In the final analysis, 10 pitchers started games for the Rangers this season. Kevin Millwood (31), Scott Feldman (31), Derek Holland (21), Tommy Hunter (19), Vicente Padilla (18), Brandon McCarthy (17), Matt Harrison (11), Dustin Nippert (10), Kris Benson (2), and Doug Mathis (2). This study will focus on the eight pitchers who have made at least 10 starts.
There is plenty of good news to report as they worked a significantly higher amount of innings while doing a great job at dropping the rotation's ERA.
Both Kevin Millwood and Scott Feldman made over 30 starts with 18 Quality Starts each. That number may not blow your socks off, but those two seasons can rival pretty much any season we have seen around here by a starting pitcher in an awfully long time.
There were other signs of optimism as well, as the first year of the Nolan Ryan/Mike Maddux program seems like a perfect diving board to 2010.
Just so we are all up to speed with the different stats, IPS is Innings Per Start and PPS is Pitches Per Start. Everything else will be metrics that I am sure you are familiar with.
Before you start, we need to establish league averages for the stats so you understand what consitutes "league average". So, here you go - These are the final American League Season Averages for the 2009 AL Season:
ERA - AL Average is 4.45
AVG - AL Average is .266
OBP - AL Average is .334
SLG - AL Average is .425
K/9 - AL Average is 6.86
BB/9 - AL Average is 3.39
HR/9 - AL Average is 1.11
WHIP - AL Average is 1.40
Below we will take apart each player and can examine how he fits against the league average:
Kevin Millwood Splits
Kevin Millwood had a very solid season by his standards, but most of his best work was done before July 1 and after September 1. He was 12 out of 16 for quality starts to start the year, and then went 6-15 the rest of the way in that all-important department. With nearly 200 innings, it is fair to ask if he pitched himself out as the season went on, and perhaps wasn't in condition to remain at the pace he set in May and June.
But, his final numbers were mostly all better than league average. His ERA was amazing by Rangers' standards and although he was not the most impressive pitcher on the staff down the stretch, he surely provided a bit of that anchor for the rest of the rotation for much of the year.
You could do better than Kevin Millwood, but you could also do much worse.
Scott Feldman Splits
Feldman's numbers are only as a Starter
The amazing success story of 2009, Scott Feldman almost matched Kevin Millwood in ERA before he hit the wall in September. His batting metrics of .245/.314/.359 blew away the league averages. He doesn't allow base-runners, so he doesn't get in trouble.
He also raised his often-discussed K Rate to a reasonable 5.26 per 9, so there is hope that he doesn't apply to the Bill James anomoly rules.
17 wins were phenomenal, trailing only CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, and Felix Hernandez. Those 3 each achieved 19, but they also had 3 more starts to get there. He appears to understand the fine art of pitching, which we have seen is not always something that can be learned.
Unlike last April, he is a lock for the rotation in 2010.
Vicente Padilla Splits
Certainly capable of knocking your socks off in a start (NLCS Game 2), Padilla was the ultimate "Dow-Joneser" as Dick Vitale would love to say. Padilla allowed too many hits, too many runners, and his ERA and K Rate were lower than they have been.
He was the opposite of what they needed in a veteran, highly-compensated pitcher: he was undependable. As long as you never counted on anything from Padilla, he was fine. But the second you really needed him to pull through in a tough spot, he seemed to let you down. At that pay rate, and at that performance level, he was not worth the trouble.
Derek Holland As A Starter
It is early in the Derek Holland story. He looked the part a few times this year, but for the most part, at 4 for 21 with quality starts, it was not good enough to cement his spot. He is a development project, and the Rangers will continue to hand him the ball every 5 days, but 20 more starts from now, this will not do. His ERA kept rising, his metrics were all poor (aside from K/Rate) and his worst numbers were Slugging Pct and HR Rate. Very bad combination.
Basically, when hitters make contact against Derek Holland, it generally either hits seats or off the wall it would seem. 2009 may go into the Holland book as a full learning experience, so let's hope that we see more of what we saw that dynamite night of the trade deadline.
Tommy Hunter Splits
Tommy makes it difficult to give Derek Holland a complete pass. Hunter is also extremely young. Hunter should have also been experiencing his growing pains, but instead he was outstanding until September. From July to August, he worked over 60 innings in 10 starts and opposing hitters barely hit over .200 against him. He actually strikes out fewer than Feldman, but like Feldman, he doesn't allow hitters to put up the league average.
Hunter has a spot waiting for him in April, and like Feldman, I will feel pretty strong about the Tommy Hunter spot.
Brandon McCarthy Splits
Hmmm. This is interesting. It is easy to consider McCarthy a disappointment, and because he cannot stay healthy that is not incorrect. But, when he did pitch this year (17 starts) he does have a story to tell. In September, he took the ball 6 times and opponents hit just .234/.295/.344 against him. That is a solid line. He strikes out over 6 per 9, which is 2nd only to Holland (3rd if you include Nippert). He appears to be improving, but I think patience is running out on the health issues. 2010 is likely his last year of leash on that front.
Dustin Nippert Splits
Not sure what to make of Nippert. He went back and forth so often and these are just his numbers as a starter. He would seem to lack the ability to go deep in games, and his numbers are all right around league average except for his K/Rate. I agree with those who suggest he is an ideal swing man on a staff.
Matt Harrison Splits
Like McCarthy, the question is whether can he be depended upon. But, unlike McCarthy, his upside seems rather pedestrian based on his performance. In fact, that is kind. ERA over 6, under 5 K's per 9, and the league slugs .500 against him. At this point, he is a guy.
Starting Rotation Totals
In the end, 68 QS out of 162 is not nearly the number we projected early. Only 2 AL teams (Oak, Balt) had fewer quality starts than the Rangers (CHI led with 86). But, with 949.2 innings, the Rangers pitched more innings than the rotations of the Yankees, Twins, A's, Royals, Indians, and Orioles. This may not be the most impressive list, but there were years where there was no list at all. The Rangers traditionally get very few innings from their rotation in the new park era, and to get 80 more than last year supports the "1-more-out" directives.
They ranked 12th in strikeouts, with 598 strikeouts as starters, only the Orioles and Indians had fewer strikeouts. Teams like Boston and New York had almost 200 more strikeouts, so you can easily see how that places less stress on your defense and keeps runners from being moved along with contact.
Improvements were made, and because of the age of most of the rotation and the troops behind this group, the odds are reasonable that this franchise-long trend is turning in the right direction. Plenty of room for improvement, but as you learned while watching this team, pitching was not near the reason for failure that we have become accustomed to around here.
Perhaps 2010 will be even better.