2014 AL Starting Pitcher Tier Rankings: July

We’re back at it again, checking in on the American League starting pitchers.

Tom Haverford

Yu Darvish
Felix Hernandez
Chris Sale
Max Scherzer
David Price
Masahiro Tanaka

The top tier continues to get it done, and as a result, there is no movement. Scherzer has posted nearly identical skills this year, but the luck pendulum has swung back the other way. His BABIP has shot up from .259 last season to an inflated .336 mark this year. His SIERA hasn’t changed, so it’s just a matter of getting better defensive support.

Speaking of changing fortunes, Price exited May with an uncharacteristic 4.27 ERA, despite a 2.84 xFIP. Since then, he has posted a 2.12 ERA, driven by a ridiculous 63/8 K/BB ratio over 46.2 innings. His HR/FB rate remains inflated, but better defensive support and a higher rate of stranding runners contributed to the results turnaround.

Tanaka just keeps rolling along, having not posted a monthly ERA above 2.27 yet. He sits third in baseball in SIERA, fourth in strikeout percentage, second in K-BB% and is way ahead leading baseball in SwStk%. He’s had some homer issues and has surprisingly allowed line drives at a rate that ranks fourth highest in the league. But those problems haven’t mattered and until batters figure out how to make contact with his splitter, he should continue to sail.

Ron Swanson

Jered Weaver
James Shields
Corey Kluber

Weaver’s HR/FB rate is at a career high and the first time it has sat above 9%. Is this the first sign of decline or just a small sample blip? We might not know for sure until next season ends. For now, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as everything else is fairly normal.

Kluber’s fantastic overall season has been buoyed by an insane May, when he posted a 1.79 xFIP with a Priceian 60/8 K/BB ratio. He’s still been excellent in the other two months, just not other-worldly.

Chris Traeger

Justin Verlander
Anibal Sanchez
Alex Cobb
Hisashi Iwakuma
Hiroki Kuroda

Verlander drops another tier as things haven’t gotten much better. His velocity remains at a career low and hasn’t improved throughout the season. While his skills did improve and were at their best of the season in June, they still pale in comparison to vintage Verlander level.

Anibal also drops a tier as his skills surge of last year is looking like a fluke. His velocity spike hasn’t been sustained and his SwStk% is at its lowest mark since 2007. He’s getting by right now thanks to a microscopic 2.4% HR/FB rate and low .243 BABIP. He’s a supreme sell high candidate.

If Iwakuma’s strikeout rate was a tick higher, he’d be due for a promotion. His skills are fantastic, but the strikeouts are a bit low.

Donna Meagle

R.A. Dickey
C.J. Wilson
Sonny Gray
Jon Lester
Scott Kazmir

Dickey drops yet another tier as his skills have been rather consistent the last two months, but haven’t taken the leap I have been expecting. He’s also on pace for exactly 200 innings, which is well below what he recorded the last two seasons and takes a bit out of his value. Part of my argument for Dickey’s placement in previous tiers was due to all the innings he would throw that would boost his win and strikeout totals. So with that perhaps out the window, we’re left with the hope of a high-3.00 ERA and a 1.25-1.30 WHIP, which is fine, but not too exciting.

I got beat up for ranking Gray down here, but I argued he had been extremely lucky so far. Sure enough, he has posted a 5.40 ERA after departing May with a 2.31 mark. The vast majority of pitchers simply cannot fend off the luck dragons from taking away what they had giveth. The same should be said of Kazmir whose ERA has risen since I traded him, but it still has room to go.

Andy Dwyer

John Lackey
Rick Porcello
Jose Quintana
Garrett Richards
Dallas Keuchel

Richards and Keuchel jump a tier as their breakouts are supported by skills surges. It’s unlikely that selling high would net the type of value to make it worth it, so owners should probably just hold on for the ride.

Jean-Ralphio

Jake Peavy
Yordano Ventura
Justin Masterson
Tyler Skaggs
Drew Smyly
Wei-Yin Chen
Chris Archer
Drew Hutchison
Collin McHugh
Marcus Stroman
Trevor Bauer
Jesse Chavez
Jake Odorizzi
Taijuan Walker
Kevin Gausman

Peavy drops a tier as he hasn’t posted an xFIP below 4.22 in any month. You can never be sure if the man is completely healthy and he’s become a rather blah pitcher who is only a matchup play in shallow mixed leagues, if he’s owned at all.

After returning from his elbow injury, Ventura’s strikeout rate has plummeted and we really don’t know for sure what kind of short or long-term effects the injury is going to have on his health and performance. His strikeout potential was the most intriguing facet of his game, so without it, he loses much of his luster.

I shared my thoughts on Odorizzi recently and he’s given up just one run over two starts since. He remains quite a risk given his extreme fly ball ways and reliance on the called strike, but with a SIERA nearly a full run below his actual ERA, there is upside here over the rest of the season.

Walker finally made his Mariners debut this year, and his fastball velocity was only down a tick from last year. This was a good sign given the amount of time he missed due to a shoulder injury.

Leslie Knope

Clay Buchholz
Mark Buehrle
Jason Vargas
Ubaldo Jimenez
Phil Hughes
Ricky Nolasco
Bud Norris
Chris Tillman
Tommy Milone
Josh Tomlin
Chase Whitley
Drew Pomeranz
Roenis Elias
Erik Bedard
Danny Duffy

Buchholz is back and his velocity has been better, which is a good sign. Of course, that didn’t help his strikeout ability, as he punched out just four batters over 13.2 innings. But his ERA should fall quickly and he should return to providing AL-Only league value and perhaps become a streamer candidate in mixed leagues.

What’s Buehrle drinking and where can I get my hands on this magical elixir? His skills are mirror images of what they have always been, with a SIERA the same as usual. The clock will strike midnight soon and he’ll be worthless again in mixed leagues.

Perd Hapley

Miguel Gonzalez
John Danks
Scott Feldman
Brad Peacock
Nick Tepesch

Peacock is the only guy here with any real upside. He somehow managed to post a 2.91 ERA in June, despite a gruesome 11/10 K/BB ratio over 21.2 innings during the month. But at least he’s shown some strikeout ability and better control in the past provides reason for optimism.

The Jerry/Gary/Larry Gergich Injury Tier

CC Sabathia
James Paxton
Michael Pineda
Brandon Morrow
Felipe Paulino




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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: 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.


42 Responses to “2014 AL Starting Pitcher Tier Rankings: July”

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  1. kman says:

    Time to move Shields down a tier? Very quietly his K% has dropped over past 2 seasons now, supported by drop in SwStr% as well. xFIP and SIERRA don’t suggest his ERA will drop much ROS. I think I’d at least take Cobb and Iwakuma over him, and probably some other guys from the tier below also.

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    • Emcee Peepants says:

      Agreed, FIP and xFIP increasing each month as well. His season stats are pretty ugly if you take away April: 4.93 ERA, 4.46 FIP, 4.00 xFIP, 5.99 k/9, swSTR% 8.2, 100 hits in 76.2 IP.

      I also still think Gray is being short-changed a little. I realize his ERA rose in June, but it was really it was only 2 bad starts. His FIP and xFIP were 3.04 and 3.71, respectively, and his K/9 was 9.0 with a 22.1 K%.

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    • Atreyu Jones says:

      Yeah if I offered Shields for Lester in my league I’d be laughed at.

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  2. 1800stfu says:

    Where is Adam Wainwright? He’s pretty good.

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  3. Ty Wiggington says:

    WHERE IS WADE MILEY???

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  4. Harb says:

    Shoemaker?

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  5. Los says:

    I know it is only one spot but would anyone even think of taking Verlander over Anibal going forward? You can make a case that Verlander ia all the way down in the Andy Dwyer tier.

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  6. John says:

    James Shields in tier 2? Sorry but no. He has been plain awful lately.

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  7. Nick says:

    Please explain the Kuroda ranking; he is way too high IMO. I’d prefer almost everyone in the 2 tiers below.

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  8. Will says:

    Mike, you should take a look at the past calendar leaderboard. Kazmir is 15th in ERA, which you argue is dependent on luck, but he’s also 15th, 16th, 15th and 11th in FIP, xFIP, SIERRA and K-BB% respectively (and that is both AL and NL, not just the former!). Just why do you think he’s going to sink enough to be in Tier 4? Also, he pitches in OAK (park factor 97) and in the AL East (LAA 96, SEA 94, HOU 99… even with TEX, they combine for below average).

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    • Innings and injury risk. It plays a big role in rankings since it affects win and strikeout potential. I don’t think he’s going to sink, just be less lucky over RoS

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      • Will says:

        Hmm, interesting, thanks for the reply. But Jeff’s PAIN score for him is in the 30s, and then you add in pace, which he also has said is a sign of health/worry, which is as low as ever, and I am not worried … even if past injury is predictive of future injury. Certainly not to the point that I’d factor in so low of performance relative to his peers going forward.

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  9. RubKleen says:

    Shields ranked higher than Lester, Sonny Gray, Lackey, Kazmir, Iwakuma and Sanchez. Yeah okay.

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    • OBlock says:

      I’d get more worked up about the pitcher formerly known as Justin Verlander being ranked so high.

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  10. Kris Gardham says:

    Mike, these rankings are weird even for you. I suppose most of your calls could be justified, but for some reason the really weird ones lack explanation.

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    • Kris says:

      I’ll fill in the blanks:

      James Shields has been terribly as of late, but the underlying skills are still there. My productivity suffers in a similar fashion when I’m dealing with the case of the clap. Solution: Buy Shields, Buy Shields Penicillin.

      Weaver has always had the ERA Gods on his side but the tried and tested fantasy rule of, when the fastball dips to 86mph, it’s time to 86 ’em. Yes, I’m suggesting that you murder Weaver. That’s the only way I’m taking him out of this tier. Most good pitchers rely on LOB% and BABIP while refusing to throw first-strike pitches.

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      • Kris says:

        If I were Canadian, I’d be Mike Pod-hoser. I’d also be slightly better looking and enjoy a stronger beer. Possibly even a 6.5% beer because I’m apparently obsessed with a K-Rate around that mark. Kuroda also is not Canadian.

        Speaking of Canada, I forgot that sorting the FIP charts on fangraphs requires a double click to order by ascending, not descending. I hate the metric system. I live in a world where RA Dickey and CJ Wilson are on the first-page of the FIP leaderboards.

        Oop, I think I figured it out. It looks as though Jon Lester is near the top of the FIP/xFIP leaderboards. Oh geez, Keuchal, Richards, Quintana are there too. Shit, shit, shit.

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      • Kris says:

        I’ve been doing ranks for a very long time, that’s why I repeatedly state the importance of K%, BB%, and GB%. Porcello did most of these things last year but was bit by the luck dragon. This year, he’s decided to eschew strike-outs and groundballs in favour of controllable stats like BABIP and LOB% — Buy, buy, buy! If Porcello’s confident enough to throw his below-average four-seamer more often, he’s confident enough to stay on your roster.

        Jake Peavy is awful. Chris Archer had one of the best Junes out there. These two belong in the same tier. Balance is important to me, so to balance Archer’s progression, I’ll toss Chavez’s digression into the mix.

        Somebody told me that Phil Hughes wasn’t walking anyone, ditched his two worst pitches in favour of a cutter, has almost a 40% O-Swing, and pounds the strike-zone like I pound brews. Or Hope Solo pounds bitches. Or I would pound Hope Solo while pounding brews. Who am I kidding, she’d break me.

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      • Kris says:

        left-handers who touch 98 are hard to come by, that’s why Bedard and Duffy go hand and hand. One is Canadian though and Canadians are tough as nails. If you’re digging this deep, you don’t want upside, you want maple-syrup and poutine.

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    • Kris says:

      After typing this, I have gained infinite respect for Eno: Terribly = terrible, 6.5% K% is 6.5K/9. And all british spellings of words should be changed to their american variants. I am totally not Canadian.

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      • Emcee Peepants says:

        I think I speak for everyone when I say, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

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      • Jason B says:

        I will go with “That seemed waaaaaaay funnier in Kris’s head than it translated once posted.”

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      • Kris says:

        I should probably limit stream of consciousness rotographs posts but I’d just done my rankings for all-star break trading so I had quite a bit of random factoids floating around.

        And, to the actual point, the actual rankings make zero sense and fail to rely on a single methodology which is unlike Pod.

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      • It’s not that I failed to use any methodology, it’s that in-season RoS rankings are impossible without projecting every single pitcher and then valuing those stat lines. Since I’m not going to do that, then it becomes massively difficult to rank with any sort of accuracy.

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  11. troy says:

    Based on performance since changing parks I would take Phil Hughes over all the young arms in the tier ahead of him.

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    • tommy says:

      Fully agree. At the very least, ahead of the likes of Jason Vargas and Wei-Yei Chen. Hughes has a YTD ERA/FIP/SIERA of 3.58/2.60/3.32. We also have a convenient and plausible explanation for the improvement. HR prone pitcher moves from HR haven to pitcher friendly stadium, HR/9 slashed from 1.48 to 0.69.

      The walk rate is likely not sustainable, but there’s plenty of room to allow for regression and still consider him a good bet to outperform most, if not all, of the pitchers listed in the Knope/Ralphio tiers.

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  12. Ian says:

    Is R.A. Dickey’s consistently high ranking some sort of running inside joke that I’m not privy to?

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    • tommy says:

      Fully agree. At the very least, ahead of the likes of Jason Vargas and Wei-Yei Chen. Hughes has a YTD ERA/FIP/SIERA of 3.58/2.60/3.32. We also have a convenient and plausible explanation for the improvement. HR prone pitcher moves from HR haven to pitcher friendly stadium, HR/9 slashed from 1.48 to 0.69.

      The walk rate is likely not sustainable, but there’s plenty of room to allow for regression and still consider him a good bet to outperform most, if not all, of the pitchers listed in the Knope/Ralphio tiers.

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  13. Db says:

    Archer is way too low.

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  14. Dave says:

    How is Ron Swanson not the highest tier?

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  15. bdsparty32 says:

    Where is Chris Young? He has been the 19th most valuable starting pitcher in standard 5×5 AL only leagues, but some how doesn’t get ranked within your top 60 SPs? I understand that his xFIP is terrible, but there was an article written on here a few days ago explaining that his ability to induce infield popups at an insane rate is a big reason for his success.

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  16. Jim Lahey says:

    What does Jon Lester need to do to move up?
    What justifies ranking him worse than any of tier 2 or 3 guys? He’s pitching well, projection systems liking him, I just don’t understand.

    Lackey is ranked lower than I would expect too (and he’s basically the same pitcher as Iwakuma/Kuroda with slightly more K’s). Are they being dinged because the Sox offense isn’t scoring runs?

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  17. Jeremy says:

    Where is Cueto?

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  18. The King says:

    Forget the pitchers. My biggest beef with these rankings is the utter lack of respect for Andy Dwyer and Jean-Ralphio. Chris and Donna ahead of them? GTFO

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  19. Ty Wiggington says:

    What does AL stand for? Because if it’s supposed to be “ALL” you forgot Wade Miley.

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  20. Bartleby says:

    Strange hate for Lester. He has been dealing. Why?

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  21. JJBellomo says:

    Someone call Burt Macklin to straighten out this debacle of a ranking (not the pitcher tiers, the order and in/exclusion of Parks & Rec. characters).

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