How bad was 2011's rotation?

Thursday, February 02 2012 @ 01:05 PM EST

Contributed by: John Northey

We've been having a lot of discussions about 2012 and the starting rotation seems to be the biggest question (with honourable mention to LF and 1B). How bad was 2011's rotation and what would it take to improve it?

In 2011 we saw 12 different guys start at least one game. For comparison there were 11 in 2010, 12 in 2009, 8 in 2008, and 11 in 2007. 1998 was the high water mark for wins since the World Series winning years and it had 9 starting pitchers. 1993 had 8 while 1985 (the first division winner and still #1 in team ERA and team wins) had 10 starters.

So 12 is high but not crazy high. 4 of the past 5 years have been at 11 or 12.

Lets check how the rotations (theoretical) #1/2/3/4/5 starters did. For this exercise I split it into groups based on ERA/ERA+ and starts. I am using stats just as a starter for each guy so we can have a more accurate look at how starters did rather than biasing it with relief ERA. 33 starts for the lowest ERA's (thus 32 Ricky Romero starts plus 1 Alvarez start), 33 for the next lowest (9 Alvarez, 13 Villanueva, 8 Litsch, 3 Morrow), 32 for each of the 3/4/5 slots to equal 162. Not perfect, but a good way to see just how bad it got by the end and how good it was at the start. I'm also going to compare the past 5 years (2007 through 2011) and 1998 and 1993 so we have a historical comparison. Safe bet those earlier years will have a better ace (Halladay, Clemens,'ll see how bad 1993 was in the ace department).
Of note: yes, I know that Morrow was the '#2' this year and that if we added an ace we'd still see some starts going to our worst starters due to luck of the draw (you can plan to use your best, but sometimes your best isn't).

Note: The Jays have had the #1 team ERA 4 times in their history - 1985 was the best at 3.31 followed by 2008 at 3.77. The other years were 1987 and 1991. Just once were they dead last - 1979 14th out of 14 but in 2000 they had the worst team ERA ever at 5.60

Data Tables


Innings Pitched

Legend: bold indicates leader for that rotation slot in that category. Red italics indicates the worst in that category (among the years I picked). Red indicates a year I picked for pure awfulness.

These are interesting numbers to dig though. Remember, I fixed the starts per slot so, for example, all aces had 33 starts vs the 36 that happened a few times (in those cases 3 starts moved to the #2 slot). This shows that the IP per start really hasn't changed as much as we might think when it comes to aces. 2011's 231 IP matches up nicely with virtually any era. The killer last year was the #2/4/5 all being within eyeshot of the worst in this selection of years for innings pitched thus putting a big strain on the pen. Not to mention the nightmare of only the ace being above league average in ERA. Even in the year the Jays were worst for ERA in the league and the year the team had its worst ERA ever the #2 pitcher was comfortably above league average. #3 was in eyeshot of the horrid 1979 staff. No question, adding a solid #2 to the 2011 rotation would've helped a LOT.

What is also interesting to notice is just how amazing that 1985 rotation was. All but the #5 slot had ERA+'s of 119 or better. Wow. The 5th slot didn't pitch many innings (sub 5 IP per start) but the other 4 more than made up for it. Also note how 1998 saw all 5 slots with 190+ IP (5th slot is listed as Pat Hentgen, Erik Hansen, Dave Stieb) - that pen was allowed to relax any day of the week.

Bottom line for 2011 was the complete lack of a decent 64 starts after Romero's 32. Jo Jo Reyes had most of his starts counted in the #4 slot, not the #5. That should tell you all you need to know about last years rotation. Ugh. 12 starts by guys with 6+ ERA's, 47 more from guys with 5+ ERA's. Of course, that is better than 2009 having 3 full rotation slots of 5+ ERA's. It will take very, very little for this years rotation to be back to a more normal level (110 ERA+ out of #2 slot, 100 for #3, 90's for #4, 70/80's for #5) and that would be a major improvement.