2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 1

I haven’t posted for three weeks, but it hasn’t been without good reason. I have been working on my favorite piece of the winter, the Starting Pitcher Echelons. It’s my third year doing this and this year’s is the biggest yet. Last year, I went 154 deep and in 2008 there were 112. This year, I have 263 names. I’d be surprised if I was missing anybody of consequence but I will rely on you the reader to let me know if there are glaring omissions.

There are five distinct echelons this year and it is meant to emulate a starting rotation. The 1s are your aces that will be taken early and cost the most money in most leagues. They have reliable track records and excel across the board. Meanwhile the 2s are guys I really like and their best-case-scenario season would be ace-level. There is usually just one small thing missing from their equation that keeps them out of the top echelon, but you can reasonably anchor your staff with these guys if you choose to wait on pitching. The 3s are a mix of young guys on the rise still putting it all together and crafty veterans capable of eating a boatload of innings without destroying your team. All of them have enough discernible skill to put up a very good season, but it would definitely standout either because they are returning from injury, have yet to do at the big leagues or haven’t done in several seasons. The 4s are essentially 3s with bigger, more glaring questions surrounding them. They are likely further away from the majors if they are youngsters. The veterans found within the 4s have some skill, but lack any clear path into the rotation or simply have a bigger chance at hurting your team should they get several starts. And the last echelon is the 5s which contains severely unpolished young arms who are likely a year or two away in most cases, but merit some consideration in dynasty leagues or leagues with minor league rosters and veterans who should be spot-started at best and should only be considered as stopgaps in disaster scenarios.

The 4s and 5s won’t have a whole lot written about them since their projected impact for 2010 is much lower by comparison to the 1s, 2s and 3s. For the 5s especially, I’ll probably stick to one sentence about them and move on. Some of the 4s who could be a factor later will get a little bit more detail included, but the meat of the analysis will be on the 2s and 3s. Even the 1s don’t need a ton of breakdown as we already know why they are there. Also this year I’ve included a special 6th echelon which is a 10-pack of 4s and 5s who will miss a significant amount of time in 2010 due to injury or who are returning from a major injury in 2009 and should be approached with the utmost amount of caution in terms of expectations. Let’s start with that group.

Supplemental Echelon “Six” – The Infirmary

1. Jesse Litsch (right elbow; July return), 24 years old, Toronto Blue Jays (echelon 4) – He enjoyed some success in 2007 and 2008 (combined 3.67 ERA in 287 IP) despite striking out just 4.7 batters per nine.

2. Edinson Volquez (Tommy John; late ’10 if at all), 26 years old, Cincinnati Reds (echelon 4) – If you have a reserve roster where you could get Volquez on the cheap and hold him over for 2011, he’s worth a look late just for the long-term investment. Could pitch 30-40 innings down the stretch, but who knows how valuable those would be?

3. Erik Bedard (left shoulder; August return), 30 years old, Seattle Mariners (echelon 4) – Same old story with Bedard. I heard a rumor that Rich Harden was quoted as saying Bedard is a candyass. Bedard could be a stretch run asset if he returns for the final two months, but I wouldn’t bend over backwards to land him, even in a league with a reserve roster.

4. Justin Duchscherer (back, right elbow, depression; Spring Training return), 32 years old, Oakland A’s (echelon 4) – Didn’t throw a single pitch in 2009 after a tremendous 2008 breakout. Like Bedard, Harden and the next guy on this list, he will ALWAYS carry significant risk no matter how well he pitches.

5. Kelvim Escobar (shoulder; Spring Training return), 34 years old, New York Mets (echelon 4) – I’m a huge fan of this guy but the simple fact is that he can’t be trusted. Word out of the Mets camp is that he could be used as a reliever, but I’m including him on the starting pitcher list because there’s a good enough chance he will get starts for that lame rotation sooner or later.

6. Ross Detwiler (hip; June return), 23 years old, Washington Nationals (echelon 5) – He has struck out nearly a batter per inning in 234 minor league innings, but managed just five per nine in 76 innings last year in 14 starts. Need to see some consistent performance upon return to even recommend a spot start duty.

7. Jordan Zimmerman (elbow; late ’10 if at all), 23 years old, Washington Nationals (echelon 5) – Like Volquez, Zimmerman is worth snapping up late if he can be reserved and kept inexpensively for 2011. I love his potential and would have had him possibly as high as echelon 2 if he were pitching this year. He and Stephen Strasburg will be a viable 1-2 for the Nationals for the coming years.

8. Josh Outman (Tommy John; late ’10), 25 years old, Oakland A’s (echelon 5) – The only reason Outman is echelon 5 is because I’m uncertain how much he can really offer upon his return in 2010. Plus by the time he returns, the Oakland rotation might be locked up so he might be relegated to relief work.

9. Dustin McGowan (shoulder; mid ’10), 27 years old, Toronto Blue Jays (echelon 5) – He didn’t throw a pitch last year and likely won’t throw one until midseason this year. Plus he’s really only had one above average season thus far. He’s displayed solid skills in his 354 major league innings (7.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9), but he’s complete wildcard with this much time off.

10. Shawn Hill (Tommy John; mid ’10), 28 years old, Toronto Blue Jays (echelon 5) – He’s another guy who always seems to be injured with one thing or another. He doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but holds enough control to manage a 2.0 K/BB rate. I liked him better in Washington and even better in San Diego. Even a healthy Hill could have some tough sledding in the AL Beast.

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