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Ranking MLB Rotations, Part 6: Am I Too High On These Teams?

If you missed part 4… click here

If you missed part 5… click here

You’ll see 3 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, 15. Tampa Bay Rays, 14. Houston Astros, 13. Pittsburgh Pirates

mariners 12. Seattle Mariners You can be an optimistic person or a pessimistic person. I’m an optimist. A lot went wrong with the M’s starting 5 in 2016 and a lot could go wrong again in 2017. I’ll take the risk with these guys.

Felix Hernandez has been a model of consistency for much of his career but something changed in 2016. Hernandez’s strikeout rate fell and his walk rate increased for the 3rd consecutive year. He was walking 9.9% of batters faced, far off from his career 7% mark. Perhaps most glaringly, Hernandez’s fastball velocity dropped to 90.5 MPH, 1.3 less than his 2015 average and a far cry the mid-90 speeds he threw in his prime. Ultimately though? It’s King Felix. Perhaps six months from now, we’ll chalk up his 2016 as an aberration. Few pitchers have gained the benefit of the doubt but Felix is certainly one of them. I’d count on him turning back into well-above average arm, but I wouldn’t pencil him in for any Cy Young votes this year. Hisashi Iwakuma is now 36 years old and while his 16 wins last season stand out, there wasn’t much behind it. Iwakuma struck out one fewer batter per 9 innings than he did in 2015, he walked more than two batters per 9 for the first time since his rookie season, his ERA topped 4.00 for the first time in the majors, and more. His entire pitching type changed. From 2012 through 2015, Iwakuma induced grounders at a 50% clip – he had 1.6 grounders for every fly ball. Last year though? Only 40.8% of balls were hit on the ground and his 236 fly balls allowed is nearly equivalent to the 255 grounders induced. Much has been made about the decline in Iwakuma’s velocity but, honestly, it wasn’t a big a factor as some make it out to be. His fastball dipped by .6 MPH and his splitter fell by .9. The real story should be that his reliance on that split-finger fastball, previously a very effective pitch, has dropped considerably. The splitter came out of his hand 28% of the time in 2014, but it’s his choice pitch just 18% of the time now. Iwakuma is old and might not be as effective as he once was but that doesn’t mean he is finished. I’d expect a quality albeit unspectacular season. paxton James Paxton (pictured) quietly broke out last season. The often injured 28 year old lefty nearly doubled his innings pitched in impressive fashion. Paxton’s strikeout to walk ratio was 7th best among all pitchers with 120 innings pitched, and his swinging strike rate places him among the league leaders as well. All this is impressive but we’re kind of ignoring the elephant in the room. Paxton throws heat. His average fastball velocity was a blistering 96.7 MPH, a full 1.8 MPH faster than the 2nd fastest lefty starter. But wait, there’s more! He was also incredibly unlucky in terms of strand rate and opponent BABIP, if those correct themselves in 2017, we could be looking at a Paxton ERA similar to the 2.80 FIP he earned last season. If Paxton had qualified for the ERA title, Noah Syndergaard would be the only active pitcher with a lower FIP than he had. He’s just gotta stay healthy. I’m in love with Drew Smyly and I don’t care who knows it. It’s an abusive relationship where I keep waiting for him to take it to the next level, but he just does not care about my feelings. Smyly dealt with the worst year of his career last year and while his left-on-base rate was pretty low, he served up plenty of bombs and it’s pretty difficult to leave runners stranded when the #8 batter is clearing the bases with a blast to right. Smyly, an extreme fly ball pitcher, is the type of guy who struggles when the ball travels a bit. Now that he’s in the more spacious Safeco Field, we should monitor his progress and hope that he keeps more balls in the yard. This is a pitcher who had a 3.24 ERA in 395 innings before last year and still has the skills to dominate – Smyly might be my comeback player of the year. Yovani Gallardo had a season to forget in Baltimore last year. He had 61 walks compared to just 85 strikeouts (you don’t need to know the exact ratio to know that that is really really bad. The washed-up 31 year old doesn’t have much left in the tank and shouldn’t be counted on providing any positive value to the Mariners’ rotation.

rangers11. Texas Rangers Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish can compete with most other top 2 duos in the game but, after that, it drops off quickly.

Outwardly, it looked like Cole Hamels had another stellar season last year. He passed the 200 innings plateau for the 7th straight time, he struck out a batter an inning, his 3.32 ERA was right in line with his career averages, and he won 15 games for just the 3rd time in his career. Behind all that is a breaking down 33 year old body who walked a career high 77 batters (15 more than ever before). Not only that but batters straight up changed the way they hit against him – don’t get me wrong, he’s still an effective and great pitcher but these are things that need to be pointed out. Balls were hit ‘hard’ 5% more frequently than they had been in 2015, and the ball was pulled more than 47% of the time – a drastic increase from the 38% mark two years ago. Yu Darvish (pictured), when healthy, is one of the most electric starters in the game. yu darvish He’s struck out more than 30% of batters faced and everything about the guy points to continued success. Darvish’s velocity actually increased about 1 MPH (not totally uncommon) after his Tommy John surgery, he located his pitches at a career-best rate, and his peripherals are extremely sturdy. I think one of my talents is finding something bad to say about every pitcher but I just can’t find many performance-related issues with Yu. He’ll just have to stay healthy and the success will follow.
Martin Perez might be an extreme groundball pitcher but that doesn’t mean he needs to completely ignore strikeouts. Perez’s strikeout rate is the lowest among all starting pitchers: a full .5 strikeouts per 9 innings lower than Jered Weaver, the pitcher with the 2nd lowest rate. Perez’s 4.39 ERA is by no means terrible but he also really lucked out (13 of his runs allowed were unearned); when you account for both earned and unearned runs, only James Shields and Edinson Volquez let more runners cross the plate last season. AJ Griffin, a big time fly ball pitcher has steadily declined throughout his 3 seasons in the majors. The righty throws an 87 MPH fastball and, honestly, just doesn’t have much positive value in an MLB rotation. I felt bad because I had never heard of Mike Hauschild, a potential rotation fill-in while the Rangers are waiting for some of their arms to recover from injury. Turns out, not many have. The 27 year old has yet to reach the major leagues and probably won’t be much of a factor this year either. While Andrew Cashner will have a spot in the rotation when he returns from injury in mid-April, I’m not sure he deserves it. When Cashner isn’t hurt, he’s walking 10% of batters faced and struggling to get outs. He’s has never been very good, and his stuff is worse now than ever before. Tyson Ross won’t be back in the bigs for at least another month and missed practically all of last season, but the 6’5 righty enjoyed three remarkable seasons from 2013-2015 in San Diego. The shift from Petco to Arlington is major but it will be interesting to see how the former all-star recovers from his thoracic outlet syndrome.

cards 10. St. Louis Cardinals Unlike the other rotations in the top 10, the Cards’ group of starters don’t really jump out at you. All 5 arms, however, have legitimate talent. There is some ace power here but the depth is what gets you.

Adam ‘Save the Children’ Wainwright might be past his prime. In 2014, Wainwright won 20 games with a microscopic 2.38 earned run average. In 2015, he made only 4 starts due to injury but pitched well in his limited action. Last year, the wheels fell off. Wainwright’s ERA of 4.62 eviscerated his career mark of 3.17. Strikeouts didn’t completely disappear but he did walk a higher rate of batters than he did at any other point in his career. Batters also made harder contact on his pitches despite the fact that his velocity hasn’t yet diminished. Really though, aside from the walk rate (which wasn’t even too bad) and the increased hard contact, Wainwright should bounce back. An opponent BABIP of .330 is a far cry away from his career .295 mark and he was one of just 13 starters to strand fewer than 70% of baserunners. If his strand rate and BABIP revert back to his career averages, Wainwright should have a very solid season – even if he probably won’t compete for Cys any longer. mart You probably knew that 25 year old Carlos Martinez (pictured right) was a pretty good starter. He is so good, in fact, that he gets the ball opening day – over Wainwright. He also happens have one of the ten best ERAs in all of baseball over the past two seasons. You knew he was good, but did you know he was that good? Martinez turns right-handed batters into his bitch (they have a sub-.300 slugging% in his career), but is much more human against lefties. Unlike many pitchers of his age and stature (6’0, 190 lbs), he didn’t lose too much as the season progressed, and while he is absolute nails the first time through the order (1.54 ERA), he doesn’t turn into a complete pumpkin the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th times through. Injuries are a concern with Martinez but there’s no reason for him not to continue doing what he does best. Michael Wacha burst onto the scene in 2013, a year after he’d been drafted. His ERA has climbed each year since his rookie season but he’d really been a great pitcher every year except for last. Last season, Wacha pitched a gruesome 5.09 ERA and looked nothing like the collected pitcher that we had grown accustomed to. I feel like a parrot constantly bringing this up but he was unlucky – his LOB% was the worst among pitchers with at least 135 innings pitched and the opponent BABIP was .040 higher than in years past. With some pitchers, it is literally just bad luck but with others, there are some underlying factors too. Wacha falls into that 2nd category. He stopped getting righthanded batters out. Maybe he’s tipping his pitches to them? Who knows? But these are the facts: in 188 pre-2016 innings, righties hit .244/.306/.401 off Wacha. Last year they hit .300/.358/.491. An explanation could be line drives just caught up to him. Liners off right-handed bats should drop for hits about 68.5% of the time but in Wacha’s first three seasons, they were falling just 54.6% of the time – 2016 corrected that irregularity in a big way because liners last season turned into hits 77.2% of the time. lynnLance Lynn (pictured left) missed all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery but is healthy now and will look to pick off where he left off. From Lynn’s debut in 2011, he’s had the 16th lowest earned run average in baseball (minimum: 750 innings pitched) – that’s ahead of Chicago pitchers Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Jose Quintana. Tommy John always carries some risk, but I’d expect Lynn to go back to being very good and very under the radar. Mike Leake won’t strike batters out – he just doesn’t do it. That being said, he has been pretty reliable over his 200+ start career. He disappointed in his first year in St. Louis but actually walked fewer batters than he ever has before and had his 2nd best K%-BB% of his career. Much like Wacha, Leake was unlucky with his strand rate, and much like Wacha, righties were uncharacteristically good against him. In 553.2 innings prior to signing with the Cards, Leake held righties to a .248 average; Last year, righties hit .297 against him. Most of the damage comes from singles, but it’s still something to be aware of. It looked like top prospect Alex Reyes would join the Cards rotation at some point but Tommy John surgery has those plans pushed back for at least a year. Luke Weaver, a 23 year old righty with phenomenal strikeout stuff might be the next man up if any of the Cards’ starting 5 get injured. Weaver struggled a bit in the majors last year but that was mostly due to bad luck. 1 in 5 fly balls he surrendered left the yard (we should typically expect about 1 in 10 to do so). He also K-d 45 in 36 innings as a rookie. Marco Gonzales, another young Cards arm with potential had Tommy John last year but could be an innings option somewhere down the line – he’s just another example of how deep the Cards pitching is.

Be on the lookout for Part 7 tomorrow!