Nationals Arm Race

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

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Player Killers: what college programs are known for hurting pro prospects?

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Did TCU destroy Purke's arm? Photo AP/Nati Harnik

Did TCU destroy Purke’s arm? Photo AP/Nati Harnik

Player Killers.  Arm Shredders.  Arm Abusers.  There’s more than a few college coaches/programs out there who are known for it.

Its always dangerous to make a blanket statement in baseball.  If I say that “CollegeX is known for killing pitcher arms” then there’ll immediately be people who cite players who are exceptions to such a rule.

Nonetheless, while reading a ton of prospect-driven content on the web over the years, some common themes pop up.  And the crux of it is this: there are some college baseball programs out there that are accused of hurting their players’ professional prospects and draft statuses by virtue of the misguided or (in some cases) outdated coaching and usage of players.

Grantland’s Michael Baumann wrote an excellent article summarizing some of the “danger programs” in 2013, citing work done by Rany Jazayerli and Baseball Prospectus.  Some of this also comes from Keith Law‘s freely offered opinions on the topic, and he offers up plenty of supporting evidence in his columns and chats.  Some of these are “arm shredder” programs, others are places that are thought to change player’s swings.

Here’s some trouble-maker programs (and by “programs” often times by implication you’re blaming the head coach as the decision maker):

  • Stanford: Law calls it the “Stanford Swing.”  Per Law, Stanford coaches emphasize going away, altering hitters’ swings to de-emphasize pull hitting, to the point apparently where players are outright benched for pulling the ball.  Now, there’s quite a few Stanford grads in the Majors right now, and the  hitters listed aren’t exactly an honor roll of top-hitting guys.  Jed Lowrie might be the best active hitter.  The career Stanford grad homer leader is the recently retired Carlos Quentin, out of baseball at 32.  So maybe there’s something to it.
  • TCU: Jim Schlossnagle is not well known for its handling of pitchers.  The Nats are well aware of this, having drafted damaged goods in Matthew Purke, who was 15-0 as a freshman and basically hasn’t been the same since.
  • Rice’s Wayne Graham: Law has provided an exhaustive list of pitchers who he accuses the Rice coaches of blatantly over-working and has flat out suggested that pitchers considering attending Rice should go elsewhere.  In fact, the most blatant example of this was the 2004 draft: Rice had three starters drafted in the first 8 picks (Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Townsend) and ALL three of them suffered shoulder injuries soon there after.
  • UNC‘s Mike Fox so over-used a reliever a few years back that the New York Times of all papers wrote about it.  And he had Matt Harvey, don’t forget, allowing Harvey to throw an astounding 157 pitches in a 2010 outing and 5 other instances of 120+ pitches.  Is it a coincidence that Harvey blew out his UCL just a couple years later?  Causation or Correlation?
  • South Carolina‘s Ray Tanner: won back to back CWS’s … on the backs of his pitching staff.
  • Texas‘ legendary coach Augie Garrido already had a reputation for overuse before the infamous Texas-Boston College regional game in June of 2009.   Texas’ Austin Wood, a reliever, came out of the bullpen to throw 13 innings and 169 pitches in the 25-inning game.  Garrido really took a lot of heat for that … but his BC counterpart might have only been slightly less culpable.  BC threw its own guy Mike Belfiore for 129 pitches and 9 2/3 innings.  In Wood’s case, it was made even worse by the fact that he had thrown two innings *the day before.*  It is no surprise to report that Wood had to undergo Shoulder Surgery the next season, nor is it a surprise that the crusty Garrido disclaimed any responsibility for the injury by Wood’s usage in that game.  Belfiore, it should be noted, has never shown any evidence of injury, was a 1st round draft pick just prior to his appearance, and looks like a 4-A pitcher who is now in the Detroit organization but who had a cup of coffee in 2013.  Perhaps its because Belfiore was a starter and basically threw a start instead of Wood, who was clearly a reliever.
  • UCLA: Look at the usage in college for guys like Trevor Bauer and Canning Griffith; is it any shock that these guys end up with injuries?
  • Notre Dame: Not a good track record (per Keith Law) of developing or protecting pitchers.

Pitch count guidelines: there’s research out there that basically shows that anything above 120 pitches in an outing is an indicator of fatigue-induced regression their next time out, and 130+ pitch outings might as well be prescriptions for injury.

Times have changed: no longer are A-1 pitching prospects left in games to rack up ridiculous pitch counts.  Mark Prior had at least 6 starts the year he was drafted where he threw 120-130+ pitches.  Ben McDonald was famously started in back to back CWS games, getting clobbered in the second game … all while having *already* been drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, who must have been screaming at the television set watching what was  unfolding as legendary LSU coach Skip Bertman set about destroying the best arm in the nation.

But then again, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  NC State, in a mad dash to make the post-season in 2014, let their Ace starter Carlos Rodon throw 120+ pitches seven times.  Rodon’s usage was also discussed in Baseball America.  Did that lead to Rodon’s diminished stuff and subsequent drop in the 2013 draft?  Maybe.  I’m sure the White Sox are ok with it, since he doesn’t seem to have suffered any ill effects and is in their rotation 2 years later.  Trevor Bauer, while at UCLA, *averaged* more than 120 pitches an outing the year he was drafted … but he seems like such an outlier because of his warm-up technique (which involves extreme long toss and clearly has built up his shoulder strength over the years).  Are NC State and UCLA trouble-programs?  I havn’t heard much since so i’m leaving them off for now.

Did I miss anyone?

Post Publishing update: we’re starting to hear more and more about UVA’s Pitching program being problematic;  Per baseballdraftreport.com, only 3 of the 22 UVA pitchers drafted since 2009 have even made it to the majors, and the career UVA bWAR leader among all UVA players is a lefty reliever in Javier Lopez.  UVA has had 42 players reach the majors and is one of the leading colleges for active players as we speak, but has had an awful track record of arms drafted recently.  Just take a look at some of the recent top-end UVA arms drafted (from recent to older):

  • Conner Jones: 1st round talent out of HS, slipped to 2nd round in 2016 thanks to regression during college career but no injury issues thus far in pro career.
  • Nathan Kirby: supp-1st rounder in 2015: after just 5 pro games he needed Tommy John.  Missed all of 2016 with injury, still not on an active roster as of Apr 2017.
  • Josh Sborz; supp-2nd rounder in 2015: 2016 High-A all-star and 2017 NRI to Dodgers MLB camp.  Starting in AA.  One minor D/L trip.  Was UVA’s closer/long reliever but starting in pro ball.
  • Brandon Waddell: 5th rounder in 2015: quickly pitched his way to AA, where he spent most of 2016, suffered a forearm strain early in 2017.
  • Nick Howard: 1st rounder in 2014, missed half of 2015 and 2016 with shoulder injuries, still in XST to start 2017.
  • Artie Lewicki: 8th rounder/senior sign in 2014: missed parts of 2014 and 2016 on the D/L but active and in AA in 2017.
  • Whit Mayberry: 21st rounder in 2014, already released by his drafting team (Detroit) and signed as a MLFA by Washington for 2017; currently in High-A.  No injuries.
  • Kyle Crockett: 4th rounder in 2013, raced through the majors and debuted for Cleveland in May 2014.  No injuries.
  • Scott Silverstein: 25th rounder in 2013, hurt in May 2015 and released after that season.
  • Branden Kline: 2nd rounder in 2012, has been on the D/L since May of 2015.
  • Danny Hultzen: #2 overall pick in 2011: massive shoulder issues, out of the game after throwing just 169 minor league innings in 6 pro seasons.
  • Will Roberts: 5th rounder in 2011, has had a long minor league career; in AAA to start 2017.
  • Tyler Wilson, 10th rounder in 2011, is currently Baltimore’s #5 starter.

So a couple of high profile injuries, but also some successes.  I suppose the issues that their marquee 1st rounders has led to this reputation.

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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Would you rather have Houston or Durham’s rotation?

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My Pitching Rotation Rankings post (published on January 7th 2013)  ended up with poor Houston ranked as the 30th best rotation heading into the 2013 season.  They’re heading into the 2013 season with this rotation of guys:

Rank Name Age 2012 Stats
1 Bud Norris 28 (MLB Hou) 7-13, 4.65 ERA, 1.37 whip, 86 ERA+, 4.23 fip
2 Lucas Harrell 28 (MLB Hou) 11-11, 3.76 ERA, 1.36 whip, 106 ERA+, 3.75 fip
3 Philip Humbel 30 (MLB CWS) 5-5 6.44 ERA, 1.54 whip, 68 ERA+, 5.77 fip
4 Erik Bedard 34 (MLB Pit) 7-14, 5.01 ERA, 1.47 whip, 74 ERA+, 4.07 fip
5 Brad Peacock 25 (AAA Sac) 12-9, 6.01 ERA, 1.58 whip, 4.26 fip

There’s a couple of decent possibilities here: Norris looked pretty good opening day and Harrell’s numbers last year weren’t bad.  The other three though?  Phew.  Even Nats favorite Brad Peacock isn’t that convincing right now as a starter, based on his numbers in the PCL last year.

Now, here’s Tampa Bay AAA affiliate Durham Bull’s opening day 2013 rotation:

Rank Name Age 2012 Stats
1 Chris Archer 24 (AAA Dur): 7-9, 3.66 era, 1.258 whip, 3.25 fip
2 Jake Odorizzi 23 (AAA Oma): 11-3, 2.93 era, 1.35 whip, 4.19 fip
3 Alex Colome 25 (AA Birm) 8-3, 3.48 ERA, 1.37 whip, 2.91 fip
4 Mike Montgomery 23 (AAA Oma): 3-6, 5.89 ERA, 1.67 whip, 4.95 fip
5 Alex Torres 25 (AAA Dur): 3-7, 7-30 era, 1.93 whip, 4.56 fip

Tampa’s AAA rotation includes Keith Law‘s #53, #68 and #81 top prospects for 2013 in Archer, Odorizzi and Colome respectively.  Montgomery was Kansas City’s #1 prospect for quite a while and has struggled in AAA, but he reached AAA as a 21 year old in 2011.  Torres may switch places with a 6-year ML FA signing (the Bulls do have former Nat favorite J.D. Martin on their roster among other candidates) but the strength of this group is the first four guys.

Given that Tampa is notoriously slow in bringing along its starting pitcher prospects, its safe to assume that most of these guys would have already matriculated to lesser team’s rotations (of them only Archer has MLB service time; he got 4 starts and 30 innings late last year).   As it stands now, none of them can crack Tampa’s MLB rotation of David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and Roberto Hernandez.  And this is all AFTER the big Tampa-KC trade which sent two other starters (James Shields and Wade Davis) to Kansas City.  And this doesn’t include former rotation stalwart Jeff Niemann, who just had season ending shoulder surgery. Man that’s a lot of starting pitching depth.

(Side note: Roberto Hernandez is officially “Roberto (Heredia) Hernandez,” the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona.  He is also the first Free Agent to start a game for Tampa Bay since 2005!  Just an amazing statistic frankly, and an amazing tribute to Tampa’s pitching development staff).

So, honestly, which of these starting 5 would you want right now?  Not on potential, but on the ability to get major league hitters out in 2013?

Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore: wow

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Matt Moore pitched far beyond his experience on Friday. Photo AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez via baynews9.com

When word came out that Tampa Bay’s manager Joe Madden had announced that his playoff game #1 starter on 9/30 (box/gamer) was recent minor league call up Matt Moore, I had a couple of quick thoughts:

  • I wonder how this played out in the Tampa clubhouse; you have starters that labored all year and helped earn the team the playoff appearance, and suddenly your game #1 starter is a guy with a grand total of 15 major league IP?
  • I especially wonder what this says about Jeff Niemann, who in my estimation was the scheduled starter for game #1 and now seems like he may be skipped altogether?

Nonetheless, Moore took the mound in game one against the Texas Rangers, by most measures the best or 2nd best offense in the league.  The game start was mid-afternoon, meaning the stadium shadows would be giving the pitchers a significant advantage.  However, this didn’t seem to bother the Tampa hitters, who battered CJ Wilson for 8 runs (6 earned) and knocked him out in the 6th.

Meanwhile, Moore was nearly as unhittable as he was in his first MLB start, an 11k, 5 inning start against the Yankees B-team.   His line against the Rangers in game 1: 7 shutout innings, giving up 2 hits, 6 k’s and 2 walks.  The two hits were both to Josh Hamilton, who stroked a first-pitch fastball in the first for a single, then nearly hit a solo-homer in the 4th.  Otherwise, Moore was dominant.   Despite “only” getting 62 of his 98 pitches for strikes, he was all over the plate and had numerous pitches called balls that were clearly over the plate.  Pitch F/X, which routinely has difficult times classifying new hurlers and properly categorizing their arsenal, lists Moore with 6 pitches but to me he looks to be a 3 pitch guy so far.  He has a 4-seamer that he commands amazingly well and that he can bring up to 98mph (technically, max of 97.9).  He sits a bit slower, averaging 94.37 on the night.  He also featured a decent changeup, with a 10-12mph difference off his fastball and which he uses as his secondary pitch.  Lastly he has a large off-speed overhand curve that may be a bit too loopy for now; he only threw it four times all night.  He has a very smooth, easy motion and it doesn’t look like he’s throwing nearly as hard as he does.  It isn’t surprising at all that his minor league numbers were so amazing (specifically, 210 Ks in 155 innings between AA and AAA this year).

He predominantly pounded fastballs on the night; 76 of his 98 pitches were fastballs that he moved in and out and commanded effectively.  I wonder if this heavy fastball use is indicative of his normal game plan, or if he was just so overpowering that his catcher just kept calling for the #1 until the Rangers proved they could hit it.  I have a tendency to think it may have been the latter; major league starters who have to go through the lineup three times will only show you one or two pitches if they can, saving the rest of his arsenal for later innings.  If you can get guys out by just using one pitch, you stick with that strategy until proven otherwise.

What does this mean for the rest of the playoffs?  Bad news for opponents: if the Rays could line up Moore along side their top 3 starters (Price, Shields, Hellickson) and skip their less effective starters (Niemann, Davis) then suddenly this is a much more dangerous team than what was predicted a week ago.

What does this mean for the Rays next season in terms of payroll and roster management?  Scary.  The Rays made the playoffs despite shedding $30 MILLION from their 2010 payroll.  Price is on a team friendly contract, Hellickson is pre-arbitration and will make near the MLB minimum.  Sonnanstine and Niemann are both arbitration eligible and could be trade bait to save some cash.  More likely is an off-season trade involving Shields.  He’s coming off a career year and has a $7M club option (along with relatively affordable options for 2013 and 2014).  $7M for a Cy Young candidate pitcher is a bargain and clubs would be lining up to trade prospect depth for him.

Written by Todd Boss

October 3rd, 2011 at 10:03 am

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.

Wild End to the season; WC race predictions…

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Who in the world would have thought the Wild Cards would come down to the final day?  Just a few weeks ago columnists were lamenting the lack of any pennant races when all 8 playoff spots looked locked up.

Now we have FOUR do-or-die baseball games tonight.  All going on at roughly the same time (three 7:10 and one 8:10 start).  Get your MLB network channel listed (its 213 on Directv) because it will probably do drop ins all night ala the Red Zone channel.

Anyone want to offer predictions on these four games?  Here’s your probables tonight per si.com and mlb.com (since si.com doesn’t list all the games).

  • Boston at Baltimore: Lester vs Simon.  Boston gets its ace, and its one remaining halfway decent starter, with the season on the line.  But he’s *really* struggling down the stretch and has gotten more or less hammered in his last three starts.  And will be going on 3 days rest.  Simon is only marginally better in September and had a mediocre season.  Prediction: Boston in another 8-7 drama-filled slugfest.
  • New York Yankees at Tampa Bay: TBA vs Price.  The Yankees are probably starting a Sept 1 call up, prepping their rotation for the playoffs, while Tampa gets its ace.  Prediction: easy win for Tampa.
  • St Louis at Houston: Carpenter vs Myers.  Another “ace versus ace” in name only; Carpenter is clearly the superior pitcher here.  However Myers is finishing very strong.  St Louis unloaded on Houston pitching last night for 13 runs an 17 hits, but tonight’s game will be low-scoring.  Prediction: Cardinals get to the Houston bullpen and win a low-scoring one on Carpenter’s complete game.
  • Philadelphia at Atlanta: Blanton vs Hudson.  Philly starts Blanton, who is not even in the rotation any longer, in what will be a bullpen, get guys some work, setting things up for the playoffs.  Meanwhile Atlanta sends out its Ace.  Advantage Atlanta.  If the Braves get 3 runs early, Hudson gets the win (he’s something like 146-1 in his career with a 3run lead or more).  Prediction: Atlanta in an easy victory.

So, i’m predicting two ties and all four teams in the WC chase to win.  Probably won’t happen this way, but so be it.  If all this happens, here’s what would probably go down for 1-game playoffs:

  • Boston would travel to Tampa Bay: Either Wakefield or Lackey would go on 3 days rest versus (likely) Neimann for Tampa.  I say likely since Neimann only went a couple innings in his last start.  Tampa could also go with Matt Moore, who only had 15 kis in his first 9 1/3 innings pitched in the majors.  Advantage clearly to Tampa Bay here; Boston can barely put together a playoff rotation right now, let alone guarantee a couple more wins this week.
  • Atlanta would travel to St. Louis: It would probably be Brandon Beachy vs Kyle Lohse.  Young strikeout guy versus crafty veteran.  I’d say advantage goes to St. Louis.  If St. Louis makes the playoffs watchout; they beat the Philles 6 out of 9 in the season series, have the pitching and have the managerial advantages to go far.

No matter who takes either wild card, they’re all at major disadvantages heading into the playoffs.  All four have burned their aces this week just to get to the final game and thus are only guaranteed one start in a playoff series from their best guy.  Meanwhile the division winners they’d likely face are all setting up their playoff rotations well.  Something to take into consideration for those that want to predict a wild-card divisional series winner.

I’m pretty excited for tonight actually.  How about you guys?