How about an early look at some NL Starter Tiers? With a month down, we already have a better idea of which surprise candidates might live up to the hype. We also have an idea of which veterans are at the end of their rope. And in the middle of all that, we are still waiting on the returns of Mike Minor and Mat Latos.
You’ll notice this is the NL post, so you won’t see Masahiro Tanaka ranked. Despite this, someone in the comments will say “where’s Masahiro Tanaka, you idiot?” Don’t be that person. The tiers should be viewed as tiers, not straight rankings. If I have Liriano and Samardzija in the same tier, but Liriano is ranked higher in his tier, that doesn’t matter. Being in a tier means I perceive those players to have similar value. Finally, I’m going to rank players based on albums I like. The top album isn’t my favorite or anything, I just think they are good albums and maybe you’ll enjoy them too. Feel free to comment, or recommend other albums below. Cool? Cool!
We’re keeping the top tier exactly the same. The most controversial pitcher here is probably Kershaw, but it’s starting to look like he might return next week. If that’s the case, we’re going to keep him as an elite option. A setback could push him lower. The other three happen to be the top three NL pitchers according to WAR. Looks like I did something right in April.
Tier two gets considerably smaller this time out. The top four guys have pitched well enough to retain their spots, and could be candidates to move up based on how they perform in May. The last two guys are new additions to the tier. Both have injury concerns, but their performances aren’t out of character considering their immense talents. Cashner’s ranking surprised me, but it’s hard to argue with the stuff, and the way he’s commanded it this year. The only thing holding him back in the past were strikeouts, and those have arrived.
This is where we start to see some radical changes. Zimmermann’s elevated strikeout rate has been a step in the right direction. Though Samardzija has seen the opposite happen, we know he has potential for more strikeouts. Santana is a big surprise here, but his increased usage of the changeup has me believing in the performance thus far. Wood has been great, and is showing command. Lynn and Cain are the two guys who come with some concerns. Cain’s home run issues have emerged early, but one start was in Coors Field, so I’m cutting him some slack here. Lynn has been slightly more stingy with walks, and has remained a high-strikeout guy. Let’s hope the new command continues. Bailey has been killed by home runs, but that should turn around.
This tier contains some interesting players. The injured group of Latos and Minor appear, as does Hamels, who hasn’t been great since his return. We’re giving him a pass for now, as it’s been two starts. Teheran and Cole are too young guys with plenty of potential, but it would be nice to get a few more strikeouts right now.
Both Kennedy and Eovaldi are huge risers. Kennedy has regained some velocity, and appears to have benefited from pitching lessons with Darren Balsley. Eovaldi is a candidate for a huge breakout. Strikeout rate and ground ball rate are up and walk rate is down. Harang has to appear somewhat high based on his early performance, but it’s hard to really buy what he’s doing, even if the peripherals are rosy now. Liriano, Cingrani and Wheeler all give you fantastic strikeout numbers, but could use a little more command. That said, they could all jump with good months. Two bad starts really screwed up Burnett’s walk rate. I’m staying cautiously optimistic.
We’re entering an area where I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with some of the guys on the list. Hudson has been great, but he’s typically been a low-upside guy due to lack of strikeouts. Haren’s rebirth is a bit scary considering the diminished stuff he showed last season. Miller has turned around after a few bad starts, but I have some concerns about his walk rate combined with last year’s late disappearance. Estrada is once again showing fine stats, but has a tendency to give up the long ball. I can’t buy Lohse’s new strikeout rate, but he’s solid. Fister is set to return May 7, so let’s put him here for now.
It’s hard to buy Wood’s new strikeout rate given his history. The new Yovani Gallardo has me skeptical too, but it’s possible he’s adapted to his diminished stuff. Roark is mostly smoke and mirrors, and yet, guys haven’t adjusted yet. Peralta could be showing signs of a breakout, so keep an eye on him.
The last three guys are low-upside veterans. You know what you’re getting here. Mejia’s strikeout rate is awesome, but his control could lead to his downfall. I literally have no idea what to do with Timmy. The peripherals continue to like him, but the performance is awful.
Jorge de la Rosa
I just can’t buy Beckett’s early run of success. Most of the guys here are low-upside hurlers, who can give you some innings. This might be low for Wandy based on what he can do, but he hasn’t been all that healthy lately. McCarthy’s peripherals look great, but things haven’t gone his way yet. I have a hard time trusting the other guys all that much.
Hale and Koehler have gotten off to nice starts, but their strikeout and walk rates are way too close for comfort. Morales, Lyles and Alvarez lack upside. Arroyo and Vogelsong may have reached the end of their rope.
*If I forgot anyone, post it in the comments and I’ll do my best to include them.
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