The All-Time Rays Pitching Leaderboard: VORP Edition

About a month ago, I took a look at the Rays' all-time offensive leaders, ranking players by how many Runs Above Average (wRAA) they contributed to the Rays.  For those unfamiliar with this sabremetric statistic, it attempts to measure how many offensive runs a player creates above what an average major-league player would contribute.  I was hoping to do something similar for pitchers, but no such handy statistic exists on Fangraphs for pitchers.  The closest I could come was Runs Above Replacement (RAR), but Fangraphs only calculates that statistic going back to 2002.

To find some sabremetric statistic that could capture pitching value, I turned to an "old-school" goodie: Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) as calculated by Baseball Prospectus.  VORP is very similar to wRAA in the sense that it is a counting statistic (like RBIs) and measures the amount of runs a player contributed over a specific time period (and 10 VORP is roughly equal to one win, just like with wRAA).  There are two main differences, though.  VORP's baseline isn't a "average" per se; it calculates the runs added above what a replacement player would contribute, which would be the equivalent of a minor-leaguer called up to the majors to fill that same role.  Also, VORP is calculated by Baseball Prospectus, and thus uses slightly different formulas and criteria in their calculations than Fangraphs does.  For example, when comparing the Rays' RAR and VORP leaderboards for 2009, the lists were ranked almost completely the same, but did have some differences.  Sonnanstine's season looked considerably worse when measured by VORP, and VORP loved Matt Garza much more than RAR did.  For the most part, though, the differences are pretty slight.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the 10 worst pitching seasons in the Rays' history:

Year

VORP

Casey Fossum

2007

-20.8

Andy Sonnanstine

2009

-20.1

Dewon Brazelton

2005

-19.3

Jae Seo

2007

-18.6

Hideo Nomo

2005

-17.8

Nick Bierbrodt

2003

-17.2

Dewon Brazelton

2003

-16.5

Ryan Rupe

2001

-15.9

Seth Mcclung

2005

-15.1

Jesus Colome

2002

-14.7

I have to say, I don't agree with Sonnanstine's 2009 season being ranked as that bad.  Yes, it was pretty horrible, but -20 VORP?  On Fangraphs, he was listed at 0.3 WAR - basically a replacement player.  Did Sonnanstine pitch so badly in 2009 that he was roughly worth two wins worse than what a minor leaguer could have provided us with?  It's debatable, but then again, I'm also a notorious Sonnanstine apologist.  Maybe I'm biased.

In other news, that 2005 pitching staff was dreadful.  Three pitchers in our bottom 10 list?  That's a pretty impressive feat.  Also, number one pick Dewon Brazelton takes home the Navarro Award for being the only pitcher to show up in our bottom ten list twice.

All right, that's enough with the depressing list; let's take a look at our franchise's best pitching years.  Who do you believe has had the best pitching season in the Rays' history?  Who do you think has contributed the most pitching value to the franchise over the course of their tenure?  I'll give you a hint: one of these answers is pretty obvious, but the other is bit of a surprise.

First, the unsurprising list.  Here are the Rays' all-time pitching leaders in VORP:

VORP

Scott Kazmir

150.1

James Shields

135.2

Rolando Arrojo

77.9

Matt Garza

76.3

Albie Lopez

72.5

Roberto Hernandez

68.4

Rick White

64.8

Tanyon Sturtze

63.2

Victor Zambrano

61.5

Jim Mecir

58.5

Not too many surprises there, but just like with the Rays' offensive leaderboard, the lack of depth is rather disappointing.  For comparison's sake, Zack Grienke totaled a bit over 80 VORP this past season, in one year out-VORP-ing every pitcher in our franchise's history except two.  Going forward, Niemann should crack into this list next year hopefully (he totaled just over 30 VORP this past season) and Shields should pass Kazmir for #1 on the list.

And now, the best pitching seasons in Rays' history:

Year

VORP

Rolando Arrojo

1998

57.7

Scott Kazmir

2007

46.9

James Shields

2007

45.4

James Shields

2008

43.7

Albie Lopez

2000

42.5

Matt Garza

2009

40.7

Tony Saunders

1998

40.1

Scott Kazmir

2006

38.6

Bryan Rekar

2000

37.2

Scott Kazmir

2008

37.1

Garza (2008) and Niemann (2009) just missed the list, but the biggest shocker to me is that Arrojo's 1998 season ranks higher than Kazmir's 2007 season.  I'm having a tough time understanding exactly how this is, considering here are their respective stats:

NAME

YEAR

GS

IP

H/9

BB/9

SO/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

Rolando Arrojo

1998

32

202.0

8.69

2.90

6.77

0.94

3.56

4.23

Scott Kazmir

2007

34

206.7

8.54

3.88

10.41

0.78

3.48

3.45

Now, I don't know all the technicalities of how VORP is calculated, but the only thing that can make this make sense to me is yearly adjustments: 1998 was a higher scoring year than 2007 by a decent margin.  However, when looking at the historical WAR scores for Kazmir and Arrojo on BaseballProjections.com, Kazmir comes out the winner, 5.8 WAR to 3.8 WAR.  So in the end, it's debatable who deserves the crown for the best pitched season in Rays' history.  I'm partial to giving the credit to Kazmir, but that's just me.

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