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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.

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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

 

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 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Verlander just killed me this year.  Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Verlander just killed me this year. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

My standard disclaimer; this is a whole huge post kvetching about my 2013 Fantasy Baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, feel free to skip this 3,000 word missive.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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Innings limits and media hypocrisy

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Matt Harvey is lucky he isn't pitching for a contender .. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Harvey is lucky he isn’t pitching for a contender .. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I just noticed this little report float across the wire: the Miami Marlins plan to shut down their rising star 20-yr old Jose Fernandez when he reaches 170 innings.  We’ve already seen the Mets manipulate Matt Harvey‘s pre-all-star start in an attempt to limit his innings and stretch him out as long as possible, and they too have talked about an innings limit for their new-found Ace (Editor Note: this was before his unfortunate UCL injury).  Cub’s rising Ace Jeff Samardzija was shut down on September 8th of 2012 after reaching a prescribed limit that the team had set.  And our own Jordan Zimmermann worked on a 160 inning limit and was shut down in late August of 2011 after recovering from Tommy John surgery.  And there’s more: see the following for a quick summary of Operation Shutdown 2013:

So what’s the common theme here?  When the Nats shutdown Zimmermann in 2011 they were not a playoff team.  Nor were the Cubs with Samardzija in 2012.  And this year clearly the Mets and Marlins are not playoff teams.  BUT, when the Nationals in 2012 were clearly a playoff team and did a similar innings-limit shutdown with Stephen Strasburg, there was (and continues to be) national media uproar over the decision.  The Nats (and by proxy Mike Rizzo) were described as “arrogant” by more than one “anonymous GM” (aka gutless chicken-sh*t executive who wouldn’t go on the record criticizing a colleague who had to make a pretty significant, difficult decision), as dutifully and gleefully reported by bloggers and writers who go to great lengths to state their own opinions on the matter.   And it didn’t take but a few hours after the Game 5 meltdown (and in some cases even before then) for said writers to pipe up yet again with their opinions that the NLDS absolutely would have turned out differently if Strasburg was pitching.

And keep in mind, Strasburg was coming back from an injury!  Nearly every one of these 2013 Operation Shutdown guys weren’t ever hurt; they were just limited by executives who may prescribe to the Tom Verducci effect of increased workloads (whether or not you agree with the principle, which has been disproven on the macro level yet Verducci maintains an 80% successful prediction rate.  Discussion on both sides from a January 2013 post here).

Why the hypocrisy?  Because there’s a huge double standard here.  Its “OK” to shutdown your ace for health-related or longevity-related issues …. but only if your team sucks and you’re not making the playoffs.  However, if you are making the playoffs and you follow-through on your season-long stated intention to shutdown your star pitcher coming off a major arm injury … then you’re an idiot.  At least, that’s my interpretation of the media reaction in September of 2012 of Strasburg-shutdown versus Samardzija-shutdown.

Its ok to ignore doctor’s recommendations and attempt to blow out your 24-yr old’s arm again so that he can make one or two post-season starts … because, hey, Flags fly forever, and you may never get back to the playoffs.   I think this statement encapsulates the argument very simply; some people value making the playoffs for one year far above the long-term health of one particular baseball pitcher’s arm.  People with these opinions are gleefully watching our team struggle in 2013, and I’ve seen more than one opinion posted that say this is “karma” on the Nats for shutting down Strasburg last year.  Really?  Karma?  Not the 29th ranked offense in the league as being the root of all our troubles right now?

The point is this: if you were against an innings limit for Strasburg … then you should stand up and say you’re against innings limits for any pitcher.  All the “well we don’t know if shutting down a pitcher helps or hurts” arguments (which are all entirely true; we don’t have any idea if Strasburg’s career will be 3 more years or 15, and we have no idea if the 2012 shutdown will help, hurt or have no impact), shouldn’t be affected by the team’s place in the standings.  If you’re against the Strasburg shutdown on principle, then you should be equally outraged that the Mets, Cubs, and Marlins plan to “tank” games in August that their aces would have been scheduled to pitch as well.

I’m sure that we’ll continue to hear more “shutdown dates” being announced for the slew of young power arms that are making 2013 increasingly the “Year of the Rookie pitcher.”  None of these names have been mentioned yet, but rookies with decent MLB workloads such as Shelby MillerGerrit ColeZach WheelerJacob TurnerTony CingraniAlex Cobb, and maybe even guys like Jarred CosartChris Archer and Martin Perez could all be names that teams look to protect going forward.  And some of these guys (especially Miller and Cole) are pitching significant innings for playoff contenders, and are going to blow by 2012 innings numbers by mid-August.  Will we see another Strasburg-esque shutdown media blitz in 2013?


Post Script added 7/26/13: we have announced that our own Taylor Jordan will be facing an innings limit in 2013, and it is coming up very fast.  “20-30” more innings, or roughly 5-6 more starts.  That hopefully will coincide with Ross Detwiler‘s return from the D/L but it may not, forcing the team to scramble to fill that rotation spot.  Update: this on 8/18/13 after Jordan suffered a sprain that would have made it impossible to come back anyway.  Shut down at 142 total innings for 2013.

[After the fact post addition: ESPN’s Jerry Crasnik posted about the same topic on 8/7/13, with great updated innings counts for pitchers on contending teams.  He says the same things I’m saying here.  Sept2013 I updated this post whenever a new team announced they were shutting down a player].

9/15/13 post about innings limits

http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/09/14/are-pitch-counts-and-early-shutdowns-actually-helping-pitchers/

How do Pitchers “tip” their pitches to opposing hitters?

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Zack Wheeler's mechanics are apparently a mess right now.  Photo cnnsi.com

Zack Wheeler’s mechanics are apparently a mess right now. Photo cnnsi.com

I’ve taken an interest in Mets rookie right hander Zack Wheeler since his call-up.  I nabbed him for my fantasy team and have watched his starts when I could.   His name has been in the news for quite a while, ever since he was traded by the Giants for a 2-month rental of Carlos Beltran (a trade that had Giants prospect-watching fans howling).  Moreso because of Wheeler’s pedigree; 100mph heat, #1 starter ceiling.  There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a prospect for the first time, even if he could be the bane of your team’s existance for the next 10 years.

His first few starts have been up and down; now we may know why: reports are coming out of the Mets camp that say that Wheeler’s been tipping his pitches.  Of course, it apparently wasn’t an issue when he threw 6 shutout innings in his debut, but its still something worth looking into.  The team plans on working with Wheeler in the bullpen to make some adjustments (he apparently is doing several things wrong right now; see below for all the different ways he’s tipping).  However, apparently not enough was fixed prior to his last start against the Nationals, who teed off on him as if they knew what was coming.  And you know what?  They probably did.

But this got me wondering: how exactly to pitchers “tip” their pitches?  I’ve played an awful long time and have always been a “feel” hitter at the plate; I look fastball, adjust to the curve, never really give much thought to trying to think along with the pitcher, and generally “feel” my way through at-bats.  I’ve never in my life specifically looked for or noticed a pitcher tipping his pitches or tried to take advantage of it; frankly when a guy’s fastball is only in the upper 70s or low 80s as it generally is in amateur leagues, you don’t really need to get that kind of advantage.

After doing a bit of research, here’s what I’ve found.  Pitchers can “tip” their pitches a number of different ways.

  1. Differing Arm Angles for different pitches.  This (according to the above link) is one current Wheeler issue.  I have seen this personally; usually a curveball comes in at a slightly lower arm angle if the pitcher wants to get more side-to-side action.  Pitch F/X data tracks release points and this type of tip can be worked on.
  2. Differing Arm Action: A common tip is when a pitcher specificically slows their arm when an off-speed pitch comes, especially a change-up.  This is an amateur tip though; professionals throwing change-ups hone their craft to be as deceptive as possible.
  3. Glove Positioning: another apparent Wheeler issue; he was holding his glove in different spots (as pointed out by this fangraphs.com link and as noticed in the video in this article here) depending on the pitch.  This has to be something done unconsciously; there’s no reason to hold your glove in different spots or to hold your body in different positions based on the pitch you’re going to throw.   Others have noted that pitchers will have different “glove widths” depending on the grip; a “12-6” grip (like on a fastball) allows the glove to be slightly more closed than a “3-9” grip, like you’d have on a curve ball.  Another glove tip-off may be the way the glove is held in the set position; some pitchers have a tendency to hold the glove more straight up and down when throwing fastballs.
  4. Differing Motion Mechanics: I’ve often wondered if our own Drew Storen, who uses two different leg kicks, has any sort of telegraphing of his pitch selection by virtue of this mechanical difference.  Andy Pettitte unconsiously was once found to bring his arms together in slightly different ways from the stretch depending on the pitch he was to throw.  Dennis Eckersley admitted (after he retired of course) that he went through a tipping period where batters could tell he was throwing off-speed stuff because he unconsiously was “tapping” his leg with his hand.
  5. Differing Motion Speeds: do you speed up  your motion for one pitch but not another?  Apparently Wheeler may be doing it now.  Conventional wisdom states that a pitcher will take a nice leisurly motion for a fastball to gain natural physical momentum but may forget that momentum when he’s throwing a curve.
  6. Pitch Gripping in the Glove: If a pitcher throws an unconventional pitch that takes a moment to get a grip on, a batter can pickup on different timings or different mannerisms and get a read on the pitch.  I’ve noticed this with pitchers who throw specifically the split-fingered fastball, one of the more difficult pitches to properly grip.  I once watched a guy on the hill who would pre-jam the ball in-between his fingers as he took the sign; it became pretty easy to know what was coming because if he did NOT fiddle with his glove you knew it was a splitter.  Some pitchers have to look down at their grip to get it right after accepting the call; can you glean anything from this fiddling in the glove?
  7. Pitch Grip VisibilityMike Mussina found out from a teammate (Jorge Posada) during spring training one year that his unique change-up grip telegraphed the pitch to opposing hitters.  Posada watched him pitch and called out every pitch in what must have been a rather disheartening bullpen session.  He made a slight adjustment with his finger positioning and eliminated the tell.  This problem is somewhat related to a pitcher’s overall ability to “hide the ball” during his wind-up; if you’re an over-the-top thrower and you throw a pitch that shows a lot of the ball … batters can see it.  Knuckleballers especially are plagued by this, but they don’t much care since everyone knows what pitch is coming anyway.
  8. Poker-face tells: sometimes pitchers just flat out have a Poker table-esque tell that they unconsiously perform on certain pitchers.  They’ll grimace, or puff up cheeks, or stick out their tongue on some pitches but not others.

The best way to find out about any of these tells is to have a former rival hitter get traded to your team.  But even then sometimes players can be secretive.  So video tape work is key, as is 3rd party eyes looking for predictive tells in your body language and motion.

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 2nd, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?

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How much longer is Haren going to be wearing this hat? Photo nats official via espn.com

The Nats management waited and waited, but finally gave in and dealt with season-long performance issues in Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore in the first two weeks of June, DFA-ing or demoting as needed and bringing in replacements to try to do a better job and turn this season around.

So, when will it be time to talk about the train-wreck season that Dan Haren is having?  For $13M, here’s what the team has gotten in his first 12 starts, including June 12th’s meltdown:

  • a 4-8 Record with a 5.70 ERA and a 67 ERA+ (his ERA is 6th worst in baseball for qualified pitchers).
  • A 6-10 team record in games in which he’s started
  • a league leading 17 home runs allowed

A quick glance at his advanced stats doesn’t give much credence to any apologists that may try to excuse his line either; his BABIP is slightly elevated but not overly so (.320) and his FIP is still an unsightly 5.06 (5th worst among qualified starters).  Only his expected xFIP and SIERA numbers are relatively respectable, but xFip is just an estimator stat and often times never comes to pass, since it assumes silly things like the fact that Haren can’t possibly keep giving up this many home runs… an assumption that continued to be disproven as he gave up two more in his most recent loss in Colorado.

Game-Log analysis: Haren has yet to have a start where he shut out the opponent.  He’s only got 5 quality starts out of 12.  In half his starts he’s allowed 4 or more runs (not good when your team’s offense is only scoring 3.4 runs a game).  Haren’s only really had a couple of starts that were “grade A” in my book (his best start of the year was an 8 inning 4 hit performance in Atlanta of all places).  In his defense, he has gotten awful run support (2.84 runs per start), heavily indicating team losses every time he pitches.

I’ll admit it; I talked myself into the Haren deal big time after it was announced.  I ignored his 2012 struggles, looked back to the near Cy Young guy he was in 2009 and thought this was the move that could push the Nats to a 105 win team.  Now clearly whatever excuses we made for his performance in 2012 (back injury leading to diminished velocity leading to loss of his sinker leading to crummy numbers) seem like they’re covering up for an aging sinkerballer who never had lights out velocity and who now looks dangerously close to extinct as his very-hittable fastball flattens out and gets hit harder and harder.

So what’s the answer here?

Don’t talk to me about his salary; that $13M is out the door already.  Kaput.  Gone.  Look up the definition of a “Sunk Cost” in economic terms.  If you were worried about $13M in annual salary then you shouldn’t have bought a $15M a year closer who isn’t exactly a complete shutdown guy (Tyler Clippard has almost identical stats this year to Rafael Soriano for a third of the price and he didn’t cost us a 1st round draft pick, which as it turned out could have been spent on one of two pre-draft top-10 talents).  The decision needs to be made; do you still want to try to “win now” in 2013 as all the other off-season moves seemed to indicate?  Because the solution likely is going to be a bit more money and a few more prospects.

Short term (as in, the next week): see how Ross Ohlendorf does in his spot start (Answer: uh, he did awesome, holding a good hitting team to two hits through 6 in the best hitters park in the league).  If he’s anything remotely close to effective, I think you look at an invented D/L trip for Haren and send him on a rehab assignment tour of the minors.

Mid-term (as in, for the next couple weeks): do we have anyone else in the minors worth checking out?  Not on the 40-man and not with enough experience.  Maybe we give Danny Rosenbaum a shot if another spot-start is needed after Detwiler and Strasburg come back.

Longer term (as in, the next two months); Look at the trade market and look at who may be available leading up to the trade deadline.  We’re already seeing some teams completely out of it and clearly some guys will be available:

  • The Cubs probably will look to move Scott Feldman and especially Matt Garza.
  • The Astros probably will cash in on Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris (nobody’s likely interested in Erik Bedard at this point).
  • The Marlins would listen for offers for Ricky Nolasco, though perhaps not intra-division.
  • The Mets aren’t winning this year and could be moving Shawn Marcum (though perhaps not intra-division).
  • I think eventually Seattle becomes a seller: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang should be dangled.
  • I also think San Diego eventually realizes they’re not going to win the NL West: Edinson Volquez, waiver pickup Eric StultsClayton Richards and our old friend Jason Marquis all make for possible trade candidates.

A few other poorly performing teams are probably going to be too stubborn to wave the white flag, which cuts down on the number of guys that will be available (see the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto specifically).

The only problem with a trade market move is this: all these teams are going to want prospects back.  And the Nats prospect cupboard has been cleaned out recently to acquire all these fools who are underperforming so far in 2013.  I’m not an opposing GM, so I can’t say for sure, but from a quick look at the Nats best prospects in the minors right now (basically in order: Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez, then guys like Hood, Taylor, Walters, Ray and Jordan round out the list) and I see a lot of injured guys or players on injury rehab, backups or guys barely above or still in A-ball.  I’m not trading a valued asset for an injury-risk guy who has never gotten above AA.  Who on this list is going to fetch us a quality major league starter?

Maybe we trade Haren along with a huge chunk of his remaining salary and multiple prospects to one of these teams in order to get one of these 5th starters back.  But that’d be an awful trade when it was all said and done (about as awful as, say, the Giants trading Zack Wheeler to the Mets for 2 months of Carlos Beltran in a failed effort to make the playoffs in 2012; with all the Giants 2013 pitching issues do you think they wish they had Wheeler back right now??)

Or, it very well may be that the Nats are stuck; we knew going into the season we had no starter depth and those MLFAs we did acquire (Ohlendorf and Chris Young basically) probably aren’t the answer.  But something has to give; we can’t give away every 5th start like we seem to be doing now and claw back into the NL East race.