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Projecting into the Unknown

With Spring Training being less than a month away, baseball fans are awaking from their baseball-less hibernations and are preparing their mock drafts and rankings for their fantasy baseball teams. The Rays are a fun team for Fantasy Leaguers, seeing as I can see about 4-5 locks to be drafted in normal fantasy leagues.

Crawford is a Top 5 pick, Kazmir will probably go high, Rocco and Delmon will be "mid-round steals" and I know that I'm not the only one who will take a flier on Japanese Import, Akinori Iwamura.

In deeper Leagues, with over 12 participants and more than the regular amount of players per team, McClung, Upton, Gomes/Dukes/Wiggy and a Rays 2nd starter may be taken.

That's the entire basis of this post is who, besides Kazmir, is worth a look as a decent Fantasy/Overall starter for the Rays?

I've personally narrowed it down to 3 pitchers: Jamie Shields, J.P. Howell and Edwin Jackson. Not taking anything from Jae Seo, Casey Fossum or Jason Hammel, but I don't think any of them will be integral parts of the Rays roster. I can even see that 2, even all 3, of Seo-Fossum-Hammel won't even be on the Rays roster by year's end.

I've been given indications by many sources that Jackson is pretty much assured a spot on the Rays 25-Man roster, due to his lack of remaining minor league options. The question remains, will Edwin continue to be groomed to be a closing candidate or will we scrap that plan to give him a shot at continuing his success(for lack of a better word) that he's shown in the Winter Leagues as a starter for the Rays? It all remains unclear, as of now.

So it's down to J.P. Howell and James Shields, who will be a suitable 2nd "decent" young starter for the Rays?

I used 4 sites for the projections: Nate Silver's PECOTA System(Used at Baseball Prospectus), Dan Szymborski ZiPs system(Used at Baseball Think Factory), Big Dawg Baseball's Projections(Used at Big Dawg Baseball) and a nifty Projection System known as CHONE(created by Angels Fan, Chone Smith(Anaheim Rallymonkey of Maryland))

J.P. Howell
PECOTA: 4.74 (PERA= 4.63)
ZiPS: 4.53
BDBP: 4.44
Chone: 4.49
Average: 4.55

James Shields
PECOTA: 4.59 (PERA= 4.49)
ZiPS: 4.70
BDBP: 4.57
Chone: 4.27
Average: 4.53

Looking at the projections, it's pretty much even between sites on who they project to be the better starter. Shields' CHONE ERA was the deciding factor that lowered his average enough that his average ERA was 0.02 pts lower.

Some fascinating things is PECOTA's Age Comparables for Shields and Howell

Shields' Comparables: Danny Haren, Doc Medich, Jon Lieber, John Lackey
Howell's Comparables: Shawn Estes, Jim O'Toole, Mike Hampton, Tom Underwood

Shields is the "paper champions" in the comparables, with bigger named consistent starters like Lackey, Lieber, Medich and Oakland A's favorite Danny Haren. Howell's comparables turned out to have some big seasons as they aged and put together some great careers.

The way that I see it, Howell may be the winner of this fictional competition only because him putting together a 4.55 season at the #4 or #5 spot with around 7-8 wins is better than Shields putting up a 4.53 season with 7-10 wins at the #2 or #3 spot in the rotation where he's sure to rack up more innings and his success/failure weighs is more of a determining factor on the success/failure of the Rays.

However, I'd like to get your opinions on this.

I'd like to pass along thanks to Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Think Factory, Big Dawg Baseball, "Chone Smith", Jim Wisinski(for posting these 3 out of 4 of these projections at's board earlier this month, which I smartly saved) and Beyond The Boxscore's Marc Normandin(for explaining PERA to me).