Archive for January 18th, 2013

Friday: 01.18.2013

Top 10 Starting Pitchers Right Now

Tonight MLB Network will continue the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall”. They will air both the relief and starting pitcher shows on Friday evening. I always enjoy this series and generally look forward to it after the New Year since I eat up just about any fresh baseball content I can as we wait for pitchers & catchers to report. Instead of putting up my lists after they air their selections, I’ll post mine ahead of time and then compare notes after the shows air.

This is not a fantasy list!!

(Ed. note: I swore my DVR said the reliever episode was first which is why I posted that list first. Sorry about that!)

This list was even harder than the relievers one as I just want to include so many guys. To spare you, the reader, I’m only going to include a few of honorable mentions.

Roy Halladay (PHI) – Since it is “right now”, I couldn’t justify his inclusion coming off of an injury-marred season that was easily his worst since 2004. From a fantasy angle (which isn’t entirely relevant in this NON FANTASY list) I still think he’s being criminally underrated early on in mock drafts and rankings I’ve seen, but he’s not a top 10 guy right now.

C.C. Sabathia (NYY) – This has a lot more to do with how deep the top of the starting pitcher pool is than anything Sabathia hasn’t done. There are no obviously flaws in his games, he’s absolutely amazing, but there are only 10 spots, so he’s on the outside.

Yu Darvish (TEX) – I couldn’t just play favorites and put Darvish in ahead of more deserving candidates. He took a while to get his feet under him last year and while I think he will show his top 10 worthiness this year, this list is about right now as opposed to projection. So it is with great pain that I leave Darvish out.

Also: Adam Wainwright (he was great coming off of TJ, but not great enough to include just yet.)

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THE LIST

10. Matt Cain (SF) – See what I mean? Leaving Cain off would’ve felt silly yet that’s what I would have to do to get Darvish included. Track record doesn’t weigh heavily on a “right now” list, but even just the 2012 track record favors Cain in terms of pure results. He’s awesome and he’s getting better each year. He doesn’t post the gaudy strikeout totals I drool over, but he’s proven you can be great with just a solid 20ish percent rate.

9. Gio Gonzalez (WAS) – If you think this rating is crazy, you haven’t watched him pitch enough. He keeps adding to his strikeout rate going from 20 percent in 2010 to an NL-best 25 percent last year. Meanwhile he made his first real dent in his walk rate last year dropping it a full percentage point to nine, which isn’t great, but easier to overlook when a quarter of the guys you face are walking back to the dugout after three strikes.

8. R.A. Dickey (TOR) – Absurd. Just completely absurd. His 2012 season was so freaking incredible. Seemingly out of nowhere, he ups his strikeout rate from 15.3 to 24.8 percent while actually incrementally improving his walk rate from 6.2 to 5.8 percent. Just bananas. He deservingly won the NL Cy Young and now gets to peddle his wares in the AL East with Toronto. I basically had Dickey and the next two guys neck and neck so I used track record as the tiebreaker. I’d still take these next two over him in a one-game situation.

7. Cole Hamels (PH) – When you factor out how much I’m responsible for myself, Hamels just doesn’t get enough love as an ace-level pitcher. Part of it is that he’s obscured by his rotation mates, but part of it is just that I think some fail to recognize how great he’s been the last three years. He had the 8th-best strikeout rate (24.9 percent) in the majors last year among qualified starters and only Dickey bested his 6.0 percent walk rate among those eight and it was by 0.1 percent.

6. Cliff Lee (PHI) – How did he win six games and fan 207 batters last year? I know wins and strikeouts don’t exactly go together, but the point is that he was just too good to be saddled with such a lame record (6-9). He walked a laughable 28 guys in all last year, too. His 3.3 percent walk rate was baseball’s best by nearly a full percent over Bronson Arroyo and Joe Blanton (4.2) and then of course there is the fact that he was also light years better than them in every other skill-based metric.

5. Felix Hernandez (SEA) – The top five were pretty easy for me in terms of who belonged in it. You can quibble over the order, but the group should be pretty consistent among anyone making such a list. Listing Felix fifth just doesn’t feel right, but I don’t see how I could get him any higher even as he continues to dominate. A career-best six percent walk rate accompanied fifth straight spike in strikeout rate, though just a small bit from 23 percent in 2011 to 23.8 last year. Oh, and he threw a perfect game.

4. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) – There is little doubt in my mind that he could’ve gone well past his innings limit without issue, but the Nats painted themselves into a corner. In the 159 innings he did throw, he was simply amazing. If he had qualified (requires 162 innings), his 30.2 percent strikeout rate would’ve topped Max Scherzer’s gaudy 29.4 mark for baseball’s best. He has three excellent pitches that he uses to devastate hitters. His changeup might be the best of the bunch generating a ridiculous 29 percent swing-and-miss rate. It was accountable 53 percent of his 197 strikeouts, too.

3. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) – As I mentioned earlier, I thought Dickey was a deserving Cy Young winner, but he wasn’t the only deserving candidate. Kershaw was right there and you can probably argue that wins and a great story are the only things that cost Kershaw a repeat. He led baseball in ERA for a second straight season, posted the same 6.7 H/9 mark which not only led the NL like it did in 2011, but all of baseball this time, and he led the NL in WHIP for the second straight season 1.02. His 14-9 record plus not being a knuckleball journeyman likely did him in.

2. David Price (TB) – Price showed flashes of greatness in 2010, though his 2.72 ERA was probably a bit more favorable than his numbers seemed to “deserve”. Then in 2011, he went the other way improving his underlying numbers and likely should’ve ended up with a result better than his 3.49 ERA. He finally found the right potion in 2012 repeating his 2011 base skills (24% Ks, 7% BBs) while adding a crapton of groundballs (moving 44 to 53% groundball rate) and sharpening up with runners on (moving from 73 to 81%, second to only Jeremy Hellickson at 83%) to turn in a Cy Young performance. His curveball was the driving force yielding a meager 368 OPS and generating 44 percent of his 205 strikeouts.

1. Justin Verlander (DET) – Verlander had an amazing follow up campaign to his Cy Young/MVP season in 2011 and like Kershaw, he had a very strong case for a repeat at Cy Young, but it wasn’t to be for him. He lost out by four points (whereas Dickey inexplicably crushed Kershaw, whose repeat case was probably stronger than JV’s). He again paced the entire league in innings and total strikeouts, but dropped seven wins off that flashy 24 count from last year dropping below the famed 20-mark.

By the way, Verlander is an instructive case for why I’m referencing strikeout percentage a lot more these days. He had an 8.96 K/9 in 2011 and 9.03 K/9 last year so there’ll be plenty of analysis stating that “he even raised his strikeouts!!!”, but he didn’t actually do that. He fanned 25.8 percent of batters in his dream season of 2011, compared to a flat 25 percent last year. Small difference, but important nonetheless.

Despite not winning any end of season awards, I doubt you will get much argument on Verlander as the best pitcher in the game, though the latest chic thing to do is to project a 2013 injury for him based on these recent workloads. It’s the most risk-less “bold” prediction you can make, so don’t fall into the trap of doing so to appear ballsy. Predicting any pitcher to get hurt is like guessing that Lindsay Lohan will be arrested soon. Both are ticking time bombs. Always.

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Friday: 01.18.2013

Top 10 Relief Pitchers Right Now

Tonight MLB Network will continue the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall”. They will air both the relief and starting pitcher shows on Friday evening. I always enjoy this series and generally look forward to it after the New Year since I eat up just about any fresh baseball content I can as we wait for pitchers & catchers to report. Instead of putting up my lists after they air their selections, I’ll post mine ahead of time and then compare notes after the shows air.

This is not a fantasy list!!

My guess is that MLBN will rely a bit too heavily on saves here and lean toward closers, but I’m going for the best relievers regardless of role. This was pretty tough because I could’ve made a legitimate case for quite a few guys who didn’t wind up on my 10. In fact, my honorable mention list could’ve run 10-15 deep. Instead, here are just a few.

Sean Marshall (CIN) – Since these lists stress the “Right Now” aspect, considering Marshall’s track record too heavily would go against the conceit of the lists. And since he is coming off of his worst year against righties (750 OPS), he lost out on a spot. He obliterates lefties (410 OPS) and has plenty of previous success against righties to avoid the LOOGY status, but his rough start likely cost him a spot here. He had a 4.15 ERA in 17.3 innings through May, but then just a 1.85 ERA the rest of the way in 43.7 innings.

Jonathan Papelbon (PHI) – He was hardly bad in 2012, but some chinks in the armor did pop up (namely the home runs and the margins are so thin here that any small ding could cost you a spot on the list. I will state clearly that this has nothing to do with my disdain for Papelbon. I want to make the best list possible and I ended choosing my #10 over Papelbon after a couple flips back-and-forth between the two.

Jake McGee (TB) – A lefty who throws 96? How the hell is that fair? To say he dominated right-handers last year is a gross understatement. They managed a .098/.157/.134 line–that’s a 291 OPS for those keeping score–all while striking out 36 percent of the time. With these honorable mentions, there really aren’t reasons why they didn’t make the list. The top 10 was just so rich that the runoff seems entirely snubbed given how deserving they are on their own merits.

Tyler Clippard (WAS) – Remember when he stranded 96 percent of runners in 2011? So sick. He’s still awesome, just not quite top 10 awesome. Hell, neither are his bullpen mates, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano.

Darren O’Day (BAL) – If we were doing A-Rod’s list, he might be number one. O’Day was 5th in win probability added for relievers last year while teammate Jim Johnson was tops by a good margin. O’Day just missed and Johnson wasn’t given much consideration ranking around 20 or so. It’s probably my whorishness for strikeouts. Sorry, Jimmy-J.

Sorry as well to: Jason Grilli (homers), Rafael Betancourt (drop in Ks), Al Alburquerque (innings), Kelvin Herrera (Ks didn’t stack up), Ernesto Frieri (walks), and Joel Peralta (homers).

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THE LIST

10. David Hernandez (ARI) – The D’Backs better not even consider giving the 8th inning to Heath Bell setting up J.J. Putz as Hernandez handled it masterfully last year and continues to get better each year. He is a flyball pitcher, but maintains a 0.5 HR/9 because 15 percent of his flyball stays in the infield. In the mortal division (non-Kimbrel & Aroldis), his 35 percent strikeout rate was good 5th while his 7.9 percent walk rate was best among those five.

9. Koji Uehara (BOS) – How does he only get $4.25 million from Boston this offseason? That is a steal, especially juxtaposed against the 2/$28 mil that Washington is paying Soriano (and I like Sori). Even missing two months, he deserved more than a $250,000 dollar raise for his work. He had a 14.3 K/BB! He hates walks. In fact, he hates walking. He moves briskly everywhere he goes often breaking into a trot or jog. He walked three batters in 36 innings last year. Carlos Marmol walked three batters in a game three times last year.

8. Joe Nathan (TEX) – Homers ate him up a bit at home (1.7 HR/9) or his sparkling numbers (2.80 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) would’ve been even better. And he was 37 years old.

7. Fernando Rodney (TB) – Who would have bet that Rodney would appear on a list like this… ever? Chalk one up for the “change of scenery” factor working and how. The Rays remade Rodney and he became one of baseball’s best relievers recapturing his strikeout-per-inning stuff while walking next to nobody (far and away a career-best 5 percent BB rate and 1.8 BB/9; previous best was 9 & 3.5). His velo even spiked a bit up to a career high 98.2 MPH on his four-seamer making his 83 MPH changeup that much more devastating.

6. David Robertson (NYY) – He experienced the worst timed injury ever going down in early May shortly after getting the closer’s role once Mariano Rivera went down. Robertson had been missing bats like crazy for four years, but it was always paired with a walk rate of 12 percent or worse. That changed last year when he cut it to just 7.7 percent with little cost to his strikeouts (dipped from an obscene 37 percent to a still-excellent 33 percent). He’s added a groundball element to his game the last two years only adding to his effectiveness.

5. Kenley Jansen (LAD) – An irregular heartbeat could barely tame Jansen, though it did cost him about half of September. He’s usually the one doling out irregular heartbeats, terrifying batters into submission with his filthy cutter which he throws almost exclusively (93 percent of the time). When a pitch is that good, why throw anything else? Sounds like another reliever we all know pretty well.

4. Jason Motte (StL) – Completely embraced the closer’s role en route his best across-the-board season yet in a career-high 72 innings. His 2.75 ERA was up from 2011’s 2.25, but the WHIP dropped from 0.96 to 0.92 while his strikeout rate spiked majorly to 31 percent without impacting his 6 percent walk rate. I think he is one of the more underrated relievers in the game, but that could just be my perception of him. I guess we’ll see tonight on the lists of those involved in the show.

3. Sergio Romo (SF) – While I’m constantly annoyed at how much the Giants baby Romo, I understand it. It’s probably not a surprise that he posted his best year in 2011 when they limited him to just 48 innings (1.50 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 40% K rate, 14.0 K/BB). I’m just being selfish because I want to see flat-out embarrass grown men with his NSFW slider, rated second best in the majors last year per pitch values. His arm may one day accompany the ball to the plate, but until then, enjoy this diminutive badass.

2. Mariano Rivera (NYY) – This was obviously the toughest ranking. He had to be included despite throwing just eight innings last year before tearing his ACL, but how high? It wasn’t a leg injury and he hasn’t seen his dominance diminish at all yet, so I felt comfortable slotting the 43-year old right here. He doesn’t have the same gaudy numbers as a lot of these guys, but he is still fanning a quarter of the batters he faces and his walk rate was actually on the decline from 4.8 in 2010 to 3.4 in 2011, though it ticked up a bit to 6.3 (still great) last year in his tiny sample.

1. Craig Kimbrel (ATL) – He’s on a different plane. If you put up his numbers in a video game, your friends would tell you to get real and up the difficulty. He’s doing it on All-Madden (mixed sport metaphors FTW!). His 40+ percent strikeout rate dropped our jaws, but he wasn’t satisfied so he dropped a 50 burger on our faces fanning precisely 50.2 percent of the batters he faced last year. Major league batters. And for good measure, he nearly sliced his walk rate in half dropping from 10.5 to 6.1 percent.

No one stood a prayer against him evidenced obviously by everything I’ve already shared, but also his .126 batting average against. His 19.2 swinging strike rate was tops in baseball to the surprise of absolutely nobody. He got 40 percent of his strikeouts on three pitches. If he got two strikes on a batter, they hit .068/.112/.105 and struck out 68 percent of the time. I could keep going, but I think you get the point. This was an easy choice.

Friday: 01.18.2013

New Podcast Out

BP-fest here of late (which is freeee today!), but Jason has posted the latest episode of our podcast. This week we spoke to Todd Zola of Mastersball.com centering our conversation on player valuation and some of the best ways to approach the process. It was a very good discussion. Additionally we discussed the three-way trade between Seattle-Oakland-Washington, Mike Napoli‘s contract finally getting done, and Matt Harrison‘s extension. We read some emails and discussed some favorite reads catching up after missing that segment for a few weeks. Stupidly, I forgot to include the Rafael Soriano signing. It’s probably because I was too focused on trying to make Manti Te’o girlfriend jokes so here are my thoughts on the signing:

I love it for Washington. It’s costly, sure, but they’re in win-now mode. Soriano now gives the Nats a ridiculous three-headed monster that they can use to shorten games to six innings on many nights. Soriano joins Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen to form the lockdown triumvirate (not to mention Craig Stammen kicking butt in his first full season as a reliever) with Soriano likely getting the first crack at the closer’s job if for no other reason than his salary. Not that he isn’t every bit as capable as the other two.

The last time Soriano was in the National League, he posted a 33 percent strikeout rate in a career-high 75.3 innings adding 27 saves as well. Craig Kimbrel (50 percent in 2012) and Aroldis Chapman (44 percent) think fanning just a third of the batters you face is cute, but for a mere mortal it is fantastic. Known as injury prone, health has eluded Soriano a bit over his entire career, but he has been a 60+ inning pitcher in three of the last four years and five of seven so he seems to have outrun the legitimacy of that tag in his late-20s and early-30s.

Sorry to those with Storen in keeper leagues. Clippard and Storen will be among the more expensive middle relievers in NL-only/deep mixed leagues and they will deliver plenty of value even if they only end up with a save or two all year. Meanwhile back on Soriano’s former team, David Robertson‘s value ticks upward again as the incumbent behind a now 43-year old Mariano Rivera returning from a torn ACL.

As for the articles referenced:

Friday: 01.18.2013

Free Baseball Prospectus Today!

BPfreeFriday

Not yet a BP subscriber? I’ll forgive you… this one time at least! Today is your chance to get over there and see what you’re missing. Click the pic above to go directly to my archive of work (modesty FTW!)

Click the pic below to read my favorite BP author:

Thorburn

Meanwhile, my SP and RP top 10 lists will be out later today ahead of the MLBN shows this evening.