NL Starting Pitcher Keeper Rankings: Tier Six

Now we have to move out of the realm of pitchers who contribute in nearly every category. Now we have to start looking at arms with notable drawbacks, whether it’s a strikeout rate in the 5-6 range, a WHIP and ERA built on unsustainable peripherals, or a lack of a track record. There aren’t many arms left that offer sure success. Jaime Garcia might have more in common with the tier above than with the rest of this crowd, but the difference is minimal.

Recapping the day’s top story:

Tier One:
Clayton Kershaw
Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Cole Hamels
Ian Kennedy

Tier Two:
Tim Lincecum
Matt Cain
Madison Bumgarner
Zack Greinke
Yovani Gallardo

Tier Three:
Stephen Strasburg
Matt Garza
Tommy Hanson
Daniel Hudson
Tim Hudson

Tier Four:
Jordan Zimmermann
Brandon Beachy
Chris Carpenter
Mat Latos
Josh Johnson

Tier Five:
Anibal Sanchez
Vance Worley
Shaun Marcum
Ted Lilly
Cory Luebke

Tier Six:

Jaime Garcia

I wrote more extensively on Garcia yesterday with more nuance than I will here, so consider this a quick-and-dirty version of that: He’s a totally competent pitcher with a workable WHIP, an ERA that’s going to be linked closely with his BABIP and team defense, and an OK strikeout rate. He’s a tweener, good enough to keep in some circumstances, but is probably going to cost more than he’s worth in terms of the round where you’ll lose a pick or the auction cash it takes to keep him. I don’t hate him, I think you can win with him, but he doesn’t strike me as a make or break player and I wouldn’t keep him. Your milage, as always, may vary.

Jhoulys Chacin

I have a love/hate relationship with Rockies’ pitchers, whether it’s Chacin, Jorge de la Rosa, or Mike Hampton back in the day. So much to like about them, but even with the humidor in place, they play in one of the most consistently hitter-friendly parks in baseball, maybe even in baseball history.

A quick aside on de la Rosa: He’ll be out until June at the earliest, and while I think I’ve drafted him in at least one league for the last 3-4 years, I’m staying away this year. He was showing good growth before getting hurt last year, but I’d rather make a savvy waiver claim when he’s making his last rehab starts than have him in your DL spot from Day One.

Back to Chacin. His slider is a definite plus offering and he backed it up with a good changeup this year, but hitters did serious damage to his fastball. The biggest thing Chacin needs to do is to drop his walk totals, 4 BB/9 is generally too high, but in a park where mishit flyballs turn into home runs, having extra men on base is a recipe for disaster. Additionally, if he isn’t constantly in three-ball counts, hitters won’t be able to key into his fastball as easily.

It’s tautological to say “If he were a better pitcher, he’d be a better pitcher,” but that’s where Chacin is, he just needs to show a little better control and not back himself into a corner quite so often. He’ll turn 24 before the year starts, so there’s time for growth, but don’t be surprised if he’s still making adjustments this time next year.

Johnny Cueto

The Good: Cueto’s groundball rate rose 12 percent from 2010 to 2011 and he’s getting the home run issues he had in previous seasons under control.

The Bad: He outpitched both his FIP and xFIP by a pretty large amount, and his BABIP was about 40 points under his career average, which makes me think that his success isn’t sustainable over a full season.

Cueto’s MO as a pitcher changed this year. When he first came into the league, he struck out plenty, but allowed hitters to reach in far too great of numbers, and had a tendency to give up untimely home runs. Last season, he recorded most of his outs via the groundball, struck out fewer hitters, but also allowed far fewer to reach base and didn’t consistently get victimized by two walks and a longball. Expecting Cueto to keep his low WHIP and ERA, as well as to get back the strike rate he had in the past is too much to ask. I think the strikeouts and the walks go hand-in-hand as he works around the edges of the strike zone.

This year’s changes were so out of character for Cueto, it’s hard to say whether it’s a wholesale change in his philosophy, or if he simply responded to the positive feedback he was getting as a contact-focused pitcher. As I mentioned above, his peripherals don’t indicate that he’ll be this effective next year, but that doesn’t mean he’ll abandon it entirely.

Jair Jurrjens

For the first half of the season, it looked like the Jurrjens of 2008/2009 was back. Opponents really struggled to make solid contact, as Jurrjens held them to a .585 OPS to match his 1.87 ERA, and 1.07 WHIP. His low strikeout rate — just 5.3 per 9 — didn’t matter as much because of his low .260 BABIP. When his BABIP rose to .305 in the second half, the fact that Jurrjens rarely strikes anyone out really came back to haunt him. His OPS against leaped to .947, his WHIP rose to 1.65, and his ERA climbed to 5.88 — which isn’t surprising, since if you allow that many base runners and that much hard contact, runs are going to score. There’s a chance he could have righted the ship, but a knee injury ended his season.

The knee injury is of no concern to me, he’ll be back for camp, but I’m still not wild about Jurrjens. It’s true for Jurrjens, for Cueto, Josh Collmenter, and many others: If you don’t strike anyone out, you’re going to live and die on your defense, your luck, and your BABIP. It’s possible to survive and put up great WHIP and ERA numbers, but from a keeper/draft standpoint, you’re playing a game of Russian roulette. Obviously some of these guys are better options that others, there’s a reason Jurrjens is actually getting ranked and Jason Marquis isn’t, but understand that you could be drafting a bomb.

Ryan Vogelsong

Prior to 2011, Vogelsong had made 20 or more starts in the majors just once, with the 2004 Pirates. He finished that season 6-13 with a 6.50 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP, which probably meant he was owned in some 20-team NL-Only league and not many others. In 2011, Vogelsong made 28 starts, finished 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP at age 33, it really was quite a shock. The fact that he happened to pitch for the Giants meant that he was still just their fourth best pitcher, proving once and for all that the rich really do get richer.

It’s impossible to look at Vogelsong’s 2011 numbers, compare them to his career averages, and expect to find anything except the fact that they’re way out of phase. This is what happens when a bad pitcher becomes a good pitcher after a sojourn in Japan. He did outpitch both his FIP and xFIP by nearly a full run, which doesn’t portend particularly good things, but he wasn’t building his numbers on an unsustainable BABIP or an impossibly low HR/FB. I’ll admit: I’m as uncertain about Vogelsong as I am about any National League pitcher. I’m sure he should be in this area, but if you like him more than Jurrjens or even Cueto, I can’t say that’s wrong. Call me reactionary, but I’m skeptical that he’ll be as successful this year as he was last year and for that reason I wouldn’t keep him. That said, I wouldn’t shy away from him if he’s falling down the board on draft day, there are far worse risks out there.

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Dan enjoys black tea, imperial IPAs, and any competition that can be loosely judged a sport. Follow him on Twitter.

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I’m definitely beginning to think that Wainwright could be an excellent steal next year.

Brad Johnson

Clearly a tier 4 oversight.


the real question here is how is lincecum NOT in tier 1??? AND how is ian kennedy IN tier 1?? i got my money on the tommy john brothers to join lincecum with those teir 1 starters.