Rotation slots

A few days ago, Bryan Smith of FanGraphs took a look at identifying which starting pitchers fit which numbered labels. In other words, he tried to classify each pitcher as a #1 starter, a #2 starter, and so on. He used xFIP, which is calculated using strikeout rate, walk rate and groundball rate, to separate each pitcher. I’m not sure I totally agree that this is the best methodology, and I may think about it a bit further for a future article, but I figured I should take a look at how the Pirates stack up. As a reminder, this is only looking at a pitcher’s peripheral numbers (K/9, BB/9 and GB%), so you may be surprised by some of the results.

Bryan only calculated rotation slots 1-4. Here is his rational for that.

With that said, I will reinforce what Marc Hulet wrote earlier this year: essentially, the idea of a “#5 starter” doesn’t exist. Teams don’t use a #5 starter — they use a variety of replacement guys, generally — so if you’re projecting a prospect out as a #5 starter, you’re doing him a disservice. He’s either a reliever, a replacement-level player, or worse, a career minor leaguer.

Here are Bryan’s overall findings.

Overall Rate Value (xFIP)

#1 Starter 2.92 – 3.80 xFIP
#2 Starter 3.81 – 4.18 xFIP
#3 Starter 4.19 – 4.51 xFIP
#4 Starter 4.56 – 5.62 xFIP

My first impression is that a 5.62 xFIP is pretty bad for a pitcher to be considered a #4 starter. But let’s see where Pirates starters fit.

Name xFIP Rotation Slot
James McDonald 4.03 #2
Charlie Morton 4.26 #3
Jeff Karstens 4.41 #3
Zach Duke 4.48 #3
Paul Maholm 4.56 #4
Ross Ohlendorf 4.96 #4
Brian Burres 5.29 #4
Brad Lincoln 5.53 #4
Daniel McCutchen 5.90 #5

I bet I can guess what your first thought was when you read that. “Charlie Morton a #3 starter? What the #%*& is that ?!” That is basically what I thought too, and you can essentially replace Morton’s name in that statement with any Pirates pitcher. But there it is.

I want to hear from you. Go read Bryan’s article, think about the process he used, and tell me why you do or do not like it. Please avoid the following argument: “Any numbers that say [Pitcher X] is a #[X] starter is useless.” Give me your opinion on the process itself, not on a specific result that goes against our preconceived beliefs.