Ranking the rotations: 2014 edition

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I’ll be dipping into my Rotoworld player projections from time to time for HBT posts. Here’s the first of this year: my ranking of each five-man rotation as we head into 2014.

Before actually posting my 1-30, I’ll start with my raw ERA rankings by league. A couple of qualifications: I’m only using the top five for each team, so depth beyond that is being ignored. Of course, the teams with quality depth outside the top five are going to do pretty well here anyway. On the other hand, this method does help teams that still have rotation spots to be decided. For example, I have the Yankees fifth starter as David Phelps, but he’s projected for just 106 innings at the moment. If he were projected at 180 instead, the rotation’s collective ERA would be higher. The Mariners are also overrated here, since Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are responsible for 48 percent of the 857 innings in the sample below.

AL
Tigers: 3.38 in 991 IP
Rays: 3.40 in 919 IP
Mariners: 3.59 in 856 2/3 IP
Athletics: 3.65 in 912 IP
Yankees: 3.73 in 895 IP
Indians: 3.75 in 862 1/3 IP
Angels: 3.78 in 871 1/3 IP
Red Sox: 3.80 in 951 IP
Rangers: 3.83 in 812 2/3 IP
White Sox: 3.85 in 897 2/3 IP
Royals: 3.94 in 940 IP
Blue Jays: 4.06 in 847 IP
Orioles: 4.10 in 845 1/3 IP
Twins: 4.16 in 804 2/3 IP
Astros: 4.34 in 893 2/3 IP

NL
Dodgers: 3.306 in 958 1/3 IP
Nationals: 3.312 in 1002 2/3 IP
Cardinals: 3.369 in 940 1/3 IP
Braves: 3.371 in 918 1/3 IP
Reds: 3.509 in 977 1/3 IP
Padres: 3.513 in 894 IP
Giants: 3.52 in 941 2/3 IP
Pirates: 3.60 in 865 2/3 IP
Marlins: 3.63 in 863 2/3 IP
Phillies: 3.68 in 895 2/3 IP
Mets: 3.77 in 875 1/3 IP
Diamondbacks: 3.78 in 929 2/3 IP
Brewers: 3.939 in 930 IP
Cubs: 3.945 in 940 IP
Rockies: 4.15 in 872 1/3 IP

There were a bunch of virtual ties on the NL list, requiring the extra digit. The Nationals came in just behind the Dodgers, but that’s with an extra 44 innings. The Cardinals and Braves were also in pretty much a dead heat for the third spot.

Using those ERAs as a guideline and adjusting for league, defense, ballpark and my own personal whims, here’s how I’m ranking the rotations:

1. Tigers
2. Nationals
3. Dodgers
4. Cardinals
5. Rays
6. Reds
7. Braves
8. Red Sox
9. Giants
10. Athletics
11. Padres
12. Yankees
13. Indians
14. Mariners
15. Pirates
16. White Sox
17. Marlins
18. Diamondbacks
19. Angels
20. Rangers
21. Phillies
22. Royals
23. Mets
24. Rockies
25. Blue Jays
26. Orioles
27. Brewers
28. Cubs
29. Twins
30. Astros

Some thoughts:

– The Tigers elevated the Nationals from fifth to second by gifting them Doug Fister, yet still had the artillery to claim the top spot. I’m expecting much better from Rick Porcello because of his improved K rate and the much better infield defense behind him. I also don’t see Drew Smyly dragging them down very far in his new role.

– The top three NL teams are all close, and I’d swing the edge over to the Cardinals if I were considering a team’s entire rotation picture. With Carlos Martinez and Joe Kelly likely in reserve, they’re going to be able to weather any storm. Of course, the Nationals aren’t bad there either with Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark and Nathan Karns behind Ross Detwiler. And the Dodgers have Chad Billingsley potentially on the way back from Tommy John surgery in May or June.

– I love the Braves’ upside if Brandon Beachy stays healthy and Alex Wood can hang in the rotation most of the year. Those are question marks, though.

– Pre-Tanaka, the Yankees probably would have come in 20th or so.

– The Rangers are down about four spots because of Derek Holland’s knee injury.

– The Mets’ rotation is plenty intriguing, but the only one of their five starters I have throwing 190 innings is the guy I expect to be the weakest of the bunch, Dillon Gee. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Jenrry Mejia can do, assuming he wins the fifth spot.

– I don’t buy the idea that the Twins’ shopping spree is going to do them a lot of good. They would have actually fared better here had they passed on re-signing Mike Pelfrey and traded Kevin Correia.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.