It’s that week again, the time of the season when you get to put on your arguing boots and debate our updated tier rankings. As a reminder, these rankings are strictly based on projected rest of season performance. While the first month of statistics plays some (tiny) role in shaping my future projection, I am not technically weighting what has actually already happened. You can check out the preseason tier rankings for comparison.
It’s either a testament to his absolute amazingness as a pitcher or a serious reason for concern, but Verlander’s fastball velocity is still at the lowest level of his career. It also hasn’t improved at all as he gets more starts under his belt. Since 2009, his max fastball velocity has been recorded at in excess of 101.0 mph. This year, that maximum has been just 96.6. Yet, despite this reduced velocity, Verlander has still been as dominant as always. Unbelievable. There literally isn’t a blemish to be found in his advanced metrics. So he remains atop the hill until there are any signs the lower velocity is affecting his performance.
Felix is another ace pitching at reduced velocity, but experiencing no ill effects to his performance. With his control, ground ball rate and assortment of secondary pitches, it’s clearly too early to worry. Darvish moves up within the tier for obvious reasons. Given his potential strikeout advantage and better offensive support perhaps leading to more wins, it’s conceivable he outearns Felix. It’s an open question as to whether Darvish can maintain the much improved walk rate, but his F-Strike% suggests he has made legitimate strides.
Price is yet another ace experiencing diminished velocity, but while some of his advanced metrics are normal, his K% is down. Still, his SIERA is barely above last season’s and nearly two full runs below his actual ERA. So far, Sabathia has suffered the largest skills decline after a velocity drop of this group of aces, so he drops within the tier. The groundball rate and K% are both down and his velocity has barely pushed above 90.0 in his last two starts. I’m this close to dropping Dickey a tier, but seriously, I have to give him more than 36.0 innings to prove last year was no fluke. Nothing really looks good, though his SwStk% has remained above 10%.
Scherzer is at it again, posting a ridiculous 2.05 SIERA, but 4.02 ERA. Once again he’s dealing with major BABIP issues as that stands at .380. Unlike last season though, the home run ball hasn’t been a problem early on. He has also joined the velocity decline club, but obviously his performance hasn’t gotten the note. Matt Moore makes for a perfect sell high candidate. He has benefited from an absurd .149 BABIP and a LOB% of, wait for it…100%! His strikeout rate is up, yet his SwStk% is way down and his F-Strike% is significantly below the league average. Basically, all his advanced metrics would suggest an ERA well above 4.00. My preseason ranking of Lester basically assumed a nearly full rebound, and so far so good. Though, I would also caution that his SwStk% and F-Strike% are down, so it might be too soon to declare that he’s back.
Some movement within the tier as Anibal Sanchez move up a rank or two, as does Dempster. Both are showing better strikeout ability than expected and at least Dempster’s has an explanation. Sanchez’s is inflated due to the game of his life versus the Braves, but he has shown the ability to strikeout a batter per inning once before. Cobb is the big winner, jumping a tier, as his bad fortune last year has turned into great luck this season. This is still the exact same pitcher SIERA tells us, but absent that bad luck, it’s a pretty darn good one. Buchholz is yet another big winner, jumping two tiers. I’m still not exactly sure how he’s doing it as his SwStk% is actually below last year, but he always possessed better stuff than his Major League strikeout rates would indicate. This seems like a safe enough tier to hedge my bets.
Morrow is a mess right now. His velocity is down and his one-time awesome strikeout ability has disappeared. Damn it Brett Anderson, STAY HEALTHY! Was he even completely healthy before he hit the DL? He had walked 15 batters in 29.0, which is very unlike the lefty who usually displays pinpoint control. He has some of the best potential to rocket up these rankings, but there’s always something with him that prevents it from happening. I wrote about Hammel last week and after another poor start from a skills perspective, he’ll be dropped a tier in the next rankings update if he doesn’t start showing better skills.
Iwakuma has been dominant so far and has moved up a tier, though his pitch mix is identical to last year. He has thrown more first pitch strikes and induced swings and misses at a higher rate, but unfortunately his ground balls have disappeared. It’s tempting to move Ogando up a tier, but first of all, he is likely facing an innings limit. Second, he has benefited from some good luck so far, while his velocity is well down from the last time he started back in 2011. His F-Strike% and Zone% are also far below previous years and the league average, so either that improves, or his walk rate is going to jump.
I still don’t understand where this sudden strikeout ability of Felix Doubront came from, but he’s been keeping it up, so that alone gives him marginal value. Roberto Hernandez joins the rankings and I’m already being fairly aggressive, despite his underwhelming 5.28 ERA. I discussed him yesterday and believe his changeup has made him a new pitcher.
Ervin Santana jumps a tier, but that’s not saying much as he began the season at the bottom. Should he be even higher? Perhaps, since his 3.30 SIERA suggests that he has been no fluke. But he’s still the same fastball-slider pitcher he has always been, generating a couple more swinging strikes than usual and throwing more first pitch strikes. He remains prone to the long ball and his historical career SIERA doesn’t offer much confidence to put him any higher for the time being. Masterson moves out of the basement, as he’s using his slider more frequently, which has upped his strikeout rate.
As promised, Jose Quintana joins the rankings, and I discussed him last week. Parker has been a disaster so far. I was pessimistic on him to begin with, which is why his ranking doesn’t actually change, but I didn’t expect this. The odd thing is that both his F-Strike% and SwStk% is up, so you have to think it’s just a matter of time before he rebounds. Happ also joins the tiers, though I am worried about all those fly balls.
Poor Tommy Hanson. His fastball is averaging just above 88.0 mph, after sitting above 92.0 during his first two years in Atlanta. That’s killed his ability to strike batters out, and with it goes his potential fantasy value. Zach McCallister certainly appears to be better than a basement level starter, but his SIERA stands at 4.15 and his SwStk% is well below the league average, suggesting his already mediocre strikeout rate may be in for decline. Seriously, Rick Porcello? You were spectacular in spring training and struck out enough batters to make some believe you were in for a breakout, and at the very least, a strikeout rate spike. But now after a month in the books, you have punched out a paltry 8 batters in 19.1 innings. Just another tick in the “spring training stats mean nothing” check box.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.