2015 AL Starting Pitcher Tiers: June

It’s rankings update time! As you may have consistently noticed as the updated RotoGraphs consensus rankings for hitters have gradually been released, two months of performance is hardly a large enough sample size to move the needle all that much for me. Unless there is a clear explanation for a change in performance and/or underlying skills, then more often than not, the player is going to revert to what you had him projected for in the preseason.

For pitchers, it’s essential to remember that ERA is not a skill. It’s just a result. So I don’t really care what a pitcher’s ERA is at the moment. What I’m really interested in is their peripherals and any changes in pitch mix and/or velocity. And even if their peripherals have changed, you then have to ask yourself if its sustainable. Again, more likely is that what we initially forecasted is what is going to be posted the rest of the way, though obviously this is not always the case.

As a reminder, the tiers are named after the best characters from the FXX show, Man Seeking Woman.

Tanaka (The P*nis Monster)

Felix Hernandez

The almighty king. What else is there to say about Felix? One minor concern is his F-Strike% is below 60% for the first time since 2009. But, his overall strike percentage is right in line with history.

Chip (The Robot)

Chris Sale
Corey Kluber
David Price
Carlos Carrasco

In the May tiers, I mentioned that Sale has been the unluckiest strikeout artist. At the time, he had only made three starts, but his strikeout rate stood at just 21.6%. Since, he has struck out a more Sale-like 30.5% of batters. Once his LOB% rebounds, his ERA is going to drop toward 3.00 in a hurry.

You knew Kluber’s skills would eventually win out. His ERA is finally back in the mid-3.00 range, yet he still sports an ugly .351 BABIP. His skills are actually better than last year!

Price is throwing the lowest rate of strikes since 2012, but it still remains well above average. But, his swinging strike rate is the second highest of career, which offsets a career low called strike rate. Overall, his SIERA sits at the second highest mark of his career, which is a slight concern.

Carrasco jumps a tier as he is proving that last season’s end of season run was no fluke. And since I called him the ultimate buy low back in mid-May, he has posted a 2.79 ERA over four starts.

Adolf Hitler

Chris Archer
Sonny Gray
Michael Pineda

I moved Archer up a tier last month and he’s getting another bump. I don’t know how long his arm is going to remain attached to his body throwing sliders nearly 40% of the time, but if he keeps throwing the pitch so often, then he should continue to rack up the strikeouts. Probably not to this extreme, like 30%, but easily a career high. Oh, and his ground ball rate has also jumped to a career best.

It finally happened, Gray moves up a tier to where the majority of fantasy owners likely mentally had him. But it’s not because of his shiny ERA, of course. You know I care little about that. It’s because of his awesome slider that he has doubled the usage of and is boosting his strikeout rate.

Pineda also hops a tier, making this tier all new. The caveat here is that he remains healthy, of course. Since my preseason rankings properly valued innings, Pineda wasn’t valued as high as my projected ratios suggested. But since he’s had no health issues yet, it’s silly to assume they will suddenly pop up.

Patti (Josh’s Mom)

Danny Salazar
Jeff Samardzija
Scott Kazmir
Anibal Sanchez
Collin McHugh
Dallas Keuchel

Salazar jumps a tier due to that beautiful 24% K%-BB% and swapping some fly balls for grounders. He’s suffered through serious homer issues thanks to a 17.4% HR/FB rate, but there’s no reason to believe problems with the long ball are going to continue.

I’m always hesitant to drop someone a tier when there’s no obvious explanation for a decline in skills. Samardzija’s velocity is fine and he’s throwing a higher rate of strikes than ever before. But, both his called and swinging strike rates are at career lows, which is obviously a major problem. And since he calls a home run haven home and is allowing his highest fly ball rate since becoming a full-time starter, he’s going to need to get back to missing more bats to get that ERA back below 4.00.

Kazmir just missed a start due to his annual injury scare, but he’s expected to return having missed just that one start. We’ll see how his velocity is before I consider dropping him.

Sanchez = 5.75 ERA vs 3.53 SIERA. A buy low bonanza. He’s getting hurt in all three luck metrics, especially that brutal 62.3% LOB%.

I succumbed to the pressure and finally moved Keuchel up a tier. His skills are nearly identical to last year, but that’s still pretty darn good as it comes with a SIERA just a touch above 3.00. His mediocre strikeout rate caps his fantasy value upside though.

Gorbachenka (The Troll)

Masahiro Tanaka
Garrett Richards
Jake Odorizzi
Clay Buchholz
Trevor Bauer
Drew Hutchison
Jose Quintana

I have no faith that Tanaka could make it through the season, but judging by last night’s performance, he could still perform at a high level when he’s actually able to take the mound.

Once again, Hutchison has done his best Jekyll and Hyde act. His overall skills are slightly worse than last season, but it’s really that awful LOB% holding him back. That’s going to be corrected. Since he was a sleeper to begin with and finished last year with an unimpressive 4.48 ERA, it’s likely he could be acquired quite cheaply.

Richards’ skills haven’t been as impressive as last year and his SIERA sits above 4.00. Only a .255 BABIP is keeping his ERA respectable. The only real difference in his strike type rates though is a decline in foul strike rate, which isn’t a big deal. His skills should therefore improve, but offset by his luck neutralizing.

Odorizzi jumps a tier as he’s throwing a career best rate of strikes and inducing slightly more swings and misses. He has also turned some of his many fly balls into grounders.

Last month, I moved Buchholz up a tier despite carrying a 5.76 ERA. Since, he has posted a 2.70 mark, proving once again that with few exceptions, ERA will eventually settle into line with SIERA. Now, he moves up yet another tier on the heels of career best skills.

Bauer jumps a tier as his below average control is more than offset by his strong strikeout rate. His swinging strike rate is up significantly this year, while his high fly ball and pop-up rate ensure his BABIP will remain well below the .293 league average.

Mike

R.A. Dickey
Phil Hughes
Jered Weaver
Matt Shoemaker
Yordano Ventura
Rick Porcello
Taijuan Walker
CC Sabathia
Eduardo Rodriguez
Jesse Chavez

Both Dickey and Hughes drop two whole tiers as they are showing diminished skills from where I had them projected and there are reasons to believe a significant improvement isn’t on the horizon.

I feel like Walker is one of those blind buy lows. His 4.30 SIERA heading into yesterday isn’t good, even though it was significantly lower than his actual ERA. But it’s a bet on his control improving. Surprisingly, the highest SwStk% he has managed on any of his pitches has been just 11.4%. And here I thought his stuff was supposed to be electric!

Sabathia’s velocity was up again in his last start and has been gradually creeping up if you check his velocity chart. If he could actually start sustaining an average velocity around 91 mph for several starts in a row, rather than just one start here and there, it could help improve his ERA in a hurry.

Rodriguez makes his debut and some might quibble, thinking he’s too low. But it’s been only two starts! He’s still a rookie and while his minor league skills have been pretty good, they weren’t elite. He might also hate the Red Sox defense soon enough.

Liz

Jesse Hahn
Wade Miley
Wei-Yin Chen
C.J. Wilson
Colby Lewis
Chris Tillman
Lance McCullers
Ubaldo Jimenez

Hahn jumps a tier thanks to strong control and an excellent ground ball rate. His strikeout rate has tumbled, but his SIERA remains unchanged from last year thanks to that improved walk rate. I still think a relatively low innings total is going to curb his value.

What happened to Miley? After a career best strikeout rate last year, he’s punching out few.

Tillman drops a tier as his skills, which were never all that impressive to begin with, have took a downward turn thanks to control problems. And he’s always had to rely on a low BABIP and high LOB%, which has suddenly eluded him. He’s not a buy low.

McCullers debuts, likely lower than you expected. You know how he has managed a 26.9% strikeout rate? A ton of called strikes. His swinging strike rate is well below average and it would make me nervous that he won’t be able to maintain that lofty strikeout rate. His strike percentage is also poor, so his walk rate is also at risk for an increase.

After ignoring him for long enough, Jimenez joins the party. His swinging strike rate has rebounded, while his called strike rate has remained at the same inflated level as last season, suggesting it could be maintained. Most encouraging though is a career high rate of strikes. But given his long history, who knows how long this actually lasts for.

Josh

Jason Vargas
Shane Greene
Nathan Eovaldi
Yovani Gallardo
Edinson Volquez
Drew Pomeranz
Joe Kelly
Nate Karns
Hector Santiago
Chris Young

So Eovaldi started toying with a splitter during the spring. It has geneated a SwStk% of 22.2%! Yet, he has bizarrely thrown it just 4.6% of the time! What gives? Since his slider stinks at inducing swings and misses this year and his fastball is nothing special, despite big velocity, that splitter could be the key to a major strikeout rate spike. One of these years, some pitching coach is going to get a career year out of him as his strikeout rate rockets above 20%…finally.

Gallardo has probably been a bit better than most expected after his move to the American League and a serious hitter’s park. But his skills have largely remained intact, though his strikeout rate is in free fall, now declining for a sixth straight year.

I don’t believe in Volquez, not with his 4.14 SIERA. It’s reasonable to think he outperforms given his home park and defense, but he’s not going to sustain a .241 BABIP or 4.9% HR/FB rate no matter how good his fielders are or the park is at keeping fly balls in play.

Kelly’s skills are right in line with past years, but it might not matter given how Eduardo Rodriguez has pitched in his first two Major League starts. But until he officially gets the boot, he’ll remain here.

Injured/Suspended

I’ve stopped bothering ranking injured pitchers. With return dates always up in the air and the chance for a setback, easier to just group them all together and revisit when they do make it back.

Hisashi Iwakuma
Justin Verlander
Alex Cobb
Derek Holland
Ervin Santana
James Paxton
Bud Norris
Justin Masterson
Danny Duffy

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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.

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Ben
Guest
Ben

Just a query, and I’m not very bright so it’s more likely me than you, but you use ‘24% K%-BB%’… When you do K%-BB%, it’s not really a percentage that you get, is it?

Or am I just a bit thick?

dewon brazeltron
Guest
dewon brazeltron

Batters Faced is the common denominator in this fraction so you can subtract them

4th grade’d