Last July the Indians acknowledged their lack of proven quality starting pitching depth by trading top prospects Alex White, Drew Pomeranz, and Joe Gardner to the Colorado Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez. The point of the move was not only to boost the rotation for a 2011 pennant run but to solidify the top of the rotation for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
The starting rotation that left Goodyear Arizona in 2011 included Fausto Carmona, Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, and Mitch Talbot and by the end of the season only Masterson and Carmona remained on the active roster. The Indians are hoping that Masterson and Jimenez will be the two pillars at the top of the rotation and that the remaining three starters will be able to take the ball every fifth day, remain healthy throughout the season, pitch into the sixth inning each time out, and exit the game having given the Indians a good chance to win.
The search for durable starting pitching picked up as soon as the 2011 season ended. On October 31 the Indians traded minor league pitcher Chris Jones to the Atlanta Braves for veteran starter Derek Lowe, an innings eater who has led the NL in games started in three of the last four seasons. To make the deal work, the Braves agreed to send $10 million of the $15 million owed to Lowe in 2012 to Cleveland.
The plan for the rotation took a mild step back on January 19 when Carmona was arrested in the Dominican Republic for using a false identity. As most Tribe fans now, know Carmona’s real name is Roberto Hernandez Heredia (Roberto Hernandez) and his 2012 season is in jeopardy as he goes through the legal process of obtaining a visa under a new name. To soften the blow the Indians immediately pulled off a deal with the Colorado Rockies for pitcher Kevin Slowey. They also held onto their minor league depth and have Zach McAllister, Jeanmar Gomez, Scott Barnes, and David Huff in camp and battling for the fifth spot in the rotation.
The Indians are looking for a rotation that can deliver more innings. Jacob Peterson at Beyond the Box Score made a cool infographic detailing the number of inning eaters and team success. The study looked at teams who had 0, 1, 2, or 3-4 pitchers who compiled 200 or more innings in each season. The average record for teams with no pitchers that durable was 72-90. With one pitcher the average record increased to 80-82, with two pitchers the average record increased to 84-78, and with three or four pitchers the average record increased to 92-70. Peterson writes:
In short, having more inning-eating starters seems to increase a team’s chances of winning more games and reaching the post-season. This is especially true at the extremes: teams that didn’t have a 200-IP horse almost never made the postseason (just 8% of the time), but teams that had 3 or more such pitchers made the playoffs more than two-thirds of the time (67%).
While the Indians bullpen was very good in the first half of the year, they seemed to wear down over the course of the season and finished with the fifth-most innings pitched in the American League. Having a starting staff that can record more outs would certainly go a long way towards protecting the bullpen from overuse over the course of a season.
The Indians would like to have their top five pitchers start at least 85 percent of games this year. This would be indicative of a staff that is remaining healthy and pitching effective enough to put the Indians in position to win. The table below shows the number of starters used by the Indians, number of quality starts, the percentage of games the top five pitchers started, the team’s winning percentage, team ERA and AL rank, and starting pitchers’ innings pitched and AL rank over the last seven years.
The tables below show the number of innings pitched at the major league level and the number of innings pitched combined between MLB and the minors over the last three seasons, respectively:
After the Indians acquired Derek Lowe at the end of October they felt that they had five starters who were candidates to deliver near 200 innings. Even after the loss of Carmona the Indians remain hopeful that Masterson, Jimenez, Lowe, and Tomlin can combine for close to 800 innings in 2012.
The Indians will look for durability and consistency out of their No. 5 starter as well. Slowey has worked more than 150 innings only once over the past three seasons and is rather fragile. If he should falter or find himself on the disabled list, the Indians still have three pitchers who have recently logged a significant number of innings.
Gomez reached the 200-inning mark in 2011 while McAllister delivered 172.1 frames and Huff has pitched over 150 innings in each of the last three seasons. Barnes is also an option but he is coming off ACL surgery and will have his innings monitored early on as he rebuilds his strength. Finally, the Indians may at some point during the season regain the services of the pitcher formerly known as Carmona.
Cleveland should have a staff full of durable pitchers in 2012. If the Indians can get some consistency from the rotation, it would go a long way towards keeping them in contention.