The 2012 Major League Baseball season has been yet another great year for pitchers, but the good times haven't been enjoyed by all.
At one end of the spectrum, there are some really, really good starting pitchers out there this year. Justin Verlander and David Price are having excellent seasons in the American League, and Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey are having excellent seasons in the National League. Felix Hernandez and Matt Cain have thrown perfect games, and several other pitchers have thrown no-hitters.
On the other side, there are the dregs. Ubaldo Jimenez is having a brutal year in his first full season in Cleveland, and Ricky Romero has gone from being one of the AL's best starters to being one of its worst starters. More recently, pitchers like Jeff Francis and Ryan Vogelsong have emerged as huge liabilities.
Every week, I honor the best pitchers the American League has to offer when I put together my rankings for the AL Cy Young award. Fellow MLB Lead Writer Ian Casselberry does the same for the National League with his weekly rankings for the NL Cy Young award. Between the two of us, we've got the best pitchers in baseball pretty well covered.
It's high time the worst pitchers in baseball were put under the spotlight. So without further delay, I present to you the 10 worst regular starting pitchers in baseball today.
Note: Stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Yes, it's come to this for Ryan Vogelsong.
After pitching seven shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals back on August 8, Vogelsong was sitting on a studly 2.27 ERA and a .215 opponents' batting average. The Giants had won 15 of his 21 starts.
Ever since, he's been a nightmare.
In his last seven starts—which is just past the point of being a small sample size—Vogelsong has a 10.31 ERA and a .366 opponents' batting average. His .477 BABIP over his last seven starts would seem to reek of bad luck, but it's hard to blame his struggles on bad luck knowing that opponents have compiled a .634 slugging percentage against him in his last seven outings.
Meanwhile, Barry Zito has a decent 4.30 ERA over his last seven starts, and Tim Lincecum has come around to the tune of a 3.33 ERA since the All-Star break.
In other words, Vogelsong is officially the worst starting pitcher in a Giants rotation that features arguably the worst starting pitcher in baseball over the last five seasons and a guy who went into the All-Star break with an ERA of 6.42.
This explains that loud crashing sound all of us heard last month. It was Vogelsong finally coming back down to earth.
The Cincinnati Reds' starting rotation is starting to show some cracks in its armor. Johnny Cueto has an 8.22 ERA in September, and Mat Latos has a merely decent 4.20 ERA over his last six starts.
But their struggles pale in comparison to those of Mike Leake. Ever since the All-Star break, he's been one of the worst starting pitchers in all of baseball.
Leake has made 11 starts in the second half, and in those, he has a 5.66 ERA. He's given up 14 home runs in 68.1 innings, which equates to around 40 home runs allowed in a 34-start season.
Leake bears a .318 opponents' batting average in the second half, which ranks second only to Jeff Francis among pitchers with at least 60 innings under their belts. The .893 OPS opponents have compiled against Leake is second-worst among starters behind James McDonald, who was removed from Pittsburgh's starting rotation this week (see Associated Press report).
Granted, Leake's struggles in the second half have come primarily at Citizens Bank Park, a venue that has defeated many good pitchers over the years. However, in Leake, we're talking about a pitcher who has a 6.33 FIP (fielding independent pitching) over the last month, according to FanGraphs. Only Henderson Alvarez has done worse.
So don't call it bad luck. Call it what it is: bad pitching.
Few things in baseball are more dependable than Luke Hochevar's mediocrity. He has a 5.38 ERA since the beginning of the 2008 season. Per FanGraphs, that's the worst such mark among all pitchers with at least 700 innings pitched over the last four-plus seasons.
This year, the former No. 1 overall pick (go ahead, laugh) has been his usual self. He's 8-13 through 29 starts with a 5.46 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP, and he's rarely parted from the mediocre path he usually walks this season.
At the All-Star break, Hochevar was 6-8 with a 5.14 ERA and a .281 opponents' batting average. In the second half, he's 2-5 with a 5.93 ERA. He's given up 13 home runs over 68.1 innings, which equates to around 37 home runs given up in a 34-start season.
Now, to be fair to Hochevar, bad luck is partially to blame for his struggles in 2012. FanGraphs has his FIP at 4.58, roughly a full run lower than his 5.46 ERA. If he had better luck, he'd have an ERA worthy of a quality start machine.
But he doesn't have better luck. And he doesn't have better luck because, well, he's Luke Hochevar.
Jeff Francis was good once. He won 17 games with the Rockies in 2007, and he pitched pretty well in two starts on their way to the World Series that year as well.
Francis' career hasn't gone so well ever since, and his return to Colorado this season after a year in Kansas City hasn't been a happy homecoming.
Francis has made 20 starts for the Rockies this season, in which he has a 5-5 record and a 5.68 ERA. That's good for the ninth-worst ERA among pitchers with at least 90 innings pitched this season, according to FanGraphs.
Things have been particularly rough for Francis since the All-Star break. In 13 starts, he has a 5.97 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .324. No starting pitcher with at least 60 innings pitched since the break has given up hits at a greater frequency.
Many of the hits he's given up have been hard ones, to boot. Opponents have a .522 slugging percentage against Francis over his last 13 starts.
I'll give Francis this much credit: According to FanGraphs, no starter the Rockies have used this season has a higher WAR than he does. That's thanks in large part to the fact that he has a decent 4.26 FIP.
So technically, Francis is the best starting pitcher the Rockies have.
...I'm honestly not sure if that qualifies as a compliment.
So far in September, the qualified starting pitcher with the worst ERA in the majors is Felix Hernandez. The qualified pitcher with the second-worst ERA is Johnny Cueto.
Neither of them have any business being on this list. The qualified pitcher with the third-worst ERA in the majors so far in September, however, does have business being on this list.
That would be Bruce Chen, of course. He has a 7.85 ERA so far in September, not to mention a WAR that FanGraphs has calculated at -0.3. That ties him with Chris Capuano for dead last in the majors among starting pitchers.
The reason Chen is on this list and Capuano isn't is because Capuano has done enough to earn the benefit of the doubt. Chen hasn't.
All told, Chen has a 5.42 ERA this season, and he's gotten progressively worse as the season has gone along. In 15 starts since the first of July, he owns a 6.37 ERA. He's given up 21 home runs in his last 83.1 innings pitched.
The heck of it is that 2012 has actually been something of a banner year for Chen. He's one start away from matching his career high, and he's already logged the second-most innings he ever has in a single season.
So if you ask him, things could be worse.
Ask anyone else, and they'll say, "No, not really."
There is one nice thing to be said about Henderson Alvarez, and that's that he's very good at getting ground balls. Per FanGraphs, his 57.3 ground-ball percentage ranks third among qualified major league starters.
He's just not good at much else.
Alvarez's biggest problem is that he pitches to contact a little too much. He only has a K/9 of 3.31, the lowest such mark of any qualified major league starting pitcher. As such, it's not much of a surprise that he has a .292 opponents' batting average, third-worst among qualified starters.
Credit where credit is due, Alvarez did have a solid 3.87 ERA through his first 13 starts. That was in no small part thanks to a curiously low .259 BABIP.
Ever since, Alvarez has a .321 BABIP in 15 starts, and that's helped lead to a 5.99 ERA and a .309 opponents' batting average. He has a 6.33 ERA since the beginning of August.
FanGraphs has Alvarez's WAR at 0.2. Only two qualified starting pitchers have been less valuable than he has this season.
As bad as he's been, however, there's one Blue Jays pitcher who has been worse.
When the Cubs acquired Justin Germano from the Boston Red Sox, he had a perfect 0.00 ERA.
Granted, he compiled that ERA in a single appearance, but you know, it was still a good reason for the Cubs to hope for the best.
And in the first three appearances Germano made for them, he was pretty good. He logged a total of 13.1 innings and put together a solid 3.38 ERA, holding hitters to a .250 batting average.
The results ever since have been less encouraging.
In his last seven starts, Germano has a 7.32 ERA and has been touched up by hitters to the tune of a .305 batting average. His last five starts, in particular, have been excruciating, as Germano has compiled an 8.75 ERA and a .333 opponents' batting average. That batting average comes complete with a .529 slugging percentage.
Germano has lost five straight starts and six of his last seven starts overall, but the good news is that he was pretty good in his most recent start. He gave up just three hits and didn't allow an earned run in five innings, punching out eight in the process.
You have to take this recent start for what it's worth, though. It did, after all, come against the Astros.
Daisuke Matsuzaka has only made nine starts this season. That's admittedly a small sample size, but the fact that Dice-K has been bad enough in those nine starts to warrant consideration on this list speaks volumes about how truly awful he's been.
Dice-K has a 7.14 ERA in his nine starts this season. This is significant because there are only four pitchers in MLB with at least 40 innings pitched who have posted worse ERAs as starters this season.
None of them are still starting games for their respective teams. For that matter, some of them aren't even pitching in the majors at this juncture.
The Red Sox are still pitching Dice-K every fifth day, however, because...
Well, there really is no good answer for why Dice-K is still in Boston's rotation. The best explanation I can come up with is that the Red Sox have long since passed the "Screw it" threshold. They have absolutely nothing left to lose.
Except games, of course. And to that end, they could do worse than Dice-K. He has an ERA of 13.06 in September, worst in the majors among pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched (not the same as the "qualified" guys), and the Red Sox have lost two of the three starts he's made this month.
Get a good look at him, Red Sox fans. This is Dice-K's swan song in Boston.
Ricky Romero had a breakout year in 2011, going 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. The first three years of his career in general were quite good, as only seven lefty starters posted higher WARs than Romero between 2009 and 2011, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
But this year...not so much.
Through 29 starts, Romero is 8-14 with a 5.87 ERA and an MLB-worst 1.62 WHIP. His awful WHIP is largely a byproduct of Romero's control, as he's walking over five batters per nine innings this year.
Romero's struggles didn't really begin until the season was well underway. He actually had a 3.64 ERA and a .216 opponents' batting average through nine starts, solid numbers by any measure. In 20 starts ever since, however, he has a 7.11 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .303. He's struck out 71 and walked 64 in just 107.2 innings.
The Blue Jays have tried to help Romero by giving him a little extra rest here and there in the second half, but their lack of pitching depth leaves them with little choice but to keep running Romero out there. And just when it looks like he may be turning a corner, he goes right back to struggling again.
One can't even begin to think about blaming Romero's struggles on bad luck. He's killed himself with walks, and FanGraphs has his FIP calculated at 5.15. Only three qualified starters have worse FIPs, and two of them are pitching pretty well right now.
There really aren't any excuses one can make for Romero. He's having a bad season. Plain and simple.
The Indians gave up roughly half their farm system to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez last summer, and he rewarded their faith in him by going 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts upon arriving in Cleveland.
Things have not gotten better for Jimenez in 2012. In fact, they've gotten worse.
Jimenez leads all of baseball with 16 losses, and his struggles have been more or less constant ever since he threw his first pitch of the 2012 season.
For the season, Jimenez boasts a 5.43 ERA that ranks as the fourth-worst mark in baseball among qualified starting pitchers. His 1.60 WHIP is the second-worst mark among qualified starters behind only Ricky Romero.
The days haven't gotten any brighter for Jimenez as the season has gone along. He went into the All-Star break with a 4.50 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .247. In 13 starts since the break, he's compiled a 6.78 ERA and a .301 opponents' batting average. Opponents are slugging .505 against him in the second half.
According to FanGraphs, Jimenez's WAR for the season stands at 0.1. There is very little difference between him and a minor league scrub or a random spot starter.
You won't get them to admit it, but I'm guessing that the Indians would like to have this trade back.
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