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2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

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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.

Starting versus Closing

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Should we try Clippard as a starter? Absolutely! Photo: NationalsDailyNews/Meaghan Gay/DCist.com

Baseball writer extraordinaire Tom Verducci posted a fantastic article today talking about Neftali Feliz‘s proposed move from the Rangers closer to the starting rotation.  The article touches on a topic that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while; Starting versus Closing.  It also is literally the best summation I’ve seen yet describing why the save is over-rated, closers are overpaid and why you’d rather have starters versus relievers.

Lets face it; for the most part relievers are failed starters.  A few get drafted or signed as relievers (Washington’s Drew Storen being one local example), but most starters are drafted as starters and work their way through the minors as starters.  Some starters discover that they can’t develop secondary pitches, but their primary pitches are so fantastic that the club (rightly) turns them into relievers.  This especially allows hard-throwers (think someone like Joel Zumaya) to have a career despite the fact that they only really have one pitch and throw with such effort that they could not possibly last 6+ innings.

Minor league relievers definitely make the majors, but most often as either LOOGYs or rubber-armed replaceable right-handers (think Miguel Batista) out of the bullpen.  In recent  years the desire to have more and faster throwing arms out of the bullpen has led to more pitchers opting to become relievers sooner, but they still are converted out of starting roles for either performance or fragility.

Two items from his story that I’d like to comment on:

1. Managers don’t use Closers in the most high-leverage situations. I could not agree more.  When is the best spot to use your best, most reliable reliever?  In a one-run game in the 6th when your starter runs out of gas and loads the bases with one out?  Or at the beginning of the 9th inning of a 5-3 lead?  Verducci is right; managers in the modern game are slaves to the save statistic and will not bring in their closer unless its a “save situation.”   But he also notes what is common knowledge; that you could be putting out the 12th man in your bullpen and probably have only a slightly worse chance of getting 3 outs without losing the game for your team.  Per the article, 94% of 2-run leads in the 9th inning are won irrespective of who you put out there, and that percentage has not changed significantly over the past 50 years of baseball.  Joe Posnanski also wrote about this same topic in November with similar results, finding that teams in the 50s closed out games with the same regularity as teams now, but without high-priced one-inning closers.

Luckily for the Nats, we look to have 3-4 different guys who are of sufficient quality who we CAN bring in to a game in the 6th and get a high-leverage situation.  Storen, Clippard, Burnett or newly acquired Henry Rodriguez all seem to fit the bill.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a manager in Riggleman who is in the “slave to the save” category.  Matt Capps was brought in to be the closer and he closed games.  That’s it.  It is safe to say that if Riggleman decides on a closer, that’s going to be his role and that’s that.

The save stat is ridiculous and most people know it.  You can get a save in a game where you give up 2 runs and 5 hits in a 1/3 of an inning.  You can get a save when you perform mop up duty but let the score get too close while you rubber-arm your way through a meaningless blowout.  The save takes nothing about the pitcher’s performance into account; only whether or not the game ended while he was on the mound and the win was preserved.

But the save stat, and its monster creation the specialized one-inning closer, are here to stay.  Prospects come up through the ranks specifically to be closers, free agent players will only play for certain teams if given “the chance to close.”  Closers are well paid, and their pay is directly tied to this flawed save statistic.  Statisticians have tried to create a better set of metrics for middle relievers (“Holds” mostly) but the reality is that closers have high leverage in salary situations while middle relievers are lucky to get paid a bit more than the veteran’s minimum.  Verducci touches on this ridiculousness, pointing out that Papelbon‘s higher salary in 2011 than Cole Hamels despite the relative levels of production for their teams.

Ironically, some Major League managers *know* this fact, but continue to trot out their best reliever for a 3-out save at the beginning of the 9th inning in a 3-run game.  They do the same as the other 29 managers because the radical idea that backfires directly leads to termination.  No manager is willing to risk their job to try to do something the right way.  To say nothing of the reaction of a highly-paid FA closer who is suddenly told he’s going to be primarily used in the middle of the 7th to clean up the starter’s mess.

It makes you wonder if there’s a better way.  Here’s two radical suggestions:

1. Comprise a bullpen with no named closer role, and tell the entire 7-man bullpen they’re doing closer-by-committee.  It may infuriate fantasy baseball players and the union (since saves translate to salary for their FAs), but it probably placates an entire roster of wanna-be closers.  Imagine if 5 of the 7 guys in your bullpen (leaving out the LOOGY and long-man) know they may be brought in to rescue a game in the 6th or close it out in the 9th, and their roles change on a daily basis based on use.  That to me is a far better situation than pre-naming a closer (which invariably is the best guy out there) and then never using him until the 9th.

2. Comprise an ENTIRE pitching staff of long-men relievers.  Imagine if you didn’t have starters at all, but an entire bullpen of guys who were geared to pitch 2-3 innings every other night.  You would never have a need for specialized closers or even high-priced starters.  You’d rotate through who got the start, the starter would go 2-3 innings, then the next guy would go, and you’d repeat this until the game was over.  It’s kinda like spring training but all year.  Since these guys are only throwing 2-3 innings, they should be able to repeat this task multiple times in a week.

There’s 54 regular innings to be had per week mid-season (6 games at 9 innings per).  54 innings divided out by 12 guys in the pen means about 4.5 innings per WEEK per pitcher.  If you split those 4.5 innings up across three games you’d be pitching (say) 2 innings on monday, 1 on thursday then 1.5 on saturday.  That’s pretty manageable.  Plus if everyone else is doing the same, you can rotate through the guys and slightly adjust based on how they’re pitching that day.

Plus, think about how CHEAP this pitching staff would be.  12 middle relievers could not possibly cost your team more than about $15-20M annually in salary, even if they were mostly on veteran contracts.  Roy Halladay makes more than that in 2011 just by himself.

Coincidentally, this is exactly what Tony LaRussa tried at one point in the early 90s with the Athletics.  Unfortunately his experiment ended quickly, failing less because of execution and more because of lack of support from his players and management.  Its just a matter of time before someone tries it again.


Here’s the second item i’d like to comment on:

2. Starters are FAR more valuable than Relievers or Closers.  Last year in the midst of Clippard’s fantastic middle-relief run I asked myself, “Why isn’t Clippard in the rotation?”  He pitched 91 innings spread out over 78 appearances and only gave up 69 hits.  He maintained an 11.1 K/9 ratio, which is better than any starter in 2010.  91 innings was good for 4th on the entire staff in 2010.

The leading argument i’ve read for Clippard staying in the bullpen relates to the nature of his stuff.  He’s got a sneaky good fastball, a decent curve but his bread and butter pitch is the change-up.  Apparently the knock on him is that hitters adjust to him more quickly and thus he makes more sense in a relief role.  In a starting role hitters would be getting their third crack at him in the 5th or 6th inning, right when he’s tiring and right when he’s vulnerable.  In relief, he can “show” all his pitches in one at bat and work each batter individually, then leave the game before his “stuff” is exposed.

Clippard was a starter his entire minor league career, and his minor league numbers were pretty good.  He always maintained a small hits-to-IP ratio, a good k/9 ratio.  It wasn’t until he reached the majors that suddenly he couldn’t start.  I think perhaps he’s either gotten pigeonholed or he’s psychologically set in the reliever mind-frame now.

A quality starter gives your team 6+ innings, works through the opposing team’s batting order nearly 3 full times and keeps your team in the game.  6-7 innings at a 3.00 era is invaluable for your team’s psyche as it tries to win game after game.  Leaving just 2-3 innings a night for a bullpen staff of 7 means that there’s fewer days when your staff is over worked and you have to give up games for lack of bullpen arms.

How about using career WAR as a bench mark?  I don’t really like the career WAR analysis (since it is an accumulator stat and a mediocre guy with 22 years of experience appears to be better than the best pitcher of his day who only had a 15 year career).  But it is telling in this situation.  Here’s a link to career WAR for pitchers at baseball-reference.com.  And here’s the rank of the 5 best relief pitchers of all time (the 5 relievers currently in the hall of fame), along with the rankings of some of their active contemporaries who seem likely for the hall.

Lname Fname Career WAR Rank
Smoltz John 38
Eckersley Dennis 46
Rivera Mariano 69
Wilhelm Hoyt 121
Gossage Goose 133
Hoffman Trevor 215
Wagner Billy 238
Sutter Bruce 315
Fingers Rollie 325

Smoltz and Eckersly both started for large portions of their career, hence the high rank.  Mariano Rivera is clearly (in my mind) the greatest reliever who has ever played and his career WAR shows.  But notice how low closer-only guys like Sutter and Fingers are on this list.  Both are currently below modern day starters Ted Lilly and Kevin Millwood, again guys who are hardly listed as being among the game’s elite.

By means of comparison, Trevor Hoffman, who is ranked 215th all time is ranked just ahead of one Freddie Garcia in all time WAR.  Now, is Freddie Garcia a serious hall of fame candidate?  Not likely; he’s currently on a minor league contract offer with the Yankees after nearly washing out of the game two years ago.


Oh, coincidentally, I absolutely think Felix should be in the rotation.  As should Aroldis Chapman in Cincinnati.  Because they’ll be able to help your team win on a much more frequent basis.  You always want the chance of 180 innings of quality versus 60.  Its that simple.

Rizzo’s off-season todo list: where do we stand?

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Mike Rizzo answering the latest question about where the money is coming from for the Werth contract. Photo: centerfieldgate.com

Each year heading into the off-season, I make up a transactional “to-do” list for the team (as if I were the GM).  Essentially you look at the roster and kind of work backwards.  Based on the way things looked at the end of 2010, the Nationals seemed set on:

  • C (Pudge, Ramos)
  • most of the infield: 2b (Espinosa), SS (Desmond), 3B (Zimmerman)
  • LF (Willingham)
  • 3-4 starters (Lannan, Marquis, LHernandez, Zimmermann), and
  • several relievers (Clippard, Burnett, Storen)

So, given this, here’s what I listed as off season priorities and where we stand post the Winter Meetings (and counting all the rumors and scuttlebutt we’ve been hearing):

Fantasy

  • Power hitting reliable RF
  • Top-of-the-rotation Starting Pitcher
  • Better Centerfielder/Leadoff Hitter

1. In what was easily the most surprising move this team has done since relocating from Montreal, we acquired a front-line marquee FA in Jayson Werth, satisfying the “power hitting RF” fantasy requirement.  Yes there are concerns about the contract’s length and value, but hey, we’re a better team for getting him.

2. Rizzo has definitely made mention of wanting to acquire a “top of the rotation” starter but they are hard to come by this off season.  Cliff Lee is the target, and from there the list dwindled quickly to include guys who were middle of the road veterans with question marks (Vazquez, Pavano), FA starters that weren’t exactly planning on going anywhere (Lilly, Kuroda, de La Rosa, Arroyo, Garland, Padilla) and incredibly risky alternatives (Webb, Darvish, Francis).

3. Lastly, despite my desire to upgrade from Nyjer Morgan in center and leadoff (for reasons that include discipline, chemistry and performance), Rizzo seems set on the guy for the time being.  I would not be surprised to see no more movement in this area.  I advocated trading Willingham to Boston for possible spare-part outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a previous post, but despite Willingham’s offensive capabilities Boston may also value defense and may not really be interested in acquiring more bats this off season.

Reality

  • First Baseman
  • 1-2 Veteran FA pitchers
  • Utility Middle Infielder

1. Acquiring a first baseman included the possibility of re-signing Adam Dunn, despite all indications that it was never to happen.  Rizzo clearly will take less power for more defense at first, and we seem destined to sign Adam LaRoche (after missing out on Carlos Pena, the player I was absolutely sure we’d get).  Frankly, for my money I’d rather have LaRoche.  He’ll sign a 2 year deal for less than any of Dunn, Pena, Konerko or Huff would have signed for, he hits for power and he is a plus defender.  I think he’s perfect until we figure out if Chris Marrero or someone even more remote (like high-A stud hitter and Nats minor leaguer of the year in 2010 Tyler Moore) becomes a possibility.  A final thought; I do NOT want to be left with Derrek Lee as the solution.  He’s a right handed hitter on a team that is now full of them.  Zimmerman, Willingham, Werth all righties; we need a lefty slugger to break up the middle of our batting order.

2. I still see the acquisition of one or two veteran FA pitchers on the horizon.  I can see us (unless someone foolishly offers him $10M) signing Brandon Webb on a one year flier.  I can see us re-signing Wang to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

3. The backup middle infielder is a lower priority but still important.  If Desmond/Espinosa are holding down the starting spots and Alberto Gonzalez is begrudingly serving as the primary glove-man backup, we still need a second player that can do middle infield.  Willie Harris has been that player but he really tailed off last season.  Adam Kennedy served as the backup for the right side of the infield but he clearly wants to start.  I was lobbying for Pete Orr as a nice cheap candidate; he had always produced for us when called up, could play 2nd, 3rd or even outfield.  But he signed elsewhere as a minor league FA.  Perhaps the answer is a prospect to be named (Lombardozzi?) or a FA signing.  I like David Eckstein to team him up with his hitting-coach brother but he probably wants a starting job too.  And Eckstein wouldn’t make sense unless we traded one of Desmond/Espinosa (still a possibility; see later).

Less Likely

  • FA Closer
  • Trade for a Veteran pitcher
  • 1 veteran bullpen presence

1. There are a couple closer-types on the FA market and I can now see the Nats picking one up ala their deal with Matt Capps to cover for Storen as he grows into the spot.  Jenks, Dotel,Gregg, Hoffman, Soriano, Wood all available (Soriano a type-A though, so we wont’ get him).  I think this would make for a good piece of business and could serve as a useful trade chip mid season.

2. I can see us working out a trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Matt Garza.  Tampa wants to get rid of payroll, not add it, but perhaps we can pre-arrange a one-year deal with Willingham and flip him to Tampa.  Washington could eat some of the salary and Willingham would slot nicely into the left field spot recently vacated by Carl Crawford.  Tampa may like this deal since Willingham projects to be a type-A free agent and would net them 2 picks when he leaves (you have to think Willingham wants to get at least a 3-year deal when he hits the FA market based on his age and his proclivities for injuries).  Of course, getting rid of Willingham also puts a hole into OUR lineup, one that looks pretty promising when we get a power hitting lefty first baseman.  And we certainly would like to get some compensation picks to continue to rebuild the farm system.  More likely Tampa would ask for someone like Desmond, which would be a tough trade to swallow for a team that hasn’t really developed that many marquee players in the last 5 years.  We could trade Desmond, acquire Garza, move Espinosa to short (where he’s a better fielder anyway) then sign a short term 2nd baseman like David Eckstein or Orlando Hudson until one of our high-end 2nd base prospects (Lobardozzi, Rick Hague or Jeff Kobernus) is ready to go.

3. Lastly, with not one but TWO arms picked up in the rule5 draft, the likelihood of us acquiring any veteran bullpen arms seems nil.  Perhaps we re-sign Peralta as a long man, but we have plenty of cover there in Balester and Stammen.  We have all the arms we could want coming up (Kimball, Carr, Wilkie all project as mid-bullpen arms, and the AA team is filled with good arms with no place to move up to with so many AAA starters on the 40-man) and we have three great live arms in Storen, Clippard and Burnett already in place.

It has been a pretty fun offseason to track thus far for Nats fans.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.