Nationals Arm Race

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2014 Tommy John Post-Mortem

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Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet.  Photo via thestar.com

Jose Fernandez was (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery in 2014. Photo via thestar.com

When we hit 20 MLB pitchers going under the knife for blown Ulnar Collateral Ligaments (UCL) on the 2014 season, I posted on possible reasons for the epidemic.  By the time the season was over, more than 90 players in professional baseball (and a handful of marquee amateurs, including two first round picks and our own) had gone under the knife for blown UCLs/Tommy John surgery.  2014 was the year of the elbow ligament, no question, in terms of volume and awareness.

This post lists all the major league pitchers who had the surgery this year, with links to the announcements as they happened, along with stills of the pitchers’ mechanics to do a quickie thumb nail analysis of mechanics and whether there’s a relationship to the injury. At the bottom i’ve captured any significant news related to the surgery, MLB being proactive in preventing the injuries, and other TJ news.


First, here’s the complete Tommy John fall-out for the year for major league arms.  According to the great injury tracking links below, no less than 91 players in all levels of pro baseball had the surgery in calendar year 2014, of which 29 were MLB-experienced pitchers.

(data from baseballheatmaps.com, which has detailed Disabled List data).

10 of these 29 pitchers are getting the surgery for the 2nd time.  Wow.

Here’s links to other notable non-MLB pitchers who have gotten the surgery as well in 2014:

  • Jamison Taillon: the Pirates #1 pitching prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in the game.  Diagnosed 4/6/14, surgery 4/9/14.
  • Danny Rosenbaum: Nats AAA starter and long-time farmhand.   Surgery 5/8/14.  Tough for Rosenbaum because he’s a MLFA this coming off-season, now facing a very uncertain future.
  • Miguel Sano: one of the best prospects in the minors, had the surgery 3/12/14.  He’s not a pitcher, and he initially injured his arm playing in the Dominican Winter League, but it still costs Minnesota one of its best prospects.
  • Jeff Hoffman, ECU’s right handed starter and consensus top 5 pick in the 2014 draft, hurt his arm and was diagnosed on 5/8/14.  He dropped 5 places from his likely drafting spot by the Cubs at #4, which cost him about $X in slot dollars.   We talked about whether the Nats (picking at #18) were a likely suitor for him at the time of the injury in early May.
  • Erick Fedde, UNLV’s friday starter and projected mid-1st round pick, was diagnosed two days after Hoffman on 5/10/14.  He dropped perhaps 8 places from his estimated drafting spot of mid 1st round and was picked by Washington.  His injury didn’t really cost him much in slot money thanks to the Nats paying over-slot.
  • Our own Matthew Purke, diagnosed and set for TJ surgery 5/29/14 after really struggling out of the gate this year for Harrisburg.   Purke may face an options crunch by the time he’s done re-habbing, thanks to his MLB deal signed on draft-day.  (Update: the Nats never let him get there, releasing him on 11/14/14).
  • Chad Billingsley having flexor tendon surgery while trying to recover from his 2013 TJ surgery.    This isn’t counted as a TJ, but is noteworthy.
  • Not a pitcher, but key Orioles player Matt Wieters had to have TJ surgery on 6/18/14.
  • Matt Cain dodged a bullet by just being diagnosed with elbow chips, but still had season-ending elbow surgery on 8/5/14.
  • Padres uber-prospect and 2012 first rounder Max Fried went under the knife in mid-august.
  • Yu Darvish didn’t fall victim to the TJ surgery, but an elbow issue is shutting him down in late August, just the latest nail in the coffin of the Rangers’ season.
  • Jonathan Mayo discussion on elbow surgeries and prospects from Mid-Late August.

Here’s quickie images of every MLB starter diagnosed this year as they land to make a quick judgement about their mechanics:

VentersJonny landingHefnerJeremy landing

SkaggsTyler landingJonesNate landingChatwoodtyler landingTanakaMasahiro landing

ArroyoBronson landingBurnettSean landingBellTrevor landingWithrowChris landing

PerezMartin_landingCisnerJose landingFernandezJose landingGriffinAJ landing

 

FigueroaPedro landingNovaIvan landingJohnsonJosh landingMooreMatt landing

 

GearrinCory landingParnellBobby landingDavisErik landingHernandezDavid landing

 

MLB: Spring Training-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles DodgersRondonBruce landingCorbinPatrick landingParkerJarrod landing

BeachyBrandon landingMedlenKris landingHochevarLuke landingLeubkeCory landing2

Quick and Dirty Mechanics analysis (images in same order as list of pitchers above, which is chronological in order of diagnosis in 2014):

  • Inverted W: Hefner, Skaggs, Withrow, Griffin, Nova, Gearrin, Beachy, Hochevar
  • Sideways M: Ventors, Chatwood, Bell, Burnett, Fernandez, Johnson, Davis, Moylan, Rondon, Parker, Medlen
  • Inverted L: Jones, Tanaka, Arroyo, Perez, Cisnero, Figueroa, Moore, Parnell, Hernandez, Corbin, Luebke

Conclusions? None.  They’re all over the road.  TJ injuries this year happened to those thought to have “dangerous” mechanics and clean mechanics.  TJ injuries happened to the league’s harder throwers (Rondon, Ventors, Fernandez) and its softest throwers (Medlen and Arroyo, both of whom are usually at the absolute bottom of the league in terms of fastball velocity).  Starters and relievers, no discernable pattern.

I think all you can conclude is this: if you throw a lot of innings, you’re more prone to injury.  I know, ground breaking analysis.


Other notable/interesting links I’ve collected on the topic over the length of the season:

  • Yahoo’s Tim Brown interviewed Zack Greinke (published 5/15/14)who says he made a conscious decision to throw fewer sliders, noting that he could really feel it in his elbow after starts where he threw too many.  This tends to support the notion that sliders make a difference.
  • Jerry Crasnick interviewed commissioner Bud Selig on 5/15/14 and Selig said he’s “concerned.”  Great!  On a scale of “Resolve Oakland/San Jose territorial rights” concerned to “Resolve MASN dispute” concerned, I wonder where he falls?  Maybe he’ll form a blue-ribbon committee that can meet for several years without arriving at any solutions.
  • Stephania Bell‘s articles on the spate of TJ injuries: from April and again in May.
  • Nate Silver‘s new blog 538 chimes in in mid-may.
  • Neil Weinberg from Peter Gammons‘ website posts his own theory on 5/16/14 that is basically related to the rise in youth/showcase events.
  • Shawn Anderson from the blog HallofVeryGood.com posts his theory (overuse).
  • An older link to Will Carrol from July 2013 talking about the surgery, how its done, who’s had it and some other great stuff.
  • The American Sports Medicine Institute (led by Dr. James Andrewsreleased a statement on 5/28/14 on the issue of Tommy John surgeries (as pointed out by David Schoenfield and/or Craig Calcaterra in late may and/or Jerry Crasnick on the same day).  Their basic point: don’t throw with max effort.
  • Dr. James Andrews announced that he’s releasing an app to help keep pitchers healthy.   Per screen shots, it will be relatively simple and will have pitch counts, age and rest days calculate a max number of pitchers that a player can throw today.
  • An interesting analysis of Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura after he was diagnosed with a non-UCL related elbow injury in May.
  • Thoughtful piece from Dirk Hayhurst about the quest for velocity and the value of soft-throwers like Mark Buehrle.
  • Danny Knobler special piece to the BleacherReport in June 2014 discussing “child abuse” of kids over-throwing, throwing too much, too hard, too soon.
  • A sleeve has been announced that may help prevent TJ injuries (its called the Motus Pitcher Sleeve).  Dirk Hayhurst subsequently did some research and interviews about the sleeve and offers some thoughts.
  • CBS’s Jon Heyman breaks the news that #1 overall pick Brady Aiken may have an “elbow ligament issue,” thus holding up the signing.  Wow.  As we all know, this turned into a big-time stalemate, the non-signing of Aiken (which cascaded down and cost the Astros their 5th round pick too), possible grievances, possible lawsuits, all sorts of NCAA eligibility concerns, and a whole big black-mark for the Astros organization.  All over $1.5M.  Remember; this is the same team that gave $30M last off-season to 5th starter Scott Feldman.
  • There was a two hour special on the injury on MLB Radio Networks on 7/17/14 that I hope they replay or transcribe to the internet.
  • Bud Selig still awaits the Tommy John study in Mid July 2014.  If its anything like his other blue-ribbon panels, he’ll be waiting a long time.
  • Discussion about youths with UCL/TJ injuries in USA Today on 7/23/14.
  • Study from USA Today on how prep pitchers are avoiding TJ.
  • MLB unveils “Pitch Smart” guide in Mid November to help youth’s understand workloads.  Also discussed by Jeff Passan.

Hope you’ve found this trove of TJ links as interesting as I have.

TJ Surgery epidemic: upbringing, showcases and mechanics

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Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet.  Photo via thestar.com

Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet. Photo via thestar.com

Its the biggest story in baseball so far in 2014.   We’ve had nearly 20 MLB pitchers get diagnosed with torn elbow ligaments so far this calendar year.  All of them have or are set to undergo “Tommy John” surgery (also known as ulnar collateral ligament/UCL replacement surgery).  That’s nearly as many as who got the surgery ALL of 2013 and we’re just 6 weeks into the season.  There’s an alarming trend upwards over just the past few seasons of pitchers getting this surgery.  There’s been plenty more minor leaguers (two Nats farmhands in Erik Davis and Danny Rosenbaum have already gotten it in 2014) and already a couple of very high-profile draft prospects as well (including as discussed in this space potential 1st rounders Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde just in the last week).

Lots of people are talking about this story, especially some heavy-weights in the baseball world.  A sampling:

  • Dr. James Andrews, perhaps the most famous sports doctor in the world, attributes the growing trend to the rise in year-round baseball competition in the US.
  • SI.com’s Jay Jaffe reviews Dr. Andrews comments and had other excellent stats about the trend in this April 2014 piece.
  • The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin did an excellent piece in the paper a few weeks ago about the injury, which he attributes to youth usage.
  • Tom Verducci (he of the “Verducci effect”) proposed a solution in a column this week after the Jose Fernandez announcement.  His idea?  Lowering the mound across all levels of the sport.  He draws this conclusion after hosting a very interesting round-table on MLB Network.
  • Jayson Stark teamed up with ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell and former player Alex Cora to discuss the rise in arm injuries in this ESPN.com video, and they follow Andrews’ theory of year-round pitching.
  • Chris O’Leary, king of the Inverted-W (whether you believe his theories or not, I’ve included this link here) has his own theories as discussed here.  He doesn’t really have much in the way of explanation, just more whining about how every pitcher’s mechanics has something you can complain about.
  • Jeff Passan basically calls out baseball executives for not having any answers.
  • If you want an index of all of ESPN.com’s stories on the topic, click here.  It will have columns, analysis and press releases for individuals getting the surgery.

Some interesting stats about Tommy John surgery:

So what the heck is going on??  Lets talk about some theories.  I’ll highlight them in Blue.

The new “hot theory” is essentially this: Over-throwing at Showcase events, which have become crucial scouting events for kids raised in the United States, are to blame.  Thanks to the rise in travel leagues and select teams, scouts spend less time sitting at high school games and more time at these all-star events.  To prescribers of this theory, it isn’t so much about the amount of innings or pitches that kids throw … its the nature of the “showcase” events and the high pressure situations that those events put kids under.  Kids are throwing year-round, and they’re ramping up max-effort pitches at national competitions multiple times per year, and in some cases out of “season.”  This leads to serious damage to kids’ arms done as 16 and 17 yr olds, which then manifests itself over the years and results in blown ligaments in pro ball.

Do you buy this explanation?  It certainly makes sense to me, but how do you prove this?  And, it doesn’t explain the similar rise in elbow injuries to non-American pitchers.

Is it less about the showcase events and more about the Larger Increase in Youth pitched innings thanks to the rise in Travel Leagues?   This theory also makes some sense to me: thirty years ago kids played an 18-20 game spring Little League season, at best would pitch half those games and that was it.  Maybe they played in the fall too, but there were specific innings limits in place that protected kids.  Now instead of playing limited spring and fall seasons, kids are playing AAU travel teams that play 40-50 games a summer, plus weekend tournaments, plus (eventually) the above showcase events as they get closer to matriculation.  This theory certainly is supported by a startling rise in youth arm injuries, as noted in this 2010 study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

But, if its “bad” to play more baseball … then shouldn’t we be seeing even MORE injuries from players who grew up in third-world baseball hot beds like the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, where by all accounts kids play baseball from sun-up to sun-down 12 months out of the year in tropical climates?

Interestingly, of the list of 19 MLB players so far who have been diagnosed with a torn UCL (see next section), there’s 4 non-American developed pitchers (Rondo, Nova, Figueora, Cisnero).  4 of 19 = 21%, whereas about 22% of MLB pitchers are non-American developed (my 22% figure comes from this quick study that I did; I grabbed every active MLB pitcher as of early May 2014 and did a quick-and-dirty player upbringing analysis to determine that about 78% of players “grew up” in the current American system of player development).  It is small sample size … but the percentage of american versus foreign developed players are so far exactly in line with the total percentage of each type of player in the larger pool of MLB pitchers.  This doesn’t seem to support either of the two above theories.

We’ve all heard horror stories about pitch counts and pitcher abuse at  high school events in Japan (this came to light over the winter as we looked at Masahiro Tanaka and learned about these Japanese showcase events; this article here at thebiglead.com talks about one Japanese prospect’s 772 pitches thrown over 9 days, and Jeff Passan talked about Tanaka’s own pitch count abuse stories and his average pitch counts as a Japanese-league pro).   Unfortunately there’s not a ton of data available about this TJ theory and Japanese pitchers.  I can find a couple of instances of Asian pitchers getting the surgery (Kyuji Fujikawa in 2012 being the most recent example), but not enough to establish any trends.

But lets state it this way: you can’t have things both ways.  Both these stereotypes about player upbringing cannot be true:

  • Latin American poor youth plays baseball from sun up to sun down 12 months a year, building arm strength constantly, therefore his arm is “stronger” and he’s less suceptible to injury
  • American little leaguer plays limited schedules (18 games in the spring, perhaps fewer in the fall), has closely monitored pitch counts, therefore does not abuse his arm as a youth and thus his arm is “stronger” later in life as a result.

Here’s a list of the 19 MLB pitchers who have already gone under the TJ knife so far in 2014 (data from baseballheatmaps.com, which has detailed Disabled List data).

Of these 19 pitchers, they are evenly split between being starters (10) and relievers (9).  So that doesn’t seem to lend itself to any Starter vs Reliever usage conclusion.

How about Pitching Mechanics?  We’ve all heard ad-naseum about the “Inverted W” and people talking about pronation and timing and elbow lift and etc etc.  Here’s a quick attempt to analyize the mechanics of each of these 19 guys (all photos grabbed as thumbnails from google images for the purposes of demonstration; no copyright infringement intended).

CisnerJose landingFernandezJose landingGriffinAJ landingFigueroaPedro landing

 

NovaIvan landingJohnsonJosh landingMooreMatt landingGearrinCory landing

 

ParnellBobby landingDavisErik landingHernandezDavid landingMLB: Spring Training-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

 

RondonBruce landingCorbinPatrick landingParkerJarrod landingBeachyBrandon landing

 

MedlenKris landingHochevarLuke landingLeubkeCory landing2

Quick and Dirty Mechanics analysis (images in same order as list of pitchers above, which is choronological in order of diagnosis in 2014):

  • Inverted W: Griffin, Nova, Gearrin, Beachy, Hochevar
  • Sideways M: Fernandez, Johnson, Davis, Moylan, Rondon, Parker, Medlen
  • Inverted L: Cisnero, Figueroa, Moore, Parnell, Hernandez, Corbin, Luebke

But I’ll immediately add a caveat to these classifications; at various stop-points in a guy’s delivery, he may exhibit “good” or “bad” trends.   Maybe some of these “sideways-M” guys are actually “inverted-W” guys.  Maybe some of these inverted-W guys are ok and the stills make their mechanics seem worse than they are.

Nonetheless; there’s no trend among the 19 guys in terms of their mechanics.  In some cases they’re “bad” (Griffin and Gearrin’s look awful) but in some cases excellent (nobody should look at Moore’s mechanics and say they’re anything but clean, nor with Parnell or Corbin).  These pitchers are overhanders, 3/4-slot guys and even side-armers/submarine guys (Gearrin and Moylan).   These guys include hard throwers (Rondon had the 3rd highest velocity of *any* pitcher in 2013) and softer-throwing guys (Medlen had one of the lowest fastball velocities in the majors in 2013).  There’s starters and relievers almost equally represented in this list.

Conclusion; there’s no conclusions to draw from pitching mechanics analysis.  I think all attempts to look at guys’ mechanics and make judgements are useless.  I think (as does Keith Law and other pundits in the field) that the “Inverted W” is nonesense and that “research” posted online by concerned-fathers-turned-self-appointed-mechanics-experts is not exactly trustworthy.  The fact of the matter is this: throwing a baseball over and over is hard on the body.  Throwing a ball is an unnatural motion, and throwing a ball at max-effort will eventually lead to pitching injuries, no matter what your mechanics.  They can be “good” or “bad” according to someone’s pet theory on bio-mechanics and it has nothing to do about whether a pitcher is going to throw 10 seasons without injury or have two tommy johns before they’re 25.

Some historical context for pitching mechanics arguments: the pitcher who has the 2nd most innings thrown in the non-knuckleballer modern era (behind Nolan Ryan) was Don Sutton.  Sutton displayed absolutely *classic* inverted-W mechanicsnever hit the D/L in his career and threw nearly 5,300 innings over the course of 23 seasons.   Walter Johnson‘s mechanics were awful; he slung the ball sideways as he literally pushed backwards away from the hitter at the end of his delivery.  If someone saw Johnson’s mechanics today they’d talk about how over-compensated he was on his shoulder and how he lost velocity thanks to landing stiff and having zero follow through.  Johnson only threw 5,900 innings in his pro career; yeah those mechanics really held him back.  Nolan Ryan was a freak of nature, throwing at that velocity for as long as he did.  The point?  You just don’t know.


Maybe there’s something to the “showcase abuse” theory for some players.   Maybe there’s something to the travel-ball overuse theory for some kids.  But I think the answer may be a bit more simple.  We all know there’s been a rise in the average MPH of fastballs in the majors, both on starters and especially with relievers.  My theory is simply this: kids who “can” throw upper 90s spend all their time trying to throw upper 90s/max effort fastballs 100% of the time, and human arms just cannot withstand that kind of abuse over and over.  In prior generations, kids who “could” throw that hard wouldn’t, or would rarely try to throw that hard, and thus suffered fewer elbow injuries.

Side note: I also firmly believe that we’re “victims of our own success” to a certain extent with respect to modern medicine; 30 years ago would someone have just “blown out their arm” instead of being diagnosed specifically with a “torn ulnar collateral ligament?”  Would some kid in the low minors who hurt his harm even bother to get an MRI?  How much of the rise in these injuries is simply the fact that we’re better at diagnosing injuries in the modern sports world?

Why are these kids trying to throw so hard these days?  Because velocity is king, and that’s what scouts look for.   A kid who “only” throws mid 80s as a 17-yr old is dismissed, while the kid who can throw mid 90s at the same age is fawned over.   Guys like Greg MaddoxMark Buehrle, and Tom Glavine probably don’t even get drafted in the modern baseball climate thanks to the over-focus on pure velocity.

You can talk about upbringing and showcase events and pitch counts and mechanics all you want, but I think it comes down to Pitcher over-exertion thanks to the rising trend of fastball velocity and the human nature urge of prospects and farm-hands to show more and more velocity so they can advance their careers.

What do you guys think?  Do you dismiss the “inverted-W” arguments like I do?  Do you think its all about showcase events?

2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited

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Scherzer's dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Scherzer’s dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

In January, after most of marquee FA signings had shaken out, I ranked the 2013 rotations of teams 1-30.  I was excited about the Nats rotation, speculated more than once that we had the best rotation in the league, and wanted to make a case for it by stacking up the teams 1-30.

I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to revisit my rankings now that the season is over with a hindsight view, doing some post-mortem analysis and tacking on some advanced metrics to try to quantify who really performed the best this season.  For advanced metrics I’m leaning heavily on Fangraphs team starter stats page, whose Dashboard view quickly gives the team ERA, FIP, xFIP, WAR, SIERA, K/9 and other key stats that I’ll use in this posting.

  1. (#2 pre-season) DetroitVerlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with Alvarez providing some cover).  Scherzer likely wins the Cy Young.  Three guys with 200+ strikeouts.  The league leader in ERA.  And we havn’t even mentioned Justin Verlander yet.  A team starting pitching fWAR of 25.3, which dwarfed the next closest competitor.  There’s no question; we knew Detroit’s rotation was going to be good, but not this good.  Here’s a scary fact; their rotation BABIP was .307, so in reality this group should have done even better than they actually did.  Detroit’s rotation was *easily* the best rotation in the league and all 6 of these guys return for 2014.
  2. (#3 Preseason): Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Nolasco, and Capuano (with Fife, BeckettLilly, Billingsley and a few others helping out); The 1-2 punch of Kershaw (the NL’s clear Cy Young favorite) and Greinke (who quietly went 15-4) was augmented by the stand-out rookie performance of Ryu, the surprisingly good half-season worth of starts from Nolasco, and then the all-hands-on deck approach for the rest of the starts.  This team used 11 different starters on the year thanks to injury and ineffectiveness, but still posted the 2nd best team FIP and 5th best fWAR in the league.
  3. (#8 pre-season): St. LouisWainwright, Lynn, Miller, Wacha and Kelly (with Garcia, Westbrook, and a few others pitching in).  Team leader Chris Carpenter missed the whole season and this team still was one of the best rotations in the league.  Westbrook missed time, Garcia only gave them 9 starts.  That’s the team’s planned #1, #3 and #4 starters.  What happened?  They call up Miller and he’s fantastic.  They call up Wacha and he nearly pitches back to back no-hitters at the end of the season.  They give Kelly a starting nod out of the bullpen and he delivers with a better ERA+ than any of them from the #5 spot.  St. Louis remains the bearer-standard of pitching development (along with Tampa and Oakland to an extent) in the game.
  4. (#22 pre-season): Pittsburgh:  Liriano, Burnett, Locke, Cole, Morton (with Rodriguez and a slew of call-ups helping out).  How did this team, which I thought was so low pre-season, turn out to have the 4th best starter FIP in the game?  Francisco Liriano had a renessaince season, Burnett continued to make Yankees fans shake their heads, and their top 6 starters (by number of starts) all maintained sub 4.00 ERAs.  Gerrit Cole has turned out to be the real deal and will be a force in this league.
  5. (#1 pre-season) WashingtonStrasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler with Jordan, Roark and other starts thrown to Karns and Ohlendorf).   Despite Haren’s continued attempts to sabotage this rotation’s mojo, they still finished 3rd in xFIP and 5th in FIP.  Haren’s 11-19 team record and substandard ERA/FIP values drug this group down, but there wasn’t much further up they could have gone on this list.   If  you had replaced Haren with a full season of Jordan’s production, maybe this team jumps up a little bit, but the teams above them are tough to beat.
  6. (#11 pre-season) Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Teheran and Maholm, (with rookie Alex Wood contributing towards the end of the season).  Brandon Beachy only gave them 5 starts; had he replaced Maholm this rotation could have done better.  Hudson went down with an awful looking injury but was ably covered for by Wood.  They head into 2014 with a relatively formidable  and cheap potential rotation of  Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Wood, assuming they don’t resign Hudson.  How did they over-perform?  Teheran finally figured it out, Maholm was more than servicable the first couple months, Wood was great and came out of nowhere.
  7. (#26 pre-season) ClevelandJimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Kazmir.  Too high for this group?  7th in rotation fWAR, 8th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP.  This group, which I thought was going to be among the worst in the league, turned out to be one of the best.  Jimenez and Masterson both had rebound years with a ton of Ks, and the rest of this crew pitches well enough to remain around league average.  They were 2nd best in the league in K/9.  You can make the argument that they benefitted from the weakened AL Central, but they still made the playoffs with a relative rag-tag bunch.
  8. (#9 pre-season) CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (with Tony Cingrani).  Cueto was good … but he was never healthy, hitting the D/L three separate times.  Luckily Cingrani came up from setting strikeout records in AAA and kept mowing them down in the majors.  Latos was dominant,  Leake took a step forward, and Bailey/Arroyo gave what they normally do.  If anything you would have thought this group would have been better.  6th in Wins, 7th in xFIP, 9th in FIP.  Next year Arroyo leaves, Cingrani gets 32 starts, Cueto stays healthy (cross your fingers, cross your fingers, cross your fingers) and this team is dominant again despite their FA hitting losses.
  9. (#25 pre-season) New York MetsHarvey, WheelerNiese, Gee, Hefner and a bunch of effective call-ups turned the Mets into a halfway-decent rotation all in all.  7th in xFIP, 11th in FIP.  Most of this is on the backs of Matt Harvey, who pitched like the second coming of Walter Johnson for most of the season.  Wheeler was more than effective, and rotation workhorses Niese and Gee may not be sexy names, but they were hovering right around the 100 ERA+ mark all year.  One superstar plus 4 league average guys was good enough for the 9th best rotation.
  10. (#12 pre-season) TexasDarvish, Holland, Ogando, Perez, Garza at the end.  Texas’ fWAR was the 2nd best in the league … but their accompanying stats drag them down this far.  Despite having four starters with ERA+s ranging from 114 to Darvish’ 145, the 34 starts given to Tepesch and Grimm drag this rotation down.  Ogando couldn’t stay healthy and Perez only gave them 20 starts.  Garza was mostly a bust.  And presumed #2 starter Matt Harrison gave them just 2 starts.  But look out for this group in 2014; Darvish, a healthy Harrison, and Holland all locked up long term, Ogando in his first arbitration year, and Perez is just 22.  That’s a formidable group if they can stay on the field together.
  11. (pre-season #6) Tampa BayPrice, Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, Archer and Roberto Hernandez.   Jeff Niemann didn’t give them a 2013 start, but no matter, the Tampa Bay gravy train of power pitchers kept on producing.  Cobb was unhittable, Archer was effective and Moore regained his 2011 playoff mojo to finish 17-4 on the year.  An odd regression from Price, which was fixed by a quick D/L trip, and a complete collapse of Hellickson drug down this rotation from where it should have been.  They still finished 12th in FIP and xFIP for the year.
  12. (pre-season #21) SeattleHernandez, Iwakuma, Saunders, Harang, Maurer, and Ramirez.  Seattle featured two excellent, ace-leve performers and a bunch of guys who pitched worse than Dan Haren all year.  But combined together and you have about the 12th best rotation, believe it or not.
  13. (pre-season #7) PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd and Pettibone as backups).  The phillies were 13th in xFIP, 10th in FIP on the year and regressed slightly thanks to the significant demise to their #1 guy Halladay.  Lee pitched like his typical Ace but Hamels self-destructed as well.  The strength of one excellent starter makes this a mid-ranked rotation.  Had Halladay and Hamels pitched like expected, they’d have finished closer to my pre-season ranking.
  14. (pre-season #17) BostonLester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, Doubront, and Peavy: Boston got a surprise bounce back season out of Lackey, a fantastic if oft-injured performance from Buchholz, a mid-season trade for the effective Peavy.  Why aren’t they higher?  Because their home stadium contributes to their high ERAs in general.  Despite being 3rd in rotation fWAR and 4th in wins, this group was 17th in FIP and 18th in xFIP.  Perhaps you could argue they belong a couple places higher, but everyone knows its Boston’s offense that is driving their success this year.
  15. (pre-season #16) New York YankeesSabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps Hughes and Phelps pitched as predictably bad as you would have expected … but Sabathia’s downturn was unexpected.  Are  his years of being a workhorse catching up to him?  The rotation was buoyed by unexpectedly good seasons from Nova and Kuroda.  Pettitte’s swang song was pretty great, considering his age.  Enough for them to slightly beat expectations, but the signs of trouble are here for this rotation in the future.   Pettitee retired, Kuroda a FA, Hughes a FA, a lost season for prospect Michael Pineda and other Yankees prospects stalled.  Are we in for a dark period in the Bronx?
  16. (pre-season #29) Miami: FernandezNolasco, Eovaldi, Turner, Alvarez, Koehler and a few other starts given to either re-treads or MLFAs.  For Miami’s rotation of kids to rise this far up is amazing; looking at their stellar stats you would think they should have been higher ranked still.  Fernandez’s amazing 176 ERA+ should win him the Rookie of the Year.  Eovaldi improved, rookie Turner pitched pretty well for a 22 year old.  The team dumped its opening day starter Nolasco and kept on … losing frankly, because the offense was so durn bad.  Begrudgingly it looks like Jeffry Loria has found himself another slew of great arms to build on.
  17. (pre-season #5) San FranciscoCain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito, Gaudin.  What the heck happened here?  Cain went from an Ace to pitching like a 5th starter, Lincecum continued to completely forget what it was like to pitch like a Cy Young winner, Vogelsong completely fell off his fairy-tale cliff, and Zito completed his $126M journey in typical 5+ ERA fashion.  I’m surprised these guys are ranked this high (14th in FIP, 16th in xFIP but just 27th in fWAR thanks to just horrible performances all year).  What the heck are they going to do in 2014?
  18. (pre-season #10) Arizona: CorbinKennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley and Delgado.  Corbin was 2013’s version of Miley; a rookie that came out of nowhere to lead the staff.  Miley struggled at times but righted the ship and pitched decently enough.  The rest of the staff really struggled.  I thought this was a solid bunch but they ended up ranked 23rd in FIP and 14th in xFIP, indicating that they were a bit unlucky as a group.
  19. (pre-season #15) Chicago White SoxSale, Peavy, Danks, QuintanaSantiago and Axelrod.  Floyd went down early, Peavy was traded.  Sale pitched well but had a losing record.  The team looked good on paper (16th in ERA) but were 26th in FIP and 17th in xFIP.
  20. (pre-season #14) Oakland: ColonAnderson, Griffen, Parker, Straily, Milone, with Sonny Gray giving 10 good starts down the stretch.  This rotation is the story of one amazing 40-yr old and a bunch of kids who I thought were going to be better.   Oakland is bashing their way to success this season and this group has been just good enough to keep them going.  I thought the likes of Griffen and Parker would have been better this  year, hence their falling from #14 to #19.
  21. (pre-season #19) Chicago CubsGarza, Samardzija, JacksonWood, and FeldmanFeldman and Garza were flipped once they showed they could be good this year.  Samardzija took an uncharacteristic step backwards.  Jackson was awful.  The Cubs ended up right about where we thought they’d be.  However in 2014 they look to be much lower unless some big-armed prospects make the team.
  22. (pre-season #20) Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen, Mendoza: despite trading the best prospect in the game to acquire Shields and Davis, the Royals a) did not make the playoffs and b) really didn’t have that impressive a rotation.  12th in team ERA but 20th in FIP and 25th in xFIP.   Compare that to their rankings of 25th in FIP and 26th in xFIP in 2012.   But the results on the field are inarguable; the team improved 14 games in the Win column and should be a good bet to make the playoffs next year if they can replace the possibly-departing Santana and the ineffective Davis.
  23. (pre-season #23) Milwaukee: LohseGallardo, Estrada, Peralta, and dozens of starts given to long-men and call-ups.  I ranked this squad #23 pre-season before they acquired Lohse; in reality despite his pay and the lost draft pick, Lohse’s addition ended up … having almost no impact on this team in 2013.  They finished ranked 23rd on my list, and the team was 74-88.
  24. (pre-season #13): Los Angeles AngelsWeaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton, Williams: The Angels are in a predicament; their two “aces” Weaver and Wilson both pitched well enough.  But nobody in baseball was really that surprised by the god-awful performances from Hanson or Blanton (2-14, 6.04 ERA … and the Angels gave him a two year deal!).  So in some ways the team brought this on themselves.  You spend half a billion dollars on aging offensive FAs, have the best player in the game languishing in left field because your manager stubbornly thinks that someone else is better in center than one of the best defenders in the game … not fun times in Anaheim.  To make matters worse, your bigtime Ace Weaver missed a bunch of starts, looked mortal, and lost velocity.
  25. (#28 pre-season) San DiegoVolquez, Richards, Marquis, Stults, Ross, Cashner: have you ever seen an opening day starter post a 6+ ERA in a cave of a field and get relased before the season was over?  That happened to SAn Diego this year.  Another case where ERA+ values are deceiving; Stults posted a sub 4.00 ERA but his ERA+ was just 87, thanks to his home ballpark.  In fact its almost impossible to tell just how good or bad San Diego pitchers are.   I could be talked in to putting them this high or all the way down to about #28 in the rankings.
  26. (pre-season #27) Colorado: ChatwoodDe La Rosa, Chacin, Nicaso, Francis and a few starts for Garland and Oswalt for good measure.  Another staff who shows how deceptive the ERA+ value can be.  Their top guys posted 125 ERA+ figures but as a whole their staff performed badly.  26th in ERA, 19th in FIP, 26th in xFIP.  Colorado is like Minnesota; they just don’t have guys who can throw it by you (29th in K/9 just ahead of the Twins), and in their ridiculous hitter’s park, that spells trouble.
  27. (pre-season #4) TorontoDickeyMorrowJohnson, Buehrle, Happ, Rogers, and a line of other guys.  What happened here?  This was supposed to be one of the best rotations in the majors.  Instead they fell on their face, suffered a ton of injuries (only Dickey and Buehrle pitched full seasons: RomeroDrabeck were hurt.  Johnson, Happ, Redmond only 14-16 starts each.  This team even gave starts to Chien-Ming Wang and Ramon Ortiz.  Why not call up Fernando Valenzuela out of retirement?  It just goes to show; the best teams on paper sometimes don’t come together.  The Nats disappointed in 2013, but probably not as much as the Blue Jays.
  28. (pre-season #18) BaltimoreHammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, FeldmanGarcia with a few starts given to Gausman and Britton.  I’m not sure why I thought this group would be better than this; they were in the bottom four of the league in ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA.  It just goes to show how the ERA+ value can be misleading.  In their defense, they do pitch in a hitter’s park.  Tillman wasn’t bad, Chen took a step back.  The big concern here is the health of Dylan Bundy, who I thought could have pitched in the majors starting in June.
  29. (pre-season #30) Houston: BedardNorris, Humber, Peacock, Harrell to start, then a parade of youngsters from there.  We knew Houston was going to be bad.  But amazingly their rotation wasn’t the worst in the league, thanks to Jarred Cosart and Brett Olberholtzer coming up and pitching lights-out for 10 starts a piece later in the year.  There’s some potential talent here.
  30. (pre-season #24) MinnesotaDiamond, Pelfrey, Correia, Denudo, Worley and a whole slew of guys who were equally as bad.  Minnesota had the worst rotation in the league, and it wasn’t close.  They were dead last in rotational ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and it wasn’t close.  They were last in K/9 … by more than a strikeout per game.  They got a total fWAR of 4.6 from every pitcher who started a game for them this year.  Matt Harvey had a 6.1 fWAR in just 26 starts before he got hurt.  Someone needs to call the Twins GM and tell him that its not the year 1920, that power-pitching is the wave of the future, that you need swing-and-miss guys to win games in this league.

Biggest Surprises: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and New York Mets to a certain extent.

Biggest Disappointments: Toronto, the Angels, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Baltimore to some extent.

Disagree with these rankings?  Feel free to pipe up.  I’ll use this ranking list as the spring board post-FA market for 2014’s pre-season rankings.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Ranking the 2013 Playoff Rotations

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Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Now that the playoff fields are set … who has the most formidable playoff rotation?

Unlike previous rotation rankings posts, the playoffs focus mostly on the 1-2-3 guys.  Your 5th starter may not even be on the playoff roster and your 4th starter usually just throws one start in a series where you can line up your guys, and some teams skip the 4th starter altogether if they at least one veteran pitcher who can all go on 3 days rest (there’s enough off-days in the 2-3-2 format to allow most guys to go on regular rest).  So the focus here is on the strength of your top guys.

Here’s how I’d rank the 10 playoff teams’ rotations, despite the fact that two of these teams will be wild card losers and never get a chance to use their rotations:

  1. Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Nolasco, Ryu (Capuano left out).  As great a 1-2 combination Kershaw and Greinke are, Nolasco has for stretches outpiched them both since his trade, and Ryu is a #2 starter talent in the #4 slot.  They’re going to be a tough out in any short series where Kershaw gets two starts.  Easily the #1 playoff rotation.
  2. Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Fister (Porcello left out).  Hard to believe that a guy who most thought was the best or 2nd best pitcher in baseball (Verlander) may not even get the start in the first game of the playoffs.  But they’re still the 2nd best rotation.
  3. St. Louis: Wainwright, Miller, Wacha, Kelly (Westbrook and Garcia hurt, Lynn left out).  The knock on St Louis’ current rotation is their youth; two rookies and a 2nd year guy who was in the bullpen all last year.  Are there any innings-limit concerns here that could force a shutdown  It doesn’t seem so at this point?  It continues to amaze me how well St. Louis develops players.  Carpenter and Garcia out all year?  No worries we’ll just bring up two guys in Wacha and Miller who are barely old enough to drink but who can pitch to a 120 ERA+.
  4. Tampa Bay: Price, Moore, Archer, Cobb (Hellickson left out); A tough top 4, if a little young on the back-side.  Moore has quietly returned to this dominant form upon his call-up and gives Tampa a formidable 1-2 punch.  Price has already pushed them past game 163.
  5. Pittsburgh: Liriano, Burnett, Cole, Morton (Rodriguez hurt, Locke left out).  The team previously said that Cole would likely a reliever in the playoffs, but I’ll believe that when I see it; he’s been fantastic down the stretch.  It is difficult to put a rotation headlined by the burnout Burnett and the reclamation project Liriano this high, but their performances this year are inarguable.
  6. Boston: Lester, Buchholz, Peavy, Lackey (Dempster, Doubront left out).  Buchholz just returning mid September after a hot start; could push this rank up.  I don’t necessarily trust the #3 and #4 spots here in a short series, but Boston can (and probably will) bash their way to the World Series.
  7. Cincinnati: Bailey, Cueto, Arroyo, Cingrani (Leake left out, Latos hurt).  Cingrani may be hurt, Cueto has returned to replace the sore-armed Latos.  Leake’s performance may push him over Arroyo if they get there, but the odds of them beating Pittsburgh were already slim after their poor finish and were vanquished last night.  Still, isn’t it nice when you have more quality starters than you need heading into a season, Mike Rizzo?
  8. Atlanta: Minor, Medlen, Teheran, Wood (Hudson hurt, Maholm left out).  If Wood is shutdown, Maholm makes sense as the #4 starter but has struggled most of the 2nd half and finished poorly.  I may have this rotation ranked too low; they’re solid up and down, just not overpoweringly flashy.
  9. Cleveland: Jimenez, Kluber, Kazmir, Salazar (Masterson in the pen, McAllister left out).  How did these guys get a playoff spot?  Amazing.  They’re all solid, nobody especially flashy, and they won’t go away.
  10. OaklandColon, Parker, Griffen, Gray (Milone, Straily left out, Anderson in long relief).  I didn’t want to rank them last, considering Oakland’s record over their last 162 game stretch.  But here they are; on an individual level one by one, they just do not stack up.  The age-less wonder Colon is easily the staff Ace.  The rest of these guys’ seasonal numbers are just not impressive.

These teams obviously didn’t make the playoffs, but were in the hunt until late, and since I had already typed up this content might as well say where I’d have ranked them, had they made the playoffs…

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren (Ohlendorf, Roark left out, Jordan shut down)  Perhaps you’d replace Haren with Roark based on September performances;  I just can’t imagine trusting Haren in a 7 game series..  I’d put them about #4, just ahead or just behind Tampa.   Gonzalez and Zimmermann have shown themselves to be oddly vulnerable here and there coming down the stretch, and I just don’t put Strasburg in the same elite category as Kershaw right now.  Too bad months of indifference cost them the 4 games they needed to make up in the standings to reach the WC game.
  • Kansas City: Shields, Santana, Chen, Guthrie (Duffy, Davis, Mendoza left out): Duffy may be a better choice than Guthrie based on small sample sizes.  I’d have put them just behind Cincy at #8 in terms of rotation depth.
  • Texas: Darvish, Garza, Holland, Perez (Tepisch, Grimm left out, Harrison hurt): Great Ace in Darvish (even if he has occasaional blowups), but falls off badly after that.  The Garza acquisition has just not worked out, and the rest of the rotation is good but not overpowering.  I’d put them behind KC but just ahead of Baltimore.
  • Baltimore: Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Feldman (Norris, Garcia, Hammel and others left out).  They’d probably be behind Atlanta at #9, only ahead of Oakland/Cleveland.
  • New York: Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pettitte (Hughes, Phelps left out): Kuroda has been the ace of the staff this year, but you’d always lead off with Sabathia (though, had they made the playoffs it would be unknown if Sabathia could even go with his late-season injury).  Either way, this would be behind any other playoff team’s rotation.

2013 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Verlander just killed me this year.  Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Verlander just killed me this year. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

My standard disclaimer; this is a whole huge post kvetching about my 2013 Fantasy Baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, feel free to skip this 3,000 word missive.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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Divisional Series Matchups – By the Starters

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Verlander has already given the Tigers a huge leg up in their divisional series. Photo unknown via rumorsanddrants.com

As we have already seen in the playoffs thus far, predicting these coin-flip games, or predicting the outcome of individual games, is usually fool’s gold.  The first four games of the playoffs featured four Road-team wins.  You can argue that the higher-seeded teams in the divisional series are “better” than the home teams and this was to be expected … except that we’re talking about divisional winners/90+ win teams all around.  So far, the results have been surprising.

What’s also been tough this year is the lack of “announced” starters.  The Tigers seem to know exactly who they’re throwing for all 5 games of the series … but nobody else does.  Baltimore’s only announced starter (Jason Hammel) hasn’t pitched since September 11th and they have a handful of guys to pick from.  In last year’s version of this post I was able to do match-up analysis.  This year i’ll just look at the breadth of the starters to see who has an upper hand.


Washington-St. Louis:

  • Washington’s likely starters: Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson, Detwiler
  • St. Louis’ likely starters: Wainwright, Garcia, Carpenter, Lohse

I’ve already talked at depth about this series in my previous post.  Just looking at starters, its hard not to see the Nats as the favorite.  Our Ace Gonzalez goes twice in the series, St. Louis doesn’t hit righties as well.  Carpenter could be a difference maker.


Detroit-Oakland:

  • Oakland’s likely starters: Parker, Milone, Anderson, Blackley
  • Detroit’s likely starters: Verlander, Fister, Sanchez and Scherzer

Justin Verlander is as close to unbeatable as there is, again evidenced by his game 1 dominance. (7ip, 3 hits one solo home run).  If he’s set to go in game 4, Oakland basically has to win out.  The rest of Detroit’s planned starters all sport sub 4.00 ERAs and all of them have at least a 113 ERA+.  In fact, how exactly is this only an 88 win team?  They have three unbelievable hitters in the middle of their order and plus starting pitching.  Max Scherzer and his dominating fastball apparently has recovered enough from a post-game celebration injury and should take the ball in Game 4.  Anibel Sanchez has been pretty effective since arriving from Miami in a mid-season trade (is Sanchez an off-season FA target of the Nats for their 5th starter?) and should give the Tigers a great chance to win his game 3 start.

Meanwhile, Oakland has a slew of rookie starters to choose from, all of whom sport sub 4.00 ERAs (the worst season ERA on the staff is Travis Blackley, who may or may not feature in the post-season).  Jarrod Parker threw game one and was effective, just not effective enough.  I was surprised to see Tommy Milone slated as the game 2 starter (perhaps chosen by virtue of his home/away splits; 2.74 ERA at home, 4.83 ERA away).  After that I honestly have no idea who we’ll see.  Oakland named 5 starters to its post-season roster, but AJ Griffen was pasted in his last outing and may be a long-man/emergency starter.  Brett Anderson is clearly the staff Ace at this point but only returned in late August.  Oakland’s been on such a tear though, its hard to bet against them.

Prediction: Verlander already gave Detroit the huge advantage with a game 1 victory.  Oakland needs more magic to advance.


New York-Baltimore:

  • Baltimore’s likely starters: Hammel, Tillman, Chen, Saunders
  • New York’s likely starters: Sabathia, Pettitte, Kuroda, Phelps?

Baltimore’s only announced starter as of today is Jason Hammel, who (as noted above) hasn’t thrown in 3 weeks.  After that?  The Orioles used 12 different starters on the season and at one point demoted 3/5ths of their rotation in a week.  They seem set to roll out the above named guys after Hammel, but this leaves out both Miguel Gonzalez and Steve Johnson, who were effective down the stretch.  I can’t find a link for Baltimore’s named divisional roster as of the time of this writing; which would have helped.

Meanwhile, looking at New York’s options past the above named three guys, I would initially guess that New York is going to a 3-man rotation for the playoffs.  What would you rather do?  See three effective veterans going on 3 days rest, or to give post-season starts to the likes of Phil Hughes or Ivan NovaFreddie Garcia lost his starting spot in September when Pettitte returned but isn’t an option because of how ineffective he’s been all season.  Would you give a game-4 start to rookie David Phelps?  It seems amazing to me that the highest payroll team in the league can’t find an effective 4th and 5th starter (getting Pettitte out of retirement?  Giving Garcia 17 starts after signing him off the trash heap?) and I think it continues to be their downfall (only one World Series appearance in 8 years).

New York swept the Orioles in the first series of the season, split a 2-game set in mid-season, but lost EVERY other series exactly 2 games to 1 on the season.  Is there any reason not to think they’ll do something similar in this series?  I see a split in Baltimore and then New York struggling to win 2 of 3 in New York.  Does Sabathia struggle going on 3 days rest?  More importantly, does Pettitte??  He should be on a golf course right now, not pitching in October.  It should be interesting to see if New York uses a 4th starter.


San Francisco-Cincinnati:

  • San Francisco’s likely starters: Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Lincecum
  • New York’s likely starters: Cueto, Arroyo, Latos, Bailey

We’ve already seen some interesting mishaps with Cincinnati’s best laid plans; Cueto out with bask spasms after just 2 batters, planned game 3 starter Latos forced into action.  Now it looks like Cueto will go game 3, with Bailey either pushed to game 4 or skipped outright since Latos only threw 4 innings in game 1.  Or perhaps Bailey goes game 4 with Latos pushed to a possible game 5.  Either way, the wild-cards here are Cueto’s health and Arroyo’s effectiveness.  If Cueto returns for a game 3 start, with Cincinnati haven already “stolen” a game against SF’s ace, the Giants are in trouble.

Meanwhile, has San Francisco made a decision on its starters?  They’ve named all 5 (the above four plus Barry Zito) to the post-season roster with an unnamed player dropping to the bullpen.  I think they’ll go with supposed ace Tim Lincecum as the 4th starter despite Zito’s numbers being superior. Meanwhile, Ryan Vogelsong has been vulnerable down the stretch despite good numbers on the season.

I think the back-end of the Giant’s rotation is a huge question mark, and if the Reds have already stolen a game against Cain, this series may be short.

A look at Oakland’s amazing 2012 season so far

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Tommy Milone has made Oakland’s 2012 rotation surprisingly good. Photo AP/Ben Margot via dailyrepublic.com

I’ll admit it; after watching Billy Beane wheel and deal this past off-season, trading away most of his starting rotation and letting most of his FA hitters walk, I was predicting a 55 win season for this team.  They were banking on a proposed move to San Jose and I saw these moves as a purposeful bottoming out while playing out the string in Oakland, ahead of a lucrative move to the South Bay.  Well, that move seems interminably stalled, and many pundits predicted a near record loss season for this team, especially considering the massive moves that the Angels had made, coupled with the 2-time defending AL champs Texas being in the same division.

Instead, they sit at 56-48 and if the season ended today, right now on August 2nd, the Oakland A’s and their $55M payroll (2nd lowest in the league by a couple hundred thousand dollars) would be the 2nd wild-card and would play the Los Angeles Angels, they of the $154M payroll (and counting, considering this was their opening day payroll and they’ve taken on with the Zack Greinke deal at the trade deadline).

How did this happen?  Lets look at the evolution of the Starting Rotation, because what this group is doing is nothing short of amazing.

In 2011, the Oakland had 10 different guys start games for them.  Here’s a quick summary (* indicates a left hander on baseball-reference.com pages):

Name Age W L W-L% ERA G GS
Trevor Cahill 23 12 14 0.462 4.16 34 34
Gio Gonzalez* 25 16 12 0.571 3.12 32 32
Brandon McCarthy 27 9 9 0.5 3.32 25 25
Guillermo Moscoso 27 8 10 0.444 3.38 23 21
Rich Harden 29 4 4 0.5 5.12 15 15
Brett Anderson* 23 3 6 0.333 4 13 13
Josh Outman* 26 3 5 0.375 3.7 13 9
Tyson Ross 24 3 3 0.5 2.75 9 6
Graham Godfrey 26 1 2 0.333 3.96 5 4
Dallas Braden* 27 1 1 0.5 3 3 3

Here’s what happened to each of these guys (good link for trade details from baseball-reference.com here; this link shows the latest trade between Oakland and all other teams but quickly shows all these 2011 deals listed here):

  • Cahill traded to Arizona
  • Gonzalez traded to Washington
  • Moscoso traded to Colorado
  • Harden left via free agency, and as far as I can tell he remains unsigned.
  • Outman traded (with Moscoso) to Colorado.
  • Anderson had Tommy John surgery in June of 2011 and is in the minors rehabbing now.
  • Braden had shoulder surgery in April of 2011 and has not pitched since.

They traded or released the starters who made nearly 80% of their starts in 2011.  That leaves 3 guys who had any MLB starts last year: Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey, a total of 35 starts.  To add insult to injury, Oakland traded their 2011 closer Andrew Bailey to Boston last December.

So, what does the Oakland rotation look like this year?  Here’s the same data through August 1st:

Name Age W L W-L% ERA G GS
Tommy Milone* 25 9 8 0.529 3.68 21 21
Bartolo Colon 39 7 8 0.467 3.78 20 20
Jarrod Parker 23 7 5 0.583 3.44 18 18
Brandon McCarthy 28 6 3 0.667 2.54 12 12
Travis Blackley* 29 3 3 0.5 3.15 14 10
Tyson Ross 25 2 8 0.2 6.35 12 12
A.J. Griffin 24 3 0 1 2.51 7 7
Graham Godfrey 27 0 4 0 6.43 5 4

So, where’d all these guys come from?

  • Milone: acquired from Washington in the Gonzalez Deal
  • Colon: bottom-of-the-barrel FA signing (1yr/$2M).
  • Parker: acquired from Arizona in the Cahill deal.
  • McCarthy; signed a 1yr/$4.275M FA deal after accepting arbitration from the team after last year
  • Blackley: selected OFF WAIVERS from San Francisco earlier this year
  • Ross: homegrown: a 2nd round pick in 2008
  • Griffen: also homegrown; he was a 13th round draft pick by Oakland in 2010.
  • Godfrey: acquired from Toronto in the 2007 Scutaro deal

Ross and Godfrey got demoted after poor performance, and McCarthy currently sits on the DL, giving Oakland this current rotation: Colon, Blackley, Griffen, Milone, Parker.  All 5 guys with ERAs under 3.78 and all with ERA+ of at least 104 and mostly greater than that.  And, when McCarthy comes back he’s essentially the best pitcher of any of them.  AND, this is all being done with out Dalles Braden and Brett Anderson, two guys who were core components of the 2010 rotation and who would clearly be in the 2012 rotation if not for injury.  AND, Oakland just announced today they’re promoting one of their best starter prospects in Dan Straily for a spot start this coming friday.

Wow.

And, when Braden, Anderson and McCarthy come back, that gives Oakland a major surplus of pitching that can be flipped in the coming off-season for even more prospects and hitting (much as they did this past off-season).

Combine this pitching revolution with the schrewd Yoenis Cespedes signing (who immediately became the highest paid player on the team), the explosion of Josh Reddick (acquired in the Andrew Bailey deal from Boston), unexpected output from DH/FA signee (and ex-Nat) Jonny Gomes and a solid season from Seth Smith (acquired in the Moscoso deal) and you’ve got a team that is producing enough to win.  They’re not an offensive juggernaut (mostly ranked 12th-13th in the 14-team AL in the major offensive categories) but you don’t need to score 8 runs a game when you have a staff ERA of 3.47.

As much as Moneyball critics will hate to hear it, I think Billy Beane is your easy choice for AL Executive of the year right now.