(Over-) Rating pitchers for next year

This has been a year for pitchers. The list of the top pitchers who have totally imploded (e.g. Jake Peavy and Josh Beckett) is relatively short, while the list of up-and-coming pitchers who fully arrived seems rather long (Ubaldo Jimenez, Mat Latos, Clay Buchholz, Brandon Morrow, to name a few).

I thought I’d categorize the “top 25” starting pitchers for next year and use the categories to make a few points about keepers.

Aces of Spades:
Roy Halladay
Adam Wainwright
Felix Hernandez
Josh Johnson
Chris Carpenter
CC Sabathia
Cliff Lee
Jon Lester
Justin Verlander

Borderline Aces:
Johan Santana
Cole Hamels
Ubaldo Jimenez
Tim Lincecum
Zack Greinke

I want to see them do it again (and they probably will):
David Price
Jered Weaver
Clayton Kershaw
Francisco Liriano
Mat Latos

I want to see them do it again (and maybe they will)
Tommy Hanson
Clay Buchholz
Shaun Marcum
Brett Anderson

Want to see a lot more:
Trevor Cahill
Ricky Romero
Dallas Braden
Max Scherzer
Jonathan Sanchez
Gio Gonzalez

Solid number twos:
Matt Cain
Roy Oswalt
Yovani Gallardo

Comeback kids (Not-as-solid number twos):
Carl Pavano
Brett Myers

Solid number threes:
Ryan Dempster
Ted Lilly
Hiroki Kuroda
Tim Hudson
Wandy Rodriguez

Down on them:
John Danks
C.J. Wilson
Jamie Garcia
Matt Garza

Oddballs:
R.A. Dickey
Bronson Arroyo

This year’s disappointments and crashes:
Dan Haren
Josh Beckett
Javier Vasquez
John Lackey

OK that was fun. Obviously there are more than 25 pitchers here (I just took the top 45 or so pitchers according to CBS Sportsline’s rating plus a few others who fell off the list). But apart from a few of these guys, most of them could appear on many top-25 lists. Many of the pitchers who are fringe candidates for these lists have one or more eye-popping stats: Gio Gonzalez has a 3.121 ERA; Dickey has a 2.907 ERA and a 1.184 WHIP; Tim Hudson has a 2.409 ERA and a 1.101 WHIP.

It’d be pretty easy to convince yourself that someone like Hudson is worth keeping for next year. Of course, whether he is depends on the costs of keeping him. But there are a few things to keep in mind:

- The supply of really-good-but-not-top-notch pitchers is fairly large. Even if you’re in a 12-team league where each team can keep two pitchers, you’d still have plenty of worthwhile candidates to choose from if you didn’t keep any (and, say, kept the draft picks instead).

- Variance in pitching is huge. This is fairly well known—pitching performance, even at the top level, fluctuates a lot from year to year, never mind health concerns.

- There are a bunch of pitchers just off this list who could be on it next September: Chad Billingsley, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Webb, Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Edinson Volquez. Some of these guys had skills and lost them. Some of them had injuries. Some just haven’t had a large enough track record yet (though I bet Daniel Hudson is on a few top-25s anyway).

And then there’s Strasburg. He is unkeepable in any league that imposes any kind of opportunity cost on keepers. Even if it is just a roster spot on your DL for next year, he’s still not worth keeping. (Well, you can, but I’d just cut him as soon as you had someone more immediate for your DL spot next season. And since everyone uses their DL spots throughout the season, you will end up cutting him anyway sooner or later.) Maybe I’d keep him in a dynasty league with permanently low keeper costs.

Chances are Strasburg will return in 2012 in fine fettle. But even then, it will likely be a few months into the season before he returns to some kind of peak form. And of course, he may not fully return ever, or at least for a while after he starts pitching again. This kind of uncertainty both on your bench and perhaps on your starting roster eventually has large costs. These are costs that you don’t need to pay when there are so many good pitchers each year who come out of the woodwork.

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Comments

  1. Pat said...

    Overall a very good list. Just a coupel of issues.

    Greinke should be in the solid # 2 list.

    Greinke’s problem is that he does not win enough (becasue of KC) and his other #‘s
    are soild but I don’t think good enough to warrant being a borderline
    ace. He had one amazing season last, but his 2008/2010 was solid but not elite.
    To be conisdered “borderline elite” I think he would need to have two of the following happen:
    K per inning
    Move to a much better offense team
    ERA/Whip: less than 3.50/ 1.20

    I don’t think Hanson at least belongs in the
    “I want to see them do it again (and they probably will)”
    He has been soliddone it for a year and half.

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Jonathan,

    Can you explain lumping Oakland’s pitchers with Mad Max and Ricky Romero? I think Scherzer particularly and Romero maybe have a world of potential and upside that none of the rest in this category do.

  3. Jonathan said...

    I guess I should say that these aren’t really rankings, but are more “sentiments” – Scherzer and Cahill may have different ceilings in your and my views, but I think we’d perhaps both agree that they have some considerable proving to do to show us that they can reach their respective ceilings.  With the under-proven pitchers like Price, Buchholz, Scherzer, I’m mainly trying to taxonimize how much uncertainty lingers around each of them.

    Pat – I also think Hanson may be boarderline promotable to the Price Group, but I’m a bit worried about his mid season drop in K rate. But, yeah, he could be higher. Likewise Greinke could be a bit lower. With any groupings you’re gonna have borderline cases.
    I’d think Lincecum would be more controversial, but again, I don’t want to put too much emphasis on any one placement…

  4. Andrew said...

    With pitching incredibly deep now, the proper course of action seems to be to wait until the late rounds to select starting pitchers

  5. Pat said...

    I can see an arguement for Lincecum in either catergory, but I don’t see how Greinke fit in the same catergory as Lincecum.

  6. Jeffrey Gross said...

    200% agree with Jonahan with respect to keeping pitchers. Pitchers are so fickle, injury prone and volatile and the depth is so deep that its not worth keeping expensive ones.

    My general rule of thumb is do not keep pitchesr who will cost +$15, though there are clearly exceptions. The power of tRA, xFIP is that they help predict trends (though they are hardly and far from perfect). Mining for value is a more economic way to play in auction formats.

    When 1B is a shallower position then SP, you know SP is deep.

  7. Jonathan said...

    Morrow could go there too. My list wasn’t completely exhaustive – which i guess is sort of part of my point: there are so many top 20-30 pitchers

  8. jason said...

    Phil Hughes merit any consideration?  Was his 2nd half dropoff too big?  Where does he stack up with guys like Hanson, Bucholz, Anderson?

  9. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Well Latos may be worth keeping consideration depending on the cost. If you got him for $3 (ie, like me), its probably worth the opportunity cost. he throws harder than verlander…

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