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Ranking MLB Rotations: Part 1: These Might Be AAA Rotations

mlb

From now through opening day, there will be a post ranking some MLB rotations. I’m Sam Alaska, I did these last year too but haven’t been too active during the offseason. That will change. Anyways, these are pretty long but each relevant pitcher’s name is bolded so hopefully you can navigate easily. I’d love to talk to you all on twitter or in the comments below so let me know about your thoughts on the rankings or if I should change the formatting!

padres

30. San Diego Padres “Wait, he’s still Major League starting pitcher?” Not much talent or upside.

 One might look at Clayton Richard’s 11 outings (9 starts) with the Padres, see the 2.52 ERA and think “hey, that’s pretty fucking good!” You should also look at that 1.42 K:BB ratio and realize “hey, that’s pretty fucking bad!” Richard will be a mid-4.00 ERA starter at best and this is the guy on top of their depth chart. Off-season signing Jered Weaver’s ERA has risen by at least .40 points every single year since 2011 (2.41 all the way up to 5.06). While he might reverse this trend, the soft throwing (84 mph fastball, seriously) 34 year old isn’t someone you want in your rotation.  Jhoulys Chacin’s fastball averaged 90.6 last year, the highest since 2011, and he did finish strong with a 2.61 ERA and almost a strikeout per inning in September/October. Ahhh who am I kidding, if Chacin is the bright spot in your rotation, your team doesn’t have much hope. Trevor Cahill, an offseason addition, might have the best track record of any Padres’ starter but he’s only started 4 times in his last 76 MLB appearances and hadn’t been all that impressive beforehand.perdomo Luis Perdomo is an interesting arm. I’m serious. Perdomo’s ground ball rate of 59% would be 2nd highest among all qualified starting pitchers had he qualified for the ERA title. He was also pretty unlucky when it came to grounders (opposing batters hit .276 off of his GBs compared to a ~.239 league average). The 23 year old rookie has a scalding 93.6 mph average fastball and had a not-so-terrible 4.30 ERA in the 2nd half of ‘16. I think I deserve a prize for all these kind words regarding a starting pitcher with a 5.71 ERA in 146.2 innings pitched. There were hopes that getting 29 year old Christian Friedrich out of Coors Field would improve his performance and, to a degree, it did. Friedrich’s 4.78 home ERA at Petco in 2016 is an improvement over his Coors Field ERA of 5.56 in 2015 but neither belong on an MLB staff. Friedrich’s fastball also lost 2 MPH and his slider dropped an incredible 3.7 from 2015 to 2016. Other possible starters Jarred Cosart (6.00 ERA), Paul Clemens (5.68 FIP), and Cesar Vargas (5.03 ERA) aren’t much better.

reds29. Cincinnati Reds The Reds are not a very good baseball team. We know this. Injuries hurt and there is some youth here but nothing is too promising.

 Anthony DeSclafani, the team’s #1 starter has a UCL strain and might require Tommy John surgery. DeSclafani was great from June through September last year (3.21 ERA in 121.1 IP) but got lucky with runners left on base (78.3% LOB was 22nd highest among pitchers with 120+ IP) and was an absolute punching bag for left handed batters. Lefties hit .300 and slugged .500 against the Reds’ #1. For comparison, Arizona’s star 1st baseman, Paul Goldschmidt hit .297 with a .489 slugging percentage last year. Behind DeSclafani, there isn’t much. Scott Feldman, a reliever for most of last season, is now tasked with the Reds’ opening day start. Feldman’s 7.03 2nd half ERA doesn’t make me too confident in his abilities to anchor the rotation with DeSclafani injured. Homer Bailey has been injured (or a non-factor) since 2014 and will start the season on the DL again. Speaking of injuries, the Reds hope 40 year old Bronson Arroyo will work in their rotation despite not pitching since 2014. To be fair, he had been healthy for years prior but its not like his stuff will ever ‘wow’ you. 

Finnegan, with Royals

Finnegan, with Royals

5’11” 185 lb pitchers don’t tend to get stronger as the season goes on but that is precisely what LHP Brandon Finnegan appears to have done. His 2.93 earned run average is markedly better than his 4.71 first half mark but ERA predictors still don’t think he should be a starter. Even in his strong 2nd half, Finnegan’s FIP was 4.45 and his season’s mark of 5.19 is 4th worst in all of baseball. Further, batters hit .297/.370/.519 the 3rd time through the order – recall the Paul Goldschmidt comp up above – this is not a recipe for long term success as a starting pitcher. If you thought Finnegan’s 4th worst FIP was bad, teammate Tim Adleman has you covered. If he threw enough innings to qualify, he’d take the ‘4th worst FIP crown’ over from Finnegan.

Robert Stephenson, 24

Robert Stephenson, who had been a top 100 prospect every single year since 2013 and has/had top-of-the-rotation potential finally made the majors last season. He allowed 26 runs in 37 innings. He’s still rookie eligible so hey! There’s that… but if he continues walk a batter every 2 innings, he probably won’t cut it in an MLB starting five. Cody Reed shouldn’t make any rotation any time soon – he tossed 47.2 MLB innings last year; he allowed 47 runs. The 6’5 former college basketball player (St. John’s) Amir Garrett has not yet reached the bigs but his athleticism is clear and he should have no issue joining this shitty rotation once he’s deemed ready. He might be ready by April- he’s competing with Reed, Stephenson, Adleman, and Rookie Davis for some of the last spots. Rookie Davis has yet to reach the MLB and really struggled in AAA last year but put up good numbers in AA despite the lack of strikeouts. Raisel Iglesias looked like a bright spot for the Reds at this time last year but now seems to be destined for the ‘pen. To summarize: this is a bad rotation.

twins28. Minnesota Twins The Twins offense is exciting with youngsters like German-raised Outfielder Max Kepler, resurgent former top prospect Byron Buxton, and the powerful Miguel Sano all compliment 2nd baseman Brian Dozier in the field. I wish I could say the same about their pitching. Twins starters had an unsightly 5.39 ERA last year, a full .20 worse than the 29th best rotation and it isn’t much better.

Ervin Santana, the #1 actually had a pretty spectacular 2nd half of ‘16 – 7th best in all of baseball (2.65 ERA). He’s 34 years old but has continued to chug along and should remain a reliable albeit unimpressive and below average #1 starter. It’s worth noting he finished ‘15 strong as well (with a 1.88 ERA in September and October). santanaBehind him stands the former Angel Hector Santiago. Santiago made the All Star game two short seasons ago, back in 2015, yet, since the 86th mid-summer classic, Santiago has pitched to a 4.92 ERA with even worse peripheral stats like FIP or xFIP, and more than 4 walks per 9 innings. He might get a little better but, if he weren’t in Minnesota, he’d probably be out of a rotation spot already. Kyle Gibson was once a top 100 prospect, now he’s a well-below average starting pitcher. Gibson looked like a decent arm for a spell but now owns a 5.12 ERA over his last 39 starts (228.1 IP). 26 year old Tyler Duffey came out of nowhere to post a 3.10 ERA in 10 starts back in ‘15 but faded back into inadequacy with a 6.43 ERA last year. If you are looking for a silver lining for 2017, you won’t find it here as his 2nd half ERA of 8.27 in 53.1 innings was even worse. The Twins are just the gift that keeps on giving. If you think Duffey’s 8.27 2nd half ERA is bad then let me introduce to you Jose Berrios, at this time last year, the Puerto Rican was a top 20 prospect with people predicting Rookie of the Year votes. He had an 8.02 ERA with 5.4 bb/9 over 58.1 innings pitched. Berrios did dominate AAA again during his time there but given his pro struggles and lack of plane on his pitches (he is listed at just 6’0), he is no sure thing to ever succeed as an MLB starter. Phil Hughes took the money and ran: in the first 2 years of his 5 year 58 million dollar deal, Hughes had 4.40 and 5.95 ERAs in 2015 and ‘16. He is bad but so is everyone else. Adalberto Mejia, a southpaw pitching prospect has performed well at AA but should focus on getting AAA batters out before he jumps to the bigs. The Twins are going nowhere fast with this group of arms.

marlins27. Miami Marlins Jose Fernandez’s shocking death was a tragedy to the baseball world and it’s very evident that the Miami Marlins’ rotation will miss his production. There isn’t much talent or upside here.

Lefty Adam Conley showed some consistency in his 2nd year in the majors – tossing a 3.85 ERA with 8.4 K/9 in 25 starts. Conley was really starting to get it together, with a lovely 2.76 ERA in more than 65 June and July innings. He’d go down with a finger injury in August and miss much of the rest of the year but Conley is a suitable mid-rotation guy masquerading near the top of a bad Miami staff. In 2008, Edinson Volquez improved his ERA by 1.29 (down to 3.21) en route to a remarkable 4th place finish in the rookie of the year voting (despite not even being a rookie – no really), in 2012, his ERA improved by 1.57, and in 2014, Volquez’s earned run average improved by 2.67. In other words, there really isn’t any predicting how Volquez does from year to year. His 5.37 2016 ERA was bad but maybe he improves it by a couple runs this season. chenThe first year of Wei Yin Chen’s 5 year, 80 million dollar deal was a failure. The lefty pitched to a 4.96 ERA with Miami. He should be fully healthy on Opening Day and will look to get back to his successes of 2014 and 2015. One thing Chen must focus on is getting LHBs out: during his career, lefties have hit just .243 against him yet last season southpaws walloped Chen to the tune of a .321 batting average. Recently-acquired Marlin Dan Straily’s 14 wins and 3.76 ERA are both pretty optimistic numbers but his league-leading 31 homers allowed and 5th highest percentage of batters left on base (81.2%) make for an extremely dangerous combination and warn of a potential coming implosion. It is worth noting that an extreme flyball pitcher such as Straily might benefit for the spacious Marlins Park. At this point in his career, we know 30 year old Tom Koehler is a back-end starter who is good for a low-to-mid 4.00 ERA – consistency is valuable and so are 5th starters but he won’t be competing for any awards anytime soon. I’d be stunned if 2013 All Star Jeff Locke ever makes it to another All Star game and his 5.44 ERA last year makes me wonder whether he’d even turn heads in AA, he’s injured and probably won’t crack the rotation. Jose Urena and Justin Nicolino (each 25) both have youth on their side but that’s about it – as long everyone stays healthy, these two probably won’t make the rotation.

Be on the lookout for Part 2 tomorrow!