walking batters at about the same above-average clip. I'm normalizing his home runs a bit, but still putting him down for a high rate - that 1.52 HR/9 would have been put him in a group with guys like Bruce Chen, Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Guthrie, and Ivan Nova last year. That's not a terrible list of pitchers, and if you can also strike out nearly a batter per inning (like Nova did, and like Straily might), then you can still be a solid contributor despite the dingers. Put another way, that 1.52 mark extrapolates to 24 homers in 144 innings (27 starts). Overall, I'm putting Straily down for a solid but below-average performance. He's only 24, though, so there's still time for him to develop into something more.

Of course, there will be other pitchers who start games for the A's this year. No team makes it through the season with only 6 starters. However, it is pointless to try to predict who they will be or how much work they will get; did anyone have Griffin and Straily combining for 22 starts last April? I'm leaving Travis Blackley off of this list because ZiPS just gives him one stat line, and doesn't differentiate between his numbers as a starter or a reliever. There is also Sonny Gray, Andrew Werner, Bruce Billings, and an entire organization of humans who could suddenly turn a corner like so many of Oakland's youngsters did last year.

Your Turn

Do you like these predictions? What do you disagree with? What will Oakland get out of Colon, and how many starts will Straily get? Outside of the 6 guys on this list and Blackley, who do you think will step forward and play a major role in the rotation this year, for better or for worse? Or will these guys all stay healthy and effective the whole year? Let's hear it!