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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World Series Game 5 Pitching Matchup and Prediction

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Four games into this World Series, and we’re tied up at 2 games a piece.  Boston got their must-win victory last night on the strength of the unlikely Jonny Gomes (former Nat) and on 85mph fastballs from Clay Buchholz.  Lance Lynn didn’t pitch badly; in fact his stuff looked pretty good early on.  But one bad pitch to Gomes and the game was over.

Game 5: Jon Lester versus Adam Wainwright.  a repeat of the Game 1 matchup, though this time the tables are reversed in terms of road team/home team.   In four career home playoff starts Wainwright has conceded exactly four runs.   Lester had a .500 record and a 4.21 ERA on the road this season.  Despite St. Louis’ inability to hit lefties, I don’t think Wainwright is losing tonight.

Expect a close game, with St. Louis perhaps coming out on top with a 2-1 victory.  And since we’ve already had two rather rare game-ending baserunning mishaps (an obstruction call and a pick-off), i’m calling for Game 5 to include something like a running out of order, or a missed base being called out on appeal or something random.  Maybe we’ll just get a hotly contested balk.

Written by Todd Boss

October 28th, 2013 at 8:15 am

World Series Game 2 Pitching Matchup and Prediction

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Game 1 went as I thought; Adam Wainwright may be unbeatable at home, but he’s shown that he’s vulnerable on the road (see the Nationals’ destroying of him in last year’s Game 5 start).  Boston jumped on him early and cruised to an 8-1 victory.

(I don’t know what that green substance was on Jon Lester‘s glove … but i’m sure we’re going to a) be reading all about it and b) it won’t be there when he pitches again in Game 5).

Game 2: Michael Wacha vs John Lackey.   Without doing a bunch of analysis, as badly as St. Louis hits lefties is as well as they hit righties.  Wacha has been unbelievable this post season (a 0.43 ERA).  Lackey has been competent but not un-hittable.  I feel like St. Louis gets a split and goes home with the series tied 1-1.

I think Carlos Beltran will be fine.  I think all the nerves and errors we saw in Game 1 will go away.  St. Louis has been here before and should be able to rebound from the series of bone-head plays that led to many of Boston’s runs.

(btw; interesting piece in the Post today about Wacha, who was drafted a few picks after the Nats took Lucas Giolito.  Lots of second-guessing going on by everyone who skipped him in the 2012 draft.  It is what it is; you setup a draft board, and if you get to your pick and Giolito is ahead of Wacha you pick him.  Albert Pujols was a 13th round pick; sometimes you miss on amateur guys.   Per the story, if Giolito had been gone the team would have taken him).

Written by Todd Boss

October 24th, 2013 at 11:53 am

World Series Game 1 Pitching Matchup and Prediction

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Boston's Ace Jon Lester takes the mound in game 1.  Photo via weei.com

Boston’s Ace Jon Lester takes the mound in game 1. Photo via weei.com

For just the 3rd time since divisional play went into effect, the World Series will be contested by the two best teams (by record) in Baseball (other two times: 1995 Atlanta-Cleveland and 1999 Atlanta-New York series’).  And since both Boston and St. Louis finished with the same number of wins, tying for the league lead with 97, we are guaranteed to have a situation that has happened just three times in the divisional era; the team with the best regular season record will also win the World Series (the other 3 times: New York in 2009, Boston in 2007 and the Yankees again in their legendary 1998 season).

Lets take a look at Game 1′s pitching matchup and make some predictions.  Time permitting I’ll try to do this ahead of each game.

Game 1: Adam Wainwright vs Jon Lester.  Ace-versus-Ace, mano-y-mano.  Straight up you’d have to take Wainwright over Lester; he has a 1.57 ERA in 3 post season games in 2013, having given up just 4 runs in 23 innings.  However, he has not exactly been doing this against an offense with the capabilities of Boston.   The Red Sox are #1 in the league in wRC+ as a team against right-handed throwers, #2 in the league in wRC+ at home.  I think it is safe to say that Boston likely gets some runs off of Wainwright tonight.

Meanwhile St. Louis’ issues with left-handed starters are pretty clear; 21st in wRC+ as a team, with a collective .238 BA.    And they’re going against a premier left-handed starter who just went against one of the “other” best offenses in the league (Detroit) twice with great success.

I’m predicting Boston gets to Wainwright, Lester holds StL at bay, and Boston takes game one to the great delight of the home fans.

Written by Todd Boss

October 23rd, 2013 at 10:34 am

Posted in Post Season

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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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Game 1 ALDS and Game 2 NLDS Pitching Matchup thoughts

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We’re on a roll; 5-for-5 so far in predictions for individual games.  Lets see if we can keep it going now that all four divisional series are in full swing.  Cnnsi probable pitchers are here, along with some good stats.

NLDS Game 2: Pittsburgh-St. Louis: The Pirates are going with young phenom Gerrit Cole while the Cardinals curiously are going with their least effective playoff starter in Lance Lynn.  (Side note: I thought Lynn would be left off the playoff roster by virtue of being the 5th best St Louis starter; instead it turns out the Cardinals are moving Shelby Miller to the bullpen for the playoffs, ostensibly because Miller “looked tired” down the stretch.  BS: he lowered his ERA during the month of August.  How is this not a “shutdown” of some sort, and if so where’s the righteous indignation that followed the Nats shutting down Strasburg in 2012 for a medical reason?).   Lynn pitched to a 91 ERA+ on the year, struggled for most of the season but finished strong by posting a 2.82 ERA in September (going against a bunch of also rans for the most part).  He pitches significantly better at home, perhaps one reason to get his NLDS start in now before the teams move to Pittsburgh.  Lynn has faced Pittsburgh 5 times this year, but more importantly was his last two outings against the Pirates in August.  Both times they got to him; 4 runs in 5 innings on 8/15, 7 runs in 4 innings on 8/31.

Meanwhile Pittsburgh counters with its 2nd best pitcher in Cole.  Cole’s potential and minor league pedigree are well known to prospect watchers, and his arrival to the majors was heralded as the coming of the next big thing.  Oddly though, initially Cole looked mortal; it took him 17 MLB starts before he had a scoreless outing.  Like Lynn, Cole vastly improved once September came, capped off by 7 innings of shutout ball he threw at Texas and a 6 inning/12 strikeout outing in late September.  To be fair, like Lynn Cole’s September starts were also filled with also-rans.

The Cardinals hit.  And they especially hit right-handers (best in the NL in several macro batting categories, including BA, OPS, wOBA and wRC+).  Despite my liking Cole, I have a feeling the Cards are eventually going to get to him.  Will the Pirates get to Lynn first?  I’m betting so; after last night’s beating and emotional letdown, I think the Pirates re-group and take game 2.

NLDS Game 2: Los Angeles-Atlanta: The Braves are in trouble; after getting embarassed by Clayton Kershaw last night they have to go up against a pitcher of nearly the same quality in Zack Greinke.  Greinke was hurt early, and struggled to find his form until the season was half over.  But now he’s on a roll; he hasn’t given up more than 2 runs in an outing since July 25th.  In his last 6 starts he’s given up a total of 7 runs.  The Braves are going to have a hard time scoring on him.   In Greinke’s only start against Atlanta in June, he pitched 7 shutout innings, giving up just 4 hits.  I see a similar outing tonight; perhaps 7 innings giving up 1 or 2 runs and punching out 7-8 guys.

Meanwhile, Atlanta counters with Mike Minor, who hasn’t pitched badly per se down the stretch but certainly hasn’t pitched that dominantly; Atlanta has lost his last 6 starts.  However, in two starts against LA Minor has been good.  I can see Minor holding the Dodgers at bay and getting this to the bullpens, where Atlanta has the very distinct advantage.  I’m predicting a very close Atlanta victory tonight to send it back to LA.

ALCS Game 1: Tampa-Boston: After a disastrous 2012 season, Boston is back and is set to bash their way through the playoffs with its league-best offense.  In game 1 Boston throws its ace Jon Lester, who has lowered his season ERA three quarters of a point in the last 2 months going against mostly a solid diet of playoff-calibre and AL east teams.  The Rays hit left-handers pretty well (108 wRC+) but Lester has mostly handled them in 4 match-ups this season.

Meanwhile Tampa is hampered by its two play-in games costing them their two best arms.  They start the ALDS with their #3 starter Matt Moore, no slouch himself at 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA and 116 ERA+.  However Moore is struggling down the stretch; since a fantastic 2-hit shutout in Boston in late August, Moore has finished 6 innings just one time and has had to be taken out of games early due to high pitch counts and unusual wildness (Moore leads the league this year in wild-pitches; very odd considering how well he controlled the ball in the 2011 playoffs).  Boston is just as patient a team as Tampa at the plate (they’re #1 and #4 in terms of BB% in the majors), and Boston can wait out Moore to get to Tampa’s fatigued bullpen.

All in all, I think Boston waits out Moore, gets into Tampa’s bullpen and gets a win.  Lester holds Tampa at bay and Boston takes game 1.

ALDS Game 1: Oakland-Detroit: Presumed AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer gets the ball in game 1, going against the ageless Bartolo Colon, who at 40 may have just had his best season (his WAR for 2013 is a full 1.1 wins better than his Cy Young winning season in 2005).  Scherzer may be averaging 10 K/9, but the last time he hooked up with Oakland he got beat.  Likewise, the last time Colon faced Detroit he shut them down.  With Miguel Cabrera hurting and the Tigers offense limping into the post-season, with Scherzer oddly inconsistent down the stretch, and with Colon entering the post-season nearly unhittable (he’s given up just 4 earned runs in his last 5 starts, three of them on solo homers), I think we’re about to see an upset in game 1.  I’m going with Oakland.

 

 

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.

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.

Why I’d support a Universal DH

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Yes, I'd like to see more DHs like David Ortiz in the league. Photo wiki/flickr user Toasterb

Every once in a while, during a period of time where there’s a relative dearth of topics I’d like to blog about, I scroll through dozens of draft posts and starter topics I’ve got saved and find one worth expanding on.  And sometimes one of these random drafts written months or years ago suddenly becomes topical because two hard-ass old-school managers decide to one-up each other in a meaningless spring training game.  Further, seeing this random post on Beyond the Box Score, referring to a Joel Sherman article in the NY Post on the topic spurred me into action to dust off this post and put it up for your perusal and criticism.

Summary: Despite mostly considering myself to be a baseball purist, I support going to using full-time Designated Hitter in both leagues.  Here’s a few reasons why:

1. Standardize rules between the leagues.  It is rather ridiculous that in 2013 half of a major US professional sport plays by such vastly different rules than the other half.  It would be as if the NFC in football was forced to attempt 2-point conversions after every touchdown while the AFC forced the use of a point-after attempt instead.

Here’s another interesting observation; i’m pretty sure that the National League is the ONLY baseball league in the country that requires its pitchers to hit.  The DH is in use in the minors, in college ball, in HS and AAU ball, and even in lower-level youth leagues (not that anyone would actually use it down that low, when your pitcher is usually your best hitter).

2. Improve the fan experience. As has been more eloquently stated elsewhere, fans would rather see a power hitter batting in the middle of the order than see a feeble .180-hitting starting pitcher batting 9th flail at a 95mph fastball for the 3rd out of each inning.  Scoring would rise, and more offense means more excitement for the fans.  Forcing pitchers to bat (and, more often than not, bunt) forces managers into a small ball mentality that is counter to most advanced metrics that advocate never trading an out for a base.

3. Let NL fans see more AL Stars in Interleague play.  Related to #2; right now in interleague games AL DH’s mostly have to sit, or if they do play another starter has to sit.  As an NL home city fan when the Red Sox come to town I don’t want to see Jon Lester hit; I want to see David Ortiz hit.

4. Artificially limiting NL Starting Pitchers.  Lack of DH in the NL means that managers are forced to remove starters too early, too often, in order to continue rallies in the middle innings.  I’ve even seen people advocate starters getting yanked in the 2nd or 3rd innings of games in certain situations.  I’d rather see my starter go as long as he can instead of having the one-out matchup styles of some bullpen managers start in the 5th inning of an (inevitably) 4 hour game.

5. More hitters get longer careers as their defensive skills wane.  Right now there’s a number of halfway decent hitters who are older and thus defensive liabilities who have basically been forced out of baseball that could fit in nicely with one of the 15 NL teams that don’t use a DH.  If you don’t think the player’s union wouldn’t mind 15 additional jobs for career-twilight veterans (who are mostly at the upper ends of the pay scales), you’re crazy.  This is essentially why I think the players union would support a universal DH.

6. Double switches juggled lineup spots is overrated.  Purists love it of course, but purists also want baseball to still have the pennant winners immediately advance to the World Series and cringe at divisional play, wild cards and the expanding post-season.  But expanding and increasing popularity of the sport means reaching out and appealing to the masses, and the masses interests are the same as purists.  One of the big reasons purists maintain support for the DH is because of the notion that these double switches and earlier pitcher man management makes for a better managed game and forces NL managers to be “better.”  That’s great and all … but I buy tickets to watch the players play, not to watch some overweight aging manager waddle out to the mound in the 5th inning so he can get a lefty-lefty matchup.

7. NL Teams are at a disadvantage in every inter-league game right now, because they build their rosters for the NL style of play while AL teams are afforded a blank line-up spot for a no-defense slugger all season.  AL teams are also allowed to “rest” players and just bat them over the course of the greuling 162-game schedule by virtue of the DH, while NL players get no such luxury, meaning you can make the argument that AL teams have a slight advantage in the World Series against their NL counterparts (not that we actually see this advantage … but in theory it exists).  You can make the counter-argument that AL pitchers are ill-prepared to bat as compared to their NL counter-parts, to which I’ll say that a .180 hitting pitcher is only slightly better than a .120 hitting pitcher.

8. Interleague every day means that the #7 issue is exacerbated.  This is the gist of the Sherman post; now that Houston is in the AL and there’s 15 teams in each league, there’s inter-league games every day.  Which also means that NL teams are even more disadvantaged since they can no longer do roster-maintenance just ahead of known interleague stretches.  Likewise, AL teams now have to have their pitchers take BP all throughout the season.  Its just a bad strategic situation all around.

Its time.  End the DH.  I was hoping for a resolution in the last CBA, but we have to wait a bit longer.

Written by Todd Boss

March 8th, 2013 at 9:12 am