Larry Mahnken and SG's

Replacement Level Yankees Weblog

"Hey, it's free!"

The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog has moved!  Our new home is:

Larry Mahnken
Sean McNally
Fabian McNally
John Brattain

This is an awesome FREE site, where you can win money and gift certificates with no skill involved! If you're bored, I HIGHLY recommend checking it out!


Disclaimer: If you think this is the official website of the New York Yankees, you're an idiot. Go away.

March 5, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2006 - Randy Johnson
by SG

The Yankees' rotation is going to be the key to this season, as far as I'm concerned. Every single starter hasreasonable question marks due to age, health, and other factors. While the Yankees do have starting pitching depth in Jaret Wright, Aaron Small, and Ron Villone, it's not good depth.

It all starts with the ace, Randy Johnson.

Johnson had a season that most characterized as disappointing in 2005. After being the best pitcher in the National League in 2004, the Yankees paid a premium in money and young talent to bring Johnson to the Bronx, on the assumption that he would be the ace of the staff and lead them through the postseason.

It didn't quite work out that way in 2005, as Johnson's season was up and down, marked primarily by a spike in his HR rate (.7 per 9 innings in 2004, 1.3 per 9 in 2005), and a plummet in his K rate (10.6 per 9 innings in 2004, 8.4 per 9 in 2005). Some of this can be explained by the league switch, but all of it?

Johnson appeared to pitch better in the second half of the season.

127.2 IP
133 H
19 HR
24 BB
117 K
4.16 ERA
1.3 HR/9
1.7 BB/9
8.2 K/9

98 IP
74 H
13 HR
23 BB
94 K
3.31 ERA
1.2 HR/9
2.1 BB/9
8.4 K/9

However, a little look deeper into his numbers shows that these results may have just been luck.

Using FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching ERA), which uses a pitcher's component stats of HR, BB, and K to regress the impact of a pitcher's performance based on balls in play to zero. This is a good way of discerning if someone outperformed or underperformed expectations based on the factors that they have the strongest control over. While I am not as big of a proponent of DIPS theory as many statheads, I do feel it is a useful part of assessing a pitcher's ability (as opposed to his value).

Johnson's Pre-ASB FIP was: 3.87
Johnson's Post-ASB FIP was 3.71

The chart below maps Johnson's ERA vs. his FIP over the course of 2005.

As you can see, after a spike in mid-April, Johnson was fairly consistent last year overall, with his season FIP and ERA lining up fairly well. This tells me he probably didn't pitch that much differently after April, although he was certainly helped by a Yankee defense that played better over the second half.

As far as how much Johnson contributed in 2005, I decided to use a variation of a method that was devised by David Gassko at the Hardball Times, called Pitching Runs Created. The link has the specific details, but basically, it is a way of converting a pitcher's RA (runs against) into a relative runs scored value by comparing it to the league average RA, then adjusting it for a pitcher's K rate.

If you are familiar with the pythagorean thereom of runs scored and runs allowed in predicting a team's W/L record, this is similar, in that you are comparing a pitcher's derived runs scored using this method against the league average runs allowed, and then converting it into a run total. I had to bust out algebra that I hadn't used in 15 years to do this. Jeter bless the FOIL method.

My numbers don't line up with Gassko's precisely, but since what I am doing is comparing last year performance to the projections for this year, they are close enough for what I'm trying to do.

Last year, Johnson pitched 225.2 innings and had an RA (earned runs + unearned runs) of 4.07. This translated into a PRC line of 118, which was 28 runs above average.

Running through the projection gauntlet with Johnson yields the following information.

In this chart, the PRC column is the pitching runs created for 2005, then for each of the various projection systems with the final being an average.

Projecting player performance is always dicey. For pitchers it's even dicier. For 42 year old pitchers, it's dicierer.

The average looks about right to me, particularly with Eduardo Perez gone to Cleveland, which should knock a few HRs of RJ's ledger. This would be about a 2 run upgrade over last year, which is not significant. While I'd love to see Johnson hit his PECOTA projection, given his age and his injury history, I think any of us would sign up for a repeat of last year, without the disappointing Game 3 of course. One thing that should not be forgotten is that if Johnson did not go 5-0 in six starts against Boston, the Yankees wouldn't have won the AL East.

The RJ that we watched last year did not consistently have his top-shelf fastball. I don't know if part of that was his mechanics being out of sync. I just think it's his age. When he was throwing in the low 90s and his slider was flat, he he got hit pretty hard. When he was in the mid 90s with the slider breaking down, he was pretty nasty. He'll have his good days and bad days, he just can't bring it like he used to as regularly.

The most important thing to remember is that Johnson went to the post for almost every start last year, which the Yankees desperately need him to do again in 2006 if they want to win their ninth straight AL East title.