Last time, we took a look at what the ZiPS projection system - which compares players to those who performed similarly through baseball history - had to say about the lineup for the upcoming Orioles season. Did ZiPS come close to that player's performance in its guess for 2012, and does that mean anything about its chances for accuracy for 2013? Now, it's time to do the same for the candidates for the starting rotation.
While ZiPS and F. Scott Fitzgerald might concur that there are no second acts in American lives, there are plenty of examples of individuals who out-perform the projections. These are not set in stone. They're just fun guesses to look at.
You can see the full set of projections for yourself - including for the awesomely-named Zech Zinicola (who?) - on Fangraphs.
THE ROTATION (PROBABLY)
ERA+ is much like OPS+ in that it compares ERA to the league average ERA, with a park adjustment. 100 is average, and higher is better. ZiPS thinks league average for the AL will be a 4.09 ERA; this will be a little higher for starters and a little lower for relievers.
Hampered by knee injuries in the 2012 season, Hammel was nonetheless the best pitcher on the Orioles staff. He shaved a whole point of ERA off of what ZiPS predicted for him, which can probably be explained in large part due to two reasons: first, he escaped from Coors Field (his projection was based on him with the Rockies), and second, due to the two-seam fastball he had added to his arsenal.
His career high in innings pitched is 177.2, so figuring Hammel for 200 innings may be a bit too optimistic, but barring recurring injuries, he should throw more than 133, too. After the dreck we've seen in the not too distant past, anyone with an ERA under 4 looks pretty good.
When 2012 ZiPS projections were made, Chen was not signed, so there's nothing to look at there. His debut season was just about league average - a tiny bit better, probably because he gets a little bonus to his ERA+ from pitching in Camden Yards.
The key question for Chen is whether he can be more consistent as the season wears on. There were questions of whether he was tiring down the stretch, though there were questions about how much those questions mattered as well. Chen had a September ERA of 5.90, which would seem to support the wearing out narrative, except he had a 1.35 ERA in his final start of the regular season (6.2 IP, 1 ER) and a 1.42 ERA in Game 2 of the ALCS (6.1 IP, 1 ER).
Even so, he led the staff in innings pitched, as he was the only pitcher who made more than even 20 starts. Why does ZiPS think he'll throw 37 fewer innings? I have no idea.
Gonzalez is another pitcher who had no 2012 ZiPS. This is not surprising since Dan Duquette found him out of the Mexican League. There are probably not a lot of similar stories to Gonzalez in baseball's annals - few are the pitchers who wash out of the minor leagues, go play in another country and make it back to MLB.
The projection's increase over his 2012 actual ERA is probably due to ZiPS thinking he will have an uptick in his walk rate (3.0 BB/9 in 2012 vs. 3.61 in ZiPS) and an increase in his BABIP as well. Batters were .260 on balls in play against Gonzalez in 2012; ZiPS thinks that will increase to .289. Absent injury or severe ineffectiveness, he should stick in the rotation all year and beat the innings projection by a good margin.
Tillman finally looked like a guy who figured out the pitching in the major leagues thing in his appearances last season. Whether he can carry that over will be an important question for 2013.
The ZiPS projection for him is league average when considering pitching in Camden Yards. Why is this the case? As with Gonzalez, likely ZiPS expects both an increase in his walk rate (2.5 BB/9 in 2012 vs. 3.04 in 2013) and in his BABIP. Tillman's was absurdly low in 2012, a .221 average, where ZiPS thinks he will be at .275 in 2013. That means a lot more baserunners, which in turn means a lot more expected runs.
Tillman could defy the statistics - he certainly did for 86 innings of 2012 - but anyone predicting a great season for him (and again, even a decent season like ZiPS projects is better than a lot of the crap Orioles fans are used to in recent years) should do so aware of the trends that he must buck to reach optimistic numbers.
THE FIFTH STARTER QUESTION
I don't think Duquette, Buck Showalter or anyone else on the Orioles coaching staff knows who the fifth starter will be because I think spring training will tell them. My wild guess is that Zach Britton has the inside track because he would be a second lefty. Other possible names include Jake Arrieta and Jair Jurrjens (if he ever signs). One thing these three have in common is they sucked last year.
If Andy MacPhail had stayed the GM of the Orioles, Britton would have probably put up a full season's worth of numbers like both his 2012 and 2013 projections. This reflects a simple but sad truth: most young guys you are waiting for to figure it out never figure it out. If he keeps pitching like ZiPS thinks he will, he won't have any inside track on the 5th starter job for very long, or any kind of job.
There are those who assert that Arrieta had bad luck in 2012, pointing to his .320 BABIP and 4.05 FIP. When somebody's ERA is north of 6, I generally don't want to hear about bad luck. There could be at least a little something to it, though. Look how much his actual WHIP was below the projection, and yet his ERA was more than a run higher. Arrieta even finally cut his walk rate (2.75 BB/9 vs. a career 3.85).
Maybe with better luck he could duplicate the WHIP but instead have the ERA a full run lower. Probably he will be in Norfolk unless someone gets hurt or he looks completely dominant, as if the light has finally turned on.
The good news for Jurrjens is that he was probably bad in 2012 because he was hurt. The bad news for Jurrjens is that the Orioles still haven't agreed to the reported contract with him because they aren't sure about something in his medicals. Ah, but wouldn't that 2012 projection look nice in the O's rotation?
Shut out the voice that always shouts "Small sample size!" for just a second and appreciate the fact that, for any sample size, Johnson had a 1.07 WHIP and a 2.11 ERA in 2012. ZiPS doesn't think he will duplicate that over a longer stretch, and it's probably similarly pessimistic for every former 13th round draft pick with a career minor league ERA of 4.17 across parts of 8 seasons.
His is one of the many Cinderella stories of the 2012 Orioles that the rational part of your brain says can't happen again, but your heart hopes your brain is wrong.
JUST FOR THE HECK OF IT
Dylan Bundy - 2013 ZiPS
20 year old pitchers don't show up and pitch like Cy Young candidates. On the other hand, it is exceedingly rare that there are 20 year old MLB pitchers to begin with. Most of the fast-moving pitching prospects are college draftees.
The player that ZiPS lists as Bundy's #1 comparison is Josh Johnson, late of the Marlins and now of the Blue Jays. Johnson is another product of Oklahoma who was drafted out of high school (4th round, 2002, and no, you don't want to look at the four players the O's took before him). Johnson is listed at 6'7" 250 lbs. Bundy is listed at 6'1" 195 lbs.
There is no one like Dylan Bundy. If he's capable of pitching in MLB like that ZiPS projection or better, we'll see him on the Orioles for more than just two relief appearances this season.
Last year, Orioles starters threw 937.2 IP while allowing 460 earned runs. That's a 4.42 ERA.
If we add up the ZiPS projections for Hammel, Chen, Gonzalez, Tillman, Britton, Arrieta, and Bundy, that's 939.1 IP worth of projected innings, with 466 earned runs allowed by those pitchers in those innings. Reality will most likely not end up with these pitchers getting these innings in this way, but it's the best guess at a rotation based on the ZiPS. That's a 4.46 ERA.
All of which is to say that as far as this computer is concerned, the Orioles rotation will look a lot like last year's. Duquette said he was bringing back the same team, and for the rotation, ZiPS thinks he's right.
Next and last: what does ZiPS think of the bullpen? Spoiler: it's not as pretty.