MLB Offseason 2012: Rating the Top 15 Starting Pitchers

Scott BarzillaContributor IIINovember 19, 2011

Some think he is the MVP.
Some think he is the MVP.Harry How/Getty Images

There are nearly 200 pitchers in the starting pitcher universe; therefore, picking any total to feature is arbitrary. Since we have been looking at the top 15 guys at the other positions, we might as well keep that tradition alive. Evaluating pitchers according to runs above average is a little easier than position players, but there were some challenges along the way.

The primary obstacle is the fact that all three sources (Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball Reference) all measured pitchers against replacement level.

So, the data had to be normalized to be measured against the average. as a result, the numbers you see have been normalized to be against the average. 

15. Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians

Fangraphs average = 27.9

Baseball Prospectus average = 19.5

Baseball Reference average = 21.2

Total Player Rating: 68.6

Cleveland is rebuilding their rotation to compete next year, but Masterson is still going to be the linchpin. Derek Lowe has been added, Ubaldo Jimenez will be there a full season and they are always hoping Fausto Carmona will show up, but Masterson is still the key.

14. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

Fangraphs average = 32.8

The Mariners are hoping for a bounce back season from King Felix.
The Mariners are hoping for a bounce back season from King Felix.Brandon Wade/Getty Images

Baseball Prospectus average = 10.3

Baseball Reference average = 26.2

Total Player Rating= 69.3

Keep in mind that total player ratings are always based on the previous season. Last season was a bit of a down season for King Felix. I would be willing to bet that he returns to at least the top ten in 2012, if not the top five.

13. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

Fangraphs average = 25.8

Baseball Prospectus average = 21.9

Baseball Reference average = 34.2

Total Player Rating=81.9

Keep in mind that Hamels is the Phillies third starter. Roy Oswalt is leaving, so the big four has turned back into the big three. The Phillies will rely more on Hamels to repeat his performance from 2011.

12. Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks

Fangraphs average = 26.2

Baseball Prospectus average = 22.2

Kennedy came of age in 2011.
Kennedy came of age in 2011.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Baseball Reference average = 34.2

Total Player Rating: 82.6

Ian Kennedy actually got a first place vote in the Cy Young race, which just goes to show some people haven't given up on wins as a very important stat when evaluating starting pitchers. Kennedy took a huge step forward though and was one of the many reasons why the Diamondbacks won the West.

11. Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels

Fangraphs average = 39.5

Baseball Prospectus average = 24.8

Baseball Reference average = 21.2

Total Player Rating: 85.5

With the Rangers coming within a pitch of winning the World Series, few remember that the Angels were neck-and-neck with Rangers until mid-September. Haren struggled in September. If he has performed like he did the first five months it could have been a different story.

10. Doug Fister, Detroit Tigers

Fangraphs average = 31.8

Baseball Prospectus average = 16.8

Fister had the best post-trade performance since Rick Sutcliffe in 1984.
Fister had the best post-trade performance since Rick Sutcliffe in 1984.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Baseball Reference average = 39.2

Total Player Rating= 87.8

I thought the Tigers had made a mistake when they picked up Fister. Instead, he turned it up another notch. If he plays a full season like he did the last few months, the Tigers will own the Central.

9. Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox

Fangraphs average = 21.8

Baseball Prospectus average = 19.2

Baseball Reference average = 47.2

Total Player Rating= 88.2

So many focus on what went wrong, but Beckett had his best overall season in Boston signing his big contract extension. He struggled in his last few starts, but that shouldn't completely wipe out what he did in the previous 25 starts.

8. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

Fangraphs average = 27.9

Baseball Prospectus average = 22.8

Baseball Reference average = 42.2

Has Shields thrown his last pitch in Tampa?
Has Shields thrown his last pitch in Tampa?Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Total Player Rating= 92.9

Shields is supposedly on the block and if that is true, he could be the catch of the offseason. Shields is arguably a better pitcher than the top starter on the market (C.J. Wilson) and did his pitching in a tougher division.

7. C.J. Wilson, Texas Rangers

Fangraphs average = 35.9

Baseball Prospectus average = 22.7

Baseball Reference average = 44.2

Total Player Rating= 93.8

There are rumors that the Angels are interested in Wilson. If that is the case they may end up with the best rotation in the AL. 

6. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

Fangraphs average = 34.0

Baseball Prospectus average = 37.4

Baseball Reference average = 44.2

Total Player Rating= 115.6

Are Weaver and Haren getting help?
Are Weaver and Haren getting help?Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Like Haren, Weaver fizzled down the stretch. Both were carrying the team on their shoulders, and were unable to keep up the elite pitching they showed earlier in the year.

5. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

Fangraphs average = 39.2

Baseball Prospectus average = 34.5

Baseball Reference average = 51.2

Total Player Rating= 124.9

Last season was an unusual season for Lee. He led the NL in shutouts, but couldn't seem to put it together for the whole season. Still, when you are one of the top five pitchers in baseball who is going to complain?

4. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Fangraphs average = 40.0

Baseball Prospectus average = 40.9

Baseball Reference average = 47.2

Total Player Rating: 128.1

Keep in mind that these numbers are in multiples of three. So, while Kershaw and Halladay are separated by 0.6 runs here, the reality is that they were separated by 0.2 runs. That's how close the Cy Young race was in the NL.

Despite these numbers, Kershaw was a good choice for Cy Young.
Despite these numbers, Kershaw was a good choice for Cy Young.Kent Horner/Getty Images

3. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

Fangraphs average = 49.1

Baseball Prospectus average = 29.4

Baseball Reference average = 50.2

Total Player Rating= 128.7

I might have been inclined to vote for Halladay over Kershaw, but that is tough when Kershaw won the pitcher's triple crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts). Simply put, this may have been the closest statistical race in years.

2. C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees

Fangraphs average = 45.8

Baseball Prospectus average = 27.2

Baseball Reference average = 58.2

Total Player Rating= 131.2

Poor C.C. keeps on pitching well, but gets beat out by guys have brilliant seasons. He has legitimately been among the top three AL pitchers every season he has been in New York. Every year, someone more deserving has won the award. This year was no different.

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Always the bridesmaid and never the bride.
Always the bridesmaid and never the bride.Nick Laham/Getty Images

Fangraphs average = 45.2

Baseball Prospectus average = 42.3

Baseball Reference average = 70.2

Total Player Rating= 157.2

It's time for a little dose of reality. For those folks touting Verlander for MVP, please stop. He trails Jose Bautista by more than 50 runs in the TPR. He deserves to be in the conversation and in some seasons, his 157.2 would be good enough. This is not one of those seasons.

Bottom Feeders

Brian Matusz, Baltimore Orioles

Fangraphs average = -29.2

Baseball Prospectus average = -25.6

Baseball Reference average = -42.8

Total Player Rating= -97.6

Matusz was listed as the best Orioles pitching prospect at most publications, but his 2011 season was an unmitigated disaster. That doesn't mean he can't rebound. Check out John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux's first full seasons. Their numbers were scary too.

Galarraga is the definition of flash in the pan.
Galarraga is the definition of flash in the pan.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Armando Galarraga, Arizona Diamondbacks

Fangraphs average = -26.8

Baseball Prospectus average = -21.7

Baseball Reference average = -28.8

Total Player Rating= -77.3

Everyone will remember the non-perfect game for years. Now, it stands as a reminder that all players are capable of greatness on any given day. Otherwise, Galarraga is maybe at replacement level. Even that may be a stretch.

Alex White, Colorado Rockies

Fangraphs average = -26.2

Baseball Prospectus average = -21.5

Baseball Reference average = -26.8

Total Player Rating= -74.5

White is a top-rated prospect and these numbers shouldn't change that. It often takes pitchers a year or two to adjust at the ML level. Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay were not the pitchers we know today in their rookie seasons.