Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Verducci Effect for 2017

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Lopez is the #1 Verducci effect risk factor arm for 2017. Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

Lopez is the #1 Verducci effect risk factor arm for 2017. Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

This year’s installment of si.com’s Tom Verducci‘s “Year After Effect” (which he’s using as the title instead of the eponymous “Verducci Effect”) was published earlier this month.  This is a quick review of the past few years of his work and documentation of his macabre “success rate” in predicting trouble for young arms working on large innings load increases.

Here’s my reviews of his lists on this same topic from year’s past: 2013 year after effect and 2014 year after effect, and 2016’s year after effect (I forgot to do it in 2015).   In the 2013 post, there’s some counter-arguments to whether or not his “effect” actually exists, with research on all pitchers who qualified for the thresholds he laid out at the time.  I won’t go into the same arguments made there; what I will do is point out the actual results of his predictions:

  • 2013: 11 candidates mentioned, 5/11 regressed or got injured the following year (but, it should be noted, that another 3 of the candidates he mentioned have completely fallen off a cliff in subsequent years).  8/11 candidates showed regression: 72% prediction rate.
  • 2014: 10 candidates mentioned; 8/10 regressed and more shockingly 6/10 had arm injuries.  80% prediction rate.
  • 2015: 14 candidates mentioned (only 5 “main” ones were on his true watch list): 11 of those 14 regressed or got hurt.  One of the 14, Marcus Stroman missed the whole season with a knee injury but counts as a non-regression candidate, so frankly its 11 of 13 guys who actually pitched all year.  84% prediction rate.
  • 2016: 5 candidates mentioned: 2 regressed badly, one regressed nominally, one missed most of the season with arm injuries.  80% prediction rate.

So in the last four years, he’s identified a total of 40 arms at risk and 31 of them regressed or got hurt.  That’s a 77.5% overall “success” rate at predicting regression or injury over multiple years.  You can quibble with those who claim this “effect” doesn’t exist but you’can’t argue against Verducci’s research year over year.  For me, his analysis is less about running pure numbers to find candidates and more about giving context to the pitchers he selects.  Mostly they’re starters (not relievers), mostly they’re young and mostly they’re guys who had to pitch high leverage innings on top of vastly increased workloads.  But if you want counter arguments to his observations, see the 2013 post above for links.

So who’s listed this  year?  A slew of pitchers this year, including a name at the top that we’re quite familiar with.  Most of his pitchers this year are very young and nearly all of them only pitched part-time in the majors.  In a departure this year, 9 of the 12 guys he lists pitched mostly in the minors in 2016 and mostly struggled in the majors, which is going to make my judgement next year as to whether the player “regressed” more difficult.  But here’s the list of 12 guys:

2017 Candidate Name/TeamAge as of Jan 20172016 IP2016 IP delta increase2016 ERA2016 FIP2016 xFIP2016 SIERA
Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox22155.356.34.913.924.524.55
Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays23203.670.333.553.754.01
Rob Whalen, Mariners22144.6486.575.054.774.47
Brock Stewart, Dodgers24149485.795.95.034.62
Joe Musgrove, Astros23147.346.64.064.184.043.98
Julio Urias, Dodgers19127.6403.393.173.693.88
Jeff Hoffman, Rockies23150464.886.274.965.22
Michael Fulmer, Tigers23174.349.63.063.763.954.03
Sean Manaea, A's24166.344.63.864.083.964.04
German Marquez, Rockies21187.348.35.234.263.893.97
Jake Thompson, Phillies22183.643.65.76.165.645.68
Daniel Mengden, A's23170.339.66.54.344.574.5

Click here for my full Verducci effect worksheet with detailed stats pre- and post-season.

The guys i’m most intrigued by include:

  • Reynaldo Lopez, who I suspect will start in AAA for the White Sox while they try to figure out if he’s a starter long-term or perhaps a future 100-mph closer.
  • Aaron Sanchez and Michael Fulmer were two awesome rookies last year (Fulmer won the AL Rookie of the Year and Sanchez was the best pitcher on a good Toronto team).
  • Sean Manaea is an interesting younger arm who I’ve often mentioned here because he would have been an option with the 1st round pick we gave up in the 2013 draft so that we could sign Rafael Soriano.
  • Julio Urias projects to be the Dodger’s 3rd or 4th starter and is incredibly accomplished for his age; he seems like he is a lower-risk guy here despite his workload thanks to effortless mechanics.
  • Jeff Hoffman is a rather “famous” name in that he was in talks to go 1-1 in 2014 before blowing out his elbow during his junior year; Toronto drafted him 9th overall despite the injury and then he was a key member of the prospect haul that went to Colorado in the Troy Tulowitzki deal.

Hey, at least there’s no Nats this year :-)

 

2017 MLB Rotation Rankings 1-30

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Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2017. photo via Grantland

Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2017. photo via Grantland

Even though there’s still about 20 “starting pitchers” still on the FA market, none of them really project as anything more than a 5th starter competition or a MLFA signing at this point in the off-season, so I thought it was high time to break out my 2017 Rotation Rankings.  (Here’s a link to last year’s rankings)

This is not a ranking of 2017 projected performance, nor a WAR ranking from last year, nor anything statistical in nature.  This is me looking at individual players and gauging the overall “strength” of the rotation, with subjective rankings then applied.  This is also a lot of me asking, “Who would I rather have as a fan?” type questions; would your rather have Chicago’s 1-2-3 or New Yorks?   This starts with the identification of the roughly 20 or so best pitchers in the league right now, calling them “Aces,” then looking at those who are just a notch below an Ace, and going on down in order to think about the overall strength of a rotation.  There’s plenty to argue about; for example I absolutely classify Stephen Strasburg as an “Ace” in this analysis; his performance over the last 5-6 years by nearly any measure statistically easily ranks him in the top 10-15 arms in the league even if he’s never sniffed a Cy Young award thanks to his injuries.  But injuries factor in: I no longer classify Matt Harvey as an Ace thanks to his 2016 season.  Feel free to dispute/argue about individual opinions/rankings in the comments.

Here’s my master rankings table just showing the projected rotations.  In this Google Docs link i’ve got my full working file, color coded for Aces/#2s/#3s as well as 6th starter/long man depth identified plus some minor league depth.  Also identified are 2017 acquisitions to get a sense of the rotation turnover.  If you can read the Google XLS it may be easier than reading the table below.

TeamRotation Rank#1#2#3#4#5
Chicago Cubs1Jon Lester Jake Arrieta Kyle Hendricks John LackeyMike Montgomery
New York Mets2 Noah Syndergaard Jacob deGromMatt Harvey Steven MatzZach Wheeler
Boston3Chris SaleDavid Price Rick PorcelloSteven WrightDrew Pomeranz
Los Angeles Dodgers4 Clayton KershawRich HillKenta MaedaJulio UriasScott Kazmir
Washington5Max ScherzerStephen StrasburgTanner RoarkJoe RossGio Gonzalez
Cleveland6Corey Kluber Carlos Carrasco Danny Salazar Trevor BauerJosh Tomlin
Detroit7Justin VerlanderMichael FulmerJordan Zimmermann Anibal Sanchez Daniel Norris
Toronto8 Marcus StromanAaron Sanchez Marco Estrada J.A. HappFrancisco Liriano
St. Louis9Adam Wainwright Carlos Martinez Michael WachaLance LynnMike Leake
San Francisco10Madison BumgarnerJohnny Cueto Jeff SamardzijaMatt Moore Matt Cain
Pittsburgh11 Gerrit ColeJamison TaillonTyler GlasnowSteven BraultIvan Nova
Tampa Bay12 Chris Archer Jake OdorizziAlex CobbBlake SnellMatt Andriese
Arizona13 Zack Greinke Robbie RayShelby MillerTaijan WalkerPatrick Corbin
Texas14Cole HamelsYu Darvish Martin PerezAndrew CashnerA.J. Griffen
Houston15Dallas Keuchel Collin McHugh Lance McCullersCharlie MortonMike Fiers
Seattle16Felix Hernandez Hisashi Iwakuma Drew SmylyJames Paxton Yovani Gallardo
Chicago White Sox17 Jose Quintana Carlos RodonMiguel GonzalezJames ShieldsDerek Holland
New York Yankees18Masahiro Tanaka Michael Pineda CC SabathiaChad GreenLuis Severino
Baltimore19 Chris Tillman Kevin GausmanDylan Bundy Ubaldo JimenezWade Miley
Philadelphia20 Aaron Nola Jeremy HellicksonJerad EickhoffVincent VelasquezAlec Asher
Atlanta21Julio Teheran Bartolo Colon Jaime Garcia R.A. DickeyMike Foltynewicz
Kansas City22Ian Kennedy Danny Duffy Jason Vargas Nate KarnsMatt Strahm
Miami23Wei-Yin Chen Edinson VolquezDan Straily Tom KoehlerJeff Locke
Minnesota24 Ervin SantanaHector Santiago Kyle GibsonPhil Hughes Jose Berrios
Oakland25Sonny GraySean Manaea Kendall GravemanAndrew TriggsJharel Cotton
Colorado26Jon Grey Chad BettisTyler AndersonTyler ChatwoodJeff Hoffman
Los Angeles Angels27 Garrett RichardsRicky Nolasco Matt Shoemaker Tyler SkaggJesse Chavez
Cincinnati28 Homer BaileyAnthony DeSclafaniBrandon FinneganRobert StephensonScott Feldman
Milwaukee29 Matt Garza Chase AndersonZach Davies Wily PeraltaJunior Guerra
San Diego30Luis PerdomoChristian FrederichPaul ClemensJarred CosartCesar Vargas

Discussion; i’ll take the discussion in rough groups.

Top 5: I have the Chicago Cubs, NY Mets, Boston, LA Dodgers and then the Nats.  Why?

Well, if Harvey was healthier i’d still have the Mets #1 as I did last year.  I still think the Mets 1-2 punch of deGrom and Snydergaard is better than anyone elses.  If Harvey returns to form and Matz stays healthy, the Nats may be in trouble in 2017.  But those are huge what-ifs, enough to knock the Mets below Chicago for now.  The Cubs for me have two Aces who just finished 2nd and 3rd in Cy Young voting while their #3 just posted a 2.13 ERA.   And if their planned #5 doesn’t pan out, they have the prospect depth to make a move and acquire what they need.  Despite the acquisition of Sale, I do not think Boston’s rotation is better; David Price is just too shaky for me on a week in/week out basis and Porcello, despite his Cy Young in 2016 just isn’t an “Ace.”    But many have argued Boston is above both NY and Chicago; perhaps its recency bias due to the big moves of the past winter meetings.

I have the Dodgers just ahead of the Nats right now for two reasons: I think the strength of their 2-3-4 slightly trumps our 2-3-4, especially given Joe Ross‘s health question marks.  And any rotation headed by Kershaw is going to be highly ranked.  You can’t drop Washington much below #5 because no other rotation has the 1-2 Ace potential that the Nats do, and Roark is starting to (finally) get the recognition he deserves.

Ranking spots 6-11: Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, St. Louis, San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

So, a lot of people highly rate Cleveland’s rotation, higher than a couple of teams in my top 5.  And if Carrasco and Salazar are healthy I agree with them.  But they’re not, so they get dinged a bit.  I still have Verlander rated as an Ace after his comeback 2016; maybe that’s a little too high … but the rest of their rotation is all solid, being one of the only teams that I think has #3 starter quality even to the #5 starter in Daniel Norris.   Toronto and St. Louis are both in the same spot; several very good arms who just fall below “Ace” category; in Toronto’s case it may be just a matter of time before we’re calling Aaron Sanchez one of the best in the league and in St.Louis’ case the same with Carlos Martinez.  Some have San Francisco higher based on the fact that Bumgarner may be the 2nd or 3rd best pitcher in the game … but the back end of their rotation is so shaky they get dropped almost out of the top 10.  Likewise with Pittsburgh:  things get thin fast past the top 3 for the Pirates.

Ranking spots 12-16: Tampa, Arizona, Texas, Houston, Seattle.

Five teams that all could/should be higher.  Tampa just stole one of the best arms in the minors in Jose De Leon and have some very talented youth in their rotation; if these guys click Tampa shoots upwards.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of Arizona; they have Greinke (the lowest remaining Ace in terms of rotation rankings) and they have what should be a #2 in Shelby Miller, but what the heck happened in 2016?  Meanwhile former Nat-farmhand Robbie Ray has a massive delta between WAR rating systems that its hard to figure out how good he is: B-R rated his 2016 at just 0.7 bWAR while Fangraphs called it a 3.0 fWAR season.  Well which is it?   Perhaps we’ll see some regression to some sort of mean for him in 2017.  Both Texas and  Houston have Cy Young-calibre starters at the head of their rotations with question marks: Darvish b/c of injury, Hamels  because of age and Keuchel due to a bad 2016.  Seattle’s rating increased over the course of the offseason with their wheeling-and-dealing GM Mark DiPoto acquiring Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo to improve that rotation several clicks.

Ranking Spots #17-21: Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlanta.

The White Sox lost at least 5-6 rankings spots when they moved Chris Sale, who was by far the biggest name to move this off-season and, in fact, is the ONLY projected starter of any team ranked in my top 10.  That’s pretty amazing; teams are just doing such a better job of building pitching staffs.   The Yankees are precariously holding on to this spot; if their #1 Tanaka goes down with his partially torn UCL, they plummet into the bottom 3.  I’ve never rated Baltimore’s rotation, but they keep making the playoffs, so maybe I just have a blind spot here.  Philadelphia’s rotation could be a year or two from being in the top 6-10 range if these youngsters pan out.  Atlanta maybe should be slightly lower; I like Teheran but others do not.  Atlanta did by far and away the most acquisitions of any team in terms of pitching: 3 of their 5 projected opening day rotation guys are new on FA contracts, and almost all their depth is newly acquired MLFAs.

Ranking Spots #22-23: Kansas City and Miami

It just worked out this way, but both teams who had tragedy strike and take away their aces ended up ranked right next to each other.  The loss of Jose Fernandez cost Miami around 9 spots, and the loss of Yordano Ventura probably cost Kansas City 5-6 ranking spots.  Miami (like Atlanta) will depend on several new faces in 2017 as a result, while Kansas City may be looking at an accelerated rebuilding process.

Ranking Spots #24-26: Minnesota, Oakland, Colorado

I could see why you may think Oakland should be higher, but until their newcomers like Sean Manaea (who I always like to point out was on the board and was draftable in 2013 at the spot we gave up to sign Rafael Soriano in Mike Rizzo‘s eternal Quest for a Closer) succeed for more than a couple of months, Oakland stays ranked this low.  I wouldn’t vociferously argue the order of any of these teams: they’re mostly ranked by their aces this low.

Ranking Spots #27-30: Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and San Diego

At least the Angels and Cincinnati have a couple of arms that you may briefly consider in fantasy; you can’t say that for Milwaukee or San Diego.  In fact, if you told me that the “next 5” for San Diego was actually their planned rotation, I’m not sure i’d rank them any worse than the first 5.  Milwaukee has instead depended on veteran players for their low ranking level, with their team ace Matt Garza making more news lately for having his Ferrari vandalized and for piping up about birth control on twitter than for his capabilities on the mound.  Always a good sign for your coming season.


So, what do you guys think of my rankings?

 

Fantasy Baseball 2016 Post-Mortem

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Altuve was a huge driving factor for me in Fantasy this year ... but it wasn't enough to win the championship. Photo via mlblogs.com

Altuve was a huge driving factor for me in Fantasy this year … but it wasn’t enough to win the championship. Photo via mlblogs.com

Usual caveats apply; if you don’t care about Fantasy Baseball, you probably won’t care about this post.  I’ll return to Nats next week and am hoping to return to my detailed per-level pitching reviews this year….

Fantasy Baseball has wrapped up for the year; most leagues are doing their playoff finals this week.  This is my post-mortem for the year.  Here was my 2016 team preview article at the beginning of the year to show my drafted team.

My strategy for this year (pulled from the preview article):

  • focus on hitting; don’t load up on OF early.
  • wait on pitching.  With the conversion to QS, I felt like there was a ton of value later on with starters instead of burning early spots.
  • I wanted four closers (and got them … though the last one is really iffy).
  • I only wanted the minimum hitters, figuring I could start churning and burning based on the lower-end starters that weren’t working out.
  • I wanted a good mix of solid dependable players with a couple of high-end rookies (advice I liked after hearing it on a podcast)
  • Lastly I didn’t want to spend early on either C or 1B; catcher since there’s just so much turnover, 1B since there’s so much value later in the draft.

Results: My strategy worked out pretty well.  I had very good hitters, I got quality starters late and off waivers, I kept 3-4 closers all year, and I finished the regular season in 1st place by 3 games.  I was able (as always) to find quality OF and 1B on the waiver wire (in my case, Will Myers who exploded).  My one strategy miss may have been waiting on a Catcher; my catcher was awful all year and there was no  help on the waiver wire until later (see below for who I picked up).

Even despite finishing in 1st place regular season, my pitchers badly declined later in the year, I had an off-week offensively in the playoffs and I got bounced by the 5th place team in the semis.  And when I say bounced, I mean I lost 2-8 on the week.  So, a disappointing finish.  But i think the strategy was sound and I’ll do it again next year.

Here’s how I ended up in team stats for the season:

  • Runs; 3rd
  • HRs: 1st
  • RBIs: 4th
  • SBs: 9th
  • OBP: 2nd
  • Saves: 1st
  • Ks: 3rd
  • ERA: 5th
  • Whip: 3rd
  • QS: 3rd

Yeah; too bad we’re not playing Rotisserie.  The only category i was guaranteed to lose nearly every week was Steals.  Overall I had a pretty good year.


Here’s my initial draft and the player disposition on the year.

I drafted 9th out of 10 spots.  Here is my team (the two numbers are Round and # overall).

  1. 9    Nolan Arenado, Col 3B: Kept all year and finished #6 in Yahoo.
  2. 12    Jose Altuve, Hou 2B: Kept all year and finished #11 in Yahoo; he was much higher but has really struggled this last month, hurting his September value.
  3. 29    George Springer, Hou OF; Kept all year and finished #29 in Yahoo, almost exactly in line with his ADP and his rank.  Also struggled badly in september.
  4. 32    J.D. Martinez, Det OF: Missed 6 weeks mid-season so I dropped him, but picked him back up and he was not awesome but certainly not contributing as a 4th round pick.
  5. 49    Miguel Sano, Min DH; was decent early, then fell off a cliff and eventually missed time.  He ended up on the Waiver wire.
  6. 52    Carlos Carrasco, Cle SP: kept him all year even though he hit the D/L at some point and was awful in September.  I lost K’s by 9 in the playoffs … and got nothing from him thanks to the ill-timed line drive through the box.
  7. 69    Corey Seager, LAD SS: Kept all year; finished #67 in Yahoo.  A very shrewd pickup here.
  8. 72    Jeurys Familia, NYM RP: Kept all year, finished #71 in Yahoo.  Very solid Closer.
  9. 89    Cody Allen, Cle RP: I dropped him when the Indians acquired Andrew Miller … then missed out when Allen turned out to be mostly the closer again.  So
  10. 92    Danny Salazar, Cle SP: Another cleveland SP who spent time on the D/L but who was good when active; I dropped him during the playoffs when he strained his forearm.
  11. 109    David Peralta, Ari OF: My first real draft miss; he was ok for the first 6 weeks, then hit the D/L for a bit, then kept getting injured and didn’t play after early August.
  12. 112    Carlos Martinez, StL SP: My biggest “impatient drop” of the year; he struggled all the way through May and I dumped him; he got picked up by (ironically) the guy who beat me in the playoffs and he was stellar the rest of the way.
  13. 129    Adam Eaton, CWS OF: I dumped him at some point and he was basically on waivers the whole year; never good enough to pick up versus whoever had the hot hand.
  14. 132    Salvador Perez, KC C: Ugh; depth at Fantasy C is so thin, I stuck with him for almost the entire year.  Luckily I got to Gary Sanchez before anyone else, and rode him through the playoffs.
  15. 149    Jeff Samardzija, SF SP: Had him for a bit, thinking he’d be good in SF.  He was so streaky up and down that I dumped him.  He eventually got picked up by a competitor but was never really *that* good.
  16. 152    Justin Verlander, Det SP: My other big “impatient drop.”  I had Verlander two years ago and thought i’d get a find; he had a 6.49 ERA through his first 6 games.  I dumped him … and he finished the year Yahoo ranked #20.  Ugh.
  17. 169    Fernando Rodney, SD RP: A huge closer steal for yours truly; he was lights out right up until he got traded to be a setup guy.  That was a bummer.
  18. 172    Lucas Duda, NYM 1B: My perennail late-round 1B pickup, only this year he got hurt and was never really a fantasy player.
  19. 189    Lance McCullers, Hou SP: this late-round flier was on my D/L for weeks until it became apparent he wasn’t going to shwo up any time soon; he made just 2 starts all year.
  20. 192    Yordano Ventura, KC SP: awful all year; yahoo ranked #732.
  21. 209    J.J. Hoover, Cin RP: a flier on a closer-by-committee was the first player I dropped.  Luckily I caught on with some lower-end closers and did very well.  I got Luke Gregerson in Houston, who did well for a time.

So, just 8 of 21 players on my team all year from the draft.  And not one player drafted after the 10th round made it all the way though.  I’m not sure if that’s an indictment of my drafting, or just the nature of fantasy baseball.

Here was my team (save for playoff transactions) at the end of the year:

  • C: Gary Sanchez: What a monster; #11 for the month of September.
  • 1B: Wil Myers: another waiver-wire monster: He ended up yahoo ranked #30 on the year and I had  him for most of it.
  • 2B, SS, 3B: Altuve, Seager, Arenado: never once varied all year.
  • OF: Martinez, Springer and I had Keon Broxton at the end, trying to get Steals.  I played the waiver wire heavily for OFers, cycling through the likes of Justin Upton, Joc Peterson, Rajai Davis, Kendrys Morales, and for a long time Marcelle Ozuna.  In fact, for weeks I rolled out Martinez, Springer and Ozuna and had an extra random 1B (like Duda, or Napoli, or Travis Shaw) type filling in at utility.
  • Starting Pitchers: Anchors were Salazar and Carrasco.  All my other SPs were waiver pickups.  Teheran, Sanchez and Fulmer did the best for me, also had Smyly, Odorizzi at the end.  I cycled through a few SPs that in retrospect I wish I had kept versus what I ran out during the playoffs: Maeda, Gray, Bauer, Straily, etc.
  • Closers: Familia was the leader, also had Thornberg, Watson and Johnson at the end.  Really worked waivers to get closer replacements when my original guys were traded/got layered/lost out.  Allen and Rodney were really strong for me the first half, and then I just was quick on the trigger to grab Thornberg and Watson when their closers were traded.

So, how do we improve for next year?  My downfall was depending on waiver wire starters who faltered late.  I definitely had too many rookies (Sanchez and Fulmer in particular) leading the line.

I need to be patient with starters of course, but that’s the same thing every year.

I need to focus on getting a SB threat in the draft.

I need better luck.  Or to go rotisserie.  Or to get some transactions during the playoffs (which became a huge issue in our league, especially as I lost 3 different guys to injury during the playoffs).