B/R MLB 500: Top 150 Starting Pitchers
The B/R MLB 500 has been around the horn. Now it's time to head to the mound.
The scoring for starting pitchers goes like this: 30 points for stuff, 20 points for command, 15 points for hittability, 25 points for what we're calling the "workhorse" factor and, like everyone else, 10 points for health. Add it all up and you get 100 points.
For stuff, we considered what sort of pitches each pitcher takes to work with him, as well as things like velocity, movement and general nastiness. The scoring is subjective, but the general rule of thumb is this: the more dangerous pitches a guy has, the higher his score goes.
The command category concerns what you'd expect it to concern. How good is a pitcher at limiting walks? At finding the strike zone? At commanding the ball within the strike zone?
The hittability category essentially answers the question, "How hard is it to hit this guy?" The ability to miss bats and rack up strikeouts is key, but pitchers who keep the ball on the ground have the right idea. Guys who can do both are even better.
The workhorse category takes into account how many innings and pitches each pitcher is capable of racking up when he starts. And though this project is focusing mainly on 2013, having a track record will help in this category. There will also be some projecting going on for some of the youngsters.
As for health, that's basically 10 free points. Unless, of course, there are reasons to be worried about a pitcher's ability to stay healthy. These being pitchers, not too many got perfect health scores.
As always, one thing to keep in mind is that a score that's, say, 15 out of 30 is not a failing score. That's an "average" score, making anything below it below average and anything above it above average.
Lastly, here's a reminder that the whole idea is to round up guys we'd want on a team in 2014. That means top prospects who could potentially make an impact are in play, and both they and relatively inexperienced pitchers may be ranked higher than you think. If there are any ties, the edge goes to the player we'd rather have.
That's all there is to it, so let's go ahead and start this baby up.
Note: All prospect writeups/scores were created by B/R's MLB Prospects Lead Writer, Mike Rosenbaum.
The statistics that informed the following analyses came from all over, so we'd certainly be remiss if we didn't dish out some shoutouts.
Baseball-Reference.com was the go-to site for basic statistics. FanGraphs provided more complex data, most notably the data concerning plate discipline. For that, Baseball Info Solutions data was preferred over raw PITCHf/x data.
When it comes to pitchers, however, no site is ever more useful than Brooks Baseball. And here's the important part: Brooks Baseball was the go-to resource for pitch classifications, velocity and strike zone maps.
Also important is the word "average." It's going to be used often in the ensuing slides in relation to many different things—i.e. an "average walk rate," and "average strikeout rate," etc. How exactly can you know we're not just making stuff up?
Well, what defines "average" for starting pitchers has fortunately been pretty consistent over the last two seasons. According to FanGraphs, an average strikeout rate is just short of 19 percent, an average walk rate is about 7.5 percent, an average ground-ball rate is around 45 percent, an average Zone% (percentage of pitches in the strike zone) is around 45 percent, and so on.
And according to Baseball-Reference.com, an average workload for a pitcher per game is just under six innings and around 95 pitches.
Point being: The terms "average," "above-average" and "below-average" aren't about to be blindly thrown around.
Lastly: if you're wondering where all the injury information comes from, the credit is owed to the injury databases kept by Baseball Prospectus.
150. Josh Johnson, Toronto Blue Jays
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 8/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 5/10
Johnson has had an absolute wreck of a walk year. His health failed him again after he was able to stay on the field in 2012, and he struggled mightily when he was able to pitch. His command was all over the place for much of the season, and his respectable strikeout rate didn’t save him from hard hit after hard hit. All the same, Johnson still has better stuff than most and can eat innings when he’s healthy.
149. Ryan Dempster, Boston Red Sox
Stuff: 13/30; Command: 8/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 9/10
Dempster’s flat stuff didn’t play very well with Texas down the stretch in 2012, and it hasn’t played much better in Boston. He’s basically taken to avoiding the strike zone, which hasn’t helped his walk rate in the slightest. The bright side is that he’s getting just enough swings and misses and strikeouts to avoid total irrelevance.
148. Ross Detwiler, Washington Nationals
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 15/20; Hittability: 3/15; Workhorse: 11/25; Health: 5/10
Detwiler was betrayed by his back this season. His back effectively ended his season in July and made his 2013 campaign a lot like his 2010 campaign: a year lost due to injuries. He’s decent enough when he pitches, however. He’s almost exclusively a fastball pitcher, so he’s naturally very good at avoiding free passes. He better not walk guys, as he can’t miss bats and can’t even be counted on for six innings or even 90 pitches when he takes the ball.
147. Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
Stuff: 14/30; Command: 8/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 10/10
Davis struggled so mightily as a starter for the Royals that he eventually got himself sent down. There’s no question that his stuff plays better out of the bullpen, as his fastball loses a lot of zip and everything else loses its general crispness when he starts. But his stuff is passable, and he also qualifies as a decent strikeout artist as a starter. His rough season had a lot to do with him getting BABIP'd to death.
146. Ian Kennedy, San Diego Padres
Stuff: 14/30; Command: 6/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 10/10
Kennedy’s brilliant 2011 season always was too good to be true, and now he finds himself in San Diego looking to fix himself. That involves shoring up command that has gone off the rails, as Kennedy needs that to make the most of what is really an unspectacular arsenal of pitches. But like we can with a lot of the guys at the back end of these rankings, we can say this about Kennedy: At least he can eat innings.
145. J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 8/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 9/10
Happ has neither great stuff nor great command, and he’s been known to have problems with the long ball. But he’s also managed to be a decent strikeout artist throughout his career, and he’ll hit the century mark with his pitch count when he takes the mound even if he can only get through five in doing so.
144. Jason Hammel, Baltimore Orioles
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 4/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 8/10
Hammel was able to miss plenty of bats in 2012 and was able to establish himself as an effective starter in the process. But he’s lost some zip on his fastball this year, not to mention some crispness on his slider. These things have hurt him, and Hammel himself got hurt on July, ending up on the DL with flexor mass tightness. The one thing that hasn’t been compromised is Hammel’s ability to eat innings, which is something he’s been perfectly average at for a while now.
143. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 5/10
Halladay had a procedure on his shoulder that felt long overdue, and then he made a surprise return in August. The jury's still out on whether his old stuff will return to him, and the jury's also still out on his command. He walked over 10 percent of the batters he faced before he got hurt, and hasn't been much better in a small sample size since his return. You don't want to bet against him, but it's awfully hard to have faith in him at the same time.
142. Samuel Deduno, Minnesota Twins
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 9/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 8/10
A hero in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic, Deduno works off a four-seamer that has sinker movement. It’s extremely effective at doing what you’d expect it to do: induce ground balls. Over the last two years, Deduno’s ground ball rate is near 60 percent. And since he’s improved his control from where it was in 2012, he’s managed to be an effective starter for the Twins in 2013. He's had arm problems in the past, however, and now the word is that his shoulder may need surgery.
141. Juan Nicasio, Colorado Rockies
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 9/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 10/25; Health: 9/10
Nicasio is barely averaging five innings per start both in his career and in 2013, hence the low score in the workhorse category. But he does have a solid fastball-slider mix, and he makes up for a relatively high walk rate and low strikeout rate by mainly keeping the ball on the ground. He’s had an ugly ERA this year, but his actual performance hasn’t been that bad.
140. Jacob Turner, Miami Marlins
Stuff: 16/30; Command: 6/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 10/10
Turner’s command is a work in progress, and he should be racking up more whiffs and more strikeouts with his stuff. But he does have a solid arsenal of pitches to work with, and his ability to keep the ball on the ground has helped him be efficient enough to average six innings per start since joining the Marlins last summer. He has much to prove, but for now it at least looks like he can stick in the majors.
139. Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees
Stuff: 13/30; Command: 15/20; Hittability: 4/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 7/10
It suddenly doesn't sound like a lock that 2013 will be Pettitte's last season in the bigs. Given the way he's pitched, he certainly has a good excuse to come back in 2014. His stuff is still flat, but he's had more velocity this year than he did in 2012, and he still has good command that helps him overcome all the hits that find holes against him.
138. Bud Norris, Baltimore Orioles
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 9/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 10/10
Norris fits the mold of a No. 5 starter about as well as any pitcher in the majors. He has decent velocity on his fastball and a pretty good slider, but that’s about all he has. His control is suspect, and he’s had problems with the long ball in the past. He has, however, been missing bats more consistently since joining the Orioles and has helped himself to more strikeouts as a result.
137. Jon Niese, New York Mets
Stuff: 13/30; Command: 11/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 9/10
It’s hard (OK fine, impossible) to rave about Niese’s stuff, but the mediocre walk rate he has this year doesn’t really reflect the kind of command he has, and he does himself a favor by keeping batted balls on the ground better than 50 percent of the time. There’s undoubtedly a limit to how good Niese can be, but he definitely makes the grade as a serviceable major league starter.
136. Zach McAllister, Cleveland Indians
Stuff: 14/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 10/10
McAllister throws an awful lot of fastballs, so it’s a good thing he can run his up to 93 and can pitch up in the zone with it just effectively enough to get by. And while he struggles to get through six consistently, his workhorse ability (and the Indians’ bullpen) would be a lot worse off if he wasn’t capable of topping the 100-pitch threshold with regularity.
135. Dan Straily, Oakland A's
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 9/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 11/25; Health: 10/10
Straily appeared on the radar last year by racking up strikeouts at an impressive rate in Triple-A, and that skill has translated fairly well to the big leagues despite a lack of truly impressive stuff. Though only to a slight degree, he's also improved on the command he showed during his cup of coffee in 2012. He’s not a candidate to go deep into games for the time being, but any pitcher with solid stuff, passable command and an ability to miss bats has a shot.
134. Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
Stuff: 21/30; Command: 6/20; Hittability: 9/15; Workhorse: 10/25; Health: 6/10
Duffy hasn’t been back from Tommy John surgery for very long, and there are obviously still some question marks. Given its history, there’s no guarantee his elbow can stay healthy. His command also isn’t quite back yet, to say the least. He’s missing bats, but has also picked up his old bad habit of not keeping the ball on the ground. But here’s the good news: He’s still a hard-throwing lefty with a good hook and a good changeup. Duffy should definitely be on everyone’s radar as a guy to watch in 2014.
133. Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 15/20; Hittability: 9/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 1/10
Garcia’s health is a huge question mark, as he has Tommy John in his history and more recently had to go in for surgery to repair a labrum tear after missing big chunk of time in 2012 with a bad shoulder. It can’t be taken for granted that he’ll ever be the pitcher he used to be again. But that pitcher was a solid one, with very good command of decent stuff who got plenty more whiffs than he had any right getting, and he kept the ball on the ground well to boot.
132. Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers
Stuff: 19/30; Command: 8/20; Hittability: 8/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 3/10
Billingsley isn’t going to be seen until later in 2014, as he’s going to be recovering from his April Tommy John operation for a while longer still. But don’t forget about him in the meantime. He can be frustrating to watch, but he’s a pitcher with a deep repertoire and a good strikeout ability, and he’s always been a solid bet to go six when he takes the hill. That may be his limit, mind you, but he can get there.
131. John Danks, Chicago White Sox
Stuff: 13/30; Command: 16/20; Hittability: 3/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 6/10
Danks doesn’t get by on stuff. He gets by on very good command of his pitches, and this year his efficiency has made him a solid bet to pitch into the seventh. One major drawback is that it’s easy to get the ball in the air off of him, and he’s had all sorts of trouble with the ball going over the fence in 2013. Another drawback is that his shoulder is basically being held together with scotch tape at this point.
130. Chris Capuano, Los Angeles Dodgers
Stuff: 13/30; Command: 15/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 6/10
A survivor of not one, but two Tommy John operations, Capuano's injury history has only grown larger this year. He also has underwhelming stuff with a fastball that sits 89-90 and secondaries that aren’t liable to freeze hitters at the plate. As such, he can be hard to watch when he’s not fine with his command. That’s fortunately something he can handle more often than not.
129. Wandy Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Stuff: 13/30; Command: 15/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 16/25; Health: 5/10
Sidelined with a forearm injury since June, Rodriguez was eventually diagnosed with arthritis. That's the kind of diagnosis that gives one pause. Before that injury arose, however, Rodriguez was in the middle of a solid season. His stuff was as mediocre as ever, but he was working with the lowest walk rate of his career, the result of him throwing more pitches in the zone than usual. This efficiency was very much needed, as he’s still not a strikeout artist and the ground balls weren't as plentiful for him.
128. Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 6/20; Hittability: 9/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 10/10
Jimenez’s days as a guy who could sit in the high-90s with his hard stuff are long gone, but he still has good velocity for a starter and his slider and splitter can still be nasty on a good day. His issues arise with his command, which is still largely erratic. Take that and combine it with his general inconsistency, and asking for anything more than six innings out of Jimenez is asking a lot.
127. Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
Stuff: 18/30; Command: 9/20; Hittability: 8/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 8/10
Although Stroman’s long-term future as a starter is debatable, there’s no question that his stuff is good enough to compete in the major leagues. And given his success this season since returning from a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, it’s seemingly only a matter of time until he gets a chance to prove it.
126. Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 9/20; Hittability: 8/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 9/10
Ventura has taken a huge step forward this season in terms of both his consistency and command, and he's finally looking more like a pitcher than a guy who throws really, really hard. He has the ceiling of a frontline starter, but there’s no guarantee his undersized frame will handle 200 innings over the course of a season.
Kelly can run his hard stuff up into the mid-90s, and his arsenal also includes a changeup, slider and curveball that he can use effectively. He’s struggled to limit free passes as a starter and he doesn’t miss quite as many bats as he should, but he keeps the ground balls coming and has been very good at limiting extra-base hits as a result. He’s a typical ho-hum-looks-like-he’s-a-good-one Cardinals pitcher.
Dempster’s flat stuff didn’t play very well with Texas down the stretch in 2012, and it hasn’t played much better in Boston. He’s basically taken to avoiding the strike zone, which hasn’t helped his walk rate in the slightest. The bright side is that he’s getting just enough swings and misses and strikeouts to earn his keep. He passes for a No. 5 starter.
125. Jeremy Guthrie, Kansas City Royals
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 12/20; Hittability: 1/15; Workhorse: 17/25; Health: 10/10
With mediocre stuff and a longstanding inability to miss bats, Guthrie is pretty well established as baseball’s foremost batting practice pitcher. Living with him means living with hard-hit balls, a good percentage of which find their way over the fence. At least he can eat innings.
124. Joe Saunders, Seattle Mariners
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 12/20; Hittability: 4/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 10/10
Saunders is a “Hey, at least he’ll eat innings” kind of guy, but 2013 has been the first season in a while in which he’s struggled to get through six on a consistent basis. The Mariners actually haven’t been able to rely on him for six innings and 100 pitches. It’s a good thing he’s still better than most at it, however, as you’re left with the following if you strip away Saunders’ ability to eat innings: average stuff and an extreme inability to miss bats.
123. Alex Wood, Atlanta Braves
Stuff: 16/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 9/15; Workhorse: 10/25; Health: 10/10
Wood's stuff in and of itself is hardly eye-popping, but that funky delivery of his has proven to be effective in terms of making his stuff hard to pick up. He's pretty good at missing bats, and he also keeps the ball on the ground well. The catch is that he walks a few more batters than the average starter and is hardly proven himself as a workhorse in the few starts he's made in 2013. He hasn't even averaged 90 pitches per start.
122. Jason Vargas, Los Angeles Angels
Stuff: 13/30; Command: 13/20; Hittability: 3/15; Workhorse: 18/25; Health: 8/10
With the exception of his changeup, which is a quality pitch, there’s nothing impressive about what Vargas throws. He’s also tended to be a home run magnet in his career, notably giving up a whopping 35 long balls in 2012. In general, he's one of the most hittable starters you're going to find anywhere. But his command allows him to be efficient, and he’s averaged better than six innings and 100 pitches per start like clockwork since 2010.
121. Alexi Ogando, Texas Rangers
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 11/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 7/10
Ogando’s arm is a live one, as he can run his fastball between 93-94 with a good slider, and the 2013 season has seen him go to his changeup more often. He also has better command than he’s shown this year, as he’s been blocked from getting in a rhythm by injuries. But those are the real problem here. Ogando hit the DL for the third time in 2013 in late August, all with arm/shoulder injuries. They’re of the variety that should clear up, but you never know.
120. Wily Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 10/10
Peralta has a live arm and a good fastball-slider combination, and he gets credit for keeping his hard stuff around the bottom of the zone. However, his walk habit isn't particularly strong and he isn’t missing as many bats as he should be, and his lack of efficiency has rendered him incapable of getting through six innings consistently. He’ll have plenty to build on when this season is in the books.
119. Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers
Stuff: 16/30; Command: 8/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 16/25; Health: 9/10
Gallardo’s stuff is fading fast, as he’s gone from sitting 93-94 with his hard stuff to barely getting by at 91-92, and his breaking stuff has lost some effectiveness too. The good news is that his command and ability to miss bats have been a lot better since he returned from the disabled list in mid-August, and he's still a good bet to get through six or so on 100 or so pitches.
118. Eric Stults, San Diego Padres
Stuff: 11/30; Command: 15/20; Hittability: 4/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 10/10
Stults is basically Mark Buehrle with a little extra velocity, as his stuff just isn’t a feast for the eyes. But he does have good command of it, and he’s used his efficiency to give the Padres six innings of work on a consistent basis in 2013. The biggest nitpick I have is that he deserves to have more home runs next to his name given the mediocrity of his stuff and the rate at which he gives up fly balls.
117. Jorge de la Rosa, Colorado Rockies
Stuff: 18/30; Command: 11/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 8/10
His health seems to be in a constant state of duress, but de la Rosa is admittedly having a much better season in 2013 than this ranking indicates. The reasons he isn't higher are as follows: he has good-but-not-great stuff, his command is just OK, he doesn’t overpower hitters, and he can't be counted on for six innings or 100 pitches when he takes the ball. However, he has certainly contributed to a larger effort that has made the Rockies one of the best teams in baseball at racking up ground balls.
116. Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates
Stuff: 19/30; Command: 7/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 10/10
Locke doesn’t have overpowering velocity, but his four-seam fastball has some serious tailing action on it, and he also has a quality changeup and curveball. These are the good things. The bad things: Locke doesn’t throw strikes, he doesn’t miss bats, and he’s not even averaging six innings per start. It was inevitable that he would start struggling after an All-Star first half, and he indeed struggled badly enough to get himself optioned to the minors for what Pirates GM Neal Huntington called a "short break."
115. Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers
Stuff: 18/30; Command: 13/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 18/25; Health: 1/10
Does anyone even still remember Harrison at this point? This has been a lost season for him due to a series of back injuries that he hasn’t been able to overcome, eventually culminating in him being shut down for good in mid-August. Now he needs surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. When healthy in 2012, however, Harrison earned himself a nice new contract by being a good command artist who could keep the ball on the ground and rack up innings. An average start for him was 6.7 innings.
114. Roberto Hernandez, Tampa Bay Rays
Stuff: 16/30; Command: 14/20; Hittability: 4/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 10/10
Hernandez’s sinker was a filthy pitch back in 2007 when he was excellent (and still known as Fausto Carmona). It’s lost some zip, but is still a quality pitch that Hernandez commands well, and it keeps the ball on the ground more often than not. The downside: Hernandez allows far too many home runs and he hasn't been a quality workhorse in several years.
113. Nathan Eovaldi, Miami Marlins
Stuff: 20/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 8/15; Workhorse: 10/25; Health: 8/10
Eovaldi is still a pup as a starter, and his arm and shoulder have already had it pretty rough. He had Tommy John as a high schooler and battled a bout with shoulder inflammation this year that sidelined him for about three months. But goodness knows he has a live arm with a nasty fastball-slider combination, and his command this season hasn’t been as mediocre as his walk rate indicates.
112. Dillon Gee, New York Mets
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 14/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 7/10
Gee helps make up for having mediocre stuff by having a lot of it, as he has five pitches that he features regularly and varies up his fastball duty between a four-seamer and sinker. He also makes it harder than it should be to square his stuff up, which is all thanks to his easily above-average command. The scariest thing about him is his injury history, which includes some shoulder issues and elbow tendinitis that has lingered in 2013. Otherwise, he’d rate higher.
111. Tommy Milone, Oakland A's
Stuff: 11/30; Command: 16/20; Hittability: 4/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 10/10
Milone’s stuff is about as “meh” as it gets, with the only pitch capable of raising your eyebrows being his changeup. Major league hitters were able to adjust to it in 2013, laying off the changeup and teeing off on Milone to a point where the A’s eventually had to send him to the minors. But with outstanding command and an ability to eat a decent amount of innings, Milone still has the goods to succeed.
110. Henderson Alvarez, Miami Marlins
Stuff: 16/30; Command: 14/20; Hittability: 4/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 9/10
It’s basically all sinkers when Alvarez is on the mound, but he has made more use of his four-seamer this year and has been rewarded in the form of the two things he desperately needed last year: more whiffs and more strikeouts. With some strikeouts to go along with all his ground balls, Alvarez has seen his effectiveness skyrocket. The big catches are: A) a lost health point for sitting out the first three months of the season with shoulder inflammation and B) he's not much of a workhorse.
109. Scott Kazmir, Cleveland Indians
Stuff: 20/30; Command: 11/20; Hittability: 8/15; Workhorse: 11/25; Health: 6/10
Talk about your all-time comebacks. Kazmir has turned the clock back on his stuff, and he’s displayed a much better idea of where it’s going than he did when he was last in the majors in 2011. His ability to eat innings is still very much limited, however, and the DL stint he needed earlier in the season served as a reminder that his health can't be counted on.
108. Felix Doubront, Boston Red Sox
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 8/20; Hittability: 9/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 10/10
Doubront’s command is still a work in progress, and this season has seen him feature flatter stuff across the board, with significantly less life on his fastball and a shockingly mediocre curveball. It’s no surprise that he hasn’t missed as many bats, and that he still has more or less natural ceiling of six innings per start. Credit where it’s due, however: Doubront is still a decent source of strikeouts and ground balls, and he hasn't struggled with homers nearly as bad as he did in 2012.
107. A.J. Griffin, Oakland A's
Stuff: 14/30; Command: 13/20; Hittability: 4/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 10/10
The only good pitch Griffin has at his disposal is a big, loopy curveball that occasionally jellies a few legs, but his game is more about hitting spots and changing speeds. He’s able to maintain about an average strikeout rate that makes life a little easier, but he’s also a home run magnet. That part, of course, doesn’t make life easier.
106. Phil Hughes, New York Yankees
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 14/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 9/10
Hughes goes heavy on his four-seamer, but it’s beyond clear by now that it’s not a pitch that can beat major league hitters on its own. Unfortunately, Hughes doesn’t have much in his arsenal besides his slider. Thus, plenty of hits happen when he pitches, a good chunk of them go far and serve to get Hughes out of the game early. In his defense, however, Yankee Stadium does him no favors. He'll be a candidate for a big-time turnaround once he gets himself to a bigger ballpark.
105. Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays
Stuff: 24/30; Command: 11/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 11/25; Health: 4/10
Morrow was diagnosed with an “entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm” in July, an injury that has effectively ended his season and could possibly require surgery to correct. Morrow’s injury track record is now even more distressing than it already was, and it’s all a damn shame. His fastball-slider-splitter combination is deadly when he has it working, and he’s showed much-improved command of his stuff when he's been able to pitch the last two years. What's not so good: his declining strikeout habit.
104. Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds
Stuff: 16/30; Command: 7/20; Hittability: 12/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 9/10
Cingrani’s fastball is terrific. Terrific enough, in fact, to be all he’s really needed to rack up swings and misses and punchouts. But right now he’s all arm and little else. He’ll have to work on using the rest of his repertoire, and he also needs to sharpen up his command. To boot, his health looks a little iffy. He had to hit the DL with a bad back in August and needed an early exit due to more back trouble in his most recent start.
103. Brandon Beachy, Atlanta Braves
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 14/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 11/25; Health: 7/10
Beachy got a scare shortly after he returned from Tommy John surgery. It turned out to be just elbow inflammation, but it's been bad to sideline him since late August. Before that, Beachy had picked up where he left off with his control renaissance, throwing 50 percent of his pitches in the zone and hardly walking anybody. He’d also been getting his share of whiffs and strikeouts, and his stuff had shown shades of its old prowess. The small sample size caveat applies, but it's worth noting that this is a guy who was leading the league in ERA at the time he got hurt.
102. Trevor Cahill, Arizona Diamondbacks
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 9/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 16/25; Health: 10/10
Cahill is one of the game’s preeminent sinkerballers, throwing his sinker over half the time and using it to consistently rack up ground ball rates around 60 percent. For a sinkerballer, that’s elite territory. He’s prone to inconsistency, however, and that's been the case this season. For all the ground balls he’s been getting, Cahill’s pitch-to-contact ways have also resulted in a lot of balls flying over the fence.
101. Paul Maholm, Atlanta Braves
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 13/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 9/10
The depth of Maholm’s repertoire is good enough to make up for the relative mediocrity of his pitches, and he has the control to make these mediocre pitches effective. But he can be hit hard when the smoke and mirrors aren’t working, and he’s the kind of innings eater who’s only good for six innings.
Cahill is among the game’s preeminent sinkerballers, throwing his sinker over half the time and using it to consistently rack up ground ball rates in the neighborhood of 60 percent. For a sinkerballer, that’s elite territory. He’s prone to inconsistency, however, and this is a season that can vouch. For all the ground balls he’s been getting, Cahill’s pitch-to-contact ways have also resulted in a lot of balls flying over the fence.
The best thing Feldman has going for him is his command, as he likes to pound both sides of the plate against lefties and sit on the outside corner against righties. He doesn’t get many strikeouts, but he’s been getting enough ground balls this year to rack up innings at a decent rate. But while being an innings eater is sort of what earns him his keep, this is actually the first year of his career in which he’s averaging better than six innings per start.
Vogelsong’s repertoire runs pretty deep, as he’s featured a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, curveball and changeup all at least 10 percent of the time this season. But while his command can be impeccable when he’s on, he’s really not much for pounding the strike zone and is only about average at limiting walks. He’s also a below-average whiff artist and at best an average strikeout artist, and he desperately needed to be both of these things earlier in the year when the home runs were flying out of the yard.
100. Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 9/10
Vogelsong’s repertoire runs deep, as he’s featured a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, curveball and changeup all at least 10 percent of the time in 2013. But while his command can be impeccable when he’s on, he’s generally not much for pounding the zone and is only about average at limiting walks. He’s also a below-average whiff artist and at best an average strikeout artist, and he desperately needed to be good at both of these things earlier in the year when the home runs were flying out of the yard.
99. Miguel Gonzalez, Baltimore Orioles
Stuff: 18/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 9/10
Gonzalez has been incorporating his sinker more often, but he’s still mainly a fastball-splitter pitcher with basically average control and not much ability to gather whiffs and strikeouts. He also doesn’t keep the ball on the ground very well, which helps contribute to a minor home run problem. Yet he does enough to keep his ERA in the 3.00s, and he’s averaging six innings per start just like he did last year. You’ll note the point docked from his health score, and that’s for Tommy John surgery back in 2009.
98. Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 12/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 11/25; Health: 10/10
We’ve gotten a decent look at how Wacha looks as a major league starter, and the early returns look pretty good. He works in the 91-93 range with his fastball when starting, and his changeup has the look of a plus offering. He’s also shown some solid command and has missed some bats (though not as many as a starter compared to as a reliever). The next step is turning into a guy who can go deep into games.
97. Joe Kelly, St. Louis Cardinals
Stuff: 19/30; Command: 9/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 10/10
Kelly can run his hard stuff up into the mid-90s, and his arsenal also includes a changeup, slider and curveball that are all solid. He’s struggled to limit free passes as a starter, and he doesn’t miss quite as many bats as he should, but he keeps the ground balls coming and has been very good at limiting extra-base hits as a result. He’s a typical ho-hum-looks-like-he’s-gonna-be-a-good-one Cardinals pitcher.
96. Jared Cosart, Houston Astros
Stuff: 18/30; Command: 8/20; Hittability: 9/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 10/10
Cosart has been one of the more frustrating pitchers in the minor leagues for the last several years—well, at least until he was called up for the first time by the Astros in mid-July. He hasn’t missed as many bats in the majors as he did in Triple-A, but that hasn’t stopped the right-hander from emerging as the team’s most consistent starter since the All-Star break.
95. Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Stuff: 19/30; Command: 9/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 9/10
Regarded as one of the game’s top pitching prospects since the 2011 season, it shouldn’t be long until Taillon joins Gerrit Cole, the team’s former top prospect, in the major leagues. The right-hander is one of a select few pitching prospects with two potential plus-plus offerings (fastball/curveball), though his arm action leads to questions about his future command.
94. Sonny Gray, Oakland As
Stuff: 18/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 8/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 9/10
Gray regressed across the board in 2012—his first full season in the minor leagues—but showed the ability to make adjustments and learn from the experience. After a hugely successful bounce-back campaign this season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, the A’s recently promoted Gray to the major leagues for the stretch run. The right-hander hasn’t skipped a beat despite pitching on the national stage and is making a strong case for a spot in the team’s 2014 rotation.
93. Randall Delgado, Diamondbacks
Stuff: 18/30; Command: 12/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 10/10
Arriving in Arizona via the Justin Upton trade, Delgado has shown much better command than what he had in a disappointing stint with the Braves in 2012. He also has some good raw stuff that should eventually translate to him missing more bats. But for now he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher with a sinker and a changeup, and he’s not missing many bats or racking up many strikeouts. Also: home runs are a legit problem for him.
92. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 12/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 10/10
Hellickson’s command has been better this year than it was in 2011 or 2012, paying off in the form of a much-improved walk rate. He’s also picked up a few more strikeouts, helping himself by leaving fewer things to chance. Yet his changeup-happy approach to pitching isn’t working so well anymore, as opponents have hit his changeup better than they usually do. That's helped to send Hellickson's BAA skyward. Maybe his trip to the minors will prove to be just what he needed in the long run.
91. Tyler Chatwood, Colorado Rockies
Stuff: 20/30; Command: 11/20; Hittability: 8/15; Workhorse: 10/25; Health: 9/10
Chatwood has some serious stuff at his disposal, with a four-seamer and sinker that sit 93-94 and two solid breaking balls. His command with his fastball and off-speed pitches is generally sharp, and Chatwood’s M.O. is to put Colorado’s strong defensive infield to work by generating tons of ground balls—almost 60 percent of the balls in play off him find the ground. The catch is that he doesn't eat innings.
90. Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 14/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 10/10
Kendrick goes heavy on the sinkers and cutters, using good command of these pitches to try and pitch to contact. He gets plenty of ground balls, but the shine started to wear off his pitch-to-contact style after the first two months of the season were in the books. He could help himself a lot by looking to miss more bats, but that's a wait-and-see proposal.
89. Scott Feldman, Baltimore Orioles
Stuff: 15/30; Command: 13/20; Hittability: 6/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 9/10
The best thing Feldman has going for him is his command, as he likes to and indeed can pound both sides of the plate against lefties and sit on the outside corner against righties. He doesn’t get many strikeouts, but he’s been getting enough ground balls this year to rack up innings at a decent rate. But while being an innings eater is sort of what earns him his keep, this is actually the first year of his career in which he’s averaging better than six innings per start.
88. Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles
Stuff: 21/30; Command: 11/20; Hittability: 10/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 5/10
After climbing from Low-A to the major leagues last year, Bundy was expected to spend a majority of the 2013 season in the Orioles’ starting rotation. However, the right-hander battled elbow soreness out of the gate this spring before eventually having Tommy John surgery in late June. Sadly, it’s a lost year for Bundy. Though, I’m curious to see how he looks next year with a brand-spanking-new elbow.
87. Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 13/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 9/10
Gausman possesses an ideal combination of size, stamina and arm strength—the kind that you want in a frontline starting pitcher. He’s capable of being effective with only a plus-plus fastball-changeup combination, however, Gausman’s breaking ball and overall command will need to improve before he’s offering another crack at the Orioles’ starting rotation.
86. Brett Anderson, Oakland A's
Stuff: 22/30; Command: 14/20; Hittability: 8/15; Workhorse: 10/25; Health: 5/10
Anderson’s career has basically been on the rocks since 2010 due to injuries, and that’s the damndest of shames. He has some good stuff with a fastball that sits 92-93 and two sharp breaking balls, and he’s a terrific command artist when he’s healthy. Maybe 2014 will be the year he stays healthy and makes good on the promise he showed in 2009 and 2010. An iffy bet, but one worth taking given his potential.
85. Dan Haren, Washington Nationals
Stuff: 13/30; Command: 16/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 9/10
Haren’s stuff was well below average in 2012 and hasn’t gotten much closer to average in 2013. And where it was once easy for him to get through seven innings on a nightly basis, it’s now hard for him to get through five. Yet Haren is a case of a pitcher who has pitched better than his ERA, as he’s still excellent at limiting free passes and has his strikeout rate safely above league-average territory again. The run he started going on after the All-Star break goes to show he can still pitch.
84. Andrew Cashner, San Deigo Padres
Stuff: 19/30; Command: 11/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 13/25; Health: 9/10
Cashner’s four-seamer has plenty of giddy-up on it, as it sits at 95-96 and can go higher than that. With movement, too. He also has a changeup and can feature both a slider and a curveball, though his secondaries are all too inconsistent to be called quality. His control has gotten better, as he’s been better about not issuing free passes and has gotten comfortable living in the strike zone. He’s also keeping the ball on the ground well with a ground ball rate over 50 percent. If he starts missing bats as often as he should be, the National League is going to be in trouble.
83. Brandon McCarthy, Diamondbacks
Stuff: 16/30; Command: 19/20; Hittability: 5/15; Workhorse: 14/25; Health: 6/10
Living with McCarthy means living with his injury problems. His shoulder is seemingly in a constant state of duress, and he had a scare during the summer that indicated the head injury he suffered last September might not be a thing of the past. The good news is that he’s an outstanding command artist when he’s pitching, and his efficiency helps him make up for the fact that he is indeed quite hittable.
82. Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles
Stuff: 17/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 8/15; Workhorse: 15/25; Health: 10/10
Tillman’s first-half record landed him in the All-Star Game, but realistically there’s not much to him as a pitcher. His attack is extremely reliant on his fastball, which is 92-93 but about as straight as an arrow. He also specializes neither in limiting walks, striking hitters out or keeping the ball on the ground. But you have to give him this: He’s had little trouble turning in quality starts.
81. Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians
Stuff: 20/30; Command: 11/20; Hittability: 10/15; Workhorse: 11/25; Health: 8/10
Salazar’s fastball-changeup combination is deadly. His heater sits in the high-90s and can touch triple digits, and his splitter is a pitch that absolutely vanishes and has already proven to be an effective swing-and-miss offering against major league hitters. He's also shown that he has the ability to maintain his stuff deep into games, meaning he should be able to avoid a future as a reliever. Instead, it looks like he’s going to be a special starter.
80. Eddie Butler, Colorado Rockies
Stuff: 20/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 11/15; Workhorse: 11/25; Health: 9/10
Butler isn’t as well known as many of his peers, but he should be. The right-hander has three pitches that grade as plus or better, as well as a vastly underrated feel for pitching. The only question is whether his arm action and command will translate at the highest level. If not, Butler still has an incredibly bright future as a late-inning reliever.
79. Robert Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds
Stuff: 20/30; Command: 9/20; Hittability: 11/15; Workhorse: 12/25; Health: 9/10
Stephenson has taken off over the last year thanks to a fastball that touches elite velocity and surprisingly advanced feel for pitching. His curveball has become a more consistent pitch this season and played a role in the right-hander’s success at more advanced levels. Stephenson has the ceiling of a frontline starting pitcher, but his changeup and mechanics will need considerable refinement along the way.
78. Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves
Stuff: 18/30; Command: 14/20; Hittability: 8/15; Workhorse: 18/25; Health: 3/10
By all rights, Hudson should rank a lot higher on this list, as he’s a pitcher with a deep repertoire, good command and a longstanding expertise at racking up ground balls. But the ankle injury he suffered in July was a brutal one that only added to an extensive list of injuries Hudson has suffered throughout his career. He may be looking to be ready for spring training, but who knows?
77. Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds
Stuff: 16/30; Command: 14/20; Hittability: 4/15; Workhorse: 17/25; Health: 10/10
Leake's stuff is far from overpowering, so it's a good thing he has a lot of it. He's a guy who throws everything but the kitchen sink, and he commands it well enough to avoid walks better than the average pitcher. He also eats a decent amount of innings for a back-end guy. The bad part is that he's hopeless at missing bats and can get creamed on a bad day.
76. Edwin Jackson, Chicago Cubs
Stuff: 18/30; Command: 10/20; Hittability: 7/15; Workhorse: 16/25; Health: 10/10
There’s not much to Jackson’s approach. It’s fastballs and sliders and more fastballs and sliders. But he has made an effort to incorporate a two-seamer more often this season, and it’s helped pay off in the form of more ground balls. Some bad luck has skewed his results, however, and as a result he hasn’t been able to eat his usual number of innings.
By all rights, Hudson should rank a lot higher on this list, as he’s a pitcher with a deep repertoire, good command and a longstanding expertise at racking up ground balls. But the ankle injury he suffered in July was a brutal one that only added to an extensive list of injuries Hudson has suffered throughout his career. He may be looking to be ready for spring training, but who knows?
Arriving in Arizona via the Justin Upton trade, Delgado has shown much better command than what he had in a disappointing stint with the Braves in 2012. He also has some good raw stuff that should eventually translate to him missing more bats. But for now he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher with a sinker and a changeup, and he’s not missing many bats or racking up many strikeouts.
75. Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers
Porcello is one of the game's more notable sinkerballers. His sinker accounts for over 40 percent of his pitches, and it's by no means a bad one, sitting 91-92 with precisely the kind of movement you want to see in a sinker. His best secondary offering is his changeup, which has a kind of split-finger action to it. His curveball and slider, however, are average.
Porcello pounds the zone better than most starting pitchers, and his walk rates hang around the same neighborhood like clockwork. From 2010 to this year, his walk rates have hung steady in the 5.5-6.0 range. Another thing that must be noted is that he sits at the bottom of the zone with his sinker on a very consistent basis.
Porcello is trying out a new trick this year: striking batters out. He was typically one to maintain a strikeout rate under 15 percent in the past, but he has pushed his K percentage closer to league average in 2013 while maintaining a ground-ball rate well over 50 percent. However, he's still...well, he's still Rick Porcello. He gets BABIP'd to death like nobody else.
Porcello isn't even averaging six innings and 95 pitches per start for his career, but that has little to do with a lack of arm strength or stamina. His inability to eat innings is more the work of the BABIP gods than it has to do with his talent. That he's been good for 170 innings each year is actually pretty impressive if you consider how many early exits he gets during the course of a season.
Give Porcello this much credit: He's been a picture of health throughout his career. No arm injuries. No shoulder injuries. Nothing.
Porcello is the unluckiest good starter in baseball. He's consistently better than his numbers say he is, and one of these days that's going to change. When it happens, he's going to be cemented as one of the better mid-rotation guys out there.
74. Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Miley leans heavily on fastballs, throwing hard stuff roughly 70 percent of the time. But at least he switches it up between his four-seamer and his sinker, throwing the former about 30 percent of the time and the latter about 40 percent of the time. Both pitches sit 91-92, and the sinker has some good life on it. Miley also has a changeup and a slider, and both are quality pitches.
Command was a huge part of Miley’s success in 2012, as he walked under five percent of the batters he faced to place near the top of the league. He hasn’t been able to keep that up this year with a walk rate right around the league average, and a big factor has been fewer swings out of the zone. He hasn’t responded to that by pounding the zone more often.
With fewer swings out of the zone happening for Miley, it makes sense that his swinging-strike rate would be down from where it was last year. Yet he’s managed to keep his strikeout rate where it was last year, and he’s also significantly upped his ground-ball rate. The catch is that he’s developed a case of homeritis.
Miley averaged better than six innings per start as a rookie in 2012 and came pretty close to eclipsing 200 innings despite making only 29 starts. He hasn’t tailed off as a workhorse this year, but he hasn’t taken the next step either. He’s been about as prolific racking up innings as he was last year and hasn’t often made it all the way through seven.
Miley experienced some left shoulder fatigue during spring training. Aside from that, his injury history doesn’t contain anything worth talking about.
Miley’s sophomore effort hasn’t been as strong as his rookie effort, but to call it a disappointment would be a stretch. He still has a place among the game’s top lefties.
73. Wei-Yin Chen, Baltimore Orioles
Chen works off a four-seam fastball that sits 91-92, but it really doesn’t have much life and can seem to be moving slower than that on occasion. He also has a sinker, changeup, slider and curveball that he can turn to, but only the slider grades as a really quality pitch. It’s not a great arsenal, all told, but it’s deep enough for a tip of the cap.
Chen needs to be sharp to get by with his mediocre stuff, and he is. He had a walk rate in the seven percent range in 2012, and it's about the same this year. He’s been aggressive about attacking the strike zone, throwing close to half his pitches in the zone. The one complaint to be made is that he can leave hard ones up to righty hitters, who just so happen to hit him pretty well.
Chen was an above-average strikeout artist in 2012, but not this year. Hitters have a better idea what to expect, so it’s not a shock to see Chen getting fewer swinging strikes and fewer strikeouts. He’s now a below-average strikeout artist, and hitters have had an easier time getting the ball in the air off of him. He’s been able to keep the ball in the yard, but there’s some luck at work there.
The Orioles can count on getting six innings from Chen when he takes the ball. He turned in quality starts regularly in 2012 and is doing it all over again this year—albeit in a small sample size of starts due to a lengthy stay on the DL. The catch is that Chen doesn’t often complete seven innings.
Chen had to sit out about two months after straining his right oblique. But since he doesn’t have a history of such injuries or a history of injuries of any kind, we’ll let it slide.
Chen is one of the more boring pitchers at work today, but he was a godsend for Baltimore’s rotation last year and he hasn’t been any worse when he’s been able to pitch in 2013. He'll do for a solid mid-rotation lefty.
72. Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves
Medlen pitches off a sinker that sits right around 90 miles per hour, and it has some decent movement when he has it working. His secondary arsenal consists of a curveball, a changeup and an occasional cutter. His curveball is decent, but it’s Medlen’s changeup that’s his money pitch. It doesn’t have the most exaggerated movement, but it does have late movement that has baffled many a hitter.
Medlen hasn’t been as pinpoint with his command this year as he was down the stretch in 2012, but he does have a well-below-average walk rate in the six-percent range, and he also pounds the zone more consistently than most pitchers. And given that his hard stuff isn’t overpowering, it’s a good thing he’s solid at living on the outside edges against both lefty and righty hitters.
Medlen is getting about as many swings and misses this year as he did in 2012, and he has his changeup to thank for that. About 45 percent of the swings taken at his changeup have come up empty. Despite that, his strikeout rate is in the neighborhood of average, and he hasn’t been keeping the ball on the ground at the extreme rate he did in 2012 and he's had a bit of gopheritis.
When Medlen was lighting the world on fire last year, he was averaging exactly seven innings per start. He’s been more of a six-inning pitcher this year and hasn’t had much of a habit of pitching into the seventh or pushing his pitch count into the 100s. He hasn’t really capitalized on a chance to build a reputation as an innings eater this year.
Medlen’s injury history is all clean…with the lone exception being his Tommy John operation in 2010 that sidelined him into 2011.
It turns out that Medlen’s brilliant run last season was just a tease, but he’s continued to be a solid starter in an Atlanta rotation that is loaded with solid starters (par for the course).
71. Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays
It’s not about stuff with Buehrle, as his stuff is indeed mediocre to the point of being downright bad. He works off a four-seamer and a sinker that sit 84-85, and he also works in a cutter that comes across in the low 80s. He uses a changeup as his primary offspeed pitch with an occasional curveball on the side, but neither is particularly impressive. But it all works, because…
Buehrle has this working for him. His transition back over to the American League side of the fence hasn’t helped his walk rate, but he’s still sitting well below the league average for starters at around six percent. He doesn’t have the stuff to live in the strike zone, but he makes out OK working around it a lot like Tom Glavine used to. Like a wizard, Buehrle puts the ball precisely where he means to.
Surprisingly, Buehrle is working with his best strikeout rate in years in 2013. He’s still a well below-average strikeout artist for this day and age, however, so he needs the solid ground-ball rate that he has. Even with that, the hits are going to come when he starts.
Buehrle has topped 200 innings like clockwork every year since 2001, and he’s going to get there again this year. He may not go much deeper, but he’s still a lock to go six when he takes the ball.
It’s probably been trying, but the injury bug has yet to break Buehrle. He’s never been on the DL in his career and has had almost zero minor injuries along the way.
Buehrle’s ERA isn’t much to look at, but his actual performance hasn’t changed that much from 2012, when he had a 3.74 ERA over 202.1 innings. He’s being his usual self.
70. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Lincecum still works off his four-seamer, but he’s been mixing in his two-seamer more over the last two seasons. Neither pitch is particularly good, as they both sit in the 90-91 range without much life. Fortunately, he still has a terrific curveball and a terrific-er split-change to turn to with two strikes on hitters. His hard stuff is below average, but his secondaries are good enough to keep his score above par.
Lincecum had a brutal time with walks in 2012 when he walked 10.9 percent of the batters he faced. He’s been a lot better this year with a walk rate much closer to league average, and he owes that to the fact that he has been throwing more pitches in the zone. But his improvements haven’t gone as far as they need to go. His ability to paint with his fastball is still fleeting, and he’s still getting hurt by that.
He certainly can’t throw his fastball by hitters anymore, but Lincecum’s curveball and split-change are both elite swing-and-miss pitches that have played a role in him rescuing his strikeout rate from utter ruin. It’s been sitting in the low-20s, and he has a solid ground ball rate to go with it.
Lincecum was good for seven innings per start back when he was winning Cy Youngs. He’s obviously not that guy anymore, especially not with a high-strikeout and high-walk habit. He can still push his pitch count up and over (occasionally way over) the century mark, but he’s not liable to give you much more than six innings in doing so.
Lincecum’s medical track record isn’t spotless, but it’s definitely more spotless than we all figured it would look by this juncture. For a guy who many expected to fall apart physically as his career went on, he’s been remarkably durable.
The bad news? The old Tim Lincecum is still gone for good. The good news? Lincecum has made himself a passable pitcher who is learning how to succeed with smarts rather than stuff.
69. R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays
During a Cy Young-winning campaign in 2012, Dickey threw the best knuckleball the game has ever seen. Hands down. Alas, it hasn’t been the same in 2013, mainly because he hasn’t been able to throw it as hard. It’s still a good pitch, but it’s not the eye-catcher that it used to be.
Dickey commanded his knuckleball as well as a knuckleball can possibly be commanded last year when he threw it in the zone half the time and managed a walk percentage under six. It hasn’t been so easy for him this year, as he hasn’t been hitting the zone as often and has been issuing more free passes. To make matters worse, he hasn’t been able to get hitters to expand the zone as often.
Dickey was a whiff machine in 2012 with a swinging-strike rate up over 12 percent. He’s come back down to earth with his less-nasty knuckler this year and has watched his strikeout rate creep into average territory. He’s still not the easiest guy to hit, but there has been more contact and it has indeed been hard contact.
Dickey averaged over seven innings per start in 2012 on his way to an NL-high 233.2 innings. He hasn’t been quite as prolific this year, but he has still been eating innings. He’s averaging easily over six innings on over 100 pitches per start.
It’s been a while since Dickey last went on the DL, but he had to have abdominal surgery over the offseason and has been bothered by a bad back in 2013. At his age, injuries such as these can’t be ignored.
Dickey’s star has faded considerably in 2013 as his knuckleball has lost some of its luster. But it would be a stretch to call his season a total disaster, and he can still eat innings.
68. Martin Perez, Texas Rangers
Perez throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer that sit 93-94, and he can reach back for more than that when he needs it. In addition to solid velocity, he packs a changeup and a slider that can be inconsistent, but darn impressive when they're on. That's especially true of his changeup, which really falls off the table when it's working and has proven to be effective against both lefty and righty hitters.
Perez isn't quite a master at commanding the ball yet, but he appears headed in that direction. He's been maintaining a respectable walk rate in the 6.0-7.0 percent range this season, and he also pounds the strike zone a bit more often than your average pitcher. Just as impressive is where he pounds the zone with his hard stuff, as he's quite good at sitting outside and low to lefties and low to righties.
Perez has a below-average strikeout rate for the season, but he's figured out how to miss bats a little more regularly recently. He's been pitching very well since the end of July, and it has to do with the fact that he's pushed his strikeout rate closer to the league average. Apart from that, he keeps the ball on the ground better than the average starter and has gotten better at limiting home runs.
Perez is only average about 95 pitches per start this season, but he's also averaging over six innings per start and has been pitching into the seventh regularly more recently. He still has much to prove as a workhorse, but he ought to get right on that in 2014.
A broken left arm suffered in spring training sidelined Perez for a while, but his arm has been fine other than that and we're not going to hold it against him because it happened on a batted ball.
Perez is still working on establishing himself, but there's no question he's put himself on the map with the season he's had. His stuff and control are quite good, and a pitcher can go far with those two things.
67. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ryu is a true four-pitch pitcher, but none of his pitches really jumps out at you. His four-seamer sits 90-91 with a bit of action, but it is hardly overpowering. He also has a changeup, curveball and slider that are all decent offerings, with the changeup being the only one of the three that so much as sniffs plus. Still, four decent pitches will do for a decent arsenal.
Ryu pounds the strike zone about as much as the average starting pitcher, but he's been able to maintain a walk rate below seven percent for much of the season. That's good stuff. But while he likes to work away from both lefties and righties with his hard stuff, he’s not quite among the league’s great painters just yet.
Ryu doesn’t have a truly elite swing-and-miss pitch, so it’s no surprise that he has a merely decent swinging-strike rate and only a slightly above-average strikeout percentage. He can get ground balls, however, and has done a good job of avoiding the fat part of the bat.
Ryu doesn’t have a major league track record, so we have no idea what a normal workload for him is supposed to look like. But for now, he’s been able to give the Dodgers over 100 pitches and six innings when he’s pitched. He hasn’t often completed seven innings, but he’s found himself pitching into the seventh with pretty good regularity.
Ryu hurt his foot on a batted ball earlier in the summer and has dealt with some back trouble more recently. Aside from these injuries, neither of which are a long-term concern, his injury history is as clean as can be.
Zack Greinke got all the hype during the offseason, but the Dodgers have definitely gotten their money’s worth out of Ryu. He’s not overpowering, but he’s shown he can pitch in the big leagues.
66. Ricky Nolasco, Los Angeles Dodgers
Nolasco has steadily weaned himself off his four-seamer, now throwing it in tandem with the sinker that he started working on a few years ago. Both his fastballs sit 90-91, but neither is overpowering in any way. Nolasco rounds things out with a slider, a splitter and a big, slow curve that he likes to throw around 75. His slider is his best pitch, but it’s more above-average than elite.
Nolasco walked only about five percent of the batters he faced in 2010 and 2011, but he has experienced an uptick in walks the last two years. He’s been shy about going inside the strike zone this year, as he hasn’t been getting as many first-pitch strikes and hasn’t been pounding the zone with as many pitches as he usually does. He’s essentially taken on the role of a crafty right-hander.
Nolasco’s avoidance of the strike zone has paid off in more whiffs outside the zone, and those have rescued his strikeout rate from oblivion by pushing it more into average territory. The trade-off has been fewer ground balls, however, so he’s still a magnet for extra-base hits.
Nolasco’s ability to eat innings has been what’s kept him relevant all these years. He’s long since mastered the six-inning start. However, that’s about his limit. Pitching into the seventh isn’t really his thing, and actually completing seven is even less his thing. And while it may not seem like it, it's actually been par for the course for him since joining the Dodgers.
Nolasco had some problems with his elbow way back in 2007, but no surgery was needed. His arm and shoulder have been fine ever since.
Getting excited for a Nolasco start is about as hard as getting excited for jury duty, but he deserves credit for remaking himself into more than just an innings eater. He’s a quality pitcher again.
65. Jonathan Gray, Colorado Rockies
Owner of the best pure stuff in the 2013 draft class, Gray boasts an effortless plus-plus (borderline elite) fastball that usually registers in the 94-to-98-mph range and touches triple digits early in starts (he topped out at 102 mph this spring). Although it lacks significant movement, the right-hander isn’t afraid to challenge hitters with his overpowering velocity. Gray also features a plus slider that sits consistently between 85 and 88 mph with late, wipe-out break, sharp tilt and excellent pace. His straight changeup represents his weakest offering; it’s an average pitch at 81 to 84 mph with decent fading action to the arm side.
Despite his status as a power pitcher, Gray demonstrates advanced command of his three-pitch mix. He attacks the zone with his robust fastball, working the pitch to both sides of the plate and climbing the ladder to change hitters’ eye levels. Although his walk rate is bound to increase during his ascent of the Rockies’ system, the right-hander’s overall command and feel should keep it below eight percent.
Gray’s ridiculous stuff helped him dominate in college and will presumably enable him to do the same in the low minors. That being said, his arsenal gives him the potential to miss bats at any level, so it’s realistic that he’ll post anywhere from a 25 to 30 percent strikeout rate in a given season. As a power pitcher, Gray’s ground-ball rate may always lag behind his peers’, though it should be partially offset by his strikeout rate.
At a heavy 6’4” Gray is what a front-of-the-rotation starter should look like. He possesses the stamina to work deep into starts, utilizing his strong lower half and core in his delivery to reduce the amount of stress on his multimillion dollar arm. There’s no question as to whether Gray can handle a heavy workload, as he’s already logged over 150 innings this season between college and the minor leagues. While it won’t happen immediately, Gray should enjoy numerous seasons in which he logs upwards of 225 innings.
Gray is a physically strong right-hander with a thick, durable frame with efficient and repeating mechanics. He logged over 100 innings in each of the last two seasons, but he didn’t emerge as Oklahoma’s Friday night starter and overall go-to guy until last year. And despite his velocity spike this spring, Gray’s delivery has remained the same and doesn’t suggest the potential for a future injury.
Everything about Gray is powerful: the stuff, the delivery, the mound presence. The right-hander could probably pitch in the major leagues right now, though the Rockies obviously are in no rush to get him to The Show. As long as he can stay healthy, it may be difficult for the organization to keep him in the minors next season for more than a few months.
64. Bartolo Colon, Oakland A's
Fastballs, fastballs and more fastballs. Over 80 percent of Colon’s pitches are either four-seamers or sinkers. They’re decent pitches that sit between 90 and 93, and the sinker has some pretty good life on it. But Colon’s arsenal is pretty lousy outside his hard stuff. He throws both a slider and a changeup, but both pitches are average at best. It’s not stuff that makes Colon effective.
Command doesn’t get much better than Colon’s. He’s among the best in the business at pounding the strike zone, as well he should be with fastballs accounting for 80 percent of his pitches. Naturally, walks are extremely rare. He walked 3.6 percent of the batters he faced in 2012, and is right there again in 2013.
Colon lacks a swing-and-miss pitch, so it’s not a surprise that he doesn’t get many swings and misses or many strikeouts. He’s also nothing special when it comes to keeping the ball on the ground, so hits are definitely going to happen when he takes the bump.
Colon’s efficiency makes him a threat to go deep into any game he starts. Indeed, he has more complete games in 2013 than he did in his previous six seasons combined. At the very least, he’s going to get through six and is likely to pitch into the seventh, and he doesn’t always need 100 pitches to do so.
Colon owns a pretty lengthy injury history that contains an array of both elbow and shoulder injuries, and he found himself on the DL with strained left groin in mid-August. At his age, he can't be counted on to stay healthy.
Colon’s not the ace-level pitcher he was in his heyday, but he’s basically a billboard for fastball command and the ability to eat innings.
63. Kyle Lohse, Milwaukee Brewers
Lohse works off a sinker that has average velocity in the 90-91 range, and the movement on it is hardly devastating. He rounds out his arsenal with an occasional four-seamer, changeup, curveball and slider. His slider is his best pitch, but it’s pedestrian compared to some of the other sliders around the league. The same can be said of Lohse’s arsenal, which consists of average stuff across the board.
Lohse doesn’t sit inside the strike zone as often as the best of the best among the league’s command artists, but he’s certainly among the best in the game at keeping walks off the board. His walk percentage has been under five in each of the last two years.
Lohse is not a pitcher who lives for the swing and miss, as his M.O. is to pitch to contact in hopes of getting easy outs. He can be a frustrating pitcher to face when he has things breaking his way, but he gives up his share of hits, and it’s not a shock that he has issues with home runs given that his ground-ball rate is below average.
Lohse worked 200 innings last year, and he hit exactly 200 innings back in 2008. His efficiency basically makes him a lock to go six when he takes the ball, but he’s pitched into the seventh inning in less than half his starts this year. As a workhorse, his ceiling only goes so high.
Lohse was sidelined briefly with an elbow issue earlier in 2013, but it doesn’t look like such a minor red flag in light of the forearm problems he’s had throughout his career.
As underwhelming as he is, there’s no denying Lohse’s effectiveness when he pitches. He's at least a solid No. 3 in just about any rotation.
62. Jarrod Parker, Oakland A's
Parker throws both a four-seamer and two-seamer, both of which sit 92-93 with good life. He rounds out his arsenal with a changeup and a slider, both of which are above-average offerings. His slider is a sharp breaker in the low 80s, and his changeup falls off the table like a good changeup should.
The A’s had to live with some walks when Parker was on the mound in 2012, but he's been better in 2013. He doesn't pound the zone more than the average starter, but Parker's walk rate is right around the league average for starters and he's been better about getting ahead with strike one. It's also worth noting that Parker has a walk rate around seven percent since the start of June even with one seven-walk outing mixed in.
Parker gets a ton of whiffs on his changeup, but he’s actually working on a below-average strikeout rate in 2013. His ground-ball percentage is also down, and his home run rate, not so coincidentally, is up. The extra-base hits have been coming against him, especially away from O.Co Coliseum.
Parker worked over 180 innings as a rookie in fewer than 30 starts in 2012. It was a good first step, but he actually hasn’t been more prolific eating innings this year. He’s still only good for about six innings when he takes the ball, and he rarely crosses the 100-pitch threshold.
Parker went in for Tommy John surgery in 2009. He’s been able to stay healthy since then, but it is a red flag.
Parker hasn’t really been better this year than he was in 2012, but he’s still carving a name out for himself as one of the top young pitchers in the league.
61. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Both Archer's four-seamer and two-seamer sit 95-96, and he can reach back for a little extra when he needs 97. His hard stuff really moves too, making it doubly tough to hit. Archer also has a changeup for lefty hitters, but the real key to his arsenal is his slider. It's his go-to pitch for when he needs a whiff, and it can be nasty when he has a feel for it. But for now it's not the most consistent offering, so a bit of nitpickery is warranted with his stuff score.
Archer walked about 13 percent of the batters he faced in his first six starts of the season, which is obviously the opposite of good. He's turned things around in a big way ever since, walking easily under 10 percent of the batters he's faced. His command within the strike zone still leaves something to be desired, but overall he knows what he's doing.
Archer has terrific stuff, but he actually doesn't miss as many bats as you would think. The whiff rate on his slider is relatively low, and so is his strikeout rate. It's good enough, however, and Archer deserves credit for his ability to keep the ball on the ground. That makes his lack of whiffs a lot easier to stomach, and definitely bodes well for him going forward.
For the season, Archer is only averaging about six innings per start. But that figure looks like old news in light of how he's fared since he figured things out. Anything over 100 pitches is still iffy territory for him, but he's shown that he can go six or seven on a regular basis even with a subdued pitch count.
Archer got a bit of a scare when he had to leave a start with forearm tightness in early August, but that turned out to be nothing serious. And aside from that, his injury history is about as clean as it gets for a pitcher.
Early in the year, Archer looked like a guy who wasn't going to be able to cut it as a starting pitcher. But as they usually do, the Rays got him figured out and now he looks like a young pitcher with a bright future.
60. Zack Wheeler, New York Mets
Want stuff? Wheeler's got stuff. He's leaned heavily on his four-seamer in his time in the majors, throwing it 60 percent of the time. That's understandable given that it sit 95-96 with some good life on it. And while his curveball and slider were inconsistent early, he's had both working more often than not recently, and it's clear that both have plus potential. He also has the makings of a solid changeup.
Wheeler wasn't great at limiting walks down in Triple-A, and he hasn't been much better in the majors. One of his more notable issues is inconsistent fastball command, which served me well in a demonstration I did back in July. However, Wheeler has shown some progress over the last few weeks, most notably walking one or fewer in three out of five August starts.
There have been times when Wheeler has been overpowering, and he has struck out more batters than the average starter during his time in the majors. But he hasn't racked up strikeouts on a start-by-start basis and hasn't been great at keeping the ball on the ground either. There's still work to be done here.
Wheeler's spotty command has led to few quick hooks along the way, but he's been making it to and over 100 pitches on a consistent basis and has averaged roughly six innings per start. That'll do for a sign that he can handle a workload, and he should be good for a strong innings count in 2014.
Wheeler had some issues with his fingers as a minor leaguer, but he had no scary arm or shoulder injuries. In other words: nothing to worry about.
There have been some growing pains for Wheeler during his time in the majors, but he looks like a guy who can stick in the majors and at least serve as an occasionally dominant mid-rotation starter. If his dominance becomes more than occasional...well, fun times.
59. Travis Wood, Chicago Cubs
Wood’s repertoire goes fairly deep. He features both his four-seamer and his sinker better than 20 percent of the time. He can only sit 89-90 with both pitches, but the movement on them is solid. But while Wood also has a slider, a changeup and a curve that he breaks out very occasionally, his best pitch is a cutter that has wicked movement at 87-88 miles per hour. In a league where seemingly everyone throws a cutter, Wood’s is one of the best.
Wood is still working on how to limit free passes, as his walk rate was 8.3 percent last year and it hasn’t deviated much from that mark in 2013. But he does pound the strike zone about as consistently as any other pitcher, and he’s good at toying with right-handed hitters on both sides of the plate with his cutter.
Wood lacks a true swing-and-miss offering, so it makes sense that he would get fewer whiffs than the average starter. In turn, it also makes sense that he would be a slightly below-average strikeout artist. But while it’s scary that he prefers to induce fly balls rather than ground balls, his track record of success doing so makes it easier to forgive the habit.
Wood is a lock to pitch into the sixth inning when he takes the ball. That’s not a glowing endorsement at first glance, but he really is a lock. You can count on one hand how many times he’s failed to reach the sixth inning in 2013.
There’s nothing to report on the injury front where Wood is concerned. He’s had pretty good luck with injuries thus far (fingers crossed, Cubs fans).
Wood can only be so good as long as he’s walking more hitters than the average pitcher, pitching to contact in the air and eating only six innings out of time, but he’s pretty well established as one of the more “safe” pitchers out there with the way he’s pitched over the last two years.
58. Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
Quintana works off a four-seam fastball that has solid velocity in the 92-93 range with some decent movement on it. He also has a cutter, a curve and a changeup, with the curveball being the best pitch of the bunch. It’s more of a slurve than an actual curve, as it comes across the plate at 80-81 and has some real biting break on it.
Quintana had about an average walk rate in 2012 and is doing slightly better in 2013. He’s not pounding the zone with more strikes, but he is getting ahead with first-pitch strikes more often and putting himself in more pitcher’s counts in which he can expand the zone. He has improved fastball command to thank for this. It was already good, and now it’s better.
Quintana gets more swinging strikes than the average starter, and what’s interesting about him is that he gets a lot of them on his fastball. That speaks to how quickly it gets on hitters. Naturally, he has a slightly above-average strikeout rate and has been better at jamming hitters to make them pop the ball right up.
Quintana got his feet wet by averaging just under six innings and only about 95 pitches per start in 2012. He’s taken the next step this year. It’s not often he pitches into the seventh inning, but the White Sox have been able to count on him for six innings and over 100 pitches when he takes the bump.
There are no injuries to report. Quintana’s health is in good shape.
Chris Sale gets all the attention, as well he should. But Quintana was quietly pretty good in 2012, and this year he’s quietly been one of the American League’s more effective starters.
57. Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
Walker’s fastball explodes out of his hand and consistently registers between 93 and 96 mph, and he’ll dial it up to 97 to 98 on occasion. The Mariners introduced a cutter into his arsenal last season, and he’s quickly adopted a feel for the pitch, throwing it in the low-90s with slicing action to his glove side. The right-hander’s curveball will flash plus most of the time with great shape and a late, downward bite. Finally, Walker’s changeup has come a long way over the past year and could serve as another above-average offering at maturity.
Walker’s control has noticeably improved this season in concurrence with his pure stuff. Although his walk rate has hovered around 10 percent over the last three years, it’s important to keep that total in the context of a significantly younger player in the high minors.
Although he posted a strikeout rate about 20 percent last season at Double-A, Walker was only beginning to scratch the surface of his swing-and-miss potential. This year, the overall improvement of his stuff and command has led to a career-high strikeout rate around 27 percent. Furthermore, the right-hander has maintained a favorable ground-ball rate above 42 percent in the face of advanced competition.
Walker is a top-notch athlete with a highly projectable frame at 6’4”, 210 pounds, but he is still learning to be a pitcher rather than a thrower. Despite his lack of experience on the mound, the right-hander has shown the ability to handle a considerable workload. And as his command and effectiveness inevitably improves in the coming years, Walker should have no trouble working deeper into games.
Walker didn’t emerge as a legitimate pitching prospect until his senior year of high school, meaning he has little mileage on his arm and plenty of room to develop. He’s eliminated some of the stress in his delivery with an improved use of his lower half, but he still needs to repeat his follow-through more consistently. Regardless, his fluid mechanics and outstanding athleticism should help prevent any significant arm injuries moving forward.
Walker went through a learning year in 2012 when he struggled as a teenager in the Double-A starting rotation. However, his ability to make adjustments and work through his issues has paid huge dividends this season. He’ll look raw at times and endure bouts of wildness, but Walker has both the stuff and potential to serve as the Mariners’ ace for years to come.
56. Mark Appel, Houston Astros
Appel’s fastball sits consistently in the 93-to-97-mph range and has some sink and arm-side run when located down in the strike zone. His slider registers around 84 to 88 mph with a consistent pace, though he can get around the pitch at times and generate slurve-like spin with more of a slow, sweeping break. Lastly, Appel has made strides with the development of his changeup since the 2012 season, especially in terms of its usage and effectiveness. Thrown in the 83-to-85-mph range with fastball-like arm speed, it’s already a plus offering with the chance for a future plus-plus grade. Appel demonstrates a natural feel for turning it over to generate late sinking action with considerable fade to the arm side.
Appel showcased excellent control during his junior and senior seasons at Stanford, some of which can be attributed to him being an advanced and polished pitcher facing inferior hitters. So, while his command really is only a tick above average, it’s always played up against college hitters. However, given the quality of his entire arsenal, Appel’s command should improve naturally in a more competitive environment as he’s forced to execute pitches with greater consistency.
With three dynamic pitches, Appel should always post a favorable strikeout rate, and his ability to create a downhill plane toward the plate will help him keep the ball on the ground. However, there will be times when the right-hander gets knocked around, as his fastball sometimes lacks movement and flattens out when elevated. In college, even his worst sliders were still effective, but that won’t be the case as he rises through the minor leagues. Expect Appel to work on defining the pitch, at least as it relates to his arsenal, moving forward.
Appel endured an ill-advised workload as Stanford’s Friday night starter over the last two years, posting countless 120-plus pitch outings while working deep into games. Still, he’s shown the ability to hold mid-90s velocity deep into starts without sacrificing his control. Once he’s established himself as Houston’s ace, Appel should be a consistent source of at least 200 innings annually.
Despite his gross overuse at Stanford, Appel has been a model of consistency and stayed away from the trainer’s room. The right-hander has an athletic 6’5”, 190-pound frame and efficient delivery that can sustain a heavy workload at any level.
Appel has been tabbed as a future ace since the beginning of the 2012 season and shouldn’t require much time in the minor leagues. But while his arsenal ranks as one of the more advanced and polished among pitching prospects, Appel’s approach and feel for sequencing may need to be adjusted as he climbs the organizational ladder.
55. Ivan Nova, New York Yankees
Nova has been mixing it up with his hard stuff more since returning from a demotion to the minors earlier in the summer. He now features both his four-seamer and his two-seamer about an equal percentage of the time, and both are good pitches with velocity that sit 93-95 with good life. His curveball is his only secondary, and it’s a darn good one: a hard biter that sits in the low 80s.
Nova’s command has improved greatly since he returned from the minors, as he’s issued fewer free passes in large part thanks to improved fastball command. He’s been better about staying away from the middle of the plate, a place he was formerly visiting far too often. He's not a great command artist yet, but he's definitely a better one.
Whiffs were not a problem for Nova in 2012, and they’ve become even less of a problem this year. He gets plenty of swings-and-misses thanks to his curveball and those have helped him push his strikeout rate well above 20 percent. He’s also gotten better about racking up ground balls and has cleared up his home run problem as a result.
We don’t want to get too out of hand with what Nova’s done since his return from the minors, but he’s been pitching into the seventh with regularity. After being a roughly 170-inning guy in 2011 and 2012, he’s going to be a 200-inning guy in 2014 if he can hold on to what he’s discovered this year.
Nova’s injury track record isn’t spotless. He had to hit the DL with shoulder inflammation in 2012 and spent some more time on the DL in 2013 with a triceps injury. It's a slight red flag that Nova was removed from his September 10th start with soreness in his, you guessed it, triceps.
Hiroki Kuroda is the best pitcher the Yankees have and CC Sabathia is the guy with the track record. But if Joe Girardi were faced with a Game 7 scenario and couldn’t use Kuroda, he’d have to give some serious thought to tabbing Nova for the start given the way he’s been pitching.
54. Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
While Syndergaard’s heater sits in the mid-90s with late, arm-side life, he’ll consistently bump 96 to 97 mph and occasionally flirt with triple digits. The right-hander’s curveball has plus potential in the upper-70s, while his command of the pitch has improved this season thanks to the addition of a slider to his already impressive arsenal. Speaking of the slider, it’s quickly emerged as an above-average offering that has, in turn, helped to regulate his arm speed on the curveball. Although he’s improved his feel for a changeup, it’s only an average offering but thrown with deceptive arm speed.
Syndergaard’s control and command has improved considerably this season between High- and Double-A, as he’s lowered his walk rate below six percent for the first time in his professional career. He spots his fastball through the strike zone and works to get ahead in the count, then turning to one of his breaking balls to record the strikeout.
The 6’6” right-hander has a power pitcher’s frame and is a physical presence on the mound, throwing everything on a steep downhill plane and pounding the lower portion of strike zone. More significantly, Syndergaard has enjoyed a jump in his strikeout rate (above 30 percent) following a midseason promotion to Double-A, and he's posted a ground-ball rate of roughly 50 percent this year across both levels. Additionally, of all the strikeouts he’s recorded since the beginning of the 2011 season, roughly 20 percent have of the swing-and-miss variety.
Syndergaard repeats his mechanics and employs a delivery that requires moderate effort but utilizes his strong core and lower half. Considering that this is only his second year at a full-season level, the right-hander is still building up innings in anticipation of joining the Mets’ starting rotation sometime next season. The organization has done an admirable job developing pitching prospects over the last two seasons, as evidenced by both the immediate and ongoing success of right-handers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, and their handling of Syndergaard will be no different.
Syndergaard was eased into his professional career by the Blue Jays, logging a combined 162.2 innings between his 2011 and 2012 seasons. However, he’s been gradually let off the leash since graduating to a full-season level in 2012 and has now made every turn in the starting rotation since.
Syndergaard emerged as one of the game’s top pitching prospects, as his four pitches have noticeably improved and resulted in even sharper command. The right-hander has a realistic chance of reaching his ceiling of a frontline starter and would fit nicely between Harvey and Wheeler in the team’s future rotation.
53. Kyle Zimmer, Kansas City Royals
Zimmer boasts one of the more complete arsenals among top pitching prospects. His fastball sits comfortably in the mid-90s with late life, and he has the ability to reach back for something in the 96-to-98-mph range as needed. In general, Zimmer’s quick arm and smooth delivery causes the pitch to seemingly exploded on opposing hitters. His curveball is a second plus pitch with excellent pace and a sharp downer break, and it will work nicely as an out pitch in the major leagues. He’ll also mix in an average slider with tight spin and decent depth, as well as a changeup with late fading action out of the zone.
Even when he lacks a feel for his four-pitch mix, Zimmer still has the ability to work comfortably within the strike zone. With a walk rate right around eight percent in 2013, Zimmer’s knack for pounding the strike zone separates him from most other top pitching prospects. The scary part is that he should become even more effective once he can get opposing hitters to expand their zone.
Zimmer’s advanced command can actually hurt him at times, as his propensity for working within the strike zone makes opposing hitters more aggressive. Plus, his delivery, though effortless and fluid, lacks natural deception. And while he has plenty of velocity on his fastball, Zimmer’s tendency to linger at the top of the zone enables hitters to lift the pitch. Besides those correctable issues, the right-hander has maintained a strikeout and ground-ball rates of around 30 and 50 percent, respectively.
Thanks to his athleticism, repeatable mechanics and impressive command, Zimmer has the ability to work deep into games. Although the Royals are yet to let him off the leash, so to speak, the right-hander should be able to handle a considerable workload at the front of a major league starting rotation.
Zimmer has significantly less mileage on his arm after converting from an infielder to a full-time pitcher in late 2010. However, some initial wear and tear popped up last August and resulted in minor surgery to remove loose bodies in his right elbow. Though the Royals recently shut him down as a precautionary measure after Zimmer experienced shoulder stiffness, the fact that he was pain-free for most of the year and able to log over 100 innings is very encouraging.
Zimmer has the potential to be a monster with four impressive offerings and above-average command, as well as knowledge on how to attack hitters and exploit weaknesses. The only thing that could seemingly prevent him from a great career in the major leagues is an injury—something that has already been an issue after two seasons in the minors.
52. Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays
Rather than a typical sinker-slider guy, Cobb is a sinker-splitter guy who also mixes in a heavy dose of curveballs. The velocity on his sinker is nothing special at about 91-92, but his curveball and splitter are both quite good. Joe Maddon may like it a bit too much, but Cobb's curveball is an above-average one and his splitter is a legit plus pitch. It goes 86-87 and has sharp, screwball-like movement.
Cobb walked over nine percent of the batters he faced when he first broke in back in 2011. He’s better now, as he’s been able to maintain walk percentages eight percent or lower the last two years. He pitches to the same side of the plate for the most part—inside on lefties and away from righties—which suggests that’s just where he’s most comfortable throwing. At least he does so consistently.
While Cobb’s walk rate is falling, his strikeout rate is climbing. With plenty of help from his splitter, he’s gotten better at getting hitters to expand the strike zone, and he also racks up his share of ground balls. The only trouble is that he gets crushed on mistakes, as he had a home run problem last year that hasn’t improved this year.
There’s still an element of the unknown here with Cobb, as he hasn’t even made as many as 25 starts in a season yet and was denied a chance to do so this year when he took a line drive off his head earlier in the summer. But when he’s pitched, he’s been good for around 100 pitches and six innings per start, so the potential is definitely there for a consistent 200-inning workhorse in the near future.
I’m obviously not going to hold the line drive Cobb took off his head against him, but the shoulder surgery that he had in 2011 to correct thoracic outlet syndrome stands out.
Cobb isn’t a pitcher who’s on a lot of radars out there, but he should be. He may not be overpowering, but he’s a typical Rays pitcher in that he gets by being a master of the craft of pitching.
51. Jake Peavy, Boston Red Sox
Once the keeper of one of baseball’s most electric arsenals, Peavy’s stuff is now only a little better than average. He has to go smoke-and-mirrors with his hard stuff, splitting time between a four-seamer, sinker and cutter that range from 87 to 92 miles per hour. When he goes offspeed, he does so with changeups and curveballs, with a rare slider mixed in. None of the above really jumps out at you, but they’re all solid pitches and Peavy definitely gets points for depth.
Command is Peavy’s calling card these days. He’s maintained walk percentages in the neighborhood of five percent over the last three years, and he does a pretty good job of both pounding the zone and of living just outside the edges. The phrase “knows what he’s doing” applies.
Peavy can’t blow hitters away like he used to, yet he’s maintaining a strikeout rate in the low 20s that qualifies him as an above-average strikeout artist. Yet he doesn’t keep the ball on the ground well at all, and home runs come with the territory when he’s on the hill.
Peavy cleared 200 innings by plenty in 2012 when he was going seven innings seemingly every time out. He won’t get there again this year, but he’s still a guy who can run his pitch count into the 100s and can pitch into the seventh with ease if the balls are staying in the yard.
Name an injury, and odds are Peavy’s done battle with it. The most serious injury in his past is a detached lat that he suffered in 2010, and he’s more recently battled shoulder tendinitis and a broken rib that sidelined him for a while this season. Peavy can’t be blamed for that one, but it came as no surprise. He has a knack for attracting injuries.
Peavy’s 2013 season hasn’t been as good as his renaissance 2012 campaign, but the biggest thing standing in his way is his health. He has everything else covered.
50. Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
Lester’s arsenal goes deep, as he throws a four-seamer, cutter, changeup, curveball and an occasional sinker. He also still has quality velocity with with the ability to sit 93-94 with his four-seamer. But while his changeup is a solid pitch, his cutter and curveball are hardly overpowering pitches these days.
Lester had a tough time with walks in 2010 and 2011 with walk rates in the 10 percent neighborhood. He’s now a guy who sits under eight percent, and has been under seven percent since the All-Star break. That does have something to do with the fact that hitters are making contact against Lester more easily, but he’s been a lot better at staying in the strike zone this year than he did in 2012, when he oftentimes seemed to have no idea what he was doing.
Lester’s best days as a whiff and strikeout artist are behind him. He’s now only a slightly above-average strikeout artist, and it’s more than a little concerning that his ground-ball rate is declining more and more every year. I wouldn't call him "hittable," but he's certainly more hittable than he used to be.
Lester has logged at least 190 innings in each of the last five years and has gotten there once again in 2013. He’s still a guy the Red Sox can count on for six innings and around 110 pitches when he takes the ball, though he’s completed seven innings in less than half his starts.
Lester has largely been healthy ever since his career was put on hold by cancer several years back, with the only real bump in the road being a strained lat that sidelined him in 2011.
It’s been a few years since Lester was a dominant force, but he has bounced back from a brutal 2012 season and he's still a southpaw who can go six every time he takes the ball. Such players are always welcome.
49. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
Before anyone mentions a loss of velocity for Cain’s off year, he’s actually doing fine in that department. His four-seamer sat 91-92 in 2012, and that’s where it’s at again in 2013. The real difference is that it seems to have lost a lot of life, as it goes up to the plate looking like a batting practice fastball. It’s at best an average offering. The good news is that Cain can still count on his slider, curveball and changeup, all of which are quality pitches.
Cain maintained a walk rate under six percent in 2012, but he has found himself hovering more around the league average in the mid-sevens in 2013. There has indeed been a slight drop-off in his ability to pound the zone, but the bigger concern is his command within the zone. He’s had a bad habit of wearing out the middle of the plate, which is