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2017 MLB Rotation Rankings 1-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking Spots #22-23: Kansas City and Miami

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

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

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

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

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


So, what do you guys think of my rankings?

 

Strasburg Extension Shocker!

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Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Woke today to check the score from last night (we have a toddler, ergo we are sleep deprived and go to bed early).  After reading about Bryce Harper‘s mouth and ejection and Clint Robinson‘s walkoff, there was a small little link at the bottom of the article…

Stephen Strasburg signs a 7yr, $175M extension to stay with the team, as broken last night by the Washington Post’s Chelsea James.

Wow.  Did not see this coming.  I never thought this team would re-sign Strasburg frankly, because I thought there’d be a feeding frenzy when he hit free agency this coming off-season.

Strasburg’s representation (Scott Boras) is not exactly known for having his players sign extensions.  The 2016-17 free agent market for starters was so bare that Strasburg likely would have inspired a bidding war and you have to think Strasburg just left a bunch of money on the table.  The next best starter hitting free agency next off-season now might be Rich Hill.  Rich Frigging Hill, as in the guy the Nats had on a MLFA deal last summer and cut him loose so he could go re-make his career out of the Oakland bullpen.

What kind of value did the team just get?  Here’s a quick look at the other SP deals in the $150M or higher range:

  • David Price: 7yrs/$217M starting in 2016.
  • Clayton Kershaw: 7yrs, $214M starting in 2014
  • Max Scherzer: 7yrs/$210M starting in 2015 (albeit with significant deferred money that brings the net present value down to around $185M)
  • Zack Greinke: 6yrs/$206M starting in 2016
  • Felix Hernandez, 7yrs/$175M starting in 2014
  • Masahiro Tanaka: 7yrs/$155M (but with his $20M posting fee its a $175M deal all told)
  • Jon Lester: 6yrs/$155M starting in 2015.

So, this is the selection of contracts to compare this Strasburg deal to.  Other big deals signed last off-season include Johnny Cueto (6yrs/$130M) and Jordan Zimmermann (5yrs/$110M).

There’s already a bunch of hot takes; some like the deal, some think its a mistake.  On the one hand, Yes, pretty much any big long term free agent deal eventually looks like a stinker, so in that respect you can be a cynic and say that every long term FA contract is a mistake.  But that’s just not a realistic way to look at team building in this modern era.  Unless you’re willing to completely punt on your season for several years running (see Chicago Cubs, see Houston Astros, see the Atlanta Braves right now, even look at what our own Nats did for two seasons so they could acquire both Strasburg and Harper in the draft), then keeping your team consistently in the upper division requires spending on the FA market to paper over what your farm system may  not be developing.

But looking at (specifically) the Cueto and Lester deals … I can’t help but think that the Nats got a steal here.  Who would you rather have, Cueto for 6/$130M or Strasburg for 7/$175?  Same question for Lester. Strasburg, to me, is a better pitcher (a far better pitcher) and they got him for basically the same AAV as those guys.  Would you rather have Strasburg for $25M AAV or Price at $31M AAV?  Honestly?  Give me Strasburg and I can use that $6M to buy more bullpen guys.

I know Strasburg has his detractors out there, people who with a straight face don’t think he’s an “Ace” or one of the best 10-15 arms in this league;  you people are fools.  Look at nearly any metric you want over the last 3-4  years and you’ll find that Strasburg is in the top 10-15 league wide.  Here’s a helpful link to fangraphs individual pitcher stats from 2012-now; in this time frame Strasburg is (among qualified starters): 13th in fWAR, 13th in ERA, 9th in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 9th in SIERA, 4th in K/9, 11th in K/BB, 5th in FB velocity, 20th in wFA, 7th in wCU, 6th in wCH.  That’s pretty rare air to be that high up in so many different categories spanning the various statistical ways to measure pitching these days.  He’s not Clayton Kershaw … who is?

Interesting question to ponder: is this Strasburg/Boras “payback” for “shutdown-gate” in 2012??  Their way of saying “thank you” for looking out more for the pitcher than the team in that case?   Because it seems so to me; that’s my “hot take.”

I leave you with this before debating the merits of this move: Here’s our projected rotation in 2017:

Scherzer, Strasburg, Giolito, Ross, and Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark.

Yeah; that could be pretty frigging good.

2016 MLB Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The best pitcher on the best rotation in the league. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The best pitcher on the best rotation in the league. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I’m returning to a fun post that I did in 2013 and again in 2014 (but couldn’t find the time to do while switching jobs in 2015): Ranking the MLB rotations 1-30 ahead of the new season.  I normally wait to do this post until all the significant starter free agents have signed; when Yovani Gallardo signed, he was the final QO-attached starter who might make a difference in a team’s ranking, so it was time to publish.

This is not a scientific analysis necessarily; i’m not looking at PECOTA or ZIPS to project war to do my rankings.  Rather, this is an eye test of the guys projected to pitch 1-5 for each team in the coming season.  So feel free to disagree.  For what its worth, I am pretty confident in my top 10 and my bottom 5 rotations … but am not exactly going to argue vehemently that the rotation i’ve got ranked 22nd is appreciably better than the one I have ranked 24th.

At the bottom i’ve put links to other pundit’s rankings, which are similar but different.

As always, I show my work; here’s the rotation ranks worksheet that I use to track rotation players.  As an added bonus to what is shown below, the worksheet color codes new acquisitions, puts in “depth” for each team and tracks who the team lost from last  year.  it also has a list of as-of-yet-unsigned hurlers, though none would move the needle if/when they sign for 2016.

I’ll put these into sections and put in comments as we go.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
New York Mets 1 Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Bartolo Colon
St. Louis 2 Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, Mike Leake
San Francisco 3 Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Cain, Jake Peavy
Cleveland 4 Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Cody Anderson
Washington 5 Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark

Discussion 1-5: My top 5 is pretty similar to other people’s top 5 rotations.  I don’t think anyone would argue against the Mets being at #1; if Zack Wheeler comes back healthy he can replace either the ageless Colon or the oft-injured Matz and perhaps even improve what is clearly the class of the league.  I have St. Louis #2 since everyone seems to forget just how good they were last  year; yes they lose Lynn but they gain back Wainwright.

I could see why people could argue against having both San Francisco and Cleveland higher than Washington, and indeed over the course of the winter I had Washington above both.  But I’m convinced that both of SF’s new acquisitions Cueto and Samardzija will completely thrive playing in the NL West, and you can do worse than Cain/Peavy as your 4/5.   They have some depth in case those two veterans get hurt and I see SF as a sneaky NL West challenger in 2016.

Cleveland you say?  Kluber is a former Cy Young winner who hasn’t forgotten how to pitch, Carrasco and Salazar are two of the best young arms in the league (I’m seeing Carrasco in particular going very high in fantasy ADP rankings for 2016), and their 4/5 are comparable to Washington’s back end.  If you wanted to argue that man for man Washington was just ahead of Cleveland i wouldn’t disagree; i’ve been burned over-ranking DC’s rotation in the past so perhaps I was gun shy this time around.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Chicago Cubs 6 Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks
Arizona 7 Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin (TJ), Robbie Ray, Rubby De La Rosa
Los Angeles Dodgers 8 Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Mike Bolsinger
Seattle 9 Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Hisashi Iwakuma, Nate Karns, Wade Miley
Chicago White Sox 10 Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, John Danks, Erik Johnson

Discussion 6-10: So, is Washington > than the Cubs?  I think so: I don’t view Lester as a real #2 any more, Lackey is approaching retirement and their 4/5 are basically 5th starters easily found on the waiver wire; i’d take the Nats’ 3-4-5 over the Cubs any day.  Still, Arrieta‘s 2nd half was legendary and it is possible that Lackey puts up a 3-win season, so they’re still quite good.  Both Arizona and the Dodgers are propped up by virtue of their Aces; the back side of both rotations looks downright scary.  In fact, you can say the same for Seattle and the White Sox too; all four of these teams have league-wide top end Aces and then 5th starters who seem like they could be replaced by someone in AAA.  That’s really the difference between these teams and the top 5 ranked teams; its the back of the rotations, not so much the front.

I could be slightly wrong about Seattle’s depth; if Iwakuma is really hurt and if Felix‘s decline phase has really started, then Seattle’s a notch down.  If Rodon takes the step forward that he can, then the White Sox can really become a force of a rotation quickly.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Pittsburgh 11 Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, Jon Niese, Ryan Vogelsong
Houston 12 Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers, Scott Feldman
Boston 13 David Price, Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Roenis Elias
Tampa Bay 14 Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Erasmo Ramirez, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore
Detroit 15 Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Mike Pelfrey

Discussion 11-15: So again looking at edge cases, I have the likes of Seattle and Chicago > Pittsburgh based on the strength (or lack there of) of the back-end of Pittsburgh’s rotation; NieseVogelsong??  Really?  I just have a hard time believing that Pittsburgh is going to reach 90 wins with this 2016 rotation.  Houston is one Cy Young winner and four guys who look like 4-A replacements.  I like the Price signing … but Price is not exactly Kershaw-esque when it comes to putting up constant shut-down performances; Price gets just lit up some times.  Last year he had outings where he gave up 10 hits/8 runs in 2+ innings and a 13-hit 6 1/3 outing.  75% QS rate, which sounds good but isn’t in the 82-85% range like Kershaw and Arrieta.  My point is this: Price goes to the AL East, to pitching in a hitters park, and he can take some big numbers.  The rest of Boston’s rotation is weak too; would you trust Buchholz at this point?  Porcello is their #3 and he’d be in the Syracuse if he played for us.

In fact, Maybe I have Tampa and Detroit too low; Tampa in particular could be a monster if Moore comes back strong and Archer is as good as he could be.  If Verlander can capture his 2nd half form … then Detroit could take a big step up too.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Texas 16 Yu Darvish (TJ), Cole Hamels, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, Nick Martinez
Miami 17 Jose Fernandez, Wei-Yin Chen, Jared Cosart, Tom Koehler, Adam Conley
Kansas City 18 Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, Kris Medlen
Los Angeles Angels 19 Garrett Richards, Jered Weaver, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, ?
New York Yankees 20 Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova

Discussion 16-20: Texas is an interesting one; Darvish won’t be ready for opening day, but if he comes back this ranking could rise.  Likewise, I might have Miami too low considering that Fernandez is one of the top pitchers in the game; i just don’t trust the rest of their rotation, and the Chen signing made zero sense for a team that can’t seem to decide if they’re trying to win or not.  The strength of Kansas City’s pitching staff isn’t their starters; its the bullpen (best in the league along with the  Yankees), and the Kennedy signing seemed to make no sense.  Thanks to two early ST injuries, I literally have no idea who the Angels 5th starter is going to be now … perhaps they should now be lower.  Lastly you have the Yankees: every guy in their rotation seems like a huge question mark; Tanaka has a torn UCL, Sabathia is a shell of who he once was, Pineda had a shoulder injury that cost him all of 2012 and half of the next two seasons, Nova just came off of Tommy John surgery, and Eovaldi (himself on his 2nd elbow ligament) can’t find the plate.  If these guys are ranked 20th … imagine what’s coming below.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
San Diego 21 James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Robbie Erlin, Colin Rea
Toronto 22 Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey, J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison
Oakland 23 Sonny Gray, Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, Rich Hill
Baltimore 24 Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman
Atlanta 25 Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Manny Banuelos, Bud Norris, Williams Perez

Discussion 21-25: As with all the edge cases, perhaps you can squint at San Diego and say they could be ranked higher.  Perhaps; but take any of those 5 guys at this point and put them in a hitter’s park and they’re not half as good.  I like Stroman (former Nats draft pick!) but the rest of the Toronto rotation looks like guys who are just holding on.  I’m not sure even Oakland’s management knows who some of their rotation candidates are.

I might be selling Baltimore a bit short; I’ve just never been convinced that Jimenez can repeat his earlier glory, and Baltimore’s notoriously awful coaching staff has seemingly ruined yet another young vibrant arm in GausmanAtlanta’s rotation may not look that great right now, especially considering that they’re purposely tanking in 2016 … but they have a couple of sleeper potentials and their prospect depth (including two high end hurlers in Michael Foltynewicz and Aaron Blair) put them above the bottom 5.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Philadelphia 26 Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer
Cincinnati 27 Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb
Minnesota 28 Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone
Milwaukee 29 Matt Garza, Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann, Zach Davies
Colorado 30 Jorge De La Rosa, Chad Bettis, Jordan Lyles, Jon Grey, Tyler Chatwood

Discussion 26-30: The bottom 5 rotations feature two teams clearly tanking (Philly and Cincy) who are throwing out mostly kids and 4-A one-year acquisitions.  Its telling that these two rotations are better than the bottom 3 rotations, each of which belongs to a team that just seems to have no idea how to build a modern rotation.  Minnesota has for  years favored soft-tossers and not pursued high-end arms and now they have a relatively highly paid rotation of guys who, well, are not effective.  Milwaukee is in the same boat, having shelled out money for Garza just to watch him implode.

Lastly we come to Colorado, who still is searching for a strategy upon which to build a rotation.  The latest seems to be to pursue high velocity fastball guys who can just throw their ball through the light air and fool hitters.  But they’re not there yet and their Ace for 2016 is a 35yr old with a career 4.55 ERA.  Its not looking pretty in Colorado for 2016 and the fact that they havn’t sold off all their quality outfielders for parts speaks to the incompetence and indecision of their front office.   You’re not going to win in 2016; you’re in a division with the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks, all of which spent big (either last off-season or before) and are putting out quality lineups.

—-

Some other pundit’s rotation ranks for 2016 for comparison purposes.

http://espn.go.com/blog/buster-olney/insider/post?id=12054
http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2016/1/12/10755692/baseball-rotation-rankings-mlb
All 30 MLB teams' starting rotations, ranked
http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/164500586/top-10-pitching-staffs-major-league-baseball

 

Rotation Reviews of your 2015 Playoff Teams & WC Picks

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Arrieta makes for a great WC matchup this week in Pittsburgh. Photo via mlb.com

Arrieta makes for a great WC matchup this week in Pittsburgh. Photo via mlb.com

Welcome to playoff baseball.  Lets look at the playoff rotations of the 8 playoff teams.

Reference links: MLB post-season schedule, Depth Charts for all teams, baseball-reference for stats.

NL Divisional Winners:

  • New York Mets: deGrom, Snydergaard, Harvey, Matz (Colon)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Kershaw, Greinke, Wood, Anderson (Bolsinger)
  • St. Louis Cardinals: Lynn, Wacha, Garcia, Lackey (Lyons)

Discussions/Thoughts

  • NY Mets: Only the Mets so far  have announced their rotation order.  Matt Harvey has quelled shut-down-gate talks by finishing out the season and saying he’d take the ball in the NLDS: hard to see him getting beat in his home game 3 start against the Dodgers, especially given his last outing (6ip, 11Ks).  deGrom struggled somewhat down the stretch and Snydergaard is only 22; hard to see them beating the seasoned vets Kershaw/Greinke at home.  We still don’t know if Matz is going to be healthy for game 4, but the potential LA opponent isn’t exactly scaring anyone, so I could see this go to a game 5 back in LA with Kershaw getting a 2nd divisional start.
  • LA: We say this every year: Kershaw is the greatest … and he has a 5+ post-season ERA.  I’ll never bet against him in the playoffs, especially not after the September he had.  Greinke either wins the Cy Young or finishes a close second, and Wood is an effective 3rd starter.  This is a tough rotation to handle.  But they’re going against probably the 2nd best rotation in the post-season, meaning this could be a tight 5-game set.  Or not; watch every game will be 8-7.
  • StL: They don’t look tough … but this rotation led the Cardinals to a 100 win season in a division with two other 97+ game winners.  That’s pretty amazing.  Bet against them at your own peril.  They were 11-8 versus the Cubs, 10-9 (and got outscored) against the Pirates, so I’m guessing they’re rooting for a Pittsburgh win in the WC play-in game.

NL Wild Card

  • Chicago Cubs: Arrieta, Hendricks, Haren, Lester (Hammel)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: Cole, Liriano, Happ, Burnett (Morton)

Discussion/Prediction: Arrieta has given up 3 runs in the last month … and two of them were in his road start in Pittsburgh on 9/16/15.  I could see a similar start from him again in the Wednesday WC game.  So what can the Cubs do with Cole?  They have also seen him twice in the last month, got shut down at home but got to him on 9/15/15 in Pittsburgh.   Tough one to predict but I’m going with your presumptive Cy Young winner to hold serve in Pittsburgh, sending home the 97 win Pirates for the 2nd straight year in the play-in game.   Prediction: Cubs win.

If the Cubs win, they’ll be at a huge disadvantage against the Cards.  If the Pirates win, Liriano and Happ have been pitching well enough to get them back to their ace quickly and make a series of it.


AL Divisional Winners

  • Toronto: Price, Estrada, Buehrle, Dickey/Stroman
  • Kansas City: Cueto, Ventura, Volquez, Young (Medlen)
  • Texas: Hamels, Gallardo, Holland, Perez/Lewis

Discussion:

  • Toronto is setup for the playoffs and will get Price twice.  The back-end of their rotation doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in a playoff series, but Toronto isn’t about top-notch pitching.  They hope to bash their way to the title and just may do it.  Would you roll the dice and sit Dickey for the 4th spot in favor of Stroman and his live arm?  Do you insult the veteran Buehrle and leave him off your playoff roster (probably not).
  • Kansas City: blew Cueto in an attempt to keep home field and were successful, so Ventura likely gets two NLDS starts.  Nationals re-tread Young suddenly looks like the #4 starter for a WS contender.  Who would have thought that?
  • Texas burned Hamels just to get to the playoffs; they’ll struggle to compete against two David Price home starts.  Who is their #4 in the playoffs?  Will Toronto average 6 runs a game against this staff?  Could be a short-post season run for the Rangers; no judgement here; they’ve done fantastically just to get into the playoffs given the number of rotation injuries and their poor start.

AL Wild Card

  • Houston: Keuchel, McHugh, McCullers, Kazmir/Fiers
  • New  York  Yankees: Tanaka, Severino, Pineda, Nova (Sabathia)

Discussion/Prediction: well, it doesn’t look good for the Yankees; Keuchel is scheduled to start and has thrown twice against New York this year: he threw a 6-hit shutout with 12 Ks against them in June and then threw 7 innings of 3-hit shutout ball in late August.  He’s your shoe-in Cy Young Winner and seems likely to pitch the Astros into the divisional series.   New York counters with Tanaka; in his sole appearance vs Houston he got lit up (5ip, 6runs) and the Yankees seem like they’re struggling just to field a lineup at season’s end.  They get the home game but likely go out a loser to end their season.  And if the Yankees somehow won, they’d have thrown their best pitcher … and one of the presumptive rotation members just checked himself into Alcohol RehabPrediction: Astros Win.


 

Interesting collection of guys with Washington ties featuring prominently in the 2015 playoffs.

  • Dan Haren was nearly released mid-season because he was so bad in Washington 2  years ago, now he’s the #3 starter on a 97 win team.
  • Marco Estrada was waived by the Nats after a long and uninspiring minor league career; now he’s the #2 starter for the AL favorite?
  • Chris Young played a whole season for Syracuse in 2013, working his way back from an injury.  When he didn’t make the 2014 roster he signed with Seattle and has been pretty effective since.
  • Marcus Stroman was an 18th round pick out of HS by the Nats; he was listed as a SS (he’s only 5’8″) but went to Duke, became a power arm and was a 1st round pick by the Blue Jays 3 years later.
  • Colby Lewis signed on with the Nats back in the bad years, failing to make the team out of Spring Training in 2007.  He hooked on with Oakland, playing most of the year in Sacramento before signing a 2-year gig in Japan.

 

2014 Tommy John Post-Mortem

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Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet.  Photo via thestar.com

Jose Fernandez was (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery in 2014. Photo via thestar.com

When we hit 20 MLB pitchers going under the knife for blown Ulnar Collateral Ligaments (UCL) on the 2014 season, I posted on possible reasons for the epidemic.  By the time the season was over, more than 90 players in professional baseball (and a handful of marquee amateurs, including two first round picks and our own) had gone under the knife for blown UCLs/Tommy John surgery.  2014 was the year of the elbow ligament, no question, in terms of volume and awareness.

This post lists all the major league pitchers who had the surgery this year, with links to the announcements as they happened, along with stills of the pitchers’ mechanics to do a quickie thumb nail analysis of mechanics and whether there’s a relationship to the injury. At the bottom i’ve captured any significant news related to the surgery, MLB being proactive in preventing the injuries, and other TJ news.


First, here’s the complete Tommy John fall-out for the year for major league arms.  According to the great injury tracking links below, no less than 91 players in all levels of pro baseball had the surgery in calendar year 2014, of which 29 were MLB-experienced pitchers.

(data from baseballheatmaps.com, which has detailed Disabled List data).

10 of these 29 pitchers are getting the surgery for the 2nd time.  Wow.

Here’s links to other notable non-MLB pitchers who have gotten the surgery as well in 2014:

  • Jamison Taillon: the Pirates #1 pitching prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in the game.  Diagnosed 4/6/14, surgery 4/9/14.
  • Danny Rosenbaum: Nats AAA starter and long-time farmhand.   Surgery 5/8/14.  Tough for Rosenbaum because he’s a MLFA this coming off-season, now facing a very uncertain future.
  • Miguel Sano: one of the best prospects in the minors, had the surgery 3/12/14.  He’s not a pitcher, and he initially injured his arm playing in the Dominican Winter League, but it still costs Minnesota one of its best prospects.
  • Jeff Hoffman, ECU’s right handed starter and consensus top 5 pick in the 2014 draft, hurt his arm and was diagnosed on 5/8/14.  He dropped 5 places from his likely drafting spot by the Cubs at #4, which cost him about $X in slot dollars.   We talked about whether the Nats (picking at #18) were a likely suitor for him at the time of the injury in early May.
  • Erick Fedde, UNLV’s friday starter and projected mid-1st round pick, was diagnosed two days after Hoffman on 5/10/14.  He dropped perhaps 8 places from his estimated drafting spot of mid 1st round and was picked by Washington.  His injury didn’t really cost him much in slot money thanks to the Nats paying over-slot.
  • Our own Matthew Purke, diagnosed and set for TJ surgery 5/29/14 after really struggling out of the gate this year for Harrisburg.   Purke may face an options crunch by the time he’s done re-habbing, thanks to his MLB deal signed on draft-day.  (Update: the Nats never let him get there, releasing him on 11/14/14).
  • Chad Billingsley having flexor tendon surgery while trying to recover from his 2013 TJ surgery.    This isn’t counted as a TJ, but is noteworthy.
  • Not a pitcher, but key Orioles player Matt Wieters had to have TJ surgery on 6/18/14.
  • Matt Cain dodged a bullet by just being diagnosed with elbow chips, but still had season-ending elbow surgery on 8/5/14.
  • Padres uber-prospect and 2012 first rounder Max Fried went under the knife in mid-august.
  • Yu Darvish didn’t fall victim to the TJ surgery, but an elbow issue is shutting him down in late August, just the latest nail in the coffin of the Rangers’ season.
  • Jonathan Mayo discussion on elbow surgeries and prospects from Mid-Late August.

Here’s quickie images of every MLB starter diagnosed this year as they land to make a quick judgement about their mechanics:

VentersJonny landingHefnerJeremy landing

SkaggsTyler landingJonesNate landingChatwoodtyler landingTanakaMasahiro landing

ArroyoBronson landingBurnettSean landingBellTrevor landingWithrowChris landing

PerezMartin_landingCisnerJose landingFernandezJose landingGriffinAJ landing

 

FigueroaPedro landingNovaIvan landingJohnsonJosh landingMooreMatt landing

 

GearrinCory landingParnellBobby landingDavisErik landingHernandezDavid landing

 

MLB: Spring Training-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles DodgersRondonBruce landingCorbinPatrick landingParkerJarrod landing

BeachyBrandon landingMedlenKris landingHochevarLuke landingLeubkeCory landing2

Quick and Dirty Mechanics analysis (images in same order as list of pitchers above, which is chronological in order of diagnosis in 2014):

  • Inverted W: Hefner, Skaggs, Withrow, Griffin, Nova, Gearrin, Beachy, Hochevar
  • Sideways M: Ventors, Chatwood, Bell, Burnett, Fernandez, Johnson, Davis, Moylan, Rondon, Parker, Medlen
  • Inverted L: Jones, Tanaka, Arroyo, Perez, Cisnero, Figueroa, Moore, Parnell, Hernandez, Corbin, Luebke

Conclusions? None.  They’re all over the road.  TJ injuries this year happened to those thought to have “dangerous” mechanics and clean mechanics.  TJ injuries happened to the league’s harder throwers (Rondon, Ventors, Fernandez) and its softest throwers (Medlen and Arroyo, both of whom are usually at the absolute bottom of the league in terms of fastball velocity).  Starters and relievers, no discernable pattern.

I think all you can conclude is this: if you throw a lot of innings, you’re more prone to injury.  I know, ground breaking analysis.


Other notable/interesting links I’ve collected on the topic over the length of the season:

  • Yahoo’s Tim Brown interviewed Zack Greinke (published 5/15/14)who says he made a conscious decision to throw fewer sliders, noting that he could really feel it in his elbow after starts where he threw too many.  This tends to support the notion that sliders make a difference.
  • Jerry Crasnick interviewed commissioner Bud Selig on 5/15/14 and Selig said he’s “concerned.”  Great!  On a scale of “Resolve Oakland/San Jose territorial rights” concerned to “Resolve MASN dispute” concerned, I wonder where he falls?  Maybe he’ll form a blue-ribbon committee that can meet for several years without arriving at any solutions.
  • Stephania Bell‘s articles on the spate of TJ injuries: from April and again in May.
  • Nate Silver‘s new blog 538 chimes in in mid-may.
  • Neil Weinberg from Peter Gammons‘ website posts his own theory on 5/16/14 that is basically related to the rise in youth/showcase events.
  • Shawn Anderson from the blog HallofVeryGood.com posts his theory (overuse).
  • An older link to Will Carrol from July 2013 talking about the surgery, how its done, who’s had it and some other great stuff.
  • The American Sports Medicine Institute (led by Dr. James Andrewsreleased a statement on 5/28/14 on the issue of Tommy John surgeries (as pointed out by David Schoenfield and/or Craig Calcaterra in late may and/or Jerry Crasnick on the same day).  Their basic point: don’t throw with max effort.
  • Dr. James Andrews announced that he’s releasing an app to help keep pitchers healthy.   Per screen shots, it will be relatively simple and will have pitch counts, age and rest days calculate a max number of pitchers that a player can throw today.
  • An interesting analysis of Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura after he was diagnosed with a non-UCL related elbow injury in May.
  • Thoughtful piece from Dirk Hayhurst about the quest for velocity and the value of soft-throwers like Mark Buehrle.
  • Danny Knobler special piece to the BleacherReport in June 2014 discussing “child abuse” of kids over-throwing, throwing too much, too hard, too soon.
  • A sleeve has been announced that may help prevent TJ injuries (its called the Motus Pitcher Sleeve).  Dirk Hayhurst subsequently did some research and interviews about the sleeve and offers some thoughts.
  • CBS’s Jon Heyman breaks the news that #1 overall pick Brady Aiken may have an “elbow ligament issue,” thus holding up the signing.  Wow.  As we all know, this turned into a big-time stalemate, the non-signing of Aiken (which cascaded down and cost the Astros their 5th round pick too), possible grievances, possible lawsuits, all sorts of NCAA eligibility concerns, and a whole big black-mark for the Astros organization.  All over $1.5M.  Remember; this is the same team that gave $30M last off-season to 5th starter Scott Feldman.
  • There was a two hour special on the injury on MLB Radio Networks on 7/17/14 that I hope they replay or transcribe to the internet.
  • Bud Selig still awaits the Tommy John study in Mid July 2014.  If its anything like his other blue-ribbon panels, he’ll be waiting a long time.
  • Discussion about youths with UCL/TJ injuries in USA Today on 7/23/14.
  • Study from USA Today on how prep pitchers are avoiding TJ.
  • MLB unveils “Pitch Smart” guide in Mid November to help youth’s understand workloads.  Also discussed by Jeff Passan.

Hope you’ve found this trove of TJ links as interesting as I have.

2014 MLB Awards Predictions vs Results

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Kershaw cleans up the BBWAA awards.  Photo via wiki.

Kershaw cleans up the BBWAA awards. Photo via wiki.

Here’s who I predicted would win.

  •     NL MVP: Kershaw
  •     NL Cy Young: Kershaw
  •     NL Rookie: deGrom
  •     NL Manager: Bochy
  •     AL MVP: Trout
  •     AL Cy Young: Felix
  •     AL Rookie: Abreu
  •     AL Manager: Showalter

Here’s who actually won, along with some links to other awards

End result predicting 2014’s BBWAA awards: 6 for 8.  My worst prediction season on record.  2010: 8 for 8.  2011: 8 for 8.  2012: 7 for 8.  2013: 8 for 8.  I swear I only looked up these links because I was re-categorizing posts and adding in a filter for “awards” related posts :-).  Usually its a bit easier to predict the BBWAA electorate in these awards; I suppose that the general evolution of the writers is slowly bringing more statistical analysis into the mix, meaning that the “dinosaur” method of voting is heading out the window.  Probably for the better.

Links to other awards, some of which I used to try and track/predict but no longer.

My 2014 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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No more excuses; Trout has more than earned his MVP.  Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

No more excuses; Trout has more than earned his MVP. Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

First draft of this post: May 8th, 2014, just 5 weeks into the season, with the announcements of MLB players of the month and early MVP watch columns from national baseball writers .  

My Predictions:

  • NL MVP: Kershaw over Stanton, McCutchen and Lucroy
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw over Cueto and Wainwright
  • NL Rookie: deGrom over Hamilton
  • NL Manager: Bochy over Roenicke
  • AL MVP: Trout over Victor Martinez, Cano, Abreu and Cruz.
  • AL Cy Young: Felix, barely over Kluber, Sale, others.
  • AL Rookie: Abreu over Tanaka, Shoemaker, Ventura, and others.
  • AL Manager: Showalter over McLendon, Yost.

So, how did the major awards evolve this year?  Read below for a running diary of the front runners for each major award.  It makes for a fascinating read of the season.  By my sense, the awards kind of went like this from April to September:

  • NL MVP: Tulowitzki early, then Stanton, maybe McCutchen, then Kershaw, back to Stanton and finally Kershaw with Stanton’s injury.
  • NL Cy Young: Cueto at the start, Jose Fernandez til he got hurt, then Bumgarner, Wainwright, then clearly Kershaw.
  • NL Rookie: Chris Owings, then Wong, then Hamilton, maybe Polanco, suddenly deGrom.
  • AL MVP: Abreu then Bautista, Encarnacion, Cruz, then Trout, no doubt.  Everyone else racing for #2.
  • AL Cy Young: Sonny Grey, then Scherzer, then Buehrle, then Felix, maybe Kluber, down to wire.
  • AL Rookie: Abreu, then Tanaka, Ventura, then clearly Abreu with Tanaka’s injury.

Ahead of this post, some non MLB-affiliated awards have been given out.

  • Matt Williams was named The Sporting News’ NL Manager of the Year, which readers here probably laugh at considering the mess he made of his pitching decisions in the NLDS.
  • Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland won the NL and AL reliever of the year awards, named after Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera respectively.
  • The Gold Gloves were announced  yesterday: you’d have to be crazy to try to predict those :-)

 


This year, instead of printing links to writers early and mid-season predictions, I’ll just throw those links into the monthly reviews for context.   This post is more like a season-long diary of the evolution of these awards; the sections were written in each month as the season progressed.


April
:

Players-of-the-month in April do not very frequently win MVPs, Cy Youngs or Rookie of the Year awards, but we may see a surprise in 2014 thanks to some big-time performances.  But here’s where we stand after the first month.

Opinions this month: Corcoran on early candidates.

  • MVP candidatesTroy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton in the NL.  Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon deserves mention for his amazing April.  Jose Abreu and Jose Bautista in the AL (with apologies to perennial contenders Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, both of whom started slow).
  • Cy Young candidatesJohnny Cueto and Jose Fernandez in the NL.  Sonny Grey and Max Scherzer in the AL.
  • Rookie of the year candidatesChris Owings in the NL, Jose Abreu in the AL.  Masahiro Tanaka could make some noise in the AL though for sure.

May:

Opinions this month: Corcoran’s musings throughout the month.  Stark’s “First Quarter” awards.  BaseballMusing’s Cy Young Tracker analysisScott Lindholm‘s two month predictor.

  • MVP candidates: Still Tulowitzki in the NL (he has a full 1.0 WAR lead midway through the month and had accumulated 4 WAR just six weeks into the season!  Even more impressive; he’s hitting ABOVE .500 at home thus far), but Stanton has also been on fire (as my fantasy team can attest).  Yasiel Puig may be a lightening rod, but he’s also one of the best players in the NL and has put his name into the NL MVP conversation by winning player of the month..   Jody Donaldson has been on fire in the AL and is getting some notice, but also so has Nelson Cruz, who may be the best FA signing of the off-season.  Abreu went on the D/L.  Bautista remains the best offensive WAR player in the AL.  But by months’ end Trout was near the top of the WAR list despite a “slump.”  Edwin Encarnacion cannot stop hitting and is leading Toronto to a big lead in the AL East, and won player of the month in the AL for May, but i’m doubtful he’ll eventually figure in the MVP race.
  • Cy Young candidates: Cueto still leads in the NL when early front-runner Fernandez goes down to TJ Surgery, despite the Nats tagging him for 8 runs in a mid-May game.  Adam Wainwright is quietly having an excellent season, as is Zack Greinke.  Jeff Samardzija might be the best pitcher of them all but still has zero wins thanks to the vagarities of the Win statistic (that and his team’s purposelly awful offense).  Madison Bumgarner won May pitcher of the month, but doesn’t seem like he’s nearly as dominant as the other pitchers mentioned here.  Lastly we need to mention Tim Hudson‘s great start.  Scherzer and Tanaka still involved in the AL race, but Mark Buehrle‘s turn-back-the-clock season is gaining notice and Houston’s Dallas Keuchel is having an amazing season for the 110 loss Astros.   Meanwhile Felix Hernandez is quietly dominant, posting an 8-1 record out in Seattle.  And Yu Darvish is basically unhittable (as the Nats learned in late May).
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Owings remains in the lead in the NL among little competition pending expected mid-season callups (Corcoran’s May #2 is Atlanta’s David Hale, who was demoted to the bullpen after 4 starts when Gavin Floyd was ready to go), but Kolten Wong‘s showing has his name in the discussion (he was May’s MLB rookie of the month).   Abreu hit the D/L (and his numbers may be impressive from a power stand point but little else), while Tanaka continues his dominance and takes over the AL lead.  Meanwhile the amazing arm of Yordano Ventura pokes his head into this race … and then he got hit with injury.  But the new leader in the AL RoY clubhouse may very well be Houston’s George Springer, who hit seven homers in 7 games in late May and is on pace for 40 as a rookie.

June

Opinions: Lindholm’s early Rookie of the Year look.  Lindholm’s Cy Young Predictions (except that he focuses entirely on advanced pitching stats that, lets face it, the voter-base doesn’t care about).  Corcoran take on the Rookies.  Corcoran update on MVP race.  Passan’s half-year awards column.  Brisbee mid-season AL Awards and mid-season NL-Awards (which he thinks are stupid :-).  MLB June Rookies of the month announcement.

  • MVP candidates: Still Tulowitzki in the lead in the NL, though Stanton probably finishes in the top 3 thanks to his first ever healthy season enabling him to chase 50 homers.  Puig has cooled a bit.  Jonathan Lucroy has thrown his name into top-5 consideration thanks to his great offensive season tacked on top of his great defensive prownesses.  And last years’ MVP Andrew McCutchen has thrown his name into the ring with a great June and the MLB player of the month award.  In the AL, Trout’s consistency has giving him the lead over AL east bashers Bautista and Cruz (and he won MLB’s MVP for June).   Tanaka will probably get top 5 votes but won’t win; see the Cy Young section for a statement on his “rookie” season.  One can only hope that a down year (thus far) for Cabrera will finally eliminate the narrative-driven voting for him over Trout that has occurred the last two years; Trout’s numbers right now eclipse his numbers in his first two years.  Meanwhile you have to start giving Jose Altuve some props: at the half-way point of the season he’s leading the AL in Batting Average, Hits and Stolen Bases, each by a considerable margin.  I’d have him in my top5.
  • Cy Young candidates: Wainwright has overtaken Cueto for the NL lead right now, but if Kershaw keeps throwing scoreless innings (he’s on a streak of 28 as of the time of this writing), he’ll move into the lead (MLB just gave Kershaw pitcher of the month for June).   Julio Teheran probably earns a top-5 spot thanks to his breakout season.  And one Jake Arrieta has added his name to the mix thanks to his pretty amazing turnaround in Chicago.  In the AL, Tanaka still leads King Felix, with Texas-based hurlers Darvish and Keuchel knocking on the door but slightly cooling.  But Felix was named AL’s June pitcher of the month and would be a no-brainer if he didn’t have the West Coast anti-bias working against him.
  • Rookie of the year candidates:  In the NL, no candidates are really distinguishing themselves. Right now Owings remains in the WAR lead over Billy Hamilton (who was named Rookie of the Month for June and is in the lead right now) but neither player is that inspiring.   However the eventual favorite may have finally gotten his callup in Gregory Polanco.  Meanwhile the AL race almost certainly is looking like a 1-2 International FA contest between Tanaka and Abreu, with Tanaka easily winning right now (though Abreu won June’s Rookie of the Month award).  There’s almost no reason to mention anyone else, which is unfair to Houston’s budding stars George Springer and Jon Singleton.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: This award always flies under the radar, but we have a couple of decent candidates getting some mention.  In the NL,  Casey McGehee was run out of the MLB thanks to injuries and awful hitting in 2012; after a dominant year in Japan he’s having a nice bounce-back for Miami.  And, after just 8 awful starts in 2013, LA’s Josh Beckett is looking pretty dominant so far this year.  Tim Hudson‘s come-back year after his gruesome ankle injury earns some mentions.   The AL version is harder to find candidates: Passan mentions Joakim Soria and Phil Hughes as early candidates.  I like Hughes; 4-14 with a 5+ ERA last year who is having success this year.
  • Managers of the Year: at the halfway point, we can start to see some clarity in the Manager of the Year (also known as the “guy in charge of the team that has the most shocking W/L record award.”  Right now we’re we’re looking at Bob Melvin, manager of Oakland and their best-in-the-majors 81-game record in the AL and (easily right now) Ron Roenicke, who is leading the surprising Milwaukee Brewers to the best record in the NL at the halfway point.

July

Opinions: Stark “First Half Winners.”  Jonah KeriMidseason Report.”  Schoenfield’s “NL MVP is wide open” post.

  • MVP candidates: In the NL, Colorado’s waning playoff chances are knocking down Tulowitzki’s chances, while Stanton continues to produce staggering offensive numbers.   Meanwhile McCutchen is coming on strong and may lead Pittsburgh on a 2nd half run.  In the AL, the Angels success finally ends the 3-year running narrative based arguments that have prevented Trout from winning an MVP.  At this point, if he doesn’t win, its because some bloc of writers has conspired against him.  Batista and Cruz continue to be 2-3 on my ballot.  At the end of the month, Trout leads the majors in bWAR with Tulowitzki not far behind.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, it is looking like Wainwright versus Kershaw.  Wainwright in the lead now, but Kershaw’s dominance may carry him to the title by the end of the year.  In the AL; Felix Hernandez has overtaken Tanaka, who hit the D/L with a partially torn UCL that may force him into Tommy John.  Chris Sale has put his name into contention as the #3 candidate right now.  Kershaw/Fernandez are 1/2 in bWAR at the end of the month.
  • Rookie of the year candidates:  In the NL, Hamilton still holds off Polanco, but the Pittsburgh rookie has been great since his call up.  Check back on this race later.  In the AL, Tanaka’s D/L trip also may cost him his unanimous Rookie of the Year award, which now goes to the 1-A candidate Abreu.  No one else is close; If I had to guess who was #3 in this race, i’d go Springer.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Still looking like Hudson and Hughes for now.
  • Managers of the Year: Still Roenicke and Melvin for now.  There’s no other obvious candidates.

August

Opinions: Calcaterra on who is MVP.  A list of most improved players by WAR in mid-August. (which should be a good way to talk about Comeback players, except that it really is just highlighting former role players who are having great  years).  Paul Swydan talked about the NL MVP vote in mid-August.  Keith Law’s mid-august preview of the awards.  Crasnick’s 8/25/14 chat talking about AL Manager of the Year candidates.  Bowden’s rookie Rankings from late august.  HardballTalkDaily video says the Rookie races are pretty clear cut on 8/29/14.

  • MVP candidatesJayson Werth was named July NL player of the month, but seems like a long shot to get anything other than 5th place MVP votes.   Meanwhile previous leaders Tulowitzki AND now McCutchen are both on the D/L and missing at least a month each, so questions abound.  Is Puig the front runner now?  Stanton?  A pitcher?  At this point it may end up being Kershaw thanks to some deficiencies in the cases of both these healthy candidates, except that Kershaw missed quite a few starts and many voters won’t even give him the Cy Young nod as a result.  And there’s the small fact that apparently sportswriters are starting to place Barry Bonds-level hatred on Puig (I heard a 3rd-party story that does not flatter Puig in the least in terms of his attitude and self-opinion, so this does not shock me).  Abreu earned his second AL Player of the Month but seems like a long shot to beat out Trout at this point; the Angels seem set to make the playoffs, removing the “narrative” that has prevented Trout from being the MVP in years past.  In fact, the 2nd best candidate in the AL may very well be Felix Hernandez, who won’t win on some ballots because he’s a pitcher.  Alex Gordon is starting to get some MVP notice, thanks to his leadership on the suddenly-playoff-bound Royals.  I see him as a good top-5 candidate.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, Kershaw has earned his second NL pitcher of the month award and (despite missing several starts) seems like a lock to win another Cy Young award.  Meanwhile in the AL, Grey has earned another pitcher of the month award, but Hernandez and Sale seem to be 1-2 in this race as long as Tanaka stays on the shelf.   Corey Kluber has put together a great season, but he’s chasing Hernandez for 2nd place right now.
  • Rookie of the year candidates:  In the NL, Mets starter Jacob deGrom has put his name into the hat thanks to a slew of dominant starts, and was just named July rookie of the month.  In a weak field, he could push to a victory.  But no sooner did he win the monthly award than go down to injury, likely cementing the award for Hamilton.  In the AL, not only was Abreu named rookie of the month, he was also named player of the month.  The longer Tanaka stays on the D/L, the more Abreu solidifies his hold on this award.  Brandon Shoemaker quietly has a 13-4 season for the Angels but may not even broach the top 5 in voting, thanks to the huge glut of quality AL rookies this year.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Still looking like Hudson and Hughes for now.
  • Managers of the Year: In the AL, surprising runs by the Mariners, Orioles and Royals have their three managers (respectively, Lloyd McClendon, Buck Showalter and Ned Yost) will get some attention.  In the NL, I still think Milwaukee’s turn-around keeps Ron Roenicke in the lead. 

September

You know its starting to get close to silly season; lots of opinion pieces start popping up right after labor day.: Brisbee’s “handicapping” of the NL awards on 9/1/14 and the same for the AL awards two days later.  Schoenfield’s Heyward for MVP article 9/2/14.  NL awards video from Schoenfield 9/2/14.  USAtoday’s early Sept Awards preview.  Jim Bowden pops up for Executive of the Year predictions.  Schoenfield extolling McCutchen’s credentials in mid September.  Cory DiBenedetto at GammonsDaily talking about the AL RoY and then the NL RoY.  Passan’s late Sept award column.  Jayson Stark’s final prediction column.  Anthony Castrovince’s prediction column.  Schoenfield’s “best rookies” column.

  • MVP candidates: In the NL, it was looking more and more like Stanton’s continued massive offensive season was driving the narrative towards his getting the MVP.  However, an awful-looking HBP likely ended Stanton’s season on 9/11/14 … will those lost two weeks prevent him from taking the top spot now?  It seems so; I’m predicting Kershaw wins both MVP and Cy Young.  A pitcher hasn’t gotten the NL Cy Young in more than 40  years.  The NL WAR leader-board shows the problem with using WAR as a projection tool of MVP (as Brisbee’s column points out: there’s just no way that NL positional player bWAR leader Jason Heyward is getting the MVP no matter how much you believe in defensive stats.  Buster Posey‘s huge summer has put his name into the hat for top-5 candidates.  Speaking of top-5 candidates, do you put Anthony Rendon into that discussion?  In the AL, there’s just no way Trout doesn’t get the award this year, so we’ll discuss runners-up later on.  Brisbee seems to think Robinson Cano will somehow sneak into the discussion but I don’t think so.  Victor Martinez‘s excellent/no-frills offensive season should have him getting some top-5 love.  Michael Brantley looks to earn some top 5 votes too.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, Kershaw has solidified his hold on the award.  The better question may be whether he also wins the MVP.  In the AL I think its safe to say Hernandez-Kluber go 1-2, though a September swoon may cost Felix votes.  It could get really close.  Expecially after Felix got pounded on 9/23/14 in his 2nd to last start. 
  • Rookie of the year candidates: In a weak NL field, DeGrom’s fantastic 2nd half seems to be pushing him over the top of the obvious candidate for most of the  year in Hamilton.   Kyle Hendricks may get top 5 votes.  In the AL, it has to be Abreu, likely unanimously unless a couple of NYC writers do the homer-vote for Tanaka.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Still looking like Hudson and Hughes, but this award is unpredictable.  Passan’s late Sept column points out a couple of NL candidates to consider, since Hudson’s ERA cratered in the 2nd half.  Casey McGhee returned from Japanese exile to have a great season, and Justin Morneau has come back from the DFA heap to nearly lead the NL in batting.  In the AL one should also consider former Nats AAA pitcher Chris Young, who has absolutely come back from nowhere to stay healthy an entire  year.  He should write the Nats a thank-you card for giving him a paycheck to rehab on our dime.
  • Managers of the Year:  I can’t see the writers giving Manager of the year awards to a team like Washington (which was expected to win) nor the Angels (which has a monster payroll and the best player in the game).  It may be someone like Bruce Bochy in the NL, who has overcome the loss of his two marquee pitchers and a slew of curious signings to keep the Giants in playoff contention.  In the AL, perhaps Showalter deserves some mention for what he’s done in Baltimore … but then again, have we ever seen an AL east meltdown top to bottom like we’re seeing this year?   More and more i’m liking what Showalter is doing with Baltimore and a relatively unknown pitching staff and a ton of injuries. 

 

Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams

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Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Here we are.  After a crazy trade deadline in July, and an August and September that featured the division leaders (in most cases) solidifying their positions and extending their leads, the playoffs are upon us.

Lets take a look at the rotations of the playoff teams (despite the fact that the four Wild Card teams are just one-man pitching staffs until they win the play-in game).  Who lines up best?  For each team i’ve tried to line the pitchers up one through five, with the 5th guy being the one headed to the bullpen.

(Quick useful links: AL full standings on b-r.com, NL full standings, and post season schedule at MLB.com).

Trade deadline 2014 acquisitions highlighted in blue.  Pre-season acquisitions highlighted in Green for context.

NL Division Champs:

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark (yes this is how I think it will shake out despite Roark’s great season-long performance; we posted on this separately)
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, Miller, Lackey (Masterson to the bullpen when Wacha came back)
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Haren, Hernandez, Wright (Beckett hurt, done for year, Ryu coming back, should be ok for playoffs so I’ve inserted him as the #3.  Maholm, Billingsley, Fife hurt all year).

Just look at what the Dodgers have tried to do to keep their rotation afloat in terms of player acquisition over the past couple of years.  I’d like to have their budget.  They will have no less than eleven capable, MLB-experienced starters once they’re all healthy.  Yes Kershaw is unbeatable, but as pointed out earlier this year, they are basically a .500 team otherwise.  Their 4th and 5th starters have been below replacement for much of the past month but they’re getting back Ryu right in time for the playoffs.   St. Louis’ rotation looks just as strong as it has been for the past few years; Wainwright quietly has 20 wins and a 2.38 ERA on the season.  Lynn has been great.  Only Miller has struggled but still has a league-average ERA+.

It is hard not to look at the Nationals’ rotation and claim they’re the deepest one-through-four, despite Gonzalez’s struggles.   I’d take our #4 (Fister) over anyone else’s #4, I think our #3 matches up just as favorably to anyone els’es #3, and Strasburg has a 1.34 ERA in September as the #1.

NL Wild Card:

  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Cole, Locke, Volquez, Worley (Morton dinged up late Sept, made way for Cole).
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Petit, Vogelsong, Peavy (Lincecum to bullpen for Petit, Cain out all year)

The NL WC pitching match-up will be Bumgarner-Liriano.  Both teams manipulated their rotations at season’s end to preserve their aces for the coin-flip game.  We’ll do a separate prediction piece.

NL Also-Rans;

  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood (Beachy, Floyd, Medlen out all year)
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Fiers (Nelson and Estrada to bullpen)

The Braves fell so far, so badly in September that they were nearly surpassed by the lowly NY Mets for 2nd place in the NL East.  That’s crazy.  But they still remain here as an also-ran because they were in the wild card race until mid-September.  I still think it is crazy what they were able to accomplish given the starting pitcher injuries they suffered in spring training and don’t quite understand why Frank Wren was fired.  If you want to fire him for his crummy FA contracts so be it; but the man engineered a team that made the playoffs three of the past five years.  Harsh treatment if you ask me.  Insider comments seem to think that Wren lost an internal power-struggle involving Fredi Gonzalez.


And here’s what we’re looking at in the AL:

AL Division Champs:

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman (Jimenez demoted to BP)
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker, Santiago, Rasmus, LeBlanc (Richards injured, Skaggs hurt)

It is hard to look at these rotations and comprehend where these teams currently stand:

  • How is Baltimore leading the AL East by 12 games?  None of these guys are a league-wide “Ace.”
  • How is Detroit not pulling away from the AL Central with this collection of arms?  Of course, you could ask this question of Detroit over and again the past few years; with a stacked lineup and stacked rotation they have just barely won their (usually) weak division year after year.
  • How does Los Angeles have the best record in the majors with a non-drafted FA and a waiver claim in their Sept rotation?  Would you favor this rotation over Detroit’s?

I guess it doesn’t matter; these teams have bashed their way to their titles and should continue to hit in the post-season.  Apparently the O’s aren’t going to go with Gausman in their playoff rotation despite his good seasonal numbers.  It may be a case of veteran manager going with the veterans, as Gausman’s numbers are pretty much in line with most of the rest of the Baltimore rotation.  The injury to Richards really hurts the Angels: Weaver may be close to an Ace but Wilson showed he is hittable in the post-season and lord knows what will happen when LA has to throw their #3 and #4 choices.

AL Wild Cards:

  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir

AL Wild Card looks like a knock-out match-up of Shields and Lester; the A’s burned Grey yesterday to get the win that put them in the playoffs.  Oakland has to be kicking themselves; how did they go from (easily) the best team in the majors for the first half to struggling to hang onto the WC spot?   On paper replacing 3/5ths of the rotation (out with Chavez, Milone, Pomeranz and Straily, in with Samardzija, Lester and Hammel) sounded like a great idea … but to me the team’s chemistry was clearly un-balanced.  At least they held on to the spot and avoiding a one-game play-in against Felix Hernandez.

AL Also-Rans:

  • Seattle: Hernandez, Walker, Iwakuma, Paxton, Young (Elias out for year)
  • New York: McCarthy, Greene, Kuroda, Capuano, Pineda (with Tanaka finally coming back at season’s end.  Nova and Sabathia gone all year with injuries).

All Seattle needed to do was *get* to the wild card game … and they’d have great odds of advancing behind ace Hernandez.  But struggled to the finish line.  Meanwhile Cleveland and New York would have been mentioned here a week ago, but both squads just ran out of time to make comebacks.  I’ll give NY credit: they played 7 games better than their pythagorean record with huge chunks of their rotation gone for the season and depending on guys who’s names I had to look up.

Coming soon; a review of the WC matchups with predictions.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 29th, 2014 at 8:58 am

Post trade-deadline playoff contender rotations

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This year’s MLB trade deadline was crazy.  Never before have so many big-time names moved teams.  And certainly I cannot remember so many big-time pitchers relocating mid-season as well.

Lets look at the playoff contender rotations as they stand right now, with Trade deadline acquisitions highlighted in blue.

NL

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark
  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Nelson
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake, Simon
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Masterson, Lackey, Lynn, Miller
  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Morton, Locke, Volquez, Worley
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Beckett, Haren
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Peavy

St. Louis clearly did the most in the NL, acquiring two mid-rotation guys to help cover for the injured Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, but it is hard to look at their rotation and say they’d have the advantage over some of their potential playoff rivals.  San Francisco lost its ace (thought he hasn’t pitched like an Ace since signing his new deal) Matt Cain, and his replacement was not inspiring confidence (Yusmiero Petit), so they added former Cy Young winner Peavy (who is pitching better than his 1-11 W/L record .. but not a lot better).  Otherwise the NL playoff contenders mostly stood pat.  There was some small surprise that the free-spending Dodgers wouldn’t try to improve upon the suddenly underperforming Josh Beckett and/or the “fool-me-once” Dan Haren.  They’ll struggle to get through the #3 and #4 starts of their planned playoff rotation to get back to their co-aces Kershaw and Greinke (who was good but not shut-down in last year’s playoffs).  The home-town Nats may find themselves with an uncomfortable decision to make if they make the playoffs; which starter to send to the pen?  Roark is the least renound and the least tenured … but he has clearly been more effective than other rotation members.

It continues to amaze that the Braves are competing, given the losses they’ve faced in their rotation.  They are missing (arguably) their planned #2, #3 and #5 starters in Kris MedlenBrandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd but are getting by thanks to two mid-spring acquisitions (Santana and Harang) and the surprise performances of youngsters Wood and David Hale (who didn’t merit his demotion to the bullpen).

AL

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman
  • Toronto: Buehrle, Dickey, Happ, Strohman, Hutchinson
  • New York: Kuroda, Phelps, Capuano, Greene, McCarthy
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Richards, Shoemaker, Santiago
  • Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Paxton, Elias, Young

I didn’t include fringe playoff contenders such as Cleveland or Tampa Bay here; both of those rotations were purged and weakened, and their odds of catching one of these listed WC contendors is long.  Oakland completely re-made their rotation here, attempting to keep up with Detroit, who now features the last three AL Cy Young winners to go along with Sanchez (who finished 4th last year in a season where he led the league in both ERA and FIP).  That’s quite a lineup.  Meanwhile Seattle likely finishes 10 games back of the Angels and could end up facing them in the coin-flip wild-card game … and could end up throwing the best pitcher in the AL at them (which has been noted as a significant down-side to the 2nd wild-card matchup; who wants to see a team lose out to a divisional rival that they bested by so many games in a play-in game?).

New York is the “Atlanta” of the AL this year; they currently have four planned rotation members on the D/L and (likely) out for the year (CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka).   Their 4th and 5th starters were a 14th and 15th round pick respectively.  They’ve been outscored by nearly 30 runs on the year yet somehow have a winning record.  It seems like just a matter of time before their luck runs out and they settle back below .500.

Who would you rather go to war with, Detroit or Oakland’s rotation?   Probably Detroit’s rotation, given its depth one to four.  But the ALCS could be one heck of a series.

 

 

What’s eating Stephen Strasburg? Some stats and some thoughts

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Strasburg's  having a weird season. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s having a weird season. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Knee-jerk question: who is the best starter on the Washington Nationals?  Who do you call the team’s “Ace?”

For years its been Stephen Strasburg, even when Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann were getting Cy Young votes (Gio 3rd place in 2012 and Jordan 7th place in 2013).  Its been Strasburg even when Zimmermann makes two consecutive all-star teams and the team acquires Doug Fister, who is 13th in the majors in accumulated fWAR over the past four seasons.  Its still Strasburg despite the fact that #5 starter (and someone who people in this space argued rather vociferously for “stashing” in AAA this year in lieu of other pitchers) Tanner Roark leads the team in victories right now.

(all stats on baseball-reference.com and/or fangraphs.com as of 7/31/14).

But this year, something is amiss with Strasburg.  He’s having a complete jeckyl-and-hyde season in many ways.  To wit;

  • He leads the starters in FIP and xFIP,  (indeed; among qualified starters right now in MLB, he’s 11th in FIP and 4th in xFIP, training just leading Cy Young favorites Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Masahiro Tanaka).
  • He leads the Nats starters in fWAR.
  • He leads the NL in strikeouts with 10 more than his closest competitor Johnny Cueto.

I dunno.  If someone told me that a starting pitcher was leading the league in Ks, was 4th in xFIP, 11th in FIP and was 6th in velocity i’d say you had a pretty darn good pitcher.  But he’s been arguably the Nats *least* effective starter this year all in all.

Yet he’s just 7-9 on the season with a 3.55 ERA (one 1/100th of a point better than Zimmermann for last on the Nats rotation).   He has the worst WHIP of any of our starters at 1.240.  The team is just 11-12 in his starts.

So what the heck is going on?  Here’s some interesting statistical splits:

  • Compared to last year, his K/9 is up, his BB/9 is down.  That sounds good.  But his ground ball percentage is down and his line drive percentage is up.  Batters are putting better wood on the ball.  Which leads to…
  • His current BABIP against is an astoundingly high .345.  That’s the third highest BABIP of any qualified starter this year and a good 50 points higher than the league average.
  • Why are hitters getting such good wood on him?  Here’s a hint: for reasons unknown, batters are squaring up his fastballs like never before.  Checking his Pitch F/X data: he’s got a batting average against (BAA) of .294 on his four-seam fastball and an astounding .350 against his two-seam fastball.  Both of those figures are 50 points higher than the comparable BAA for those two pitches from 2013.
  • His velocity is down.  Which is kind of like saying that a model has gained a few pounds, but still.   Last years’ avg MPH on his two fastballs were 95.2 and 95.3.  This year?  94.5 and 94.6.  That’s just 7/10ths of a mph, and even with his loss of velocity he’s still easily in the top 10 in the league in average fastball velocity (6th in four seam velocity among starters), but its still declining.  In his 5 pro seasons his 4-seam average fastball velocity has gone from 97.6 to 96.0 to 95.8 to 95.2 to his current 94.5.

It sounds to me like a combination of slightly declined fastball velocity and some bad luck has led to hitters squaring up his fastballs more this year, resulting in more line drives, higher BABIP and more runs.  That more or less explains the huge delta between his ERA and his FIP.  But why?  Pitch F/X isn’t showing much of a change in fastball movement from last year to this year, so it is hard to argue that he’s lost movement on his fastball.  Could it all just be about location?

A couple more split-related observations (some of these we’ve seen during broadcasts):

  • Home ERA: 2.62.  Away ERA: 4.68.  Yeah, but lots of pitchers have big home/away splits.
  • First Inning ERA: 5.09!  Second Inning ERA: 4.30.  He’s getting hit early and often.
  • He’s improving as the game goes on; his stats against the order the second time through are significantly better than the first time through, something you don’t normally see.

If he’s so bad in the first inning, is he just having difficulties getting loose and finding his spots?  Is he falling behind and grooving fastballs and getting more line drive hits?  Why is he so significantly worse on the road?

On the bright side, the combination of an inflated BABIP and a huge delta between xFIP/FIP and his ERA does tend to indicate that there should be some regression back to the mean.  Maybe we’ll start seeing a bunch more of 7ip, 4hit, 2walk, 10K outings and he’ll break off a slew of dominant starts to help the Nats pull away in the division, just in time to lead the charge with a  home-field start in game 1 of the playoffs.

Thoughts?  Are you worried?  What else do you think is causing his troubles this year?