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Ranking MLB Rotations Part 5: Congrats, We Passed The Halfway Point!

If you missed part 4… click here

You’ll see 6 more of these over the next week & I hope you enjoy them all. I know these are long so I’ve bolded all of the relevant pitcher names. I’d really love to talk with you all about the rankings or baseball in general in the comments or on twitter.

Prior rankings: 30. San Diego Padres, 29. Cincinnati Reds, 28. Minnesota Twins, 27. Miami Marlins, 26. Milwaukee Brewers, 25. Kansas City Royals, 24. LA Angels, 23. Colorado Rockies, 22. Philadelphia Phillies, 21. Baltimore Orioles, 20. Oakland Athletics, 19. Arizona Diamondbacks, 18. New York Yankees, 17. Chicago White Sox, 16. Atlanta Braves

rays 15. Tampa Bay Rays Tampa Bay may not have any fans but they do have pretty decent starting pitching. Coming in at 15th on the list this year, I wouldn’t be too shocked if the Rays were 8th or 9th ranked in 2018. Archer and Odorizzi will still be around, we’ll know if Alex Cobb recovered from Tommy John correctly, Blake Snell will have more experience, and the organization’s top pitching prospects will be ready.

Chris Archer’s 2016 was a tale of two halves. In the first half, he was walking 10% of batters faced, opponents were hitting .253 against him, and he seemed like a complete mess. After the all star break, he cut his walk rate in half, dropped his ERA by more than a run, and looked like the Chris Archer of old. He did lose 19 games and his early season struggles make it difficult to view him as a true ace but Archer is still a very talented pitcher. Jake Odorizzi is now 27 years old and hasn’t really taken that step that many expected him to. Or at least not over the course of a full season. His 2nd half ERA was 10th best in all of baseball (but it was buoyed by a favorable BABIP and LOB%). Anyways, as a 6’2 flyball pitcher who doesn’t necessarily have the greatest stuff, he’ll struggle with home runs from time to time, and 2016 was no different – his 29 homers allowed was 14th worst in baseball. He’s a capable mid-rotation arm but won’t develop into a star pitcher. snell Blake Snell (pictured) could be an Archie Bradley that makes it work, in other words, he’s got big time stuff but really struggles with his command. In 89 innings, Snell’s 3.54 ERA was better than Bradley’s has ever been, and this is all with a high .356 BABIP. Now, often one can point to high BABIPs and argue that they’ll fall; this might not be the case with Snell. Batters hit line drives off of Snell more frequently than any other pitcher who threw 80+ innings and will pitch in 2017, and liners fall for hits much much more often than grounders or fly balls. It will be interesting to watch Snell’s progress this year – he has phenomenal raw talent but there are still several impediments before he reaches stardom. Alex Cobb, now 29, has thrown just 22 innings in the majors since 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. He should be fully healthy by now and was really starting to look like a fantastic arm with a 2.82 ERA in more than 300 innings in ‘13 and ‘14. Cobb’s injuries turn him into a wildcard and durability overall is a real concern but he’s got the ability to be a legitimate #2 if everything works out. Matt Andriese’s 2016 stats don’t look too bad but most of his success came out of the ‘pen – in 105 innings as a starter, batters hit .280 against him and he had a 4.80 ERA. Not only that but he didn’t hold up well as the season progressed; in his 2nd half starts, his ERA was 6.47. Even worse, 32 runs scored in 32.2 innings pitched the 2nd (and 3rd time) through the order in the 2nd half of the year. Andriese doesn’t have the stamina or stuff to stick as a starting pitcher. Fortunately for Rays fans, prospects Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon are waiting in the wings, and each have the skills to succeed in a rotation by mid-season.

astros 14. Houston Astros The ‘Stros have looked to be on the verge of competition for the past two years. And again, they’ve got a talented roster but who knows how far they’ll go. Question marks abound at the front of their rotation though they do have some talented young guns and a potentially transformed veteran.

 Dallas Keuchel (pictured right) is just one season removed from the Cy Young award, yet he looked like anything but the best pitcher in baseball last season. keuchelThough everything worked for him in 2015, he didn’t stick with the same formula last season. During his Cy Young campaign, fastballs and changeups were thrown 70% of the time. Last year, he gave more preference to the slider and cutter, and that trusted fastball-change combo popped up in just 6 of 10 pitches. Aside from that, his already puny velocity fell further (about 1 mph on the fastball – from 89.6 MPH to 88.6 MPH, and a MPH on the slider and cutter as well). Compound these problems with a movement away from such extreme groundball tendencies – Keuchel had the 2nd highest groundball:flyball ratio in both ‘15 and ‘16 but it still dropped exponentially from 3.14 to 2.33 grounders per fly ball. Keuchel kept the ball in the yard in ‘15 (11th lowest HR/9 mark) but that skill didn’t translate to last season because his HR/FB rate was deceptively 7th highest. That increase in homers might owe itself to the fact that batters walloped balls hard off of Keuchel 30% of the time last season (compared to just 21% the year before). Essentially, don’t expect a return to 2015 levels for Keuchel. Collin McHugh appears likely to start the season on the DL with a dead arm, but that injury isn’t his only worry. He’s also tasked with finding out what’s happening to his earned run average. A low 2.73 in 2014 grew into a 3.89 in 2015, and finally 4.34 last year. The reasons for his decline are hard to see. One culprit might be fatigue. In 2014 and ‘15, his ERA the 3rd and 4th time through the order was a very respectable 3.56. Last season, however, that boomed into a 4.94 mark which indicates to me that he might be struggling in the later innings. He also developed struggles against lefties out of nowhere. In his first two years with Houston, lefties hit .226/.286/.344 off of McHugh. Last season the mark was .289/.348/.455. He’ll need to re-learn his lefty-killing stuff if he wants to improve upon last season. mccullers Lance McCullers Jr. (pictured left) is one of the most exciting pitchers in baseball. When healthy. Across two MLB seasons (but only 206.2 innings pitched) McCullers has struck out 27% of batters faced and has looked like an unhittable ace at times. He also walked 5 batters per 9 innings last season. The walks are worrying and could come back to fuck him once his fortunate strand rate of 81.4% comes plummeting back down (that rate is 7th highest among those with at least as many innings pitched as he threw). Despite the impending negative reversal in LOB%, expect a positive reversal in BABIP because opponents won’t reach base on 38% of balls hit into play in the future. Health and command are the only things keeping McCullers from acehood but they are each formidable obstacles to overcome. Charlie Morton looked great in 17.1 innings last season for the Phillies but what should we trust? 17.1 meaningless innings of good stuff or 800+ innings across years of competition and under the tutelage of phenomenal Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage? I choose to trust Morton’s history but would be remiss without noting that his fastball during those 17.1 innings crossed the plate at 94.3 MPH – 2.7 MPH faster than his career average of 91.6 MPH. If the velocity bump is real, we might witness a very different Charlie Morton in 2017 than we have in the past. For what it’s worth, Morton has coincidentally thrown exactly 17.1 innings this spring – he has allowed 2 runs while striking out 17. Mike Fiers was pretty bad last year and is probably only in the rotation until Collin McHugh is healthy. When the average righty slugs .507 off you, you know you don’t deserve more than 2 sentences in the rotation rankings. Joe Musgrove is famous for no free passes. He walked just 1.1 batters per 9 innings across 337.1 minor league innings. That number doubled in 62 MLB innings but as he gains confidence, those walks could trend back down. I like this guy not because he has overwhelming stuff or anything but because he doesn’t tend to miss his spot.

pirates 13. Pittsburgh Pirates The Bucs’ rotation is an interesting one. Frankly, there isn’t too much separating it from a staff like the Oakland Athletics. Part of this is because the A’s best case scenario is much higher than where I ranked them (20th) and part of this is because the Pirates rotation does have a ton of question marks. I believe in these guys.

Gerrit Cole, the 1st overall pick in the 2011 draft, pitched a remarkable 2015 but he was unable to follow that up with a comparable 2016 campaign. Cole struck out fewer batters (career low rate), walked more batters (career high rates), and gave up a higher percentage of hard-hit balls than ever before. Cole’s fastball was incredibly effective in 2015 but was just pedestrian last year (despite it being thrown at similar velocities). It really seems as though his stuff wasn’t as sharp as it has been in years past. Batters made contact about 3% more frequently (that’s a bigger deal than it sounds) and only 8.5% of Cole’s strikes were swinging strikes (well below his career marks and the 10.2% of swinging strikes in 2015). Lefties were a surprise pop-up concern for Cole – he manhandled them to a .222/.287/.310 line in 2015 but just could not find a way to get southpaws out in 2016. Lefties mashed Cole to the tune of a .321/.381/.488 triple slash. Even during Cole’s rather dominant 1st half (2.77 ERA), lefties were still walloping him at an above-.300 clip. Cole has dealt with injuries throughout his entire career, and of his 3.5 MLB seasons, he only eclipsed 140 innings once (2015). He’s got the stuff and the tenacity to be a long-term ace but he needs to stay off the DL and re-conquer left-handed batters. Jameson Taillon (pictured) was a top prospect for years before falling out of our minds when he missed all of 2014 and 2015 with injuries. He turned into an incredible success story last season and there isn’t much reason to think there won’t be good times to come. In 104 MLB innings, Taillon punched out five times as many batters as he walked, commanded his 3-pitch mix, and acclimated himself to the big leagues. taillonIt’s probably a bit fluky that he actually improves as the game progresses (4.38 ERA first time through the order, 3.29 2nd time, 2.13 3rd time, 0.00 4th time – just two thirds of an inning pitched for that last one), but he might also be great at figuring out batters.  Ivan Nova re-signed with the Bucs for a hefty 3/26 million dollar deal this offseason after being traded to Pittsburgh last year. The Dominican isn’t a shut-down guy but his 3.06 ERA in 11 National League starts is a definite plus as is the fact that he drastically lowered his walk rates. Nova walked just 1.56 batters per 9 innings last year – a far cry from his career rate of 2.73. He threw about 3% more strikes (than his career percentage last year) and much of that is due to the fact that batters swung at his offerings 49.3% of the time – 7th highest rate in all of baseball. That change, as well as a decreased contact% and the best swinging strike percentage of his career signals to me that Nova is, in fact, a capable mid-rotation starter. Nova’s ERA was just 3.18 in 82 second half innings – he walked just 11. Chad Kuhl, a rookie last season, isn’t all that inspiring of an arm. His stuff doesn’t have very great movement, and he should be considered a long-term back-end pitcher. Drew Hutchison was traded for Francisco Liriano and some legitimate prospects last year but the returns … haven’t been good. The 26 year old’s awful spring training decreases my hope that this will be the year he breaks out. Hutchison was a former top prospect who just never made it click in the majors. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage is known for working his magic on guys like Hutchison but I’ll believe it when I see it. Top prospect Tyler Glasnow saw his star diminish a bit during his first taste of the majors. Glasnow has still got that nasty strikeout stuff but he walked 5 batters per 9 innings in his cup of coffee and struggled with the free pass in the minors. If he can’t get his control shored up, he runs the risk of turning into an Archie Bradley-type commodity (yes, this is the 2nd Archie Bradley reference in this section).

Be on the lookout for Part 6 tomorrow!