Ranking Sale, Bard, and Feliz: A Declaration by Eno Sarris March 19, 2012 When, in the course of formulating the starting pitcher consensus ranks for the 2012 fantasy baseball season, it becomes necessary to rank a relief pitcher as as starting pitcher before he makes start number one in the new season, a decent respect to the opinions of RotoGraphs readership requires that a little more attention be paid to the causes that led to the exclusion of said starter-slash-relief pitchers from the rankings — and how they’d be ranked otherwise. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all pitchers are mostly divided into two groups; that they are thus endowed by the game with different kinds of value and to be judged separately; that inherent to each value is the pursuit of saves or wins but not usually both; that it is much more difficult to gain starting pitcher eligibility and actually start than it is to be a starter-eligible reliever; that the penalties associated from moving from the bullpen to the rotation (17% degradation in strikeout walk and home run rate, as well as a .7-2 mph drop in fastball velocity, on average) often make newly-minted relievers-turned-starters a shaky proposition; that therefore most years it makes most sense to rank reliever-eligible pitchers with the relievers. But whenever any form or ranking encounters a destructive force — as it has this year in the form of Men like Daniel Bard, Neftali Feliz, and Chris Sale — it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish the old ways and to institute a new form of rankings. So we’ll do that, sometime. For right now, though, we’ll have to just tell you where we ranked the guys so you can make an informed decision. Eno Sarris Mike Podhorzer Zach Sanders Jeff Zimmerman Consensus Matt Moore 30 20 40 32 28 Chris Sale 51 43 66 26 47 Daniel Bard 57 48 84 36 56 Neftali Feliz 59 66 56 66 62 Aaron Crow 131 86 103 112 108 It’s no surprise that Matt Moore is the favorite — our consensus has him ranked ranked at 28 — but Sale’s ranking might turn some heads. Obviously, Zach liked the lefty less than the rest of us at least. There bullet points on both sides of his ledger. He was a starter more recently than Bard and Feliz. He had the most excellent numbers last year. He can take a 17% hit and still be great. He has a starter’s repertoire, with three plus pitches. On the other hand, he has a funky delivery that some think will hurt his longevity and durability. His release point makes him more prone to platoon splits than a fastball/slider/change lefty might normally be. He’s only faced 55% right-handers so far in his career and starters usually face about 80% righties. Which way does the scale tilt for you? Bard sang a beautiful tune last year. Not only did he manage a strikeout per inning — built on the back of an elite swinging strike rate — but he also coaxed more than half his contact on the ground and showed above-average control. The two questions with his move to the rotation surround his velocity and third pitch. How much of his 97 MPH gas will he retain after the switch? And how will that reduced velocity affect his 90+ MPH changeup, in turn? Can that change be a third pitch for him or will his current platoon splits (4.09 FIP v LHB, 2.34 FIP v RHB) only be exacerbated when he has to face batters repeatedly? Feliz gets the least love from the consensus, and maybe rightly so. He’s been the most injured, for one. And he’s already tried this move before and it didn’t take. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be giving too much weight to his 2011 numbers if we’re trying to project the coming season. It was only 62.1 innings, and despite his poor back-of-baseball-card numbers, he managed to keep his swinging strike rate and velocity at the same level it’s always been. Still, the fact that he’s used his fastball almost 80% of the time in his Major League career so far has to be a little disconcerting. The curveball can be devastating — can he succeed with two pitches? No matter how upbeat you are about Feliz and his chance to be a productive fantasy starter, you have to admit that the fact that they’ve tried this before and it didn’t take means that this brew has an aftertaste laden with doubt.