From Last Night:
- Bryce Harper backed a great performance from Stephen Strasburg with 2 HR
- Clayton Kershaw twirled a CGSO and homered
- Justin Upton homered in his Braves debut
- The Brewers and Angels both won in extras
What I’m Watching Today:
- David Price begins his Cy Young defense against the O’s in Tampa (3p Eastern)
- The new look Blue Jays begin their season behind R.A. Dickey (7p Eastern)
- Darvish looks to help the Rangers against the undefeated Astros (8p Eastern)
The Big Question:
- What will Hyun-Jin Ryu’s debut look like in LA? (10p Eastern)
It was an exciting Opening Day and today’s abbreviated schedule looks to pact a slightly less forceful punch despite some exciting talent toeing the rubber. I’ll have my eye on the Blue Jays, especially to see if they can get off on the right foot. Check back each and every morning for musings from around the league. As the season gets a little further along, this will become a place for more analysis and debate.
The previous eight weekends have featured lists of The Nine best players at each of the main field positions for the 2013 MLB season. You can access these lists here all season long and I will provide status reports of these lists as we proceed through 2013.
There will be no list for relief pitchers because there are so many of them and their range of performance is so small that making a list isn’t very interesting. There will also be no DH list because there just aren’t enough full time DHs to make it worthwhile. Only 15 teams can have a DH and some of them employ platoons. Picking 9 DHs out of like 13 guys seems silly.
But starting pitching is a place of great interest and I struggled to decide how to break it down. With more than 150 players receiving starts in a given season on the hill versus a number closer to 30 for the field positions, I’ve decided to break it in half. I thought about lefties and righties, but decided American League and National League would be more fun.
Here, without more nonsense, are The Nine best American League starting pitchers for 2013 according to SABR Toothed Tigers. The list is difficult to make because there are many excellent candidates, so as always, don’t get too worked up about it.
9. Max Scherzer (Tigers)
Scherzer will turn 29 during the upcoming season, which will be the fifth full one of his career. The strikeouts shot up last season and he kept his walk rate below 3.00 per 9 for a second straight season. He had some arm issues late in the season, but pitched well enough in the playoffs to make us think the winter off was enough to reset his aching body. He’s a flyball and strikeout pitcher, which will work well with the Tigers defense and last season was his most complete effort in the sense that he didn’t go through long stretches of poor performance. I still wonder if he can repeat his delivery and keep his awkward mechanics in line, but if he can continue on the path he started last year, he has a shot to be a force in the AL.
8. R.A. Dickey (Blue Jays)
Dickey is coming off two and a half very good seasons and an NL Cy Young. We can’t worry too much about his age given his knuckleballing ways, but we should worry that he’s moving to a less pitchers’ friendly Rogers Centre and slightly better AL East. Dickey won’t do quite as well under those conditions, but we can control for those context type factors. I don’t think he’ll be a Cy Young again, but his ability to make the ball dance should be enough to keep him on this list for another season.
7. C.C. Sabathia (Yankees)
Sabathia showed signs of aging in 2012 for the first time after 11 above average to great seasons leading up to it. He’s still a workhorse with great control and hasn’t had an ERA above 3.38 since 2005, with much of that time spend in the tough AL East. CC is probably making his final appearance on this list for his career, but he will remain one of the best pitchers in the AL for 2013.
6. Doug Fister (Tigers)
Fister had a higher WAR than all but 12 AL pitchers last season, despite only making 26 starts due to a nagging oblique injury during the first half of the season. Had he pitched at the same rate over 34 starts as he did over 26, he would have easily been a top nine pitcher last season. There is no reason to think anything but injuries would stand in his way. The strikeout rate is on the way up and his control has been excellent in a Tigers uniform. He’s only 29 and could easily be poised for another fine season. He also happens to be my favorite pitcher to watch. His mix of modesty and control with great fastball movement makes for excellent viewing. He’s also super tall. That’s fun too.
5. David Price (Rays)
The reigning Cy Young winner in the AL is fifth on this list, not because I don’t like him, but because I like his opponents more. Price has three straight 4.0+WAR seasons and is right in the middle of his prime. All signs point to another great year from Price, but I think he’ll be just shy of Cy Young conversation in 2013.
4. Matt Moore (Rays)
So when I previewed the AL East, I said Moore would be the Cy Young of the division. In doing so, I also decided he would be a better pitcher than his teammate David Price. Perhaps that was foolish, but I’m bullish on Moore and think people overlook him. He was a top three prospect entering last season and had made an excellent late season cameo in 2011. A year of control issues later, and everyone seems to be looking past him. I’m not. Moore is not yet 24 and has a lot of developing left to do. He throws gas from the left side with two solid offspeed pitches. He was a solid #3 starter in his first big league season. I don’t see any reason to think he can’t make the leap to #1 a year after he was the best prospect in the league.
3. Yu Darvish (Rangers)
Darvish tied Price last season for third in the AL in WAR and should still be on his way up. The strikeout rate was superb and if he can limit the walks at all, he’ll be an elite starter. After a year in the states, he should be poised for a better season because he won’t be adjusting to life in America and can focus solely on pitching. The stuff is great and his first year of results matched that.
2. Felix Hernandez (Mariners)
Felix is about to turn 27 and already has 38.3 career WAR and four straight 230 IP + seasons. The velocity ticking down is the only thing to worry about with the game’s richest pitcher, but he’s shown the ability to be effective at all speeds and is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro. He’s an ace and a stud and any word you can think of to describe a top pitcher. The only thing he isn’t is number one on this list.
1. Justin Verlander (Tigers)
I’m not sure what needs to be said about Verlander. His first three seasons were very good and his last four have been phenomenal. He has a ROY, Cy Young, MVP, and has never missed a start in seven seasons. He’s entering his age thirty season as the game’s best and more reliable starting pitching. With four above average to elite pitches, the two time no-hitter thrower is every hitter’s worst nightmare.
How would you rank the AL’s arms? Sound off. Check back next weekend for the NL list.
Preseason Prediction: Justin Verlander (RHP- Detroit Tigers)
Verlander entered 2012 in the prime of his career as the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP while looking to cement his place as baseball’s best starting pitcher.
And the award goes to…
Verlander. Three AL pitchers are in the discussion for this honor, but Verlander comes out on top and deserves to win his second consecutive Cy Young.
He threw 238.1 innings, posted a 9.03 K/9 along with his 2.27 BB/9, and ended the season with a 2.64 ERA and 2.94 FIP. All of this comes together in a 6.8 WAR which is the best mark in the AL and in all of baseball in 2012.
But I don’t want WAR to be the end of the discussion because it does a disservice to the other candidates worthy of mention, David Price and Felix Hernandez.
Both Price and Hernandez had great seasons and will finish a strong 2nd and 3rd on my ballot, but Verlander was better. At this point in history, we’re smart enough not to look a pitcher’s W/L record as a measure of value. You can win a lot of games if you aren’t that good and you can lose a bunch of games if you’re great depending on how your team performs around you. Cases in point this year are Phil Hughes’ 16 wins and Cliff Lee’s 6 wins.
Let’s start with ERA. Verlander trailed only Price in this season with a 2.64 ERA to Price’s 2.56. That’s a very small margin, but you have to lean in Verlander’s direction when you consider how poor Verlander’s defense was.
The difference is literally only two earned runs across the course of the entire season. Certainly we can all agree the Rays outdefended the Tigers by two runs over the course of each pitcher’s 30+ starts. FIP agrees by giving Verlander a 2.94 to 3.05 edge. Felix does well by this measure at 2.84.
Turning to strikeouts Verlander leads the pack with 9.03 per 9 to Price’s 8.74 and Hernandez’s 8.65. Price sports the highest walk rate of the pack at 2.52.
This isn’t the clearest of choices at this point. Verlander has the best K rate, the middle BB rate, and the middle ERA and FIP. But the highest WAR. He threw the most innings and did so in front of the worst defense. All three men could lay some claim to the award, but it has to be Verlander.
It has to be Verlander because he threw the most innings out of the group and because he had the worst defense. WAR says Verlander added the most value while he was on the field of the three, but what it doesn’t account for his how his extra workload took the stress off his bullpen, which could then be well rested to support the other members of the staff. Verlander pitched deeper into games and gave the rest of the staff what it needed to perform best in the start before his and the start after his.
He faced 956 batters this season and had a lot of innings extended by poor defense. Imagine how much deeper into games he could have gone if he had Brendan Ryan playing SS behind him like Felix did.
This is not an open and shut case. There are arguments to be made for Price and Hernandez, but Verlander tops Price for me on innings, Ks, BBs, FIP, and defense and Hernandez by innings, Ks, and defense.
It was another great year for the Tigers’ ace and it should end with more hardware on his mantle.
5. Max Scherzer (RHP – DET)
4. Chris Sale (LHP – CWS)
3. Price (LHP – TB)
2. Hernandez (RHP – SEA)
1. Verlander (RHP – DET)