The Change — Creating Pitcher Tiers

Before I try to do this in a (slightly) more scientific way, let me say that you can easily create tiers via the sniff test. Take a look at the pitching pool and try to assign groups labels, like ‘ace’ and ‘front of the rotation’ and ‘mid-rotation’. It’s what we do when we are trying to talk about prospect pitchers and where they might slot in later, it should come fairly naturally, and it will help you make sense of your specific player pool. It’s a worthy exercise no matter how rigorous the background work was.

Now let’s try to apply a more reasoned approach to the matter.

If you were to graph tiers, what would they look like? If the y axis was auction value, and the x axis is a pitchers’ rank, then you’d be looking for a straight horizontal line. That’s a group of pitchers with the same auction value but a different rank — a group of pitchers separated by cents, not dollars.

So I made that graph, using our auction calculator and regular 12-team mixed settings.

Pitchervalues

I looked for big vertical gaps between markers, and put my tiers in there. For the most part, the slope before the tier is horizontal, and then there’s a little vertical moment, and then there’s another horizontal part. It’s not necessarily precise, but it’s backed by the idea that the slope of the line changes in these places, and notifies of a gap in value.

The nice thing is that this approach produces about five tiers for mixed leagues, and that lines up well with how we think of major league rotations. Of course, there’s the Human Caveat, Clayton Kershaw. He’s so far above and beyond the rest of the pack that he’s one of those single-tier players. Let’s not draw a line for him and him alone, though. That’s not, by definition, a tier. There are no other players that are comparable that can live in his tier with him.

Another nice thing is that you see — even if you quibble with where exactly I put my lines (the $10 line should be a bit further right, maybe) — that we have the $30 pitcher, the $20 pitcher, the $10 pitcher, the $5 pitcher, and the $1s. If you’re making a plan and want a pitcher from each tier, there are your budgets for each of those slots.

A major part of the tier system is finding comparable players. Let me update my rankings from last week with tiers that generally follow the plan from above.

Eno’s Ranks (With Tiers)
Eno Sarris Player RG RK Diff% Tier
1 Clayton Kershaw 1 100 1
2 Max Scherzer 2 100 1
3 Chris Sale 3 100 1
4 David Price 4 100 1
5 Jake Arrieta 5 100 1
6 Jacob deGrom 11 183 1
7 Madison Bumgarner 8 114 1
8 Zack Greinke 12 150 1
9 Matt Harvey 9 100 1
10 Stephen Strasburg 10 100 1
11 Jose Fernandez 6 55 1
12 Corey Kluber 7 58 1
13 Chris Archer 17 131 1
14 Carlos Carrasco 14 100 1
15 Gerrit Cole 16 107 1
16 Noah Syndergaard 19 119 1
17 Felix Hernandez 13 76 1
18 Danny Salazar 24 133 2
19 Johnny Cueto 20 105 2
20 Jon Lester 18 90 2
21 Dallas Keuchel 15 71 2
22 Sonny Gray 27 123 2
23 Masahiro Tanaka 23 100 2
24 Cole Hamels 22 92 2
25 Adam Wainwright 26 104 2
26 Michael Wacha 36 138 2
27 Tyson Ross 21 78 2
28 Michael Pineda 29 104 3
29 Francisco Liriano 25 86 3
30 Garrett Richards 28 93 3
31 Jeff Samardzija 30 97 3
32 Yordano Ventura 40 125 3
33 Marcus Stroman 31 94 3
34 Raisel Iglesias 43 126 3
35 Yu Darvish 38 109 3
36 Carlos Martinez 37 103 3
37 Drew Smyly 50 135 3
38 Jose Quintana 33 87 3
39 James Shields 39 100 3
40 Lance McCullers 48 120 3
41 Steven Matz 56 137 3
42 Luis Severino 54 129 3
43 John Lackey 47 109 3
44 Taijuan Walker 42 95 3
45 Wei-Yin Chen 44 98 3
46 Patrick Corbin 49 107 3
47 Hisashi Iwakuma 32 68 3
48 Justin Verlander 41 85 3
49 Carlos Rodon 60 122 4
50 Jake Odorizzi 34 68 4
51 Collin McHugh 46 90 4
52 Scott Kazmir 35 67 4
53 Jordan Zimmermann 45 85 4
54 Mike Fiers 59 109 4
55 Kevin Gausman 66 120 4
56 Jaime Garcia 69 123 4
57 Shelby Miller 62 109 4
58 Anthony DeSclafani 68 117 4
59 Eduardo Rodriguez 74 125 4
60 Jason Hammel 61 102 4
61 Gio Gonzalez 51 84 4
62 Kenta Maeda 76 123 4
63 Aaron Nola 63 100 4
64 Julio Teheran 55 86 4
65 Anibal Sanchez 64 98 4
66 Joe Ross 71 108 4
67 Andrew Cashner 52 78 4
68 Ian Kennedy 58 85 4
69 Nathan Eovaldi 78 113 4
70 Kyle Hendricks 57 81 5
71 Hyun-Jin Ryu 75 106 5
72 Clay Buchholz 53 74 5
73 Rich Hill 65 89 5
74 Rick Porcello 70 95 5
75 Andrew Heaney 77 103 5
76 Alex Wood 85 112 5
77 Nate Karns 86 112 5
78 Jerad Eickhoff 105 135 5
79 John Lamb 99 125 5
80 Brett Anderson 67 84 5
81 Jimmy Nelson 72 89 5
82 Mike Leake 80 98 5
83 Jake Peavy 88 106 5
84 Jesse Hahn 87 104 5
85 Hector Santiago 101 119 5
86 Trevor Bauer 91 106 5
88 Derek Holland 73 83 5
88 Marco Estrada 79 90 5
89 Kris Medlen 102 115 5
90 Rubby de la Rosa 97 108 5
91 Phil Hughes 81 89 5
92 Erasmo Ramirez 92 100 5
93 Chase Anderson 134 144 5
94 CC Sabathia 121 129 5
95 Robbie Ray 83 87 5
96 Edinson Volquez 94 98 5
97 Kyle Gibson 103 106 5
98 Matt Moore 90 92 5
99 Ervin Santana 98 99 5
100 Drew Hutchison 118 118 5
Diff% = RotoGraphs Rank / Eno Rank * 100, where higher numbers mean Eno Rank higher
Tiers for 12-team mixed leagues.

If Noah Syndergaard or Felix Hernandez are my aces, I’m fine with that. If I waited till the end of each tier and came out of the 12-teamer draft with Noah Syndergaard, Michael Wacha, Justin Verlander, Joe Ross, and Jerad Eickhoff as my staff — all players that I’m relatively high on versus the crowd — I’d do the happy dance and go ogle my strong starting lineup, most likely.

My tiers don’t perfectly line up with the graph. I see more aces, for one. I see the fewest true number twos, which makes sense to me intuitively — a number two is good enough to have the track record and the stats to sit at the top of your rotation, but not good enough to be an ace. That’s rare. I might not own a ton of twos. And if you look at the graph, there’s as good an argument for moving the $10 line left as there is to moving it right. Maybe there are really only ones, threes, and fives, generally speaking.

But my tiers agree with the ranks in a very important place: 50. Around the 50th-ranked pitcher, there’s a lurch downward in the values. As much as I like Carlos Rodon, I can’t yet put him in with the threes, who are either veterans with established track records or young pitchers that haven’t struggled as much as Rodon so far. Your Lackeys and Severinos.

And, really, I think there’s no such thing as a number four. That four/five grouping melds together, and I’ll probably be finishing up my bullpen and getting some bench/utility hitters with upside instead of trying to get the best fours and fives. As much as I love Carlos Rodon and Anthony DeSclafani — and you know I love the latter — I love Aaron Nola and Andrew Heaney and Jaerad Eickhoff about as much. At least enough to go zigging while the rest of the league is zagging.

So there you have it. Not really scientific in the end, but at least a slightly more rigorous undertaking. On my ranks, since I don’t project each player, I couldn’t find the tiers by science. But I could look at the general population for trends, and apply those to my own ranks. Which is something I suggest that each of you do going into the draft. You’ll find a road map to the draft in your tiers.





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Eno, in a keeper league I’m in I have one from the top tier, but won’t be able to draft anyone else in that tier. Would you go after two #2’s or just wait and pick up as many #3’s with high upside that you can? Trying to formulate a strategy.

Keep up the good work!