Nationals Arm Race

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2017 MLB Rotation Rankings 1-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking Spots #22-23: Kansas City and Miami

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

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

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

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

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


So, what do you guys think of my rankings?

 

MLB Trade Deadline 2015: who improved their rotation the most?

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He looks pretty good in Canadian blue.  Photo via ctvnews.ca

He looks pretty good in Canadian blue. Photo via ctvnews.ca

It was by most accounts the busiest trade deadline ever.  Lots of high impact players moved.  And we were worried that the 2nd wild card would curtail the trade market!

Here’s a couple of good summary links: a division-by-division overview of teams post-deadline, BaseballAmerica.com’s Trade Central, with a review of every 2015 trade, and a nice trade-by-trade grade at Minorleagueball.com.

Lets look at those teams that altered their rotations and talk about how much they improved.  In order of perceived impact:

1. Los Angeles: added Mat Latos and Alex Wood, replacing two placeholders who had taken over for the injured Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu.  Add Latos and Wood to what the Dodgers were already rolling out and I feel like they have become the new team to beat in the NL.

2. Toronto: adds the best pitcher on the market David Price to a team that really, really needed a bump in their pitching.  Price is used to the AL East and gives Toronto (coupled with their big Troy Tulowitzki move) a leg up on their divisional rivals.  The rest of the division mostly stood pat in terms of the trade deadline, and the division is there for the taking.  I believe Toronto can catch the Yankees; they’ve been incredibly unlucky by RS/RA and should regress upwards.

3. Kansas City: Johnny Cueto immediately replaces the injured Jason Vargas in a “nice timing” move, and KC solidifies its grip on the division.  This move wasn’t about getting to the post season as much as it was about winning once they get there.  Cueto is their 2015 version of James Shields; the workhorse who they can lean on in the 5- and 7-game series.

4. Houston: added Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers, who will slide in to the 4th and 5th spots and supplant the under performing Scott Feldman and others who need more time in AAA.  While not as flashy as some other teams’ moves, this makes the back of Houston’s rotation stronger.  And, it should be noted, Houston’s main AL West rival (Los Angeles) not only didn’t make a move but just lost one its key starters to injury (C.J. Wilson).  Houston’s rebuilding plan looks like its at least a year ahead of schedule and coupled with serious injury issues to their competitors look like the favorite in the AL West.

5. Texas: adds Cole Hamels, who Philadelphia *finally* moved after sitting on the pot for 2 years.  I think this move is more about 2016; I don’t really see Texas making a move in 2015.  But it is a significant move: Hamels could give Texas one of the best AL 1-2 punches when Yu Darvish comes back, and then they have a nice collection of arms to choose from to fill out the rotation (Gallardo, Holland, Perez, Lewis, Martinez).

6. San Francisco adds the underrated Mike Leake, who slides into the #3 spot, prevents the Giants from even considering using Tim Lincecum in the rotation any longer, and certainly gives them an upgrade over what they were getting from Tim Hudson.  SF isn’t *that* far back from LA in the division … but more importantly is working hard to secure a WC spot.

7. Pittsburgh makes a minor move in adding J.A. Happ, who slides nicely and fortuitously into the spot that A.J. Burnett may be giving up to injury.

8. Chicago Cubs curiously added Dan Haren to their rotation; adding a mediocre #5 starter to a team that plays in a hitter’s park may back fire.  I would have thought Chicago would have been more aggressive to try to secure the 2nd wild card, but then again is it fair to say their rebuilding plan is also a year ahead of schedule right now?  Maybe they go big in the off-season to add starters behind Lester/Arrieta.


 

Sellers and the Impacts to their rotations:

Detroit moved backwards, selling their ace but acquiring a good prospect in Daniel Norris.  This move also lets them try out a couple of starter prospects for the rest of a season where they’re clearly not going to catch Kansas City.

Oakland was a seller but didn’t augment their rotation very much, getting a #5 starter in Aaron Brooks.  Oakland has been completely snake-bit this season, sporting one of the best run differentials in the game but having lost 75% of the one-run games they’ve played.  Billy Beane isn’t afraid to deal though and he’s got more than enough starting pitching coming off injury to compete in 2016.

Philadelphia got the rotting corpse of Matt Harrison in return for Hamel, along with a whole slew of players; I doubt Harrison ever pitches for them.

Cincinnati sold off their two best pitchers and now are doing open auditions at the MLB level for their 2016 rotation.

Miami finds themselves in a familiar place, selling off assets so as to line the pockets of their owners needlessly.  They lose two rotation guys but augment from the D/L and the farm system.  They’ll regroup for 2016 and continue to challenge as the worst organization to their fan base.

Seattle was sort of a seller, flipping off back of the rotation guys for spare parts.  They did not meaningfully alter their core rotation.  Their problem is simply under-performance.

Atlanta curiously parted with one of the most valuable resources in the game; the effective MLB-minimum starter.   They ended up with draft picks and prospects and a Cuban wild card in Hector Olivera.

Milwaukee parted with a 5th starter, giving those starts to their #1 prospect Taylor Jungmann.  A good deal for them.