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Ranking MLB Rotations, Part 8: The 4th, 5th and 6th Best

If you missed part 7… click here

This is the penultimate post. I really hope you enjoyed them all, and I’d love it if you could give me suggestions for future blog posts too! 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, 12. Seattle Mariners, 11. Texas Rangers, 10. St. Louis Cardinals, 9. Detroit Tigers, 8. Toronto Blue Jays, 7. Cleveland Indians

nats 6. Washington Nationals The Nats traded away prospects Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito partly because they could afford losing them considering their rotation talent. Some more depth would be nice but the talent is here.

Questions abounded for Max Scherzer (pictured left)this spring training due to a knuckle injury but, in 9.2 spring innings, Scherzer was pretty effective. Obviously spring training stats don’t really matter but you definitely want to see aces like Scherzer pitching without setbacks.The reigning NL Cy Young winner had the highest strikeout rate of his career, pitched to an ERA below 3.00 for the 3rd time in the past 4 years, and exceeded 220 innings thrown for the third straight year. Scherzer is not only an ace with filthy stuff, but he is also a workhorse. scherzerIt’s not all roses for Scherzer: he walked 2.2 batters per 9 innings, Sad! That rate is actually the 3rd best among all NL starters with at least 200 innings pitched but … it’s Scherzer so this is a negative. A more legitimate concern is that he is turning into more of a flyball pitcher. While inherently this is not a bad thing, he did allow a career high 31 homers last year and his ERA could be impacted as his 3rd-highest strand rate drops about 6% to his career averages in 2017. If you’re looking for dipping velocity or 2nd half fatigue, you won’t find it here – Scherzer’s velocity remained constant and he pitched slightly better in the 2nd half than he did at the beginning of the year. strasI still believe in Stephen Strasburg (pictured right). I’m pretty sure I will always believe Strasburg will take it to the next level and stay healthy and effective for an entire season. Each year he fools me, I start to seem a little more irrational but I can’t help myself. Strasburg, 28,  has just twice reached the 162 innings pitched required for an ERA title. Since entering the majors, Strasburg’s 3.17 ERA in 924.1 innings pitched is 10th best in all of baseball. The skillset is there – everything is there- but he just needs to stay the fuck off the disabled list. I’d love to say that this will be the year that he stays healthy but there’s just no way to tell with him. ERA indicators actually point to Strasburg being unlucky, and claim his 3.60 ERA should’ve been closer to 3.00. Finally, as most Nats fans recall, Strasburg was right there with the league leaders for the first few months of the year – it was only injuries in a very rough Auguest that brought his season line down (if you take that one month out, Strasburg’s 2016 ERA is 2.70). Tanner Roark is still one of the most underappreciated pitchers in the baseball community. Or at least he was. Believe me, I love Roark but there are two schools of thought with him. One is that there’s a value bubble here and 2017 is when it’s going to pop. The 30 year old won 16 games and led the rotation with a 2.83 ERA but he stranded way more batters on base than he should have, his K:BB ratio of 7.4:3.1 isn’t sustainable, and his FIP, xFIP, and SiERA are each much higher than his ERA is. That’s one school of thought. The other is that Roark limits the extra base hit. Of all starters with 162+ innings pitched, he surrendered the fewest extra base hits. Not only that but he held up fantastically regardless of whether it was the 1st or 3rd time he was facing a batter. The optimist might point to the fact that batters made contact on 84.7% of swings in 2015 but just 79.5% last year or the fact that his 2.60 2nd half ERA was 5th best in all of baseball and that Roark has had the stats on his side in 3 of his 4 MLB seasons. Ultimately, do I expect Roark to repeat a 2.83 ERA? Nope. Do I anticipate another very good year? I think I do. I don’t anticipate a good year out of Gio Gonzalez though. He may have a low strand rate and he may have been somewhat unlucky with his home run fly ball rate. Or, maybe, that strand rate and bad luck owes itself to the fact that batters make hard contact more frequently than they did last year and that his velocity slipped by slightly more than one MPH. We saw somewhat of an improvement in Gonzalez’s production from the 1st to 2nd half of the year but he’s an aging pitcher that is struggling to adapt to decreased stuff. Joe Ross is one of the greatest fifth starters in the game. The 23 year old put together another good season in the pros and has really stabilized as a mid-3.00s starting pitcher. Over the past two years, Ross’s K/9 was 8.1 and 8.0; his BB/9 was 2.5 and 2.5, and his HR/9 was 0.80 and 0.80 – that is consistent. Despite this consistency, Ross has one glaring and very exploitable weakness. Lefties. Across his 2 part-seasons in the majors, lefties have bashed him to the tune of a .297/.372/.446 line. He needs to at least get someone better at getting lefties out if he hopes to take his career to the next level.

dodgers 5. Los Angeles Dodgers The Dodgers’ rotation has some supreme talent and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them at the with the lowest starter ERA in all of baseball at the end of the year. There’s definitely added risk when so much of your rotation value is tied up in 1 guy (Kershaw) but the depth and upside are each absurd.

Do I really have to say anything about Clayton Kershaw? He is the best pitcher of this generation. kershThough he missed about a dozen starts, Kershaw (pictured) still managed to strike out 172 batters while walking only 11 batters. ELEVEN. Kershaw is almost boring to write about because everyone already knows just how dominant he is. Batters make contact on swings only about 30% of the time, he induces swinging strikes approximately 15% of the time, both righties and lefties hit below the Mendoza line against him, and now he’s allergic to walks. Kershaw isn’t just a number 1, he is a step or two above any other #1 in baseball. Kenta Maeda’s first year stateside was a success. A mid-3.00s ERA and more than a strikeout per inning exceeded most people’s expectations of the Japanese righty. Maeda does only throw about 90 MPH but his slider is among the best in the game and as long as that’s working, he won’t have to worry as much about velocity. One thing to watch out for is that his 2nd half ERA was 4.25, and some of that could be due to teams getting better reports and better looks at Maeda. That’s something to account for and follow in 2017. Rich Hill, now 37, proved that his 4 strong starts in 2015 were not a fluke. In 20 games with the Dodgers and Athletics, Hill had a 2.12 ERA and struck out more than 10.5 batters per 9 innings. Those are absolute ace numbers out of a 37 year old who seemed to be on his last legs a few seasons ago. Hill was fortunate with his LOB% but one thing we can count on regressing is the number of homers that left the yard. Only 4.2% (4 total) of fly balls hit off of Hill cleared fences last year – he isn’t going to be that fortunate in 2017. Really, what it’s going to come down to for Hill is health. Chances are he spends some time on the disabled list, but if he can limit the injuries, he should have a great end-of-season performance. Hyun-Jin Ryu who missed all but 4.2 innings of 2015 and 2016 cracked the Dodgers’ opening day rotation and will try to replicate his successes in 2013 and 2014. Obviously those seasons are lightyears away and it would be silly to try to predict Ryu to turn back into that guy instantly but I think we forget just how good Ryu was. The chubby Korean had the 7th lowest Fielding Independent Pitching mark in all of baseball (among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched). His 2.57 ERA in 14 spring innings are a good (but ultimately non-predictive) sign. Brandon McCarthy probably isn’t in the rotation all year. Not just because he’s going to injure something, but also because he won’t be a top 5 option. McCarthy has gotten strikeouts recently but in 40 innings last year, his ERA touched 5, and with guys like Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood, and Julio Urias around too, don’t expect much from McCarthy in the rotation. Kazmir, who really rejuvenated his career from 2013-2015 took a step back last year. Kazmir was still striking batters out but the walks climbed higher than they had been since before his resurgence and his ERA sky-rocketed. Declining secondary stuff seems to have caused this regression – it led to way more line drives hit off of him and a climb homers hit off of Kazmir as well. Alex Wood will start the year in the ‘pen but would be a #4 if he were in the rotation and is a fine option for any necessary spot starts. Julio Urias, 20, took the world by storm last year. In 77 major league innings, he K-ed 84 older opponents and looked every bit the future ace that we have been anticipating. He’ll start the year in the minors to limit his innings count but this 20 year old is the real deal and could easily be a future Cy Young winner. In the 28.2 innings since Urias’s 20th birthday, he allowed 26 hits (just 3 extra baggers – all doubles) and had a 1.26 ERA. He is … wow.


giants 4. San Francisco Giants The Giant’s even-year magic didn’t come through last season, but their talented and deep pitching staff gives them an excellent shot to make a run at their fourth title of the decade. And the talent in their rotation is second to, well, 3 teams.

On the baseball side of things, Madison Bumgarner (pictured) is incredibly durable and incredibly filthy. he has made 30+ starts each of the last six years with the third best ERA in all of baseball (among those with at least as many pitches as him) since he debuted. bumHe posted a 2.74 ERA last year, whiffed 251 batters, and while he walked more batters than he has in a while and lost a mile off his fastball, he’s been able to effectively go deep into games and dominate opposing batters. He did shrink a bit as the season progressed – 1.94 ERA before the all-star break vs. 3.80 earned run average afterwards. But Bumgarner is a clear top 3 pitcher in baseball, and he’s even better in the playoffs, just ask KFC. Johnny Cueto has the second lowest ERA in baseball over the past 7 season and would be the #1 on practically every other team. Cueto led the league in complete games and somehow gets even better as the game goes on (his 2.54 ERA the 3rd time through the order is lower than his ERA the first and 2nd times through. His 2.79 ERA was a nice bounce-back from a bumpy half-season rental with the Royals but didn’t quite reach the levels of his sublime 2014 season. In the last 5 years, Cueto has started 30+ games four times and has the sixth-highest soft contact rate. I’m not ready to say Cueto is the 2nd best arm in the game because I don’t think that he is, but, he does compare favorably to everyone not named Clayton Kershaw in many categories. Matt Moore was once one of the top two prospects in baseball with Tampa Bay, and although his career has hit a massive roadblock since Tommy John surgery in 2014, the southpaw looks to be a potential re-breakout candidate this season. Moore’s fastball velocity increased by 0.8 mph from last season, and half a mile faster than his pre-surgery average, while his swing and miss percentages with his changeup and curve jumped from 13.8% and 12.2% in his first half with Tampa to 18.5% and 20.3% in San Francisco. Moore’s FIP was almost a run lower in San Francisco last season, 3.53 compared to 4.51, despite posting an identical 4.08 ERA. His only problem with the Giants was control, an issue that has plagued him throughout his career; he needs to stop handing out a free pass every two innings. The lower quality of National League line-ups and the switch from cozy Tropicana to spacious AT&T Park (he had a 3.16 ERA in starts at AT&T last year) will also help Moore as he seeks to recapture the form that made him an All-Star in 2013. Another pitcher who benefitted last year from a change of scenery was Jeff Samardzija. The former two-time All American wideout from Notre Dame rebounded from a miserable year in Chicago with a 3.81 ERA and a rebound in strikeout rate that brought him closer to his fireballing prime. The key for Samardzija this season will be pitching against lefties, left-handed hitters had an OPS of .662 in his spectacular 2014, compared to his career .762 and a .780 mark last season. The Shark is on the downside of his career, but still has plenty left in the tank to be a competent starter. Matt Cain is only 32, but he lies a world away from the pitcher who compiled a 2.93 ERA from 2009-12. His 5.64 ERA last season was inflated by an unlucky .321 BABIP, but Cain will be lucky to hang on to the big league club as the fifth starter. Ty Blach will start the year in the Giants’ ‘pen but I’d be surprised if he or prospect Tyler Beede don’t take over a rotation spot by season’s end.

Be on the lookout for the last post of this series tomorrow!