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2012 Cubs Preview: Starting Rotation [Part III]

Chris Volstad | Can Volstad handle left-handed hitters?

In his career, Volstad has had trouble pitching to left-handed hitters. The trouble primarily comes from Volstad’s inability to keep left-handed hitters from hitting the ball out of the park and taking walks. In 2011, he gave up 2.16 HR/9 and posted a 3.86 BB/9 against lefties. Against righties, Volstad gave up 0.42 HR/9 and posted a 1.56 BB/9. The issue is pretty obvious: if Volstad wants to be a successful starter this year, he’s going to need to find a way to get left-handed hitters out.

While we should always be careful when we’re working with small sample sizes, I looked at Volstad’s spring performances to see if there were any signs of him figuring things out against lefties. Below is a chart comparing Volstad’s career lefty-righty splits against his spring lefty-righty splits.

As we can see, managers seemed to know of Volstad’s weakness and ended up stacking their lineups with left-handed hitters. Surprisingly, Volstad had no issues with the left-handed hitters. He didn’t allow a home run or a walk in the 10 innings that he pitched against lefties. While there are a number of other factors that could be in play here - the quality of the opposing left-handed hitters, small sample size, etc. - these numbers are encouraging. Let’s hope that this change is a result of a change in Volstad’s approach rather than just luck.

The Rest | How much better is our starting pitching depth this year as opposed to last year?

It’s pretty clear that we not only have more starting pitching depth to start off this year, but also a better quality of depth than we did last year. Going into Opening Day last year, we had Casey Coleman and James Russellas our extra starters. This year we have Randy WellsTravis Wood, Casey Coleman, and Rodrigo Lopez.

While I should technically compare the two years based on the six pitchers that I have thus far named, I includedDoug DavisRamon Ortiz, and Rodrigo Lopez - they were all acquired within the first two months of the season - in order to make the analysis a little more worthwhile. Below is a chart with the production of the 2011 extra pitchers followed by a chart of the ZiPS projections for the 2012 extra pitchers.

There are a few points that I would like to discuss: the age of the pitchers, innings pitched per inning, and the actual effectiveness of the two staffs.

In 2011, we only had one true extra starter, (James Russell is clearly not a true starter), below the age of 30: Casey Coleman. The weighted average age of our extra pitchers was 30.3 years. This year, we have three extra starters below the age of 30: Casey Coleman, Travis Wood, and Randy Wells. The weighted average age of our extra pitchers is 28.2 years.

Last year, the extra starters averaged 5.05 innings pitched per game started. This year, the extra starters are projected to average 5.60 innings pitched per game started. While half an inning may not seem like a lot at first sight, let’s put it into perspective. Last year, our extra starters started 49 games; if the starters, on average, could have pitched an additional half inning per start they would have saved our bullpen about 25 innings pitched over the course of the season. Not only is that less wear and tear on the bullpen, but that could also provide the manager with a little more flexibility when it comes to how he uses his bullpen.

Lastly, we look at effectiveness. Last year, the extra starters put up a combined 5.91 ERA/4.90 FIP, which is pretty atrocious. This year, the extra pitchers are projected to put up a combined 4.60 ERA/4.50 FIP. While that isn’t remarkable, it’s certainly a significant improvement over last year’s numbers. Below is a chart summarizing of some of the key comparisons that we’ve looked at.

While we hope that none of these extra starters will have to log more than a few starts here and there, we can be confident that we’ll be much better prepared to deal with any injuries to our starting rotation this year as opposed to last. Not only do we have more quantity, but we also have better quality.

As always, let me know what you guys think. I’ll try and get a preview of the bullpen up by Thursday; if I can’t, look for it later this weekend. If you have any suggestions for questions you’d like me to answer about the bullpen, then please let me know in the comments.

I weighted the ages by innings pitched in order to arrive at a more representative average age of the extra pitchers.

As you probably noticed, ZiPS projections have each of this year’s extra pitchers logging over 130 innings. While that is highly unlikely, their rate statistics are not dependent upon the number of innings pitched, so measures such as strikeout, walk, and homerun rates, as well as ERA and FIP, should be, (in theory), the same if a pitcher pitches 50 innings or 150 innings.

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