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2012 in Review: The Starting Rotation

The Indians finished with a record of 68-94 and a run differential of -178, second worst in baseball and the worst by a Cleveland team since 1991. It takes a lot of things going wrong for a team to be that bad, but the main culprit for 2012’s failures was the starting rotation.

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Justin Masterson was very good in 2011. Josh Tomlin was solid, if not spectacular. Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe were each only one year removed from great 2010 seasons. The Indians starting rotation for 2012 didn't look fantastic in the spring, but it seemed like it could be solid. There were a lot of high ground ball rates, the idea being to keep the ball in the yard and let the infield help to make a lot of outs. Casey Kotchman was brought in at 1B and Jack Hannahan was given the 3B job, largely because of their gloves. Instead though, every Indians' starter pitched poorly, the team's ground ball rate was actually lower than in 2010 or 2011, and the rotation was collectively awful.

Individual "highlights" for the Tribe's starting pitching:

- Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez were both among the 20 worst starters in MLB this season and among the 20 worst in team history too.

- Jimenez had the 5th worst ERA in team history. His ERA- (which adjusts for seasonal and park factors) was the 2nd worst in Indians history among qualified starters.

- If you drop the standard to 100 innings pitched, Jimenez had "only" the 10th worst ERA- in team history, but Lowe had the 7th worst and Tomlin had the 3rd worst.

- Tomlin's ERA- rates as the worst in MLB for 2012 (100+ innings). Lowe, Jimenez, and Justin Masterson were also among the bottom twenty.

- Tomlin gave up a slugging percentage of .518, the worst in team history among pitchers with 100+ innings.

- Jimenez gave up an on-base percentage of .365, worst in team history among pitchers with 150+ innings.

- Jimenez allowed the most stolen bases per inning and threw the 2nd most wild pitches per inning of any qualified starter in team history.

Collectively, the Indians' starting pitchers put up their own set of impressive figures for the 2012 season:

- ERA of 5.25, the 5th worst in team history and an ERA- of 133, the very worst in Indians history and tied for the 6th worst in American League history.

- 913.2 innings, fourth fewest in team history.

- 599 total runs, 1026 hits, and 108 stolen bases (not entirely on the pitchers, I know), all of these were the absolute worst in baseball in 2012, even though they pitched so few innings.

- Just 6.12 K/9, 2nd worst in 2012 and 3.46 BB/9, 3rd worst in 2012.

These next stats are more "advanced," but you can read more about them at Fangraphs' glossary (I've provided links):

- The Indians WPA (win probability added) was -12.92, the worst of any team in 2012, the worst in team history (this stat dates to 1974, so it's the worst at least since then), and the 2nd worst in history by any team (again, since 1974).

- The Indians RE24 (run expectancy above average) was -147.01. This stat also dates to 1974 and that figure is by far the worst of any team over that time.

None of the Indians starters finished with a positive bWAR, Justin Masterson finished at 0.0 to lead the team. There were six pitchers who made at least 15 starts for the Indians. If you remember but one fun fact from this article, perhaps it should be this:

Never in baseball history had any team had five pitchers make 15 or more starts while compiling a bWAR of 0.0 or worse, but the 2012 Indians came up with six of them.

I think it's fair to call the 2012 version the worst rotation in Indians history and among the very worst in baseball history.

Clearly, there need to be improvements.

What might the 2013 rotation look like?

- Lowe was released and Tomlin will miss most (or all) of next year after having Tommy John surgery, so neither of them will be around (nothing wrong with that).

- Justin Masterson (unless traded) will certainly be in the rotation. The team will have to hope he looks more like the 2011 version. I don't expect we'll see that good a season from him again, but hopefully he can get back to something closer to it.

- Zach McAllister has earned a spot in the rotation. His K/9 climbed this season, his BB/9 dropped, and those are both good signs for a young pitcher. He needs to do a better job of keeping the ball in the park, but looks like he could be a solid mid-rotation starter.

- Ubaldo Jimenez has a $5.75M club option. He was one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season, but might be brought back in the hopes that a new pitching coach can get him back to his 2009-2010 form.

- Jeanmar Gomez could be seen as an option, but I certainly don't think he should be.

- Corey Kluber, who filled in and made a dozen starts over the last couple months, could get a chance. I prefer him to Gomez, but prefer he hold something of a 6th starter role, filling in as needed during the season.

- Scott Barnes, who was solid in the minors this year before a late season call up that gave him a few big league innings out of the pen could contend for a spot.

- Roberto Hernandez, whose option will certainly be declined, could be brought back for less money. He was a solid innings eater in 2010, but his 2011 was awful and he's no spring chicken. I think it's better the team move on.

- Carlos Carrasco is said to be throwing the ball well in rehab, will pitch in the Arizona fall league, and will still only be 26 next year. He could finally be ready to make good on the potential he showed as a prospect.

The Indians might also explore free agency. Zack Greinke isn't going to happen, but Ryan Dempster, Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Jake Peavy, Anibal Sanchez might all be on the market. Each brings their own risk/reward profile (something that can be examine here in greater detail when the free agency window is closer to starting), but any of them would likely provide an upgrade to the Indians.