2013 AL Starting Pitcher Tier Rankings: May Update

It’s that week again, the time of the season when you get to put on your arguing boots and debate our updated tier rankings. As a reminder, these rankings are strictly based on projected rest of season performance. While the first month of statistics plays some (tiny) role in shaping my future projection, I am not technically weighting what has actually already happened. You can check out the preseason tier rankings for comparison.

You’re the Best

Justin Verlander

It’s either a testament to his absolute amazingness as a pitcher or a serious reason for concern, but Verlander’s fastball velocity is still at the lowest level of his career. It also hasn’t improved at all as he gets more starts under his belt. Since 2009, his max fastball velocity has been recorded at in excess of 101.0 mph. This year, that maximum has been just 96.6. Yet, despite this reduced velocity, Verlander has still been as dominant as always. Unbelievable. There literally isn’t a blemish to be found in his advanced metrics. So he remains atop the hill until there are any signs the lower velocity is affecting his performance.

Second Best

Felix Hernandez
Yu Darvish
David Price
James Shields
C.C. Sabathia
R.A. Dickey

Felix is another ace pitching at reduced velocity, but experiencing no ill effects to his performance. With his control, ground ball rate and assortment of secondary pitches, it’s clearly too early to worry. Darvish moves up within the tier for obvious reasons. Given his potential strikeout advantage and better offensive support perhaps leading to more wins, it’s conceivable he outearns Felix. It’s an open question as to whether Darvish can maintain the much improved walk rate, but his F-Strike% suggests he has made legitimate strides.

Price is yet another ace experiencing diminished velocity, but while some of his advanced metrics are normal, his K% is down. Still, his SIERA is barely above last season’s and nearly two full runs below his actual ERA. So far, Sabathia has suffered the largest skills decline after a velocity drop of this group of aces, so he drops within the tier. The groundball rate and K% are both down and his velocity has barely pushed above 90.0 in his last two starts. I’m this close to dropping Dickey a tier, but seriously, I have to give him more than 36.0 innings to prove last year was no fluke. Nothing really looks good, though his SwStk% has remained above 10%.

Strong Enough

Max Scherzer
Chris Sale
Jake Peavy
Matt Moore
Doug Fister
Jon Lester
Hiroki Kuroda

Scherzer is at it again, posting a ridiculous 2.05 SIERA, but 4.02 ERA. Once again he’s dealing with major BABIP issues as that stands at .380. Unlike last season though, the home run ball hasn’t been a problem early on. He has also joined the velocity decline club, but obviously his performance hasn’t gotten the note. Matt Moore makes for a perfect sell high candidate. He has benefited from an absurd .149 BABIP and a LOB% of, wait for it…100%! His strikeout rate is up, yet his SwStk% is way down and his F-Strike% is significantly below the league average. Basically, all his advanced metrics would suggest an ERA well above 4.00. My preseason ranking of Lester basically assumed a nearly full rebound, and so far so good. Though, I would also caution that his SwStk% and F-Strike% are down, so it might be too soon to declare that he’s back.

Seeing is Believing

Tommy Milone
Josh Johnson
Anibal Sanchez
Ryan Dempster
Alex Cobb
Clay Buchholz
Brandon Morrow
Jeremy Hellickson
C.J. Wilson
Brett Anderson
Jason Hammel

Some movement within the tier as Anibal Sanchez move up a rank or two, as does Dempster. Both are showing better strikeout ability than expected and at least Dempster’s has an explanation. Sanchez’s is inflated due to the game of his life versus the Braves, but he has shown the ability to strikeout a batter per inning once before. Cobb is the big winner, jumping a tier, as his bad fortune last year has turned into great luck this season. This is still the exact same pitcher SIERA tells us, but absent that bad luck, it’s a pretty darn good one. Buchholz is yet another big winner, jumping two tiers. I’m still not exactly sure how he’s doing it as his SwStk% is actually below last year, but he always possessed better stuff than his Major League strikeout rates would indicate. This seems like a safe enough tier to hedge my bets.

Morrow is a mess right now. His velocity is down and his one-time awesome strikeout ability has disappeared. Damn it Brett Anderson, STAY HEALTHY! Was he even completely healthy before he hit the DL? He had walked 15 batters in 29.0, which is very unlike the lefty who usually displays pinpoint control. He has some of the best potential to rocket up these rankings, but there’s always something with him that prevents it from happening. I wrote about Hammel last week and after another poor start from a skills perspective, he’ll be dropped a tier in the next rankings update if he doesn’t start showing better skills.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

Derek Holland
Hisashi Iwakuma
Alexi Ogando
Phil Hughes
Felix Doubront
Wei-Yin Chen
Roberto Hernandez

Iwakuma has been dominant so far and has moved up a tier, though his pitch mix is identical to last year. He has thrown more first pitch strikes and induced swings and misses at a higher rate, but unfortunately his ground balls have disappeared. It’s tempting to move Ogando up a tier, but first of all, he is likely facing an innings limit. Second, he has benefited from some good luck so far, while his velocity is well down from the last time he started back in 2011. His F-Strike% and Zone% are also far below previous years and the league average, so either that improves, or his walk rate is going to jump.

I still don’t understand where this sudden strikeout ability of Felix Doubront came from, but he’s been keeping it up, so that alone gives him marginal value. Roberto Hernandez joins the rankings and I’m already being fairly aggressive, despite his underwhelming 5.28 ERA. I discussed him yesterday and believe his changeup has made him a new pitcher.

Livin’ on the Edge

Ervin Santana
Justin Masterson
Jose Quintana
Jarrod Parker
J.A. Happ
Andy Pettitte
A.J. Griffin
Nick Tepesch

Ervin Santana jumps a tier, but that’s not saying much as he began the season at the bottom. Should he be even higher? Perhaps, since his 3.30 SIERA suggests that he has been no fluke. But he’s still the same fastball-slider pitcher he has always been, generating a couple more swinging strikes than usual and throwing more first pitch strikes. He remains prone to the long ball and his historical career SIERA doesn’t offer much confidence to put him any higher for the time being. Masterson moves out of the basement, as he’s using his slider more frequently, which has upped his strikeout rate.

As promised, Jose Quintana joins the rankings, and I discussed him last week. Parker has been a disaster so far. I was pessimistic on him to begin with, which is why his ranking doesn’t actually change, but I didn’t expect this. The odd thing is that both his F-Strike% and SwStk% is up, so you have to think it’s just a matter of time before he rebounds. Happ also joins the tiers, though I am worried about all those fly balls.

The Great Disappointment

Jason Vargas
Bud Norris
Tommy Hanson
Mark Buehrle
Zach McAllister
Wade Davis
Ubaldo Jimenez
Rick Porcello
Chris Tillman
John Lackey
Scott Diamond

Poor Tommy Hanson. His fastball is averaging just above 88.0 mph, after sitting above 92.0 during his first two years in Atlanta. That’s killed his ability to strike batters out, and with it goes his potential fantasy value. Zach McCallister certainly appears to be better than a basement level starter, but his SIERA stands at 4.15 and his SwStk% is well below the league average, suggesting his already mediocre strikeout rate may be in for decline. Seriously, Rick Porcello? You were spectacular in spring training and struck out enough batters to make some believe you were in for a breakout, and at the very least, a strikeout rate spike. But now after a month in the books, you have punched out a paltry 8 batters in 19.1 innings. Just another tick in the “spring training stats mean nothing” check box.


Jered Weaver
Gavin Floyd
Ivan Nova
Matt Harrison
Brett Myers

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

52 Responses to “2013 AL Starting Pitcher Tier Rankings: May Update”

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  1. Adam says:

    I have no real reason to disagree with the ranking but think that either Lohse or Lance Lynn would make list if not both. Maybe later in the year.

    -8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • PhilliPTH says:

      This is an AL list, Lohse and Lynn are in the NL

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    • batpig says:

      Seriously? You managed to completely fail to see the “AL” in the title, and then when perusing the list the objection you raise is the exclusion of Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn? Not Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee, or even Cole Hamels as your brother in ignorance Frank Grigas noticed?

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  2. Frank R Grigas says:

    What happened to Hamels?

    -12 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Ned host says:

    Where is Big Game James?

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  4. Ned host says:

    He’s a beast

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  5. Ned host says:

    Good job

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Frank R Grigas says:

    Oops, sorry.

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  7. mark d says:

    Where is Jeremy Guthrie?

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  8. Ross says:

    Any insight on Jake Peavy?

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  9. Jake says:

    Bartolo Colon?

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  10. jB4s7 says:

    Morrow’s velo is slightly up from last year.

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  11. JimLahey says:

    Surprised Pettitte is this low? I’d take him over half the list in the I’m not Okay (I Promise) (Holland Iwakuma and Ogando>Pettitte).

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  12. zach says:

    Where’s New Jersey Jackals catcher Jeff Lanning?

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  13. Ryan says:

    Where does Bartolo Colon fit?

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  14. phillies0100 says:

    Who would be a trade target to get for Moore?

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  15. bodukes32 says:

    Matt Cain??

    -6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Andrew says:

    note. Matt Moore makes for a perfect sell high candidate. He has benefited from an absurd .149 BABIP and a LOB% of, wait for it…100%! His strikeout rate is up, yet his SwStk% is way down and his F-Strike% is significantly below the league average. Basically, all his advanced metrics would suggest an ERA well above 4.00

    It’s not his fault that advanced stats can’t comprehend that Moore’s stuff is better than everyone else’s. Stop trying to justify this by saying that he’s due for regression just because his numbers are better than you are used to seeing.

    He’s allowed 13 hits in 32 innings. Of course his strand rate is going to be absurdly high – runners aren’t even getting in scoring position against the guy unless he’s walking multiple guys per inning, and he’s rarely giving up hits at all. It’s tough to have a low stand rate when you’re giving up less than half a hit per inning.

    -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • davisnc says:

      Is this a joke? Citing a low number of hits per inning doesn’t exactly counter an argument that includes BABIP as a central premise.

      Find me one pitcher who has sustained a .149 BABIP. For a little friendly context, Bob Gibson’s career BABIP was .268. Moving into the modern era, Clemens’ was .284. Pedro’s was .279. Randy Johnson’s was .291. All “stuff” guys with Hall of Fame credentials.

      Just wanted to make you aware that your argument commits you the position that Matt Moore has better stuff than, and is a better pitcher than, Pedro Martinez. Might want to slow your roll.

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  17. jkud says:

    Read this and dealt Matt Moore and an 8th round pick for Matt Cain and a 1st, thank you FanGraphs!

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    • Jason B says:

      Holy cow. You better get some extra hangers, because you took that guy (gal? child?) to the cleaners.

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  18. Andrew says:

    If you agree that his ERA should be WELL ABOVE 4.00 just because he strands everyone and hitters rarely get good wood on the ball, I’m missing your point. The .149 BABIP wasn’t the main context of my argument so don’t make it out to be that it was.He’s been absolutely dominant so far and doesn’t need to sustain a BABIP of .149 to stay absolutely dominant.

    I happen to believe that Moore’s stuff is just as good as the guys you named so you won’t have any argument on that front from me.

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    • Cognitive dissonance says:

      In other words, don’t be showing up with your silly “facts” and unpersuasive “evidence” – I’ve made up my mind and won’t be swayed! WEAK SAUCE!!

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    • davisnc says:

      BABIP was hugely important to your argument that Matt Moore’s stuff is SO good that it literally breaks advanced metrics in a way that no one ever has before. Your ENTIRE LAST PARAGRAPH, which is the only analysis you offer, is all about hit avoidance, and you correctly point out that hit avoidance correlates with and explains LOB%.

      However, the point is that his hit avoidance is absolutely insane right now, to the extent that is impossible to sustain. He WILL regress. Period. Which is fine; he can regress from a 1.13 ERA and still be a damn good pitcher. Your argument seems to misunderstand what the author means by “regression.” Your denial that he is due for regression is wrong, and makes you come across as a knee-jerk fanboy.

      I don’t think his ERA should be above 4. I think it should probably be in the mid-threes, where his xFIP and SIERA sit. To the extent that hit avoidance is a skill, he should possess it, given the quality of his stuff. He does not possess it in such high quantities that a .149 BABIP can be attributed to anything but SSS good fortune. I promise.

      The walks will start to hurt when the hits start to fall; that black eye on his game is being hidden by batted ball fortune for the time being. Matt Moore is a good pitcher. He’s not this good.

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      • Andrew says:

        He doesn’t have to be THIS good to be really one of the elite pitchers and have a sub 2.50 era the rest of the year.

        There’s no reason to believe “the hits will start to fall” – that’s just the gambler’s fallacy, assuming that just because he’s been getting outstanding results so far, that future results are dependent upon the events that have already transpired, and that he’s due to regress because of that.

        Additionally, the hits are not likely to just “start to fall” because hitters have a lot of trouble making solid contact off of the guy as evidenced by his 11.6% LD% – how is that a stat that the author (and you) conveniently ignore in your argument that he’s due for a major regression – and yes the author is stating just that.

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      • davisnc says:

        I’m about done with this, but I’ll play one more round. It’d be a gambler’s fallacy if I stated that his batted ball and strand luck are due to OVER-CORRECT to compensate for his relatively good fortune thus far. Not saying that. I’m saying his results moving forward will be closer to his true talent level, which, I hate to burst your bubble, is not captured in a 1.13 ERA. Which isn’t a knock; no one’s that good. He gets to keep his stats so far, so that will improve whatever his final line ends up being. Phew. Fallacy avoided.

        You’re moving the goalposts: first he’s not due for regression at all. Now you allow that he doesn’t have to be THIS good to remain really good, which seemingly admits that some regression is likely. Then you accuse me of being willfully ignorant a very noisy and somewhat subjective stat (batted ball rate), when I AGREED that he has the skillset that stereotypically avoids hard contact and boosts hit avoidance, to the extent possible.

        My initial point, though, was that his BABIP is more than 100 points lower than all-time “stuff” greats. That’s going to go up. Hence, he will regress. I’m not sure why this is a debate. Even if I grant you that his stuff is as good as Pedro’s, we should STILL expect regression. He had the same or better stuff last year (higher velocity, at least) and posted a .293 BABIP in 177.1 innings. Bigger sample size; same pitcher.

        Last thing: there have been 9 pitcher-seasons in baseball history that featured >=4.22 BB/9 and <=2.50 ERA, per B-R's Play Index. As a non-paying member, I can't see the individual results, but I'd bet that most of them took place well before the Great Depression. If you really believe that Matt Moore's current skillset from this very season, which features 4.22 BB/9 puts him on pace to join that company as #10, well, more power to you, dude. All I can say is my sample sizes are a hell of a lot bigger than your LD% from the first five starts of 2013.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. ML says:

    Max has pitched in some tough weather conditions thus far..i’m never putting dickey above him..

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  20. attgig says:

    Your rankings utterly disappoint me….

    Your ranking names, that is… I just saw a radiohead ranking list, and a windows rankings list…

    I read your first title…you’re the best, and I immediately thought Karate Kid! (especially after this week’s HIMYM episode). and I was thinking, maybe they’ll put other scenes from Karate Kid, or maybe other movie theme songs as titles for each of the rankings……

    wow, I was so utterly disappointed when I went from you’re the best…to…. second best. WHAT?!?!?

    get those creative juices flowing please. Please fix this ASAP! this must be the worst piece of rankings that the rotographs community has ever produced! (and I’m kinda joking…but I’m kinda not….)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. yourmommustbestupidtoo11 says:

    How is Lester in there but Bucholz isn’t? Really, how are most of those guys in there but Bucholz isn’t?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • steviek says:

      Because, as the old arguement goes, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Buchholz has ++ velocity and movement. He’s had a problem with location that’s led to walks & HR’s which is death in fangraph world. There’s enough sample to assume his control will regress, but it’s more than plausible that a guy with Buchholz’s stuff and at this stage of his career can master it. And it’s happening. Next spring we’ll probably read how this year was likely a fluke. Cool with me.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • batpig says:

      Jesus christ you Red Sox fan whiny babies. Buchholz is a grand total of SEVEN spots behind Lester in the rankings, just one tier below. What a mortal insult, oh the humanity!!

      You don’t think Lester’s longer track record of success justifies him being ranked SLIGHTLY higher?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Murray says:

    I love the book plug on the side of the page. Learn the secrets of how to manually create baseball player statistics that are comparable to those automatically generated by technical models.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • That’s funny that my ad appeared next to the article for you. I’m not going to describe the book here, but you can check out a free preview of the book on the site, or send me an email for more details.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. CPT says:

    Where is (NL Starting pitcher) ?!?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. Schide says:

    Where would Smyly rank if he were starting? Thanks.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. The Flaming FIPs says:

    If Whitey Ford weren’t still on the DL from pretzel-related injuries, where would he rank?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. Giovani says:

    I find it absurd, neigh downright negligent, that Catfish Hunter is not on this list. He should be tier two, easy.

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  27. wily mo says:

    nap lajoie? paul assenmacher?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  28. batpig says:

    If I was going to nitpick I would say Brett Anderson is way too high. If you are going to ding Alexi Ogando for the fact that he is facing an innings limit, it seems crazy to have Brett Anderson so high considering the massive injury risk. The guy pitched 112 innings three years ago, and then barely topped that (118 IP) the past two years combined. Now he is on the DL again.

    Let’s not forget this is a pitcher with a career stats of 3.74 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 7.03 K/9, and 3.56 xFIP / 3.59 SIERRA. He’s not THAT spectacular that he needs to be ranked in the same tier as guys with similar or better stat profiles like Anibal Sanchez who are actually healthy.

    Final nitpick is that Phil Hughes seems too high. He’s pretty awful. I’d rather have Ervin Santana at this point.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  29. Shawnuel says:

    In Regards to selling high on Moore in a trade: I’d agree if 2013 was the only year you owned him but if I am in a keeper league and have him for 3 more seasons beyond this on at the absurdly low rates of $1, $1, $11 and $11 wouldn’t it be prudent to hold onto him in almost all cases? Well, unless you are offered Harper or Trout, but I have both of them at the same rates, so…….

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason says:

      I’d say leave that league as they obviously aren’t paying attention. Matt Moore, Harper and Trout? Do you have Castro, Profar, and Myers too?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

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