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The Forgotten Man

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According to sources, the Nationals will audition anywhere from eleven to eleventy billion pitchers for the final four spots in the rotation during Spring Training. [Washington Nationals: Let Yourself Pitch!] There are so many possibilities that it's hard not to forget some of them, and the other day, when I was envisioning this Futile Rumble, I plum forgot about Billy Traber. I mean, I eventually remembered him, but that was after I thought of Chris Michalak first.

Now that's cold.

It's cold, but it's also seemingly not without cause. Traber more or less spent two stints with Washington last season. The first, from April 20 to April 25, was obviously quite short. He made one acceptable if somewhat shaky start (5.2 IP, 2 H, 4 R, ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 0 HR), and one bad start (1.1/4/4/4/2/0/0), and then it was back to New Orleans---essentially to be replaced by Mike O'Connor. Traber returned to DC in August, made two quality starts out of three, then three consecutive decidedly non-quality starts (16 R in 9.2 IP), and then it was on to the bullpen. Traber made seven straight scoreless relief appearances to close out the season, finishing 4-3 with a 6.44 ERA. His name has scarcely been seen since.

Whether it's a focus on the new acquisitions and/or prospects or Traber being kicked to the curb---or both---it seems like Traber is well off the front page of the Nats' flimsy pitching staff. Hence, I forgot him.

Maybe I shouldn't have, though. Today, Baseball Prospectus released its "PECOTA" projections. I'm not going to dwell on how "deadly accurate" these projections actually are (perhaps they're more "altruistically aberrant"?), and I'm not going to explore the different projection systems, because I'm not that smart. Instead, I'll just excerpt the Wikipedia entry to give a brief enough description of what PECOTA is:

PECOTA, an acronym for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm, is a sabermetric system for predicting Major League Baseball player performance. . . . It relies on fitting a given player's past performance statistics to the performance of "comparable" Major League ballplayers by means of similarity scores. . . . Separate sets of predictions are developed for hitters and pitchers. The comparable players are drawn from a database of all major league player-seasons since 1946. The raw statistics in this database are first adjusted to take into account park effects and the era in which a player played.

. . . PECOTA is able to make projections for more than 1,600 players each year, including many players with little or no prior major league experience.

Unlike performance forecasts that commonly assume a single pattern of change during a player's career, PECOTA employs several models that take into account not just a player's performance in the previous three years but also his age, speed, handedness, and body type (basically, body mass index). Furthermore, instead of focusing on making point estimates of a player's future performance (such as batting average, home runs, and strike-outs), PECOTA relies on the historical performance of the given player's historical "comparables" to produce a probability distribution of the given player's predicted performance during the next five years.

I'm not sure what all that means, but it sounds pretty good.

Back to the point of this post: As I mentioned before, the BPro released the PECOTA projections today to its subscribers, and I just happen to be a recent subscriber. [Long-time listener, first-time caller.] Being a subscriber doesn't really give me license to copy-and-paste every single stitch of the PECOTA data for public consumption, of course, but it's probably not unreasonable to note that PECOTA likes Billy Traber.

Well, sort of. Relatively speaking. Compared to the other options for the Nats, that is.

IP H BB K HR W-L ERA PERA
119.1 134 34 74 14 6-8 4.61 5.02

Six wins, eight losses, an ERA just over four-and-a-half. Given the Nats' options for the rotation, we'll probably take that. For the curious, "PERA" stands for Peripheral ERA, which estimates an ERA (and more accurately predicts future ERA than actual ERA) based on a pitcher's peripheral stats (H, HR, BB, K) and is scaled on an average PERA of 4.50. So Traber would trail the league average, but not obscenely so.

At the risk of revealing too much of BPro's proprietary sabermetrictasticness [Subscribe today!], here's how the pretenders potential second-thru-fifth starters stack up:

Pitcher PECOTA ERA PERA
Chico 5.21 5.84
Hanrahan 5.42 6.36
Hill 4.66 5.05
Lewis N/A N/A
O'Connor 4.94 5.48
Perez 5.32 6.14
Redding 5.29 5.61
Simontacchi N/A N/A
Traber 4.61 5.02
Williams 5.74 5.77

Did I forget anybody? Eh, who cares? [Note: For those scoring at home: (1) I tend to doubt Claussen won't be ready until well into the season, so I didn't bother; (2) Bergmann is projected to be a swingman, so I didn't bother; and (3) Michalak . . . well, I didn't bother.]

This is a meticulously crafted projection system that runs numbers and stuff on at least 1.7 million baseball players, from Aberdeen to Ada Ababa, and it doesn't have info for two of our potential starters. Sort of says all we need to know about this pitching staff, doesn't it?

Anyway, if you trust PECOTA, Traber has a definite shot to pitch somewhat below-average baseball in 2007. On this pitching staff, that sounds like a rotation anchor! Traber doesn't seem to have a place at this point, but maybe he should.

A PECOTA rotation:

Patterson
Traber
Hill
O'Connor
Redding

Unless, of course, Colby Lewis is the Mystery Man.

Tomorrow night: PECOTA does the offense.