Nationals Arm Race

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

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Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams

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Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Here we are.  After a crazy trade deadline in July, and an August and September that featured the division leaders (in most cases) solidifying their positions and extending their leads, the playoffs are upon us.

Lets take a look at the rotations of the playoff teams (despite the fact that the four Wild Card teams are just one-man pitching staffs until they win the play-in game).  Who lines up best?  For each team i’ve tried to line the pitchers up one through five, with the 5th guy being the one headed to the bullpen.

(Quick useful links: AL full standings on b-r.com, NL full standings, and post season schedule at MLB.com).

Trade deadline 2014 acquisitions highlighted in blue.  Pre-season acquisitions highlighted in Green for context.

NL Division Champs:

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark (yes this is how I think it will shake out despite Roark’s great season-long performance; we posted on this separately)
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, Miller, Lackey (Masterson to the bullpen when Wacha came back)
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Haren, Hernandez, Wright (Beckett hurt, done for year, Ryu coming back, should be ok for playoffs so I’ve inserted him as the #3.  Maholm, Billingsley, Fife hurt all year).

Just look at what the Dodgers have tried to do to keep their rotation afloat in terms of player acquisition over the past couple of years.  I’d like to have their budget.  They will have no less than eleven capable, MLB-experienced starters once they’re all healthy.  Yes Kershaw is unbeatable, but as pointed out earlier this year, they are basically a .500 team otherwise.  Their 4th and 5th starters have been below replacement for much of the past month but they’re getting back Ryu right in time for the playoffs.   St. Louis’ rotation looks just as strong as it has been for the past few years; Wainwright quietly has 20 wins and a 2.38 ERA on the season.  Lynn has been great.  Only Miller has struggled but still has a league-average ERA+.

It is hard not to look at the Nationals’ rotation and claim they’re the deepest one-through-four, despite Gonzalez’s struggles.   I’d take our #4 (Fister) over anyone else’s #4, I think our #3 matches up just as favorably to anyone els’es #3, and Strasburg has a 1.34 ERA in September as the #1.

NL Wild Card:

  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Cole, Locke, Volquez, Worley (Morton dinged up late Sept, made way for Cole).
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Petit, Vogelsong, Peavy (Lincecum to bullpen for Petit, Cain out all year)

The NL WC pitching match-up will be Bumgarner-Liriano.  Both teams manipulated their rotations at season’s end to preserve their aces for the coin-flip game.  We’ll do a separate prediction piece.

NL Also-Rans;

  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood (Beachy, Floyd, Medlen out all year)
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Fiers (Nelson and Estrada to bullpen)

The Braves fell so far, so badly in September that they were nearly surpassed by the lowly NY Mets for 2nd place in the NL East.  That’s crazy.  But they still remain here as an also-ran because they were in the wild card race until mid-September.  I still think it is crazy what they were able to accomplish given the starting pitcher injuries they suffered in spring training and don’t quite understand why Frank Wren was fired.  If you want to fire him for his crummy FA contracts so be it; but the man engineered a team that made the playoffs three of the past five years.  Harsh treatment if you ask me.  Insider comments seem to think that Wren lost an internal power-struggle involving Fredi Gonzalez.


And here’s what we’re looking at in the AL:

AL Division Champs:

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman (Jimenez demoted to BP)
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker, Santiago, Rasmus, LeBlanc (Richards injured, Skaggs hurt)

It is hard to look at these rotations and comprehend where these teams currently stand:

  • How is Baltimore leading the AL East by 12 games?  None of these guys are a league-wide “Ace.”
  • How is Detroit not pulling away from the AL Central with this collection of arms?  Of course, you could ask this question of Detroit over and again the past few years; with a stacked lineup and stacked rotation they have just barely won their (usually) weak division year after year.
  • How does Los Angeles have the best record in the majors with a non-drafted FA and a waiver claim in their Sept rotation?  Would you favor this rotation over Detroit’s?

I guess it doesn’t matter; these teams have bashed their way to their titles and should continue to hit in the post-season.  Apparently the O’s aren’t going to go with Gausman in their playoff rotation despite his good seasonal numbers.  It may be a case of veteran manager going with the veterans, as Gausman’s numbers are pretty much in line with most of the rest of the Baltimore rotation.  The injury to Richards really hurts the Angels: Weaver may be close to an Ace but Wilson showed he is hittable in the post-season and lord knows what will happen when LA has to throw their #3 and #4 choices.

AL Wild Cards:

  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir

AL Wild Card looks like a knock-out match-up of Shields and Lester; the A’s burned Grey yesterday to get the win that put them in the playoffs.  Oakland has to be kicking themselves; how did they go from (easily) the best team in the majors for the first half to struggling to hang onto the WC spot?   On paper replacing 3/5ths of the rotation (out with Chavez, Milone, Pomeranz and Straily, in with Samardzija, Lester and Hammel) sounded like a great idea … but to me the team’s chemistry was clearly un-balanced.  At least they held on to the spot and avoiding a one-game play-in against Felix Hernandez.

AL Also-Rans:

  • Seattle: Hernandez, Walker, Iwakuma, Paxton, Young (Elias out for year)
  • New York: McCarthy, Greene, Kuroda, Capuano, Pineda (with Tanaka finally coming back at season’s end.  Nova and Sabathia gone all year with injuries).

All Seattle needed to do was *get* to the wild card game … and they’d have great odds of advancing behind ace Hernandez.  But struggled to the finish line.  Meanwhile Cleveland and New York would have been mentioned here a week ago, but both squads just ran out of time to make comebacks.  I’ll give NY credit: they played 7 games better than their pythagorean record with huge chunks of their rotation gone for the season and depending on guys who’s names I had to look up.

Coming soon; a review of the WC matchups with predictions.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 29th, 2014 at 8:58 am

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).

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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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Ask Boswell 6/17/13 Edition

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Anthony Rendon - What a draft day steal.  Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

He’s continued to hit in the pros like he used to in college.  Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

The Nats continue to struggle offensively.  They’re generally only above the Mets and the Marlins in key offensive categories, two teams that have basically given up for 2013.  They’re hitting worse than the Astros, a team that also had given up on 2013 before it started and whose payroll is 1/6th of ours.   Our best hitter Bryce Harper languishes on the D/L, but the team has (finally) made some adjustments and shed some of the underperforming players on its roster and rookie Anthony Rendon has been living up to his expectations.

So, what is Tom Boswell‘s weekly chat is going to be about?   Here’s his 6/17/13 version.  As it turned out many of the questions were about the US Open, and a few about Hockey and Football.  But lots about baseball.  As always I answer here before reading Boswell’s response and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Is Davey Johnson the problem with the Nats in 2013?

A: Despite some complaints about his Starting Pitcher and bullpen usage earlier this year, Davey Johnson isn’t the reason this team is losing.  Not with a team whose offense ranks 28th in the league in all the basic run-creating categories (Runs, Batting Average, OBP, and OPS+).   Changing the manager won’t help; all you can do is change the personnel.  And the Nats have done what they can; sending Tyler Moore and Danny Espinosa to the minors, calling up Rendon (slash line as of 6/16/13: .361/.426/.525; yeah that’s pretty darn good), giving Chris Marrero some at-bats.  The obvious: they need Harper back, they need the bench to start producing like it did in 2012, and they need Wilson Ramos to come back and spell the quietly falling-apart Kurt Suzuki (he’s now hitting just .215 with little power).  Boswell agrees; its the offense.

Q: Did Johnson screw up by not loading the bases in the Friday loss?

A: Situation: 2nd and 3rd with none out; do you load the bases?  I’d normally say that it depends on the matchups; a fly ball beats you anyway, so you’re looking for a pitching matchup that you can either get a punch out or a ground ball.  Well, they got their groundball; it just wasn’t enough to get the guy at the plate, who broke on contact and was fast.  A bases-loaded situation there means Suzuki doesn’t have to make the tag, just get the force out.  I guess Johnson could have loaded the bases.  Boswell points out the similarities to this and the NLCS Game 5 situation with Pete Kozma but doesn’t give an answer.

Q: Is Rick Eckstein culpable for the Nats Offensive woes?

A: Boswell answered an identical question on 5/28/13.   I’ll say the same thing again: I just don’t see how a hitting coach is responsible for players who suddenly hit 200 OPS points below their career averages as we’re seeing with a huge percentage of this team.  Rick Eckstein isn’t in the batter’s box; these guys are.  Boswell agrees, saying it isn’t Eckstein who is waving at balls a foot outside.

Q: Are the Nats just mentally fragile?

A: Possibly.  I think the weight of expectations is causing them to press.  But you have some veteran guys in that clubhouse (Jayson WerthAdam LaRoche especially) who should be leading the team and helping to manage this.  Maybe these guys just aren’t “Captain” material?  Notice too that the two most senior guys on the pitching staff (Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano) aren’t exactly the best role models either; Haren is struggling too much to command any respect, and Soriano doesn’t appear to be a big clubhouse influence (and I privately wonder if there isn’t lingering animosity towards Soriano’s signing from the rest of the bullpen, which seems relatively close in age and experience).  Boswell notes that the team leaders need to step up.

Q: Why is Dan Haren pitching again?

A: Asked and Answered here four days ago.  Boswell didn’t really answer.

Q: Should we eliminate pitcher Wins and Losses?

A: Well, if you’re a sabrematrician we should.  A pitcher can give up one hit in 5 innings (as Stephen Strasburg did on sunday) and take the loss, while a pitcher can give up 5 runs in 5 and get a win if his offense bails him out.  That in a nutshell is the issue most people have with the Win and Loss statistics.   I saw a stat on billy-ball.com today that Chad Billingsley took the loss in an 8-inning one-hit outing in 2011 (the run was un-earned to boot).  That’s pretty unlucky.  Bill James said recently that he continues to use W/L records simply because they’ve been the default way to express stats for pitchers for 100 years.  I now view them sort of as throw-away stats written ahead of the meaningful measurements for pitchers, things like Fip and xFip, perhaps Siera.  I like ERA+ and K/9 as good short-hand measurements too, but realize that every one of these stats has flaws.  The pitcher “Win” used to mean a lot more than it does now; when a guy went 9 innings every day instead of going 5 2/3 and having a bullpen close out more than a third of the game it becomes harder and harder to equate one with with another.  Boswell agrees.

Q: How much of Rendon’s hitting is a reflection of his talent, and how much of it is a product of teams not having a book on him yet? Certainly he’s not a .350 hitter, but is he a .300-.310 hitter?

A: Great question.  I think its part column A and part column B.  For one, he’s an exceptional hitter.  He wasn’t College Player of the Year as a sophomore at Rice by accident.  He should have been a 1-1 pick had it not been for lingering issues that dropped him into the Nats lap in 2011.  And in his short sample size so far in 2013 we’re seeing his great approach; fast hands, ability to use the whole field, opposite field power.  Now, a new hitter hasn’t had “the book” written on him (that’s what advance scouts do) so yes, we’ll expect to see teams identify weaknesses in Rendon’s swing and start pitching him accordingly.  The great players then adjust to the adjustments.  In the ESPN documentary Bryce Begins there was a very telling quote from Braves pitcher Kris Medlen, who commented that Harper had “already made the adjustment” to the way the Braves were pitching him from one series to the next.  The film then showed Harper fanning at a pitch to strike out .. and then clobbering the same pitch in a subsequent game.  That’s what pro hitters do to stay good, and that’s what Rendon is going to have to eventually do to keep his lofty average.  Boswell raves about his stat lines all the way up the minors.

2013 Rotation Rankings; Ranked 1-30

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Greinke bolstered the Dodger’s already strong rotation. How much? Photo Jeff Golden/Getty Images

(Editor Note: I’ve had the bulk of this post written for weeks and have been waiting for the last couple of impact FA starters to sign.  I’m tired of waiting.  If/when guys like Kyle Lohse, Shawn Marcum or Joe Saunders signs, or if there’s another big trade that happens, perhaps I’ll re-post this).

On December 5th, awash in the after-glow of the Dan Haren acquisition, I postulated that the Washington Nationals’ 2013 rotation was the Best in the Majors.

That was before the next shoe dropped in the Los Angeles Dodger’s unbelievable spending spree in 2012: signing Zack Greinke to a 6yr/$147M contract.  This is the 2nd largest starting pitcher contract ever signed (just behind CC Sabathia‘s 7yr/$161M deal that he opted out of to sign a slightly larger deal in terms of AAV after the 2012 season).  These rankings also are updated for the highly-criticized James Shields (and parts) for Wil Myers (and parts) deal, the Ryan Dempster signing.

The larger story behind the Greinke signing remains the unbelievable payroll Los Angeles will be sporting in 2013; they’ll spend roughly $225M in 2013, breaking the  Yankees record by a 10% margin, and all boldly in the face of a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax.  And they’re likely not done yet on the FA market.  But the focus of this article is a revisiting of baseball’s best rotations, now that Greinke is in the Dodger’s fold.

Instead of trying to figure out which handful of teams are the best, why not rank all 30 rotations?  With the help of some Depth Chart websites (ESPN, rotoworld, mlbdepthcharts, and some good old-fashioned baseball-reference.com), here’s my rankings of the 30 rotations as they stand for 2013, right now.   For the sake of this ranking, I am trying to take a reasonable expectations case for each of the pitchers on each team, as opposed to a “best case” for each team (this is most important when considering San Francisco’s rotation).  I’m also not considering “depth,” just the Ace through 5th starter (this is important when judging Washington especially).

Note: a couple of other National writers have done similar analysis, with David Schoenfield‘s NL-only rankings on his Sweetspot blog back in November and Buster Olney‘s top-10 in the MLB rankings here.  By and large the rankings match up, with a couple of different .

Discussion on each rotation is below the rankings.

  1. Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler
  2. Detroit: Verlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with rookies Smyly, Crosby, Wilk awaiting)
  3. Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, GreinkeBeckett, Harang, Capuano (with Ryu, Lilly, Billingsley in the wings)
  4. Toronto: DickeyMorrow, Johnson, Buehrle, Romero with Happ/Laffey/Drabeck/Huchinson in the wings.
  5. San Francisco: Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito.
  6. Tampa Bay: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Niemann and one from Cobb/Archer.  Possibly Odorizzi and Montgomery now in the mix too.
  7. PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd/Pettibone/Hyatt as backups)
  8. St. Louis: Carpenter, Wainwright, Westbrook, and probably Lynn and Garcia (Kelly/Miller if Garcia is not ready)
  9. CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (possibly Chapman?)
  10. Arizona: Kennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley, and one from Skaggs/Collmenter
  11. Atlanta: Medlen, Hudson, Minor, Maholm, and one from Beachy/Delgado/Tehran
  12. Texas: Darvish, Harrison, Holland, Ogando and likely a FA pick up. (Perez for now)
  13. Los Angeles Angels: Weaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton (wth Richards/Cassevah for depth).
  14. Oakland: Anderson, Griffen, Parker, Colon, Milone, with Straily/Blackley/Ross/Godfrey in the wings.
  15. Chicago White Sox: Sale, Peavy, Danks, Floyd, Quintana
  16. New York Yankees: Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps.  What about Pineda?
  17. Boston: Lester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, and 1 from Doubront/Morales/ De La Rosa.
  18. Baltimore: Hammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, Britton (perhaps Bundy)
  19. Chicago Cubs: Garza, Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, and one from Baker/Feldman/Villanueva (likely two if Garza is still injured or is traded).  They also just signed Dontrelle Willis to a minor league deal.
  20. Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen (Hochevar, Moscoso?)
  21. Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Ramirez, Beavan (Hultzen?).  Bonderman on a reclamation project.
  22. Pittsburgh: Burnett, Liriano, Rodriguez, McDonald, Locke, McPherson
  23. Milwaukee: Gallardo, Estrada, Fiers, Narveson, Rogers (with the likes of Peralta and Thornberg waiting if Narveson cannot go).
  24. Minnesota: Diamond, Worley, Correia, Pelfrey (if he’s healthy), Hendricks, Duensing, De Vries (maybe Gibson or May? ).  Harden on a reclamation project.
  25. New York Mets: Santana, Niese, Gee, Harvey, and who knows.
  26. Cleveland: Jimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer (Kazmir and Myers on reclamation projects)
  27. Colorado: De La Rosa, Chacin, Pomeranz, Nicaso, Francis (and newly acquired Rosenbaum perhaps?)
  28. San Diego: Volquez, Richard, Marquis, Stults, Ross
  29. Miami: Nolasco, Alvarez, LeBlanc, Eovaldi, Turner, Maine?
  30. Houston: Norris, Humber, Ely, White, Harrell, Lyles (who, who and who?)

Free Agents as of 1/2/13 that could impact the above list: Lohse, Marcum, Saunders, Lowe.  Also guys like Webb, Vazquez and Pavano could be coming out of retirement but likely won’t make much of an impact.

Rumored trades as of 12/31/12 that could impact this list:  Harang, Capuano, Masterson, Smyly/Porcello.

Hmm.  I seem to favor NL teams.  The majority of my top Ten rotations are in the NL.  Is this bias?  Discussion, 1-30

  1. Washington: If Dan Haren returns to 2011 form, which I’m assuming he will, this is the best rotation in the majors.  Not the deepest though; if we lose someone to injury we could struggle to repeat 2012′s win total.  But this is an exercise to determine the best 1 through 5, not to determine depth (where teams like the Dodgers and Tampa clearly have more depth).  I will say, this is a close race at the top; I can see arguments for any of the top 4-5 to be the best rotation.  I don’t want to be accused of homerism by ranking the Nats #1, but can make a man-for-man argument that shows we should be #1 above the next several competitors.
  2. Detroit’s rotation in the post season was fantastic against New York, then god-awful against San Francisco.  Why?  What can they change in 2013?  They better figure it out, because upon re-signing Anibel Sanchez they’re rolling the dice on the same big 4 in 2013.  Fister and Scherzer are slightly underrated but showed how dominant they can be in the playoffs.  The #5 starter is likely where Detroit falls to Washington; Detwiler’s 12th ranked ERA+ in 2012 will trump nearly every other #5 starter in the league.
  3. The Los Angeles Dodgers has an Ace in Clayton Kershaw, a near-Ace (in my opinion) in Zack Greinke, a potential near-ace career reclamation project in Josh Beckett, and then a bunch of question marks.  Two rotation stalwarts Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley remain injury question marks for 2013, and the rest of their rotation right now are league average hurlers.   I believe their pitchers get a bump in adjusted ERA by virtue of their home park, thus I don’t believe their current #4/#5s match up as well with Washington’s or Detroit’s, putting them in 3rd place.  Plus Beckett is a question mark; is he throwing like he did at the end of 2012, or is he the Fried-Chicken eating malcontent he has been in Boston the last couple of years?
  4. Toronto: Its not every day you can trade for 4 starting players, including two rotation members.  But thanks to Miami’s salary dump, Toronto finds itself with a significantly improved rotation.  If Josh Johnson returns to Ace form, coupled with Brandon Morrow’s fantastic 2012 performance and Mark Buehrle’s solid #3 stuff, they have something to build on.   The subsequent acqusition of 2012 Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey changes things though, valulting Toronto into the discussion for best AL rotation.
  5. San Francisco has won two World Series’ in three years with the same core of hurlers, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to be amongst the elite in the league.  The question remains though; what are they getting from Tim Lincecum in 2013?  Is the other shoe going to drop on Ryan Vogelsong‘s fairy tale career resurgence?  And, can Barry Zito continue his career rebound?   If the best-case falls for Lincecum and Zito (Lincecum returns to Cy Young form and Zito pitches even marginally ok) then I think they’re the best rotation in the game.  As it stands though, i’m assuming that both guys fall somewhere short of the best case, meaning that they’re “only” the 5th best rotation in the game.
  6. Tampa Bay has well-known pitching depth, and even with the move/heist of the James Shields trade they have a ton of guys who other teams would love to have.  Expect a bounce-back sophomore campaign from Matt Moore and more excellent innings from rising hurlers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer.  They may not be the best rotation in the game, but they’re certainly the most value for the dollar.
  7. Philadelphia’s big 3 are all fantastic, but are showing signs of age.  Roy Halladay only had an 89 ERA+ last year; has age caught up to him?  The drop-off after the big 3 is significant too.  But the potential of the big 3 keeps this rotation among the league’s elite.  The acquisition of John Lannan didn’t affect their ranking much; he merely replaces the Phillies heading into 2013 with a rookie in the #5 spot.  I had Philadelphia lower in the earlier drafts of these rankings, and have them this high on the assumption that their big three are all entering 2013 healthy.
  8. St Louis’s 2012 rotation was rich enough this year to drop 18-game winner Lance Lynn to the bullpen.   With Chris Carpenter healthy in 2013, with Adam Wainwright recovered from Tommy John, and with the likes of hard-throwing Joe Kelly or Shelby Miller as your #5 starter, this could be a scary rotation.  And that’s if Jaime Garcia isn’t ready for the start of the season after injuring his shoulder in the playoffs.  Kelly/Rosenthal are serious arms though and give far more depth than what a team like Washington has.  Some pundits are not as high on the ability of Carpenter to return to his career form, pushing this ranking slightly lower than I initially had them.   It all comes down to the health of their 1-2 punch; if Carpenter and Wainwright pitch like Cy Young candidates, this rotation gets pushed up much higher.
  9. Cincinnati’s 5 starters took every 2012 start except ONE (the back half of an August double header).  In today’s baseball landscape, that’s nothing short of amazing.  Mike Leake may not be the strongest #5, but Cincy’s 1-2-3 put up great numbers pitching in a bandbox in Cincinnati.  I’m not the biggest Mat Latos fan, but his 2012 performance spoke for itself.   Lastly, there’s rumors that Aroldis Chapman may be moving to the rotation, pushing Leake presumably to a swing-man role.  If Chapman can repeat his K/9 performance in a starter role, this rotation is even more formidable.  Should it be higher?  Perhaps; in previous drafts I had them in the top 5, but I just can’t seem to give their top guys the same “Ace” billing as other leading arms above them on this list.
  10. Arizona‘s acquisition of Brandon McCarthy is a great one for me; if the Nats hadn’t bought Haren, I thought this guy would fit in perfectly.  Arizona has a solid 1-4 and (like Atlanta) has a slew of options for #5.  And, they have help in the immediate future, with Daniel Hudson coming back from July 2012 TJ surgery and a top prospect in AA.  I see them as a solid rotation 1 through 5 but without the blow-away ace that other top rotations have.
  11. Atlanta’s found gold in Kris Medlen gives Atlanta enough depth to trade away starters (the Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden deal).  They have 4 good starters and then can pick from 3 top-end prospects for the 5th starter until Brandon Beachy is back from surgery.  What pushes this rotation down in the rankings is the unknown; is Tim Hudson getting too old?  And what kind of performance can we expect from Medlen realistically?  Can he really continue to pitch like Bob Gibson in 1968?  Their 3/4/5 guys don’t scare me right now, but the potential of 1 and 2 keep them ranked decently high.
  12. Texas bought an ace last off-season in Yu Darvish, has a couple of good arms developed in house in Holland and Harrison, but has been depending on one-off FAs to fill the void.   They need a full healthy year out of their two upper-end arms Alexi Ogando and/or Neftali Feliz to make the leap.  Felix is out for most of 2013 though after getting Tommy John surgery in August.  Colby Lewis is in the fold but seems like he’s out most of 2013 after elbow surgery late last season.  If they buy another decent FA this off-season (Lohse?), this rotation works its way further up.  I have a hard time seeing them at #12, but who above them on this list right now do you push them ahead of?
  13. The Los Angeles Angels have a great 1-2 punch in Weaver and Wilson, but they’ve spent the off-season watching their former envious rotation erode.  Hanson is an arm injury waiting to happen, Blanton has been pitching below replacement level for 3 years, and they don’t have an established #5 right now.  Perhaps this rotation should be lower.  The shrewd trade for Jason Vargas helps keep them in the upper-half of the league, based on who their planned #4/#5 guys are.
  14. Oakland’s slew of young, cost contained and quality starters is the envy of the league.  The only thing that keeps this list from greater acclaim is Oakland’s relative lack of recent success (2012 not withstanding).  Throw in a couple more playoff appearances and Billy Beane can get a sequel to Moneyball published.  Like the LA and SF rotation, they benefit from their home park, but that doesn’t take away the fact that they won the division last year.  The off-season isn’t over either; I can still see Beane flipping one or more of his rotation for more depth/more hitting and turning to his stable of youngsters again.  I’m not necessarily happy with this ranking spot and feel like it should be higher, but their collection of unknowns doesn’t inspire the confidence of the known Aces above them on this list.
  15. The Chicago White Sox have a big up and coming potenial Ace in the making in Chris Sale and the engimatic Jake Peavy.  After that are some league average options.  Jose Quintana had a great 2012; can he repeat his success?  I feel like the 3/4/5 guys in this rotation are all quality, innings eater types, but nothing that really knocks your socks off.  Middle of the pack feels right.
  16. The New York Yankees continue to get 95+ win teams with a smoke-and-mirror job in the rotation.  Now they set to go into 2013 with one possibly injured Ace and two guys nearly 40 as their 1-2-3.  Is 2013 the year the wheels come off the bus for New York?  A healthy Michael Pineda contributing as the #2 starter he can be would vastly improve the outlook here.
  17. Boston‘s ranking may be changing significantly, depending on which arms they buy up off the FA market.  I think a new manager helps Lester and Buchholz regain their near-Ace form of yesteryear, and Dempster should give them competent innings in the middle of the rotation.  But I can’t assume anything when it comes to their 1/2; they’ve both been so good and so bad in the recent past.
  18. Baltimore amazingly comes in ranked this low despite making the playoffs last year with this collection of no-name starters.  Maybe i’m underselling their 1-2-3 capabilities.  Maybe i’m just treating them like a team that had a pythagorean record of 82-80.
  19. The Chicago Cubs still seem set to be in “sell mode,” so listing Garza as their Ace seems fleeting.  Behind Garza though are a collection of hard throwing, promising guys.  I like Samardzija, the Edwin Jackson acquisition gives them a solid #4.  Perhaps this rotation should be slightly higher on potential.
  20. Kansas City made their big trade to acquire an “Ace” … and only got James Shields.  I mean, Shields is good .. but not that good.  He’s only got a career 107 ERA+, but he is a healthy workhorse.  Behind Sheilds is a collection of guys who mostly are #4 and #5 starters elsewhere, which means this rotation is … below average.
  21. Seattle should have been higher than the teams directly ahead of them on this list just by virtue of the quality of Felix Hernandez … but then they went and traded away Vargas, and seem to have no good ideas on the back end of their rotation right now.  This team could be in trouble.
  22. Pittsburgh is getting by on veteran starters who have the ability to look good, and may not deserve this high of a ranking.  AJ Burnett had a great first half but settled back down to average in 2012.  Here’s a great stat: Burnett is getting paid $16.5M a year … and has *never* made an all star team in his career.
  23. Milwaukee seems like they should be higher with a guy like Gallardo leading the ranks.  But their #2 is Marco Estrada, a guy who couldn’t make Washington’s rotation in the years when we didn’t HAVE a rotation.   I know Fiers is good; perhaps this rotation should be higher.
  24. Minnesota‘s rotation looks pretty poor right now; their ace is a guy whose a #3 on most teams (Scott Diamond) and they’re hoping for one of their injury reclamation projects to pan out.  It could be a long season in Minneapolis.
  25. The New York Mets rotation could be better than 25th, if Santana isn’t allowed to throw 150 pitches pursuing a no-hitter and if Niese pitches up to his capability.  However, Santana hasn’t had an injury-free season since 2008, and I’m not betting on it in 2013.  They are planning on giving both the 4/5 slots to rookies, meaning there could be some long series for this team in 2013.  Their fate was sealed when they traded away their Cy Young winning Ace, and the statement was made about the direction of the franchise.

From 26-30, I honestly don’t see much of a difference between these rotations.   Really the only argument was to figure out which rotation of no-names between Miami and Houston was dead-last.  I selected Houston for the time being; if/when Miami trades Ricky Nolasco for 40 cents on the dollar, we’ll feel free to rank them 30th.


At the end of this massive posting, I can honestly say that the difference between the 5th ranked rotation and the 6th is often near nothing. Looking back, I can see anyone from the 5-8 range being listed in any order and I’d agree with it. I ranked and re-ranked these rotations over and over again from the time I started writing this post in early December to the time i’ve posted it. Perhaps it would have been easier to just have groupings of rotations instead of a pure ranking 1-30. But, that would have been a copout.

I look forward to your opinions and arguments for some rotations to be higher/lower than others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nats 2013 Rotation; Best in the Majors?

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Nats 2013 rotation:  Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler.

Question: Is this the best rotation in the majors?   David Schoenfield already thinks so.  If not, which team’s would you put up against it?

Last year, this same rotation (with Haren being replaced by Edwin Jackson) was considered a very good rotation, but not amongst the MLB’s elite.  That’s mostly because most baseball people thought Gonzalez would regress leaving the comfy confines of Oakland.  Instead, Gonzales put up a 21 win season, finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting and stunned most pundits with his lowered walk rates.  Meanwhile Zimmermann was getting some minor Cy Young consideration mid-way through the 2012 season before tiring in September; in any case the league-wide recognition for our quiet #3 hurler has been welcome.  Strasburg is who he is; inarguably near the top of anyone’s list of the best pitchers in the league.

Now in 2013, with these established guys continuing to improve, with Strasburg unleashed, and with an established #2 Haren in the fold, is this the best rotation in the majors?  Here’s your competition for “Best rotation” teams (I’ve got these ranked in my rough order of strength):

  • St. Louis: Carpenter, Wainwright, Westbrook, and two from Garcia/Lynn/Kelly/Rosenthal
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo and Leake
  • Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Maholm, and one from Beachy/Delgado/Tehran
  • Tampa Bay: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Niemann and one from Cobb/Archer
  • San Francisco: Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Zito
  • Philadelphia: Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Worley
  • Texas: Darvish, Harrison, Holland, Lewis and probably Ogando barring a FA pickup
  • Detroit: Verlander, Fister, Scherzer, Porcello, Smyly
  • Oakland: Anderson, Griffen, Parker, Milone and one from Straily/Blackley/Ross/Godfrey
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Kershaw, Beckett, Capuano, Harang and a slew of injuries and question marks.
  • Toronto: Johnson, Buehrle, Morrow, Romero and one from Happ/Laffey/Drabeck/Huchinson/someone

Am I missing anyone?  Here’s some thoughts on these rotations as they stand right now:

  • St Louis‘s rotation was rich enough this year to drop 18-game winner Lance Lynn to the bullpen.   With Chris Carpenter healthy in 2013, with Adam Wainwright recovered from Tommy John, and with the likes of hard-throwing Joe Kelly or Trevor Rosenthal as your #5 starter, this is a scary rotation.
  • Cincinnati’s 5 starters took every 2012 start except ONE (the back half of an August double header).  In today’s baseball landscape, that’s nothing short of amazing.  Mike Leake may not be the strongest #5, but Cincy’s 1-2-3 put up great numbers pitching in a bandbox in Cincinnati.
  • Atlanta‘s found gold in Kris Medlen gives Atlanta enough depth to trade away starters (the Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden deal).  They have 4 excellent starters and then can pick from 3 top-end prospects for the 5th starter until Brandon Beachy is back from surgery.
  • Tampa Bay has well-known pitching depth, and even with the anticipated move of James Shields they have depth up and down the rotation.  Expect a bounce-back sophomore campaign from Matt Moore and more excellent innings from rising hurlers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer.  They may not be the best, but they’re certainly the most value for the dollar.
  • San Francisco has won two World Series’ in three years with the same core of hurlers, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to be amongst the elite in the league.  The question remains though; what are thet getting from Tim Lincecum in 2013?  And, can Barry Zito continue his career rebound?  If the answers are yes and yes, then this rotation is much closer to the top of the list.
  • Philadelphia‘s big 3 are all fantastic, but are showing signs of age.  Roy Halladay only had an 89 ERA+ last year; has age caught up to him?  The drop-off after the big 3 is significant too.
  • Texas bought an ace last off-season in Yu Darvish, has a couple of good arms developed in house in Holland and Harrison, but has been depending on one-off FAs to fill the void.   They need a full healthy year out of their two upper-end arms Alexi Ogando and/or Neftali Feliz to make the leap.  Felix is out for most of 2013 though after getting Tommy John surgery in August.  If they buy a FA this off-season, this rotation works its way further up.  Especially if that FA is Zack Greinke.
  • Detroit‘s rotation in the post season was fantastic against New York, then god-awful against San Francisco.  Why?  What can they change in 2013?  They lose Anibel Sanchez to free agency, but their top three arms in Verlander, Fister and Scherzer are just as good as anyone elses 1-2-3 in terms of cumulative depth.  If they retain Sanchez, this rotation rises in the rankings as well.
  • Oakland‘s slew of young, cost contained and quality starters is the envy of the league.  The only thing that keeps this list from greater acclaim is Oakland’s relative lack of recent success.  Throw in a couple more playoff appearances and Billy Beane can get a sequel to Moneyball published.
  • Los Angeles has an Ace in Clayton Kershaw, a possible near-ace career reclamation project in Josh Beckett, and then a bunch of question marks.  Two rotation stalwarts Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley remain injury question marks for 2013, and the rest of their rotation right now are league average hurlers.  If they make a splash in the FA market (Greinke?) this rotation could rise in the ranks as well.
  • Toronto: Its not every day you can trade for 4 starting players, including two rotation members.  But thanks to Miami’s salary dump, Toronto finds itself with a significantly improved rotation.  Is it close to league best?  No, probably not.  But if Josh Johnson returns to Ace form, coupled with Brandon Morrow‘s fantastic 2012 performance and Mark Buehrle‘s solid #3 stuff, they have something to build on.

Where would I put Washington’s rotation in this list?  At the top, or very close to it.  Each of our guys matches up well in a head-to-head competition going down the line, with Haren as a #4 starter that you’d likely take 100% of the time over anyone else’s #4 starter.

Have we seen the last 300-game winner? (updated post 2012 season)

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San Francisco Giants starter Randy Johnson acknowledges the crowd after the Giants beat the Washington Nationals 5-1 for his 300th win, in the first game of a baseball doubleheader Thursday, June 4, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Despite being much maligned as a method of judging a starting pitcher’s worth, the “Win” is still the essential goal of every starter in the majors and the accumulation of them over a season or career still inspires much thought and discussion.  The magical “300 win” threshold remains one of the more challenging career objectives for any starter, and remains an interesting benchmark to discuss.    Only 23 pitchers in the history of the game have reached 300 wins.

So, after Randy Johnson‘s reaching the benchmark, and after a number of recent start pitchers also hitting the plateau (Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Tom Glavine), are we ever going to see another 300-win pitcher?

Here’s some other reading on this same topic by the likes of John Dewan (referencing Bill James‘ annual predictions on who may reach 300 wins with his percentile chances), David Schoenfield (in a dated piece predicting Roy Halladay‘s chances for getting to 300 wins), and an early 2012 piece from Jon Paul Morosi talking about Clayton Kershaw‘s chances.

Achieving 300 wins in a career is getting more and more difficult.  Here’s some interesting stats  about reaching 300 wins for a starter in the modern baseball age:

  • If a pitcher were to enter the major leagues at age 23, he would need to AVERAGE 20 wins for the next 15 years to reach 300 and pitch until age 38.
  • Put another way, that same pitcher entering at age 23 would have to average 18 wins for 17 seasons to reach 300 by about age 40.
  • The majors have had ONLY Eleven 20-game winners in total over the past 5 seasons.  (Seven of which have come in the last two years, echoing the “rise of the pitcher” and the collapse of the PED slugger era, so perhaps its getting easier to accumulate wins).
  • 5-man rotations mean that starters are averaging 33-34 starts a year, down from the 38-40 starts that Pitchers would get just 20 years ago.
  • Because of mania over inning counts, specialized relievers, and an obsession with using “closers” in save situations, starters now only earn decisions in around 69% of starts, down from 78.5% of starts in 1972 (source Jay Jaffe‘s article, referenced further down).  This means the average pitcher only gets about 24 decisions from their 33-34 starts, making the 20-game winner even that more rare.  One can argue that better pitchers get more decisions because they’re more likely to pitch into the 7th and 8th innings, by which time their team should have scored enough runs to win for them.  But the fact remains that a lot of wins and losses are in the modern bullpen.

In 2009, just as Randy Johnson won his 300th, I had two long winded discussions (one in April 2009, another in June 2009) an older version of this blog that I maintained with friends about the demise of the 300-game winner.  Blog author Jason Amos did a great summary in this posting along with some great links.  Now, with another 3 seasons in the books, I thought it might be interesting to see who we were considering as candidates just a few years ago and who might be the next “best” candidates to get to 300 wins.  I’ll address candidates and their chances as we present pitchers a number of different ways.

(coincidentally, the 300-game winner spreadsheet I’m using for this post can be found at this link, and in the Links section along the right hand side of this page).

Here’s the current list of active wins leaders post 2012.  For brevity’s sake here’s the top 10 (and I’ve included Jamie Moyer as being “active” for the sake of this argument):

Rank pitcher age wins
1 Jamie Moyer 49 269
2 Andy Pettitte 40 245
3 Roy Halladay 35 199
4 CC Sabathia 31 197
5 Tim Hudson 36 197
6 Livan Hernandez 37 178
7 Derek Lowe 39 175
8 Mark Buehrle 33 174
9 Bartolo Colon 39 171
10 Kevin Millwood 37 169

Of this list of top 10 active win leaders, clearly most of them are never going to reach 300 wins.  Jamie Moyer has not yet retired at age 49, but the odds of him even making another MLB roster seem thin. Likewise Livan Hernandez and Derek Lowe may struggle to get guaranteed contracts in 2013.  Andy Pettitte has returned and pitched effectively for the Yankees this year, but he’s 50+ wins away from the plateau and only seems likely to maybe pitch one more year.   Bartolo Colon does have a contract for 2013 but it may be his last season, and Kevin Millwood is just too far away.  Tim Hudson, despite his strong performances the last few years, is just too far away at this point as well.  The chances of any of these guys to reach 300 wins is 0%.

How about the rest of this top 10 list?  Specifically CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Mark Buehrle?  There’s some intriguing candidates there. Lets look at their chances a slightly different way.

When Randy Johnson hit 300 wins, two Baseball Prospectus authors posted similar posts to this with some interesting analysis.  First, Jay Jaffe used a fun little stat he called the Jaffe Blind Optimism method (JABO), which takes a pitcher and assumes he will win 15 games a year until age 42.  Well, this incredibly optimistic formula leads us to a new set of more reasonable candidates.  I changed the formula slightly and only ran out the 15 wins/year til age 40 and got this list:

Rank pitcher age wins Jaffe 15wins/yr avg->40
1 CC Sabathia 31 197 332
2 Felix Hernandez 26 98 308
3 Clayton Kershaw 24 61 301
4 Trevor Cahill 24 53 293
5 Justin Verlander 29 124 289
6 Matt Cain 27 85 280
7 Mark Buehrle 33 174 279
8 Yovani Gallardo 26 69 279
9 Chad Billingsley 27 80 275
10 Roy Halladay 35 199 274

By this analysis we see that CC Sabathia looks like a pretty sure bet to hit 300 wins, and for good reason.  He’s been healthy, he plays for a team that is constantly winning, and he doesn’t have to pitch like a Cy Young award winner to get wins in New  York (21, 19 and 15 wins his last three seasons).  He has always been healthy and just needs 5 more solid seasons to be very close to the 300 win plateau.  He’s signed through 2016 (with an option for 2017), and there’s no reason to think he’s not going to see that contract through.  His elbow-injury scare in the post-season turned out to be innocuous, but we’ll keep an eye on his health status in 2013.  If he loses a season or more to injury the chances of his making 300 wins declines precipitously.  Felix Hernandez has nearly a 100 career wins at age 26, and also seems like a decent bet to hit 300 wins at this point.  But, he’ll need to move to a winning team to make this task easier on himself; he’s only won 13,14 and 13 games the last three seasons because of dreadful run support.  He’s signed through 2014 and I’d be surprised if he stays in Seattle (unless they turn that franchise around in the next 3 years).

Clayton Kershaw and (surprisingly) Trevor Cahill appear here by virtue of a lot of early career success (Cahill was an 18 game winner for a bad Oakland team at age 22 in the majors, no small feat).  While both have been injury free thus far, it is really difficult to project 24yr olds as staying healthy deep into their 30s.  So, we’ll say they’re promising for now but need to get to about 150 wins before we can really start projecting their odds.  Yovani Gallardo has quietly been racking up wins as Milwaukee’s “ace,” but is sort of in the same boat as Kershaw and Cahill; he’s only 26, so its hard to see how he’ll sit at age 30.  If he’s got another 60-70 wins in four year’s time, we’ll talk.

Justin Verlander‘s 24-win season in 2011, as well as his established status as the “Best Pitcher in Baseball” right now, has launched him into the discussion.  The problem is that he “only” has 124 wins entering his age-30 year.  He needs to average 18 wins a  year for the next decade to have a shot.  That’s a tall task, especially considering how well he pitched to just get to 17-8 this year.  It isn’t out of the realm of possible, but it is a longshot.

Mark Buehrle and Roy Halladay are both aging workhorses whose chances of reaching the plateau are dimming.  Buehrle has just moved to the hyper-competitive AL East and wasn’t exactly dominating to begin with.  Meanwhile Halladay’s injury struggles have limited his wins the last couple seasons, likely knocking any chance he had of hitting the plateau.  I’ll give them each non-zero chances, but barely non-zero.  I’ll give them both the benefit of the doubt because they both seem like the kind of pitchers who could pitch well into their 40s and get the extra wins they’d need to move over the top.

Matt Cain and Chad Billingsley are both mentioned because they had a ton of wins before the age of 25; both in reality are not accumulating wins at the pace they’ll need to stay even close to hitting the 300-win plateau.  Plus Billingsley struggled with an injury this year and may be affected next season.  Chances right now; slim.

Just for the sake of argument, here’s the next 10 players ranked by the modified Jaffe system:

Rank pitcher age wins Jaffe 15wins/yr avg->40
11 Zack Greinke 28 91 271
12 David Price 26 61 271
13 Johnny Cueto 26 60 270
14 Gio Gonzalez 26 59 269
15 Carlos Zambrano 31 132 267
16 Jered Weaver 29 102 267
17 Jon Lester 28 85 265
18 Jair Jurrjens 26 53 263
19 Ervin Santana 29 96 261
20 Tim Lincecum 28 79 259

I posted this list because a number of these players were formerly listed as good candidates to hit 300 wins.  Specifically, Carlos Zambrano, Jered Weaver, and Tim Lincecum.  Zambrano may be out of baseball in 2013, Lincecum may not even be a starter any more, and Weaver, while clearly getting a ton of wins lately needs a slew of 19-20 game winning seasons to catch back up.  The collection of 26-yr olds in David Price, Johnny Cueto, and our own Gio Gonzalez are all well behind the paces being set by fellow-aged pitchers Hernandez, Cain and Gallardo, though it isn’t hard to see any of these three post multiple 18-20 win seasons in the coming years.

So, here’s my predictions of the chances by player discussed above (anyone not listed here specifically also sits at 0% chance of making 300 wins):

Name age wins % Chance
CC Sabathia 31 197 90%
Felix Hernandez 26 98 75%
Justin Verlander 29 124 33%
Clayton Kershaw 24 61 25%
Trevor Cahill 24 53 20%
Roy Halladay 35 199 10%
Yovani Gallardo 26 69 10%
Mark Buehrle 33 174 5%
Matt Cain 27 85 5%
Chad Billingsley 27 80 5%
Jamie Moyer 49 269 0%
Andy Pettitte 40 245 0%
Tim Hudson 36 197 0%
Livan Hernandez 37 178 0%
Derek Lowe 39 175 0%
Bartolo Colon 39 171 0%
Kevin Millwood 37 169 0%

Conclusion: I believe we will see another 300-game winner.  I think Sabathia has a very good chance of making it, as does Felix Hernandez at this point in his career.  But injuries can quickly turn a 300-game career into an “out of baseball by 36″ career, so nothing is set in stone.

What is the “ceiling” of the various Nats pitching prospects?

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Will Matt Purke fulfil his former Ace-starter promise? Photo AP/Nati Harnik

Its nearly impossible to project high-end pitching prospects, the further they are from the minors.  Think of someone like Colten Willems, our #1 draft pick in 2006 who retired before ever getting out of high-A.  Or perhaps Josh Smoker, a supplemental 1st rounder in 2007 who struggled with injury and is now a situational lefty in the high-A bullpen, four-plus years into his pro career.

But, it is fun to think about the upper-end, best case scenario and what it would mean for this team.  I’m sure that this post will garner a ton of disagreement; feel free to make your case in the comments pro or against what i’ve posted.  I know that some people are already drinking the kool-aid on September call-ups Peacock and Milone, but I’m not (read below for more).  I’ve included all our current starters and most of the upper-end draftees over the past few years.

(post-publishing note: a commenter asked what I “meant” by a #1 or a #5 starter.  Here’s text pulled from the comments as to how i’m defining each of these level of starters:)

  • #1 starter is one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the league, someone who you’re genuinely surprised if he performs badly on a given day, mentioned in Cy Young conversations.  Verlander, Lincecum, Halladay.
  • #2 starter: a slight step down from your elite, but still a reliable starter.  The “robin” to the ace’s “batman.”  I’m thinking Matt Cain, Chad Billingsly, Cole Hamels, Clay Buchholz as examples.  Not the best guy on their rotation but a great #2 guy.
  • #3: better than your league average pitcher, someone who is solid, consistent innings eater and who routinely gives you quality starts but not much more than that.  I’m thinking someone like a Jonathan Sanchez, Derek Holland, Edwin Jackson, someone like that.
  • #4: is basically someone defined as someone who’s a slight step above the back-of-the-rotation guy, a mlb veteran guy who knows how to pitch but doesn’t have the best stuff to really go much beyond.  John Lannan is a great example of a #4 starter.  Freddie Garcia, John Lackey, Jon Garland, Jason Marquis are other examples.
  • #5: just good enough to fill out your rotation.  Starters at the back end who all you’re hoping for is 6 innings and keeping your team in the game.  On our team, Livan Hernandez, Tom Gorzelanny, Craig Stammen in past years.

Nationals Starter prospect Ceilings (per scouting reports, personal observations)

#1: Strasburg
#2: Zimmermann, Cole
#3: Purke
#4: Lannan, Ray
#5: Detwiler, Turnbull, Solis
4-A starter: Milone, Meyers, Rosenbaum
MLB bullpen: Meyer, Peacock, Stammen
Minors starter: Maya, Martis, McGeary, Jordan, Grace
Minors bullpen: Holder, Smoker

Discussion.

#1 Starters: Stephen Strasburg, in my mind, is already an “Ace” starter in this league, ranking up among the 15-20 best arms out there.  When he’s healthy.  In 2010 he posted MLB-best k/9 rates and would have clearly led the league in some sabremetric measures of pitching in his debut season had he qualified.  But health is the big question mark; is he going to become the next Justin Verlander or the next Mark Prior?  Only time will tell.

#2 Starters: Jordan Zimmermann has achieved Robin to Strasburg’s Batman in this rotation, and seems set to be a pretty good rotational guy for the next few years.  AJ Cole pitched well in his first full season, is a big kid who was touching 96 in HS.  He could be a big arm who slides into the rotation as a dominant arm.  Some think his ceiling is even higher than a #2 starter.

#3 Starters: Matt Purke was a 1-1 talent (1st round, 1st overall draft pick) before suffering shoulder bursitis, and the Nats took a gamble on him.  But its a great gamble; he has Ace material, throwing mid 90s from the left hand side with completely dominating stuff.  He was rated BA’s #14 prospect coming out of high school and had a $4M signing bonus deal turned down by MLB.  He allowed the Nats medical staff to do a dye-injection MRI and were satisfied with the results.  His deal could be remembered as a steal of the 2011 draft if he pans out.  However recent scouting reports have listed his stuff as “ordinary,” so a #3 starter seems like a good middle ground for now.  If his arm is really ok, he’ll start to show it next spring (hopefully at high-A) and he’ll rocket up the prospect lists soon enough.

#4 Starters: Perhaps one could argue that John Lannan is a #3 starter but I don’t believe so; I think he’s a solid, underrated #4 starter on a decent rotation.  If you compare Lannan to the #4 starters on a number of teams, he compares favorably, and you’d clearly take Lannan if given the choice.  The problem is; he’s just not flashy.  We’ll never get appropriate trade value for him because his W/L numbers are mediocre and his K/9 rate isn’t that impressive.  I’d guess that he sticks in our rotation until he reaches free agency, at which point its likely that some of our developing power arms will be ready to take over.   Robbie Ray had a fantastic debut season and may even be better than a #4 ceiling; certainly he put up as good of numbers as his 2010 draft classmate AJ Cole, but his stuff doesn’t project as highly.

Here’s where a number of arguments are probably to be had, starting at the #5 ceiling.

#5 Starters: Ross Detwiler really has yet to fully show his full capabilities, but lefties that throw mid 90s don’t grow on trees.  2012 is a make or break year for him with this organization, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him moved in the off-season so that the team doesn’t have to deal with his option status when constructing the rotation next spring.  I put him with slightly better stuff than the 4-A guys below.  I’m still not sold on him as a MLB starter, but saw a lot out of him this season that shows improvement over where he was in the organization in 2010.   2011 draftee Kylin Turnbull was overshadowed by the high-end talents drafted ahead of him, but he’s lefty, throws well and is projectionable.  Thanks to Sean Hogan‘s excellent draft research, some scouting reports are here.  Right now it sounds to me like Turnbull has a bit more power than someone like Milone and perhaps can get more missed bats.  For now i’m listing him as a #5 starter ceiling; if he was a righty he’d probably be in the MLB bullpen category.  Lastly Sammy Solis projects thus far as somewhere between a a #3 range starter, a mid rotation guy who has 3 plus pitches and can be a lefty work horse out of the rotation and a back-of-the bullpen guy with mediocre stuff but good constitution.  He may not have the best stuff, but being lefty and being a solid, Mark Buehrle build could mean he’s a slightly better version of John Lannan for this team.  We’ll see how he does in AA in 2012.

4-A starters: (for those that don’t know what is meant by “4-A or AAAA,” it means someone who is better than a AAA pitcher but not quite good enough to get out major league hitters on a consistent basis).  Tommy Milone had a great September debut and has impeccable control in the minors, but I don’t see him having good enough stuff to consistently get major league hitters out.  Now, I could be wrong and he could have Greg Maddux-esque control, at which point he doesn’t need mid-90s heat.  But from what I saw in his September starts, I don’t think he’s got what it takes to stick in the majors.  Brad Meyers could end up in the same position as Milone; a guy who dominates in the minors but who can’t cut in the majors.  It doesn’t look like he’ll even get a shot at the 2012 rotation with the crowded 40-man roster.  Lastly Denny Rosenbaum seems cut from the same cloth as Milone; a softer-tossing lefty without great K/9 rates in the low minors but who is effective enough at getting guys out.

Bound for the bullpen (but good enough to stick in the majors): 2011 draftee Alex Meyer is going to go one way or the other: he’s either going to be a wild man out of the bullpen or a near #1 starter.  Scouts seem to be pretty split as to which way he’s going to go.  Right now, based on the struggles he had early in his college career, I’m guessing he struggles to maintain his forward momentum and ends up a Cole Kimball-esque hard throwing option out of the pen.  Meanwhile, what to make of Brad Peacock?  I know he just finished off a fantastic minor league season and had two effective September starts (giving up just one run in 12 innings over two starts).  But to me I see a guy with good life and heavy reliance on one pitch (a 4-seam fastball), a good 2nd pitch (change-up) no confidence in his third pitch (loopy curveball) and no fourth pitch.  To me, that says bullpen.  Lastly i’m clumping in Craig Stammen here, who couldn’t really cut it as a full time starter in 2010 and spent the entire 2011 season starting in AAA.  I think he can be an effective guy out of the MLB bullpen if he’s given the shot.  I like Stammen and perhaps this is a bit high of a ceiling for him; i wouldn’t be surprised a bit if he misses out on the 2012 bullpen and slips into minor league free agency frankly.

Minors starter: This list of guys looks like they’re destined to be “organization guys” for this team.  Yuniesky Maya was clearly not the pitcher the team thought he was when he got his 4-year contract; he’s gotten a couple shots at the majors over the past two seasons and has not capitalized.  I think he’s going to be ensconced in the AAA rotation for the near future, unless someone can figure out how to trade him.  He certainly isn’t a better MLB starting option than any of the guys listed above him.  Shairon Martis mostly earned this fate when he successfully passed through waivers and off our 40-man roster.  His worth ethic and conditioning came into question in the organization, and he went from a 22yr old starter in 2009 to a AA starter in 2011.  He had pretty good numbers in AA, but that doesn’t really prove much for a guy who was in a MLB rotation two years prior.  Jack McGeary is finally back from two years of mediocracy and Tommy John surgery, but faces a pretty steep climb back into future rotational pictures.  For now, i’m guessing he struggles to ever make it, topping out as a minor league starter once he hits his free agency period.  For now, i’m also classifying both Taylor Jordan and Matthew Grace as org guys, continuing to rise up as 4th or 5th starters but never really making an impact.

Minors bullpen: Lastly, i’m listing both high-end draft picks of the past few years Trevor Holder and Josh Smoker as topped out as minor league bullpen guys.  Smoker seems like he’s already there, having come back from an arm injury but still only having risen to high-A in his fourth pro season.  He put up good numbers as a loogy/bullpen guy this year, and perhaps his real ceiling is the MLB bullpen, but getting a loogy out of a first round draft pick is still a major disappointment.  Holder was clearly an over-draft in the Strasburg year, getting picked up in the 3rd round when he wasn’t even in some team’s top 10, and has done nothing to earn his draft position.  He posted a 5.77 era in high-A this year, repeating the level and leaving the team clearly in a conundrum as to what to do with him.  I think he is destined for a bullpen role in 2012, perhaps in high-A again, and may be short-lived for the franchise.

Is there someone I’m missing?  Agree, Disagree?  Discuss in the comments section.

Wainright’s injury a blow to the Cards…

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Not that I necessarily believe in the “Inverted W” theory of pitching mechanics … but Adam Wainwright certainly shows it. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

2/24/11 update: Wainwright is officially getting Tommy John surgery.  As other leading baseball columnists have mentioned, this could have some serious repercussions on the Cardinals both this season and in the future.

You hate to hear injury reports a week into spring training, but they’re starting to roll in.  Vincent Padilla is going to be out for an unspecified amount of time for elbow surgery (though this doesn’t hurt the Dodgers as much as an injury to someone like Kershaw or Billingsly would have), and now it looks as if St. Louis’ starter Adam Wainwright may have blown an elbow tendon.   I had not read previously the “slightly torn elbow ligament in 2010″ item with regard to Wainwright.  Either way, the loss of Wainwright for the season adds to a growing list of concerns for the St. Louis franchise.

Just off the top of my head:

  • LaRussa‘s anti-union comments irritating his vets
  • LaRussa refusing to play Colby Rasmus for large stretches last year.
  • The team in general inexplicably not winning the NL Central last year despite having 3 of the best pitchers in the NL and a pretty good offense (6th in runs scored).
  • The team blatantly lowballs Pujols in FA talks.  By all accounts he was offered a contract that would have only made him about the 5th or 6th highest paid player.  Why in the world would your talks with Pujols not START with A-rod’s per-season figure?  Ok, perhaps 10yrs $300M is ridiculous but would you sign on for something like 7yrs $210M with 2 options based on performance year to year at the end of the deal?
  • Wainright’s injury: I havn’t seen confirmation yet of Tommy John, just seen news that says “significant elbow injury.”  There’s just no pitchers out there to be had as a replacement (just ask the Yankees) either.
  • St. Louis’ farm system has been down recently.  Most scouting establishments ranked it 29th or 30th in 2010 but in the 18-20 range for 2011.  So there’s not a lot of hope coming up.

The Cardinals under achieved as a team in 2010 (winning 86 but having a Pythagorean win total of 91) WITH Wainwright pitching at a Cy Young level.  Without him, the Cards could be sinking back to the middle of the pack, leaving the division for Cincinnati and Milwaukee to battle it out.

Rough waters ahead for the Cardinals.

Written by Todd Boss

February 23rd, 2011 at 2:03 pm