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 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.

16 Responses to “AL Starting Pitchers: The Unranked”

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  1. another know it all says:

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

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    • Well I’m not going to draft on potential and the hope his stuff eventually translates into strikeouts. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. If he couldn’t strike out a respectable rate of hitters at Double-A, what makes one think he will at the MLB level?

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      • Jonathan Sher says:

        His average fastball was up in velocity by 2-3 mph in March, sitting at close to 95 mph. There is a strong correlation between velocity and strikeouts, which is why Fangraphs typically reports when an established pitcher has lost or gained velocity.

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      • TC says:

        Watching Maurer through 4 innings versus the Angels and here’s the scoop: working quickly from the get-go; getting ahead early in the count. Good life on the fastball sits at 94 mph, slider with good action around 87-89 mph. Curve is a kind of 11 to 5 with a loop. Displays a ton of confidence.

        5th inning…4 pitch called strikeout showed all pitches and then walks the next batter with a curve on 3-2 pitch, gives up soft line drive to center on next batter to put runners on 1st and 2nd. Without slowing his pace, he gets 5-4-3 DP to end the inning.

        I’m buying. I like the velocity I’m seeing and his slider is missing bats. He looks the part and his doesn’t appear to be thinking. Just gets the sign from his catcher, rocks and fires. Nice control and pace…, his defense is on their toes behind him.

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  2. Ian says:

    IMO, Arrieta’s issue is that his fastball is too straight, and becomes very hittable. After about the 4th inning, i.e. when his decent curveball loses some of its snap, he becomes VERY hittable. This would explain some of the discrepancies in velocity compared to SwStrk%.

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  3. Lftfiytciyrihfcjgfkugfkugfukggufuk says:

    Congrats on covering Houston under the AL beat. It’s been a problem around here.

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  4. Baroque6 says:

    The other thing to note about Arrieta is that he’s been terrible from the stretch. I’d wait and see if he continues to struggle with men on base, but if he’s improved in that area, he could have value.

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  5. Fish says:

    How would you rank these guys?

    From the writeup, it seems like Happ, Peacock, Arrieta, Maurer

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  6. Jonathan Sher says:

    While Maurer’s minor league stats are hardly overwhelming, you seem to have ignored the reasons for that, what has since changes and why scouting reports are much more promising.

    Maurer’s performance in 2010 and 2011 was limited by injuries. When he did pitch, he put up impressive double-digit strikeout totals but the sample size was small.

    In 2012, his statistics were good but not outstanding but that needs to be considered in context: It was his first chance to pitch an entire seasons, Scouting reports spoke of an above-average major league fastball and growing command of breaking pitches and a change-up.

    During Spring training, there were rave reviews of his pitching, including this from USS Mariner:

    “What he’s done this spring: Maurer’s averaged nearly 95mph on his four-seam fastball, touching 97 briefly. We haven’t seen much of him, but what we’ve seen has been impressive. He’s throwing four pitches (five if you count a two-seam fastball), sustaining his velo for at least a couple of innings, and showing decent command. That’s better than his vaunted “Big Three” teammates, frankly, and it’s encouraging for M’s fans.”

    He may very well fail to perform well making the jump from AA, but in considering the odds, you ignore scouting reports at your own peril.

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  7. Cannon says:

    Well put Jonathan.

    I would also add that when writers say things like you would not grab in ANY league they are not considering us guys who play in 16, 20 or 30 team leagues. I am not totally o board with Maurer yet, but he does pitch today so I guess we will see how he looks.

    Same thing as with Quintana. There were no writers talking about how he jumped from AA to the majors and had only pitched around 100 innings at that. All they were talking about was how he faded as the season wore on and is not worth anything. Of course he would he pitched 178 total innings. Same thing may happen here with Maurer. He may come out solid and then fade, but would not rule him totally out.

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    • You have to also remember that in deep leagues like that, you’re comparing Maurer to a middle reliever who is going to help your ERA and WHIP. So it’s not like Maurer versus some other fifth starter. In that respect, I think he’ll earn negative value in AL-Only and deep mixed leagues.

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      • Jonathan Sher says:

        (1) Maurer was actually named the 4th starter for the Mariners.

        (2) You should consider scouting reports when forecasting player performance and not only rely on the stats, especially when those stats have been partly a product of factors that may no longer be present.

        (3) In a deep league that counts wins, you should consider whether a player is starting as well as the number of innings they will accumulate if you are counting strikeouts.

        (4) Canon’s point was that you shouldn’t make sweeping statements that ignore various types of leagues but instead should qualify about when a player is more or less useful.

        (5) As an example of (4), I play in a an American league keeper league in which 480 players are rostered – 23 active and 17 reserve for each team. In a league of such depth, every starting pitcher is selected. Also, since it’s a keeper/auction league, there is value in getting untapped talent for league minimum salaries.

        (6) Based on scouting reports and numbers, I believe Maurer has a higher ceiling than quite a few starting pitchers at the back end of A.L. rotations.

        (7) With the unbalanced schedule it’s easy enough to spot Maurer against weaker offensive teams (the Astros) and pitching-friendly ballparks (Oakland, Anaheim and likely Seattle even with the fences coming in somewhat. I wouldn’t start him in Arlington in August but there are few pitchers that I would. In a deeper league I expect to have 6 or 7 starters and I will spot all but the top echelon.

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      • Some fair points, but all I’m saying is I don’t expect him to last in the rotation and prove he’s ready for the Majors. I’d rather a middle reliever on my AL-Only team than Maurer. Those few extra wins and strikeouts you would get from Maurer I expect to be more than offset by the negative value he will produce in ERA and WHIP.

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      • majnun says:

        I like to play “guess who is the Mariners fan” because I win all of the time

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