Big League Stew - MLB

We all have questions about the 2010 season and Alex Remington luckily has some answers. The Stew's resident stats guru will address a few per week as Opening Day approaches.     

The Situation: The attention of Chicago's South Side has been focused on Jake Peavy's(notes) health ever since Kenny Williams traded for the injured pitcher at last year's trading deadline. 

And, hey, their concern is pretty well-founded. Peavy has only 43 starts to his name over the past two seasons and he got only three games in for the White Sox after the big trade. His final start was his best of the season, though — a two-hit, eight-inning shutout against the flagging Tigers — and it gave the White Sox plenty of warm thoughts for the winter. Peavy ended up pitching 20 good innings for the Sox, recording a 1.35 ERA and 3.0 K/BB in the process, but the truth is that Ozzie Guillen will need a full season of great Peavy performances — and not just 20 good innings — to contend in the AL Central. 

Baseball Prospectus has projected the Sox to finish at just 80-82, but they figure to finish exactly one game behind the Twins, who are projected to a record of only 81-81. The division is clearly open for the taking. But in pursuing that goal, how well can Peavy, who has spent the majority of his career in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, adjust to the booming bats of the Junior Circuit and the cozy confines of U.S. Cellular Field?

The Question: Will a healthy Jake Peavy make a big difference for the White Sox in the AL Central race?

The Analysis: The bloggers at Fangraphs are skeptical. Dave Cameron frowned upon the rumored White Sox trade back in May 2009, writing: "When you strip away Petco Park and the National League, he's more of a good pitcher than a great one."

Then, in December, David Golebiewski took a deeper look and came up with a back-of-the-envelope projection of a 3.85 FIP for Peavy — right in line with Cameron's description of Peavy as a good pitcher rather than a great one.

Peavy's neutralized stats from 2009 agree with Golebiewski. According to the calculator on baseball-reference.com, if Peavy had pitched all of 2009 at The Cell, he would have had a 4.22 ERA and a 5-5 record, rather than the 3.45 and 9-6 marks he wound up with.

On the other hand, he's a strikeout pitcher with good control. He has a career K/BB over 3, and a fairly stingy home run rate. If a pitcher can keep hitters from touching the ball, and keep them in the park when they happen to make contact, then he's guaranteed a certain degree of success. Remarkably, even though his neutralized stats showed a worse ERA and won-loss record, his strikeouts and home runs stayed constant, and his walk rate actually went down. While Petco fully deserves its reputation as an extreme pitchers' park, and new Comiskey is itself a slight hitters' park, both ballfields actually elevated strikeouts in 2009. Petco is a wonderful place for any pitcher to call home, but U.S. Cellular won't rob Peavy of his strikeout calling card.

That may account for the wide disparities in projections for Peavy: Bill James projects a 3.18 ERA and 215 innings, while CHONE (3.91 and 145) and ZiPS (3.99 and 155 2/3) have similar predictions at the opposite end of the 3's. Heater Magazine's Graphical Player 2010 splits the difference: a 3.47 ERA and 180 IP. The Chicago White Sox's season could depend on which of them is right.

The Forecast for 2010: I can't predict Peavy's likelihood of injury with any degree of certainty. (Peavy says he's healthy, though he notes that the White Sox have changed his usual offseason routine.) But I can try to predict his performance in the innings he does manage to twirl. Fortunately, his major injury last year was to his ankle, not his arm, and it was the first serious leg injury of his career.

If he can stand, he's the best pitcher the Sox have. Peavy will stand atop a rotation of inning-eaters in Mark Buehrle(notes), John Danks(notes), and Gavin Floyd(notes). AL starters had a 4.62 ERA last year, so even posting a 3.60 ERA would be nothing to sneeze at. If he gets to 180 innings, he could be the best pitcher in the division not named Zack Greinke(notes) or Justin Verlander(notes). I'm predicting an ERA between 3.50 and 4.00, likely around 3.60 or 3.70, with plenty of strikeouts but a few more homers than he's used to. He's still just 28 years old, and still a hell of a pitcher. He'll just have to hope that Alex Rios(notes), Paul Konerko(notes) and Gordon Beckham(notes) can put some runs on the board for him.

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Other questions answered by Alex Remington

Can Jonathan Papelbon become the next Mariano Rivera?
• What can the Mariners expect from Ken Griffey Jr.?
Will Mark Reynolds hit more than 40 home runs again?
• Will David Wright find his lost power in 2010?

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