Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why You Do Not Trade Andy Sonnanstine

Tampa Bay RaysThere was more to the article about the Rays organization's starting pitching posted last week, but it just became way too long. Consider this a continuation of that article, but with a different way of measuring how our starters performed this past year.

The questions I want to answer here are: Which Rays' starting pitchers pitched at the level of a #1 starter in 2008? Who was a #2 (at their level)? Who was a #3? And so forth. Was James Shields a "true number one starter"? What about Andy Sonnanstine? What was Edwin Jackson? Wade Davis? Alex Cobb? In our organization, the list goes on and on.

To answer these questions we first need to know: What is a #1-#5 starter? Luckily, Matthew Carruthon answered this in his article Rotation Slots by tRA+ at StatCorner. I'll let you read all the details and methodology used, but based on 2007-8 data he found the following:

#1 SP = tRA+ of 118 or higher, the average #1 has a 130 tRA+.
#2 SP = tRA+ from 106 to 117, the average #2 has a 112 tRA+.
#3 SP = tRA+ from 95 to 105, the average #3 has a 100 tRA+.
#4 SP = tRA+ from 86 to 94, the average #4 has a 91 tRA+.
#5 SP = tRA+ of 85 or lower, the average #5 has a 76 tRA+.

Using those numbers as our guidelines, let's take a look at the starting pitchers in the Rays system and see how well they pitched in 2008. Remember, StatCorner only covers down to full-season A ball, so there are no Hudson Valley, Princeton, DSL or VSL players (click the links to see stats for those pitchers). The data does not include innings pitched as a reliever, only as a starter. Age is as of today and pitchers are listed by level, so some appear more than once.

Here are the definitions of the stats we'll be using from the StatCorner Glossary:

xIP: Derived from xOuts, "xOuts stands for the expected number of outs a pitcher has generated based on his defense and park neutral outcomes." This is how much they pitched.

tRA: "tRA involves assigning run and out values to all events under a pitcher's control and coming up with an expected number of runs allowed and outs generated in a defense and park neutral environment. tRA is on a R/9 scale and does not involve any regression of the rates so while it should be more useful at determining a pitcher's true talent level, the best method for pitching projection is to use tRA*, the regressed version of tRA." This is how well they pitched.

tRA+: "tRA+ is equal to [((lgTRA - tRA) / lgTRA) + 1] * 100. A tRA+ of 150 represents that the pitcher's tRA was 50% better than league average. A tRA+ of 75 means the pitcher's tRA was 25% worse than average." This is how well they pitched relative to the rest of their respective leagues.

2008 #1-Level Starters:
Hellickson, Jeremy21.6A+76.7148
Price, David23.2A+33.3142
AVERAGE #1 SPxxxxxxxxxxxx130
Talbot, Mitch25.0AAA164.8127
Davis, Wade23.2AAA52.6127
Sonnanstine, Andy25.6MLB198.8122
Price, David23.2AA54.0122
Shields, James26.8MLB212.6121
Cummings, Jeremy32.0AAA81.7120

We need to find a place on the big league roster (pen) for Talbot, and soon for Davis. Hellickson just dominated High-A. Not a bad first year for Price, pitched like a #1 at two levels and a #2 at a third. Cummings is a minor league free agent. Do not trade Andy Sonnanstine.

2008 #2-Level Starters:
Rollins, Heath23.4A+123.8116
Davis, Wade23.2AA105.6113
Price, David23.2AAA18.7113
AVERAGE #2 SPxxxxxxxxxxxx112
Garza, Matt24.9MLB181.2111
Darcy, Jesse23.3A102.5111
Rollins, Heath23.4AA23.0110
Niemann, Jeff25.7AAA127.9109
McGee, Jacob22.3AA74.6108

Rollins handled his promotion well, and Davis improved when he moved up to AAA. Darcy was a little old for Low-A ball, but he had a good year and I think he's undervalued. It seems that trading the bat-flipper was a good idea. Niemann is ready in case of injury, and McGee didn't pitch too poorly considering his elbow was going out.

2008 #3-Level Starters:
Kazmir, Scott24.8MLB147.7103
Hellickson, Jeremy21.6AA73.6102
AVERAGE #3 SPxxxxxxxxxxxx100
Houser, James23.8AA88.9100
Morse, Ryan25.4A+102.998
De los Santos, Richard24.4AA70.698
Cobb, Alexander21.1A129.496

Kazmir was our fourth best starter, that's how you win 97 games. You hear how poorly Hellickson pitched after his promotion to AA, but a #3 isn't that bad for a 21 year old, expect him to do better in AA next year. De los Santos is a minor league free agent. Houser keeps missing time due to injury and Cobb, while very young, needs to improve next year at Charlotte.

2008 #4-Level Starters:
AVERAGE #4 SPxxxxxxxxxxxx91
Hendrickson, Ben27.8AAA141.587
Flores, Brian23.8A108.887

I still believe Flores has a future out of the pen. Hendrickson is a minor league free agent.

2008 #5-Level Starters:
Ragan, Jason25.8A105.184
Jackson, Edwin25.2MLB174.883
Walker, Matthew22.2A+41.983
Mann, Brandon24.4A+122.281
Hall, Jeremy25.1A94.680
AVERAGE #5 SPxxxxxxxxxxxx76
Gibson, Glenn21.1A57.466

There's Mr. Jackson, I wondered where he was hiding. Ragan was released, Walker was suspended, Gibson we've discussed before, and the rest aren't worth mentioning.

If you feel I'm putting too much emphasis on 2008 numbers when analyzing our pitchers I realize that some of these are small sample sizes and that pitchers have up years and down years. And you have to take into account if a pitcher is injured (McGee, Kazmir?) or recovering from an injury. However, 2008 results are the most recent and best numbers we have to assess a pitchers value. Would looking at 2007 be better? No, but just for fun lets look at a couple of pitchers numbers from 2007:

Sonnanstine, Andy24.6AAA70.3130
Sonnanstine, Andy24.6MLB131.8108
Jackson, Edwin24.2MLB163.977

Do not trade Andy Sonnanstine!

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