How ’bout them Tribe starters?
…and I’m not talking about Harris, Schoup, and Vaughn (over/under for how many consecutive posts in which I can make a Major League reference?). Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, David Huff, and Mitch Talbot have pitched very well for the Tribe to this point; the reason the Indians aren’t winning is because they refuse to score runs. But is this the kind of thing that can continue? A month ago I wrote that “The opening day starter, Jake Westbrook, didn’t pitch in 2009. The number two starter, Fausto Carmona, spent two months in extended spring training, because Single A hitters still would have worked him over. Justin Masterson will try to throw a full season as a starter for the first time, and the cloned trio of David Huff, Aaron Laffey, and Jeremy Sowers will “fight” for the last two spots in the rotation. Infield defense is going to be huge for the Indians in 2010, as Westbrook, Carmona, and Masterson are all extreme groundball pitchers. The bullpen looks plenty bad also, but with the this team, you never know about the bullpen until the season starts. The Indians are going to have to score a lot of runs, because they’ll give up plenty.”
The Indians have played 15 games, going 7-8, with all five starting pitchers having pitched three games. They’ve scored 54 runs and given up 62, which is right about in the middle of the American League. The starters have a 3.40 ERA in 92.2 innings, averaging over 6 innings per start. But I think it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. Collectively, they’ve only struck out 52 hitters, besting only the Nationals and Pirates while pitching 15 to 20 more innings than the starters of those teams. They’ve also walked 46 hitters, more than everyone but the Rockies. Striking out 5.1 hitters per 9 innings while walking 4.5 hitters per nine innings is not a good combination.
So far the starters have only given up 7 home runs and 74 hits, both below average. Westbrook’s ERA (5.40) matches up fairly well with his FIP (5.13) and xFIP (5.41).* Carmona’s BABIP is 0.188, leading to an ERA that is a run lower than his FIP and xFIP. Masterson has 20 of those 52 strikeouts in only 15 innings, which is helping him keep his ERA down despite allowing a 0.433 batting average on balls in play. So far his ability to get strikeouts and avoid giving up home runs (only one in three starts) has kept his ERA down. Suffice it so say, he could probably use a third pitch before I consider him a long-term starter. Like Carmona, Huff’s BABIP is 0.174, giving him an ERA of 3.00 while his FIPs suggest it should be closer to 5.00; 7 strikeouts against 9 walks in 21 innings is major red flag also. Talbot’s numbers mirror Huff’s; 0.192 BABIP, 6 strikeouts and 8 walks in 20 innings, FIP near 5.00, ERA of 2.25.
*If you think it would help if I linked to more of these definitions or wrote primers on this site for some of these advanced metrics, let me know.
Like I wrote a couple posts ago, I think teams and players should get “extra credit “”or starting hot. The pitchers are pitching above their heads right now and should be expected to regress, and soon. It would have been nice to take advantage of the start by the pitching staff by also scoring runs and starting 10-5 or 11-4. But this is Cleveland Indians baseball; when the pitchers pitch well, they don’t get any runs, and when the pitchers suck, the Tribe will score buckets of runs. I hoped this kind of start would go out the window with Eric Wedge, but apparently Manny Acta has the same kind of voodoo attached to him.