Mar 16, 2014; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price (14) pitches against the Boston Red Sox at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays Vs. Their Projections: Starting Pitchers

Part of the fun of the pre-season is projecting just how good or bad each individual team and player could be. This is the fifth part of a series in which I will break down the projections for every Tampa Bay Rays player and why each one will play better than their projections or play worse. You can check our projections for middle infielders here, outfielders here, corner infielders here, and catchers here. For this series, I am using three of the most popular projection systems: Oliver, Steamer, and ZiPS. Each one features differences on how they calculate a player’s regression, which leads to variation in projected stats. Without further ado, here are the 2014  projections for the Rays’ starting rotation.

David Price- 3.33 ERA, 7.28 K/9, 1.30 BB/9, 3.03 FIP in 186.2 IP in 2013

Steamer- 3.19 ERA, 7.94 K/9, 2.15 BB/9, 3.31 FIP in 192 IP
Oliver- 2.88 ERA, 8.10 K/9, 2.02 BB/9, 3.10 FIP in 200 IP
ZiPS- 3.09 ERA, 8.59 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, 3.o9 FIP in 198 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Last season, Price struggled with an arm injury, and because of this his velocity had a 2-3 MPH drop over previous seasons. After being a strikeout pitcher in the past, his lowered velocity in 2013 caused Price to rely on inducing weak contact to get out hitters rather than blowing by them. After being able to rest his arm this offseason, Price should be able to increase his strikeout numbers once again. Even if he can’t completely add back his velocity, retaining similar walk numbers and getting back 1-2 MPH could add another Cy Young award to his shelf.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Simply put, these numbers are huge expectations. Two of the last four years his ERA has been under 2.80, but in the other two he has posted ERAs of 3.33 and 3.49. The question becomes, which numbers will he come closer to next year? Only the lower two beat the projections, but the good news for the Rays is that either way, Price will be an ace once again.

Matt Moore- 3.29 ERA, 8.56 K/9, 4.55 B/9. 3.95 FIP in 150.1 IP in 2013

Steamer- 3.71 ERA, 8.62 K/9, 3.95 BB/9, 4.09 FIP in 173 IP
Oliver- 3.57 ERA, 8.87 K/9, 3.85 BB/9, 3.76 FIP in 161 IP
ZiPS- 3.42 ERA, 9.46 K/9, 3.94 BB/9, 3.58 FIP in 171 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Moore broke out as a pitcher last year, but just like Price, he struggled with an arm injury throughout the year. He too lost a couple of miles per hour of velocity, which led to his strikeout numbers decreasing slightly. Now, though, his velocity is back and his strikeout numbers should go up even further in 2014. If he can keep his knack for getting poor contact but also get a few more strikeouts, he could be right there with Price in Cy Young contention.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Moore’s peripheral stats indicate that he shouldn’t have been as good of a pitcher last year as his ERA indicates. Despite showing solid command in the minor leagues, he has lost a bit of that in the big leagues, especially in regards to his fastball. He has shown ability to locate the fastball in the past, but if he can’t improve in that area this season, his overall numbers could be closer to his 2013 FIP than his 2013 ERA.

Alex Cobb- 2.76 ERA, 8.41 K/9, 2.82 BB/9, 3.36 FIP in 143.1 IP in 2013

Steamer- 3.48 ERA, 7.63 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, 3.39 FIP in 192 IP
Oliver- 3.40 ERA, 7.52 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, 3.51 FIP in 151 IP
ZiPS- 3.31 ERA, 7.99 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 3.47 FIP in 157 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Just like Moore, Cobb really broke out as a pitcher last season. This was due to the huge strides that Cobb made with his split-change and curveball last season. The curveball has only continued to come along this spring. These projections take into account Cobb’s 2012 season, but Cobb broke through in 2013. With his secondary stuff at its best, Cobb could easily out-pitch the projections.

Why he won’t beat the projections

A couple of stats do indicate that Cobb might have been a bit lucky as a pitcher last year. He posted a .279 BABIP (slightly below average) and an 81.4 LOB% (slightly above average). Cobb also needs to prove that he can repeat his 2013 numbers over an entire season, especially with the league primed to adjust to him.

Chris Archer- 3.22 ERA, 7.06 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 4.07 FIP in 128.2 IP in 2013

Steamer- 4.21 ERA, 7.60 K/9, 3.94 BB/9, 4.23 FIP in 163 IP
Oliver- 4.17 ERA, 7.33 K/9, 4.11 BB/9, 4.44 FIP in 160 IP
ZiPS- 3.72 ERA, 7.74 K/9, 3.55 BB/9, 3.99 FIP in 152 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Archer burst onto the big league scene as a rookie last year. He improved his command, something that he has struggled with throughout his career, and also began to show flashes of a changeup that could be more than a show-me pitch. It still needs more consistency, but it has come a long way even since the end of last season. Add in an average changeup to his already plus fastball-slider combination and Archer should easily out-pitch these conservative projections.

Why he won’t beat the projections

As mentioned, Archer made huge strides with his command last year. The question now it this: was it a fluke, or is it something he can sustain? The projections don’t think he can sustain it, and the fact that Archer only posted a BB/9 under 4.0 once in his minor league career seems to agree with them. That being said, there is always the chance that Archer really turned a corner.

Jake Odorizzi- 3.94 ERA, 6.67 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 3.89 FIP in 29.2 IP in 2013

Steamer- 4.30 ERA, 7.03 K/9, 3.46 BB/9, 4.52 FIP in 96 IP
Oliver- 4.06 ERA, 7.20 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 4.44 FIP in 146 IP
ZiPS- 4.57 ERA, 6.62 K/9, 4.10 BB/9, 4.77 FIP in 136 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Odorizzi’s posted a 3.33 ERA in 124.1 IP in Triple-A last year and was successful during him time in the major leagues–and he has only gotten better since then. Odorizzi has improved his fastball command and finally has a swing-and-miss secondary pitch in the split-changeup he added this spring.  Odorizzi seems to just be a fill in until Jeremy Hellickson can return from injury, but with an upgraded arsenal and great command, he could make himself the better option.

Why he won’t beat the expectations

You truly never know how a player will transition from the minors to the majors. The majors expose flaws that never show up in the minor leagues, and this could happen with Odorizzi. Good pitchers go through learning curves–even David Price posted a 4.42 ERA in his first big league season. Odorizzi should be a good big league pitcher in the future, but there is a chance that it could take some time for him to learn how to adjust to big league pitching. If this is the case, he could find himself struggling through inconsistency being sent down to Triple-A when Hellickson is ready to return.

Jeremy Hellickson- 5.17 ERA, 6.98 K/9, 2.59 BB/9, 4.22 FIP in 174 IP in 2013

Steamer- 4.15 ERA, 6.55 K/9, 2.87 BB/9, 4.45 FIP in 39 IP
Oliver- 3.83 ERA, 6.48 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 4.31 FIP in 176 IP
ZiPS- 4.12 ERA, 6.91 K/9, 2.91 BB/9, 4.30 FIP in 164 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Hellickson will be out until at least mid-May because of an elbow injury, and is not guaranteed to even have a spot in the rotation when he is healthy. That being said, he has a strong track record, and still has the ability to pitch like the excellent pitcher he was in his first two years. Hellickson has lived off of inducing poor contact in his career, but poor fastball command in 2013 caused him to get hit hard. However, his strikeout and walk numbers were actually the best of his career, so if he can regain his ability to throw the fastball down in the zone, Hellickson could be very good once he returns.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Hellickson is coming off of elbow surgery, which already raises red flags. Even if he returns as healthy as before, he is a question mark. He did a good job of getting bad contact in his first two years, but that could have been partly due to luck. He shouldn’t be as bad as he was last year, but if his fastball command does not come all the way back, his future will be in serious question.

The Tampa Bay Rays once again have a great starting rotation. In fact, the top four pitchers have a legitimate shot at getting Cy Young votes this year, and even Hellickson has shown potential to do the same in the past. The fact that the Rays have put together such a strong pitching staff from players they either drafted or acquired as minor leaguers is very impressive. This rotation just might carry the Rays deep into the playoffs in 2014.

Tags: Alex Cobb Chris Archer David Price Jake Odorizzi Jeremy Hellickson Matt Moore Tampa Bay Rays

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