2014 AL Starting Pitcher Tier Rankings: June

It’s that time again, updated American League starting pitcher tiers! We’re now far enough into the season where I have to finally take skills changes into serious consideration. Velocity changes are real, as are changes in repertoire and various advanced metrics such as the strike type percentages. While I have sometimes in the past concerned myself with rankings within tiers, I am not doing so anymore. They did begin in descending order of my projected dollar value, but it’s simply not all that helpful to determine whether Tanaka is above or below King Felix at this point. So, consider any pitcher within a tier to be worth within a several buck range of each other.

Tom Haverford

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

Not surprisingly, these are the same guys that have appeared in the top tier all along. While we always consider starting pitching a bit more inconsistent than their offensive counterparts, these guys have been as good as you could expect. They all rank within the top eight in the AL in SIERA and Sale would be atop the list if he had pitched enough innings.

The only one that sticks out like a sore thumb at the moment is David Price. He has somehow managed to post a 4.27 ERA, despite a sparkling 2.72 SIERA and insanely ridiculous 90/9 K:BB ratio. I loathe trading for pitching, but if you could steal a potential ace the rest of the season for less than the going rate of an ace, then I’d pounce.

Ron Swanson

Justin Verlander
Anibal Sanchez
Jered Weaver
James Shields
Corey Kluber

It had to be done. Justin Verlander has been dropped from his home in the top tier. In reality, only his name and history is keeping him even this high. His skills are in free fall, between his strikeout and walk rates and his ability to induce swings and misses. His fastball velocity has dipped again and is sitting at another career low. And that supposed ability to suppress hits on balls in play? Yeah, that’s long gone. Did he ever really possess such a skill to begin with or did he just benefit from some excellent defensive support for a couple of years? He obviously needs to be given the benefit of the doubt, but the moment he appeared in my SIERA overperformers article, he has allowed 14 runs in his three starts since, for a brutal 6.63 ERA.

Despite the continuation of Jered Weaver‘s skills, he continues to outshine his expected ERA metrics by inducing tons of fly balls and pop-ups which annually suppresses his BABIP. I was one who was proclaiming the end was near, but I no longer believe this is the case. However, the risk continues to increase as his velocity falls.

I received several death threats from members of the Corey Kluber Society if I didn’t change his ranking, so Kluber actually jumps two whole tiers. He’s third in the AL in SIERA and striking out over a batter per inning with the called and swinging strikes rates to support it. Throwing a ton of strikes doesn’t hurt either. Only the Indians defense can let him down at this point.

Chris Traeger

R.A. Dickey
Alex Cobb
Hisashi Iwakuma
Hiroki Kuroda

I’ve been stubborn, but finally believe that maybe R.A. Dickey deserves to drop a tier. He’s been up and down most of the season, but his skills were much better in May and his SwStk% is up for the year over last. His innings total boosts his value, so it’s not all about the ERA and WHIP here.

Hisashi Iwakuma has been rolling since returning from his injury, but he doesn’t have quite the strikeout ability to push him into the tier above. That said, he’s inducing tons of grounders and isn’t walking a soul. I dropped Hiroki Kuroda last month, but I remain very confident that his ERA will be below 4.00 in short order. His SIERA has been almost identical since 2011, and it’s just been a flukey low LOB% that has inflated his ERA.

Donna Meagle

C.J. Wilson
Sonny Gray
Jon Lester
Scott Kazmir

Yeah yeah, Sonny Gray is still hanging out down here. I just can’t bring myself to upgrade a pitcher whose SIERA is over a full run above his actual ERA. I like him, I promise, but the strikeouts haven’t been there and once his BABIP normalizes, his WHIP won’t be quite as tasty.

Although Jon Lester is posting the best skills of his career, along with a ridiculous 29% strikeout rate, I’m not sure where this is coming from. His strike type percentages certainly don’t support such a high strikeout rate, and it’s being propped up a bit by a high foul strike rate, which is the least sustainable.

Although I did recommend selling Scott Kazmir last week, he gets a promotion here. I clearly overerestimated the overall perception of Kazmir, as I’m really not sure why people still don’t believe he’s for real. I do believe he’s for real, just figured he’s at the peak of his value, which is precisely when you should sell a player.

Andy Dwyer

Jake Peavy
Yordano Ventura
John Lackey
Justin Masterson
Rick Porcello
Jose Quintana

Jake Peavy drops a tier. I’m an unfortunate owner of his in two leagues and I have no idea what has happened to him. His strike percentage is at its lowest mark since 2008 and SwStk% at a career low. At age 33 and a history of arm injuries, you always wonder if he’s completely healthy when he’s struggling like this.

I considered dropping Yordano Ventura after his injury, but I would have to believe the Royals would want to be extremely cautious with him if they believed there was a serious problem. Since he should be back shortly, then we can take a wait and see approach, but there’s more risk now than before.

Funny, now the luck is finally on Rick Porcello‘s side, but his strikeout rate has declined after last year’s surge. And even without Jose Iglesias, his BABIP has dipped below .300 for the first time. That’s rather surprising though given a high 26% line drive rate.


Tyler Skaggs
Drew Smyly
Wei-Yin Chen
Chris Archer
Drew Hutchison
Garrett Richards
Dallas Keuchel
Collin McHugh
Rubby de la Rosa
Marcus Stroman
Trevor Bauer

Tyler Skaggs has become a new pitcher, which is similar in overall effectiveness in real baseball, but reduces his value a bit in fantasy due to the lower strikeout rate. But I have to imagine that the added velocity will eventually lead to some sort of strikeout rebound.

Drew Hutchison is enjoying the breakout I told you was possible during spring training, but I’m concerned about how many innings he’ll be allowed to go, which hurts his value going forward.

Garrett Richards jumps a tier, as some better luck has his ERA back in line with SIERA, even though that SIERA is identical to last year. That high octane fastball is finally leading to a strikeout rate we expected.

Dallas Keuchel jumps a tier as his slider and extreme ground ball ways has shockingly led to a SIERA that’s second in the AL. But he’s supported by a bad offense and his strike percentage suggests his walk rate is due to rise, perhaps significantly.

I’m very cautiously optimistic about Rubby de la Rosa. He clearly has the strikeout ability and has generated lots of grounders in the minors, but his control will be what determines how well he performs. Trevor Bauer, but without the ground balls. His strikeout ability alone gives him real mixed league potential.

Leslie Knope

Mark Buehrle
Jason Vargas
Miguel Gonzalez
Ubaldo Jimenez
Phil Hughes
Ricky Nolasco
Bud Norris
Jesse Chavez
Chris Tillman
Tommy Milone
Josh Tomlin
Chase Whitley
Jake Odorizzi
Drew Pomeranz
Nick Tepesch

Phil Hughes’ skills are where they typically are, with the only difference coming from the fact that he’s walked just eight batters all year. That’s not something I think is sustainable, as I’d much prefer his improved SIERA to be the result of a strikeout rate spike or more ground balls. As a result, I’m reluctant to push him up a tier.

I think the Jesse Chavez train is about to crash. His strikeout rate is buoyed by a ridiculous called strike rate, which is well above anything he’s done before. It doesn’t make me all that confident he could sustain such a rate. Meanwhile, his SwStk% is at a career low and below the league average. I think he’ll be fine and a streamer option in shallower mixed leagues, but nothing more.

Chase Whitley‘s slider and changeup have both generated above average swinging strike rates. Combine that with good control and ground ball rate and he could surprise.

Perd Hapley

John Danks
Scott Feldman
Brad Peacock

This tier was several reduced because the majority of it ended up on the DL. Brad Peacock has some potential, but will obviously need to stop walking everyone in sight.

The Jerry/Gary/Larry Gergich Injury Tier

CC Sabathia
James Paxton
Clay Buchholz
Michael Pineda
Brandon Morrow
Taijuan Walker
Zach McAllister
Bruce Chen
Felix Doubront
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.

51 Responses to “2014 AL Starting Pitcher Tier Rankings: June”

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  1. Bbboston says:

    Danny duffy?

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  2. Nabob McNabb says:

    No love for Roenis Elias?

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  3. Kris says:

    at what tier are guys droppable and just streaming options in mixed leagues? Leslie Knope tier?

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    • Kyle says:

      It is probably about half of the Jean-Ralphio tier (the ones who are available or been dropped by a less sharp owner) and most of the Knope tier.

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  4. Guy says:

    You are way too high on Jake Peavy and way too low on Hisashi Iwakuma. Corey Kluber is better than every tier-two pitcher. Just saying.

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    • SB12 says:

      Ditto for both; as a Sox fan, watching Peavy this year has been difficult at best. On the other hand, as an owner, watching Iwakuma has been delightful.

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  5. Emcee Peepants says:

    I don’t get why Weaver gets a pass for having a high SIERA vs. ERA but Gray does not. You use essentially the same logic to keep Weaver high as you do to keep Gray low, only Weaver is a FB pitcher and Gray is a GBaller. Longer track record?

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    • Detroit Michael says:

      Weaver has been outperforming SIERA and other ERA predictors for a long time. It does years’ worth of data to predict with confidence that a pitcher has a persistent skill that the ERA predictors aren’t picking up. (In Weaver’s case, he has lots of IF/FB but also seems to be able to induce weak contact, i.e. lower than usual BABIP, even beyond the pop-up frequency.)

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      • Emcee Peepants says:

        What do you mean by “it”? If “it” means SIERA then you are saying SIERA is picking up on the fact that Weaver induces weak contact and suppresses BABIP, which would therefore mean his SIERA would be lower, right?

        My question was why one SIERA underperformer gets the benefit of the doubt (Weaver) where another SIERA underperformer (Gray) does not. If it’s just that Gray has only done it for 22 starts rather than 243, I can live with that, but with his batted ball profile and stuff, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is sustainable.

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      • Detroit Michael says:

        It takes years of out-performing SIERA to state with confidence that there is a skill there not detected by SIERA. Doing “it” (out-performing SIERA) for 243 starts makes one much more confident that there is an underlying skill there, not just random variation than doing it for just 22 starts does.

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    • What Detroit Michael said, plus, I don’t get what you mean that Gray has the batted ball profile to sustain a low BABIP. He’s an extreme ground baller and ground balls go for hits more often than flies. He has precisely the type of profile that would lead to a higher BABIP, not a lower one.

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  6. skeptical observer says:

    These tiers and your thinking are mired in the past. Try getting someone who owns Keuchel to trade him for Dickey or Kuroda. The sound of the laughter you hear will be your indication that Keuchel should not be two tiers lower.

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    • Detroit Michael says:

      Perhaps the article is trying to tell you where pitchers should be valued approximately, not where your leaguemates currently value them. (Obviously, the author may be wrong.)

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  7. Tom Foolishness says:

    Lester down in the 4th tier while Verlander is up the 2nd? I’m surprised you don’t have Johan Santana as a top guy if you’re putting THAT much weight on past performance.

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    • Well let’s see, we’re only two months into the season and we have many, many seasons of data on these two pitchers. Why would I weight two months so significantly more than many full seasons?

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  8. SB12 says:

    It’s becoming clear to me that Lester is a good/very good pitcher that can get fired up and raise his game to the next level: whether it’s in the playoffs, or, as it is now, pitching for a new contract. Also, I think his getting accustomed to working with David Ross is helping a lot, too.

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  9. KilleBrews says:

    Rubby in a tier with Dallas K, McHugh and Archer? He is sitting on my 12 tm mixed wire. Perhaps I need to look into him a bit more.

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  10. Ian says:

    Could you lay out the argument for why Dickey deserves to be in Tier 3 vs. anywhere from Tier 4 to Tier 6, which is where most of the pitchers with similar (expected) stat lines reside?

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    • Innings is one reason. He’s pitched around 220 of them the last two years.

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    • majnun says:

      So keep in mind that in leagues where there is talent on waiver you should value dickey much less than this site. Innings in many if not most leagues are not important, and it leads to constant undervaluing of guys like iwakuma and Ventura (pre-injury) and overvaluing of guys like dickey. ONLY IN LEAGUES WHERE THERE IS TALENT ON WAIVERS.

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  11. meowmix says:

    What about PITCHER X ????? You have no justification for leaving him off. Or if he’s on for putting him in a tier below where he should be. This is objective fact after all.

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    • Emcee Peepants says:

      I personally think the discussion of commenters’ opinions on tiering is just as valuable as the actual article. Finding out how others value certain players and how that valuation differs from my own is extremely valuable when it comes to fake baseball.

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  12. PBMax says:

    I just acquired Price & Jansen for Upton & Qualls. I had too many OF(Puig, Springer, Joey Bats, Blackmon, & Khris Davis). Not sure if I acquired Price for less than an ace but I’d like to hope so. thoughts?

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    • Jason B says:

      Given your team composition I think that is a very reasonable deal for you.

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    • Lenard says:

      Yeah, that’s a pretty stacked outfield, especially with Davis finally heating up. I’d do that deal in a heartbeat.

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  13. Grant says:

    Hiroki Kuroda is way to high!

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  14. Ben says:

    “Did he ever really possess such a skill to begin with or did he just benefit from some excellent defensive support for a couple of years?”
    You’ve got it backwards–the Tigers have had terrible defenses for years (the 1000 pound infield of Cabrera, Fielder, Peralta, and Infante as an example), and Verlander has been excellent. They’ve shored things up this year, and look at how’s he doing. Some people thrive under adverse circumstances.

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  15. Luke says:

    I love seeing that aggressive ranking for Kluber!

    As a Dickey owner, I can tell you that I would gladly trade him 1-1 for Jon Lester, and I think I like Dickey more than most.

    A few guys who are missing: Elias, Duffy, and Phelps (although maybe Phelps doesn’t quite deserve a ranking).

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  16. Cory S. says:

    The real problem with this ranking is where Andy Dwyer falls. He should be tier three at the least.

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  17. Jim Lahey says:

    Lester should be 2 tiers higher, if not on tier 1.

    Really by every stat you look at on the season he is among the top 6 pitchers in the AL. Most of them he’s top 3.

    I’d rank them like this:
    Tanaka, Hernandez, Darvish, Lester in the top tier. Sale if you trust his health now, if you don’t slide him to T2. Price, Kluber, Scherzer in the next. Price giving up too many HR, I don’t like Kluber being on Cleveland & his career BABIP against is .335 (this yr .336), and Scherzer I just don’t like enough, I don’t trust his ERA to stay low with the amount of flyballs he gives up.

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    • Justin says:

      Scherzer not in the top tier but Lester is. That doesn’t make sense. Lester should be higher than he is though.

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  18. Babyspittle says:

    McHugh, too few innings/starts?

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  19. bdsparty32 says:

    How is Ron Swanson not Tier 1???

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  20. Les R says:

    Where is Julio Teheran?

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  21. Kyle says:

    Thoughts on trading Gray for offense?

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  22. Paul Allen says:

    Did Tyler Skaggs get run over by a Lexus?

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  23. Walt says:

    Where’s Chad Ogea?

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  24. Mark says:

    Dickey ahead of Cobb? You’re pretty bad at this dude

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    • Emcee Peepants says:

      Reading comprehension is for suckers:

      “While I have sometimes in the past concerned myself with rankings within tiers, I am not doing so anymore. They did begin in descending order of my projected dollar value, but it’s simply not all that helpful to determine whether Tanaka is above or below King Felix at this point. So, consider any pitcher within a tier to be worth within a several buck range of each other.”

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  25. mw says:

    Iwakuma, Kazmir, Lester higher, at least one tier each.
    Kluber lower one tier.
    Dickey and Kuroda lower at least two tiers each.

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