With nothing of tremendous substance yet unfolding in Surprise (unless, of course, you count the predictably cheery stories on Brandon Webb's recovery and some hints around Colby Lewis being in the best shape of his life), and with really very little else to say about Michael Young until he either shows up to camp or doesn't this weekend, I thought I'd revisit something that I haven't really harped on since the last day of 2010 -- the pitching depth (and corresponding talent level) lurking behind Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson, and the unfortunate and seeming likelihood that the Rangers will yet again go to war with by far the worst starting rotation in the division.
Below, I identified the five (or six) starting pitchers that Baseball Prospectus labeled as either likely picks for their respective Opening Day rotations or spot starters, and with those depth charts in mind, I proceeded to average their forecasted innings and ERAs using PECOTA, ZiPS, and CAIRO projection sets; these were averaged equally and without any additional weight being lent to any single forecasting system, and then converted into wins above replacement using Jeff Zimmerman's WAR calculator (with a few minor adjustments being undertaken along the way). The final product is a set of numbers that I feel pretty comfortable with on the whole, in spite of a few mild reservations:
Jered Weaver: 199 innings, 3.46 ERA, 4.7 WAR
Dan Haren: 222 innings, 3.54 ERA, 5.1 WAR
Ervin Santana: 193 innings, 4.21 ERA, 2.8 WAR
Scott Kazmir: 151 innings, 4.78 ERA, 1.2 WAR
Joel Pineiro: 165 innings, 4.15 ERA, 2.5 WAR
Angels: 930 innings, 3.97 ERA, 16.3 WAR
Trevor Cahill: 185 innings, 3.93 ERA, 3.3 WAR
Brett Anderson: 152 innings, 3.87 ERA, 2.8 WAR
Gio Gonzalez: 177 innings, 4.09 ERA, 2.8 WAR
Dallas Braden: 173 innings, 3.89 ERA, 3.2 WAR
Brandon McCarthy: 99 innings, 4.38 ERA, 1.2 WAR
Rich Harden: 116 innings, 4.07 ERA, 1.9 WAR
Athletics: 900 innings, 4.01 ERA, 15.2 WAR
Felix Hernandez: 228 innings, 2.78 ERA, 7.4 WAR
Jason Vargas: 171 innings, 4.19 ERA, 2.5 WAR
Doug Fister: 148 innings, 4.41 ERA, 1.8 WAR
Lucas French: 127 innings, 4.74 ERA, 1.1 WAR
Michael Pineda: 114 innings, 4.06 ERA, 1.9 WAR
Erik Bedard: 58 innings, 3.47 ERA, 1.4 WAR
Mariners: 846 innings, 3.63 ERA, 16.0 WAR
C.J. Wilson: 180 innings, 3.78 ERA, 3.6 WAR
Colby Lewis: 192 innings, 3.87 ERA, 3.6 WAR
Brandon Webb: 103 innings, 3.80 ERA, 2.0 WAR
Tommy Hunter: 155 innings, 4.85 ERA, 1.1 WAR
Derek Holland: 142 innings, 4.72 ERA, 1.2 WAR
Scott Feldman: 144 innings, 4.85 ERA, 1.0 WAR
Rangers: 916 innings, 4.30 ERA, 12.5 WAR
Two red flags stand out in the Rangers' projection set, although I would consider both to be readily explainable -- conventional wisdom holds that if Webb is capable of posting a sub-4.00 ERA, he's going to pitch more than 100 innings, but this is a slippery slope because you could then go ahead and make the same assumption about 150 innings, or 160 innings, and so on. I'd personally be ecstatic with merely 100 innings, and I have some problems with the more optimistic belief that he can roll 150-plus innings deep; ultimately, this one feels right, although the projected ERA itself is dicey because these forecasting systems can't begin to fully account for the effects of an injury-imposed two-year absence.
And Feldman? There aren't exactly abundant positive indications flowing out of Surprise with regard to him making an expeditious return to the mound (the general tenor of the beat reports seem to place him more on a late-May to early-June timetable), so 144 innings out of Feldman almost certainly isn't going to happen ... but I'm betting we'll see him in the rotation at some point, and probably for an extended period of time, since he'd otherwise serve as an especially well-compensated long reliever. In the meantime, these guys in the vein of Michael Kirkman and Matt Harrison and Dave Bush strike me as decent bets to post a cumulative ERA in the vicinity of where Feldman's projection sits now.
I suppose if you want to look at this from the glass-half-full perspective, you can construct the argument that no team boasts more reachable "upside" between two of its assumed top five starters; Holland and Webb are at worst marginal -- and at best legitimate -- threats to go bonkers, based on the former's prospect pedigree and stuff and the latter's track record of being one of the greatest pitchers to toe the rubber during the mid-aughts. If one or the other falls well short of expectations (and let's be honest, it probably will happen given the risk still associated with both), though, and if this rotation loses even one of its mainstays to injury, this is going to be a tough pitching carousel to watch, and much likelier to threaten the Rangers' status as divisional favorite than any stunt Michael Young can possibly pull between now and the trade deadline.
Sure, you could say that any other team would also be in a tight jam minus one of their regular five starting pitchers. But in this new era of heightened expectations, and having seen what we've seen over the years with purportedly decent pitching depth built on the foundation of youth falling to pieces, and with Texas having more to lose than ever before ... I don't know. I'm pumped for this season, and I love reckless spring optimism as much as the next guy, but I don't think we'll ultimately find that the rotation was the right thing to be recklessly optimistic about.
[I also recommend whizzing past Robbie G.'s Rangers projection article this morning, provided that I haven't outright killed your spring training buzz ... and I sincerely hope I didn't. This really is a wonderful time of the year.]