AL Starting Pitchers: The Unranked

A week and a half ago, I unveiled the preseason American League starting pitcher tiered rankings. Obviously, I couldn’t rank every single pitcher currently with a rotation spot. So today I’ll take a look at some of the unranked guys and what kind of potential they have in breaking in to the rankings.

Jake Arrieta | BAL

Last season, Arrieta owned one of the largest discrepancies between ERA and SIERA I have ever seen, especially for a pitcher who threw more than 100 innings. On the surface, it would appear that he’s an excellent breakout candidate given his strikeout and walk rates. Normally, I would agree. However, his F-Strike% was poor, sitting well below the league average and identical to what he posted the previous season when he walked nearly 4.5 batters per 9. His strikeout rate also looks like a mirage, as it was supported by a mere 7.8% SwStk%, also well below the league average. The velocity jump was exciting initially, but it didn’t lead to much of a SwStk% increase. As a result, I expect his peripherals to regress closer to his career averages, which means another ERA above 4.00 is likely.

J.A. Happ | TOR

After Ricky Romero was demoted to the minors, Happ was named to the Blue Jays rotation. Though you wouldn’t know it by just looking at his ERA, Happ’s skills surged last year and finally became worth rostering on fantasy teams. His batted ball distribution suddenly flip flopped after he spent his previous years as a fly ball pitcher, while his strikeout rate jumped and walk rate fell. Behind the improved peripherals was another increase in his fastball velocity — since his debut in 2007, his velocity has increased every single season. He also easily posted the highest SwStk% of his career, while his F-Strike% jumped above the league average for the first time. While he’s more likely to experience some skills regression than not, he remains intriguing in AL-Only leagues.

Brad Peacock | HOU

Overshadowed by Houston’s acquisition of Chris Carter in its deal with the Athletics, the team also received a pitcher who was once a pretty good prospect in the Nationals system. He somehow managed to post an ERA over 6.00 at Triple-A last year, despite striking out over a batter per inning. I had no idea that was possible. A .340 BABIP and low LOB% conspired against him and ruined his results. In early February, Colin Zarzycki published a detailed write-up of Peacock’s performance, so I want rehash it. Looking at his minor league stats, it seems that his control comes and goes, so it’s up in the air how he’ll perform in regards to his walk rate. The Astros offense has been whifftastic so far and unlikely to provide a whole lot of run support, so Peacock isn’t exactly in the best situation. I think I might take a shot on him before Arrieta, but I’m not too optimistic here, especially given his fly ball ways in a home run inflating park.

Brandon Maurer | SEA

In a surprising move, the Mariners named Maurer to the rotation, rather than sleeper favorite Erasmo Ramirez. Now that Ramirez is dealing with triceps soreness, we might have our explanation. Maurer is a 22-year-old rookie who has yet to throw a pitch at the Triple-A level. That should already sound the alarm bells, especially since his Double-A performance was more “meh” than anything. Ignore the ERA and focus on the mediocre strikeout and walk rates. I don’t think he’ll last in the Mariners rotation very long and expect him to get demoted to Triple-A after a couple of poor outings. As such, I wouldn’t touch him in any leagues.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He 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.

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another know it all
another know it all

Stats aren’t everything with prospects. I think ignoring the scouting reports on Maurer will prove to be a mistake on your part.