Nationals Arm Race

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

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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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Taylor Jordan: Never too soon to think about the future…

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Jordan is making a case for his future with this organization.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan is making a case for his future with this organization. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

I’ll file this as one of the “Patently Obvious” responses that have come out of Mike Rizzo‘s mouth in response to a reporter’s question, but Rizzo went “on record” as saying that Taylor Jordan will “get every opportunity to be in the mix for the rotation next year” per beat reports (this example from Byron Kerr) after Jordan got his first major league victory in Sunday 7/28/13′s 14-1 blow-out of the Mets.

Well, of course he’ll get a chance to compete for the rotation.   He’s pitching a hell of a lot better right now than $13M man Dan Haren, for approximately 1/30th of the cost.  What GM doesn’t want that??

One of the big reasons I started this blog was to talk about the development of Nats minor league pitchers.  Back in the dark days, when the team was spending $15M on the FA market to acquire 5th starters like Jason Marquis, I became convinced that the single most valuable commodity in Major League Baseball (in terms of talent development and acquisition) was the pre-arbitration starting pitcher.   Our farm system had the “Loria/Bowden” holes in terms of player development in the 2007-2009 time frame and for a few years the team couldn’t develop an effective starter, instead relying on guys like Marquis and on other minor league/low-end free agent signings (think Tim ReddingDaniel Cabrera, and the aging Livan Hernandez being examples).   Rizzo came in, put the emphasis on drafting and development, and now the opening day rotation features 3 home-grown guys and a fourth in Gio Gonzalez who was acquired by trading other home-grown guys.

One of my biggest data-collection projects was the information behind my regular “Pitcher Wins on the Free Agency Market” post.   After looking at pretty much every significant FA pitcher signing that baseball has ever had, and calculating salary versus wins, it became clear that teams are historically doing well if they get about one win per $1M spent on a FA pitcher.  Sign a guy for $13M a year?  You hope to get 13 wins out of him.

But this analysis also shows just how valuable the pre-arbitration, cost-controlled starter is.  Consider Clay Buchholz for Boston in 2010; he goes 17-7 in his 3rd active year, earning the MLB minimum of $443,000.  That 17-win capability eventually earned him a $12-$13M/year contract, but while he was getting the minimum he was winning games for Boston for pennies on the dollar versus what it would have cost Boston to purchase that capability on the open market.

Combine this point with the continually dwindling talent available on the FA market these as teams lock up their players earlier and more frequently, and the price for pitching just continues to go higher.  Zack Greinke signed a 6 year $147M contract paying him more than $24M annually last summer partly because he was the only significant pitcher out there.  Grienke is talented, don’t get me wrong, but outside of his unbelievable 2009 season he’s basically pitched like a #3 starter.   Even this year, he’s pitching to a rather pedestrian 103 ERA+, just barely above the league average of adjusted ERA for starters.  Not exactly what you expect for that kind of money.  The 2014 Free Agent Market in terms of pitching is looking equally as bare as 2013.   The best guy out there may be Matt Garza, who again is talented but is also injury prone and not exactly a league-wide Ace.   Get past Garza and you’re looking at inconsistent (Ricky Nolasco or Phil Hughes), injury plagued (Shawn Marcum or Colby Lewis), just old guys (Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda) and pure wild cards (Tim Lincecum or Scott Kazmir).

There’s a reason Tampa went nearly 8 full seasons without having a Free Agent acquisition start a game for them; they know exactly what it means to develop effective starters, and they have a stableful of them.  Trade away James Shields and Wade Davis?  No problem; just call up Chris Archer and Alex Colome (never mind the rest of their Durham rotation).

So, back to Jordan.  If the Nats can find an effective 4th or 5th starter from their farm system right now, it frees them from the one-year hired gun strategy of Haren and Edwin Jackson.  It gives them the flexibility to continue to allow their best prospects in the lower minors to develop (i’m thinking specifically of A.J. ColeRobbie RaySammy Solis, and Matthew Purke, though Cole and Ray aren’t exactly in the “low” minors anymore with their promotions to AA).  It gives them the depth they did not have this year to cover for a starting pitcher injury.   It gives them time to let Nathan Karns figure out if he’s going to be a starter or a reliever at the MLB level.  It gives them added payroll flexibility can go towards fixing holes in the short term.  Longer term it allows the team to spend money on extending the core guys, or allows them to consider whether the rising price tag on someone like Ross Detwiler is worth paying (much like they cut loose John Lannan last year).  If you’re going to pay market value for Strasburg and Harper, then you’re going to need some low-cost players who can contribute to counter balance the payroll.

Or, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this either, it gives Rizzo interesting trade chips that he could package with other guys to acquire the Haren/Jackson hurler instead of buying him.

Two years ago we acquired Gonzalez for two near-to-the-majors starters, a surplus catcher prospect and a low-minors/high profile arm.  Right now it seems like we could put nearly the same package together (Jordan, Karns, Jhonatan Solano or Sandy Leon and then a decent arm from A-ball, or maybe even a Ray or Cole) and move them for such a resource.  I wouldn’t put it past Rizzo; Jordan may be looking good right now, but his peripherals don’t project as a “Rizzo Guy.”  Neither did Tommy Milone so he got shipped out; will Jordan be a 5th starter candidate in 2014 or trade bait?

Personally, I’d like to see Jordan succeed.  He’s a great success story; unhearalded 9th rounder coming off an injury that most of us thought was good, but who also thought that finishing the year successfully at high-A would have been a great achievement.  Instead he blows through high-A and AA ball and is now more than holding his own in the majors.

MLB 2013 Predictions

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Opening day has past and I forgot to post the obligatory “predictions” piece for 2013.  Here’s some far-too-early predictions on who makes the playoffs this year.  For comparison purposes. here’s the Si.com Writer’s slate of predictions, with lots of success predicted for our Nats.  My predictions below look awfully similar to Si.com’s Baseball Preview standings too.

(For a trip down memory lane, here’s a link to my 2012 seasonal predictions, and as you may have guessed, I was way off).

  • AL East: Tampa Bay
  • AL Central: Detroit
  • AL West: Los Angeles Angels
  • AL Wild Cards: Toronto, Oakland

AL East Narrative: The year the Yankees died; they’re too old, too dependent on aging arms and aging bats, and did next to nothing to improve in the off-season (though they did just pick up Vernon Wells, the Angels’ 4th outfielder.  Great!)  For a team that makes hundreds of millions of dollars of profits a year from the stadium and their TV station, they seem awfully worried about a few million dollars of luxury tax.  (see *ahem* Los Angeles Dodgers *cough*).  I think Baltimore regresses back to the .500 team they should have been in 2012 (they too failed to appreciably improve their playoff team), and Boston seems stuck in some weird middle-ground for the time being.  Toronto seems greatly improved but falls slightly short of the champ.  Tampa is left standing in the AL East; they won’t miss James Shields that much with their amazing pitching depth and can call up the next version of Trout/Harper in Wil Myers in mid June.

In the AL Central, Kansas City’s short sighted trade will net them a .500 record, but isn’t nearly enough to catch the Tigers, who return their whole rotation, get back Victor Martinez and add a possibly underrated Torii Hunter to add to their formidable lineup.  How they only won 88 games last year still amazes me.  The White Sox could challenge, but what have they really done this off-season either?   On the bright side, all these teams get to feast on Cleveland and Minnesota, both of whom look to lose 90+ games.

In the AL West, the Angels (who had the best record in baseball post Trout-callup) continue where they left off and bash their way to a 90 win divisional title despite serious questions in the rotation.  Texas hasn’t replaced what they lost in the last two off-seasons in terms of either hitting (Josh Hamilton) or pitching (C.J. Wilson, Ryan Dempster, or Colby Lewis)  but should still compete for the 2nd wild card.  But, absent signing Kyle Lohse (too late; he went to Milwaukee) or doing something to augment their starting pitching, I see trouble in the back of their rotation.  Meanwhile, Seattle made one curious move after another this off-season, all to finish in 4th place.  And Houston will challenge the 1962 Mets for futility, to the benefit of the entire division.

Wild Cards: Toronto has bought themselves a playoff team with their wholesale purchase of half the Marlins team.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both WCs come out of the AL west, who get to feast on two pretty bad teams.  For the time being i’ll predict that Oakland and Texas duke it out to the wire, with Oakland pipping them for yet another surprise playoff appearance.  Oakland won the division last year; who would doubt them again this year with a very young pitching staff having one additional year of experience?  I think it comes at the expense of Texas this year instead of the Angels.

How about the NL?

  • NL East: Washington
  • NL Central: Cincinnati
  • NL West: San Francisco
  • NL Wild Cards: Atlanta, St. Louis

NL East Narrative: Despite some people thinking that Atlanta has done enough to get by the Nats, I don’t quite see it.  The Upton brothers are high on potential but so far relatively low in actual production except in fits and spurts.   Philadelphia can make a decent run up to perhaps 88 wins … but it won’t be enough, and reports of Roy Halladay‘s declining velocity are more than troubling.  Meanwhile the Marlins are going to be historically bad; in the past when they’ve done sell-offs they had marquee crops of rookies to rise up.  Not this time; their farm system is decimated and they didn’t really get back the A-1 prospects of all their salary dumps that they should have.  The only way the Nats don’t cruise to a title would be significant injuries in the rotation, for which they have little insurance.

In the NL Central, St. Louis’ loss of Chris Carpenter may be just enough to knock them out of the divisional race, where Cincinnati looks like the most complete team outside of the Nats in all of baseball.   Pittsburgh is a couple years (and a couple of pitching aces in Jamison Taillon and Gerrit Cole) away from really competing, the Cubs are content losing 95 games, and Milwaukee still looks like the same team that barely was .500 last year (even given the Kyle Lohse signing).

In the NL West; who would bet against the Giants at this point?   Despite the ridiculous payroll, I don’t think the Dodgers are really that good and they’re hoarding starting pitchers for too few spots (though, looking at the Spring Training performance of some of these guys … they’ll likely not fetch what the Dodgers need).  Arizona keeps trading away its best players to get marginal prospects who happen to fit Kirk Gibson‘s mold of a “gritty player” … and they seem to be set to be a 3rd place team again.  Colorado and San Diego seem to be in various states of disarray, again.

Wild Cards: Atlanta may be a 96 win wild card.  Meanwhile, despite losing Carpenter the Cardinals can slot in any one of a number of high-powered arms to replace him in the rotation and continue to draw from what is now the consensus best farm system in the majors.  They’ll sneak into the wild card much as they did last year and commence bashing their way through the playoffs.

AL Playoff predictions:

  • WC play-in: Toronto beats out Oakland, whose youngsters will be completely baffled in a one-game playoff versus R.A. Dickey.
  • Divisionals: Toronto beats intra-divisional rival Tampa Bay, while Detroit takes advantage of a weakened Los Angeles rotation and takes a close series.
  • ALCS: Detroit outlasts Toronto in the ALCS on the strenght of its starting pitching.

NL Playoff predictions

  • WC play-in: Atlanta beats St. Louis in the play-in by NOT allowing an infield-fly pop up to fall in this year.
  • Divisionals: Washington outlasts Atlanta in one brutal divisional series, Cincinnati gets revenge on San Francisco in the other.
  • NLCS: Washington over Cincinnati; they’re just slightly better on both sides of the ball.

World Series: Washington’s proclivities to strike out come back to haunt them as the Tigers excellent starting pitchers dominate.   Can’t be too confident in our Nats; i’d love to be wrong and send out Davey Johnson a winner.

Awards: this is just folly to do pre-season awards picks but here’s a quick run through without much commentary:

  • AL MVP: Mike Trout gets the award he should have won last year
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander as he wins 24 games in the weak AL Central
  • AL Rookie; Wil Myers, who rakes once he gets called up in June
  • AL Manager: Joe Madden, who guides Tampa to the best record in the AL.
  • NL MVP: Joey Votto, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bryce Harper in the mix either as the default “best player on a playoff team” voting scheme takes over.
  • NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, who won’t have as good of numbers as Clayton Kershaw but gets the nod because of east coast bias.
  • NL Rookie: Jedd Gyorko, though Julio Teheran could finally have it figured out.
  • NL Manager; I have no idea; this usually just goes to the most “surprising” team and I don’t see many surprises in the NL this year.  Bruce Bochy.

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 Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/25/11 edition

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Happy Thanksgiving! image via bloguin.com

A shortened Thanksgiving edition, with me being on travel for the holidays visiting family in Dallas.

Unfortunately they’re not really baseball fans down here, so conversations about whether or not the move of the Houston Astros and forthcoming rivalry with the Texas Rangers fall mostly on deaf ears.

After watching the last couple versions of this post get really bloated and difficult to read, i’m dividing this one up by topic.

Nationals In General

  • Cole Kimball is back, two days after we lost him on a waiver gamble.  Clearly the team values him, though now my post questioning the move and all the subsequent arguing in comments is moot and seems over-reactive.
  • Nats add four players to the 40-man … but only two that I predicted.  More thoughts/opinions here.
  • MLB’s Jonathan Mayo put up his Nats top-10 prospect list.  Its a list that does not include any 2011 draftees, so it differs widely from Baseball America’s and Fangraphs.  He also has some odd rankings, includes Cole Kimball and has Rick Hague above other more promising candidates such as Robbie Ray or Steve Lombardozzi, given that both are pretty big question marks going forward due to injury.
  • No surprise here; Shairon Martis signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh.  Clearly he wasn’t going to make it in this organization; good luck to him moving forward.  He’s very young and could still have an impact.
  • The new deal probably delays Bryce Harper‘s debut, due to new changes in the super-2 status.  This is pretty much the exact OPPOSITE of what the two sides needed to do; we want to see these star rookies sooner, not later.  Frankly at this point despite it being essentially a useless delay, I’d be in favor of completely scrapping the “super-2″ status and just go to a hard 3-years of arbitration.  If players are kept down artificially for a week in April, that’s still much better than wasting them til mid-June.  Here’s additional links from Adam Kilgore and Mark Zuckerman both discussing this same topic.
  • Here’s some welcome news: Matthew Purke struggled early but finished strong in Arizona due to a quick adjustment by Nats pitching coaches.  By the end of the AFL he was hitting 95 with good life on his breaking pitches.  That’s fantastic news; if Purke can continue showing this kind of velocity coming from the left-hand side with good secondary pitches, he’ll clearly be closer to the #1-starter potential he showed two years ago.
  • As pointed out by Zuckerman, The Nats won’t be getting any more revenue sharing under the new CBA.  And frankly, nor should they, being in the 6th largest market and owned by a billionaire.  This is one small modification in the new CBA that makes 100% sense.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Yoenis Cespedes apparently expects a deal in the neighborhood $35-50M.  Wow.  Thats a lot of risk for a player who won’t be MLB ready in year one and who most people only know by his incredibly odd youtube scouting video.
  • At one time Scott Kazmir was an “Ace” in this league; a guy easily within the best 15-20 arms in the league.  The Angels gave up on him and released him this summer, eating $9.5M.  Nobody else even sniffed the guy.  Now he’s set to play in the Dominican Winter League to try to re-invent himself.    I agree with the comments in this article mostly; he isn’t even 28 yet.  Someone may take a flier on this guy and really get themselves a diamond in the rough.
  • Here’s Jon Heyman‘s predictions on salaries, with some thoughts on possible locations for the top free agents this off-season.  Not destinations; amounts.  He has Nats sniffing around on Fielder, Buehrle and Madson.  Nothing really earth-shattering there.
  • Tim Dierkes reporting that the Nats are visiting Buehrle at his home, and that he’s the #1 priority for this team.  We’ll see; I still have my doubts that Buehrle would come to Washington.  But signing him pretty much spells the end for Ross Detwiler.
  • The Rangers made an interesting FA signing, getting closer Joe Nathan for 2yrs/$14M.  The signing isn’t as much interesting b/c of Nathan (and $14M for what Nathan put up last year coming back from injury is a huge risk).  But it does imply that Neftali Feliz is going back to the rotation, and THAT would imply that the Rangers aren’t really that interested in re-signing CJ Wilson.  Fair enough for me; starters are far more valuable than closers, and if the Rangers make the world series again in 2012 having lost their #1 pitcher in each off-season, the GM should get a gold star.  They’ll go into 2012 presumably with this rotation: Feliz, Ogando, Harrison, Holland and Lewis.  They could also slot in Scott Feldman in place of an injury, as a former starter who struggled in 2011 due to injuries.  Do you think the Nats would ever consider doing this with Drew Storen?
  • The Nats may be chasing Buehrle, but here’s an interesting note: Roy Oswalt was NOT offered arbitration by the Phillies, so signing him would cost us no picks.  And, more importantly, we wouldn’t surrender our unprotected 1st rounder.
  • The Angels need a catcher.  We have catcher depth.  Maybe we can work a trade?

New Labor Deal Items

  • Not many details at first, but the announcement came on Friday 11/18 that the two sides had reached an agreement for a new 5-year labor deal, per Ken Rosenthal breaking the storyTom Verducci is right though in complaining that there are precious few details right now on how the Houston move affects the schedule.  Here’s a nice Labor agreement overview from a good Business of Baseball blog that covers the business-side of the industry, and also a detailed review of the new CBA.
  • Apparently one feature of the new agreement is the elimination of free agent compensation for relievers.  This is a welcome move and is refreshing to see, in that this particular rule was clearly broken and wasn’t in the best interests of either the clubs or the players.
  • Matthew Pouliot reports that the new agreement could have a “low-payroll” tax on clubs that don’t spend a certain amount.  I struggle with this concept to a certain extent.  Clearly teams that pull the plug on free agency and start over have shown that they can be successful in this league.  Tampa Bay and (to a certain extent) Texas in recent times have won playoff series with payrolls in the bottom 5 of the league.  Meanwhile teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City may not have big MLB payrolls but are investing heavily in the draft ($17M by Pittsburgh last year).  So any such tax would have to be implemented in a way that it allows teams to “start over” without incurring such a tax.  I think the last thing we want is to see poor free agent signings and millions of dollars in payroll wasted just to reach an arbitrary level.  The bigger problem in this league is not at the payroll bottom, but at the payroll top.
  • Rosenthal calls the new deal a “dagger” to small-market teams.  Hard to disagree.
  • Scott Boras says the new deal hurts “all of baseball.”  I realize he’s quite biased, but I don’t disagree with him either.  It really seems that Selig and his little band of millionaire owners paid little attention to the growth of the game and competitive balance achieved by smart teams building through the draft, and were more interested in saving a few million dollars annually in the draft.  Really disappointing.

General Baseball News

  • Some career-reflection comments from the Owners meetings in Milwaukee from commissioner Bud Selig.  Like him or not, his tenure has resulted in a lot of significant events in the history of baseball.  Some good, some bad.  Expansion, Wild Card, Divisional play, steroids.  Its all in there.
  • Apparently there’s some movement in the A’s relocation to San Jose possibility.  There’s some direct parallels here to the plight of the Washington Nationals, and I’d guess that the Giants will get a similar sweetheart regional sports network deal in order to “relinquish” their San Jose territorial claim.  For me though, the difference between the Baltimore and Washington markets is much more distinct; there’s really only one road between Washington and Baltimore, and a realistic trip to reach Baltimore’s inner harbor from the Northern Virginia area on a week night in traffic would take more than 2 hours.  San Jose is a comparable distance from San Francisco, but with multiple interstate-speed routes between the two cities (I-280, California 101 and I-880) the San Jose market is less distinct from San Francisco.  People regularly commute between the two cities.
  • Interesting article from Mike Silva about possible future expansion in the MLB.  He thinks two more teams would make sense, one in New Jersey and the other in, wait for it, Montreal.  I posted on more or less this same topic in July, concluding that two new teams (San Antonio/Austin and Portland) would make a ton of sense.  Of course, what would make MORE sense is two new teams in the two massive markets of New York (perhaps in Jersey somewhere as is suggested) and Los Angeles (specifically in Riverside/Valley area that’s 1.5 hours on a good day from either Anaheim or down-town).  But baseball has allowed these owners to have territorial claims that are somehow gifted by god (see the previous San Francisco/San Jose argument) and thus making expansion into these markets an impossibility.

WS Prediction

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So far, I’m basically 50/50 on predictions, having gone 2-for-4 in the DS and 1-for-2 in the LCS.  So i’m no better than a coin flip.  It has been really surprising, the offense in these games thus far, especially from St. Louis.  They scored 43 runs in 6 games against a pretty good Milwaukee rotation and are getting a ton of help up and down the lineup.

Because both series ended after 6 games, both teams have their ideal rotations setup to go for the WS, so we get some great pitching match-ups.  Here’s how the rotations probably stack up;

1 10/19/2011 Tex-Stl Wilson Carpenter Stl
2 10/20/2011 Tex-Stl Holland Lohse Stl
3 10/22/2011 Stl-Tex Garcia Lewis Tex?
4 10/23/2011 Stl-Tex Jackson Harrison Tex
5 10/24/2011 Stl-Tex Carpenter Wilson Stl?
6 10/26/2011 Tex-Stl Holland Lohse Stl
7 10/27/2011 Tex-Stl Lewis Garcia Stl?

After watching St. Louis pound Milwaukee pitching, I worry for the Rangers pitchers in this coming series.  Of course that being said, Texas’ offense is in full blown “go” mode as well.  I see some decent advantages for St. Louis though, especially having home series advantage and getting a Carpenter start in Texas.  I can see them holding serve at home then stealing one in Texas, similarly to what they did against Milwaukee.  I really see Texas’ starting pitching as being vulnerable and St Louis taking advantage.

Prediction: St. Louis in 6.

Written by Todd Boss

October 17th, 2011 at 11:14 pm

MLB Divisional Series Predictions

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After a pretty unbelievable 6 minutes last night, where the Red Sox snatched defeat from the hands of victory and then the Rays had a walk-off win to an amazing comeback (not to mention the Braves losing a heart-breaker to finish off their own September collapse earlier in the nigth), we have a completely different playoff picture than most people predicted just last week.  Lets take a look and put up some predictions.

First off, 3/8ths of these teams were in such scramble mode just to make the playoffs, they havn’t really even declared probable pitchers yet.  But i’ll put in some guesses.

GM# Home-Visitor Visiting Starter Home Starter Advantage
1 Det-NYY Verlander Sabathia Det
2 Det-NYY Fister Nova NYY?
3 NYY-Det Garcia Scherzer Det?
4 *NYY-Det Sabathia Porcello NYY
5 *Det-NYY Verlander ? Det
1 TBR-Tex Neimann Wilson Tex
2 TBR-Tex Shields Holland TB?
3 Tex-TBR Lewis? Price? TB
4 *Tex-TBR Harrison Hellickson? TB?
5 *TBR-Tex Neimann? Wilson Tex
1 Ari-Mil Kennedy Gallardo Ari?
2 Ari-Mil Hudson Marcum Mil
3 Mil-Ari Greinke Saunders Mil
4 *Mil-Ari Wolf Collmeter Ari?
5 *Ari-Mil Kennedy Gallardo Mil?
1 Stl-Phi Lohse Halladay Phi
2 Stl-Phi Garcia Lee Phi
3 Phi-Stl Hamels Jackson? Phi
4 *Phi-Stl Oswalt Carpenter Stl
5 *Stl-Phi Lohse Halladay Phi

By Series Thoughts:

  • Detroit-New York: Detroit took the Season series 4-3 and is on a roll.  New York basically has no idea who is going to pitch the 3rd game (Garcia?  Colon?  Burnett?) or the 5th game, and the 4th game would be Sabathia on 3 days rest.  Detroit is essentially a 1 1/2 pitcher rotation right now, with Verlander unbeatable and Fister just as good.  Game 3 is the toss-up; which 4+ ERA starter will cave first?  Prediction: Detroit in 5.  Supplemental prediction: New York over-reacts and gives CJ Wilson $180M in the off season after having zero pitchers left in game 3.
  • Tampa Bay-Texas: Texas took the season series 5-4, but Tampa is obviously hot entering the post-season.  Tampa’s pitching staff was shredded just to get into the playoffs, leaving them at a disadvantage.  They burned their ace Price last night (and he got hammered), meaning they likely can’t use him til game 3.  Meanwhile, arguably their 5th best starter (Neimann) looks likely to get two starts because of the scheduling.   Unless the team puts uber-prospect Matt Moore on the roster and puts him into the rotation.  Despite all that, the Rangers themselves have a conundrum in that the matchups don’t really favor them, at all.   I don’t think the Rangers can beat Shields in game2, and may struggle to beat Price with their #5 starter Colby Lewis going in game 3.  The pivotal game is game 2: can Texas hold serve at home?  Prediction: Tampa in 4.
  • Arizona-Milwaukee: Arizona took the season series 4-3.  This is a strange series; if Arizona’s pitching is for real, this could be a great series.  If not?  It could be a quick sweep for Milwaukee.  Arizona needs to win both of their Ace Ian Kennedy’s starts to have any shot, but both will be on the road.  The pivotal game could be game 4, with the veteran Randy Wolf going against the surprising elder rookie Josh Collmeter.  Prediction: Milwaukee in 5.
  • St. Louis-Philadelphia: the one team Philly didn’t want to see in the post-season; St. Louis took the season series 6-3.  However, Chris Carpenter was burned just to get into the post season, meaning they likely won’t see him until game 4.  By which point Philly may very well have swept this series.  St. Louis’ pitching isn’t that great this year, with all their starters posting good ERAs but not really dominant lines.  Philadelphia really struggled down the stretch; we’ll find out soon enough if its because they were tired or just complacent by having locked up the #1 seed so early.  I’m guessing their 4-game winning streak to end the season (including the dagger-like 3-game set in Atlanta to cost them the WC) means they’re geared up.  Prediction: Philadelphia in 3

If this plays out, we’re looking at Milwaukee-Philadelphia and Tampa-Detroit for ALCS.  Not as compelling as MLB wants, but some good story lines none the less.  Could be a Philly-Tampa 2008 rematch world series.  We’ll revisit predictions after the divisional rounds are complete.

Who has the best Playoff Rotation?

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In a short series (if you went to a 3-man rotation in the playoffs, as lots of teams do), who scares you the most?

Candidates:

  • Philadelphia: Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt
  • Boston: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz.  tough.  If they were all performing that is.  Beckett seems off this year.
  • NY Yankees: Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes; this was supposed to be Vazquez but once again the best rotation that money can buy, didn’t.
  • St Louis: Carpenter, Wainwright and Garcia.  Wow.
  • San Francisco: Lincecum, Cain and Zito/Sanchez/Bumgarner; again, that’s tough.
  • Tampa Bay: Price, Garza, Shields (with Sonnanstine/Hellickson thrown in there).  Scary tough, which is why they’re beating out the Red Sox right now.

For my money, it has to be Philly slightly followed by St. Louis.  How is that team gonna get beat this off season?  Of course, they have to MAKE the playoffs for it to matter.  Ironic that the 3 best rotations in the AL are all in the east.  Chicago’s is decent but more veteran laden.  Texas’ starts with Lee and ends with a guy who was playing in Japan this time last year (Colby Lewis).  I don’t think Minnesota’s guys are scaring anyone.  How scary is it that Toronto has two guys with one-hitters this year (Marcum, Morrow) but is buried in FOURTH place in the AL east.  That’s a tough division.