Nationals Arm Race

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

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Opening Day Starter Trivia – Updated for 2014

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CC Sabathia continues to be the active leader in Opening Day starts. Photo via wiki/flickr.

Some of my favorite trivia questions  revolves around Opening Day Starters.  With another Opening Day in the books, here’s some useless trivia related to Opening Day starters.  I’ve updated my Opening Day Starters spreadsheet to Google Docs and created a link in the “Nationals Arm Race creation” section along the right.  Fyi, on a team-by-team basis you can query Baseball-Reference.com for the opening day lineups (here’s the Washington/Montreal franchise’ opening day lineup history as an example).

Current Active Leaders in Opening Day Starts

11 CC Sabathia
9 Mark Buehrle
7 Felix Hernandez
7 Justin Verlander
6 Bartolo Colon
6 Tim Hudson
6 Jered Weaver
6 James Shields
5 Josh Beckett
5 Yovanni Gallardo
4 Jake Peavy
4 Tim Lincecum
4 Clayton Kershaw
4 Jon Lester
3 Strasburg, Cueto, Wainwright, Price, Masterson, Nolasco
2 Lee, Samardzija, Liriano, Dickey, Sale, Feldman

Those players bolded in the list above had 2014 opening day starts and added to their totals.   (Note; there’s plenty of guys out there with 2 or 3 opening day starts but who did not extend their count in 2014; they are not included here).  With the retirement of Roy HalladayCC Sabathia extends his active lead in this category.  Mark Buehrle has given over the reigns of opening day starter possibly for good, based on his standing in the Toronto rotation.  Meanwhile the next closest competitors (Justin Vernalder and Felix Hernandez) could eventually supplant Sabathia, especially if he continues to struggle and gets replaced as the Yankees’ ace.

Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander continue to be the best bets to broach the all-time records (see below) based on their ages, their current counts and their new long-term contracts.

Answers to other Opening Day start trivia:

Current Active Leader in consecutive Opening Day Starts: Sabathia with 9 consecutive, split among two teams.  Second is Verlander with 7 straight, albeit all with the same team.  There was talk about how his Cy Young-winning rotation mate Max Scherzer should have gotten the ball this year, given Verlander’s 2013 struggles.

Most ever Opening Day Starts all-timeTom Seaver with 16 in his career.

Most ever Consecutive Opening Day Starts: Hall of Fame lightning rod Jack Morris, who made 14 straight such starts.

Number of first-time opening day starters in 2014: Ten (10) guys got the ball on opening day for the first time, slightly down from last year’s 13.  Injuries gave some pitchers the ball on opening day over other expected rotation mates (this is definitely the case with the likes of Julio Teheran, Tanner ScheppersSonny Gray, Dillon Gee, Jorge De La Rosa), and its probably the case that others got the ball on opening day thanks to their own personal ascention to the “lead-dog” spot on their teams (Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner).  The other three newbies (Andrew CashnerWade Miley, and Chris Tillman) probably fall somewhere inbetween these categories.

Who seems most likely to break Seaver or Morris’ Records at this point? Still Sabathia, who already has 11 opening day starts (and 9 straight), is the #1 in New York, is only 32 and still has four years on his current deal. However, he took a big step backwards in 2013 performance-wise, and the Yankees spent a ton of money on Masahiro Tanaka, and there could be a passing of the torch if Tanaka blows it out in 2014.  Meanwhile Hernandez already has 7 opening day starts, just signed a deal that takes him through 2019 with a relatively easy option for 2020.   That’s many more seasons under contract and he’d only be 34 years of age by its end.   He could be the standard holder if he stays healthy and continues to pitch like an ace.

Most Inconsisent team using Opening Day Pitchers: Oakland.  They’ve used 9 different opening day starters in the last 9 seasons, and that’s likely to continue since both the candidates for this year had injuries that forced them to go to a rookie for 2014.  Pittsburgh is right behind them;  they have used 7 different opening day starters in the last 7 seasons, and 13 different starters in the last 15 seasons. The Nats have at some point employed no less than three former Pittsburgh opening day starters: Ron Villone, Oliver Perez and Zach Duke.   Colorado, Baltimore and Minnesota have also struggled for most of the past decade to find a dominant, reliable “Ace” and constantly cycle through new opening day starters, and once again each is using a different guy in 2014.

 

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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My 2013 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013.  Photo via wiki.

Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013. Photo via wiki.

This post is months in the making.  In WordPress I looked up the first revision and it was dated May 4th.  Its on at least its 50th revision.  Its crazy.  But its a fun piece to do, to kind of keep track of these awards throughout the season.  But with yesterday’s release of the top-3 candidates for each BBWAA award, I thought it was finally time to publish.  The top-3 announcement didn’t have too many surprises in it, but was eye opening for some of the also-rans in each category.

I like seeing how well I can predict these awards by reading the tea leaves of the various opinions that flow into my RSS feed (here’s 2012′s version of the same post with links to prior years).  The goal is to go 8-for-8 predicting the major awards, with an even loftier goal of going 12-for-12 adding in the unofficial Sporting News awards.  I succeeded in 8-for-8 in 2010 and 2011, but missed out last year by over-thinking the Manager of the Year award in the AL.   This year is going to be tougher; the NL Rookie award and the AL Manager of the Year award are going to be coin-flips.

Here’s links for the MLB Players of the Month, to include Player, Pitcher and Rookies of the month, though frankly these monthly awards don’t amount to much.  But they’re fun to go see who was hot and how they ended up (think Evan Gattis).

Here’s links to some mid-season award prediction columns from Tom Verducci, Matthew Pouliot and Jayson Stark.  Here’s an 8/27/13 post from Keith Law, a 9/5/13 post from Cliff Corcoran, and a 9/25/13 prediction piece from USA Today’s Frank Nightengale that may be very telling about the Cabrera/Trout debate.   Lastly a few end of season pieces from Stark, Passan, Pouliot NL and AL, Gammons, Keri, Olney, Heyman.

Lastly here’s a great Joe Posnanski piece complaining about the faults the typical BBWAA voter has in their methodology.  He touches on some themes I mention below.  Remember this is a prediction piece, not who I necessarily think should actually win.

Without further ado, here’s my predictions and thoughts on the awards (predicted winners in Blue).

  • AL MVP:  Miguel Cabrera (May’s AL player of the month) and was leading the league in nearly every offensive category through a big chunk of the season before injuries cost him a lot of September.  There’s talk of another Cabrera-Mike Trout competition for the MVP in 2013, but I think the same results will hold as in 2012.  It comes down to the simple question; how can you be the “MVP” of a last place team?  That vastly over-simplifies the debate of course, but it is what it is.  I continue to be impatient with holier-than-thou writers who ignore the BBWAA definition of the award and who think this MVP should just be a ranking of the seasonal WAR table.  This award is not (yet) the “Best Player” award, and if it was then Trout would be the easy winner.  Of the also-rans:  Chris Davis tied the AL-record for pre-All Star break homers and finished with 53, but he’s likely #3 in this race.   Rounding out my top 5 would be Josh Donaldson and  Manny Machado.  Names briefly under consideration here earlier in the season (and possible top 10 candidates) include Joe Mauer and Evan Longoria.
  • AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer started the season 13-0 and finished 21-3.  This will propel him to the award despite not being as quite as good overall as his top competition.  Yu Darvish was on pace for nearly 300 strikeouts for a while before finishing with 277 and is likely finishing #2.   Despite a losing record pitching for one of the worst teams in the league, Chris Sale pitched to a 140 ERA+ for the second season in a row and should be rewarded with a top-5 finish.  Hisashi Iwakuma has fantastic numbers in the anonymity and depression of Seattle and will also get top-5 votes.  Rounding out the top 5 could be one of many:  Clay Buchholz was unhittable in April and weathered  accusations of doctoring the baseball from the Toronto broadcast team (Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst specifically), but then got hurt and may fall out of the voting.   Felix Hernandez put up his typical good numbers early despite a ton of kvetching about his velocity loss early in the season, but tailed off badly in August to drop him from the race.  Anibal Sanchez‘s 17-strikeout game has him some buzz, and he led the league in both ERA and ERA+.    Matt Moore became the first young lefty to start 8-0 since Babe Ruth and somewhat quietly finished 17-4 for the game-163 winning Rays.  Lots of contenders here.  Predicted finish: Scherzer, Darvish, Iwakuma, Sale, Sanchez.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers may be the winner by default.  Nobody else really stands out, and the biggest off-season narrative involved Myers and the big trade, meaning that nearly every baseball fan and writer knows of Myers’ pre-MLB exploits.  Jose Iglesias put up good numbers in the Boston infield before being flipped to Detroit, and is a great candidate but most of his value resides in his defense, meaning old-school writers won’t vote for him over Myers.   Past that, the candidates are slim.  Justin Grimm‘s fill-in starts for Texas were more than adequate.  Nick Tepesch is also holding his own in Texas’ rotation.  Coner Gillaspie and Yan Gomes are in the mix.  Texas’ Martin Perez put himself in the race with a solid year and got some last-minute exposure pitching in the game-163 tie-breaker.  Leonys Martin is another Texas rookie that has quietly put up good numbers.  Myers’ Tampa Bay teammate Chris Archer could get some votes.  Predicted finish: Myers, Iglesias, Perez, Archer and Martin.
  • AL MgrJohn Ferrell in Boston for going worst to first may be the best managerial job, but Terry Franconia in Cleveland deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with significantly less resources in Cleveland and should win the award.  Its hard to underestimate what Joe Girardi has done in New York with injuries and the media circus this year, but this award usually goes to a playoff bound team.  I’ll go Franconia, Ferrell, Girardi.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: Initially I was thinking Ben Cherington, Boston.  He traded away all those bad contracts, brought in several guys under the radar, leading to a 30 game swing in its W/L record.  Though, I agree with David Schoenfield; with Oakland’s 2nd straight AL West title it’s hard not to give this to Billy Beane.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: Nate McLouth has come back from the absolute dead for Baltimore, though technically he was decent last year too.  Josh Donaldson has come out of nowhere for Oakland, but really had nowhere to come “back” from.  John Lackey and Scott Kazmir both rebounded excellently from injury plagued seasons.  I think the winner has to be Kazmir by virtue of his slightly better record over Lackey.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it wrong: Mariano Rivera won for his great 2013 comeback; I completely forgot about him.  We’ll cover the results versus my predictions in a future post.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Fireman of the YearGreg Holland, despite some sympathetic desire to give it to Mariano Rivera on his way out.  Joe Nathan is also in the AL discussion.  Jim Johnson is not; despite leading the league in saves for the 2nd year in a row he blew another 9 opportunities.  I hope the voters see past that.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP:  Andrew McCutchen is the shoe-in to win, both as a sentimental favorite for the Pirates first winning/playoff season in a generation and as the best player on a playoff team.  Clayton Kershaw‘s unbelievable season won’t net him a double, but I’m guessing he comes in 2nd in the MVP voting.  Paul Goldschmidt has become a legitimate stud this year and likely finishes 3rd behind McCutchen and Kershaw.  Rounding out the top 5 probably are two from Yadier Molina, Freddie Freeman and possibly Joey Votto as leaders from their respective playoff teams.  Also-rans who looked great for short bursts this season include the following:  Jayson Werth (who is having a career-year and making some people re-think his albatros contract),  Carlos Gomez (who leads the NL in bWAR, won the Gold glove and led the NL in DRS for centerfielders but isn’t being mentioned at all for the NL MVP: isn’t that odd considering the overwhelming Mike Trout debate??  I’ve made this case in this space to little fanfare in the past; if you are pro-Trout and are not pro-Gomez, then you’re falling victim to the same “MVP Narrative” that you are already arguing against), and maybe even Matt Carpenter (St. Louis’ real offensive leader these days).
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw put together his typical dominant season and won’t lose out to any of his darling competitors.  He may be the only unanimous vote of the major awards.  Marlins rookie phenom Jose Fernandez probably finishes #2 behind Kershaw before squeaking out the RoY award.   Matt Harvey was the All-Star game starter and looked like he could have unseated Kershaw, but a later season swoon and a torn UCL in late August ended his season and his chances early.  He still likely finishes #3.   Others who will get votes here and there: Jordan Zimmermann (who nearly got to 20 wins),  Adam Wainwright (who is back to Ace-form after his surgery and is put together a great season), St. Louis teammate Shelby Miller,  Patrick Corbin (Pitcher of the Month in May), Cliff Lee (who has been great for the mediocre Phillies), and perhaps even Zack Greinke (who finished 15-4; did you know he was 15-4?).  Predicted finish: Kershaw, Fernandez, Harvey, Wainwright, Corbin.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Seems like its coming down to one of 5 candidates: Fernandez, Puig, Miller, Ryu and Teheran.  I’d probably vote them in that order.  Shelby Miller has stayed the course filling in St. Louis’ rotation and may also get Cy Young votes and seemed like the leading candidate by mid June.  Evan Gattis, the great feel-good story from the Atlanta Braves, started out white-hot but settled down in to relative mediocracy.  Tony Cingrani continued his amazing K/9 pace from the minors at the MLB level, filling in quite ably for Red’s ace Johnny Cueto but was demoted once Cueto returned and struggled with injuries down the stretch.   Didi Gregorious, more famous for being the “other” guy in the Trevor Bauer trade, has performed well.  Meanwhile don’t forget about Hyun-Jin Ryu, the South Korean sensation that has given Los Angeles a relatively fearsome frontline set of starters.  Yasiel Puig took the league by storm and hit 4 homers his first week on the job.  Jose Fernandez has made the jump from A-Ball to the Marlins rotation and has been excellent.  Julio Teheran has finally figured it out after two call-ups in the last two years and has a full season of excellent work in Atlanta’s rotation.  The question is; will narrative (Puig) win out over real performance (Fernandez)?  Tough call.
  • NL MgrClint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  No real competition here.  Some may say Don Mattingly for going from near firing in May to a 90 win season … but can you really be manager of the year with a 250M payroll?
  • (Unofficial award) NL GMNeal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  It really has to be Huntington for pulling off the low-profile moves that have paid off with Pittsburgh’s first winning season in 20 years.  Ned Colletti‘s moves may have resulted in the best team in the league, but he has the benefit of a ridiculously large checkbook and I hope he doesn’t win as a result.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: I’d love to give this to Evan Gattis for his back story but that’s not the point of this award.  I’m thinking Carlos Gomez with Milwaukee for his massive out-of-nowhere season.  But honestly the award has to go to Francisco Liriano.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it right: Liriano indeed won.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Fireman of the YearCraig Kimbrel, who looks to finish the year with a sub 1.00 ERA for the second year running.   Edward Mujica and Aroldis Chapman in the discussion but not really close.

 

2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Ranking the 2013 Playoff Rotations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reds @ Pirates: Pitching matchup thoughts

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Will Liriano pitch the PIrates deeper into the post-season?  Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Will Liriano pitch the PIrates deeper into the post-season? Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Reds sputter into the one-game playoff tonight having lost 5 of their last 6 games at home.  Those 6 games were against the hapless Mets and the same Pirates who they now face in a do-or-die wild card game.  Meanwhile Pitsburgh has WON 5 of their last 6, all on the road, and got things done when it counted in the last series of the season.

Before we even look at the starters, clearly Pittsburgh has momentum on their side.

The Pirates are going with their ace Francisco Liriano, who had a complete career turnaround this year, finishing 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and a K/inning.  Liriano features a fantastic slider from the left-hand side and should be relatively effective against the Reds, who are in the bottom third of the league against lefties as a team and whose lineup features three prominent lefties (Choo, Votto and Bruce) in the first five batters.  Choo in particular is just brutally bad against lefties, likely nullifying Cincinnati’s otherwise dynamic lead-off hitter.

However, interestingly, in the four games Liriano has pitched against Cincinnati this year, Pittsburgh is 0-4.  Despite a couple of great starts (including an 11 strikeout performace in June and an 8 inning 2 run outing two weeks ago), Liriano has had tough luck against the Reds.  Liriano is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 11 home starts this year, and that one loss was against Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati got some bad news when their “ace” Mat Latos bowed out of the one-game playoff with a “sore arm,” leaving it to their opening day starter Johnny Cueto (and pre-season actual “Ace”) to make the start.  Cueto’s season has been peppered with D/L stints and he’s only made 11 starts.  He’ll be going on 8 days rest and has been reasonably effective since his latest return.  Interestingly, Cueto’s best start of the season came in Pittsburgh, where he threw 8 innings of one-hit ball en-route to a 3-0 victory in May.  Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is dead-last in the majors in wOBA against right handers this year.   But presumptive NL MVP Andrew McCutchen hits righties just fine (an .864 ops), so perhaps we’ll see some post-season magic tonight (even despite the fact he got hit in the head during BP yesterday).

I’m thinking this is going to be a tight, tense pitching duel, and I think its going to be Cueto who blinks first.  Count on Reds manager Dusty Baker to over-manage some aspect of the game tonight (probably involving a bunt or two) and to leave his best reliever (Aroldis Chapman) on the bench because it’s not a save situation while Pittsburgh squeaks out a win.

Who do you think is favored in this game?

Written by Todd Boss

October 1st, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Nats Starter Matchup Monthly Analysis

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Ross Detwiler has been helping to keep the team afloat all year. Photo: Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

In the same spirit of grading the Minor League starters from yesterday’s post, here’s letter grades for each of the starts in April for our MLB rotation:

MLB Rotation:

  • Strasburg: A,D-,A-,B-,C+,B-
  • Gonzalez: A,B+,F,D,A+,D-
  • Zimmermann: B,B+,A,B-,A+
  • Haren: F,D,D-,C-,B+
  • Detwiler: A,A-,A-,B-,C-

Discussion: Nats YTD Stats are here for reference

We’ve all been watching the games, so nothing surprising here.   Jordan Zimmermann has quietly been one of the best starters in the NL so far.  He’s working on a .861 WHIP and has 5 straight Quality Starts.  This is reflected in his grade scores above.   Meanwhile. Dan Haren‘s early struggles are slowly turning into workable outings.  Ross Detwiler‘s Sunday loss was “death by paper cuts” and his 11 hits allowed wasn’t as bad as it looked in the box score.  I’d like to see some more consistency out of Gio Gonzalez; is he an 8ip-1hit guy or is he 7 runs in 5 innings guy?  There really hasn’t been an in-between for him.  Lastly Stephen Strasburg hasn’t pitched that badly (one bad outing out of 6) but has gotten almost no run support, contributing to his ugly W/L record.


Now here’s some fun Starting Pitcher Matchup analysis.  I’ve been keeping track of the opposing starter we’ve faced each night and ranked them three different ways:

  • Their Rotation Order intra team: the opening day starter for a team is their “#1″ and the other four guys are ranked 2-5 as they appear in the opposing rotation.
  • Their Ranked Performance intra-team: at the time of their series with the Nats, the 5 starters on a team are ranked 1-5 on pure in-season performance.  The guy with the best season stats at that time is ranked #1, the guy with the worst #5.
  • Their Subjective League-Wide “Rank” as a pitcher: a subjective look at whether the opposing starter is a league wide “Ace,” a near-Ace or #2, and the like.

I also kept track on a night-to-night basis a quick opinion on whether I felt the Nats had the Starting Pitching Advantage (or if it was an even-matchup, or if I felt the opposing team had the pitching advantage) and tracked how we did.

Here’s some analysis based on our opposing pitcher each night.  It provides some interesting insight into the team’s performance so far.


Rotation Order Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-4 Nolasco (2) Cueto, Hudson (2), Wainwright
2 2-3 Slowey, Peavy Maholm, Harvey, Garcia
3 5-0 Leblanc (2), Floyd, Hefner, Arroyo
4 1-3 Bailey Bailey, Sanabia, Gee
5 3-3 Leake (2), Axlerod Teheran (2), Miller
5+ 0-1 Cingrani

In other words, the Nats are 2-4 versus opposing team’s “Aces,” 2-3 against their #2′s, etc.

(Note: a “5+” pitcher means a starter who was not on the opening day roster for a team.  We’ll see a ton more 5+’s as more starters go down with injury and are replaced by minor league call-ups).

Not all #1 starters are made the same, nor are #5 starters.  The team has the expected losing record against other team’s #1s, but also has a relatively weak record against other team’s #4 and #5 starters.  Some of this is thanks to Haren‘s weak matchup as our #4 starter, and some of this is because guys like Homer Bailey, Shelby Miller and Tony Cingrani aren’t exactly bottom tier starters in this league (we’ll see this later on with the “League Wide Rank” table).


I initially started tracking this ranked-opposing starter analysis to prove to a friend that a team’s “Ace” doesn’t always go against another team’s “Ace.”  And you can see how quickly team’s rotations get mis-matched versus one another thanks to the unbalanced schedule and irregular off-days:

Strasburg Three vs #1, Two vs #2, One vs #5
Gonzalez Three vs #2, Two vs #3, One vs #1
Zimmermann Three vs #3, Two vs #4
Haren Two vs #4, Three vs #5
Detwiler Two vs #5, Two vs #1, One vs #5+

Detwiler’s #5 rotation spot is now matched up essentially with the #1 spot of a lot of his opponents (the one #5+ spot was Cingrani, who took Cincinnati’s #1 spot from Johnny Cueto when he hit the D/L), and has been since mid April.  Thankfully our #5 has been pitching like a #2 all year.

You can kind of tell what has happened to the Nats versus opponents in terms of schedule off-days just by looking at this list; clearly the Nats stayed on schedule with their opponents for at least the first three turns through the rotation, then jumped ahead a day for two turns,


Ranked Performance intra-team

1 2-3 Nolasco (2) Cueto, Maholm, Harvey
2 2-1 Peavy, Bailey Miller
3 2-4 Slowey, Floyd Hudson, Bailey, Wainwright, Cingrani
4 4-2 Leblanc (2), Hefner, Arroyo Hudson, Garcia
5 3-4 Leake (2), Axlerod Sanabia, Teheran (2), Gee

In other words, the Nats are 2-3 against opposing teams’ best pitcher at the time of the series, 2-1 against the opposing team’s 2nd best performing pitcher at the time of the series, etc.

As with the above, not all #1s are the same.  Ricky Nolasco is perhaps the 4th starter on a good rotation but he’s the best Miami has.  Believe it or not Adam Wainwright was only the 3rd best starter on St. Louis’ team at the time of our series (behind both Jake Westbrook and Shelby Miller), despite my believing him to be an “Ace” in this league (see the next table).


League-Wide “Rank”

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 0-3 Cueto, Harvey, Wainwright
2 1-5 Bailey Bailey, Hudson (2), Miller, Cingrani
3 4-2 Nolasco (2), Peavy, Floyd Maholm, Garcia
4 1-0 Arroyo
5 7-4 Slowey, LeBlanc (2), Axelrod, Leake (2), Hefner Sanabia, Gee, Teheran (2)

In other words, the Nats are 0-3 against MLB “Aces,” 1-5 against MLB “near aces” or #2′s, etc.

This table really shows how the team has truly done against the elite pitchers in this league.  We can argue in the comments section about my subjective ranking of pitchers (is Matt Harvey truly an “Ace” in this league?  Probably not yet, but he sure is pitching like one.  Is Julio Teheran really a #5 pitcher in this league?  Not on talent, but certainly on performance thus far), but I’m happy with my rankings for pitchers overall.

For comparison purposes with our own team talent-wise, I have Strasburg as a league-wide #1, Gonzalez and Zimmermann as #2s, Detwiler as a #3 (but rising) and Haren as a #4 (but falling; he was a #2 just a couple years ago).

The Nats have managed just one victory over Aces or near-Aces in this league so far (and that was by virtue of Zimmermann‘s one-hitter victory over Homer Bailey: you don’t win 1-0 games in the Majors very often).  They’re 12-6 against everyone else.

The team’s bigger concern should be games dropped to the #5 pitchers.   For every loss to an Ace, you have to make up for it by beating up on the lesser starters in this league.  You just cannot lose to guys like Alex Sanabia or Dillon Gee.


Performace against Expectations by Advantage

By “Advantage” Record Matchups in Wins Matchups resulting in Losses
Wash 10-6 Stras-Hudson, Stras-Garcia, Haren-Sanabia, Zimm-Gee, Detwiler-Teheran, Stras-Teheran
Even 3-6 Zimm-Bailey, Detwiler-Nolasco, Haren-Leake Stras-Cueto, Stras-Harvey, Detwiler-Wainwright, Detwiler-Cingrani, Gonzalez-Hudson, Gonzalez-Maholm
Opp 0-2 Haren-Bailey, Haren-Miller

In games where I thought Washington had the clear starting pitching advantage head-to-head, we still managed to lose 6 times.  Those losses are listed above: three times we dropped games where Strasburg was pitching against lesser opponents.  You can quibble whether Strasburg-Tim Hudson is an even matchup or not, but certainly Strasburg vs Teheran or Jaime Garcia is a mis-match on paper.

In games where I thought the pitching matchup was even, the team still went just 3-6.  Again, Strasburg ended up with some tough matchups against other fellow “Aces,” while Detwiler ran into a couple of hot-hands.

The two games where I thought our opponent had the clear advantage heading into the game both involved Haren going up against near-aces from Cincinnati and St. Louis; we lost both games easily as expected.


April Conclusion: The Nats have faced some good teams with some good pitching thus far; they need to do a better job cleaning up against opposing teams’ #5 starters.

This analysis doesn’t even start to look at the offense; with better run support Strasburg may be 4-1 instead of 1-4.  And it doesn’t look at the bullpen or our defense of course; two areas that have turned Wins into Losses pretty quickly for the team.

Nats early schedule partly to blame for .500 Record

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A quick thought, stemming from the comments of the previous post.  I’m looking at the starters that the Nats have gone up against to contribute to their current .500 record and they’ve gotten beat by some pretty tough guys.  Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright, and Matt Harvey (despite his small sample size) are all “Aces” in this league, among the best in the game.  Meanwhile guys like Tim Hudson, Homer Bailey, Shelby Miller and Paul Maholm (not normally, but so far in 2013) are all “near aces” or what I like to call #2 starters in the game.

The Nats have gone up against all of these guys and come away with 7 of their 10 losses (as of 4/24/13).  There’s no shame in losing to a dominant starter like Harvey or Wainwright.

(Now, as for why the Nats other three losses are against such pedigree’d pitchers as Dillon Gee, Julio Teheran and Alex Sanabia, well, that’s probably another blog entry…).

Anyway, the opposing pitchers have highlighted this blog post’s point: The Nats have had a very tough April schedule.  I didn’t really notice it until last week when I saw who the next three opponents were: St. Louis, Cincinnati and Atlanta.  Nothing like 11 straight games against 2012 playoff teams while you’re struggling to make your fanbase nuts.

Here’s a quick monthly broken-out guide to the Nats schedule (and a link to the entire schedule in list form) when looking at 2012 playoff teams to get a sense of how tough April is for us:

Month Games #vs 2012 playoff teams Pct
April 27 15 55.56%
May 28 12 42.86%
June 27 2 7.41%
July 26 2 7.69%
Aug 27 9 33.33%
Sept 27 6 22.22%
ttl 162 46 28.40%

Look at how front-loaded this schedule is, and then look at what this team is up against in June and July.  15 of 27 games in April against 2012 playoff teams; Cincinnati twice, the Braves twice and a 3-game set vs St. Louis.  That’s a lot of games against very good teams.  It’s no wonder we’re exactly a .500 team right now.

But then look at June and July; just four total games against 2012 playoff teams (two against Atlanta a the beginning of June and then two in Detroit at the end of July).  The Nats are going to have nearly 8 straight weeks of games in the middle of the season against teams that not only missed the playoffs last year, but in many cases were downright awful and are on pace to be just as awful this year. Teams like Minnesota, Colorado, San Diego, Miami, and Pittsburgh.  Plus a bunch of games against teams from our own division that we know are going to be struggling to be .500 clubs all year (namely, New York and Philadelphia).  They also will go an entire month (from August 19th to September 16th) without playing a 2012 playoff team.

Now, the above table analysis doesn’t take into account that there are still dangerous teams out there on the schedule.  Kansas City is improved for 2013.  The Phillies are not going to be an easy out.  We’ve got an extra game thrown in against Milwaukee (a team with a winning record last year).  Los Angeles and Arizona aren’t going to be easy teams to beat either.   But we shouldn’t forget that this Washington team won 98 games themselves last year and should be the bully on the playground this year.

In a previous post I showed a scenario where the Nats can break-even on season series against the “good” teams in the league but be dominant against the lesser teams in the league and end up with a significant amount of victories (north of 100 wins) on the season.  Now, so far we’re not exactly breaking even against Atlanta, St. Louis or Cincinnati, but we have been somewhat holding serve against lesser teams like Miami and the White Sox.  We just need to get through this early stretch.

I’m not saying, by the way, that this team doesn’t have concerns.  The team isn’t hitting well, especially our #4 and #5 hitters (only the most important ones).  Dan Haren has been absolutely awful as compared to expectations so far.  Strasburg has looked hittable.  Gonzalez has been pitching scared.  The bullpen has been erratic.  The defense has been ghastly (they lead the league in Errors right now).  And I havn’t exactly been the biggest fan of Davey Johnson‘s managing thus far.   But right now these are small sample sized concerns that can (and should) iron themselves out.

The message is this, all is not lost.  Its early.  The Nats are going to struggle for the next week to keep up with Cincinnati and especially in Atlanta.  We will likely have a losing record on May 1st (I personally see us splitting the home Cincy series and losing 2 of 3 in Atlanta).  But we need to be patient and wait to see how this team performs as it enters its “easy stretch” in a couple months.  A win in June is just the same as a win in April, and a .500 month can be easily offset by a .700 month or two later in the year.

Starting Pitching Quality in the WBC

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I keep a little file, periodically updated, that keeps track of “Ace Starters” in the league.  There’s usually right around 20 of them at any one time.  There’s no hard and fast rule as to what defines an Ace; not every team has an Ace.  Some teams have more than one Ace.  Its essentially defined as a guy who, every time he goes to the hill, he is expected to win, a perennial Cy Young candidate, a guy who is acknowledged as being one of the best in the game.

Here’s my list of “Aces” in this league, right now; Strasburg, Gonzalez, Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Cueto, Wainwright, Lincecum, Cain, Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, Price, Sabathia, Dickey, Johnson, Verlander, Hernandez, Darvish and Weaver.    Twenty guys, some arguable with poor 2012 performances (Lester, Lincecum, Johnson, Halladay), some arguable for possibly being one-year wonders (Dickey, Greinke, Gonzalez), but by and large a quick list of the 20 best starters in the league.

How many of these Aces are pitching in the 2013 WBC?  TWO.  That’s it.  Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey are starting for the US.  Not one other US Ace is taking the hill for their country.  The few foreign guys (Hernandez, Cueto and Darvish) aren’t pitching for their teams either for various reasons.

If you asked me to give you the 4 best US starters, right now, the four starters I’d throw in a World Baseball Classic to best represent this country, I’d probably go (in nearly this order) Verlander, Kershaw, Strasburg and maybe Cole Hamels.   If you asked me the NEXT four guys i’d want on the bump i’d probably go Sabathia, Cain, Price and Lee.   After that?  I’d probably still take the likes of Halladay and Greinke before I got to Gonzalez or Dickey.   And that’s only because of the poor 2012 showings by Lincecum, Lester and Johnson; if this was 2011, those three guys are absolutely in the mix for best arms in the league.  So by rough estimates, we have perhaps the 14th and 15th best American starters going for us right now.

Who else does the US team have starting?   Ryan Vogelsong and Derek Holland.  Vogelsong is the 4th best starter ON HIS OWN TEAM, and Holland isn’t much further up on the Texas depth chart.

I’m enjoying the WBC, don’t get me wrong, but you can repeat this exercise for a number of the positional players on this roster too.   Look at the post-season voting last year and look at who is playing on these teams.  No Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Hamilton or Prince Fielder.  There is only one player who got an NL Cy Young vote in 2012 participating (Fernando Rodney for the D.R.).  I think this event needs its best players to play, and I think the league needs to come up with a way of making that happen.  No more injury dispensations, no more excuses for not having the best, most marketable guys out there.

Why in the hell aren’t Trout and Harper playing for the team USA??   This is the best duo of young, marketable players to this this league since the 1998 home run derby.  They’re on the cover of Men’s Health Magazine and Sports Illustrated in the last month.   You use what you have and market the league on the backs of players like this.  Look at the NBA; they market on top of their most recognizable names and they have grown because of it, from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James.  Why MLB can’t seem to see the forest for the trees sometimes is just frustrating.  The WBC is growing in popularity; its ratings in Japan eclipsed the TV ratings for the Olympics in that country, and the US games reportedly have gotten the highest ratings for a non-playoff game in TV history).  Team USA needs to catch on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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