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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Have we seen the last 300-game winner? (updated post 2013 season)

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Sabathia remains the best chance for another 300-game winner .. Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Sabathia remains the best chance for another 300-game winner .. Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Welcome to the latest installment of  the “Will we ever see another 300-game winner” post.

(Aside; yes I know the limitations of the “win” statistic.  However, nobody looks at a 20-game winner on the season or a 300-game winner for his career and excuses it as a statistical aberration; the pitcher win will continue to be important to players and in the lexicon of the game for years to come, despite Brian Terry‘s #killthewin campaigns).

Of the 24 pitchers in the game’s history to have reached the 300-game plateau, 4 of them have done it in the last decade (they being Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine).  However, there exists a distinct belief in the game that we may not see another 300-game winner for some time, thanks to pitch count obsessions, innings limits, 5-man rotations, NL small-ball managing, match-up relievers and generally a huge rise in bullpen usage over the last 20 years.

In the past year, I’ve collected some topical reading related to this post:

When we first broached this topic (in April 2009), Sabathia was still the best bet (outside of Randy Johnson, who sat at 296 before the 2009 season began), but it didn’t look that good for anyone else to reach the plateau, and a couple of the names we guessed as having an outside shot (Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir) seem like ridiculous choices now.  When we most recently broached this topic (at the end of the 2012 season), we explained some statistical models we and others were using to try to predict who may have the next best shot at reaching the mark.  We concluded that Sabathia and Hernandez were both pretty good guesses at the time to reach the plateau.

How are things looking now?

I maintain a spreadsheet (uploaded to google and/or available via the links to the right of this page) that ranks candidates using a couple of formulas inspired by Jay Jaffe (see 2012′s post for the full thought process behind them).  Basically Jaffe’s prediction models assume that the pitcher can win X games per year after a set age (in Jaffe’s case, his simple formula assumes pitchers win 15 games/year until their age 42 season, a relatively optimistic projection and hence why he self-titles it using the words “blindingly optimistic”).  I’ve used a couple other methods to rank pitchers (calculating average number of wins past the age of 18 or 23, but since some guys get drafted out of HS and debut at 20 or 21 these projections end up looking ridiculous), in order to find candididates to put into the discussion.  I also don’t really even consider a guy until he gets to 50 career wins, so there’s no wild speculation about someone like Shelby Miller (15 wins in his age 22 season) or Jose Fernandez (12 wins in his age 20 season).

So, without further ado, here’s a list of starters right now who are in the conversation of possibly reaching 300 wins in their career and my % chance opinion of getting there.

pitcher age wins % Chance of making 300 wins
CC Sabathia 32 205 75%
Clayton Kershaw 25 77 50%
Felix Hernandez 27 110 10%
Justin Verlander 30 137 10%
Madison Bumgarner 24 49 5%
Trevor Cahill 25 61 5%
Zack Greinke 29 106 5%
Mark Buehrle 34 186 1%
Rick Porcello 24 61 0%
Yovani Gallardo 27 81 0%
Matt Cain 28 93 0%

Thoughts per starter:

  • CC Sabathia remains the pitcher with the best chance of reaching 300 wins, but i’ve downgraded his probability from last year’s 90% to just 75% right now.  Why?  Well read no further than the link about his 2013 decline, where his FB velocity dropped, his ERA rose and he posted a sub 100 ERA+ value for the first time in his career.  He still won 14 games, but his win totals have declined four years in a row.   On the plus side, he’s a workhorse pitching for a team that historically has a great offense, which enables him to get wins despite an inflated ERA (he had 4 or more runs of support in 20 of his 32 starts in 2013 … Stephen Strasburg just started crying).   It still seems entirely plausible he can average at least 10-12 wins for the next 7 seasons and hit the milestone before hanging them up.
  • Clayton Kershaw improves his probability of hitting the plateau from last year to this year based on two factors: First, he has clearly stepped up and is now the pre-eminent starter in the game and seems set to continue to post 16-20 win seasons for the extended future.  Secondly, the Dodgers now spend money like no other, ensuring a winning team that gets Kershaw victories even if he’s not pitching his best.  He was “only” 16-9 in 2013; I would expect him to put up more wins each season in the next few years, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with 160 career wins before he’s 30.
  • Felix Hernandez‘s chances have plummetted; going from 75% last year to just 10%.  Why such a precipitous drop?  Two factors; first he took a noted step back in FB velocity this year, to the point where pundits were questioning his arm strength.  Secondly, he signed a massive deal to stay in Seattle … and Seattle right now is not a winner.  It has a completely dysfunctional ownership and management group and seemingly has no idea how to put together a baseball team.  They’re competing in a division of teams with better management willing to spend more money, and these factors are going to continue to have Hernandez put up the 13-14 win seasons he has been doing for the last four years.  He’s already 27: if he’s doesn’t have back to back 20 win seasons his chances are kaput.
  • Justin Verlander, like Hernandez and Sabathia, also had a curious drop in performance in 2013, leading me to drop his 300-game chances from one in three to one in ten.  At age 30 he has logged just 137 wins and has gone from 24 to 17 to 13 in the last three seasons.  If he can right the ship and get back to the 18-20 game win plateau, he can get his 300-game mojo back, but at age 30 he’s less than halfway there, so chances are looking pretty slim.
  • Madison Bumgarner appears here mostly because of his advanced win totals at such a young age; he already has 49 career wins before his 24th birthday.  He’s averaging 14 wins a season so far, and with a 14 win average in every season between now and his age 40 year he’d hit his mark.  But I have his chances right now at only 5%; its just too early to really tell if Bumgerner will have the endurance and continued success to get there.  Plus, is Bumgarner an elite starter or more in the mold of a Mark Buehrle (i.e., a durable lefty who grinds out 13-14 win seasons for a decade)?
  • Trevor Cahill is in nearly the same boat as Bumgarner, except that I don’t think he’s quite as good.  In fact, Cahill seems like he’s bound for Mark Buehrle territory (see below); an innings eating guy who is always right around the 13-12 mark each season.  If he does this for the next 15 years, he may get close.  I give him a slight chance.
  • Zack Greinke has gone from not even being considered to having a 5% chance.  Why?  Well he’s signed a huge long term deal with a very good team AND he now pitches in both the NL and in a pitcher’s park.   In 2013 he put up a very quiet 15-4 record and I think with his stuff and his health he could put up multiple 16-18 win seasons.  That’d get him to the mid 200s by the time he’s nearing 40 … maybe enough to have him go for it while pitching into his early 40s.  Or maybe not; by the time he’s 40 he’ll likely have nearly $250M in career earnings and may just buy a ranch somewhere.
  • Mark Buehrle‘s career 162 game average W/L record (14-11) is identical to Bumgarner’s.  In his last 5 season’s he’s won 13 games four times and 12 games once.  I have given him a 1% chance of hitting 300 on the off-chance that he pitches well into his mid 40s, continues to put up 4th starter figures and finishes with a career record of something like 302-285.  He doesn’t miss many starts, so perhaps he’s that durable.
  • The last three guys mentioned (Rick PorcelloYovani Gallardo and Matt Cain) are all given 0% chances at this point but are listed thanks to their advanced win totals by their mid 20s.  Cain’s sudden drop off in 2013 (a common theme in this list) has seemingly cost him any shot at reaching 300 wins despite his normal sturdiness.  Gallardo had a 10% chance last year and drops to zero thanks to my having almost no confidence that he is a good enough pitcher to accumulate enough wins going forward.  And Porcello remains essentially a 5th starter who just happened to matriculate to the majors at the tender age of 20.  I can see him having a career similar to Buehrle’s; long tenures of near .500 record. In fact, ironically Porcello’s 162-game average W/L record is identical (14-11) to Buehrle’s … which is also identical to Bumgarner and very close to Cahill’s.  I think there’s something clearly “accumulator” in nature to all these guys.

What has happened to some of the candidates from last year not mentioned yet?

  • Roy Halladay went from a near Cy Young season in 2011 to retirement in just two short seasons.  Shoulder injuries are a killer.  He retires with 203 wins.
  • Chad Billingsly lost nearly the entire 2013 season to injury, scuttling what dim chances he had.  He’s now not even guaranteed a spot in LA’s high powered rotation.
  • A bunch of veterans who already had little chance (but were mentioned anyways) have now retired: Jamie MoyerLivan HernandezAndy Pettitte, and Kevin Millwood.
  • Tim Hudson is an interesting case; he sits at 205 wins, lost a chunk of last season to injury but signed on in a pitcher’s park in SF.   He’s gotten 17,16 and 16 wins the last three seasons in his mid 30s; can he just continue to get 16-17 win seasons and suddenly be looking at 300 wins by the time he’s 42?  Maybe, but he’s going to have to be good these next two seasons.

Thoughts?  Do you care about 300 winners like I do, or is it just an anachronism of baseball history that will go the way of 300 strikeouts, 30-wins and hitting .400?

 

 

 

 

 

What is the “ceiling” of various Nats pitching prospects? (Updated for 2013)

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Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Two off-seasons ago, I did an analysis piece discussing the “ceilings” of the various pitchers (focusing on starters in the system) on our major and minor league rosters.   That led to some good discussions in the comments about what the definition of a pitcher’s ceiling is, about what a “#3″ starter is, etc.

Now that the 2013 season has ended, I thought it’d be a good topic to revisit and factor in recent performances and the last couple year’s worth of player movement in and out of the organization.

This post mostly focuses on the Starters we have in the organization.  There’s no real mention of guys who are already in the bullpen (either in the majors or the minors) unless we have heard rumors of them converting back to being starters at some point or another.


Some setup

What do I mean by a #1, #2, #3, #4 or #5 starter?  With some simple examples (from the 2011 post)

  • A #1 starter is a MLB-wide “Ace,” one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the league, someone who you’re genuinely surprised if he performs badly on a given day, opten mentioned in Cy Young conversations.   Guys like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.
  • A #2 starter is a  slight step down from your elite “Aces,” but still an excellent starter.  Can challenge for the top awards if they put everything together for a season, but remains consistently above average.   I see guys like Madison Bumgarner, Homer Bailey or James Shields in this category
  • A #3 starter is better than your league average pitcher, someone who is solid, consistent innings eater and who routinely gives you quality starts but not much more than that.   I think of guys like Mark Buehrle, Kyle Lohse, or John Lackey here.
  • A #4 starter is basically someone defined as someone who’s a slight step above the back-of-the-rotation guy, usually a veteran guy who knows how to pitch but doesn’t have the best stuff to really go much beyond or a younger guy who is establishing a foothold of a career.   Good examples from this year could include the likes of Kyle Kendrick, or Edwin Jackson or Bronson Arroyo.
  • A #5 starter is just good enough to fill out your rotation.  Starters at the back end who all you’re hoping for is 6 innings and keeping your team in the game.  Think of someone like Jason Marquis at this point in his career, or Ryan Vogelsong.

For clarity; if your team has three excellent pitchers, it does not mean that a league-wide ace is defined by these standards as a “#3″ starter.  When the Phillies big 3 of Roy HalladayCliff Lee and Cole Hamels were all healthy and firing on all cylinders a couple of years back, all three were #1 starters in my book.  Just because Hamels pitched third in the rotation didn’t mean he was a “#3 starter.”

Also before getting going, a quick discussion on “ceiling” versus “predictions” and what I’m trying to do here.  As was pointed out when I posted on this topic in 2011, a pitcher’s “ceiling” is quite literally the highest level of capability that we can expect that pitcher to accomplish given a perfect set of circumstances.   Scouts routinely talk about player “ceilings” and “number X” starters as a convenient way to speak a common language when describing a pitcher.   I like to be a bit more grounded in predicting what may happen to pitchers, so this analysis is less about the perfect-scenario “ceiling” as it is a thoughtful prediction on where a guy may eventually fit in given his talents and his performances as compared to scouting reports and industry buzz.


Updated ceiling predictions for Nats pitchers post 2013 season:

Nationals Starter Ceilings (per scouting reports, personal observations).  I’m not going to include any MLFAs here, assuming that they’re all either 4-A or minor league starters as a ceiling.  I’m also only really going down to full-season ball guys, throwing in a couple of our higher-end prospects.  Its just impossible to really project guys in rookie ball unless you’re a professional scout.

  • #1: Strasburg, Giolito
  • #2: Gonzalez, Zimmermann
  • #3: Cole, Ray
  • #4: Jordan, Roark
  • #5: Detwiler, Solis
  • MLB bullpen: Purke, Karns, Ohlendorf, Garcia, Johansen, Treinen
  • 4-A starter: Hill, Mooneyham, Schwartz, Voth, Meyers
  • Minors starter: Rosenbaum, Maya, Gilliam, Rauh, Anderson, Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull
  • Minors bullpen: Perry, Demny, RPena

Discussion:

#1 Starters: Stephen Strasburg is already an “Ace” starter in this league, ranking up among the 15-20 best arms out there.   However he’s no longer considered in the same class as the likes of Kershaw, thanks to injury and a curious lack of dominance this year (have a draft post on this topic that i’ll expand on later).  Lucas Giolito is widely considered the Nats top prospect and an easy future #1 pitching prospect.  Big guy, big arm, and by all accounts has come back post TJ surgery.  The BA guys think that he could be the #1 prospect in the entire minors with another dominant 2014.  How quickly can he move through the minors?  Can he stay healthy?  Right around the time Giolito arrives, the Nats “3 big names” could all be at the end of their current contracts and an interesting conundrum could face the team; keep the band together?  Or let these guys go and re-load/re-build?

#2 Starters: Just as Gio Gonzalez made the leap to a #2 starter with his Cy Young challenging 2012, Jordan Zimmermann has made that leap by virtue of his near-20 win season in 2013.  I believe these two guys can stay as #2 starters for the next few years, until they hit the regression stages of their careers.

#3 Starters:  A.J. Cole has regained his mojo after bouncing around the California league and advanced to AA this year.  He features a significant fastball and but complaints in the scouting world about his secondary stuff lead him to a #3 starter prediction.  I think he should be a #2 ceiling, and perhaps a spring training working with the Nats staff can get him back where we thought he was when we drafted him.  I’m sure picking Robbie Ray to have a higher likely ceiling than his 2013 AA counterparts would be mocked.  But look at the evidence: he’s the same age and same draft class as Cole and has consistently out-performed him when they’ve been on the same team.  He’s lefty, he averaged well over a K/inning this year, and suddenly he’s 22 and he may be “done” with AA.  Why aren’t his credentials higher with prospect-watchers?  It isn’t has if he’s a soft-tosser; he throws decent stuff from the left side.  I continue to think he’ll move along with Cole and they’ll be promoted to the majors within a couple of weeks of each other, perhaps mid 2015.

#4 Starters: If you want to say I’m crazy for thinking that Tanner Roark can maintain his September pace as a starter for this team, I can understand.  I’m not personally convinced that he’s going to be a mediocre 6th inning reliever or continue to be a Kris Medlen-in-2012 anomoly who continues to get guys out.  For now, i’m rooting for the better story.  Meanwhile I’m also not convinced that I have Taylor Jordan pegged properly; I think honestly he could be a #3 pitcher in the league.  This lack of real punch-out capabilities is what’s holding him back for now.  That being said, guys don’t just come up to the majors and post a 3.66 ERA.  For now, a #4 ceiling sounds good.

#5 StartersI’ve come to believe that Ross Detwiler‘s reached his ceiling; his 2012 season is as good as we’re going to see him.  Not because of a lack of talent; its because he just can’t stay healthy.  I’ve seen and heard reports that Detwiler’s stuff is fantastic; that’s great on paper but he just can’t seem to translate that to the big club on a consistent basis.  I would not shed a tear if he headed to the bullpen, other than to think that its a waste of his talents.   I also feel like Sammy Solis will stay as a starter and continue to climb up the ranks, and tops out as a 5th starter just by virtue of his being left handed.  There’s just something to be said about being a lefty with decent stuff being able to hang around the league (think of someone like Eric Stults).  

MLB Bullpen: Right now i’m projecting a whole handful of our good minor league starters to eventually get transitioned to the bullpen.  Which is good and bad; good for this team as they continue to develop arms and continue to have quality guys in the pen.  But bad in that it predicts a severe thinning of the starting pitching corps.  First off, I think the Christian Garcia as starter experiment is over; he needs to focus on being a reliever so that he can stay healthy and contribute.   I believe that Ross Ohlendorf‘s time as a starter is over, but he should slot in nicely as the 7th guy/long-man/spot-starter that this team will need here and there in 2014.  The more I think about Nathan Karns, the more I think he’d make an excellent setup guy.  Big arm, big fast-ball, not really that much secondary stuff.  He got hit hard as a starter; in shorter stints he could dial it up more and focus on his limited arsenal.   Unfortunately I think Matthew Purke may be headed to the pen as well, but his gun-slinger action could make him an excellent later-innings pitcher, perhaps even a closer, if he can translate that to a bit more velocity.  Lastly the reported two biggest arms in the minors (Jake Johansen and Blake Treinen) project for now as bullpen guys.  Again, I hope I’m wrong, but so far the evidence seems to point at big velocity and little else.

What is a 4-A starter?  A guy basically who looks good in AAA but who, for whatever reason, can’t translate that success to the Majors.  They may get a call-up here and there but never pitch well enough to stick.  This is how I see a handful of guys ending up: Brad Meyers has been hanging around this status for several seasons and just can’t get a break.   I’ve also tagged some guys with good numbers in the lower minors but with fringy scouting reports with this for now, thinking that a lack of a dominant fastball means they’ll stay as a starter until they reach their peak.  Taylor HillBlake Schwartz, and Austin Voth all seem to fit this bill.  Lastly the curious lack of dominance of Brett Mooneyham lends me to believe he’ll end up in this predicament as well.  I hope I’m wrong here; I’d love to see these guys take the leap, or (save that) find success in the bullpen.

Career Minors Starter: Unfortunately, I think we’ve seen the best that Danny Rosenbaum and Yunesky Maya can give; they’ve both had shots at a major league roster and couldn’t stay.  I think they’ll retire as AAA starters.  The rest of these guys listed are mediocre-to-decent starters in the system who don’t seem to be listed as true prospects.  I’m specifically disappointed thus far in Kylin Turnbull, who couldn’t make the leap to high A and seems like he needs to make some sort of adjustment in 2014.

Career Minors Bullpen guys: When Ryan Perry passed through waivers off the 40-man roster, his chances of ever making it back to the majors took a huge dent.  Paul Demny‘s precipitous drop this season also seems to spell doom for his career.  And apropos of nothing else, Ronald Pena seems like he has achieved the dreaded “organizational arm” tag.


On the bright side, the top-heavy nature of this list gives fans optimism for the power of this rotation for years to come.  In 3 year’s time (if Giolito, Ray and Cole all matriculate as expected) you’d have two Aces, two #2s and two #3s to choose from for your rotation.  That’s significant, considering that lots of teams are scraping the bottom of the barrel for their 5th starter.  If Ray and Cole turn into servicable major leaguers, you could trade/let go a guy who gets too expensive (Gonzalez or Zimmermann) with an able, cheap replacement.  Maybe I’m too high on Ray and Cole (who are both youngsters) … but then again maybe i’m too low on Jordan and Roark (both of whom have already shown the ability get major league hitters out).

Agree/Disagree/Hate what I’ve written?  I’m open to criticism.

 

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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Opening Day Starter Trivia

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Sabathia is your current Active leader in Opening Day starts. Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

One of my favorite annual trivia questions amongst my baseball buddies revolves around Opening Day Starters.  With another Opening Day in the books, here’s some useless trivia related to Opening Day starters for my readers.  I’ve uploaded my little Opening Day Starters spreadsheet to Google Docs and created a link in the “Nationals Arm Race creation” section along the right.

Current Active Leaders in Opening Day Starts

10 Roy Halladay
10 CC Sabathia
9 Mark Buehrle
6 Bartolo Colon
6 Derek Lowe
6 Tim Hudson
6 Felix Hernandez
6 Justin Verlander
5 Aaron Harang
5 Josh Beckett
5 Jered Weaver
5 James Shields
4 Jake Peavy
4 Barry Zito
4 Tim Lincecum
4 Yovani Gallardo

Those players bolded in the list above had 2013 opening day starts and added to their totals.  Roy Halladay‘s difficult spring training cost him his shot at Opening Day and thus CC Sabathia moves into a tie for first.  Mark Buehrle has given over the reigns of opening day starter possibly for good, based on his standing in the Toronto rotation (4th starter?).

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

Current Active Leader in consecutive Opening Day Starts: Verlander with 6 straight.

Most ever Opening Day Starts all-time: Tom 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 2013: no less than 13 first timers this year, nearly half the league.   Some guys got deserved first-time opening day starts (Jeff Samardzija, Matt Cain, and R.A. Dickey), some guys got Opening Day starts mostly out of attrition of other worthy pitchers (Jon Niese, Bud Norris, A.J. Burnett, Vance Worley and Jhoulys Chacin) and some guys are taking over as the new big-dog of their rotations (Brett Anderson, Chris Sale).

Who seems most likely to break Seaver’s Record at this point? Sabathia, who already has 10 opening day starts, is clearly the #1 in New York, is only 32 and still has five years on his current deal.  Question is, if he renews past 2017, can he still earn the #1 spot?   Meanwhile Hernandez already has 6, just signed a deal that takes him through 2019 with a relatively easy option for 2020.   That’s 8 more seasons on his existing 6 opening day starts and he’d only be 34 years of age.   He could be the standard holder if he stays healthy and continues to pitch like an ace.

Ask Boswell 2/25/13 Edition

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When is Anthony Rendon going to be ready for the Majors? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

With the first couple of Spring Training games in the books, its fitting that Tom Boswell did a Monday morning chat on 2/25/13.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the Baseball-specific questions he took.  As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write here before reading his response so as not to “color” my answer.

Q: Given that the Nats know almost every player making the roster out of Spring Training, do the players/coaches approach the 6 weeks differently?

A: Good question; I was taking with someone about this exact topic this weekend.  The 25-man roster is essentially already solidifed; perhaps the only question remaining is whether or not Henry Rodriguez makes it onto the team or does the team carry a second lefty reliever (Bill Bray?).  So I think the answer has to do with looking more at the AAA talent, looking at minor league FA signings like Micah Owings and Chris Snyder to see if they’re going to be better options than the guys we already had slated at AAA.  And the coaching staff gets to look at up-and-coming guys like Anthony Rendon, Zach Walters, and the like.  Boswell reiterates what I said here, naming other ML signings of interest like Chris Young, but also says that this ST has a lot of “wasted time.”

Q: I’ve spent the offseason reading Ball Four to help get my baseball fix. Do you have a sense about how different things are now?

A: It has been a while since I read Jim Bouton‘s seminal baseball book Ball Four.   But the season he chronicles (1969) happened before a number of rather important moments in Baseball history.  Expansion, divisional play, the Designated Hitter, the aftermath of the Curtis Flood and Andy Messersmith decisions (aka, Free Agency) and of course the massive increase of money in the game (both from a revenue stand point and from a player salary stand point).  One thing that seems certain to have changed; players can now earn enough in a season to be set financially for life.  And, the players union’s power is now such that players have the upper hand in a lot of negotiations with the league and the owners when it comes to labor unions.  Boswell notes that managers, coaches and GMs are far “smarter” now than they were in the Bouton era.

Q: How the Nats will do at the gate this year?

A: The season ticket base is back to where it was in 2005 apparently, broaching 20,000 season tickets.  The team averaged 29,269 fans last year.  Clearly the attendance seems set to rise significantly.   I think they’ll average 35,000 a night if they continue to be a first-place club.  Boswell agrees, noting that the team also has a couple of very marketable stars to help with attendance.

Q: Other than obvious injuries, are there any things that can happen in the first quarter of the year that you would find to be troubling?

A: I’d be troubled if Danny Espinosa started off slow.  I’d also be concerned if we saw significant regression out of our WBC participants Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler, confirming my fears.  But the most important factor may be the performance of Dan Haren: is he the 2012 Haren or the 2009 Haren?  If he approaches 2009 version, this team may be set for the season.  Boswell notes they have a tough early schedule, that winning 98 games is tough, and that we should be patient.

Q: Gio Gonzalez; did he or didn’t he?

A: I think the prevailing opinion in the sport now seems to be that he did NOT take or receive PEDs from the Miami clinic, and that he was an unfortunate bystander.  His passing a surprise PED test given two days after the scandal seems to have also bolstered his case.   Boswell agrees.

Q: Are the Nats a 98 win team again, or was last year a fluke?

A: Barring a significant injury in the rotation, I think the Nats are easily a 98-win team and perhaps better in 2013.  Statistical WAR “proof” offered in this space back in January, and that was before the LaRoche re-signing and the Soriano pickup, both of which marginally should improve the team a few wins.  Most national pundits that I’ve read think the same thing, that this team could win 103 games.  The various estimator stats out there (Zips, Pecota, etc)  the team much closer to 90 wins, but those predictors are by and large incredibly conservative.  Boswell also says it comes down to health of the rotation.

Q: How would you rate the Nats starting rotation, spot by spot, compared to the rest of the Major Leagues?

A: Spot by Spot, its hard not to think that each of our guys are each at least in the top 5 by position in the league.  Drawing from my Rotational Rankings post from January 7th, 2013, I’d say that:

  • Strasburg is clearly among the best arms in the game (in the discussion along with Verlander, Kershaw, and Hernandez).  He’s not as accomplished as this group of course, but his talent is unquestionable.
  • Gonzalez matches up as a top 5 number two starter (other candidates: Greinke, Hamels, Lincecum or Cain, depending on who you think SF’s “ace” is).
  • Zimmermann is traditionally underrated but is at least a top 5 number three starter (along with Scherzer, Johnson/Morrow, Bumgarner, Lee and Moore).
  • Haren on potential could be the best number four starter in the game, though Buehrle, Miley, and Lynn could also fit in here.
  • Detwiler is often mentioned as being the best number five starter out there, and its hard to find competitors (best options: Zito, Romero, Garcia, and whoever Oakland and St. Louis settle upon for their #5 starters).

Boswell seems worried that these five guys can handle the workload all year, only really trusting Gonzalez in terms of repeatability.

Q: What future do you see for Anthony Rendon, and when will he debut in the majors?

A: I have been of the belief that Zimmerman should move to 1B for Rendon at some point.  But with LaRoche signed for two years, that won’t happen for a while (2 years, perhaps 3 if we pick up his 2015 option).  So now i’m starting to come around to the the possibility of Rendon pushing someone else off their position.  The most likely candidate seems to be Espinosa at 2B.  Despite having Lombardozzi on the 25-man, Rendon is a higher-potential player.  If Espinosa starts slow, and Rendon starts fast, I could see Rendon getting called up in June and starting to get reps at 2nd while Espinosa goes on the DL for his shoulder.  Otherwise, a Sept 1 call-up seems in order.  Boswell predicts a post-all star game call-up.

Q: Is there any way the Nats can stop Detwiler and Gio from pitching in that baseball ‘classic’? I see a disaster waiting to happen. Luis Ayala was never the same after getting hurt pitching in that thing.

A: There’s no way legally the team can prevent either guy from pitching, since neither suffered any injuries in 2012.  And yes I agree (as discussed in this space on 2/11/13) this is bad news for the Nats.  Washington has never had a pitcher play in the WBC who didn’t regress badly, and the stats seem to show that most every pitcher who does participate in the WBC pitches poorly the next two seasons (links in my post).   Boswell says cross your fingers.

Q: Do you think Bryce has it in him to be National League mvp?

A: Yes I do.  MVP voting generally starts with the “Best Player” on the “Best Teams” and creates a short list from there.  It is why it is relatively easy to predict the MVPs.  If Washington is the best team in the league and makes the playoffs again, and Bryce Harper has a break out season, it won’t be hard to see him getting serious MVP consideration.  Now, let me also say that a “Harper for MVP” prediction is NOT the same as predicting that Harper is set to become the best player in the game.  That’s not what the MVP measures.  If the question was, “Is Harper set to become the best player in the National League” i’d then say, “No, he’s a few years away from that distinction.”  Boswell thinks it may be a bit early.

Q: How many wins per year would you estimate a a stellar defense adds to a teams win total over the course of a season?

A: I’m sure there’s a good statistical answer for this, based on the percentage of WAR added by defense.  But it seems like a very difficult answer to come by.  Boswell says “a few.”

Q: Any reason to think he’s NOT going to be the GM for a long time?  Because I can’t think of many others who have done as good a job in all of baseball.

A: I can see no reason for Rizzo not to be the GM for at least the next 4 years.  His next big challenge will be dealing with the inevitable payroll demands of Harper and Strasburg (both of whom project to be $25M players) while also keeping a competitive team on the field.   2017 could be an interesting year for this team; Strasburg projects to hit Free Agency that year, and Harper should be in his 4th arbitration year.  They already have Zimmerman and Werth at $14M and $21M respectively in the 2017 year, with possibly another $40-$45M out the door to keep Harper and Strasburg.  They better start working on the farm system again.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just mentioned how Rizzo’s options have yet to be picked up.

Q: How is Ramos looking thus far? 100%? Suzuki is a professional and seems to be a good guy, do you get a feel for how well he and Ramos interact? How great would it be to generate some power/runs from the catcher spot this year.

A: I’ve been assuming that the catcher job is Suzuki‘s to lose for now; its still early but no word has come out negatively on Ramos‘ recovery.  Either way, yes it would be nice to get some production out of the #8 hole.  Suzuki was pretty good after he came over here, but Ramos healthy was a middle-of-the-order bat.  Boswell suggests that Ramos stop blocking the plate.

Q: If Rendon tears it up after September call-up, what does the Nats 2014 infield look like?

A: Wow; hard not to say Rendon replaces Espinosa like-for-like right now.  But, just as Desmond broke out in his 3rd full time season, so could Espinosa.  It could make for a log jam.  Lets hope for the best, hope for a rebound Espinosa season and a good-problem-to-have situation of having to trade a strength to make way for another strength.  Boswell has no idea where Rendon will play if he merits a call-up.

Q: I think the Nats, and Danny Espinosa are whistling past the graveyard if they think a completely torn left rotator cuff will not seriously affect Danny’s play. Your take?

A: A fair assessment.  I too believe a torn rotator cuff absolutely has to be affecting his swing, especially from the right side.  I think Espinosa should have gotten the thing surgically repaired in the off-season.  I wonder how much the team knew of the injury, because when it was reported in the off-season it sure seemed like a surprise.  Boswell says its a concern and that Espinosa should take more days off.

Q: Is McCatty working with Strasburg on correcting his inverted W delivery? Strasburg also has footstrike issues, as he tends to plant his foot and then whip his arm, which puts a ton of strain on his shoulder. I’m concerned if he doesn’t correct this, his shoulder will give out this season or next. Are the Nats worried about this? Are they working on cleaning up his delivery at all?

A: I’m beginning to think that this whole “Inverted W” thing is a bunch of BS.  Keith Law stated as much when prompted in a chat recently; he says that the problem with the Inverted W theory is that its difficult to “state” with authority that certain pitchers do or don’t have the phenomena.  And its true; if you see some shots of Strasburg he has it, in others his arms are more bent behind his back.  Its the same with Gio Gonzalez (I can show you stills of him landing with his arms clearly in an “inverted W” position and you don’t hear anyone talking about Gonzalez’s mechanics.   The leading inverted-W site on the internet (Chris O’Leary‘s page linked here) uses an opportunisitic example set of pitchers with that motion, but I can find plenty of examples of guys who have similar mechanics but zero soft-tissue injury history (on the Nats two quick examples are Drew Storen and Craig Stammen).  Meanwhile one of his examples was John Smoltz … who only threw 3400 MLB innings in his career and basically didn’t miss a start until he was 32.  Not the best example of proof that his mechanics were somehow “awful.”  I think the entire phenomenon is an observation of coincidence, that pitchers get injuries all the time no matter what their mechanics, and that we need to move onwards.  Wow; Boswell thinks exactly what i think; these proofs are nonesense.

2013 Rotation Rankings; Ranked 1-30

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Greinke bolstered the Dodger’s already strong rotation. How much? Photo Jeff Golden/Getty Images

(Editor Note: I’ve had the bulk of this post written for weeks and have been waiting for the last couple of impact FA starters to sign.  I’m tired of waiting.  If/when guys like Kyle Lohse, Shawn Marcum or Joe Saunders signs, or if there’s another big trade that happens, perhaps I’ll re-post this).

On December 5th, awash in the after-glow of the Dan Haren acquisition, I postulated that the Washington Nationals’ 2013 rotation was the Best in the Majors.

That was before the next shoe dropped in the Los Angeles Dodger’s unbelievable spending spree in 2012: signing Zack Greinke to a 6yr/$147M contract.  This is the 2nd largest starting pitcher contract ever signed (just behind CC Sabathia‘s 7yr/$161M deal that he opted out of to sign a slightly larger deal in terms of AAV after the 2012 season).  These rankings also are updated for the highly-criticized James Shields (and parts) for Wil Myers (and parts) deal, the Ryan Dempster signing.

The larger story behind the Greinke signing remains the unbelievable payroll Los Angeles will be sporting in 2013; they’ll spend roughly $225M in 2013, breaking the  Yankees record by a 10% margin, and all boldly in the face of a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax.  And they’re likely not done yet on the FA market.  But the focus of this article is a revisiting of baseball’s best rotations, now that Greinke is in the Dodger’s fold.

Instead of trying to figure out which handful of teams are the best, why not rank all 30 rotations?  With the help of some Depth Chart websites (ESPN, rotoworld, mlbdepthcharts, and some good old-fashioned baseball-reference.com), here’s my rankings of the 30 rotations as they stand for 2013, right now.   For the sake of this ranking, I am trying to take a reasonable expectations case for each of the pitchers on each team, as opposed to a “best case” for each team (this is most important when considering San Francisco’s rotation).  I’m also not considering “depth,” just the Ace through 5th starter (this is important when judging Washington especially).

Note: a couple of other National writers have done similar analysis, with David Schoenfield‘s NL-only rankings on his Sweetspot blog back in November and Buster Olney‘s top-10 in the MLB rankings here.  By and large the rankings match up, with a couple of different .

Discussion on each rotation is below the rankings.

  1. Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler
  2. Detroit: Verlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with rookies Smyly, Crosby, Wilk awaiting)
  3. Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, GreinkeBeckett, Harang, Capuano (with Ryu, Lilly, Billingsley in the wings)
  4. Toronto: DickeyMorrow, Johnson, Buehrle, Romero with Happ/Laffey/Drabeck/Huchinson in the wings.
  5. San Francisco: Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito.
  6. Tampa Bay: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Niemann and one from Cobb/Archer.  Possibly Odorizzi and Montgomery now in the mix too.
  7. PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd/Pettibone/Hyatt as backups)
  8. St. Louis: Carpenter, Wainwright, Westbrook, and probably Lynn and Garcia (Kelly/Miller if Garcia is not ready)
  9. CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (possibly Chapman?)
  10. Arizona: Kennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley, and one from Skaggs/Collmenter
  11. Atlanta: Medlen, Hudson, Minor, Maholm, and one from Beachy/Delgado/Tehran
  12. Texas: Darvish, Harrison, Holland, Ogando and likely a FA pick up. (Perez for now)
  13. Los Angeles Angels: Weaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton (wth Richards/Cassevah for depth).
  14. Oakland: Anderson, Griffen, Parker, Colon, Milone, with Straily/Blackley/Ross/Godfrey in the wings.
  15. Chicago White Sox: Sale, Peavy, Danks, Floyd, Quintana
  16. New York Yankees: Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps.  What about Pineda?
  17. Boston: Lester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, and 1 from Doubront/Morales/ De La Rosa.
  18. Baltimore: Hammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, Britton (perhaps Bundy)
  19. Chicago Cubs: Garza, Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, and one from Baker/Feldman/Villanueva (likely two if Garza is still injured or is traded).  They also just signed Dontrelle Willis to a minor league deal.
  20. Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen (Hochevar, Moscoso?)
  21. Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Ramirez, Beavan (Hultzen?).  Bonderman on a reclamation project.
  22. Pittsburgh: Burnett, Liriano, Rodriguez, McDonald, Locke, McPherson
  23. Milwaukee: Gallardo, Estrada, Fiers, Narveson, Rogers (with the likes of Peralta and Thornberg waiting if Narveson cannot go).
  24. Minnesota: Diamond, Worley, Correia, Pelfrey (if he’s healthy), Hendricks, Duensing, De Vries (maybe Gibson or May? ).  Harden on a reclamation project.
  25. New York Mets: Santana, Niese, Gee, Harvey, and who knows.
  26. Cleveland: Jimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer (Kazmir and Myers on reclamation projects)
  27. Colorado: De La Rosa, Chacin, Pomeranz, Nicaso, Francis (and newly acquired Rosenbaum perhaps?)
  28. San Diego: Volquez, Richard, Marquis, Stults, Ross
  29. Miami: Nolasco, Alvarez, LeBlanc, Eovaldi, Turner, Maine?
  30. Houston: Norris, Humber, Ely, White, Harrell, Lyles (who, who and who?)

Free Agents as of 1/2/13 that could impact the above list: Lohse, Marcum, Saunders, Lowe.  Also guys like Webb, Vazquez and Pavano could be coming out of retirement but likely won’t make much of an impact.

Rumored trades as of 12/31/12 that could impact this list:  Harang, Capuano, Masterson, Smyly/Porcello.

Hmm.  I seem to favor NL teams.  The majority of my top Ten rotations are in the NL.  Is this bias?  Discussion, 1-30

  1. Washington: If Dan Haren returns to 2011 form, which I’m assuming he will, this is the best rotation in the majors.  Not the deepest though; if we lose someone to injury we could struggle to repeat 2012′s win total.  But this is an exercise to determine the best 1 through 5, not to determine depth (where teams like the Dodgers and Tampa clearly have more depth).  I will say, this is a close race at the top; I can see arguments for any of the top 4-5 to be the best rotation.  I don’t want to be accused of homerism by ranking the Nats #1, but can make a man-for-man argument that shows we should be #1 above the next several competitors.
  2. Detroit’s rotation in the post season was fantastic against New York, then god-awful against San Francisco.  Why?  What can they change in 2013?  They better figure it out, because upon re-signing Anibel Sanchez they’re rolling the dice on the same big 4 in 2013.  Fister and Scherzer are slightly underrated but showed how dominant they can be in the playoffs.  The #5 starter is likely where Detroit falls to Washington; Detwiler’s 12th ranked ERA+ in 2012 will trump nearly every other #5 starter in the league.
  3. The Los Angeles Dodgers has an Ace in Clayton Kershaw, a near-Ace (in my opinion) in Zack Greinke, a potential near-ace career reclamation project in Josh Beckett, and then a bunch of question marks.  Two rotation stalwarts Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley remain injury question marks for 2013, and the rest of their rotation right now are league average hurlers.   I believe their pitchers get a bump in adjusted ERA by virtue of their home park, thus I don’t believe their current #4/#5s match up as well with Washington’s or Detroit’s, putting them in 3rd place.  Plus Beckett is a question mark; is he throwing like he did at the end of 2012, or is he the Fried-Chicken eating malcontent he has been in Boston the last couple of years?
  4. Toronto: Its not every day you can trade for 4 starting players, including two rotation members.  But thanks to Miami’s salary dump, Toronto finds itself with a significantly improved rotation.  If Josh Johnson returns to Ace form, coupled with Brandon Morrow’s fantastic 2012 performance and Mark Buehrle’s solid #3 stuff, they have something to build on.   The subsequent acqusition of 2012 Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey changes things though, valulting Toronto into the discussion for best AL rotation.
  5. San Francisco has won two World Series’ in three years with the same core of hurlers, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to be amongst the elite in the league.  The question remains though; what are they getting from Tim Lincecum in 2013?  Is the other shoe going to drop on Ryan Vogelsong‘s fairy tale career resurgence?  And, can Barry Zito continue his career rebound?   If the best-case falls for Lincecum and Zito (Lincecum returns to Cy Young form and Zito pitches even marginally ok) then I think they’re the best rotation in the game.  As it stands though, i’m assuming that both guys fall somewhere short of the best case, meaning that they’re “only” the 5th best rotation in the game.
  6. Tampa Bay has well-known pitching depth, and even with the move/heist of the James Shields trade they have a ton of guys who other teams would love to have.  Expect a bounce-back sophomore campaign from Matt Moore and more excellent innings from rising hurlers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer.  They may not be the best rotation in the game, but they’re certainly the most value for the dollar.
  7. Philadelphia’s big 3 are all fantastic, but are showing signs of age.  Roy Halladay only had an 89 ERA+ last year; has age caught up to him?  The drop-off after the big 3 is significant too.  But the potential of the big 3 keeps this rotation among the league’s elite.  The acquisition of John Lannan didn’t affect their ranking much; he merely replaces the Phillies heading into 2013 with a rookie in the #5 spot.  I had Philadelphia lower in the earlier drafts of these rankings, and have them this high on the assumption that their big three are all entering 2013 healthy.
  8. St Louis’s 2012 rotation was rich enough this year to drop 18-game winner Lance Lynn to the bullpen.   With Chris Carpenter healthy in 2013, with Adam Wainwright recovered from Tommy John, and with the likes of hard-throwing Joe Kelly or Shelby Miller as your #5 starter, this could be a scary rotation.  And that’s if Jaime Garcia isn’t ready for the start of the season after injuring his shoulder in the playoffs.  Kelly/Rosenthal are serious arms though and give far more depth than what a team like Washington has.  Some pundits are not as high on the ability of Carpenter to return to his career form, pushing this ranking slightly lower than I initially had them.   It all comes down to the health of their 1-2 punch; if Carpenter and Wainwright pitch like Cy Young candidates, this rotation gets pushed up much higher.
  9. Cincinnati’s 5 starters took every 2012 start except ONE (the back half of an August double header).  In today’s baseball landscape, that’s nothing short of amazing.  Mike Leake may not be the strongest #5, but Cincy’s 1-2-3 put up great numbers pitching in a bandbox in Cincinnati.  I’m not the biggest Mat Latos fan, but his 2012 performance spoke for itself.   Lastly, there’s rumors that Aroldis Chapman may be moving to the rotation, pushing Leake presumably to a swing-man role.  If Chapman can repeat his K/9 performance in a starter role, this rotation is even more formidable.  Should it be higher?  Perhaps; in previous drafts I had them in the top 5, but I just can’t seem to give their top guys the same “Ace” billing as other leading arms above them on this list.
  10. Arizona‘s acquisition of Brandon McCarthy is a great one for me; if the Nats hadn’t bought Haren, I thought this guy would fit in perfectly.  Arizona has a solid 1-4 and (like Atlanta) has a slew of options for #5.  And, they have help in the immediate future, with Daniel Hudson coming back from July 2012 TJ surgery and a top prospect in AA.  I see them as a solid rotation 1 through 5 but without the blow-away ace that other top rotations have.
  11. Atlanta’s found gold in Kris Medlen gives Atlanta enough depth to trade away starters (the Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden deal).  They have 4 good starters and then can pick from 3 top-end prospects for the 5th starter until Brandon Beachy is back from surgery.  What pushes this rotation down in the rankings is the unknown; is Tim Hudson getting too old?  And what kind of performance can we expect from Medlen realistically?  Can he really continue to pitch like Bob Gibson in 1968?  Their 3/4/5 guys don’t scare me right now, but the potential of 1 and 2 keep them ranked decently high.
  12. Texas bought an ace last off-season in Yu Darvish, has a couple of good arms developed in house in Holland and Harrison, but has been depending on one-off FAs to fill the void.   They need a full healthy year out of their two upper-end arms Alexi Ogando and/or Neftali Feliz to make the leap.  Felix is out for most of 2013 though after getting Tommy John surgery in August.  Colby Lewis is in the fold but seems like he’s out most of 2013 after elbow surgery late last season.  If they buy another decent FA this off-season (Lohse?), this rotation works its way further up.  I have a hard time seeing them at #12, but who above them on this list right now do you push them ahead of?
  13. The Los Angeles Angels have a great 1-2 punch in Weaver and Wilson, but they’ve spent the off-season watching their former envious rotation erode.  Hanson is an arm injury waiting to happen, Blanton has been pitching below replacement level for 3 years, and they don’t have an established #5 right now.  Perhaps this rotation should be lower.  The shrewd trade for Jason Vargas helps keep them in the upper-half of the league, based on who their planned #4/#5 guys are.
  14. Oakland’s slew of young, cost contained and quality starters is the envy of the league.  The only thing that keeps this list from greater acclaim is Oakland’s relative lack of recent success (2012 not withstanding).  Throw in a couple more playoff appearances and Billy Beane can get a sequel to Moneyball published.  Like the LA and SF rotation, they benefit from their home park, but that doesn’t take away the fact that they won the division last year.  The off-season isn’t over either; I can still see Beane flipping one or more of his rotation for more depth/more hitting and turning to his stable of youngsters again.  I’m not necessarily happy with this ranking spot and feel like it should be higher, but their collection of unknowns doesn’t inspire the confidence of the known Aces above them on this list.
  15. The Chicago White Sox have a big up and coming potenial Ace in the making in Chris Sale and the engimatic Jake Peavy.  After that are some league average options.  Jose Quintana had a great 2012; can he repeat his success?  I feel like the 3/4/5 guys in this rotation are all quality, innings eater types, but nothing that really knocks your socks off.  Middle of the pack feels right.
  16. The New York Yankees continue to get 95+ win teams with a smoke-and-mirror job in the rotation.  Now they set to go into 2013 with one possibly injured Ace and two guys nearly 40 as their 1-2-3.  Is 2013 the year the wheels come off the bus for New York?  A healthy Michael Pineda contributing as the #2 starter he can be would vastly improve the outlook here.
  17. Boston‘s ranking may be changing significantly, depending on which arms they buy up off the FA market.  I think a new manager helps Lester and Buchholz regain their near-Ace form of yesteryear, and Dempster should give them competent innings in the middle of the rotation.  But I can’t assume anything when it comes to their 1/2; they’ve both been so good and so bad in the recent past.
  18. Baltimore amazingly comes in ranked this low despite making the playoffs last year with this collection of no-name starters.  Maybe i’m underselling their 1-2-3 capabilities.  Maybe i’m just treating them like a team that had a pythagorean record of 82-80.
  19. The Chicago Cubs still seem set to be in “sell mode,” so listing Garza as their Ace seems fleeting.  Behind Garza though are a collection of hard throwing, promising guys.  I like Samardzija, the Edwin Jackson acquisition gives them a solid #4.  Perhaps this rotation should be slightly higher on potential.
  20. Kansas City made their big trade to acquire an “Ace” … and only got James Shields.  I mean, Shields is good .. but not that good.  He’s only got a career 107 ERA+, but he is a healthy workhorse.  Behind Sheilds is a collection of guys who mostly are #4 and #5 starters elsewhere, which means this rotation is … below average.
  21. Seattle should have been higher than the teams directly ahead of them on this list just by virtue of the quality of Felix Hernandez … but then they went and traded away Vargas, and seem to have no good ideas on the back end of their rotation right now.  This team could be in trouble.
  22. Pittsburgh is getting by on veteran starters who have the ability to look good, and may not deserve this high of a ranking.  AJ Burnett had a great first half but settled back down to average in 2012.  Here’s a great stat: Burnett is getting paid $16.5M a year … and has *never* made an all star team in his career.
  23. Milwaukee seems like they should be higher with a guy like Gallardo leading the ranks.  But their #2 is Marco Estrada, a guy who couldn’t make Washington’s rotation in the years when we didn’t HAVE a rotation.   I know Fiers is good; perhaps this rotation should be higher.
  24. Minnesota‘s rotation looks pretty poor right now; their ace is a guy whose a #3 on most teams (Scott Diamond) and they’re hoping for one of their injury reclamation projects to pan out.  It could be a long season in Minneapolis.
  25. The New York Mets rotation could be better than 25th, if Santana isn’t allowed to throw 150 pitches pursuing a no-hitter and if Niese pitches up to his capability.  However, Santana hasn’t had an injury-free season since 2008, and I’m not betting on it in 2013.  They are planning on giving both the 4/5 slots to rookies, meaning there could be some long series for this team in 2013.  Their fate was sealed when they traded away their Cy Young winning Ace, and the statement was made about the direction of the franchise.

From 26-30, I honestly don’t see much of a difference between these rotations.   Really the only argument was to figure out which rotation of no-names between Miami and Houston was dead-last.  I selected Houston for the time being; if/when Miami trades Ricky Nolasco for 40 cents on the dollar, we’ll feel free to rank them 30th.


At the end of this massive posting, I can honestly say that the difference between the 5th ranked rotation and the 6th is often near nothing. Looking back, I can see anyone from the 5-8 range being listed in any order and I’d agree with it. I ranked and re-ranked these rotations over and over again from the time I started writing this post in early December to the time i’ve posted it. Perhaps it would have been easier to just have groupings of rotations instead of a pure ranking 1-30. But, that would have been a copout.

I look forward to your opinions and arguments for some rotations to be higher/lower than others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nats 2013 Rotation; Best in the Majors?

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Nats 2013 rotation:  Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler.

Question: Is this the best rotation in the majors?   David Schoenfield already thinks so.  If not, which team’s would you put up against it?

Last year, this same rotation (with Haren being replaced by Edwin Jackson) was considered a very good rotation, but not amongst the MLB’s elite.  That’s mostly because most baseball people thought Gonzalez would regress leaving the comfy confines of Oakland.  Instead, Gonzales put up a 21 win season, finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting and stunned most pundits with his lowered walk rates.  Meanwhile Zimmermann was getting some minor Cy Young consideration mid-way through the 2012 season before tiring in September; in any case the league-wide recognition for our quiet #3 hurler has been welcome.  Strasburg is who he is; inarguably near the top of anyone’s list of the best pitchers in the league.

Now in 2013, with these established guys continuing to improve, with Strasburg unleashed, and with an established #2 Haren in the fold, is this the best rotation in the majors?  Here’s your competition for “Best rotation” teams (I’ve got these ranked in my rough order of strength):

  • St. Louis: Carpenter, Wainwright, Westbrook, and two from Garcia/Lynn/Kelly/Rosenthal
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo and Leake
  • Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Maholm, and one from Beachy/Delgado/Tehran
  • Tampa Bay: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Niemann and one from Cobb/Archer
  • San Francisco: Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Zito
  • Philadelphia: Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Worley
  • Texas: Darvish, Harrison, Holland, Lewis and probably Ogando barring a FA pickup
  • Detroit: Verlander, Fister, Scherzer, Porcello, Smyly
  • Oakland: Anderson, Griffen, Parker, Milone and one from Straily/Blackley/Ross/Godfrey
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Kershaw, Beckett, Capuano, Harang and a slew of injuries and question marks.
  • Toronto: Johnson, Buehrle, Morrow, Romero and one from Happ/Laffey/Drabeck/Huchinson/someone

Am I missing anyone?  Here’s some thoughts on these rotations as they stand right now:

  • St Louis‘s rotation was rich enough this year to drop 18-game winner Lance Lynn to the bullpen.   With Chris Carpenter healthy in 2013, with Adam Wainwright recovered from Tommy John, and with the likes of hard-throwing Joe Kelly or Trevor Rosenthal as your #5 starter, this is a scary rotation.
  • Cincinnati’s 5 starters took every 2012 start except ONE (the back half of an August double header).  In today’s baseball landscape, that’s nothing short of amazing.  Mike Leake may not be the strongest #5, but Cincy’s 1-2-3 put up great numbers pitching in a bandbox in Cincinnati.
  • Atlanta‘s found gold in Kris Medlen gives Atlanta enough depth to trade away starters (the Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden deal).  They have 4 excellent starters and then can pick from 3 top-end prospects for the 5th starter until Brandon Beachy is back from surgery.
  • Tampa Bay has well-known pitching depth, and even with the anticipated move of James Shields they have depth up and down the rotation.  Expect a bounce-back sophomore campaign from Matt Moore and more excellent innings from rising hurlers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer.  They may not be the best, but they’re certainly the most value for the dollar.
  • San Francisco has won two World Series’ in three years with the same core of hurlers, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to be amongst the elite in the league.  The question remains though; what are thet getting from Tim Lincecum in 2013?  And, can Barry Zito continue his career rebound?  If the answers are yes and yes, then this rotation is much closer to the top of the list.
  • Philadelphia‘s big 3 are all fantastic, but are showing signs of age.  Roy Halladay only had an 89 ERA+ last year; has age caught up to him?  The drop-off after the big 3 is significant too.
  • Texas bought an ace last off-season in Yu Darvish, has a couple of good arms developed in house in Holland and Harrison, but has been depending on one-off FAs to fill the void.   They need a full healthy year out of their two upper-end arms Alexi Ogando and/or Neftali Feliz to make the leap.  Felix is out for most of 2013 though after getting Tommy John surgery in August.  If they buy a FA this off-season, this rotation works its way further up.  Especially if that FA is Zack Greinke.
  • Detroit‘s rotation in the post season was fantastic against New York, then god-awful against San Francisco.  Why?  What can they change in 2013?  They lose Anibel Sanchez to free agency, but their top three arms in Verlander, Fister and Scherzer are just as good as anyone elses 1-2-3 in terms of cumulative depth.  If they retain Sanchez, this rotation rises in the rankings as well.
  • Oakland‘s slew of young, cost contained and quality starters is the envy of the league.  The only thing that keeps this list from greater acclaim is Oakland’s relative lack of recent success.  Throw in a couple more playoff appearances and Billy Beane can get a sequel to Moneyball published.
  • Los Angeles has an Ace in Clayton Kershaw, a possible near-ace career reclamation project in Josh Beckett, and then a bunch of question marks.  Two rotation stalwarts Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley remain injury question marks for 2013, and the rest of their rotation right now are league average hurlers.  If they make a splash in the FA market (Greinke?) this rotation could rise in the ranks as well.
  • Toronto: Its not every day you can trade for 4 starting players, including two rotation members.  But thanks to Miami’s salary dump, Toronto finds itself with a significantly improved rotation.  Is it close to league best?  No, probably not.  But if Josh Johnson returns to Ace form, coupled with Brandon Morrow‘s fantastic 2012 performance and Mark Buehrle‘s solid #3 stuff, they have something to build on.

Where would I put Washington’s rotation in this list?  At the top, or very close to it.  Each of our guys matches up well in a head-to-head competition going down the line, with Haren as a #4 starter that you’d likely take 100% of the time over anyone else’s #4 starter.

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.