We continue our positional power rankings today. Dave Cameron’s introduction plus all the batting-related installments of the series can be accessed using the navigation bar above. Now, it’s time for pitchers. Specifically, I’ll cover the 16th- to 30th-ranked rotations. (Travis Sawchik will have Nos. 1-15 later today.)
First, the obligatory graph:
What we have here is a little bit of the leftover wheat from the top group and then a whole lot of chaff. I’m not even sure what chaff is and yet I’m certain that it accurately describes Jered Weaver at this point. Fear not, Padres fans, he was simply suffering through some dead arm (for what, the last two-plus years?!) when he posted that 2.44 ERA in the Cactus League. Wait nevermind, that 2.44 was his WHIP.
There is some fun in knowing that one or two teams within this set of rotations will emerge as top-10 rotations, just as the Blue Jays and Phillies did a year ago. Now the Phillies are already in the top 15 and the Blue Jays vacillated between 14 and 16 as the updates rolled through while I wrote this. My predictions to rise up are the Diamondbacks and Braves.
|Aaron Sanchez||205.0||7.9||3.2||0.9||.302||73.7 %||3.69||3.86||3.4|
|J.A. Happ||181.0||7.8||2.8||1.2||.303||72.5 %||4.11||4.15||2.6|
|Marcus Stroman||169.0||7.5||2.4||0.9||.313||71.3 %||3.85||3.64||3.2|
|Marco Estrada||167.0||7.0||2.9||1.4||.277||71.6 %||4.31||4.62||1.9|
|Francisco Liriano||149.0||9.6||4.1||1.2||.310||74.3 %||4.11||4.22||1.8|
|Casey Lawrence||37.0||5.1||2.4||1.5||.312||67.9 %||5.20||5.04||0.2|
|Mat Latos||38.0||6.6||3.0||1.3||.309||70.2 %||4.77||4.69||0.3|
|Mike Bolsinger||9.0||8.5||3.5||1.3||.317||71.7 %||4.51||4.36||0.1|
|Conner Greene||9.0||5.8||4.6||1.4||.311||67.6 %||5.77||5.63||0.0|
|Ryan Borucki||9.0||5.8||3.8||1.6||.310||68.3 %||5.59||5.54||0.0|
Sorry, Jays fans. That’s mean, but just imagine a Thor-Sanchez-Stroman top three in Toronto. Aaron Sanchez converted to the rotation full time, packed on some muscle, and simply led the AL in ERA over 192 innings. Originally facing an innings limit, the Jays relented and kept Sanchez in the rotation all year. He leans heavily on an elite power sinker that befuddles lefties and righties with aplomb.
Hype on Stroman might’ve been a year early. It’s not like his 3.6 WAR was bad, but a 69% left-on-base rate (LOB%) pushed him to a 4.37 ERA despite skills that pointed something more in the mid-to-high 3.00s. He started missing more bats last year. If a league-average or better strikeout rate is now part of his game, he’s a stud in the making.
Fielding-independent pitching metrics indicate the other shoe is always about to drop for Marco Estrada because of his unorthodox profile, but his ability to induce weak contact can’t be ignored. Homers will always be part of his game, but this is a sub-4.00 ERA profile. J.A. Happ is another guy whom the projection systems don’t like as much as the results he’s been putting up the last two seasons. That’s understandable with a 34-year-old who had a 4.75 ERA from 2011 to -14, but discernible pitch-mix changes have turned him into a different pitcher.
The key to this rotation is actually Francisco Liriano, though. The 33-year-old southpaw regained his footing in a 49.1-inning run with Toronto, thanks in part to his former catcher, Russell Martin. Homers were a major issue for the first time since 2009 and Toronto won’t be easy on him compared to Pittsburgh, but he should still improve upon the 1.4 HR/9 from last year.
The top prospect who could debut in 2017 is Conner Greene, who’s produced just a nine-point difference between this strikeout and walk rates (K-BB%) in 368.2 minor-league innings. In other words, he isn’t likely to be a major factor without some big improvements. Veterans Mat Latos and Mike Bolsinger are around to eat some innings, but this team is relying heavily on their top five to deliver the goods in 2017.
|Felix Hernandez||207.0||8.1||2.8||1.0||.304||73.1 %||3.79||3.87||3.2|
|Hisashi Iwakuma||176.0||7.0||1.8||1.2||.307||71.2 %||4.14||4.06||2.6|
|James Paxton||170.0||8.4||2.7||1.0||.313||73.4 %||3.71||3.65||3.1|
|Drew Smyly||168.0||8.7||2.6||1.3||.302||72.9 %||4.06||4.04||2.8|
|Yovani Gallardo||129.0||6.5||3.6||1.2||.310||71.1 %||4.63||4.63||0.9|
|Ariel Miranda||65.0||7.2||3.1||1.3||.301||72.1 %||4.38||4.53||0.7|
|Rob Whalen||18.0||7.2||3.9||1.3||.307||69.6 %||4.92||4.88||0.1|
|Chris Heston||9.0||6.4||3.4||1.2||.308||70.1 %||4.70||4.73||0.0|
|Dillon Overton||9.0||6.5||2.5||1.4||.307||69.9 %||4.74||4.68||0.1|
|Chase De Jong||9.0||7.3||3.0||1.3||.302||70.4 %||4.58||4.61||0.1|
I can’t remember the last time that Felix Hernandez wasn’t the most intriguing arm in Mariners rotation, but that honor goes to James Paxton this year. He made mechanical changes that yielded both velocity and control and spurred a 3.19 ERA, 71 strikeouts, and a 7.9 K:BB ratio in his final 67.2 innings. Health has eluded the 28-year-old lefty throughout his career with last year’s 121 innings representing a career high in the majors. If he stays upright, there is massive upside and even normally conservative projection systems agree.
Meanwhile, Hernandez failed to go 200-plus innings for the first time since 2007. Injuries and underperformance have created a lot of questions surrounding the superstar arm. Can the changeup continue to be dominant as the fastball velocity continues to sink? Was 2016 the start of yearly injuries are just a blip after seven years without a DL stint? It’s worth noting that the DL stints in both 2008 and 2016 were lower-body and not arm related. The incredible skill and depth of track record are enough to still generate a solid 3.2 WAR projection, though that is down nearly two wins from last year’s 5.0 mark.
Hisashi Iwakuma did take 33 turns and log 199 innings last year, but the sharp drop in skills have many concerned about the health for the 36-year-old righty. Drew Smyly’s shoulder has been a major issue the last few years, but the Mariners felt his talent was worth betting on anyway. If he can slice into his gaudy 1.6 HR/9 from last year, his low-3.00s ERA from previous seasons is once again in play. Yovani Gallardo is hoping to rebound from a brutal 2016, but I mean who could’ve guessed that he’d struggle in Baltimore? Oh, everybody guessed that? OK then.
There isn’t a lot waiting in the wings prospect-wise, so they would turn to Ariel Miranda and Chris Heston if any of their top-five starters got hurt. Miranda might already be a better bet than Gallardo while Heston is a standard WYSIWYG arm.
|Zack Greinke||182.0||7.9||2.2||1.1||.303||73.7 %||3.69||3.75||3.3|
|Robbie Ray||164.0||10.6||3.5||1.0||.323||75.2 %||3.64||3.54||3.3|
|Taijuan Walker||146.0||8.1||2.6||1.3||.303||71.4 %||4.22||4.21||1.9|
|Shelby Miller||139.0||7.4||3.1||1.1||.309||71.6 %||4.33||4.27||1.7|
|Patrick Corbin||138.0||7.3||3.1||1.1||.315||71.9 %||4.34||4.31||1.4|
|Braden Shipley||102.0||6.3||2.9||1.3||.312||70.2 %||4.77||4.71||0.6|
|Jorge de la Rosa||38.0||7.5||3.7||1.2||.313||72.1 %||4.46||4.53||0.3|
|Zack Godley||19.0||8.0||3.4||1.1||.314||72.7 %||4.23||4.26||0.2|
|Anthony Banda||9.0||7.7||3.4||1.1||.312||71.6 %||4.34||4.32||0.1|
The Diamondbacks generated some buzz last year with mega contract for Zack Greinke and the trade for Shelby Miller, though the 2016 iteration of this column did its best to throw some cold water on the hype, slotting them 16th with 12.7 projected WAR. Despite a disappointing campaign that saw nary a single starter with an ERA below 4.00 (even removing minimum-start thresholds and looking at everyone with at least five), they are projected for virtually the same WAR and with a nearly identical middle-of-the-pack ranking.
Greinke and Patrick Corbin saw their projections go down after ugly 2016 seasons, Robbie Ray’s is up, and Taijuan Walker replaces Rubby de la Rosa. Those are the major changes, but it ends up being a wash on the bottom line. That said, there is upside if Greinke and Corbin get back on track while Walker and Shelby Miller take steps forward. Walker was having a breakthrough season before a disastrous second half, but then we learned he had 10 bone spurs in his foot, which no doubt played a major role in his 2.1 HR/9 over his final 10 starts.
Even Miller’s biggest detractors couldn’t have seen his meltdown coming last year. Everything just fell apart. His skills waned while his mechanics got completely out of whack, and he required a demotion to Triple-A. He seems to have corrected the mechanical issues that had him scraping his knuckles on the ground during his follow through, and there is some positivity surrounding him this spring. Their best bet at morphing into a contender is advancement of Miller and Walker.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Ray. The 25-year-old lefty fanned 218 batters last year, and while he only had a 4.90 ERA and 1.47 WHIP to go with them, you can’t really fake 200-plus strikeouts. In other words, there is real talent here. The question is, are we talking mid-to-high 3.00s or something even more? His batted-ball profile speaks to command issues that allow batters to consistently square him up when they aren’t striking out. Further development of a third pitch will be instrumental in determining whether this is a quality No. 4 or a budding No. 2 or 3.
Until Archie Bradley finds some semblance of control, it’s hard to see the growth coming. He’s only 24 with just 177.1 innings under his belt, so the D-backs will likely give him another shot at starting, but it’s looking more and more like a future reliever at this point, which is where he’ll start the 2017 season. Braden Shipley didn’t get the same prospect hype as Bradley, and Zack Godley was never a true prospect, and yet both seem like better bets to deliver positive value to team over Bradley. Anthony Banda is a great example of how not all No. 1 prospects are created equally. He’s there almost by default given the weak system.
|Cole Hamels||206.0||8.5||3.0||1.1||.311||74.6 %||3.79||3.92||3.2|
|Yu Darvish||193.0||10.5||3.0||1.1||.318||75.3 %||3.54||3.42||4.4|
|Martin Perez||161.0||5.5||3.1||1.0||.312||70.3 %||4.49||4.45||1.6|
|A.J. Griffin||110.0||7.6||3.1||1.7||.301||71.3 %||4.91||5.02||0.7|
|Andrew Cashner||110.0||6.9||3.3||1.3||.316||70.1 %||4.81||4.65||0.8|
|Tyson Ross||95.0||8.1||3.7||0.9||.318||72.2 %||4.12||4.05||1.4|
|Dillon Gee||46.0||5.9||2.6||1.5||.313||69.7 %||5.01||4.95||0.3|
|Nick Martinez||18.0||5.5||3.1||1.4||.311||69.9 %||5.04||5.11||0.1|
|Connor Sadzeck||9.0||6.8||4.7||1.2||.315||71.1 %||4.98||5.06||0.0|
|Tyler Wagner||9.0||5.9||3.5||1.4||.312||69.9 %||5.19||5.23||0.0|
The Rangers are remarkably top heavy, with Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels accounting for a full 60% of their projected WAR and about 42% of the team’s starter innings. They took gambles on Tyson Ross (thoracic outlet) and Andrew Cashner (biceps) hoping to spike some value there. Ross is out until May at the earliest and Cashner’s timetable is up in the air. That puts pressure on Martin Perez not only to eat up another 198.2 innings, but ideally do so while improving upon the 1.8 WAR from last season. The former super-prospect (five-time top 100) hasn’t quite panned out given the hype on his minor-league career, but his skills are in line with his prospect track record. The 25-year-old could step up some, but it’s hard to see where any major growth would come from for him.
Globe Life Park in Texas isn’t quite as home-run friendly as in year’s past, but home-run-generating machine A.J. Griffin had a 1.5 HR/9 in 282.1 innings with Oakland so his 2.1 mark in his Texas debut wasn’t too surprising. He has also struggled to stay healthy since his 200-inning season in 2013, so it’s tough to rely on him… and yet he’s a key part of the Rangers’ rotation to start the season.
Reinforcements are scant as they’ve dealt from their prospect depth to bolster this perennially contending club. Yohander Mendez blitzed through three minor-league levels and even got a sip of coffee with the Rangers (3 IP in September), so he will be in Triple-A knocking on the door, but the 22-year-old lefty needs more seasoning so a contending team may be reluctant to rely on him without a surge in development. Their stacked lineup and quality bullpen will be leaned on to make up for the shortcomings of the uncertain three-fifths of this rotation.
|Sonny Gray||159.0||7.6||3.0||0.9||.313||71.7 %||4.01||3.88||2.4|
|Kendall Graveman||172.0||5.7||2.5||1.0||.312||69.9 %||4.44||4.35||1.6|
|Sean Manaea||161.0||8.1||2.8||1.1||.310||72.4 %||3.99||3.92||2.4|
|Jharel Cotton||152.0||8.6||3.1||1.1||.312||72.2 %||4.10||3.95||2.6|
|Andrew Triggs||128.0||7.3||2.7||0.9||.314||70.4 %||4.09||3.88||1.8|
|Jesse Hahn||93.0||6.1||3.7||1.0||.312||69.2 %||4.76||4.62||0.6|
|Raul Alcantara||56.0||5.9||2.4||1.4||.310||68.3 %||4.94||4.82||0.3|
|Daniel Mengden||9.0||7.6||3.4||1.1||.314||69.4 %||4.63||4.33||0.1|
|Paul Blackburn||9.0||5.4||2.9||1.3||.316||68.9 %||5.06||4.88||0.0|
|Chris Bassitt||9.0||7.2||3.4||1.0||.313||70.4 %||4.44||4.34||0.1|
Three injury crosses before the season even starts, including your ace, is just what you need when you’re already operating on a shoestring budget with a tiny margin for error. I’m sure Billy Beane was like “I just wish we could up the degree of the difficulty here, that’d be so cool!” Sonny Gray is trying to bounce back from a dreadful 2016 that saw his ERA more than double and his innings count nearly cut in half. Injuries were obviously a major factor so the idea that a healthy Gray would rebound was sound… and then he got hurt again. He has added a strained lat to last year’s strained trap and forearm, and he’ll likely start 2017 on the disabled list.
The rest of the rotation is generating a good bit of excitement in Gray’s stead. Sean Manaea put up the most innings of his pro career (166.1) and showed why he was such a highly touted prospect with the Royals. In fact, he might’ve been a top five back in 2013 had he stayed healthy, but a hip issue pushed him to No. 34. Jharel Cotton has never generated the prospect hype of a Manaea, but his filthy plus-plus changeup was in full effect during a monstrous five-start run in September.
Kendall Graveman amped his sinker usage to 62%, but he’s looking to add even more to that in 2017. It’s far and away his best pitch. Andrew Triggs came out of nowhere with an impressive debut and has been generating some sleeper buzz as a back-of-the-rotation arm. Jesse Hahn surprisingly isn’t one of the injury crosses, but a poor spring has him on the outside looking in, with rookie Raul Alcantara in line to fill in for Gray while he’s out.
|Kevin Gausman||172.0||8.3||2.7||1.2||.311||73.2 %||4.01||3.96||3.1|
|Wade Miley||169.0||7.2||3.0||1.2||.314||70.8 %||4.48||4.34||2.0|
|Dylan Bundy||148.0||8.4||3.2||1.3||.307||73.4 %||4.18||4.30||2.3|
|Chris Tillman||130.0||7.2||3.3||1.3||.304||71.2 %||4.52||4.55||1.3|
|Ubaldo Jimenez||103.0||7.8||4.1||1.2||.311||70.3 %||4.73||4.57||1.1|
|Tyler Wilson||83.0||5.9||2.4||1.4||.310||68.6 %||4.97||4.83||0.7|
|Mike Wright||73.0||6.1||2.9||1.5||.308||68.4 %||5.20||5.12||0.4|
|Logan Verrett||28.0||6.1||3.3||1.5||.310||69.0 %||5.24||5.14||0.1|
|Vidal Nuno||19.0||7.9||2.3||1.4||.302||74.1 %||4.13||4.34||0.3|
|Parker Bridwell||9.0||6.8||4.7||1.6||.310||67.8 %||5.87||5.68||0.0|
This projection actually represents a substantial jump from Baltimore’s 2016 figures, and yet it’s still rather uninspiring outside of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. This projection gives Gausman essentially a repeat, but it’s hard to ignore the potential for more when you see him at his best. Bundy was a complete wild card coming into last season. He was out of options and coming off essentially three missed seasons (65 IP in 2013-15), but he showed why he was such a highly rated prospect with a strong hybrid season that regularly showed flashes of his prospect brilliance.
Baltimore’s rotation is rounded out by a trio of innings-eaters who don’t inspire a ton of confidence (so, in true Orioles fashion, they’ll all overperform and send the team to the playoffs because why not!?). Wade Miley deserved a better fate after coming over to Baltimore, but a .389 BABIP and 64% LOB combo left him with a 6.17 ERA in 54 innings, compared to a 3.79 FIP. Chris Tillman has repeatedly performed above his preseason projections, but a balky shoulder has kept him from participating in any spring-training games and casts a dark cloud over his entire season outlook. I’m sure Ubaldo Jimenez will put up a stretch of solid starts at some point and give everyone cause for optimism. It probably won’t last.
|Jose Quintana||206.0||8.0||2.3||1.0||.313||73.6 %||3.73||3.69||4.4|
|James Shields||164.0||7.3||3.5||1.5||.311||70.7 %||5.02||5.01||0.9|
|Carlos Rodon||143.0||9.3||3.4||1.1||.317||73.9 %||3.91||3.88||2.6|
|Miguel Gonzalez||140.0||6.9||2.9||1.4||.309||70.5 %||4.77||4.77||1.2|
|Derek Holland||111.0||6.8||3.1||1.4||.308||70.6 %||4.84||4.83||0.9|
|Lucas Giolito||64.0||8.3||4.0||1.4||.314||72.0 %||4.71||4.72||0.5|
|Chris Beck||56.0||6.1||3.8||1.3||.313||69.1 %||5.17||5.08||0.3|
|Reynaldo Lopez||19.0||9.1||3.8||1.3||.316||71.9 %||4.53||4.39||0.2|
|Tyler Danish||19.0||5.6||3.5||1.4||.315||68.2 %||5.41||5.23||0.0|
|Carson Fulmer||19.0||8.3||5.4||1.5||.314||69.4 %||5.49||5.36||0.0|
|Dylan Covey||19.0||5.5||4.4||1.5||.310||67.6 %||5.76||5.67||0.0|
Oh, wow: look at the White Sox with a 4.4-WAR arm headlining their rotation! Jose Quintana has the best projection of any pitcher in the bottom-11 teams (tied with Yu Darvish). The problem is that he makes up a whopping 40% of the entire rotation’s projected contributions. Worse yet is that budding star Carlos Rodon just had an MRI on his left biceps. While it revealed no structural damage, it’s a worrisome sign before the season even starts. At least they have James Shields and Derek Holland.
Joking aside, Shields almost certainly can’t be worse than the -1.4 WAR he gave the White Sox last year, and Holland likely won’t be relied upon too heavily. On the other side of the spectrum, super prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez both debuted in 2016 and could definitely make an impact beyond their projections, though there probably won’t be much incentive for the team to push that duo unless they came out of nowhere to make some noise. Regardless of their 2017 impact, the White Sox changed the fate of their organization in one fell swoop with the Adam Eaton deal. In addition to those two, they got former first-rounder Dane Dunning in the trade.
|Danny Duffy||183.0||8.4||2.7||1.1||.301||74.9 %||3.65||3.89||2.9|
|Ian Kennedy||181.0||8.3||3.0||1.3||.302||73.6 %||4.19||4.37||2.2|
|Jason Hammel||155.0||7.4||2.6||1.3||.304||72.4 %||4.30||4.42||1.5|
|Jason Vargas||148.0||6.6||2.3||1.3||.308||71.7 %||4.35||4.40||1.7|
|Nate Karns||148.0||8.5||3.7||1.2||.308||72.1 %||4.32||4.30||1.6|
|Travis Wood||46.0||7.4||3.6||1.2||.296||72.8 %||4.27||4.51||0.5|
|Chris Young||38.0||8.8||3.7||1.6||.305||73.0 %||4.69||4.77||0.3|
|Miguel Almonte||28.0||7.6||4.5||1.2||.309||71.9 %||4.66||4.79||0.2|
|Jake Junis||9.0||6.7||2.4||1.3||.309||69.6 %||4.61||4.53||0.1|
Kansas City’s top-five starters are tabbed for 87% of their 936 projected innings, with none of their reinforcements forecast by our writers to earn more than 46 innings. Danny Duffy would hit a career high if he reached his projected 183 innings. One thing Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel will do is provide innings: they’ve averaged 188 and 171, respectively, over the last three years. Relying on Jason Vargas to stay healthy for 148 innings could be an issue, but Travis Wood wouldn’t be much of a difference. FIP says Nate Karns was the same pitcher in 2015 (4.09) and 2016 (4.05) despite a jump from 3.67 to 5.15 in ERA. Matt Strahm is likely to start the season in the bullpen, but it’s a starter profile and he could be in the rotation by the summer.
With a potential ace-in-the-making and two bona-fide innings-eaters, the Royals won’t have to over-rely on their bullpen to get through the season. However, even if the starters can outperform their projections, there simply may not be enough offense to make them a contender, but you can read about that in the other positional breakdowns.
|Jon Gray||181.0||9.1||3.1||1.1||.322||72.4 %||4.15||3.97||3.2|
|Tyler Chatwood||172.0||6.9||3.7||1.0||.315||71.9 %||4.42||4.47||2.1|
|Tyler Anderson||171.0||7.4||3.0||1.1||.317||72.7 %||4.22||4.25||2.5|
|German Marquez||130.0||6.9||2.7||1.3||.322||69.8 %||4.77||4.57||1.4|
|Kyle Freeland||110.0||5.6||3.0||1.5||.319||69.5 %||5.26||5.18||0.6|
|Chris Rusin||47.0||6.4||2.7||1.2||.321||70.9 %||4.56||4.44||0.6|
|Antonio Senzatela||38.0||6.4||3.0||1.4||.320||69.9 %||5.03||4.90||0.3|
|Jordan Lyles||28.0||5.9||3.6||1.1||.320||69.1 %||5.02||4.86||0.2|
|Tyler Matzek||28.0||8.2||9.5||1.3||.313||73.3 %||5.96||6.65||-0.2|
|Jeff Hoffman||9.0||8.1||3.5||1.2||.320||72.7 %||4.40||4.41||0.1|
|Yency Almonte||9.0||6.4||3.7||1.5||.320||69.5 %||5.41||5.32||0.0|
|Shane Carle||9.0||5.6||2.6||1.5||.320||68.8 %||5.26||5.07||0.1|
|Zach Jemiola||9.0||5.0||3.3||1.7||.319||67.5 %||5.93||5.77||0.0|
The Rockies are actually building a little something here on the mound for the first time since… forever. OK, maybe that’s not fair: their 2009 starters produced a collective 16.8 WAR, good for third in the league. They had 12.1 WAR last year, a six-year high that included a franchise-best 7.4 K/9 mark. The excitement surrounding Gray after a 4.61 ERA speaks to the quality of his stuff. He needs to avoid the blowup start to cash in that potential. He had three starts of six or more earned runs while not finishing four innings in any of them, including a nine-run demolition in St. Louis. If he can take his home skills (27% K, 22% K-BB) on the road, a sub-4.00 ERA season is coming.
Tylers Anderson and Chatwood both had sub-4.00 ERA seasons, though Chatwood’s was a bit fraudulent. He was a nightmare at home (6.12 ERA) thanks to a paltry 6% K-BB rate. It only jumped to 8% on the road, but somehow yielded a 1.69 ERA. Chatwood keeps the ball down, but he doesn’t miss miss bats and walks too many. Anderson had an impressive debut, especially considering 12 of his 19 starts were in Coors. The former first-rounder sits at only 91 mph with his fastball, but that’s probably why he only used it 44% of the time, instead relying on his changeup (29%) and slider (26%). They may have a solid 2-3 WAR arm for the next few years here.
Beyond that, the Rockies are likely to lean on non-factors like Chris Rusin and Jordan Lyles or prospect arms. Three of their top-six prospects are starters expected to be in the majors this year. Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez debuted last year, while Kyle Freeland is now a darkhorse contender to break camp as the fifth starter. Either way, he’ll debut in 2017.
|Junior Guerra||182.0||8.2||3.6||1.3||.305||72.5 %||4.34||4.41||2.2|
|Zach Davies||169.0||7.7||2.7||1.1||.313||71.6 %||4.18||4.06||2.6|
|Wily Peralta||141.0||6.8||3.1||1.2||.317||70.0 %||4.73||4.56||1.3|
|Matt Garza||118.0||6.4||3.0||1.3||.314||68.8 %||4.97||4.73||1.1|
|Jimmy Nelson||112.0||7.5||3.5||1.1||.312||70.2 %||4.57||4.51||1.3|
|Chase Anderson||94.0||7.3||3.0||1.5||.311||70.7 %||4.82||4.75||0.7|
|Tommy Milone||38.0||7.5||2.3||1.4||.310||71.2 %||4.42||4.33||0.5|
|Taylor Jungmann||37.0||7.8||4.8||1.2||.312||69.6 %||5.13||5.01||0.2|
|Brandon Woodruff||28.0||7.9||3.1||1.2||.313||70.7 %||4.44||4.28||0.4|
|Josh Hader||9.0||10.9||3.9||1.0||.316||74.6 %||3.71||3.66||0.2|
|Jorge Lopez||9.0||7.8||4.5||1.5||.311||69.7 %||5.25||5.16||0.0|
Junior Guerra and Zach Davies were the only bright spots in the Brewers 2016 rotation, a group that posted 9.0 WAR last year (20th in MLB). Unsurprisingly, the pair is tabbed as the team’s best again in 2017. Guerra is a late bloomer (age 32) powered by an excellent splitter and a strong 93 mph fastball that he can run up to 95-96 when he needs it. Davies doesn’t have nearly that kind of velocity, sitting at 89 mph. Instead, he wins by commanding his four-pitch arsenal that features a plus changeup and three solid-average offerings: sinker, cutter, and curve. Low-velocity, changeup-first command arms usually draw Kyle Hendricks comps after his surprise breakout, and Davies was tabbed as the Most Likely to Hendricks over the winter (yes, we’re using Hendricks as a verb here).
The sharp drop-off to the rest of the group is why this team is in the midst of a rebuild phase. Jimmy Nelson appeared to have laid the foundation for something better in 2015 after showing off a new curveball that give him a legitimate third pitch, but it got worse in 2016 and became more of a show-me pitch instead of a true offering. It’s a fifth-starter profile at best. Wily Peralta might not even be that good. He’s a two-pitch arm who can’t handle lefties and nothing in his 647.1 career innings offers hope of any great development. Maybe it’s time to take his mid-90s heat and power slider to the pen.
There are reinforcements coming. Josh Hader and Brandon Woodruff are likely to debut in 2017 and Jorge Lopez is looking to get back on track after a vomit-inducing first season at Triple-A Colorado Springs. For those unaware, Colorado Springs is just as hard of an environment on pitchers as Coors Field. Hader wasn’t that much better in Triple-A from a results standpoint, but his 29% strikeout rate and 17-point K-BB% were much better than Lopez’s 17% and 3% marks. Woodruff made a colossal jump in strikeout rate en route to leading the minors with 173.
|Ervin Santana||198.0||7.2||2.9||1.2||.313||71.1 %||4.43||4.30||2.4|
|Hector Santiago||177.0||7.4||3.9||1.5||.305||71.4 %||4.92||5.05||1.1|
|Kyle Gibson||161.0||6.3||3.1||1.0||.316||70.0 %||4.56||4.39||1.7|
|Phil Hughes||141.0||6.3||1.5||1.4||.315||69.3 %||4.59||4.31||1.9|
|Tyler Duffey||111.0||7.2||2.4||1.2||.319||69.6 %||4.49||4.18||1.5|
|Jose Berrios||92.0||8.1||3.1||1.2||.316||70.8 %||4.43||4.24||1.2|
|Adalberto Mejia||65.0||7.2||2.9||1.4||.317||70.6 %||4.72||4.61||0.5|
When four-fifths of a club’s Opening Day rotation is age 29 or older, it’s not exactly brimming with the fabled “upside.” The fifth starter is 24-year-old Adalberto Mejia, and he does have a tinge of intrigue, but as a command-and-control kitchen sink (throws four pitches) guy, it’s a back-end profile at best. The true upside lies with Jose Berrios. He’s no longer a prospect after 58.1 (horrible) innings at the big-league level last year.
Nothing went right for him. He was tipping pitches at times, but frankly the opposition didn’t need his help as they battered him all over the yard. If there’s positive spin to Berrios’s 2016, it’s that he still dominated at Triple-A for 111.1 innings, so it wasn’t a completely lost season. His mechanics were smoother in his WBC appearances and offer hope that 2016 was just rookie growing pains. The stuff remains elite.
Beyond that, their ace is a No. 3 (Ervin Santana) and the rest of their rotation is a group of essentially 4.5s masquerading as a Nos. 2-3-4 (Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson, and Phil Hughes). Santana has been a consistent 30-plus-start arm every year since 2010 save a PED suspension in 2015. Santiago’s 2016 was his first north of a 3.75 ERA (he had a 4.70), but the advanced indicators have been calling for it throughout his career (4.55 FIP).
Gibson put together two solid seasons in 2014-15 as he started delivering on his prospect hype, but then everything got worse last year and leading to a 5.07 ERA. Hughes spiked a career year in 2014 highlighted by elite control and strong command. The latter, which was a problem before the ’14 season, has once again abandoned him — as has his already meager swing-and-miss ability.
|Julio Teheran||181.0||8.0||2.5||1.2||.300||72.7 %||3.90||3.98||2.4|
|Mike Foltynewicz||152.0||8.7||3.2||1.3||.310||72.6 %||4.26||4.27||1.6|
|Bartolo Colon||162.0||6.2||1.6||1.2||.313||71.0 %||4.20||4.08||2.0|
|R.A. Dickey||162.0||6.7||3.1||1.2||.296||70.6 %||4.38||4.50||1.4|
|Jaime Garcia||131.0||8.0||2.7||1.0||.313||73.1 %||3.81||3.83||1.8|
|Matt Wisler||122.0||6.9||2.7||1.3||.306||69.8 %||4.65||4.52||0.8|
|Aaron Blair||28.0||7.7||3.8||1.2||.313||70.1 %||4.77||4.64||0.2|
|Josh Collmenter||9.0||6.3||2.8||1.3||.300||72.4 %||4.36||4.59||0.0|
|Max Fried||9.0||6.7||5.6||1.1||.308||71.1 %||5.09||5.30||0.0|
This is the rotation of a team trying to win 70-something games in their new ballpark. Sure, they’d love to win more, but if they can manage 75 or so, it’s enough to be competitive in plenty of series and not drive away fans for being awful. With that in mind, they turned their attention to veterans this offseason. Three new acquisitions are expected to contribute substantially to their rotation: Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia. Colon is also expected to be a major contributor at the dish. Colon has been a solid 2.5-3.0 WAR arm the last six seasons with a dreamy four-win season back in 2013. At 44, there’s some drop-off baked into the projection for him. No, not that kind of “baked,” Bartolo. Nothing to eat here.
The one staple for Dickey since his return as a knuckleballer has been innings with five straight seasons of 200 or more of then leading into last season, when he lasted only 169.2. The Braves would love to get at least 30 starts from Dickey, almost regardless of result. OK, let’s say regardless of result — as long as it’s south of a 5.00 ERA. Meanwhile, they would likely hope for nearly the opposite from Garcia. He has never pitched 200-plus innings and he has just two seasons of at least 30 starts, but if they can get 20-25 starts of his career levels (3.57 ERA, 1.28 WHIP), that’d be a win.
Julio Teheran rebounded off a weak 2015 and has logged 185-plus innings in each of the last four seasons. He’s easily their ace and, at 26 years old, he might have another level. Any progress would likely require sharp development of a third pitch. He has a 211-point platoon split favoring lefty hitters, so a changeup would be the best bet. It’d be more of a “re-development” of the changeup, as it was one of his best pitches coming up through the minors. He represents a good lesson in how fluid pitchers are with their arsenal, command, and delivery. We often think about how pitchers add or alter pitches for the positive, but pitches atrophy, too. Teheran’s definitely has since his prospect days.
Meanwhile, Mike Foltynewicz was a fastball and a big body as a prospect, but has developed his secondary arsenal over the past two seasons and showed some real promise in a career-high 123.1 innings last year. His control has evolved in each of his MLB seasons, but next is the command which still needs work (1.3 HR/9 last year; 1.5 career).
Matt Wisler has shown glimpses of his prospect upside in 265.2 MLB innings but doesn’t handle lefties and isn’t good enough with righties to offset the deficiency. His .857 OPS against left-handed batters is a decidedly not nice 69th out of 77 starters with at least 500 lefties faced since 2015. His age and pedigree will earn him consideration the first time the Braves need a fill-in starter, but the bevy of prospect arms making their way through the system will push Wisler if he doesn’t get a lot better.
None of the starters on Eric Longenhagen’s prospect list have a 2017 ETA.
|Wei-Yin Chen||174.0||7.2||2.0||1.1||.303||73.1 %||3.83||3.91||2.3|
|Edinson Volquez||161.0||6.9||3.5||0.9||.305||70.8 %||4.20||4.22||1.6|
|Tom Koehler||138.0||7.0||3.7||1.1||.304||71.3 %||4.46||4.53||0.9|
|Dan Straily||141.0||7.7||3.4||1.3||.298||71.6 %||4.42||4.51||1.0|
|Adam Conley||129.0||7.7||3.7||1.0||.303||72.1 %||4.13||4.26||1.3|
|Jeff Locke||65.0||6.2||3.3||1.0||.306||70.0 %||4.49||4.46||0.5|
|Justin Nicolino||65.0||4.6||2.2||1.1||.304||68.7 %||4.55||4.52||0.4|
|Jose Urena||19.0||6.6||2.9||1.0||.305||69.8 %||4.32||4.27||0.2|
|David Phelps||19.0||8.5||3.2||0.8||.298||74.6 %||3.38||3.61||0.3|
|Jake Esch||9.0||5.7||3.4||1.2||.305||69.2 %||4.85||4.87||0.0|
|Kendry Flores||9.0||6.6||3.4||1.3||.308||69.4 %||4.90||4.87||0.0|
|Jarlin Garcia||9.0||5.9||3.2||1.3||.306||69.5 %||4.94||4.96||0.0|
Considering for a moment just the on-field impact of losing Jose Fernandez, it conservatively represents four wins (~5.0 WAR for Fernandez replacing the 0.9 of Tom Koehler). That alone would slot them higher, at 20th. It’s hard to focus on the ramifications for a baseball team when a 23-year-old franchise player loses his life.
Newcomers Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily represent the key additions for the Marlins, though neither offer much outside of scarfing down a plateful of innings. Volquez has averaged 187 per campaign over the last five seasons, ranging from 170.1 to 200.1, while Straily set a career high with 191.1 last year. Straily could see his 1.5 HR/9 dip in Miami, but any ERA gains are likely to be offset by regression in both his BABIP (.239, career .255) and LOB rate (81%, career 74%). As for Volquez, who knows? His last four ERAs are 5.71, 3.04, 3.55, and 5.37 with a consistent K-BB% figure around nine points leaving him at the mercy of his HR/9, BABIP, and LOB rates.
The two righties are added to a group of solid-if-unspectacular arms that the Marlins hope is headlined by Wei-Yin Chen. The 31-year-old lefty is in the second year of a potentially six-year pact with the Marlins and looking to rebound from a disastrous debut with the club. Moving from Baltimore to Miami was supposed to help his biggest issue — home runs — but instead he allowed a career-high 1.6 HR/9. In addition to the near-5.00 ERA, he threw a career-low 123.1 innings, as a sprained elbow cost him nearly two months of time.
Last year’s iteration of this column for the Marlins tabbed Adam Conley as the upside candidate, and he’ll carry the mantle again. It’ll be almost by default, though, given that the 27-year-old is the youngest arm in the rotation. The would-be upside candidate is actually 31-year-old David Phelps, who saw 3-mph spike in velocity over his 59 relief appearances and five starts. The Marlins are dead set on keeping him in the bullpen for some reason. Hopefully they see fit to maximize his ability to go longer outings and give him 90-something innings, but he only tallied 86.2 last year, going more than an inning out of the bullpen just six times last year.
Jose Urena is the Hail Mary breakout candidate, as nothing in his 145.1 major-league innings suggests an impactful surge in performance, but a look under the hood shows a 95-mph fastball and a workable slider. The changeup needs a lot of work… OK, the whole arsenal needs work, but there are at least some positive elements for the young arm. He’s probably best suited for relief, but at 25 years old, he’ll get at least one more shot at starting.
Forcing Eric Longenhagen to write a prospect list for this team is a hate crime in 11 states, but he did it anyway and Jarlin Garcia is the only guy expected to reach the majors in 2017. He was given a 40 Future Value grade which tells you just about all you need to know.
|Jhoulys Chacin||161.0||7.4||3.5||1.0||.313||70.9 %||4.35||4.21||1.9|
|Jered Weaver||156.0||5.9||2.6||1.4||.298||69.6 %||4.81||4.89||1.0|
|Clayton Richard||142.0||5.5||3.0||0.9||.314||72.2 %||4.21||4.35||1.2|
|Luis Perdomo||131.0||6.6||3.0||1.1||.321||69.6 %||4.66||4.43||1.0|
|Jarred Cosart||113.0||6.1||4.5||1.0||.308||69.7 %||4.81||4.79||0.4|
|Trevor Cahill||92.0||8.7||4.6||0.9||.313||72.9 %||4.12||4.19||1.0|
|Christian Friedrich||74.0||7.1||3.5||1.1||.311||70.5 %||4.52||4.41||0.8|
|Tyrell Jenkins||28.0||5.8||4.4||1.2||.307||69.9 %||5.10||5.18||0.0|
|Zach Lee||9.0||6.2||2.4||1.2||.310||68.2 %||4.65||4.39||0.1|
|Cesar Vargas||9.0||8.1||3.1||1.0||.313||71.5 %||4.07||3.93||0.1|
|Robbie Erlin||9.0||7.0||2.7||1.3||.308||68.7 %||4.71||4.49||0.1|
|Walker Lockett||9.0||6.2||2.3||1.2||.308||69.4 %||4.52||4.44||0.1|
|Miguel Diaz||9.0||6.8||4.4||1.3||.308||68.9 %||5.28||5.22||0.0|
At least Joe Ross will come up and be a major factor the Padres at some point this season.
*San Diego Chicken whispers something in Paul’s ear*
Oh, they traded him? Well, that’s OK. They have this interesting shortstop prospect named Trea Turner, whose defense will aid the starters while his offense provides some much-needed run support.
*San Diego Chicken returns and exasperatedly whispers another something to Paul*
Both? For Wil Myers? Didn’t Turner put up a half-win less than Myers while playing just 73 games? OK, cool. Cool, cool, cool.
Sure, that might’ve been a lame joke, but I figured you were already in a laughing mood after seeing San Diego’s depth chart of starters. Hell, the guy projected with the most innings isn’t even going to be in the rotation to start the season. I’m inclined to give the Padres some love on that one, as I think it’s clear that Jarred Cosart isn’t a starter, but his fastball/curveball combo should yield results out of the bullpen. If he got back to the 94-95 mph, he might even be a late-inning option.
That clears the deck for your 2017 San Diego Padres ace… Jhoulys Chacin! Fun fact: Chacin’s 83.9 mph changeup is nearly a tick faster than Jered Weaver’s 83 mph fastball. There’s no way you thought we would get through this entire section without a reference to Weaver’s fastball, not a chance. Chacin hasn’t made 30-plus starts since 2013, but the Padres might see if Chacin can be the first pitcher to make 40 starts since 1987 (Charlie Hough) just to avoid trusting their other options.
The lone bright spot is Luis Perdomo, the Rule 5 pick from last year. He couldn’t outrun seven outings of five-plus earned runs (two of which were relief appearances), but still showed some promise when you consider that he was making the jump from High-A. He has a sinker he can run up to the mid-90s regularly and a swing-and-miss curve headlining his arsenal, leading to a 59% ground-ball rate. He supplemented those with a splitter he started trusting more in the final two months en route to a 4.20 ERA over his final 10 starts.
Trevor Cahill, Christian Friedrich, and Clayton Richard are reportedly having a race of sorts this year where the first one to a 2.0 K/BB ratio gets to skip a turn in Coors! League average was 2.6 K/BB among starters last year and hasn’t been below 2.0 since 2000.
|Scott Feldman||165.0||6.1||2.6||1.3||.306||69.6 %||4.65||4.64||1.3|
|Brandon Finnegan||170.0||8.2||3.9||1.4||.297||73.0 %||4.42||4.66||1.4|
|Robert Stephenson||121.0||8.9||5.5||1.4||.301||71.8 %||5.07||5.24||0.6|
|Cody Reed||108.0||8.3||3.1||1.3||.307||72.8 %||4.24||4.38||1.2|
|Amir Garrett||102.0||7.9||4.7||1.3||.303||71.6 %||4.77||4.94||0.6|
|Anthony DeSclafani||95.0||7.7||2.4||1.2||.305||72.9 %||4.05||4.14||1.3|
|Bronson Arroyo||68.0||5.0||2.2||1.8||.299||68.8 %||5.34||5.44||0.0|
|Homer Bailey||56.0||7.6||2.8||1.2||.309||70.7 %||4.37||4.27||0.7|
|Rookie Davis||28.0||6.5||3.0||1.5||.305||69.7 %||4.91||4.93||0.2|
|Sal Romano||19.0||7.2||2.9||1.3||.306||70.0 %||4.66||4.58||0.2|
|Tim Adleman||9.0||7.0||2.8||1.5||.300||71.0 %||4.64||4.77||0.1|
In fairness to him, Scott Feldman is a perfectly fine fifth starter and the Opening Day start isn’t that meaningful, but it says something about a club’s rotation when he’s the one starting the season’s first game. It says you’re losing 90-plus games again and could lose 100, especially if Anthony DeSclafani’s elbow injury (UCL sprain) gets any worse. Cincinnati’s season got off on the wrong foot before it even started when Homer Bailey had bone spurs removed from his surgically repaired elbow on February 14th, pushing the start of his season to some time in June.
It’s a bit bleak for a club to endure injuries to two of their best starters before the regular season even starts, but unlike the Padres, they aren’t loading up their rotation with patchwork veterans. Yes, Bronson Arroyo joins Feldman as a starter, but then it’s youth as far as the eye can see, with Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, and Amir Garrett angling to break camp, while Rookie Davis and Sal Romano could be in position for summer call-ups.
Finnegan showed flashes of his potential in his first full season last year, with a handful of big strikeout games (including a season-high of 12) and a couple deep no-hit bids. Righties were an issue for the young southpaw, as they batted his fastball around the yard, but his changeup showed promise and improvement throughout 2016. Reed is another young lefty with plenty of stuff with which to work as he enters his first full season. Eno Sarris had a great piece on how his predictability contributed to an obscene 2.3 HR/9 rate in his 47.2-inning debut last year.
Stephenson and Garrett are X factors who could turn this team into a watchable loser if their prospect pedigree translated into major-league performance. Stephenson is a 24-year-old with 37 innings at the big-league level, so it’s not exactly Last Chance Saloon for him as a starter, but the reliever tag that some prospect analysts put on him earlier in his pro career is starting to look more prescient. Eric Longenhagen agrees.
Those unfamiliar with Garrett might be quick to write off the 25-year-old, but he’s late to baseball after pursuing a college basketball career, so he can’t be judged on the normal age-to-level scale of a standard prospect. The 6-foot-5 lefty has an impressive fastball that he can push to the mid-90s with regularity, and it’s backed by a solid arsenal of three potential 50-grade pitches. A good start in his second tour of Triple-A could yield a relatively early call and allow him to easily outpace his 19-inning projection.
Tim Adleman also exists.