Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘jose de leon’ tag

Someone is finally doing it: Tampa using “Openers” instead of “Starters”

2 comments

Sergio Romo; Tampa's new #3 starter.

Sergio Romo; Tampa’s new #3 starter.  And #4 starter sometimes … photo via Zimbio.

The Tampa Bay Rays, thanks to a run of injuries to their starting rotation this spring, and perhaps a bit of typical organizational ingenuity, are doing something this year that has a lot of people talking; they’re essentially using a closer-quality pitcher to start games, get through the top of the opposing team’s order the first time, then hands it over to the real “starter” (or in most cases longer man) who pitches a typical starter-length outing.

They seem to be sticking to conventional outings for their two best starters (Chris Archer and Blake Snell) even now, but spring training elbow injuries to planned starters Brett Honeywell and Jose De Leon (both Tommy John surguries), plus recent injuries to #3 starter Jake Faria, Yonny Chirinos  (not Laurel Chirinos!) and Nathan Eovaldi and a lack of upper-end SP prospects has led them to this point.

This strategy is getting put to its biggest test over the Memorial Day weekend series they have with Baltimore, announcing that they’ll be “starting” relievers all three games.

So far this season, they’ve used the strategy at least twice; with Sergio Romo starting on back to back nights.

  • 5/20/18: Romo pitches the first and strikes out the side before handing off to starter Ryan Yarborough, who pitches 6+ and gets the win.
  • 5/21/18:  Romo, going back to back nights, faces the first 6 batters; walks two, gets the other four out, zero runs; the rest of the game is a bullpen game, but the team loses to Shohei Ohtani and the Angels.

Of course, reaction to the moves is already as you’d expect it to be, given our current climate of hot-take/knee jerk reactions.  You’ve got “get off my lawn” types talking about how this isn’t “good for the game.”  You’ve got Joel Sherman (who has been around the sport long enough to know what they’re doing) calling the strategy “Bizarre.”  And you’ve got progressive types like Houston’s A.J. Hinch praising the move.


 

So, what do I think of this?

Well …. honestly this is the natural evolution of the trend towards specialized relievers that we’ve been seeing lately.  A mediocre/failed starter can be converted to a highly valuable reliever by just having them throw harder and focus on mastering two pitches instead of attempting to master three or four, and it happens All The Time.  See Rivera, Mariano and Eckersley, Dennis for hall of fame exhibits A and B here (ok .. to be fair Eckersley was by  no means a failed starter … but he would not be in Cooperstown had he not become a dominant closer).

Well, what if you had an entire roster of specialized relievers instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on a rotation?

Take the Nats: our top four starters this year are earning north of $80M this season.  What if you had spread that $80M around on a bunch of closer/near-closer types, the kinds of guys who go for significantly less per annum?  What if you had an entire team of guys like Ryan Madsen ($7.6M) or Sean Doolittle ($4.3M) or Brandon Knitzler ($5.5M).  Heck, why not load up y our team with pre-arb guys like Sammy Solis ($560k) and Matt Grace ($557k) and spend that $80M on improving the out-field players?

I’ve often wondered if a team couldn’t just have essentially 12 relievers and would basically turn every game into a bullpen game.  What if you deployed your staff kind of like this:

  • Three “Closer” quality guys (like our Doolittle)
  • Three solid RH 7th/8th inning types like Madsen and Kelley.
  • Three left-handed match-up guys (Solis, Grace)
  • Three long-men types who could soak up innings but who can’t turn over a lineup more than twice (kind of like Jeremy Hellickson but perhaps more like a 4-A starter, or what Edwin Jackson is doing in AAA).

You take half this squad and they’re the A-team; that gives you 5-6 arms to pitch the first game of the week.  Then, they all get a break and the other 5-6 arms get the next game.  In a typical week every reliever then gets three to four days off with off-games and off-days.   The long-men only go every two days, since you’re asking them to do 3-4 innings, but still get plenty of rest.  So a pattern of games could look like this:

  • Game 1: Closer1 pitches the 1st, RH1 and LH1 combine to pitch 2nd and 3rd.  Longman1 comes in and throws 4th through the 7th.  Then depending on where you are in the game he returns for the 8th or you go to your RH2/LH2 guy before handing off to Closer2 in the 9th.  So that’s 5 to 6 arms used in the first game.
  • Game 2: Closer3 starts.  RH3 throws next two innings.  Longman2 throws innings 4-7.  LH3 finishes it out, perhaps throwing Closer1 a second day in a row if need be.
  • Game 3: Closer2 starts.  Perhaps you go right to Longman3 for a 5 inning stint.  Back to RH1 and LH1 for the 7th/8th, then either let these guys do a 2 inning stint or go back to Closer3 for back-to-backs to finish the game.

So the workload for a 3-game series goes like this:

  • Closers: 2 innings each with an off-day
  • RH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • LH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • Long-men: 3-4 innings each with two off-days

That’s basically 27 innings across three games, assuming your middle relievers throw a couple of 2-inning stints in there, or one of your long-men does 4 innings instead of three.

Tell me why this wouldn’t work?  Everyone gets a ton of rest, and if you burn out one of your longmen you just call up re-inforcements from AAA to do mop-up games here and there.  You always have a closer going against the top of the order in the first inning, then you try to work it out so that you can do match-ups the next time they come up with a 7th/8th inning quality guy.  The best hitters on the other team will eventually get a shot at your “long man…” but under this plan, they’re getting four at bats generally against four different arms.  That’s going to give the advantage to the pitcher every time; batters don’t get to study up the opposing starter every night for research; they’re going to be seeing gas, trick pitches and one-trick ponies that have ridiculous BAAs and BABIPs thanks to their specialty.


So, who would love this?

  • Owners.  no more 9-figure contracts for starters who have like a 50% injury rate.
  • Some Pitchers: more opportunities for guys who just couldn’t cut it as starters but who crush it as releivers.

Who wouldn’t like this?

  • High end starters: less jobs, less demand for you.  Maybe.  I mean, right now Tampa is sticking with their two solid starters and only doing this for the other slots.  Maybe a team with two Aces like the nats just lets them roll normally then does this kind of bullpen game the other three games out of five.
  • Any baseball fan born before 1970, since they hate any change, any game modification.  I mean come on, there’s people demanding that we ban the shift (including the commissioner).
  • The Players union; you’d have to think salaries would plummet
  • Maybe most every baseball fan?  Offense drives fan interest … and this plan is specifically designed to neutralize the opposing team’s best hitters.

Thoughts?

2017 MLB Rotation Rankings 1-30

27 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking Spots #22-23: Kansas City and Miami

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

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

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

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

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


So, what do you guys think of my rankings?