Rankings update week! Since there was the obligatory confusion in the AL OF rankings update, let me remind you — American League. As in not National League. Though, I do have to admit it is amusing to read which random player is asked about not appearing in the rankings, as it’s never the top guy in the other league. Lots of movement this time as the important rates stabilize and become significant.
For the first time in a while, Verlander’s ERA is significantly above his SIERA. For the past two years, the reverse has been true, as he has managed to post sub-3.00 ERAs with skills suggesting more of a 3.00-3.25 range. We first notice a greatly inflated .359 BABIP. While we might be quick to blame the porous Tigers infield defense, we should look no further than Verlander’s batted ball distribution. He has allowed an uncharacteristic 25% line drive rate, which suggests that high BABIP isn’t all poor fortune.
That said, line drive rate itself is flukey in small samples, so even if the BABIP has been somewhat deserved so far, it will obviously come down. I would be much more concerned about the fastball velocity decline, which has not improved as the season has progressed, if Verlander wasn’t inducing a high SwStk% as always or posting the same Contact% or striking out batters at the highest rate of his career. He’ll be fine.
Felix Hernandez is yet another top tier starter who has seen his velocity decline but is actually striking out the highest rate of batters of his career. Amazing. Sabathia’s velocity is slowly creeping back up and his peripherals remain as strong as always. Scherzer finally moves up a tier as it looks like only bad fortune would prevent him from earning this type of value. Of course, he’s actually already experiencing bad fortune when comparing his SIERA (2.61) to his ERA (3.42). I dropped David Price to the bottom of this tier as the triceps injury and velocity decline scare me. But he should be back shortly and might prove that the concerns are overblown.
Jered Weaver rejoins the rankings, but with a lack of velocity and his strikeout rate and resulting performance in question, cannot move any higher at the moment. Anibal Sanchez jumps a tier as his amazing strikeout rate surge continues. His fastball velocity is up slightly, but that’s really the only thing that looks different, so I wonder how he has managed to generate so many swinging strikes. He might be even higher if there was a good explanation or he had some sort of track record for this. Dickey finally drops a tier and he may continue to alternate good starts and bad. Makes it difficult to make start/bench decisions and his opponent might not matter. Either the knuckleball is working and baffling batters or it’s not. Since his velocity is down on the pitch, it’s silly to assume it will suddenly return, which is the likely explanation behind his decreased strikeout rate.
According to my expected strikeout rate metric, Alex Cobb has been a bit lucky striking out batters so far. Still, he jumps a tier given his combination of skills, including a sky high ground ball rate. I expect both the walk rate to drop and the strikeout rate to decline though. Well, I’ve been right so far about Matt Moore. Unfortunately he’s experiencing luck regression and I’m becoming more concerned that the velocity loss is going to hurt him. For pitchers like Verlander and Felix who have excellent control, they could get away with a decline in velocity. Moore’s command struggles likely means fewer opponent swings outside the zone. He drops near to the bottom of the tier.
Clay Buchholz finally jumps a tier, but only to the bottom of this one. He’s doing it with basically a league leading called strike rate. Is that sustainable? Maybe, maybe not. I’d much prefer to believe in a pitcher who’s inducing more swinging strikes like Anibal. Nothing in his statistical profile suggests he’s really any different of a pitcher than in previous seasons.
Derek Holland jumps a tier as he is inducing swinging strikes at a career high rate, which has finally translated into a strong strikeout rate. For a lefty with plus fastball velocity, it was always a wonder why his strikeout rates have been rather pedestrian. The increased slider usage has led to the additional swings and misses as he is both throwing the pitch more and frequently and getting an even higher SwStk% on it than ever before. Iwakuma also jumps a tier. Despite posting an almost identical pitch mix, his SwStk% has risen and he’s throwing significantly more first pitch strikes, which has pushed his walk rate into elite territory.
Josh Johnson returned from the DL on Tuesday and got good results, but his fastball velocity was down a bit. His league, home park and injury history prevents me from moving him any higher. I provided a more detailed analysis of Hellickson a couple of weeks ago, but it’s funny how he’s posting better skills than in past years, but now it’s his luck that’s the problem. I still have absolutely no idea what to make of him, so he’ll remain here, perhaps for the rest of eternity.
Justin Masterson is one of the biggest winners in this rankings update jumping a tier to the top of the previous one. His strikeout rate is going to decline, if you believe my expected strikeout rate formula of course (and you should!), but it should still remain above previous seasons. And with that extreme ground ball tendency, only poor infield defense would prevent a sub-4.00 ERA. He’s basically Alex Cobb with worse control and a lesser ability to contain lefties. John Lackey, though, is actually the biggest winner, leaping over the tier below him and moving up two tiers overall. Despite a similar pitch mix that he has always shown, his skills are at vintage Lackey level. He has even discovered a newfound ability to induce the ground ball.
Yes, I bravely moved Roberto Hernandez up to the top of the tier. He has posted strong skills all season long, but has been continually bitten by the home run ball, which has also hurt his LOB%. Although he has sometimes had trouble keeping fly balls in the park in the past, a 22% HR/FB rate is ridiculous. His previous career high was near 14%, and his career rate, which includes this year, is just about 12%. Be patient.
Scott Kazmir finally makes his debut on this here rankings list. It’s still pretty amazing that after all these years, his skills and velocity are essentially back to vintage levels. Better BABIP luck will result in value in even 12-team mixed leagues.
Jason Hammel drops a tier — his strikeout and walk rates improved dramatically in May, but naturally he endured significantly worse fortune and his ERA, which ended April at 3.79, was a whopping 6.44 in May. Just ERA regression at play. Ground balls are gone though and his velocity remains down from last year, so the hope for a strong follow-up should probably be given up at this point.
Man it’s tough being an extreme fly ball pitcher at Yankees Stadium. But Phil Hughes’ SIERA is nearly identical to where it was last year. He’s going to have the occasional blowup, as we have obviously witnessed, but he has strong control and good enough strikeout ability to maintain some value. Ervin Santana jumps a tier, but barely. My expected strikeout rate formula suggests he’s been one of the luckiest starters and actually deserves a strikeout percentage closer to 18%. Also, that walk rate simply isn’t sustainable. The Royals offense has been horrid as well, which those paltry three wins attest to, despite a 3.03 ERA.
David Phelps and Dan Straily join the rankings and both have shown some pretty good skills so far, but an inability to strand runners has hurt both of their ERAs. There’s no guarantee that Phelps remains in the rotation all season or that he’ll even have the stamina to do so. And when Brett Anderson returns, there’s no guarantee Straily remains in the rotation.
Corey Kluber also joins the rankings and it’s safe to say that Mr. Carson Cistulli has some kind of fascination with the man. Since May 21, he has included Kluber’s name in the title of his daily notes a total of five times. That means a whopping 31% of his posts since then have discussed the Indians starter. Woah. I like Kluber and wrote about him last week. It’s hard to believe his underlying skills are sustainable, but he’s clearly pitching much better than his results would have you believe.
You may not have noticed, but since the disastrous month of April, Jarrod Parker’s skills have rebounded back to normal levels. Of course, normal levels aren’t all that exciting to me and he has remained at this ranking since the preseason. Kevin Gausman makes his rankings debut and really, he could be a lot higher or a lot lower by the end of the season. So far, his skills have been uninspiring. Despite being armed with a fastball that would rate first in average velocity among all starters, his SwStk% is very disappointing. He’s not in the greatest situation to succeed given his home park and division, but it’s hard not to be intrigued by his Double-A success and the quality of his stuff.
As expected, Jose Quintana’s skills have declined a bit in May, but not enough to make him completely worthless. Nick Tepesh’s extremely ground ball ways make him a poor man’s Cobb. He should remain a surprisingly decent pitcher, but a below average strikeout rate caps his fantasy value.
I moved Ubaldo Jimenez to the top of this tier, but that’s all I could muster. His May skills surge is intriguing, but one month isn’t enough for me to declare that he’s back, or anywhere close to it. Still, he certainly offers more upside than most of the dreck in this tier. Rick Porcello also gets a half-hearted endorsement on the heels of a strong May. He still has to deal with that terrible infield defense though and it’s still up for debate where his true talent strikeout ability currently stands.
I identified Bud Norris as a potential strikeout rate surger a couple of days ago, which is something his owners are praying for given his weak other skills. Unfortunately, his ERA is headed upward whether his strikeout rate rebounds or not and he’s just not in a good situation to earn any fantasy value. Zach McAllister sports a SIERA mark more than a full run above his actual ERA. He also doesn’t own a strong strikeout rate so once that regression takes place, he won’t provide any value whatsoever.
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