Good afternoon, everyone–don’t panic, you’re in the right spot. You’re used to coming here for EverywhereBlair’s outstanding rankings and coverage of MLB starting pitchers, but our guy needs a fill-in this week and next. I’ll do my best to bring you my iteration of SP rankings while hopefully not disappointing those of you who come to this column each week for Blair’s fantastic work.
First, a little about me. You can call me Hoove, and I’m a veteran at Razzball, but a rookie at writing here. MattTruss and the guys were gracious enough to give me an opportunity to do some fantasy baseball writing, and it’s been a blast so far. A little about my philosophy before we get into the meat of the article.
I think pitching is mostly about K%-BB%. Much of the rest, to me, is noise, though there is still plenty of useful noise. For my rankings here I’ve basically utilized six categories. The first is the aforementioned K%-BB%; secondly is CSW%, which is a pitcher’s percentage of inducing called and swinging strikes. Thirdly and fourthly are O-Swing% and Z-Contact%. O-Swing% is the number of out of the zone pitches a hitter swings at divided by the total number of out of the zone pitches the hitter faces. Z-Contact% measures pitches on which contact was made in the strike zone divided by swings at pitches in the zone. In essence, does the pitcher induce chases outside of the strike zone, and miss bats inside of the strike zone?
Lastly, I use xFIP and SIERA. xFIP, or expected fielding independent pitching, estimates a pitcher’s performance based solely on events within his control – strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, and flyballs allowed. SIERA quantifies a pitcher’s performance by trying to eliminate factors the pitcher can’t control by himself. But unlike a stat such as xFIP, SIERA considers balls in play and adjusts for the type of ball in play. My rankings come from using all of these metrics in a rudimentary formula I’ve workshopped. I’m not going to bore you with how the sausage is made, but I do want you to know I didn’t come up with these by just looking at a list of names, Jenga-ing some guys around because I like the cut of one’s jib, and putting a bow on it. When I discuss the SPs in this article, I won’t be getting into any other metric other than the ones I’m using for my rankings.
I think these stats provide a great opportunity to measure the skills a SP has some control of but also incorporates the data on batted balls in play. You won’t find anything in here about pitcher wins or cumulative stats. This isn’t to say that wins don’t matter, or racking up high strikeout numbers don’t matter–please, use these and make them *yours*. If you like a guy that I have ranked lower than another pitcher because the skills may be similar but one guy has two wins and the next guy has five, by all means, make a flip for yourself. I’m trying to Sam Hinkie (of Philadelphia 76ers infamy) my way into “trusting the process”–if we focus on the pitchers with the best skills (the best inputs), the wins and cumulative stats (or, outputs) will follow.
There are 100 ways to skin a cat (though please don’t put any creative ones you’ve used in the comments), so if there are metrics you like to use and feel I disregarded something useful, I understand that and am willing to wear it. The nature of rankings are subjective, and in so many cases, we’re trying to split the smallest of hairs. And no matter how good Blair or your favorite fantasy baseball writer is, always remember–YCPB (You Can’t Predict Baseball).
As for injured players, it’s a difficult dance on what to do with guys who aren’t currently playing (Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Freddy Peralta are examples of notable names), and players like Shane Baz who have recently returned and have a whopping two innings to their name in 2022.
- Dropped Walker Buehler from the list entirely as the Dodgers reported he will be shut down for 6-8 weeks.
- Freddy Peralta is off of the list entirely as the Brewers say he will miss most of the season.
- Cubs manager David Ross said he’s hopeful Marcus Stroman doesn’t miss more than the allotted 15-day IL time, so for now, he stays.
- Lance Lynn is expected to start vs Detroit on Tuesday, June 14, so without any data for 2022, I’m going to use the data from 2021 (not entirely sound, as year-to-year fluctuation is a real thing) and insert him around where it would put him.
- deGrom is throwing off of a mound, and Scherzer is progressing more quickly than the Mets had hoped, but they’re still not ready for me to include them in any of these rankings.
- Milwaukee righty Brandon Woodruff is on the IL and has Reynaud’s Syndrome, which causes numbness in extremities due to blood flow. Woodruff has had issues with three fingers on his pitching hand, which is obviously worse for his status going forward than if they were on his glove hand. Manager Craig Counsell said he’s responding to treatment well but there’s no timetable on his return, so for now, Woodruff is off of the board.
- My formula *loves* Spencer Strider and Aaron Ashby. The real world knows that their starts may not be as long as Shane McClanahan’s or Kevin Gausman’s, but the numbers say these young dudes are bringing all of the smoke to the mound. Strider was top-10% in four of my six inputs, and Ashby was in three. Strider is 3rd in baseball in Z-Contact% and 4th in K%-BB%, which means he’s throwing batters all kinds of strikes and they still can’t hit it. Ashby is 2nd in MLB in CSW% and 9th in xFIP.
- Wait, is Jeffrey Springs an ace? Not yet, no–his K%-BB% and CSW% just isn’t in that territory yet. But what is rocketing him up my list are his Wizard Percentages (O/Z)–he’s 2nd in baseball in O-Swing% and 4th in baseball in Z-Contact%. His stuff has been terrific and batters are chasing what look like good pitches but aren’t, and then when he actually throws good pitches, they aren’t touching him.
- Why do you have Justin Verlander so low, Hoove? I get it…the man’s had terrific results this year, and as a forever Tigers fan, I’ll always cheer for the guy. But we can’t say he’s vintage Verlander when his K% and CSW% are career-lows and his BB% is a career-high. He’s below-average at getting hitters to chase, and in-zone the hitters are making good contact. His xFIP and SIERA only say he’s been good, not elite like his current actual ratios suggest, so expect those to tick up as the season continues. This is a clear case of what I discussed earlier–his seven wins no doubt buoy some Verlander value here, and they may continue to with Houston being a very good team, but too many skills data point to movement in the wrong direction going forward.
- You have last year’s Cy Young winner ranked in the 60s? I don’t make it a habit to answer to completely made-up voices, but in Robbie Ray’s case, it must be addressed. Ray’s still missing bats in the zone with a very good Z-Contact%, but his control is killing him this year (and every year other than his outlier Cy year, I suppose). He’s in the bottom 10% of K%-BB% for me, he’s got the lowest CSW% of his career by over 2% (which means he’s not getting the chases outside of the zone like he’s used to because his in-zone contact percentage is still very good). He’s below-average to poor in both xFIP and SIERA. Perhaps we should look at Robbie Ray as the pitcher he’s been for 75% of his career and not the one he was in 2021.
- Let’s address some of the more established SPs with histories of success that miss my initial top-100. Jose Berrios, Ian Anderson, Charlie Morton, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Ian Anderson are all guys you may want ahead of guys like Vince Velasquez, Johnny Cueto, Bruce Zimmermann, or any number of guys on the back end. Heck, if all were available on the wire, I’d no doubt pick up one of the former names before I reached for the latter ones. But I wanted to stay true to the results of my process because once I start putting my bias into it, then why can’t I bias things in other ways, too? This way you can see the results, see the ranks, and if *you* decide you value somebody I have lower than somebody I have higher, then you’ve made an adjustment for *your* bias–but you didn’t have to worry about me making adjustments for *my* bias.
To the rankings! (all data pulled the night of Friday, June 10 and doesn’t include weekend performances):