NL Starter Tiers — May 2014

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!

Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea>

Clayton Kershaw
Adam Wainwright
Jose Fernandez
Cliff Lee

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.

David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Stephen Strasburg
Madison Bumgarner
Zack Greinke
Michael Wacha
Johnny Cueto
Andrew Cashner

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.

The Stooges – Raw Power

Jordan Zimmermann
Homer Bailey
Jeff Samardzija
Ervin Santana
Alex Wood
Lance Lynn
Matt Cain
Gio Gonzalez
Hyun-Jin Ryu

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.

Beach House – Teen Dream

Julio Teheran
Gerrit Cole
Mat Latos
Cole Hamels
Mike Minor

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.

Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

Ian Kennedy
Nathan Eovaldi
Aaron Harang
Francisco Liriano
Tony Cingrani
Zack Wheeler
A.J. Burnett

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.

The Smiths – The Queen is Dead

Tim Hudson
Dan Haren
Shelby Miller
Tyson Ross
Marco Estrada
Matt Garza
Kyle Lohse
Doug Fister

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.

Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Travis Wood
Yovani Gallardo
Tanner Roark
Wily Peralta
Jason Hammel
Jon Niese
Dillon Gee
Josh Collmenter
Bartolo Colon
Jenrry Mejia
Tim Lincecum

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.

Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R

Edwin Jackson
Tyler Chatwood
Edinson Volquez
Juan Nicasio
Brandon McCarthy
Mike Leake
Josh Beckett
Wade Miley
Jorge de la Rosa
Roberto Hernandez
Kyle Kendrick
Wandy Rodriguez
Charlie Morton
Alfredo Simon

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.

Spoon – Gimme Fiction

David Hale
Tom Koehler
Franklin Morales
Bronson Arroyo
Ryan Vogelsong
Jordan Lyles
Henderson Alvarez

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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Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

62 Responses to “NL Starter Tiers — May 2014”

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  1. rlew says:

    Homer Bailey?

    +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Ray says:

    I think Cole and Teheran are a tier too low, while Wood and Samardzija are a tier too high.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. unretrofied93 says:

    Jesse Chavez & Tyler Skaggs?

    -19 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Ray says:

    Alos, not sure why an injury would push Kershaw out of top tier.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Two Headed Boy says:

    “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” is my favorite album of all time. To me it is perfect. Nice choice.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. pepe says:

    DUDE; how can freaking Cloud Nothings be ranked above Rated R, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, or ANY Spoon album. Come on. Cloud Nothings is like your peglegged step uncle knuckleballer getting lit up in the Northeastern Ohio Bar Leagues

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Two Headed Boy says:

      Cloud Nothings are pretty great, but I agree that they shouldn’t be ahead of those albums, particularly YHF.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • David says:

      In Indie Rock hell, Spoon is on infinite loop along with The National and Wilco’s last two albums. Just. So. Boring.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • pepe says:

        Yes to the National and yes to Wilco’s last 2, not YHF. However, for whatever reason Spoon gets the pass with me. Particularly Ga Ga Ga Ga

        And yes Stan, you’re right. Queen is Dead is higher up in my album tiers.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Chris Cwik says:

      Ugh…here’s what I wrote. They are just albums I like. No need to rank them.

      “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.”

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Yeah says:

        But of course you can’t expect people to read what you write in your articles.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • AZestyEnterprise says:

        You can’t have an indie-ish-rock albums list attached to a thing about baseball pitching and not have any GuidedByVoices in there …… Robert Pollard ftw (sorry if someone below me said this, as it seems really obvious, and I didn’t read that far yet). Love the choices beyond that.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Tyler Chatwood says:

    I want to be listed too :(

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Kris says:

    Surprised to see Fister so low

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • dacure says:

      Agreed. Check fister’s steamer projections, hes pitching in the NL East and should be dominant upon return. Kershaw didnt seem to get a bump for injury, and I understand Fister isnt quite as certain as Kershaw but hes way too low given whats been expected of him coming into this season.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. J says:


    -28 Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. yosoyfiesta says:

    HOSAY, I like heem very much…he’s on his own otherworldly tier

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. J says:

    My bad only NL

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Johnny Chicago says:

    So Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s are must adds? I’m so confused.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. john says:

    I’d put Homer Bailey in Tier 2

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ray says:

      a case can be made for that….agreed. He has been unlucky with the long ball this year. K%M, BB% and GB% all very good and tell me he will get over this bad luck soon.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. SB12 says:

    I always enjoy the effort that goes into naming the tiers, such that it often results in stirring up two debates (player and tier title rankings, respectively) for the price of one.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Stan Gable says:

      Is the order supposed to be intentionl though or more of a random thing? I like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea just fine, but it’s hard to even imagine considering slotting it over three of the historic LPs that follow it no matter what one’s personal preferences.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Chris Cwik says:

        Read the intro.

        “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.”

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. smedley says:

    Edinson Volquez?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. The Humber Games says:

    Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

    Ugh, worst. voice. ever.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kyle says:

      To each their own but the singing on Oh Comely is both haunting and incredibly beautiful. And the lyrics are the highlight of the album. Well, second to the singing saw.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • majnun says:

      I appreciate you using an ancient Simpsons meme to double down on the whole “my opinions on pop culture are meaningless” thing

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. atoms says:

    I saw NMH last month, and they were fantastic.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. that says:


    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. joe says:

    Hmm, I’m not sure why I am demolishing in the pitching categories based on this list.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. hawkeyecub says:

    Wow, you put the shittiest album on top of the list. NMH over Ziggy Stardust, or even Rated R. You have to got to be kidding. NMH is soooo overrated and all “mystique.”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Chris Cwik says:

      Did you read the intro?

      “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.”

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. alittleconfused says:

    Jenrry Mejia is a low upside veteran? He is 24 and has never thrown 40 big league innings in a season. I don’t think anyone (including the Mets) has any idea what he is going to do this year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. JKB says:

    In high school I used to drive around in my 68 Dodge Dart with the new paint job and sound system and a cassette tape with The Queen Is Dead on side one and Life’s Rich Pageant on side two. And Camper Van Beethoven. Good times…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. tonysoprano says:

    Okay, fair to say people are thinking you ranked the albums as well…when you clearly stated you are not rating the albums…just listing them.

    Finally…Jon Niese might be in for a really nice year. Hoping he stays healthy. I think by end of year he will move up a tier.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      The albums ARE in fact ranked (otherwise why randomly throw them out there? “Here are four awesome pitchers and a shitty album?” No.)

      The one at the top isn’t his all-time favorite, as Chris said in the intro, but just as you would take a Tier 1 pitcher over a Tier 4, so too would Chris take the album headlining tier 1.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. Kevin says:

    Hamels always pitches a clunker in his first home start especially if it’s the Mets. He’ll be fine.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. ralph says:

    I don’t see Robbie Erlin anywhere?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. Walkswith4Balls says:

    Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is way too low. I guess you haven’t properly analyzed its peripherals ;)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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