American League SP Tiers July Update

These tiers are a bit later than the rest of the crew, as my vacation delayed my writing. All can breathe easily now as they have finally arrived! You can check out my June update here. A quick note: I have removed pitchers who were demoted to the minors since I have no idea when and if they will be returning to the Majors.

You’re the Best

Justin Verlander
CC Sabathia
Felix Hernandez
Jered Weaver

No movement here aside from a departure you will find below. Amazingly, a loss of velocity has no hurt Felix at all, as his strikeout rate is at a career best and his SwStk% is up from last year and in line with previous seasons. I’d bet the strikeout rate dips below 9.0 throughout the second half though as none of his underlying metrics suggests a career high strikeout rate is sustainable. Weaver has a sub-2.00 ERA over nearly 100 innings, yet his SIERA is worse than both his 2010 and 2011 marks and approaching 4.00. If you’re in need of hitting, he makes a nice piece to dangle in search of a top masher.

Second Best

James Shields
David Price
Jon Lester
Yu Darvish
Chris Sale
Dan Haren

Man, the luck dragons really have it out for James Shields. His SIERA has barely budged since 2010, yet his ERA has jumped all over the place. It would be easy to recommend buying at a potential discount, but he’s finished several seasons where his so-called luck has not neutralized, so who knows if it will this year. Lester is fine. Since June his strikeout rate is back to normal and his xFIP has hovered around 3.00. With an ERA that remains above 4.00, he’s an excellent acquisition target. Darvish has displayed much more acceptable control since the first two months of the season and it would be reasonable to think that his control problems from April and May are behind him for the most part.

Chris Sale finally joins the second tier. As most of you remember, I loved him in the pre-season, but no one could have expected him to be this good. Of course, some luck has been on his side, as his SIERA sits a full run above his actual ERA. However, he still ranks second in the American League in SIERA, so he has legitimately been fantastic. A potential innings cap looms, but depending on what you can get in return, he’s not necessarily a sell high. Dan Haren and his back injury get him dropped to the bottom of the second tier. No word yet on when he returns so this ranking may still be optimistic.

Strong Enough

C.J. Wilson
Matt Moore
Colby Lewis
Max Scherzer
Josh Beckett

Matt Moore still remains up and down, but as expected, his ERA improved dramatically in June as he posted a 3.16 mark, even though his skills according to xFIP were nearly identical to his month of May when he posted a 4.83 ERA. Though his F-Strike% suggests a league average walk rate, this simply has not happened and he continues to struggle with his control. It’s enough to convince me to drop him a tier. Scherzer’s luck is slowly turning, as he posted ERAs around the 4.00 plateau in both May and June after a wretched 7.77 mark in April. His ERA should continue to drop. Beckett’s strikeout rate and velocity have been down all year and so I dropped him to the bottom of the tier. His SIERA is above 4.00 for the first time since 2006 and only the second time in his career, so it hasn’t just been bad luck leading to his mid-4.00 ERA.

Seeing is Believing

Jake Peavy
Jason Hammel
Derek Holland
Roy Oswalt
Jeremy Hellickson
Gavin Floyd

This tier got a bit smaller this month after a couple of disappointments departed. Peavy has been a bit lucky and an injury could strike at any time, but he has been legit good. Hammel’s skills have remained pretty consistent month to month and he has maintained a strikeout rate over 8.0 every month as well. Oswalt joins the ranks and he has been victimized by a laughably high .451 BABIP. His SIERA is almost identical to last year, and it’s clear his best days are behind him. But, his velocity has been fine and all his other underlying metrics look good, so he’ll have value even in mixed leagues. I left Floyd in this tier because his SIERA has remained pretty darn constant since 2009, but he’s just had a bit worse luck this year. A career high SwStk% suggest some K/9 upside, or at the very least, his current career high strikeout rate is sustainable.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

Phil Hughes
Doug Fister
Hiroki Kuroda
Brandon McCarthy
Ivan Nova
Justin Masterson
Scott Diamond
Drew Smyly
Alex Cobb
Chris Tillman
Jose Quintana
Ervin Santana
Felix Doubront
Ricky Romero
Brandon Morrow

Fister’s SIERA is nearly identical to last year, but now the luck pendulum has swung the other way. His SwStk% has taken another step up and his control is as good as always. He doesn’t have a whole lot of upside so he isn’t much of a target in mixed leagues, but you can probably get him cheaply in a deep mixed or AL-Only league. Ivan Nova hops a tier as he has maintained the improved strikeout rate and actually has his SIERA below 4.00. Masterson climbs all the way from the bottom tier as his xFIP has declined every month so far. His control is back to normal after posting a walk rate of 5.1 in April, so he should be fine the rest of the way. Alex Cobb also jumps a tier as his skills have been very solid, but problems with runners on base have inflated his ERA. Chris Tillman joins the tiers and I have tentatively thrown him here. Check out my more in-depth thoughts in yesterday’s waiver wire post. I have also added Jose Quintana who has been quite the surprise so far. His peripherals have been solid enough to register a sub-4.00 SIERA, but the interesting thing is his 10.2% SwStk%, which suggests major strikeout rate upside. Ervin Santana and Ricky Romero continue to stink up the joint and it’s hard to find any metric that would lead to some optimism.

Livin’ on the Edge

Francisco Liriano
Ubaldo Jimenez
Matt Harrison
Bartolo Colon
Tommy Milone
Jarrod Parker

Is Ubaldo back? His walk rate was around 3.0 in June and his xFIP has been around 4.00 since, compared to marks over 5.00 in both April and May. Velocity is still down, so he still has a ways to go, but he’s clearly not as bad as he looked at the start of the year. Matt Harrison as an All Star is hilarious given his mediocre skills. Given the poor strikeout rate, he remains stuck in this tier. Tom Milone has the BABIP Gods to thank so far for a sub-4.00 ERA…then again, it could be the combination of a pitcher friendly ball park with a ton of foul territory. Still, a poor strikeout rate and a weak offense offering sun support means he’ll likely be just a WHIP contributor. Jarrod Parker is doing it with smoke and mirrors so far as his line drive rate is higher than his BABIP! You don’t see that magic act very often. Combine that with his poor control and something’s gotta give. I’m betting it’s the ERA rising way up.

The Great Disappointment

Wei-Yin Chen
Zach McAllister
Henderson Alvarez
Jerome Williams
Philip Humber
John Danks
Jeff Niemann
Carl Pavano
Josh Tomlin
Derek Lowe
Clay Buchholz
Jason Vargas
Luke Hochevar
Rick Porcello
Jonathan Sanchez
Hector Noesi

Alvarez, Williams, Humber and Danks all dropped from earlier tiers. Whether it be poor performance back by weak skills or injuries, they don’t belong near your fantasy teams. Vargas has a 3.51 xFIP at home and 4.96 away. I always advise against owning a player you’ll only play half the time, and he is no exception.

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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.

30 Responses to “American League SP Tiers July Update”

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  1. Vinny says:


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    • Wow, no idea how I missed him. Placed him at the top of the I’m Not Okay tier. I don’t think his strikeout rate is for real, so his current SIERA makes him look better than I think he’ll be the rest of the way.

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  2. Bluebird in Boulder says:

    Given how well Morrow was pitching, and that he is injured, I find his placement peculiar, given other longterm DL candidates aren’t on the list.

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    • He’s without a firm timetable, so I was really just guessing. The placement of currently injured players can be taken with a grain of salt.

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      • batpig says:

        I almost feel like it’s better to just have a ” currently injured” pile that’s separate from the main tiers, because it’s too difficult to rank guys when there is so much uncertainty.

        The exception being guys with minor dings who are about to come back… I’m talking more about “shoulder problems, out for at least a few weeks” injuries.

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      • Yeah, I considered doing that and it’s a good idea.

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  3. Cro says:

    Chris Sale belongs in the top tier and Scherzer should be right behind him.

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    • Skob says:

      Sale, Price and Darvish are the top of the second tier, but still can’t put a young kid in the top tier on a half season of ace pitching.

      I think the Scherzer part was a joke. At least, that’s how I’m treating it.

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      • Cro says:

        Since May 1st:

        Scherzer: 3.44 FIP, 1.16 WHIP, 11.6 K/9
        Darvish: 3.69 FIP, 1.33 WHIP, 10.9 K/9
        Price: 3.44 FIP, 1.17 WHIP, 9.1 K/9
        Lester: 3.34 FIP, 1.35 WHIP, 7.9 K/9

        What’s the joke?

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  4. Mark says:

    AJ Griffin with 3 straight quality starts and no love.

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  5. Eminor3rd says:

    What is Colby Lewis doing up that high? Before his injury, he was giving up homers at a pace I’ve never seen. Was KILLING me in ottoneu so I eventually just perma-benched him. Maybe those don’t hurt as much in other leagues, but I’ll take Peavy over Lewis every day…

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    • batpig says:

      This is a 5×5 ranking. Colby gives up a lot of HR but his minuscule walk rate mitigates the damage, and leads to very strong WHIP. When you combine a sub 1.20 WHIP with a strong K-rate (8 k/9), mid 3’s ERA, playing for a good team with a great offense and bullpen (good potential for W’s) that’s a pretty strong fantasy pitcher. Not a star but a very solid mid-tier guy.

      Peavy has to get dinged for his injury potential. I think his overall performance metrics should be pretty similar going forward, they actually have a very similar profile (FB pitcher, good K’s, low BB, low WHIP, play for good teams) but Colby’s more likely to stay healthy till the end of the year.

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    • chrisb says:

      Before his injury, Lewis was on a great roll — at least in a Fangraphs points league. If you take his performance since he laid an egg May 15 against the Royals, Lewis is averaging 5.78 points an inning. That’s excellent, though admittedly a favorable arbitrary start point.

      Taken on the whole, his season does not justify the $11 I paid for him. But if you can afford to pick match-ups, you’ve been OK. And things were looking really promising when he came up hurt.

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  6. Chike says:

    Jon Lester is not a second tier pitcher. I don’t think he’s a third or even fourth tier pitcher this year. He’s one of those guys whose name value outweighs his actual fantasy production. Lester just isn’t consistent enough. He doesn’t have a signature pitch nor does he do any one thing well enough to garner the respect that he commands.

    At some point, actual production has to outweigh projected production. What I mean is it isn’t fair to classify Jake Peavy as a fourth tier pitcher when he has actually produced like a tier one pitcher. Sure he *could* suffer a season-ending injury tomorrow, but so could any other pitcher on this list. There isn’t a fantasy category called probability of injury. As long as he’s healthy, it’s only fair to take his production at face value.

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    • George says:

      The stats disagree with you. He’s top 15 in the AL in K/BB, FIP and SIERRA, and is trending in the right direction, with a 5.75 K/BB ratio in 44 2/3 IP since June. FIP under 3 as well. Not sure where you are coming from, I think he is ranked right where he belongs.

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    • batpig says:

      that also assumes Peavy can continue this kind of production going forward. I don’t think a sub 3 ERA and sub 1 WHIP are at all sustainable. If you assume he’s more like a 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP guy with 8 K/9, hedged against the injury risk, the ranking is pretty reasonable (although I would put him up a tier personally).

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  7. jack says:

    Ranking Harrison so low and Lewis so high is ridiculous, at least from the 4X4 league perspective that doesn’t count Ks. He has the same 3.5 FIP he managed last year and nearly identical numbers across the board except for improved command (lower BB%) and more GBs. Why should we expect him to get worse?

    A 3.5, 1.25 pitcher for Texas might not be a legit allstar but he is hugely valuable. That is Lewis’ ceiling and his floor with decreased velocity and a bum arm from relying on his only non-meatball serving, the slider, is way lower and way more likely to be the end result. I’d replace Lewis with Harrison ….

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    • batpig says:

      too bad these are 5×5 rankings. Thanks for playing. With a horrible K-rate and a SIERA around 4 you know Pods isn’t going to like him. Although I do agree he is too low, it is correct that in a 5×5 league ranking he is way behind Colby Lewis.

      If you think a 1.25 WHIP is “Lewis’ ceiling” then you haven’t really been paying attention. Lewis WHIP the past three years is 1.08, 1.21, 1.19. That and the much better K-rate put him well ahead of Harrison in 5×5.

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    • LowcountryJoe says:

      Take a long look at Lewis’s stats for 2010 through this season. Before looking at the stats, you’d be inclined to think “average stuff, unfavorable park; no thanks!” But the stats show some consistency and it’s not too shabby either.

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  8. jack says:

    Lewis’ average FB velocity is barely touching 88 now, so he is not the same pitcher as he was in 2010 when he threw 90 plus. Look at the run value on his fastball, it’s atrocious. Meatball pure and simple. His slider is great, but over-reliance on it has led to arm troubles. I see it as a chronic this year and wouldn’t be surprised if he is on the DL again this half.

    Harrison has kept his HR rate below 8% for the past 1.5 seasons. Why in the world would you predict it to elevate to league norms? FIP is most predictive for him … it certainly has predicted his performance thusfar.

    Does 1-1.5 K per outing more (assuming 6-7 IP average) really compensate for Lewis’ other serious deficiencies vis a vis Harrison?

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    • batpig says:

      what deficiencies? Lewis has a similar expectation for ERA but should be significantly better in WHIP and K-rate. There is no reason to expect any difference in Wins considering they play for the same team. So two categories are a tie and the other two Lewis has a significant advantage.

      say what you will about FB velo but he has maintained strong K-rates, SwStr% and excellent control this year. Your whole argument hinges on a presumption that he is suddenly going to fall off a cliff due to injury. If they are both healthy there is no question that Colby is a much better 5×5 roto pitcher.

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  9. thalooch says:

    What about Zach McAllister? Looking at his profile he looks like he could be on the rise. His Siera is 3.61. K/BB ratio of 4.1. His GB% is pretty low at just under 33%, but he’s been able to maintain a good ERA and FIP with an abysmal 59.9% LOB%.

    Can anyone explain to me why I shouldn’t pick him up for 5×5 roto?

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  10. jack says:

    The signs for decline are all there (it doesn’t have to be a DL stint … I did btw “call” his DL stint 3 weeks prior to it happening on BP by looking at these numbers): Major drop in velo for all his pitches, a dangerously ineffective FB and consequently an increasingly ineffective Change as the velo spread between the two narrows. His arm is hurting from trying to get so much out of his slider, and I think you have to expect his slider’s efficiency will start to decline. Once it does, look out.

    Take a look at his plate discipline numbers … his efficacy relies on getting guys to chase his slider out of the zone. This year he is getting 10% more guys to chase and 10% fewer are making contact on those. You trust him to continue to be able to rip sliders like that with a hurt arm?

    So beneath the surface, where it counts, I do see serious deficiencies visavis a steady Harrison.

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  11. MikeInNJ says:

    What is the point of these tiers when, for example, two guys who have been busts – Haren and Lester – appear in the second tier? Meanwhile, CJ Wilson who has pitched like an ace is in Tier 3. Who among us would take Haren or Lester over CJ Wilson the rest of the year?

    This is just a meaningless exercise.

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  12. Doug says:

    It’s amazing the lack of respect Cj Wilson gets…hey i love it…keep getting hi late…keep reaping the rewards. Cj Wilson grouped with colby lewis….so funny

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  13. cs3 says:

    I dont see how Wilson can possibly be ranked behind Lester and Haren.

    Anyone who has watched all 3 guys pitch has to be asking the same question

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