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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 not a good place to be.
Cain isn’t getting as many swings and misses as he did last year, but his strikeout rate has been hanging steady thanks to the fact that he’s getting plenty of looking strikeouts—which, belatedly, is a reason his score in the command category isn’t worse. It’s just too bad the baseball devils have come to collect their due after letting Cain get by with low home run rates for so many years.
Cain has topped 200 innings in each of the last six years, and he's likely to fall just short of that this year. He’s barely averaging six innings per start this year, but that’s a little misleading. He’s had a couple horrid outings that have dragged down that average, including one in which he didn’t make it out of the first inning. His workhorse status has been compromised, but it’s still strong.
Cain finally went on the DL in August after he was hit in the arm by a line drive, but the injury he suffered isn't one that should bother him long-term. And while he is supposedly pitching with bone chips in his elbow, you could say the same thing about dozens of other pitchers out there.
Cain’s struggles this season are undeniably concerning, but he's not a completely lose cause. And since he'll only be 29 in October, he's still youthful enough to have a good shot at turning the page.
48. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
Sabathia’s velocity loss is hardly a secret at this juncture. After sitting at 93 with his four-seamer in 2012, he’s been sitting 91-92 with it in 2013 and sometimes can only muster high-80s velocity. However, it must be kept in mind that 91-92 is still a decent fastball for a starter, and Sabathia can still crank it up when he needs to. He also still boasts one of the top sliders in the game and a changeup that’s at least an average offering.
Sabathia’s 2012 season was one of his best in terms of limiting free passes, as he ended the year with a mere 5.3 walk percentage. He hasn’t been able to keep that up this year as his walk rate has regressed more toward league average and he's had games where he just hasn’t been able to find the zone. Yet he’s actually throwing more pitches in the zone than he did last year, and he can still spot his hard stuff. He’s a case of a walk rate not quite telling the whole story.
Not surprisingly in light of his diminished stuff, Sabathia’s ability to get batters to swing at air has diminished. So too has his ability to strike out hitters, as this season has seen him go from being a well-above-average strikeout pitcher to a merely average strikeout pitcher with a strikeout rate struggling to stay in touch with 20 percent. And while he still has a respectable ground-ball rate, that the home runs that are coming in bunches for a second straight year is no fluke. He's hittable now.
Sabathia was an elite workhorse for a while there, but he hasn’t been able to be that guy in 2013. A pitcher has to work harder when he’s walking more guys and giving up more hits, so it’s not a shocker that this is the first year in a while that Sabathia hasn’t been a lock for 110 pitches and seven innings.
Sabathia’s health is the one thing that hasn’t failed him this year, but would you bet on it? There’s a lot of innings on his arm and shoulder, and the former acted up on him last year. He had to spend some time on the DL with elbow inflammation and then needed surgery on it over the offseason.
Sabathia is still a pitcher you want to have based on his track record and his ability to eat innings, but there’s no denying the fact that he’s slipping from the ranks of the elites.
47. Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Bradley has the most deadly two-pitch combination among minor league pitchers: a heavy fastball in the mid- to upper-90s with late life and a power curveball with 12-to-6 shape and sharp downer bite. Even though both pitches already grade as plus offerings, respectively, they each have the potential to improve along with his overall command. Bradley’s feel for a changeup noticeably lags behind that of his two other offerings, but it flashes above-average potential and should serve as a third weapon at maturity.
Bradley struggled with his control last year in his full-season debut, as the high leg raise in his delivery impeded the right-hander’s ability to control his body and repeat a consistent release point. This season, he’s toned down some of the effort in his mechanics and is noticeably smoother toward the plate. In general, Bradley has shown better zone awareness and feel for his entire arsenal, while his walk rate has improved against advanced competition.
Besides the fact that Bradley already features two plus pitches (fastball/curveball), the right-hander’s athletic delivery allows him to throw everything on a steep, downhill plane toward the plate. With a ground-ball rate that hovers around 40 percent, Bradley’s plane makes it extremely difficult for opposing hitters to barrel the ball, as he tends to induce as many weakly hit outs as he does strikeouts. Speaking of strikeouts, Bradley’s strikeout rate has steadily improved as he’s moved up the organizational ladder.
At 6’4”, 225 pounds, Bradley, who was also recruited as a quarterback out of high school, is an excellent athlete with a durable and projectable frame. While he’s moving through their system quickly, the Diamondbacks have allowed Bradley to work deep into games and amass innings at a healthy rate. At his current rate of development, the right-hander should be a 200 innings-plus starter by the time he settles in for his first full season in the major leagues.
Since joining the Diamondbacks in 2011, Bradley has taken the ball every time his turn in the rotation has come up. He’s already proven to be capable of handling a greater workload than most pitchers his age, while his athleticism gives him the ability to make swift adjustments without a significant risk of injury. Basically, he’s a beast.
Bradley’s pure stuff is ridiculously powerful and arguably the best in the minor leagues. However, despite the overwhelming success this season, the right-hander is still learning how to harness it. He has the athleticism and aptitude to make adjustments along the way, which only strengthens his projection as a future No. 1 starter.
46. Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals
Lynn relies heavily on a four-seam fastball that has good velocity at 93-94 and also has some pretty good late life. He also works in a sinker that sits 92-93 and has some very good late life. In addition, he has a cutter that acts as a sort of mini slider and a curveball that he buries below the zone when he needs a whiff. It’s not the most diverse arsenal in the world, but it is a dangerous one.
Lynn walks more hitters than the average starting pitcher and has actually been walking more guys this year than he did when he had a walk rate over eight percent last year. He does pound the zone pretty well, however, and he has responded to hitters taking fewer cuts on pitches out of the zone by challenging them in the zone more often.
Since Lynn isn’t getting as many cuts out of the zone, you won’t be surprised to hear that he’s not getting as many swings-and-misses this year. Yet he still gets more whiffs than the average starter and has been able to maintain a well-above-average strikeout rate in the 20-percent range. His ability to rack up ground balls, however, is only about average.
Lynn made it to 176 innings in fewer than 30 starts in 2012, averaging six innings and 100 pitches per outing. He hasn’t really improved that much this year, as six innings and 100 pitches are still about his limit. Yet he can push his pitch count well over 100 when need be, and he’s also been a better bet to get through seven this year than he was in 2012.
Lynn battled an abdominal strain that landed him on the 60-day DL back in 2011, but his arm and shoulder are just fine.
Lynn's biggest weakness is his inconsistency, which is what inconsistent command tends to bring about. But he has good stuff and he misses more bats than most starters, and is able to make it as a successful mid-rotation guy because of these habits.
45. Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado Rockies
Chacin is essentially a fastball-slider pitcher, but he throws both a four-seamer and a sinker that sit in the 89-91 range. He also throws a merely average changeup to left-handers, but his money pitch is his slider. The velocity on it isn’t much to speak of, but it disappears once it goes into its break. When he has it working, it’s an impossible pitch to hit.
Before this season, Chacin was a guy who walked roughly 10 percent of the batters he faced. He’s not that guy anymore, as he’s taken to throwing about half his pitches in the strike zone and has pushed his walk rate below league-average territory. He’s notably gotten more precise against lefty hitters, sitting comfortably on the outside corner against them.
Chacin’s slider is a swing-and-miss pitch, but he’s not a swing-and-miss pitcher or a strikeout pitcher. He’s a ground ball pitcher, which is a good idea knowing the strength of Colorado’s infield defense. His ground-ball rate is hardly elite, but Chacin deserves some extra points for being uncannily good at limiting home runs despite the fact he pitches his home games at a park that allows a lot of long balls.
Chacin crossed the 190-inning threshold in 2011 when he was good for six innings and 100 pitches per start. His newfound command has made him more efficient this year, as he’s averaging fairly close to seven innings despite averaging fewer than 100 pitches per start.
Chacin was sidelined for several months with a bad shoulder last year and was sidelined for a couple weeks when he as battling back spasms earlier this year. These are things that give one pause.
For you Rockies fans who have been watching Chacin closely this season, I know. He's been better than this ranking indicates. In fact, he's had a downright terrific season. I have my doubts about whether he can do it again given what he's working with, but we shall see.
44. Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds
Nobody in baseball lives off his curveball like Arroyo does, and he has more than one of them. He can manipulate the spin by changing his arm angles and, seemingly, by using different grips. Arroyo also works in a sinker, four-seamer, changeup and a very occasional cutter. None of it is overpowering, but everything moves enough to make Arroyo’s arsenal a good one.
Arroyo is one of the best—and, in my opinion, the most underappreciated—control artists working today. After walking 4.2 percent of the batters he faced in 2012, he’s below four percent in 2013. He’s also pounding the zone more often this year, though he’s still at his best when he’s nipping the corner and fooling hitters into thinking he’s nipping the corners with breaking balls.
You’re liable to see some ugly swings when Arroyo is on the mound, but he’s neither a big swing-and-miss guy nor a big strikeout guy. He’s actually a well-below-average strikeout guy, and he’s only decent at keeping the ball on the ground. Living with him means living with a lot of contact and a lot of hard contact.
Arroyo has been an innings-eating machine since arriving in Cincinnati, and he’s still at it. He’s not a high-pitch count guy due to his tendencies to avoid walks and pitch to contact, and because of that he’s a lock to make it through six and is a solid bet to make it through seven.
For a pitcher his age, Arroyo’s medical track record is immaculate. He’s never been on the DL and has only missed a handful of games due to injuries.
Arroyo can get hammered pretty bad when he’s off, but he’s on most of the time and has long been flying under the radar as one of the most effective innings eaters in recent memory. Some (heck, many) of the pitchers behind him on this list are better than he is, but his reliability earned him some props.
43. Matt Garza, Texas Rangers
Garza goes heavy on the fastballs, but he switches it up pretty well between a four-seamer and a two-seamer that both go 92-94 with good life. He also throws a slider that rates as his best pitch and a plus offering in general, and he also busts out a curveball and a very occasional changeup against left-handed batters. All told, his is an electric arsenal that has a shade of depth to it.
Garza’s walk rates tend to stick right around league average, but he’s breaking new ground this year by maintaining a walk percentage in the low six range. He’s doing a better job of finding the strike zone, and most notably is doing a better job of living on the outside corner against left-handed batters.
Garza has a slider that’s all but guaranteed to draw a swing and a miss when he throws it, so it’s only natural that he would be a pitcher who gets more whiffs and strikeouts than the average starter. The catch is that Garza’s ground-ball habit has taken a sharp turn for the worse this year, making the opponent batting numbers he boasts out to be a bit of a mirage.
Garza topped 200 innings in 2009 and 2010, but hasn’t been able to make it back there since then due to various circumstances. But he’s spent this season reestablishing himself as a workhorse, consistently running his pitch count into the 100s and finding his way into the seventh inning.
Garza’s 2012 season came to an early end thanks to a stress fracture in his elbow, marking the third time he had been to the DL with an elbow injury in his career. Then his 2013 season started late thanks to a shoulder strain.
I’m torn on whether Garza is a legit No. 2 or just a really good No. 3, but either way he’s having a strong season that is reflective of the kind of talent he has.
42. C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels
Wilson’s repertoire isn’t lacking in diversity. He pitches off a four-seamer that sits 91-92 and also mixes in a two-seamer, slider, curveball and cutter with an occasional changeup against right-handed batters. None of these pitches is overpowering, but they’re all good enough to qualify Wilson’s box of tools as a good one.
Walks come with the territory with Wilson, but he’s been better than he was last year when he walked over 10 percent of the batters he faced. He’s been hovering closer to nine percent this year, which is much better (if still not quite average). That’s about as good as it gets, though, as Wilson’s fastball command comes and goes and that can get him in trouble against right-handed batters.
Wilson hasn’t been as tough to square up in Anaheim as he was in Texas, but he’s still an above-average strikeout artist who's been keeping the ball on the ground about as well as the next starter. He's usually better than merely average with ground balls, however, and that makes his low HR/FB rate out to be suspicious.
Wilson’s nothing if not a workhorse. He’s not the kind of guy who can go seven innings game after game because of his lacking efficiency, but this year he’s been good for around 110 pitches per game and he's looking to top 200 innings for a fourth straight year. There are few others who can say the same.
It’s been a while since Wilson has been on the DL, but his injury history includes Tommy John surgery, quite a few blisters and surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow this past offseason. That’s enough to send up a red flag.
Wilson is a bit erratic for the tastes of yours truly, but he’s an innings eater who’s going to give you a quality start more often than not.
41. A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s always been simple with Burnett: fastball, curveball and repeat. He throws both a four-seamer and a sinker, but he’s still basically using this same two-pitch approach with his changeup playing a mere supporting role in 2013. His velocity isn't what it used to be, but it was still good at around 92-94. And while his curveball is another pitch that isn’t what it used to be, it’s still an easily above-average breaking ball that’s liable to make hitters look silly.
Burnett cut down on his walks in a big way his first year in Pittsburgh last year, but he's more or less back to his usual tricks in 2013 with a walk rate right around 8.5 percent. He’s also about average at pounding the strike zone, with a tendency to leave his fastball up in the zone. He doesn’t have the velocity to get away with that anymore.
Burnett’s command may be lacking, but his strikeout rate is the best it’s been in years. That’s thanks to a large collection of swings and misses out of the zone, which would indeed be a gift from his curveball. And just like he did last year, Burnett is also maintaining a ground-ball rate well over 50 percent. He’s far from the extra-base hit magnet that we knew him to be with the Yankees.
Burnett topped 200 innings last year and has been a quality start machine as a Pirate, regularly going six innings and throwing over 100 pitches. Yet a high walk rate and a high strikeout rate is not a good recipe for long outings, and Burnett can vouch for that. Seven innings of work is about his ceiling.
Burnett’s injury history doesn’t make for a quick read. He’s had Tommy John surgery and multiple other elbow problems. He’s also had to spend time on the DL with shoulder injuries, and earlier this year he had to hit the DL with a leg injury. Also, he turns 37 in January.
Burnett’s record hasn’t been much to look at this season, but behind it has been a pitcher looking the best he has in years.
40. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Moore’s stuff. He throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer that sit 93-94, and both offerings have a tremendous amount of life. He rounds things out with a curveball and a changeup, both of which are plus pitches that hitters have a very hard time with. May the baseball gods help the American League if Moore develops a third secondary pitch.
Control was Moore’s biggest shortcoming in 2012, as he walked close to 11 percent of the batters he faced. He hasn’t improved in 2013, and he has actually been throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone to boot. Fastball command is something that he’s still working on, which, granted, is understandable given how electric his hard stuff is.
It’s been easier to make contact against Moore this year than it was in 2012, when his swinging-strike rate was around 12 percent. Yet he still gets more whiffs than the average starting pitcher and has managed to keep his strikeout rate safely above 20 percent. He probably deserves worse than an opponent’s batting average in the low .200s, but he’s not a guy who offers comfortable at-bats.
Moore fell just short of 180 innings in 2012, a season in which he averaged fewer than six innings per start. Thanks in large part to his spotty command, he really hasn’t made much progress this year. He’s averaging about 100 pitches per outing, but he still hasn’t been able to muster a six-inning average and he hasn't often completed seven.
There’s nothing major in Moore’s injury history, but we have to dock him a point for going on DL with elbow soreness in late July. It could turn out to be nothing, but there’s always the off chance that elbow soreness is a precursor to something worse.
It’s distressing that Moore hasn’t made much progress from his rookie year in 2013, but his stuff is outstanding and he's a legitimate example of the term "effectively wild."
39. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
Cueto has one of the more diverse arsenals in the league, not to mention one of the more impressive ones. He switches it up between a four-seamer and a sinker that both sit 93-94 with life, and he also features a changeup, slider, cutter and an occasional curveball. Everything he throws dances when he’s got it going, making him a terrific study in “stuff” on a good day.
Cueto maintained a 5.5-walk percentage in 2012, but that’s not really him. He tends to stick around the league average for walks, and it’s no surprise given that he’s not a pitcher who pounds the zone. He’s better at picking up strikes by baiting hitters into swinging, and that’s something he’s quite good at.
Despite his electric stuff, Cueto generally isn’t much more than an average strikeout artist. He’s more about pitching to contact and getting ground balls, and that’s something he excels at. For the last three years, his ground-ball rate has been right around 50 percent, and he tends to be very good at limiting extra-base hits.
Cueto crossed 200 innings for the first time in his career in 2012, averaging over 100 pitches and six innings per start along the way. That’s right about where he was in 2011 too. He hasn’t been able to keep it up in 2013, but injuries have obviously denied him a chance to get on a roll.
Try as he may, Cueto has a very hard time staying healthy. He hasn’t even hit 30 yet, and he already has a long history of shoulder problems, and 2013 has obviously been a discouraging year. He hit the disabled list for a third time this year in late June with a strained latissimus dorsi muscle, missing the majority of the season in the process.
The health of Cueto's shoulder is a concern that's not going to go away. But if you look past that concern, what you see is an elite pitcher.
38. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
Weaver goes pretty heavy on the fastballs, throwing his four-seamer and two-seamer close to 30 percent of the time apiece. The velocity on neither is above-average, but each has gotten better as the year has gone along. He was sitting in the mid-80s earlier in the season and is now sitting 87-88. He rounds out his arsenal with a curveball, slider and changeup. None of the three is particularly impressive. As good as Weaver is, it’s depth much more so than electricity that defines his arsenal.
Weaver’s walk rates the last few years have been in the low sixes like clockwork, and it’s the same old story in 2013. The key difference this year is that he’s throwing fewer than 40 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, but that’s by design. He’s gotten the gist that he’s better off flirting with the zone rather than live in it with his stuff, and his command is precise enough to make it work.
For all that’s been made about Weaver’s various issues, he’s actually getting more whiffs in 2013 than he has in a few years. Yet his strikeout rate hasn’t skyrocketed back up to its old stomping grounds, still sitting roughly in the league-average territory. He’s also still prone to homers due to his reliance on fly balls. But since that’s been Weaver’s M.O. for many years and he’s been successful with it, it’s hard to scold him.
Weaver increased his innings count each year between 2009 and 2011, but injuries kept him from doing so in 2012, and it’s the same story this year. Yet he’s still good for six innings and 100 pitches when he takes the ball, and seven-inning performances have been coming more frequently lately than earlier in the year.
Weaver’s broken arm from earlier in the year can be forgiven and forgotten, but it’s less easy to overlook his history of biceps problems and back aches.
Weaver’s diminished effectiveness earlier in 2013 made him look like a pitcher on the decline, but he’s looked a lot like himself ever since finding some extra velocity upon his return from injury.
37. John Lackey, Boston Red Sox
Lackey doesn’t have a particularly deep arsenal, as he throws his four-seamer roughly 45 percent of the time and barely incorporates his two-seamer 10 percent of the time. But his four-seamer has good velocity at 92-93, and he complements it with a slider that’s pretty close to plus and a curveball that’s sharper than the average curveball.
Lackey tended to be all over the place with his command during his first two years in Boston, but it’s been a completely different story in 2013. He’s pounded the zone with his fastball more consistently and more aggressively than he did in 2010 or 2011, and he’s compiled a well-below-average walk rate in the five percent range in the process.
Lackey’s newfound mastery of the strike zone has resulted in more pitcher’s counts and, thus, more opportunities to expand the zone. He’s been taking advantage of those opportunities and has been rewarded with whiffs that have boosted his strikeout rate into the 20s. He’s also maintaining a ground-ball rate in the 50 percent neighborhood. But alas, the home runs...
Lackey’s not going to cross 200 innings this year, but he’s basically been as dependable as a 200-inning starter. Despite barely averaging 100 pitches per start, he’s made it through six in the majority of his starts and has made it through seven about half the time.
Lackey is coming off a 2012 season in which he didn’t pitch due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Before that, he had gone on the DL twice with elbow-related injuries. After the surgery, he found himself on the DL in April with a biceps strain. Oh, and he's 35 in October.
Remember when Lackey’s contract was a giant waste of money? Given the rate at which pitchers are signing for big dollars and then flopping, Lackey’s pact doesn’t look so bad all of a sudden.
36. Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners
Iwakuma’s arsenal is a pretty full deck, as he throws a four-seamer, sinker, slider, splitter and a very occasional curveball. His hard stuff has at best average velocity on a good day, as he tends to sit 90-91 with it. It’s a good thing his sinker has some quality movement, and his splitter is a plus pitch all the way. It has precisely the kind of late screwball action you want in a splitter. It’s the pitch that pushes Iwakuma’s arsenal from “average” to “above-average.”
Iwakuma boasts one of the lowest walk rates in the league, a gift of his supreme ability to pound the strike zone. He gets his hard stuff over the plate about as well as anyone in the league and is particularly good at hitting the outside corner against righty hitters.
Thanks in large part to his splitter, Iwakuma gets more swings-and-misses than you might think he would. As a result, he has a strikeout rate that’s safely above average. He also keeps the ball on the ground pretty well…but not quite as well as he did last year, and he hasn’t totally shaken the home run problem that plagued him in 2012.
Iwakuma isn’t one to go too far over the 100-pitch threshold, so he absolutely needs to be efficient. Since he is, though, he’s been able to make it through six with regularity this year and has found himself completing seven innings about as often as not. The only thing he lacks here is a tried-and-true track record.
Iwakuma’s injury history is a clean slate. Nothing on it.
Iwakuma’s a guy you rarely hear about, but he got on a roll upon being inserted into Seattle’s rotation last summer and hasn’t stopped yet. He doesn't have much besides his command, but his is plenty good enough to make him a top-tier pitcher.
35. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
Teheran has two fastballs he can go to in a regular four-seamer and a sinker, but his four-seamer is his primary offering and it's a good one. It sits 92-93 but can go higher than that and has some solid life to boot. Teheran also boasts a slider, a curveball and an occasional changeup to lefty hitters. Both pitches are more above-average than plus, but that’ll do for a pair of breakers to go with a quality fastball.
Teheran’s command is advanced for a mere 22-year-old, as he’s throwing better than 45 percent of his pitches in the zone and also maintaining a walk rate around six percent. His fastball command is what stands out, as he has no trouble finding the zone with his heater and can work both sides of the plate effectively.
Teheran has had little trouble racking up whiffs this year, as you would expect seeing as how he has three pitches that can draw whiffs in his four-seamer, slider and curveball. Yet his strikeout rate isn’t that far above average, and his low ground-ball rate has made him a magnet for hard-hit balls.
This is Teheran’s first full year as a starter, and it’s progressing fairly well. He’s averaging better than six innings per start on less than 100 pitches per start. Once the leash comes off, he’s going to be a good one.
There’s nothing to see on Teheran’s injury track record. It’s about as clean as can be.
Teheran didn’t get out of the gate very strong this year. But ever since the middle of May, he’s quietly been among the most dominant pitchers in the National League.
34. Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs
With stuff like his, it’s no wonder Samardzija chose baseball over football. He has a legit five-pitch arsenal that includes a four-seamer, sinker, slider, splitter and cutter. His four-seamer and sinker sit 95-96 with some electric life, and Samardzija’s slider and splitter are both plus pitches that can make hitters look silly. His cutter is just OK, but it works as a pitch to show hitters to keep them thinking.
Samardzija was able to maintain a respectable walk rate in 2012, but not in 2013. He’s walking around nine percentage of the hitters he faces, with a primary symptom being fewer swings out of the zone. But Samardzija’s command issues don’t end there, as he can still struggle with his fastball command within the strike zone. He can get by OK now because he has velocity and movement, but it’s something to keep an eye on as he gets older and invariably begins to lose some zip.
Samardzija’s swinging-strike rate is not as astronomical as it was last year, when it finished the season at 12.1 percent. Yet he’s still getting more swings-and-misses than the typical starter, and he’s still maintaining a strikeout rate better than that of an average starter. And while he’s still being touched up for home runs, an increased ground-ball rate is helping to even things out.
Samardzija worked over 170 innings in his first full year as a starter last year, averaging just over six innings and just about 100 pitches per start. He’s throwing more pitches per start this year, but hasn’t seen a huge uptick in innings to go along with it. That’s about what you’d expect seeing as how Samardzija hasn’t been as efficient.
Samardzija has dealt with exactly zero injuries throughout his pro baseball career. It’s almost like his body is built for football or something.
Samardzija’s ERA has taken a step back this year, but that's misleading. His control hasn’t been as good, but the strikeouts are still there and there’s been some bad luck at work. He's still a dangerous pitcher.
33. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Kluber’s a sinker-slider guy, but not just another sinker-slider guy. Kluber's arsenal is a little more complex. He works mainly off his two-seamer, which sits 93-94 with killer movement, but also works in a cutter and a changeup to go along with his slider. His cutter goes at 90 miles per hour and can really get in on lefties, and his slider and changeup are both quality pitches as well. His changeup really falls off the table and his slider is a big breaker. All told, this is one of the better arsenals out there that nobody talks about.
In addition to stuff, Kluber has very good command. He doesn’t pound the zone that much more than the average pitcher, but he’s walking roughly five percent of the batters he’s facing. The one complaint to be made is that he’ll leave a few too many hard ones over the plate against righty hitters, who notably haven’t been much worse against him than lefties.
Kluber’s changeup, slider and cutter (surprisingly) are all legit swing-and-miss pitches, so it’s not a shocker that he has an easily above-average swinging-strike rate and a strikeout rate in the 20s. He also generates more ground balls than the average starter. But once again, there’s a complaint: Thanks to that tendency to leave balls up, he hasn’t kicked the home run habit that plagued him in 2012.
This is Kluber’s first full year as a starter, so it basically goes without saying that he’s a work in progress. He hasn’t been a lock for 100 pitches when he takes the mound, but the bright side is that he’s been able to make it through six easily enough and has found himself pitching in the seventh about half the time.
It was all going just fine until Kluber sprained his finger and landed on the DL in early August. That’s not exactly a career-threatening injury, however.
Is Corey Kluber really this good? Well, let's put it this way: he's been one of 2013's most underrated and overlooked pitchers, and the things that made that possible are for real. Put him on your radar for 2014 if you haven't already.
32. Ervin Santana, Kansas City Royals
Santana is as much a fastball-slider guy as he’s even been, but there's a twist this year. He’s switching things up between a regular four-seamer and a two-seamer like never before, and both are quality pitches with solid velocity (92-94) and good movement. His slider is still his moneymaker, however, and it still ranks as one of the better sliders in the league.
Santana’s never had a bad walk problem, but he was only ever about average at limiting them. It’s been a different story this year, as Santana has maintained a walk rate well below the league average. It’s not by accident either, as he’s throwing close to 50 percent of his pitches in the zone and about 60 percent of his heaters in the zone. The Royals have done a fine job of sharpening him up.
Santana’s strike-throwing ways have put him in a position to throw more sliders this year, and the extra are helping him maintain the highest swinging-strike percentage he’s had since 2008. Not so coincidentally, he has his strikeout rate above the league average and has also benefited from a much-improved ground-ball rate. If only he didn’t still have issues with the long ball…
Santana topped 220 innings in both 2010 and 2011 before regressing in a big way last year, but he's back to gobbling up innings in 2013—as you would expect for a guy who’s cut down on his walks while also getting more hitters out via strikeouts and ground balls. Santana going at least six innings has become one of the best bets in the game, and he’s also pitched into the seventh with regularity.
Santana had all sorts of arm scares in 2009, but he's had virtually nothing since then. His arm and shoulder are fine.
There’s no understating what a huge bounce-back year 2013 has been for Santana. He’s not among the league’s more dominant starters, but he has quietly been among the league’s more dependable starters.
31. Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates
Liriano’s only a three-pitch pitcher with a sinker, changeup and slider to go to, but each of these three pitches has been absolutely electric in 2013. Liriano’s sinker sits 93-94 with some life that makes it look faster than that. His slider hasn’t looked this good since earlier in his career when he was overpowering every hitter in his path, and the increased trust he’s shown in his changeup this season isn’t misplaced. There’s not a lot of velocity differential between it and Liriano’s hard stuff, but his changeup appears to just stop in mid-air just before it gets to home plate.
The Pirates have to live with a few walks when Liriano takes the mound, as his walk rate is well above the league average for starters and has been all season. That’s life when you throw fewer than 40 percent of your pitches in the strike zone. However, Liriano’s fastball command is hardly disastrous, and part of the reason he hasn’t been living in the zone is because he’s been getting ahead more often with first-pitch strikes.
Liriano has two elite swing-and-miss pitches in his slider and changeup, so it’s not a shock to see him with a huge swinging-strike percentage once again. That’s feeding a strikeout rate in the mid-20s, and this is also a season in which Liriano’s ground-ball percentage is over 50 percent. Extra-base hits off him have been hard to come by.
Somewhat amazingly, Liriano has never pitched 200 innings in his career. He won’t get there this year either, and his high-strikeout, high-walk ways put a natural cap on his workload potential. But he has been able to give the Pirates between 95 and 110 pitches more often than not, working six innings more often than not. That’ll do.
Liriano has Tommy John surgery in his history, not to mention assorted other arm and shoulder injuries. His body has a few miles on it.
Should we call it a comeback? Whatever it is, Liriano has been a revelation in Pittsburgh this season, and it looks for real based on appearances and the numbers.
30. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
Gonzalez has a four-seamer and a sinker that both sit in the 92-94 range, and his sinker has some impressive lateral movement on it. He also has a solid changeup that he breaks out against right-handed batters, but his best pitch is and always has been his curveball. It’s up there among the best lefty curveballs in the game, with hard, two-plane break that has frozen many knees over the years.
Gonzalez doesn’t walk the ballpark like he used to, but he still walks more hitters than your average starter and is not one who specializes in pounding the zone. Only about 40 percent of his pitches find the zone, and this year he hasn’t been able to help himself by putting as many of his hooks in the zone.
One thing that hasn’t changed much this year for Gonzalez is his swinging-strike rate. But his strikeout rate has changed, and not for the better. It’s dropped from over 25 percent last year to about 24 percent. That’s obviously still very good, but it's not elite, and Gonzalez hasn't induced as many ground balls, either. Related: He’s given up more homers.
Gonzalez fell just a couple outs shy of what would have been his third straight season of 200 innings last year, but we’ll give it to him. However, 200 innings is about his limit, as he walks too many and strikes out too many to be an efficient innings eater.
There’s very little in Gonzalez’s track record that warrants concern, as he has yet to spend time on the DL and has dealt with absolutely no injuries over the last two years.
This season hasn’t been the roaring success for Gonzalez that the 2012 season was, but he still has a place among the top pitchers in the league.
29. Mike Minor, Atlanta Braves
Minor works off a four-seam fastball that’s more impressive than its velocity (90-91) would lead you to believe. It may not move fast, but it has good tailing action that makes it a tough customer. He rounds out his arsenal with a changeup, curveball and cutter. None of the three is particularly overpowering, but they have the same kind of sneaky-good movement that Minor’s fastball has.
Minor’s command was all over the place before the All-Star break in 2012, but he cleaned up his act down the stretch and has kept up the good work in 2013. His walk rate is well below the league average in the 5.0-6.0 range, and he’s improved on both his fastball command and, not so coincidentally, his first-pitch strike percentage. In short: impressive work, Mr. Minor.
Minor wasn’t a big swing-and-miss guy last year, but that’s changed this year as he’s gotten ahead more often. He’s been able to expand the zone more often, and hitters have obliged him by swinging and coming up empty. As a result, his strikeout rate has moved above 20 percent. All he needs to do now is see about a ground-ball habit.
Minor fell just short of 180 innings in 2012 when he averaged exactly six innings and 95 pitches per start. His command has bought him a few extra pitches and a few extra innings this year, making him a strong bet to pitch into the seventh. He’s not an elite workhorse yet, but he’s getting there.
Nothing to see here. The Internet machine reports that Minor is in good health and always has been.
Minor was a well-kept secret down the stretch in 2012. So far as I can tell, he’s still a well-kept secret in 2013. Over the last calendar year, he’s been an ace.
28. Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals
Miller’s arsenal has one key weakness right now, and that’s lack of depth. He has a changeup, a cutter and a sinker, but they’re afterthoughts. Roughly 70 percent of his pitches are four-seamers. Another 20ish percent are curveballs. The good news is that his heater sits 94-95 and has some serious late movement on it. And while his curveball’s not a cartoon breaking ball in the spirit of Adam Wainwright’s hook, it does have some sharp break that makes it a plus pitch.
Miller is maintaining a walk rate slightly better than league average in the low seven percent neighborhood, but that doesn’t give his command proper justice. He’s one of the rare ones who throws roughly 50 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, and when he’s on he’s spotting his plus fastball with the savvy of a 10-year veteran.
Miller is more likely to get whiffs on his fastball than he is on his curveball, which is generally not how these things work. Regardless, he gets plenty more swings and misses than the average starter and is maintaining a strikeout rate around 25 percent. His next conquest needs to be keeping the ball on the ground better, as he could definitely stand to cut down on the home runs.
This is the one area where Miller is severely lacking, though not really through his own doing. The Cardinals have kept him on a short leash, keeping his pitch count tied closely to the century mark. As a result, starts longer than six innings have been a relative rarity for him. The workhorse department is one in which he’ll have much to prove come 2014.
Miller’s injury history isn’t entirely spotless, but there’s nothing in it that warrants less than a perfect score here. Or even a mention, for that matter.
Miller needs to develop a reliable third pitch, but aside from that all he really needs is for his leash to be loosened. He’s used his rookie year to show why he was so highly thought of as a prospect.
27. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates
Cole’s repertoire is an impressive one. He throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer, and we all know about his velocity. He sits right at 97 miles per hour and can get up above triple digits. He rounds things out with a slider, curveball and changeup, but the slider is the only pitch of the three he’s really been comfortable using in 2013, and it’s really more of a cutter than a slider. His secondary stuff in general has been inconsistent, otherwise he'd have a near-perfect score here.
Cole had some issues with his command in the minors before he got the call to the majors, but he’s left those issues at the door. He’s keeping his walk percentage well below the league average and is pounding the zone consistently with his hard stuff, and generally at the bottom of the zone. The one gripe I have is that he’s left too many hard ones up to lefty hitters, which is something for him to work on.
Cole’s arm is a live one, but for a while there he wasn't getting as many whiffs as he should have been. That changed in late July. Ever since whiffing eight Marlins on July 28, Cole has been striking out hitters at about the rate that he should be. It's a small sample size, sure, but definitely an encouraging one. Oh, and by the way, Cole keeps the ball on the ground well too.
This is an area where Cole is obviously a work in progress. The Pirates have kept close tabs on him, limiting him to around 90 pitches per start. He’s been able to get through six often with that allotment, however, so things should only be better when his leash is loosened in 2014.
There’s nothing to report here. Cole’s million-dollar arm is in fine shape.
It was easy to nitpick Cole's early performances, but he's really turned on the jets over the last several weeks and made it clear that he can thrive in the big leagues. The former No. 1 overall pick could be the Matt Harvey of 2014.
26. Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians
Masterson is baseball’s preeminent fastball-slider pitcher. He throws both a sinker and four-seamer, with the sinker serving a purpose by moving and the four-seamer serving a purpose by moving fast. He sits 94-95 with it and occasionally gets higher than that. Both hard pitches are above average, but his slider is the pitch that takes the cake. It goes in the mid-80s and has late two-plane break. Masterson’s arsenal may be shallow, but it’s effective.
Walks have come with the territory with Masterson over the last two seasons, as you would expect given the movement on his stuff and the awkwardness of his delivery. His walk rate was close to 10 percent in 2012 and has been hanging steady around nine percent this year. He’s also been throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone, missing often off the outside edge against lefty hitters.
Masterson’s slider is a swing-and-miss pitch, but he also gets more whiffs on his sinker than your typical sinkerballer. His stuff has been particularly nasty this year, as he’s drawing more whiffs and has pushed his strikeout rate into above-average territory. On top of that, he’s still among the game’s elite ground-ball artists.
Masterson has topped 200 innings in each of the last two years and he would have done so again this year had it not been for the injury he suffered in early September. He’s a lock for over 100 pitches when he takes the hill, and this year he was averaging right around seven innings per start.
Masterson had to have shoulder surgery after the 2011 season…but it was on his left shoulder. His more recent injury scare involves an oblique strain that has thrown the end of his season for a loop. But since he doesn't have a history with such injuries, we'll let it slide.
When innings-eating ground-ball artists start racking up strikeouts, one has no choice but to tip one’s cap. Masterson is well deserving of a place in the top 25 among starting pitchers.
25. Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox
Stuff has never been a problem with Buchholz. He has a deep repertoire that sees him split his time between a four-seamer, two-seamer, curveball, changeup, cutter and a very occasional splitter. His fastball and two-seamer both sit 92-94 and the latter can be nasty enough to draw cheating allegations. His curveball is a plus pitch, and his changeup moves about a dozen miles per hour slower than his hard stuff. It gets a lot of hitters leaning on their front foot.
Walks come with the territory with Buchholz. His walk rate was up around nine percent before his shoulder acted up on him, and it was no fluke given that he was throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone than the average starter. Part of his problem is that his hard stuff can be too electric to control, and he doesn’t help himself by being basically incapable of throwing his changeup in the strike zone.
Buchholz was a disappointing strikeout artist earlier in his career, but he’s finally found his stride in that department with a strikeout rate in the mid-20s. As a bonus, his ground-ball rate is up around 50 percent. When you do these things, you get an opponent batting average under the Mendoza line.
Buchholz set a new career high in innings last season and appeared well on his way to setting a new career high when he was healthy earlier in the summer. He was averaging seven innings on close to 105 pitches per start. That’s elite territory, but we obviously can’t put Buchholz there given his past reputation and…well the discussion that’s due up next.
If it’s not one thing with Buchholz, it’s another thing. A thigh injury slowed his 2010 season, a stress fracture in his back wiped out his 2011 season, he spent a few weeks on the DL with an illness in 2012, and he's been sidelined for a long while with bursitis in his shoulder this year.
Buchholz broke through with a 2.33 ERA in 2010, but he didn’t show how good he might be. He didn’t do that until earlier this year when he was mowing his way through the American League. If he ever stays healthy, watch out.
24. James Shields, Kansas City Royals
Among the pitches Shields throws at least 10 percent of the time are a four-seamer, a sinker, a curveball, a changeup and a cutter. That makes his arsenal a deep one, and he does have solid velocity with both his four-seamer and sinker sitting in the 92-93 range. Yet aside from the solid velocity, nothing really wows you until you get to Shields’ changeup. It’s been a dandy for a while now and is still among the game’s best out pitches.
Command has long been Shields’ main calling card, but he’s been issuing a few more free passes in 2013 than he usually does. His walk rate this year has been right around the league average for starters. Yet he’s actually been throwing more pitches in the strike zone this year than he did in 2012, and we know from Shields’ track record that he’s better than a merely league-average walk guy.
One thing that hasn’t helped Shields both on the walk front and the hittability front is the fact that he’s been getting fewer swings out of the strike zone. That's naturally meant fewer whiffs for him. To boot, he’s seen his ground-ball rate go from being well over 50 percent last year to the low 40s this year. The bright side is that he’s cut down on home runs.
Shields has logged at least 200 innings every year since 2007 and at least 220 the last two years. He’s headed in that direction once again in 2013, and it's been business as usual on a start-by-start basis. He was good for seven innings and 110 pitches when he took the ball with Tampa Bay. Same old story in 2013 with Kansas City.
Shields had surgery on his shoulder way back when he was a minor leaguer in 2002. Since then, a whole lot of nothing has happened to his health.
Looking for a dependable starter who can eat innings and keep runs off the board? You’re looking for James Shields.
23. Doug Fister, Detroit Tigers
Fister works primarily off a sinker, and it’s good one. It doesn’t have much velocity, as it sits around 89-90, but coming from Fister’s 6’8” frame it can seem like it’s falling out of the sky. He also has a four-seamer, cutter, splitter and curveball to turn to, with the last of those being the only one that really stands out as being particularly nasty.
Fister is well established as one of the league’s top control artists. His career walk rate is under five percent, and he’s occupying that territory once again in 2013. Well over half of his sinkers find the strike zone, and he keeps them right where they should be: away from the middle of the plate.
Only Fister’s curve is a swing-and-miss pitch, and he doesn’t have much use for swings and misses in general. He gets fewer of those than the average pitcher and is only about an average strikeout artist. He is, however, a terrific ground-ball artist with a GB% well over 50 this year.
Fister has one 200-inning season to his name, and he should be able to cross the threshold again in 2013. He’s a model of efficiency on good days—those would be the ones in which he’s doing his usual thing with walks and ground balls—and is plenty good for 100 or so pitches and six innings. He’s also found himself pitching into the seventh more often than not this year.
Fister had a hard time with injuries in 2012, twice landing on the DL with abdominal strains. But he’s been fine in 2013 and has only had to go to the DL once with an arm/shoulder injury, and it wasn’t a serious one.
Not walking guys and racking up a ton of ground balls isn’t sexy, but Fister will vouch that it’s effective.
22. Derek Holland, Texas Rangers
Holland throws both a fastball and a sinker that sit 94-95 and can occasionally go higher than that. Both pitches have good action, with the sinker in particular boasting plenty of horizontal movement. Holland has an average changeup that he breaks out against right-handed batters, but his signature pitch is a slider that is criminally overlooked as one of the game’s top offerings.
Walks were an issue for Holland when he was getting his feet wet in 2010, but not so much anymore. His walk habit hasn’t budged too much since last year, and that’s a good thing seeing as how his walk rate in 2012 was 7.1 percent. He’s been pounding the zone with his sinker as consistently this year, and he’s gotten to be pretty good at pounding right-handed batters up and in with his hard stuff.
Holland’s slider is his go-to whiff pitch, and it’s a dandy for that. Close to half of the swings taken at his slider have resulted in whiffs, and that’s feeding into what is turning out to be a strong strikeout year for Holland. He’s also keeping the ball in the yard well.
Holland nearly hit 200 innings in 2011, a year in which he threw four shutouts. After a down year due to bad health in 2012, he should be able to hit 200 innings this year. He’s been averaging close to seven innings per start while throwing over 100 pitches per start, which is where the big boys reside.
There’s one medical red flag where Holland is concerned, and it’s planted squarely in his left shoulder. He was sidelined for over two months with shoulder inflammation in 2010 and was on the DL for another month last year when he developed some shoulder fatigue.
Holland has remained confined to Yu Darvish’s shadow for much of the 2013 season, but he’s quietly developed into a top-of-the-rotation guy in his own right and one of the game’s top southpaws to boot.
21. Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers
Sanchez has five pitches he can turn to: a four-seamer, sinker, changeup, slider and curveball. But the four-seamer, changeup and slider are his go-to weapons, and each of them is impressive. He sits at 93-94 with his heater and can get it around 96 when he’s in need. His changeup and slider, meanwhile, are both above-average offerings.
Sanchez’s command was never better in 2012 when he walked less than six percent of the batters he faced, but he hasn’t been able to keep it up this year. His walk rate has regressed closer to the league average for starters. That’s not at all surprising seeing as how he’s not pounding the zone as often this year. These gripes aside, however, Sanchez still finds the strike zone more often than the average starter and can paint with the best when he’s on his game.
Sanchez has been one of the league’s top strikeout artists in 2013 with a strikeout rate in the mid-20s. He can throw his fastball by people, but his M.O. is to get hitters to look bad on his secondary offerings. That’s something he does quite often.
Sanchez’s health—more on that in a moment—has a tendency to conspire against him ever reaching 200 innings, but he’s been a quality start machine with the Tigers. He consistently gives them six innings and 100 or so pitches, though he can get in pitch-count trouble due to all the strikeouts.
Sanchez’s injury history isn’t pretty. He’s had both Tommy John surgery and labrum surgery, and he had to miss about three weeks earlier this summer when he suffered a shoulder strain. His health is no sure thing in a given season.
Sanchez isn't the best pitcher in Detroit's loaded rotation, but he's good enough to be a No. 1 in a fair number of other rotations. And while he's had good seasons before, 2013 is looking like his best.
20. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greinke has lost a few miles per hour off his fastball in recent years, but that’s OK. He’s responded to that by turning his repertoire into one of the deepest in baseball. He still works off his four-seamer, and it still has above-average velocity at 92-93, and he also throws a sinker, cutter, changeup, curveball and an occasional slider. His curve is a knee-buckler on a good day, and his changeup has a nifty split-finger action to it that makes it a tough one to hit.
On a surface level, Greinke’s command hasn’t been quite as sharp this year, as he’s gone from maintaining walk rates in the low sixes to sitting at around seven percent. He also has a Zone% in the low-40s. But these numbers mask how sharp his command has been in the latter half of the season, as he's all but stopped walking guys since early July and has generally had a much better feel for his pitches.
Greinke gets more whiffs than the average starter with a swinging-strike rate in the neighborhood of 10 percent, yet his strikeout rate has fallen far from the lofty heights it occupied in 2011. He’s also not keeping the ball on the ground as well this year as he did in 2011 and 2012. And even in his late-season hot stretch, it's not like he's been missing bats left and right.
Greinke won’t get to 200 innings this year thanks to the Carlos Quentin-induced collarbone injury that sidelined him for several weeks earlier in the season, but he is handling the workload of a 200-inning starter. He’s been good for six innings and 100 pitches when he’s taken the ball.
Greinke doesn’t have any major arm or shoulder injuries in his past, but his health hasn’t been perfect recently. He missed some time with a broken bone in his ribcage in 2011 and more time with his broken clavicle earlier this year, and let’s not forget the scare he had with his elbow during spring training.
Greinke isn’t as dominant as his contract would lead one to believe he is, but he’s been able to remain effective in large part because he’s one of the game’s savvier hurlers.
19. Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
Zimmermann has made an effort to work in his changeup more this year, but he’s still essentially a three-pitch pitcher. He relies heavily on a four-seam fastball that sits 94-95 with good life, and he also throws a slider and a curveball. It can occasionally be hard to tell the pitches apart, but when he has them both going his curveball is buckling knees with classic 12-6 action and his slider is running away from bats.
Zimmermann’s walk rates the last couple years have hung steady in the five percent range, which is where the best of ‘em reside. On top of that, he throws close to 50 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, which is where the best of ‘em usually are. The one gripe that can be made is that he could stand to sharpen his fastball command up against righty batters, as the tends to leave pitches over the middle. It’s no wonder righties handle him just as well as lefties.
Zimmermann has great stuff, but he doesn’t draw as many swings-and-misses as you would think. He had a swinging-strike percentage in the low eights in 2012 and is right there again this year, with a merely average strikeout rate to go with it. He fortunately saves face by inducing ground balls, which is something he’s doing very well in 2013.
With his leash loosened after 2011, Zimmermann fell just short of 200 innings in 2012 as he averaged just over six innings and 95 pitches per start. He’s not averaging more pitches per start this year, but he is averaging more innings. That’s his low-walk, low-strikeout efficiency at work.
Zimmermann’s been healthy the last couple seasons, but there’s no ignoring the Tommy John surgery he had in 2009.
Zimmermann doesn’t dazzle as much as a certain other right-hander in Washington’s rotation, but he could pass for a No. 1 on quite a few ballclubs.
18. Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
The very word “stuff” is a good word to sum up Fernandez in general. He works off a four-seam fastball that sits 95-96 and oftentimes seems to be moving quicker than that. It’s a plus pitch. He also has a changeup that he breaks out around 15 percent of the time against lefties, who have a very hard time hitting it. It’s also a plus pitch. But the money pitch is Fernandez’s curveball, which is an electric two-plane breaker that has made many a hitter look helpless.
Fernandez has been walking more batters than your average pitcher since arriving in the major leagues, but that obscures the fact that he pounds the zone with the best of ‘em. He’s been throwing right around 50 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, which is very impressive for a youngster. He has work to do with spotting his fastball, but for now he has enough velocity and movement to get by with just throwing it over the plate.
Fernandez surprisingly doesn’t get as many whiffs as you’d think given the electricity of his stuff, but that hasn’t stopped him from pushing his strikeout rate into elite territory in the land beyond 25 percent. He’s also maintaining a ground-ball rate right about at league average. These would be the reasons he’s been able to hold hitters to a sub-.200 batting average.
Fernandez has been kept on a tight leash this season, as clubs invariably do with 21-year-old rookies with million-dollar arms. He’s been able to get through six often enough, but he has also had more than a few outings in which he’s racked up a large pitch count early and been done after or even before five. However, his leash will presumably be a bit longer in 2014.
There’s nothing in Fernandez’s injury history worth reporting. His arm and shoulder are both A-OK.
This season has gone about as poorly for the Marlins as we all anticipated, but they have a legit ace in the making at the head of their starting rotation. Fernandez has obscene stuff, and he knows how to use it.
17. Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees
Kuroda has five pitches that he can turn to, but he relies heavily on just three: his sinker, slider and splitter. His sinker is a good one that sits at 92 miles per hour with good horizontal action. Kuroda’s slider is more average than it is plus, but his splitter is undoubtedly plus with late screwball action at around 86-87. It’s one of baseball’s better splitters and one of the league’s more underrated pitches.
Kuroda has been one of the top control artists in baseball this season with a walk rate that’s been sitting under the five percent threshold. And while he doesn’t really pound the zone more than your average pitcher, his tendency to sit on the edges with his sinker makes it hard to truly quantify how good he is at pounding the zone. That leaves it up to the eye test, which results in a thumbs up for Kuroda’s command.
Kuroda is getting more whiffs than he did in 2012, but those haven’t helped turn around a declining trend for his strikeout rate. That’s OK, though, as Kuroda is more about getting hitters to put the ball on the ground anyway. That’s something he does do better than the average pitcher, but not quite as well as he did in 2012.
Kuroda’s innings have gone up three years in a row, topping out at just under 220 last year. He’s going to top 200 innings again this year if he keeps up the good work, which this year has consisted of over six innings per start on fewer than 100 pitches per start. He’s found himself pitching in the seventh inning many a time.
Kuroda found himself on the DL three times in a relatively short span earlier in his career, but he's been able to keep the injury bug at bay ever since. For a pitcher his age, he’s in remarkably good health.
It’s still up in the air whether Kuroda will be returning in 2014, but powers of deduction lead one to believe that the Yankees wouldn’t mind having him back. Assuming he does come back, his sinker-splitter combo should work just fine once again.
16. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Bumgarner’s delivery is more intriguing than his stuff, but his stuff is no joke. He works off a four-seamer that sits 91-92 with some movement, but he throws his slider just as frequently. It’s a good one that comes in around 88-89 and acts like an exaggerated cutter. Bumgarner also throws a curve that seems to spin forever and a changeup that does its job against right-handed batters. Nothing is really plus, but it's all good.
Bumgarner generally commands the ball well for a guy with such a funky arm angle, but his command hasn’t been quite as sharp this year. He’s gone from maintaining walk rates in the 5-6 percent range to settling in around league average territory. It’s no fluke either, as he’s been throwing fewer pitches in the zone this year and isn’t spotting his fastball as consistently.
The tradeoff for Bumgarner’s spotty command is a perfectly acceptable one. He’s getting a ton more swings-and-misses than he usually does and, by extension, is working on a career year in the strikeouts department. He can also still rack up ground balls about as well as the average starter and has been better about keeping the ball in the yard. Very quietly, he’s been maintaining an opponent batting average under .200 for most of the season.
Bumgarner has topped 200 innings two years in a row and is going to be right there again this year. He goes six innings and throws 100 pitches like clockwork and has pitched into the seventh in the majority of his starts. Just like aces are supposed to.
Nothing to report here. Bumgarner’s health has remained flawless throughout his still-brief major league career.
Bumgarner made the All-Star team this year, so he can’t really be called underrated. So we’ll just call him underappreciated instead. He's one of the game's top lefty starters.
15. Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds
Stuff has never been Bailey’s problem and, well, still isn’t. He throws both a two-seamer and a four-seamer, working primarily off the latter. It’s no wonder he does, as it sits 94-95 and has plenty of natural movement. Bailey also features a slider, a curveball and a splitter, and all three pitches can look unhittable when he has them working. Getting them working is the hard part, as Bailey has been known to be inconsistent with his secondary offerings.
Bailey’s problems with walks are a thing of the past, as his walk rate has been in the 5.5-6.0 neighborhood in each of the last three years. He owes much to greatly improved fastball command, in particular his ability to hit the outside corner against right-handed batters.
Bailey has tossed two no-hitters for a reason. His stuff is overpowering when he has it all working, and this year he’s maintaining a swinging-strike rate well above the league average for starters and is also maintaining a strikeout rate in the mid-20s. As a bonus, he’s getting a few more ground balls than your average pitcher. But while all of this should point toward a downright unhittable pitcher, Bailey hasn’t yet given up his old tendency to be quite hittable on occasion. The should-be reality doesn't mesh so well with the actual reality.
Bailey logged over 200 innings for the first time in his major league career in 2012 and should get there again this year. He’s been averaging over six innings and 100 pitches per start and has become a solid bet to pitch into the seventh inning, if not quite a lock.
Bailey ran into some problems with his shoulder in 2010 and 2011, but the last two years have seen nothing crop up on the injury front, and he’s certainly pitching like a guy with an intact shoulder.
Probably a little higher than you were expecting for Bailey, huh? Well, it’s all about stuff, command, hittability and the ability to eat innings, and Bailey makes out well in all four. He's a dangerous pitcher.
14. Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds
Latos throws both a four-seamer and a sinker that sit in the 92-94 range with good life, and he rounds out his arsenal with both a slider and a curveball. His slider is a very good one with hard bite and good velocity at around 86-87. His curveball comes from the loopy mold of Uncle Charlies, but it’s a solid 12-to-6 that qualifies as above average.
Latos is getting better about limiting walks as his career moves along, but only slowly but surely. He had his walk rate up at 7.8 percent in 2011 when he was with the Padres and has pushed it below seven percent in 2013. And while he can get his fastball in the zone just fine, he has a tendency to leave it up rather than bury it at the knees.
With the good velocity and good life he has on his hard stuff and the good break he has on his breaking balls, it’s only natural that Latos would be among the game’s leading whiff artists. He is indeed, and he also boasts a strikeout rate well above the league average and has gotten better about keeping the ball on the ground since arriving in Cincinnati. Considering his home ballpark, he has the right idea.
Latos has increased his innings count in each of the last three years and is in line to top 200 innings for a second year in a row. He’s a lock for six innings and 100 pitches and is a solid (if not great) bet to pitch into the seventh inning.
Latos had to open the 2011 season on the DL because of a shoulder injury, but it was a relatively minor one and his shoulder has been in shipshape ever since.
Latos has followed up a good year in 2012 with a great year in 2013, establishing himself among the National League’s best in the process.
13. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
We don’t think of Hamels as a guy who has a great fastball, but his is better than most. It sits 92-93 with some good life on it. He also features a curveball and a cutter, but his signature pitch is still his changeup. It’s the best in the game and hasn’t lost any effectiveness through what has been an up-and-down season.
Hamels is well established as one of the top control pitchers in the game, posting walk rates in the 5-6 percent range throughout his whole career. He throws about as many pitches in the strike zone as your average pitcher, but he picks up more strikes than most because of how often he gets whiffs on his changeup when he throws it down and out of the zone.
Hamels’ changeup pretty much assures him a place among the league’s top whiff artists year in and year out. Same old, same old this year…to a degree. He’s getting about as many whiffs as he usually does, but his strikeout rate has fallen from about 25 percent last year to the low 20s this year. He’s also continued to become less of a ground-ball pitcher, so it’s not an accident the hits have been coming more frequently.
Hamels has topped 200 innings three years in a row and four out of the last five. He’s going to do so again this year. For all the clunkers he’s had this year, he’s still averaging better than six innings and 104 pitches per start.
Hamels was pretty banged up at the end of 2011 when he needed surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow and another to repair a sports hernia, and at the time he had a notable injury history in his wake. But he's been healthy since then, with the only injury scare he's had to deal with this year being the back pain he started feeling during a start earlier this month.
Ignore the losses Hamels has piled up this year. His performance really hasn't been that far out of line with his 2010-2012 performances. He's still one of the game's top southpaws.
12. Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks
Corbin uses both a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball that have pretty good velocity in the 92-93 range, and both pitches are lively rather than straight. He also features a changeup that he breaks out fairly frequently against right-handed batters. But his signature pitch is his slider, which is a plus pitch that conjures memories of Randy Johnson. The piece Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote about it is recommended reading.
Among the many things that stand out about Corbin is the rate at which he’s throwing first-pitch strikes. He’s getting strike one more often than any other pitcher in the National League and more pitches in the zone than your average starter. His ability to get ahead as often as he does assures a walk rate below the league average, not to mention many chances for him to throw his slider down out of the zone. He rarely ever hangs one.
Corbin’s slider alone makes him a tough guy to hit, as it’s virtually impossible to make contact with that pitch when he throws it. It’s the main ingredient in his above-average strikeout rate, and Corbin is none too shabby at keeping the ball on the ground either. It’s not an accident that extra-base hits have been hard to come by against him.
Corbin showed promise as a potential workhorse last year when he averaged close to six innings per start on fewer than 85 pitches per start. He’s made good on that promise this year, averaging right around 100 pitches per start and pitching into the seventh inning more often than not. That’s life when you get ahead, avoid walks, strike hitters out and avoid big hits.
There’s absolutely nothing to report on Corbin’s health. His arm, shoulder and everything else are intact.
From a nobody one year to an elite pitcher the next. As Corbin can now vouch, it's amazing what command and a killer slider can do for you.
11. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Verlander still has all the usual pitches: a four-seamer, changeup, slider and curveball. There’s nothing wrong with the latter three. They’re all still very good pitches. But Verlander’s velocity loss is real, as his average fastball velocity is down from about 95 miles per hour last year to around 93-94 this year. Less velocity isn’t good in his case, as his fastball isn’t much for movement. He would have gotten a perfect score a year ago. That's not practical now.
Verlander’s command regression is at least as big a problem as his velocity regression. His walk rate was 6.3 percent in 2012, and it has been hanging steady in the 8-9 percent range this year. Even when he does find the zone, he’s just not locating his fastball as well as he did last year. Especially not against righties, against whom Verlander has left too many pitches up. He still has better command than the average starter, but Verlander’s has taken a giant leap backward in 2013.
Verlander is actually getting about as many swinging strikes this year as he did in his brilliant 2011 season, but he’s not finishing the job with strikeouts as often with a strikeout rate that’s hanging steady in the low 20s. And while it’s easy to chalk it up to bad luck that he’s been BABIP’d to death quite often this year, it’s been going on long enough to chalk it up to something else. Namely the fact that Verlander just isn’t fooling hitters like he usually does.
Verlander has topped 220 innings in each of the last four years and will top 200 innings for a seventh straight season this year. But his off year has taken a hammer to his status as an elite workhorse, as he can no longer be counted on for seven innings and 110 pitches when he takes the hill.
Verlander hasn’t looked right in 2013, but so far as we know there are no health problems to blame. In fact, he’s been a picture of health ever since he battled arm fatigue way back in 2006 when he was a rookie.
All these complaints about Verlander later, and he still stands out as an elite pitcher (or, at least, a guy who should be an elite pitcher). Don't write off the possibility of a huge turnaround in 2014.
10. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Strasburg has a sinker, but he still works almost exclusively off his usual four-seamer. It’s still among the game’s most overpowering heaters, sitting 96-97 with life. He also still has his knee-buckling curveball and plus changeup. Give him a fourth pitch, and he might take over the world.
Strasburg has a reputation as a great control pitcher, but his walk rates the last two years have been right around the league average. Related to that is the fact that he really doesn’t throw that many more pitches in the strike zone than your average starting pitcher. However, he has gotten better about locating his fastball in the zone, most notably taking up a residence on the outside corner against right-handed batters.
Strasburg was harder to hit in 2012 when he had a strikeout rate over 30 percent. Yet he hasn’t experienced much of a drop-off in his swinging-strike percentage and is maintaining a well-above-average strikeout rate in the mid-20s. And in this case, the tradeoff for fewer strikeouts are more ground balls, as over half the balls hit off of Strasburg this year have been of the ground-ball variety. He may not be getting as many strikeouts, but he’s allowing fewer hits.
Strasburg has been given a longer leash this year and is taking advantage of it. He couldn’t even average six innings and 95 pitches per start last year, yet he is now quite a good bet for six innings and 100 pitches when he takes the ball. He’s not a legit workhorse just yet, but he’s getting there.
We all know the big injury: Strasburg needed Tommy John surgery in 2010 and it has hung over his career ever since. But that’s not all, as this year he's battled forearm tightness and landed on the DL with a bad shoulder.
Maybe he’s not the next coming of Nolan Ryan or whoever it was he was supposed to be, but Strasburg is still high up there on the list of pitchers you want on your team.
9. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
There’s not much about Lee’s arsenal that wows you. He works off a sinker that has merely average velocity between 91 and 92 miles per hour, and he also relies heavily on a cutter and changeup that aren’t liable to make one swoon with their action. Lee's curveball is probably his best pitch, but it’s not an unhittable pitch. It’s a solid all-around arsenal, but it’s not stuff that makes Lee so great.
Playing off that last point, it's command that makes Lee so great. He throws more pitches in the strike zone than any other pitcher in the league and consistently produces walk rates below five percent. Of all the great command artists in the game today, Lee is the best.
Lee shouldn’t be a top-tier strikeout artist with his stuff, but he is indeed quite good. He hasn’t been able to match the 25.9 K percentage he had a couple years ago in 2011, yet he’s been able to sustain a strikeout rate easily over 20 percent, and he’s been better at neutralizing right-handed power with his cutter this year than he was in 2012.
Lee has topped 200 innings five years in a row, topping out in the 230 neighborhood in both 2009 and 2011. He goes seven innings and throws 100 pitches like clockwork, making his starts relatively relaxing days for the Phillies’ bullpen.
Lee has kept his arm and shoulder in good shape into his 30s, but he has a strange tendency toward abdominal injuries. All four of the DL stints he’s racked up in his career have been due to abdominal injuries of some kind or another. And since he's not getting younger, he probably hasn't seen the end.
You're not going to be dazzled for a few hours when Lee takes the hill, as he's not the type to go out there and blow hitters away. But he understands the art of pitching as well as anyone, and he's able to apply what he knows as well as anyone.
8. Matt Harvey, New York Mets
There’s an ideal for a perfect arsenal of pitches for a starting pitcher, and Matt Harvey has pretty much realized it. He works off a four-seam fastball that sits between 96 and 97 with some life on it, and he also has a plus slider, a plus curveball and a plus changeup. Check, check, check and mate.
Harvey has unreal command for a pitcher who hasn’t even been active for two full seasons. He walked less than five percent of the batters he faced in 2013, all while throwing close to 50 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. But while he can and will paint the corners with his hard stuff, the one gripe that can be made is that his M.O. is mainly to just get it over the plate and let the raw stuffness of it do the rest.
Harvey was the best strikeout artist in the Senior Circuit with a strikeout rate in the neighborhood of 30 percent, and that’s no surprise seeing as how all four of his pitches are swing-and-miss offerings. To make matters even more unfair, he was maintaining a ground-ball rate in the high 40s. These would be the reasons he was only touched up for a handful of dingers all season long.
Harvey failed to reach the sixth inning just once in 26 starts and failed to reach the seventh only seven times. He was averaging roughly seven innings per outing while also running his pitch count into the 100s with regularity. All he needs now is a track record, and for the Mets to let him off the leash whenever he's ready to pitch again.
Up until recently, the most serious injury Harvey had suffered in 2013 was a random nosebleed. But then the baseball gods cursed him with a partially torn UCL in his pitching elbow, an injury that will likely require Tommy John surgery to fix and will likely keep Harvey out until late in the 2014 season. But since he's in a holding pattern and is apparently optimistic he'll avoid surgery, according to Marc Carig of Newsday, we're remaining in a bit of a holding pattern of our own with this score.
Will we even see Harvey in 2014? We might not, in which case his very inclusion in this list would be moot. For now, it's our way of giving Harvey props for a superb season that put him on the map.
7. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
Oh, man, where do we even begin? Darvish works off a four-seam fastball that sits 94 to 95 with some life, but he also has a sinker, slider, curveball, slow curveball and splitter. His is easily the most diverse arsenal featured by any starting pitcher in the big leagues, and his slider gets my vote as the nastiest the world.
Darvish does walk more hitters than your average pitcher, with his walk rate hanging around the nine percent range this year. That's worse than the league average for starters, and it adds up seeing as how Darvish doesn't pound the zone more than the average starter. His command isn't a total loss, however. His fastball command has gotten a lot better since he first began his MLB career, as has his command in general ever since he simplified his repertoire late in 2012.
Darvish induces more swinging strikes than anybody in MLB, and he stands alone as the top strikeout artist in the league as well. He’s the only pitcher in the league with a strikeout rate over 30 percent, and his is well over that mark. Facing him is one of the toughest challenges in the game today, as everything he throws is meant to miss bats.
Racking up innings isn’t the easiest chore in the world for Darvish due to his high-strikeout ways and the fact that he walks a few more batters than the average starter. However, he’s one of the only pitchers in the league averaging 110 pitches per start, and he can go a lot higher than that.
As awesome as Darvish is, he has a hard time keeping the nagging injury bug at bay. During his time in the United States, he’s had a couple neck aches, blisters and a bad back that forced him to the DL earlier this year. Maybe I’m being picky, but he doesn’t look like the kind of pitcher who can get through a season unscathed.
Minor gripes aside, Darvish has more than managed to live up to the hype that accompanied his arrival in the major leagues from Japan last year. He can only be so good with his command, but he is indeed SO good.
6. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
Wainwright is a pitcher who leans heavily on hard stuff, as a four-seamer, sinker and cutter account for the bulk of his pitches. He’s able to sit at a decent 91-92 with his four-seamer and sinker, putting decent life on both pitches to boot. His cutter doesn’t move as fast but is definitely an above-average offering. Waino’s curveball, meanwhile, is a plus-plus-plus offering. A better right-handed hook doesn't exist.
Wainwright has been the National League’s golden standard for how not walk guys this year. He’s had the lowest walk rate in the league all season, and his only peer in baseball in these late goings is David Price. Waino doesn’t pound the zone endlessly to get his low walk rate, but he’s one of the best at manipulating the zone to get hitters to give him strikes by going fishing.
Since Waino is indeed among the elites at getting hitters to swing outside the strike zone, it’s no surprise that he has a swinging-strike percentage in the neighborhood of 10 percent and a strikeout rate well above league averages in the low 20s. He’s also maintaining a ground-ball rate around 50 percent. Despite all this, he’s actually not keeping hits from finding the holes much better than he did last year, in part because opponents are hitting more liners off him.
Waino was a 230-inning guy before he went in for Tommy John surgery, and he’s gotten back to those old habits this year. After finding his bearings in 2012, he’s once again a virtual lock for seven innings and over 100 pitches, as well he should be with his command and general pitching know-how.
Wainwright has been fine ever since his return from Tommy John surgery, but there’s a limit to how much yours truly can trust a 32-year-old starter with a surgically-repaired elbow.
There are certainly more overpowering pitchers than Wainwright out there, but he’s got a gift-from-the-gods hook and some of the best pitching smarts in the game.
5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
You never quite know what you’re going to get when Sale is on the mound, as he throws all of his pitches at least 20 percent of the time. Those include a four-seamer and a two-seamer that come in between 92 and 95 with outstanding movement, and a slider and changeup that both rate as plus. Everything Sale throws is a feast for the eyes. Unless said eyes belong to the guy at the plate.
Sale had good command last year, throwing close to 50 percent of his pitches in the strike zone and walking only 6.6 percent of the batters he faced. He’s gotten better this year, pushing his Zone percentage even closer to 50 percent and getting his walk rate well below the league average in the 5-6 percent range. He could stand to get better about locating his fastball within the strike zone, but he gets it in there well enough and lets the velocity and movement take care of the rest.
Sale can get a whiff on any one of his pitches, so it’s only natural that he would be among the league leaders in strikeouts with a K percentage in the mid-20s. And while he can still be touched up for the occasional home run, they’ve come less frequently in 2013 thanks in part to a superior ground-ball rate over the one he had last year.
Sale doesn’t look the part of an elite workhorse, but he’s played it this year. He’s your American League leader in complete games and is averaging seven innings and close to 110 pitches per start. The White Sox have asked a lot of him, and he just keeps delivering.
It’s hard not to be worried about Sale’s arm and shoulder given his slight frame and the nature of his delivery, and it’s already looking like occasional shoulder issues are going to come with the territory. He needed a rest last year due to shoulder fatigue and was sidelined earlier in 2013 with tendinitis in his shoulder.
As brutal as this season has been for the White Sox, at least they can rest comfortably knowing that they have one of the filthiest pitchers in baseball at the head of their rotation. One who's only getting better to boot.
4. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
Price has taken to throwing his two-seamer more often than his four-seamer, and understandably so given the filthy movement he can put on it. And while his velocity is down, being able to sit 94-95 is an area most starting pitchers would love to be “down” in. Price also throws a cutter, a curveball and a changeup. All three are above-average, if not plus, pitches.
Ever since Price came off his lengthy stay on the DL, he’s been as close to a literal strike-throwing machine as it gets. He’s been wearing out the strike zone like he’s never done before. In six July starts, he only issued one walk, and then walked only six of 165 batters faced in August. He’s gone from being a very good control artist to being one of the game’s elites.
Price has games when he can be overpowering, but he’s really never been an elite swing-and-miss guy and is barely managing to strike out 20 percent of the batters he’s facing this season. He’s also getting fewer ground balls this year than he did in 2012 when his ground-ball rate was easily over 50. Very hard to hit? Absolutely. But not impossible to hit.
Price had some ugly outings earlier in the year, but he’s been a lock for seven innings ever since coming off the DL. With his control and general tendency to avoid strikeouts, he doesn’t even need high pitch counts to do so either. The only thing he’s missing is a track record as a 230-240 inning guy.
Price had to miss over a month with the triceps injury he came down with in May, but he’s been so dominant ever since he came back that it’s like it never happened. It was also his first ever trip to the DL, so we’ll give him a pass for it.
Price looked like a fading pitcher earlier in the 2013 season. But since his return from the DL, he’s looked just as good as the pitcher who won the AL Cy Young award in 2012.
3. Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Scherzer’s fastball gets my vote as the nastiest thrown by any starter. It sits between 94 and 95 with the ability to go faster than that, and the movement on it is absurd. Scherzer also throws a slider and a changeup that both rate as plus. But while he does deserve credit for working in a curveball more this year, it’s at best an average pitch. Speaking a bit more honestly, it's really below average.
Scherzer’s command has improved by leaps and bounds this year. He was already decent at avoiding walks, and this year he’s been better than most with a walk percentage in the neighborhood of six percent. Improved fastball command has helped, as he’s both pounding the zone more often and hitting his spots more consistently. He can hit the corners with his fastball now, which is downright unfair in light of its velocity and movement.
Scherzer isn’t the best strikeout artist in the American League, but he’s up there. All three of his primary pitches are tough to make contact with, so it’s not a shocker that his swinging-strike percentage is once again in the area of 12 percent. And while he can be touched up for the occasional home run due to his limited capacity to keep the ball on the ground, it’s hard to complain while looking at an opponent’s batting average under the Mendoza line.
This is going to be the year that Scherzer tops 200 innings for the first time. He’s gone from being a guy with an apparent maximum of six innings of work to a guy who’s now pitching into the seventh with regularity. Improved control and lots of whiffs will do that for you…but having Scherzer’s run support helps too.
It’s been several years since Scherzer last found himself on the disabled list, but there’s no ignoring his history of nagging shoulder issues. You name it, he’s battled it: inflammation, soreness, fatigue, etc. His shoulder has managed to hold together through it all, but the consistency of the problems does send up a red flag.
Scherzer always was going to be a dominant pitcher once he put it all together. Lo and behold, that’s what he’s done this year, and it’s been glorious.
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Hernandez throws everything but the kitchen sink, using a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a changeup, a slider and a curveball all at least 10 percent of the time. He has lost some velocity over the years, but his hard stuff is still better than average at 92 to 93 miles per hour. Velocity only matters so much with him anyway, because everything he throws moves. His changeup, in particular, is like something out of a video game. You wonder how anybody ever hits him when he has everything working—and he did have that one game when nobody did, of course.
King Felix was already an excellent control pitcher before this year, and now he’s downright silly. After finishing at six percent last year, his walk rate has been hanging steady in the five-percent arena in 2013. He actually doesn’t pound the zone that much more than your average pitcher, but he doesn’t have to. He knows how to use his arsenal to get hitters to expand the zone and give him some easy strikes.
With such a filthy arsenal and such good command of it, it’s no wonder that Hernandez has been working on the highest swinging-strike percentage of his career and the best strikeout rate of his career in 2013. He’s also maintaining a ground-ball rate in the neighborhood of 50 percent, making it quite difficult for batters to square him up.
King Felix has worked at least 230 innings four years in a row and is once again eating innings by the bushel this year. The Mariners have been able to count on him for at least seven innings when he's taken the ball over the last few years, and it’s been the same old story for the better part of 2013. With Justin Verlander’s status having taken a hit, King Felix stands alone as the American League’s top workhorse.
Hernandez lest went on the DL in 2008, but there are things conspiring against a perfect score here. He does have a history of having problems with his lower back, and there was also the elbow scare that temporarily held up his contract talks with the Mariners over the offseason. He’s a machine, but he's not indestructible.
Hernandez isn’t the best pitcher in baseball, but he’s undoubtedly the best pitcher in the American League, and it’s crazy to think he’s still only 27. I think we can start to wonder whether Cooperstown is in his future.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw is the keeper of the baseball's deadliest trifecta of pitches. He has a four-seam fastball that has both above-average velocity, sitting 93-94, and unreal late movement. In fact, no four-seamer thrown by any other starting pitcher moves as much vertically as Kershaw’s. In addition to that, he has an elite slider and the best curveball in the game. It’s a devastating trio of pitches that makes a perfect score awfully tempting, but not practical seeing as how Kershaw lacks a go-to fourth pitch.
It’s hard to believe that Kershaw was a guy who was once known for walking the ballpark. His command has gotten better and better over the years to a point now where he’s been limiting walks like never before while throwing close to 50 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. He tends to work only one side of the plate with his hard stuff—away from lefties and in on righties—but he works it like a machine.
Kershaw has one of the lowest opponent batting averages in the major leagues, and it’s no accident. His curveball is the most unhittable pitch in the league and his slider and fastball are plenty capable of missing bats as well. These things help make him an elite strikeout artist, so it’s almost unfair that he also keeps the ball on the ground better than your average pitcher.
Kershaw logged 461 innings between 2011 and 2012, and his innings count is once again up in the rarefied air this year. He’s a lock for seven innings and 100 or so pitches when he takes the ball and is actually averaging better than seven innings per start this year. He is the workhorse in MLB.
The right hip impingement Kershaw was dealing with toward the end of the 2012 season was a scare, but it hasn’t followed him into 2013. He’s also never been on the DL. He would appear to be indestructible, which is just what the world needs.
Nasty stuff? Terrific command? The capacity to baffle hitters? The capacity to eat a ton of innings? Kershaw has it all covered. He's the best there is on the mound these days.
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