A Brief Look

Now that John Lackey is officially in the fold, how does the Sox' rotation match up against the Yankees'?

A good quick-and-dirty projection formula tends to be three times the most recent year, plus two times the previous year, plus the year before that, divided by six. As I understand it, this is basically what the Marcel projection system does.

So if we wanted to take some educated guess at, say, the 2010 ERA+ and WAR for the Sox' and Yanks' rotations as presently constituted, the formula would be: (3*2009 + 2*2008 + 2007)/6. Let's take a look.



Boston Red Sox

  1. Jon Lester — 134
  2. Josh Beckett — 124
  3. John Lackey — 124
  4. Daisuke Matsuzaka — 112
  5. Clay Buchholz — 95*
  6. Tim Wakefield — 105  

New York Yankees

  1. CC Sabathia — 139
  2. A.J. Burnett — 108
  3. Andy Pettitte — 103
  4. Joba Chamberlain — 100*  
  5. Phil Hughes — 85*
  6. Ben Sheets — 127**

* Career total as a starter **Based on 2006-08 numbers

I added Sheets as a stand-in for whomever the Yankees choose as their fifth/sixth starter.

As the asterisks make clear, this has some limitations. The system doesn't take into account young pitchers without enough playing time and lots of room for growth, like Buchholz, Hughes and Chamberlain, and it doesn't know that Sheets missed all of 2009 and has one full season of innings since 2004. It doesn't know that Daisuke Matsuzaka was injured most of last year, and conversely it doesn't know how good he looked after returning from the DL.

So it gets a little sketchy in the bottom of the rotations, and we knew that already, but for the established veterans, the numbers seem pretty solid. This obviously assumes good health, which is always my (admittedly unrealistic) pre-season assumption unless we're dealing with a reclamation project (a la Smoltz, Penny, Sheets, etc.) Otherwise offered without comment.

30 comments… add one

  • Sheets would certainly upgrade the Yankees’ rotation, and put them on more or less even ground with the Sox. Without him, though, the Yankees’ rotation has much more risk, although a 100 and an 85 are certainly nearer to the low-end of projections for those two starters.
    Both rotations remain extremely talented, and extremely formidable. It’s a battle of attrition, and like always, the group with the best health will be the group that performs better.

    AndrewYF December 17, 2009, 9:10 am
  • x2

    Brad December 17, 2009, 9:12 am
  • “…A good quick-and-dirty projection formula tends to be three times the most recent year, plus two times the previous year, plus the year before that, divided by six….”
    what, no bat wings or eye of newt?
    quick and dirty = hokey and contrived
    not picking on you paul because you have made a believer out of me that certain stats have value over traditional, somewhat archaic, methods of evaluation, but this version has more holes in it than a screendoor, as you pointed out…like the fangraphs value discussion we had yesterday…i looked up jeter for the heck of it, and he’s “worth” $33.4m v. his salary of $21.6m [for '09]….right…i noticed that you offered this “without comment”…i’ll comment…like i said yesterday, the sox would appear to have the overall edge in starting pitching with the addition of lackey…the problem i have with projections, beyond the “interesting” factor, is that unless the season plays out exactly the way it “looks” on paper right now, which never happens, or more specifically, the way it’s played out the past 3 seasons [assuming you've played all 3], all we’ve got is offseason filler…but thanks, no kidding, it gives us something to talk about, and me something to snipe at ;)

    dc December 17, 2009, 9:23 am
  • sheets would add depth, and maybe even a surprise star…but, having to come back from a significant injury, missing an entire season, is a big “if”…i would think the formula would be more effective by factoring in the level of uncertainty…i mean, he could come back as good as ever, but aren’t the odds greater that he will be something less than that?…i’m not sure how you could adjust for the other guys that didn’t complete the past 3 full years, but that does seem to be a hole in this…probably too much work, but there are data, or at least assumptions, relative to how the many other major league pitchers have fared after missing a year for injury and rehab, along with lack of playing time v. growth, and conversion of relievers to starters…like i said, probably too much work to be worth it…

    dc December 17, 2009, 9:35 am
  • Lucky for Lackey his greatest season, 2007, was taken into consideration. ;)
    Lackey, Lackey, Lackey…I hated him on the Angels, he may become the face on my dartboard after only a few days with the Sox.
    With ALL due respect, I just can’t put much stock in a system that doesn’t account for variables such as growth, breakout seasons, innings limitations, etc…It’s not a knock on you Paul, just the systems that project solely based on the past numbers. Who here thinks Ben Sheets is a better pitcher than Josh Beckett? I know I don’t and I have a man crush on Sheets, even my crush couldn’t jade me that much. Is Tim Wakefield really a better pitcher than Andy Pettitte? I said it in jest, but Lackey is fortunate his 2007 was included, while AJ’s best season was not. Also, Daisuke has a very limited track record, with some success, yet he’s 4 points higher than AJ and 9 pts higher than Pettitte? With all that said the Sox rotation as is right now is better than the Yankees, but that was also the case last December as well. Again, it’s not you Paul, it’s just that sometimes systems and numbers that are used don’t tell the entire story.
    Thanks for putting this together and again, it’s not a shot at you.

    John - YF December 17, 2009, 9:37 am
  • I think that in the end it will come down to which staff stays more healthful. Ben Sheets can put up the best season of everyone on that list but there’s a good chance he will do one of three things:
    Pitch amazing but miss a month here and there throughout the season.
    Pitch crappy with starts missed until we all are finally told that he’s been injured all along, etc.
    Pitch pretty good, get better as the season progresses, peak just after the all-star break, and then peter-out from fatigue.
    And I think Sheets is a good move by the Yankees.
    AJ Burnett will probably do what he always does: pitch like the best pitcher in baseball for two or three games in a row, followed by the biggest head-case in baseball for the next 2 or 3 games.
    Pettitte is all about health. If he’s healthy he’ll be prefect as a number 3 man. If not…meh.
    I think Joba will pitch better.
    I don’t think Hughes will be a starter unless there are injuries or Robertson and Marte are just lights out for the first half of the season in their relief roles.

    walein December 17, 2009, 1:08 pm
  • ON the other side:
    Dice-K who knows. He’s in the same place as sheets is now, except his upside isn’t anywhere near Sheets.
    Buchholz is a year behind Joba in MajorLB innings pitched. He could be exactly like Joba was last year. Very strong start, followed by everyone saying he’s just not built up his stamina in the second half (and whatever Mike Francesa equivalent in Bean town saying he should be a set up man everyday of the season).
    Wakefield is a big question mark (health wise). I never thought he would be (he seemed to just do what he doos year in and year out).
    He’s basically Pettitte for the Sox in that if he is healthy all year he’ll be a very solid number 4 or 5 guy and everyone will be super happy about that (except me and other Yankee fans) but if he isn’t right, meh.

    walein December 17, 2009, 1:14 pm
  • How about that for statistics! (walein says while wondering how these buttons he presses make letters appear on the magic screen in front of him).

    walein December 17, 2009, 1:16 pm
  • So are we going to have an offensive comparison post as well?
    I mean, pitching is obviously the strength of the Sox, but how about scoring some runs? If the Sox are “better” at this point pitching wise, but it’s close, then how about the bats?

    krueg December 17, 2009, 1:22 pm
  • Are the offenses really a question, krueg? It’s very easily the Yankees’ advantage there.
    I think most SF’s would agree that even after the Lackey/Cameron movies, the Yankees are a much stronger team overall.

    Atheose - SF December 17, 2009, 1:36 pm
  • Also, shouldn’t we wait until both teams have all nine slots filled out? The Sox are missing a 3B, the Yankees a DH and LF. As it stands now, the Sox have the edge because they can put Youkilis at third and Kotchman at first, while the Yankees will be putting a AAAA player at DH and Melky Cabrera in left. I think both are pretty unlikely as Opening Day scenarios.
    So I think it’s probably better if we wait until both teams are set.
    As for the projection system, Marcel tends to be among the more accurate, and as I understand it, it’s basically this system with some adjustments for things like injury, age, playing time, etc. To call a stat or projection contrived is kind of silly because ALL stats to some extent are contrived. Even counting stats. After all, someone had to decide it was worthwhile to count these particular events.
    It is fortunate for Lackey that his best season was three years ago and unfortunate for Burnett that his was longer ago, but is it not the case that the farther a player is from a peak performance, the less likely he is to repeat it? Lackey’s 2007 is 17 percent of his projection because it was three years ago. That’s not an incredible amount of weight, but it should certainly bear more weight than a peak season from longer ago.
    John, you ask whether Wakefield is really a better pitcher than Pettitte. Well, Wakefield hasn’t been below league average since 2000 and posted a 100-112-102 ERA+ in the past three seasons. Pettitte’s been 111-98-103. That’s not by any stretch better. It’s basically the same, except his best season is longer ago, which makes it less likely to occur again. Of course, Pettitte pitched more innings, which adds value and isn’t accounted for here. But he’s also the Yankees’ No. 3 whereas Wakefield has consistently been the Sox’ 5/6.
    In short, discounting the entire system because it doesn’t do something it isn’t designed to do is a copout. Address the merits of the system and note which players are unlikely to meet — or are likely to exceed — these projections based on the facts on the ground. As dc noted, this is really just for discussion. If health works out, these are reasonable projections, I think. Of course, health rarely works out across the board (though it certainly does every so often, as it did for the Sox in 2004), and that’s where we can start debating depth and likely performance ranges in case of injury.

    Paul SF December 17, 2009, 1:55 pm
  • Jacoby Ellsbury wins the defensive player of the year award, despite being the 2nd-worst center fielder (according to UZR). As if we needed more proof that defensive awards were meaningless.

    Atheose - SF December 17, 2009, 1:58 pm
  • Game 7, win or go home, your choice of a pitcher: Tim Wakfield or Andy Pettitte. Who are you picking? I just think sometimes you need to look PAST numbers. Not ignore them, but look deeper. I don’t know anyone, including most of you Sox fans, that would take Wakefield over Pettitte. In addition, which seemed to be ignored, I don’t think Sheets is a better pitcher than Beckett, so it’s not my Yankee bias speaking. I am a big supporter of all these systems, but sometimes we need to use our own eyes to judge rather than what the numbers say. (Now I sound like the old guys in Moneyball) Beckett is better than Sheets and Pettitte is better then Wakefield. I don’t imagine anyone would argue those points, despite what the system is telling you.

    John - YF December 17, 2009, 2:11 pm
  • One thing that is understated in the comp here is the innings pitched totals. Sabathia has been far and away the most valuable pitcher on either rotation (for the last three seasons anyway) not just because of his ERA+ totals, but also because he has logged a ridiculous number of innings. Pettitte is more valuable than his ERA+ suggests because of his innings totals, and the gap between Lackey and Burnett closes because of their respective innings totals. So there is sketchiness in the comparison at the top of the rotation as well as the bottom.

    Nick-YF December 17, 2009, 2:17 pm
  • Sabathia has been far and away the most valuable pitcher on either rotation (for the last three seasons anyway) not just because of his ERA+ totals, but also because he has logged a ridiculous number of innings..
    That’s an excellent way to look at it, Nick, but does that help or hurt future projections? I’m not saying the guy will be hurt, but those innings have to project negatively at some point, no?

    Brad December 17, 2009, 2:45 pm
  • Game 7, win or go home, your choice of a pitcher: Tim Wakfield or Andy Pettitte..
    I never, ever pick Wakefield over anyone. My hatred for him runs deep, and hard. I wish he would just retire already. I can’t stand to watch the guy pitch, I can’t stand his “bad inning”, I can’t stand the runners he lets just run free, I can stand the pace of his pitching, and I can watching that stupid ball float up there like a little leaguer threw it.
    Did I mention I don’t like Wakefield?

    Brad December 17, 2009, 2:47 pm
  • The “game 7 win or go home” question is irrelevant to this comparison, for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that Tim Wakefield hasn’t been on a postseason roster in a while, if I remember correctly.
    If Tim Wakefield is ever a Game 7 starting option for the Sox it means that Game 6 went 43 innings, Wakefield didn’t pitch for some unexplained reason, and the Sox’ team bus hit a telephone pole, killing the rest of the pitching staff who were all sitting next to each other right where the pole hit.
    It’s a meaningless comparison and question.

    SF December 17, 2009, 3:07 pm
  • “Also, shouldn’t we wait until both teams have all nine slots filled out? The Sox are missing a 3B, the Yankees a DH and LF. As it stands now, the Sox have the edge because they can put Youkilis at third and Kotchman at first, while the Yankees will be putting a AAAA player at DH and Melky Cabrera in left. I think both are pretty unlikely as Opening Day scenarios.
    So I think it’s probably better if we wait until both teams are set.”
    So the Sox has superior pitching and offense so far? No reason to even discuss it. At least you aren’t a raging homer or anything Paul. Wow.
    ” think most SF’s would agree that even after the Lackey/Cameron movies, the Yankees are a much stronger team overall.”
    that wasn’t my point Ath but I think most would argue they are certainly stronger offensively…except Paul of course.
    With all the Sox chest-thumping going on here with the Lackey signing, I figured it would be good to take a look at the teams offenses. Most have agreed that the pitching is at least close, are the teams offensively close too?

    krueg December 17, 2009, 3:15 pm
  • It’s meaningless only because you deem it so. The reason I asked the question was to prove my point and to me that’s not meaningless. As I said earlier, sometimes you need to look beyond just the numbers for the answer. The point of the post was to compare the two staffs and then break it down SP vs SP. Wasn’t that what I was doing when I asked who you would prefer in a must win situation? The numbers that Paul showed above say that Pettitte is the lesser of the two pitchers, I disagree.
    Different question, staying on topic though. Overall, who is the better pitcher: Andy Pettitte or Tim Wakefield?
    2009 (Pettitte pitched more innings granted) Pettitte was the better pitcher, pure end of year stats. Better WHIP, better ERA, etc… With the exception of 2008 and even then it’s still close, Andy Pettitte was the better pitcher pure stats, pure results dating back to 2002 (where I stopped looking). No metrics needed, just my eyes and the final tallies.

    John - YF December 17, 2009, 3:22 pm
  • Any rational human would never even compare Andy Pettitte to Tim Wakefield. There is no comparison and that’s not even debatable.
    One is a 5 time Champion, first ballot HOF’er and the other is a gimick essentially. A knuckleballer that aside from pitching for essentially my entire lifetime, has really not done much in terms of pitching.
    p.s. I have nothing against Timmy, watched him pitch for the Buffalo Bisons when I was a kid but please…

    krueg December 17, 2009, 3:53 pm
  • Pettitte is the better pitcher, I hate Tim Wakefield (despite whatever measured metrics show him to be as good as Pettitte, I don’t buy them). But Wakefield is the Sox’ #6 starter right now, while Pettitte is the Yanks’ #3.
    One other thing: regular season innings are not translatable or measurable against postseason innings. That is why I find the comparison irrelevant in the terms you framed the question. It is a false choice to have to make, and will never have to be made in the first place. Hence it’s irrelevance to me.

    SF December 17, 2009, 4:37 pm
  • One is a 5 time Champion, first ballot HOF’er and the other is a gimick essentially.
    Having established that, along with Brad, I hate Tim Wakefield, it is also pure foolishness to act as if Wakefield hasn’t been a damn fine major league pitcher over the course of his career. Gimmick or not, he gets Major League hitters out, and has done so proficiently for a long time. I hate watching him pitch. But he’s an accomplished pitcher who has been an integral part of two championship teams (and but for Aaron Boone he might have been part of three!).
    Again, Pettitte has been the better pitcher, there isn’t much debate to me. But to dismiss Wakefield as a “gimmick” who “has not done much in terms of pitching” is tremendously insulting to a guy who may very well have, by the time he retires, gotten over 9000 batters out and won 200 games in the Major Leagues.

    SF December 17, 2009, 4:49 pm
  • Good guy, hell of a career for a gimmick.
    Intergral part of two championships? Wow. OK.

    krueg December 17, 2009, 5:03 pm
  • “So there is sketchiness in the comparison at the top of the rotation as well as the bottom.”
    Exactly why this entire exercise is a lesson in futility.
    “To call a stat or projection contrived is kind of silly because ALL stats to some extent are contrived.”
    I have never read a more absurd statement on any website, let alone a baseball one.
    Statistics are a collective record of what happened. They’re “contrived” to the extent that ALL of human observation is. Projections are a best guess of what could happen based on the previous observations. Too bad the perspective offered in this post “without comment” is neither a statistic nor a projection. It’s just a sloppy rendering of previous seasons with only the vaguest correlation to some index of reality. That it fits some preconceived bias only makes the outcome that much more suspect. I don’t expect honest debate on baseball sites. But if someone thinks ALL statistics are contrived then there really is no hope of honest debate with them. Statistics will only ever be used by that person to fit whatever they want them to fit. In that case it’s just an exercise in misdirection and outright illusion rather than clarity.
    Here are some projections from a Sox employee, but one who uses statistics intelligently and honestly wherever they may lead.
    Lester – 13-10, 3.84
    Lackey – 13-10, 3.81
    Becket – 15-9, 3.62
    Dice-K – 12-10, 4.02
    Buchho – 10-8, 3.91
    Wakefi – 6-5, 4.03
    Sabath – 18-9, 3.40
    Pettit – 13-9, 3.91
    Burnet – 15-10, 3.75
    Hughes – 9-5, 3.27
    Joba C – 11-8, 3.94
    If we’re going to argue about projections, let us do so based on something actually worthy of the term. Based on James, it seems like the staffs are pretty well-matched. And where they’re not, it’s going to take some actual games, rather than empty headed chest thumping, to settle it.
    If only that were the end of this.

    Jeff December 17, 2009, 5:09 pm
  • krueg:
    Wakefield pitched nearly 400 innings in 2004 and 2007. One might argue with the term “integral”, but one cannot argue that he did not contribute to the Sox’ success, even if one might fallaciously argue that a replacement might have done equivalently. That isn’t how it works, at least not looking backwards.
    As for the word “gimmick”, I stand corrected. But I don’t think you think the word means what you think it means. As I didn’t before looking it up myself.
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/GIMMICK

    SF December 17, 2009, 5:16 pm
  • You said “intergral”, did you not? He ate innings like he has always done. If he did anything, he saved your bullpen some innings beuase he certainly didn’t “win” anything on his own per se.
    He is a good pitcher. He can’t even hold Pettitte’s jock in any universe, not even the one you and Paul simultaneously inhabit where the drugs MUST be fantastic. I need to get some of what you guys are smoking…
    P.S.
    Well if you didn’t know what the word meant, how could I possibly, right??? Wow SF. That’s low even for you bro.

    krueg December 17, 2009, 6:33 pm
  • You said “intergral”, did you not?
    Yes, I did, and in the comment just above yours I actually walk back that comment, saying it is arguable. He was an innings eater, as you say. But he was a regular starter on two teams that won championships, for whatever that is worth.
    He can’t even hold Pettitte’s jock in any universe, not even the one you and Paul simultaneously inhabit where the drugs MUST be fantastic.
    Stop manufacturing phony enemies. You have no beef with me. See my above assessments of the two pitchers. Start over.
    Well if you didn’t know what the word meant, how could I possibly, right??? Wow SF. That’s low even for you bro.
    My point, perhaps not eloquent, was that I interpreted your use of the term “gimmick” as derogatory, since in colloquial terms the word “gimmick” can mean something like a trick, or a ruse. But in dictionary terms it means something different. Were you insulting Wakefield or not? If not, then my bad. If so, see 9000 retired batters and nearly 200 wins.
    I hope that explains things, I am not looking for this to go downward.

    SF December 17, 2009, 7:10 pm
  • I have never read a more absurd statement on any website, let alone a baseball one.
    More proof that you don’t read what you write! Found any other nine-game sample sizes to use for projecting the next five years of performance for us?
    And you are aware that James doesn’t actually run the projections in his book, right? And you are further aware that he actually doesn’t like projecting pitchers at all, as his books state over and over, right? But why stop being wrong now? You’re doing so well at it!
    So the Sox has superior pitching and offense so far?
    That’s not what I meant, but I’m not surprised you decided to read it that way. Given that the Yankees have not filled two slots in their lineup and the Sox have all nine filled, it seems wise to wait to see who the Yankees are going to fill those holes with, does it not? Or are the Yankees so good that their offense with two .000/.000/.000 lines (or replacement level lines, if you prefer) are better than the Sox with all nine positions filled?
    To John’s question about Game 7, I would definitely take Pettitte because Wakefield is an extremely volatile pitcher. This probably provides a bit more value than his numbers otherwise indicate (we’ve discussed this before re: Beckett in 2006), but it means I would avoid him at all costs in must-win games. And you’re right that over the course of a season, Pettitte’s durability makes him more valuable than Wakefield, but when they’re both healthy I think Wakefield is the better pitcher. It’s a fine difference, but it’s a difference nonetheless. And again, the Sox aren’t counting on Wakefield to be anything more than a league-average innings-eater, whereas Pettitte is No. 3 on the Yankees’ depth chart.

    Paul SF December 17, 2009, 8:02 pm
  • “… To call a stat or projection contrived is kind of silly because ALL stats to some extent are contrived….”
    i don’t think you mean “silly”…rather, calling a stat or projection contrived is “redundant”…sorry i missed the rest of what looked like a fun debate…i’ll settle it…right now, the sox have a slightly better starting staff…the yankees have a better offense, and the best closer of all time…john’s right, all of this stat talk without context and judgement injected into the analysis is what’s silly…did i mention that jeter is worth $33.4m?…
    “…In short, discounting the entire system because it doesn’t do something it isn’t designed to do is a copout….”
    no, using contrived and tortured data to prove a point is a copout…
    wakefield has been good for the sox, and pettitte has been good for the yanks…..i love the guy, but i’d rather not have a knuckleballer in a critical situation…

    dc December 17, 2009, 9:07 pm
  • “Found any other nine-game sample sizes to use for projecting the next five years of performance for us?”
    Further proof that you don’t actually know what a projection is.
    “And you are further aware that he actually doesn’t like projecting pitchers at all, as his books state over and over, right?”
    Why is that?

    Jeff December 18, 2009, 6:58 am

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