American League SP Tiers June Update

It is ranking tiers update week and today are the American League starting pitchers. By this time in the season, peripherals are stabilizing and I can now put a lot more stock into skills surges and declines. As a reminder, these rankings are only supposed to reflect how I expect pitchers to perform going forward. How a pitcher has already performed to date bears no weighting here. Refresh your memory with my May update.

You’re the Best

Justin Verlander
CC Sabathia
Felix Hernandez
Dan Haren
Jered Weaver

In the last rankings update, Haren’s ERA was over 4.00 and his velocity had been down all year. I suggested in a “To Buy Low or Not to Buy Low” article a couple of weeks ago to monitor his velocity before targeting him in a trade. Unfortunately, the worst scenario occured for non-Haren owners – his performance improved and ERA declined, but his fastball velocity has continued to average around 89.0 miles per hour. However, he has still been able to maintain his skills, so I’m not dropping him. In fact, he actually moved up a rank due to Weaver’s injury.

Second Best

James Shields
David Price
Jon Lester
Yu Darvish
Matt Moore

No movement here except for a pitcher who has been dropped from this tier that you will find below. Shields continues to post strong skills and an excellent SIERA and is now looking like a good trade target. Remember that last year was seen as a fluke by some and a disappointing ERA at this point may further solidify this view, while his owners may start questioning themselves. Yes, Lester continues to disappoint, but his SIERA is significantly lower than this ERA and he did post a 3.73 xFIP in May, versus a 4.19 mark in April. Still not vintage Lester, but owners should avoid the temptation to sell low and non-owners might consider buying low. A rebound in strikeout rate and SwStk% would help quell some concerns though.

After several times suggesting owners buy low on Moore, I put my money where my mouth was and did so in two of the three leagues I didn’t own him in. Though on the surface he was quite unimpressive in May given his 4.83, he actually posted a 3.67 xFIP, a huge improvement over his 5.40 mark in April. The strikeouts returned as his SwStk% told us they would and his walk rate, though still higher than expected, was acceptable given the punchouts.

Strong Enough

Chris Sale
Josh Beckett
C.J. Wilson
Brandon Morrow
Colby Lewis
Max Scherzer

After the White Sox took Sale out of the rotation due to elbow concerns, made him their closer, and then returned him back into the rotation, he reappears in these rankings. He has been an absolute joy to watch and although he’s not going to maintain a low-2.00 ERA, his SIERA is fourth among all starters with at least 10 innings pitched. Josh Beckett drops out of the second tier as his velocity has been down all season. However, his SwStk% is as good as last year, and F-Strike% as strong as ever, so I decided not to drop him any further. Where are all the Morrow doubters who thought he had an inability to pitch with runners on? Suddenly the pendulum has swung and now he is actually benefiting from a bit of luck for a change, this time on the BABIP side. It is worth repeating once again to always trust the skills! Sure, there will always be exceptions, but trying to pick out that 1% simply isn’t worth it.

Seeing is Believing

Jake Peavy
Jason Hammel
Derek Holland
Jeremy Hellickson
Ervin Santana
Ricky Romero
Gavin Floyd

The only real difference between Hammel’s April and May was a decline in ground ball rate, which shouldn’t have been surprising. Still, his xFIP was 3.64 so it’s pretty clear that his improvement is no longer a fluke. Holland drops a couple of ranks due to his recent virus induced velocity dip and we cannot be sure how long that will last. He averaged just 91.1 miles per hour with his fastball on Tuesday after being around 93.0 all season. Floyd makes for a cheap buy low opportunity as he doesn’t exactly have the track record of consistent success, but has posted strong skills this year leading to a SIERA nearly two runs below his ERA.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

Doug Fister
Felipe Paulino
Andy Pettitte
Brandon McCarthy
Scott Diamond
Drew Smyly
Hiroki Kuroda
Felix Doubront
Jerome Williams
Brian Matusz

As you can expect when it gets into the middle grouping, there was a lot of movement here. This is probably the tier that constitutes replacement level in shallow mixed leagues and pitchers who could be deployed based on matchups and two-start status. Paulino has typically suffered from high BABIPs in the past, which has hampered his ability to post an ERA that matched his peripherals. So far this year, that has changed, and stranding 93% of runners on base has helped him post a sub-2.00 ERA. He would be higher in the rankings, however his SwStk% has mysteriously dropped to just 7.4% despite no loss of fastball velocity and nearly identical pitch selection. His F-Strike% has also tumbled. So, I am not too confident that he will be able to maintain such a strong SIERA mark. Welcome back to the Majors Pettitte. What a surprisingly dazzling start to his pinstripe comeback. With a 2.81 SIERA, his sub-3.00 ERA hasn’t even been aided by luck. Of course, for a 39 year old pitcher with such a long and established track record, his 3.89 SIERA since 2002 paints a better picture of what to expect. His pitch selection hasn’t changed much since he was last in the Majors, but his fastball velocity now sits at just above 87.0 miles per hour. A high 3.00 ERA should still be the best you should expect, absent some good fortune.

Who currently leads all of baseball in SIERA among starters with 10+ innings? I bet that it would take you more than 50 tries to guess. His name is Scott Diamond, the 25-year old left-handed ground ball machine calling Target Field home. Like every Twins pitcher (except Liriano), he possessed pinpoint control. But that has come along with a 64% ground ball rate. Of course, he’s down in this tier because a sub-6.0 K/9 hurts his fantasy value and given his track record and 5.7% SwStk%, shouldn’t be expected to improve that much. Smyly jumps a couple of ranks from the bottom of the tier as he is still sitting on a nice 3.56 SIERA. Kuroda drops a tier as his strikeouts have gone missing amid a velocity dip and big decline in SwStk%. Both Doubront and Williams move up a tier, as the former has posted a surprising 3.47 SIERA with over a strikeout per inning and the latter has been generating tons of ground balls. Brian Matusz is another big gainer, moving up two tiers as he has suddenly become a viable option in fantasy leagues. His May xFIP was a respectable 3.97 after enduring a 5.70 April. Given his velocity rebound, he should be good for a high 3.00 ERA and a mid-7.0 strikeout rate the rest of the way.

Livin’ on the Edge

Alex Cobb
Matt Harrison
Bartolo Colon
Tom Milone
Ivan Nova
Francisco Liriano
Jake Arrieta
Philip Humber
John Danks
Drew Hutchison
Jarrod Parker
Henderson Alvarez

As in the previous tier, there was lots of mixing around here. Cobb debuts in the rankings as Niemann’s replacement and I talked about him recently here. Liriano moves up from the last tier, but not even my crystal ball has any clue what he is going to do after his return to the rotation. His two fantastic starts have come against the third and sixth lowest scoring teams in baseball. After his Oakland start, I remained pessimistic as his ground ball rate was just 18% and his F-Strike% remained horrendous. But his Royals start was much better in both metrics, so maybe there is a chance he generates some value. I just traded him in LABR mixed on Sunday night, so he could come back to haunt me. Humber drops down a tier as his xFIP jumped from 3.26 in April to 5.19 in May as his control has deserted him. Danks drops two tiers after missing time with a shoulder injury. His velocity was down, leading to fewer swinging strikes and wreaking havoc on his peripherals, all likely caused by the shoulder problem and it remains to be seen how healthy he’ll be upon his return. Parker moves up a tier, simply based on the hope that his minor league skills begin to translate. At the very least, he’ll have a forgiving home ballpark and above average defense to help him beat his expected ERA metrics.

The Great Disappointment

Wei-Yin Chen
Jeff Niemann
Jeanmar Gomez
Daniel Bard
Kyle Drabek
Carl Pavano
Josh Tomlin
Derek Lowe
Justin Masterson
Ubaldo Jimenez
Clay Buchholz
Jason Vargas
Luke Hochevar
Rick Porcello
Jonathan Sanchez
Hector Noesi

Just to clarify, since many commenters had issue with including Chen in a tier titled “The Great Disappointment”, these are forward-looking rankings. So although Chen’s ERA at the time wasn’t a disappointment, I expected his future performance to be. And, it has bene. He posted a 4.20 ERA in May, after a 2.22 mark in April, and a similar xFIP in the mid-4.00 range. Niemann falls precipitously after he suffered a knee injury and might not be back until August now. Bard also drops several tiers for obvious reasons. I would still be willing to hold onto him on a reserve list in a deep mixed or AL-Only league though. We know what kind of stuff he possesses when right and he still remained a ground ball pitcher, so the upside is substantial.




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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.


43 Responses to “American League SP Tiers June Update”

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  1. RMD says:

    Matt Moore over CJ Wilson? Doesn’t ERA, FIP, xFIP, or SIERA count for anything?

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    • Absolutely, but I think Moore’s deeper metrics like F-Strike% and SwStk% suggest better BB/9 and K/9 rates moving forward and eventually leading to better expected ERA metrics than Wilson. Besides that, he’ll have more strikeouts.

      Still, you have to understand that when a pitcher is only 3 players apart, there is really very little difference between the two!

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  2. Ray says:

    how is Sale and Morrow in the 3rd tier?

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  3. Eminor3rd says:

    Im playing ottoneu this year, so I know my league isn’t necessarily like everyone else’s, but what league are you in where Chris sale belongs in the same tier as Colby Lewis? I own them both, and sale has something like double the points. In fact, sale also has more points than cc sabathia, who I also own. I think sale in the third tier is way way off at this point

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    • Ben says:

      Sale’s also just coming off of two incredible games in a row. If he can keep this pace up I think he starts leapfrogging guys, but let’s not get too hasty.

      And that’s not even taking the elbow issues and potential for the Sox to limit his innings into account.

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  4. Adrock says:

    Any thoughts on where Oswalt would slot in?

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    • I’d say the Seeing is Believing tier. I’m not a big fan given his new home ball park and declining skills. I actually wouldn’t be shocked if he was near replacement level in 12 team mixed leagues.

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  5. Ben says:

    Why the mixture of different DIPS stats? I know xFIP normalized HR/9, but doesn’t SIERA as well? And SIERA takes into account extra factors like batted ball% and K% to make it more accurate, so why measure guys by FIP and xFIP anymore?

    More importantly, if you like one metric, shouldn’t you stick with it when comparing different players? Strikes me as cherry-picking stats if you just throw out the most impressive number regardless of the metric you’re using to compare to other players.

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    • Good question with a simple answer- our Splits page does not show SIERA, only FIP and xFIP for some reason. So for the full season, I use SIERA, which I prefer, but if looking at monthly splits, I have no choice but to use xFIP.

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  6. William says:

    Where would Hughes rank? He has to be above Nova, right?

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  7. ryan says:

    Where’s Phil Hughes on this list? Would you rather have recently demoted Daniel Bard, or the likes of Rick Porcello over him?

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  8. On Chris Sale, although he has moved up within that third tier, he has actually remained in the same tier since my pre-season ranks. As surprising as it may be, I kind of expected this and projected this from him (check my bold predictions article). I am as big a fan of his as any- I own him in all my leagues. But he has been lucky of course, plus a possible innings cap and the elbow issue means that it’s very difficult to jump to the second tier.

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  9. Dang, don’t know how I missed Hughes! Probably because when I was checking out all the AL starters to see who I needed to add, I just assumed he was in my rankings and didn’t bother to check.

    I’d slot him somewhere in the middle of the Livin’ On the Edge tier. He has a pretty good SIERA, well below his ERA, but I think his skills will decline significantly. Below average SwStk% and Contact% suggests a drop in strikeout rate and his walk rate is likely to rise. As an extreme fly ball pitcher, he’ll have a tough time getting his ERA below 4.00 even if his HR/FB ratio falls.

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  10. Ira says:

    I don’t see how you can put Ervin Santana in that grouping. He has been plain awful this year by nearly any metric you want. I picked him up after someone (foolishly, I thought) dropped him. Needless to say he promptly destroyed my WHIP and ERA.

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    • trailofhoney says:

      Same thing with Holland. I don’t know what people like so much about him either. He has a 5+ ERA this year, and a career 4.79/1.40.

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      • HRB says:

        People look at Holland and see upside. They see a guy who they believe is on the verge of a breakout, and if he breaks out, he’s a borderline fantasy #1. When he’s “on” he’s a great strikeout pitcher who doesn’t walk anyone. When he’s “off” he kinda stinks.

        But that’s the attraction with Holland.

        (Note: I am not saying the attraction is justified.)

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    • HRB says:

      Agreed re: Santana. He sucks. It’s like he’s completely lost all his command and control and has no idea where any of his pitches are going. He constantly falls behind batters, and when finally forced to throw a strike, he throws a meatball or hanging breaking ball over the plate that hitters promptly crush.

      Maybe it’s just a mechanical issue that the Angels can iron out relatively easily (but why wouldn’t they have done it already if that was the case?) but including him in a tier with Jake Peavy and Jeremy Hellickson is ludicrous.

      NOBODY in their right mind would trade Peavy or Hellickson straight up for Santana.

      And this isn’t even a case where if Santana gets right, he has a tremendous ceiling, where he K’s 10 guys per nine, and doesn’t walk anyone. He will never be that guy. At his best, he’s still a #3ish starter.

      The Santana ranking is baffling.

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      • Santana’s F-Strike% and Zone% both better than league average and pretty close to his career averages. No reason his walk rate should be so high. His season has mostly been bad luck from a 23% HR/FB ratio. I wouldn’t trade Peavy or Hellickson for Santana either, that’s why they are ranked above Ervin!

        Holland is pitching exactly the same as last year. SIERA the last three years have been nearly identical, around 3.90.

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      • bat guano says:

        So I guess Mr. Podhorzer would trade Ricky Romero for Ervin Santana. Any takers? Should we call the Angels?

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      • Bob says:

        Mike, I thought you said previously we shouldn’t take a spot or two within tiers very seriously, it was mostly about the tiers…so I assumed you thought Peavy, Santana, Hellickson were roughly equal.

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      • Bob says:

        Must’ve been a different author.

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      • batpig says:

        I’m going to have to take issue with Santana too. All of the metrics are troubling:

        - K-rate has dropped to 6.42 K/9, his lowest rate since 2006
        - SwStr% has dropped to a well below average 7.5%, his worst since 2007
        - Yes, his F-Strike% is fine and HR/FB% will regress, but his FIP/xFIP/SIERRA metrics are horrible and he’s actually benefited from BABIP luck (.260)

        Here’s the thing — even when he’s good Santana isn’t really helping your ratios (4.28 career ERA, 1.31 career WHIP) and he’s got a pretty mediocre K-rate. Where is the upside here? At least with GFloyd you can point to his SIERRA and expect improvement… Santana should be at the bottom of the next tier down.

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  11. MikeInNJ says:

    As an owner of Sale and Scherzer I can only snort at the idea of them being in the same tier.

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    • To me, tiers are pretty arbritrary and pretty meaningless. I think most assume them to mean all players in a tier have about the same value, but players are ranked within the tier for a reason. It’s the order in which I value them the rest of the year. There are still 4 pitchers between Sale and Scherzer. And besides, Scherzer is a fantastic buy low guy. Check out his SIERA.

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  12. Michael says:

    Who would you rather own in a 4×4 AL-only: Paulino, Floyd or Smyly?

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  13. John says:

    I feel like Verlander should be the only one in the top tier. I’d put a healthy Weaver there too but that’s it. Is Fher ever going to be the same pitcher again? All of last year and the first third of this year has shown him to be a 3.4ish ERA and 1.2+ WHIP pitcher who will be hard pressed to ever win 15 games with that lineup.

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    • If you think Verlander has a true talent .255 BABIP skill, then yes, he’s in a tier of his own. I don’t think he does though and therefore believe his ERA should be closer to 3.00 the rest of the year, which puts him a lot closer to the rest.

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  14. bat guano says:

    Ricky Romero at the bottom of tier 4 between the excrable Gavin Floyd and Ervin Santana? What universe are you living in? I don’t own Romero (and until recently I did own Santana) but that’s pretty insulting.

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    • Romero and Santana’s SIERA are nearly identical, while Floyd is sporting a mid-3.00 SIERA and makes for a nice buy low, if he’s even still on a team in your league!

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      • bat guano says:

        That may be, but our league doesn’t award points for SIERA (perhaps there are some SIERA based leagues out there, but I don’t know of any), and I would think good vs. bad performance in the normal fantasy categories would count for something in doing these tiers.

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      • SIERA is a better predictor of future ERA than ERA itself, so that’s why looking at SIERA is useful even if your league doesn’t use that as a category.

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  15. Tex says:

    Was leaving Millwood off intentional? He’s certainly no world killer, but in my 30-team contract-based league, he’s serving the back end of my rotation quite well. Then again, he’s 125 years old, so I could see leaving him off ROS.

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  16. Armpit Arnie says:

    Thanks for some awesome (and very reasonable) rankings here. The guy who did the NL rankings yesterday was 100% out of his mind.

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    • bat guano says:

      I’m not sure that comparing these rankings to yesterday’s NL rankings should be the standard (those were indeed laughable), and at least Mr. Podhorzer is trying to defend his rankings in the comments, but there are a few glaring problems here (see discussion above of E. Santana, Scherzer, Floyd, etc.). Colby Lewis is a problem too. Seems like maybe HR rate problems are unduly minimized.

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    • batpig says:

      yes, kudos to Pods for having reasonable rankings and being willing to hang out in the comments and discuss his decisions with rational posters. Dan Wade should hang his head in shame.

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    • Thanks…pitching is tough. There is most disagreement between fantasy owners here, so it’s impossible to make everyone happy. But I’m always willing to explain my rationale here in the comments!

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  17. ccoop says:

    to be a dick, it’s worth pointing out that the people who thought that morrow had difficulty pitching with runners on haven’t had their hypothesis disproven. the absurd babip is like taking a gun to a knife fight. it’s going to have the last word.

    having said that, what do you make of the k-rate going forward? it seems like he’s generating more groundballs by “pitching to contact” or rather inducing more weak contact, which is what that phrase is supposed to describe, i think?

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  18. Nittanychris says:

    I think you are underrating Brandon McCarthy. Perhaps because he doesnt’ strike out a lot of hitters? That’s the only reason I can think of that would have Hammel, Floyd and Santana ahead of him at this point. Still…

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  19. KJ says:

    Once again, Mike, nice song selections for tiers. I particularly like the My Chemical Romance “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” tier. If Patrick keeps ribbing you for your lack of a love life, at least you know your music. He probably has neither. Oh, and I like the actual tiers as well. If it proves anything, don’t fall in love with players you know don’t belong in the upper tiers, just use them and then get out (channeling some Rick James “Fire and Desire” there).

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