Projections from Bill James: D-backs Pitchers

The Bill James Handbook 2010 will be available on November first and includes statistical projections for nearly 900 players. Inside, we have a sneak peek of James' 2010 projections for Arizona Diamondbacks' pitching staff, including the $8.5 million question: what can we expect from Brandon Webb?

Every year, Bill James, ACTA Sports, and Baseball Info Solutions collaborate to produce the Bill James Handbook.  In addition to providing vital statistics from the just-completed season, the Handbook attempts to project player performances for the upcoming year.  The projections are mostly based on a player's age and career history, although some deduction and intuition are necessarily involved.

This season, the Arizona Diamondbacks enjoyed a fantastic season from their healthy ace, a solid effort from three other starting pitchers, and a myriad of disastrous performances at the back end of the rotation from pitchers trying to fill the void created by their other injured ace. 

What can they expect from next season's rotation?  Without further delay, here are the educated guesses from the Bill James Handbook: 

Starters Age G GS W-L ERA IP H HR K BB
Brandon Webb 31 28 28 13-7 3.40 180 166 12 143 58
Dan Haren 29 33 33 16-9 3.38 221 209 25 191 47
Doug Davis* 34 34 34 11-12 4.46 202 207 21 153 93
Max Scherzer 25 30 30 11-9 3.80 180 163 16 194 74
Jon Garland** 30 33 33 12-12 4.33 216 235 25 109 64
Billy Buckner 26 16 15 4-6 4.98 94 103 10 69 37
Yusmeiro Petit 25 35 10 6-6 4.37 105 108 19 84 30
Kevin Mulvey 25 13 8 2-3 4.60 47 50 4 35 17
Daniel Cabrera+ 29 16 6 2-3 5.14 42 43 5 31 25

* Davis is a free agent this winter after earning $8.75 million in 2009
** Garland will likely become a free agent this winter, assuming the Dodgers decline the $10 million mutual option for 2010
+ Cabrera is arbitration-eligible this winter.  The Nats paid him $2.6 million and the D-backs offered him a minor league contract upon his release

James and company are expecting that Brandon Webb will bounce back to near Cy Young levels and that Max Scherzer will take another step forward.  This would give the D-backs three pitchers with 180 innings and a sub-4.00 ERA after only Haren accomplished the feat in 2009.

While that puts the team in an excellent position to succeed, the D-backs do need to address the back end of their rotation.  Davis and Garland are going to make more money than they are worth in 2010, but their stable production still needs to be replaced. Fortunately for the D-backs, James sees improvement looming for youngsters Billy Buckner, Yusmeiro Petit, and Kevin Mulvey (it is unlikely that the D-backs will offer Cabrera arbitration).  While the club certainly cannot count on all three posting sub-5.00 ERAs, the odds are good that at least one of them will break out with a pretty solid season.

Basically, that leaves the D-backs with one rotation spot to fill via trade or free agency and Bryan Augenstein, Cesar Valdez, and Tony Barnette lying in wait in case of injuries.  2010 should bring a return to the days of the starting rotation being a major strength for this Diamondbacks club.

Relievers Age G W-L SV ERA IP H HR K BB
Chad Qualls+ 31 48 3-2 39 3.40 50 48 5 41 13
Juan Gutierrez 26 63 3-4 4 4.76 68 74 7 54 27
Esmerling Vasquez 26 55 3-3 0 4.67 54 51 5 43 31
Scott Schoeneweis* 36 53 2-2 0 4.65 31 32 4 20 13
Leo Rosales 29 38 3-2 0 3.83 47 46 5 34 17
Blaine Boyer++ 28 49 3-4 0 4.74 57 63 4 45 24

+ Qualls is arbitration-eligible after making $2.535 million in 2009
* Schoeneweis is a free agent this winter after a tragic year.  Whether he even pitches in 2010 is difficult to predict
++ Boyer is arbitration-eligible after making $0.4325 million in 2009

Relievers are even more difficult to predict than starters are.  One bad outing or even one official scorer's call can drastically affect a reliever's season ERA due to the small sample size. That writ, it doesn't take Nostradamus to divine that the D-backs will need some bullpen help next year.

The Handbook portends that Juan Gutierrez will not fare so well in 2010 for some reason, leaving Chad Qualls rather lonely as an effective right-handed reliever.  Of course, Qualls underwent season-ending knee surgery last month, so his projected save total of 39 is hardly a slam dunk.  One good omen: the Handbook figures that Leo Rosales could pick up some of Gutierrez' slack by having a breakout season.

I was extremely disappointed to find that the Handbook had projections for neither Clay Zavada nor Daniel Schlereth, a pair of rookies who figure to be the only left-handed relievers on the 2010 D-backs.  Schlereth is one of the best prospects in the game, but has fewer than 60 professional innings under his belt, so I can understand why James might not feel comfortable predicting his 2010 success on such limited statistical data. 

As for Zavada, there is no excuse for his exclusion.  He tossed 51 innings for the D-backs last year and was arguably their most effective reliever.  If the 2009 National League rookie class were not so unusually strong, Zavada would have received some Rookie of the Year consideration.

Still, Zavada is likely to regress somewhat, leaving the 2010 pen full of question marks.  Right-handed relievers are perhaps the most easily replaced position on the diamond.  Nevertheless, this is an area that Arizona needs to address if they want to contend in 2010.

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