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2012 AL Starting Pitching Keeper Rankings: Tier Three

It is finally time to unveil the third tier of the American League starting pitcher keeper rankings and this one promises to be the most controversial yet. I have removed the dollar values since judging by the comments, you were all confused by it and felt it offered little value. You speak up, I listen and take action! As a reminder, this is how the rankings have shaken out so far:

Tier 1:
Justin Verlander
CC Sabathia
Felix Hernandez
Jon Lester

Tier 2:
Jered Weaver
Dan Haren
Josh Beckett
David Price
James Shields

Tier Three:

Michael Pineda

The rookie had one heck of a season, posting a 3.36 SIERA and 3.53 xFIP over 171.0 innings for the offensively challenged Mariners. He struck out just over a batter per inning and displayed good control. The one knock is that he is an extreme fly ball pitcher, but he certainly picked one of the best parks to call home given this tendency.

The amazing thing about Pineda is that even with a 9.1 K/9, he may actually have some strikeout rate upside. His K/9 was held down a bit by a .258 BABIP that reduced his opportunities to punch out hitters and his 11.8% SwStk% tied for first among all starters in baseball. Oh, and his F-Strike% ranked 12th. So a pitcher with electric stuff AND fantastic control? And he’ll only be 23 next season! At this time next year, his name may very well appear in that first tier.

Max Scherzer

You know by now, I do not put too much weight into single-season ERA marks. Here is example number one, a pitcher who easily had the highest ERA of anyone in all the tiers so far, and above 4.00 at that. But, SIERA and xFIP tell us that Scherzer has actually been essentially the same pitcher for the past three seasons. Of course, growth would be nice to see, but given that his ERA has really bounced around, we could take solace in knowing that it has just been the luck dragons at work. We saw in 2010 what neutral luck could do for Scherzer. He is the same guy, so do yourself a favor and ignore his 2011 ERA when making your keeper decision.

C.J. Wilson

It may seem odd to see his name appear here after I discussed just last week how his playoff struggles might be the first sign of burnout. But, it is really all just speculation and based on a tiny sample size of data. The bottom line is that Wilson showed excellent skills growth this year and now possesses good strikeout ability and control and induces lots of ground balls.

The below league average SwStk% looks like a concern, but he has generated called strikes at an above average clip for two straight years now, so an impending strikeout rate decline is unlikely. He was rather lucky in 2011, so his ERA will jump, but it still should finish somewhere in the mid-3.00 range, which should keep him plenty valuable.

Brandon Morrow

If you have been following my posts and rankings, you knew this was coming. He led all starters in biggest differential between his ERA and SIERA. Each year, he has had a different problem. One year it’s his BABIP, the next HR/FB ratio and the next it’s his LOB%. I would be a lot less optimistic if he displayed the same issues year after year, making it harder to keep calling it bad luck. But he isn’t. His LOB% was a bit below league average in 2010 as well, but we are still only talking about a little over 300.0 innings here. It is quite possible Morrow legitimately struggles with runners on base and it will continue to plague him. But I need to see more proof and over a larger sample to feel comfortable calling that the answer.

This season, he also showed some exciting skills improvement, as his F-Strike% skyrocketed, suggesting his walk rate decline is for real. Whether he could do that again is of course anyone’s guess, but at least we know that the supporting data jives with the surface rate. Bottom line is that at the very least, you are going to get some nice value from his strikeouts. But I have a feeling he’ll be that pitcher everyone is kicking themselves for not keeping because they made up some explanation to justify why he has underperformed the last two seasons. Don’t be that guy.