Yesterday, the author of the current post published a lightly annotated version of Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the San Diego Padres. To no one’s surprise, likely, the forecast for the 2017 edition of the club isn’t wildly a promising one. After investing heavily in some expensive veterans during the first year of his tenure as the club’s general manager, A.J. Preller has taken a very different approach over the last calendar year, acquiring whatever young talent he could in exchange for the aforementioned veterans.
On the offensive side, some of that young talent is already materializing at the major-league level. Outfielders Travis Jankowski, Manuel Margot, and Hunter Renfroe, for example — who’ve recorded fewer than 600 plate appearances as a group — are projected to produce about two wins each next year. That’s encouraging both for the club’s present and future. On the pitching side, however, Szymborski’s computer was decidedly less optimistic: of the club’s likely starters, only one (Tyson Ross) was projected to produce more than a win.
Of course, the caveat attached to any team-based projections released at this time of year is that the complexion of said team’s roster can change dramatically. “This is bad,” one could reasonably say of the forecast for the Padres’ rotation, “but the team could still make some moves.”
Indeed, the team has made some moves since yesterday morning. Not only are those moves unlikely to help the rotation, however, but very likely to render it the worst in the majors. The club’s decision to non-tender Tyson Ross removes the nominal “ace” of the staff. What remains isn’t encouraging.
There are, naturally, some additional caveats to make here. Like, this totally might not be the rotation with which the team enters the season. And projections aren’t capable of capturing in one number the relative likelihood of a breakout season. And attempting to make any sort of substantive comment about the future is basically an exercise in hubris.
That said, given the numbers here, one could make a reasonable case that the Padres rotation is likely to produce fewer wins than a replacement-level group in 2017. One could add, moreover, that such a thing would be historically rare.
As to how rare, one has to consider by which sort of pitching WAR he or she would prefer to assess futility — either the sort calculated by means of runs allowed (RA9-WAR) or fielding-independent pitching (FIP-WAR). The former is a record of what has actually happened on the field, but also is influenced by sequencing and defensive contributions (or the lack of them). The latter accounts only for those actions over which the pitcher exerts direct control, but fails to credit pitchers who are able to suppress batted-ball authority.
Because I’m not doing anything else at the moment, I’ll provide both sets of laggardboards and allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. I’ll begin with the runs-allowed variety of WAR. A brief examination of matters reveals that since 1947, when baseball integrated, 1,700 teams have recorded a discrete season. In only 40 of those seasons (or, 2.4% of them) has a club’s rotation produced a negative RA9-WAR.
The worst 10 by that measure:
The Twins’ rotation this season represents the most recent unit to receive this distinction, producing -0.1 RA9-WAR collectively — despite, that is, a nearly four-win season courtesy Ervin Santana.
As for FIP-based WAR, the results are different — which isn’t surprising. Because FIP is basically a regressed figure based on “expected” run allowance, it’s less prone to variance than ERA. The highs are less high; the lows, less low. And, actually, it appears as though zero rotations have produced a negative FIP-WAR since integration.
Here are the 10 worst, though:
By this measure, the Padres rotation’s projected -0.7 WAR would represent the worst since 1947. By RA9-WAR, meanwhile, that projected figure would represent roughly the 30th-worst collective mark in the 1,700 team-seasons since that year. In either case, the rotation — as presently constituted — is projected to be one of the worst since Jackie Robinson debuted in the majors