Pitchers and Catchers report………say it again with feeling……. PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT!!!!……..oh, that felt good.

Well, they already reported actually, on Sunday, but it’s really a week long celebration.  Spring training will eventually drag.  Somewhere, late in the third week of March, we will yearn for a game that means something.  However, like  a starving animal trolling a Chicago alley for some kibble, we accept spring training with open arms.

Today, I offer you a side dish to accompany your kibble.  A little look into a stat called WAR or Wins Above Replacement and how it relates to the Cubs starting pitching staff.  Now, I know what you are thinking, I have poo-pooed these new age stats in the past but WAR is somewhat different.  WAR attempts to quantify, with a number, a players whole value to a team.

A quick  definition from Alex Rimington(Yahoo Sports, Big League Stew Blog),

Simply put, Wins Above Replacement means: how many wins did that player contribute to his team’s win total above and beyond what they would have gotten from a “replacement value” player, someone they could have picked up off the scrap heap for next to nothing?

You need a PHD to figure this stat out, no joke, something in Nuclear Physics would help.  If you have interest click the link above to Alex Rimington’s site and you can learn anything and everything you ever wanted to know about the WAR stat.  He does a much better job then I of breaking it down.

Baseball-Reference.com has a little scorecard for WAR:

8+ = MVP

5+ = All-Star

2+ = Starter

0-2 = Substitute

< 0 = Replacement

So lets use this scorecard to evaluate a few past Cubs by season……

  

Neifi Perez – 2005 season

In 2005, Neifi Perez played his only real full season with the Cubs.  He had 609 plate appearances and a 0.6 WAR.  Basically Neifi was worth half of one win in the 2005 season for the Cubs.  Basically this is saying he was a measily half game better then something off the scrap heap……awesome to have witnessed you in Cubbie Blue Neifi, I still wake up in cold sweats thinking of your poetic efforts on the diamond. 

Now, for a position player, that WAR is a combo of his dWAR (Defensive WAR) and his oWAR (Offensive WAR).  Neifi actually had a dWAR of 1.1, which is still nothing to write home about.  His oWAR as you may have guessed was -0.5……yes you can have a negative war.  In other words he cost us a half game at the plate but won us a game in the field….sweet.

Carlos Zambrano – 2004 season

In 2004, Carlos Zambrano had, what would seem to be,  his best season as a Cub.  At least, that is according to the WAR stat.  He had a pitching WAR of 5.5 and a hitting WAR of 0.6 (yes, for pitchers you have two seperate WAR ratings) This would give him a total WAR of 6.1…..not too shaby. 

Below I have compiled a list of last years Cubs starters WAR.  I then compared them to the top rotations in baseball.  I am using only their Pitching WAR.

2010 Cubs     

Carlos Zambrano = 2.7

Ryan Dempster = 2.7

Carlos Silva = 1.8

Randy Wells = 2.9

Tom Gorzelanny = 1.8

2010 San Francisco Giants

Matt Cain = 3.9

Tim Lincecum = 3.5

Barry Zito = 1.3

Jonathan Sanchez = 3.4

Madison Bumgarner = 2.2

Todd Wellemeyer = -0.5 (kept the seat warm until Bumgarner showed up for second half of season)

 

2010 Philadelphia Phillies

Roy Halladay = 6.9

Cole Hamels = 4.7

Kyle Kendrick = -0.3 (11-10 record)

Joe Blanton = -0.7 (9-6 record)

Jamie Moyer = -0.2 (9-9 record in 19 starts)

Roy Oswalt = 2.8 (7-1 record)

 

So, as you can see with the above examples, the Cubs lag quite a ways behind the elite pitching staffs in the league.  Many people rave and rant about the lack of offense in the 2010 Cubs season but the pitching was not exactly great. 

I listed the win loss records for a few of the Phillies pitchers.  You will notice I picked out the guys with a negative WAR.  The reason I found this interesting was seeing a guy with a negative WAR and yet a winning record.  This would usually be a tribute to the Phillies offense.  There were probably a few more high scoring Phillies victories when Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer were pitching.  When you have a stud like Roy Halladay at the top of your rotation and Cole Hamels backing him up, the rest of the guys need just be average to keep the team at the top of the standings. 

Coming back to the Cubs……we talked about Zambrano’s highest WAR but what about the rest of the potential 2011 starters?  Well, Ryan Dempster is only three seasons removed from a 5.3 WAR in 2008.  Randy Wells strutted a 3.2 WAR in his sensational rookie year of 2009.  Carlos Silva’s highest WAR was a 3.4 in 2004.  Matt Garza sported a 3.8 WAR in 2009 (last year was a 2.0 however).

The point I am trying to make is we have some potential with this pitching staff statistically speaking.  We don’t need a 5.3 from Dempster but something over 3.0 would be nice.  Zambrano doesn’t need to be in the 5′s again, but if this season is a reflection of the last half of 2010, we could see something around a 4.  Wells and Garza are the wildcards.  Being so young we are not sure what their ceiling would be.  

To make the post season it takes more then one pitcher being at the top of his game.  If the old addage, “pitching wins championships” stays true to form then this is where it starts for the Cubs in 2011.

Now if we could only get the offense to come around.

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Chet West is an IT professional living in Minneapolis, MN with his wife and two daughters. He has a pug named Banks and loves photography. Follow him on Twitter @chetwest19