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What exactly is a #1, 2, 3, 4, 5 starter? And the Angels rotation


Angelsjunky

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Alright, this turned out to be quite long. If you want to skip the statistical process I just spent the last hour and a half nerding out on, skip down to the Summary.

What is a #1-5? 

There is no technical or definitive agreement on what these mean, although the general view is something like this:

#1: A Cy Young candidate; a dominant starter.

#2: Very good starter.

#3: Good starter.

#4: Average starter.

#5: Mediocre to poor starter.

Further definitions:

Ace: #1 caliber starter

Staff Ace: Best starter on a team

Top of the rotation starter: #1 or 2.

Mid-rotation: #3-4 starter; possibly weak #2.

Bottom-of-the-rotation: #5, possibly weak #4.

 

But those are highly subjective. Can we come to something more definitive? Not really, but I'll give it a shot. I'm only going to look at 2018, because starters have changed over the years - pitching less and less, and numbers are always fluctuating. Also, I'm lazy and this is just a start.

There are five slots in a rotation, 30 teams in the majors - that's 150 starting slots. Now of course many more pitchers start games. All things tolled, 343 pitchers started at least one game in 2018. Or to break it down further:

1+ start: 343 pitchers

5+ starts: 238 pitchers

10+ starts: 183 pitchers

15+ starts: 151 pitchers

20+ starts: 124 pitchers

25+ starts: 92 pitchers

30+ starts: 56 pitchers

33+ starts: 13 pitchers

35 starts: 1 pitcher

OK, now I'm going to make some assumptions. Let's say that in any given year, the ten best pitchers in baseball are #1s. Why ten? Well, consider that there are six division winners and four wildcards - that's ten. So the idea being that ideally or on average, every playoff team has a true #1 starter (of course it never really works out that way). Let's also say that there are twice as many #2s, or 20 in all. That gives us 30 #1 or 2s (top-end starters), or one per team. I think that makes sense. So we could fill it out like so:

#1s: 10 (#1-10)

#2s: 20 (#11-30)

#3s: 30 (#31-60)

#4s: 40 (#61-100)

#5s: 50 (#101-150)

That gives us 150 in all. Anything below that is a replacement pitcher, a fill-in, call-up, etc.

Pitcher Rankings

So how to determine how to rank pitchers? WAR? A lot of people (myself included) don't like WAR as much for pitchers as for hitters, because the Fangraphs version at least is based upon Fielding Independent Performance (FIP), which is basically how a pitcher's ERA "should" look if you equalize fielding, luck, etc. But it penalizes the Jered Weaver types: pitchers who aren't hard throwers but find other ways to get people out (Jaime Barria fits this mold). 

Fangraphs has a stat called RA9-WAR, which is basically WAR that is based on actual ERA. But even that has issues. I'd prefer to look at a bunch of factors: WAR, RA9-WAR, ERA, Innings Pitched, K/9, and BB/9.

OK, now let's look at the last pitcher in each of the above rankings as the baseline level of performance in those statistical categories. In other words, the idea is that your typical #1 would rank at leaste #10 in all of the categories (again, it doesn't always work out that way, but we're looking for generalizations here). Here is out the different starter types would look, based upon all starters with at least 50 IP, or 178 in total:

Rotation Rank: (cumulative stats) | (rate stats)

#1: 5.6 fWAR, 6.1 RA9-WAR, 200.2 IP | 2.53 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 11.07 K/9, 1.64 BB/9

#2: 3.1 fWAR, 3.9 RA9-WAR, 180.2 IP | 3.28 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 9.93 K/9, 2.08 BB/9

#3: 2.2 fWAR, 2.4 RA9-WAR, 160.1 IP | 3.76 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 8.76 K/9, 2.60 BB/9

#4: 1.3 fWAR, 1.3 RA9-WAR, 126.1 IP | 4.26 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 7.61 K/9, 3.07 BB/9

#5: 0.4 fWAR, 0.2 RA9-WAR, 76.0 IP | 5.16 ERA, 5.10 FIP, 6.45 K/9, 3.84 BB/9

Anything below that last line is essentially Replacement Level or worse.

OK, so remember that those are minimum numbers in each category, with the maximum being just below the rank above. For example, a #2 should have an ERA of at least (around) 3.28 ERA, but somewhere below 2.53. Etc.

The Angels Rotation

So how did the Angels staff perform? The Angels had 16 pitchers start at least one game, with 7 of them pitching at least 50 IP. Here they are by IP, with their equivalent rotation rank according to each statistical category (I rounded up in a couple cases, where they were close enough; e.g. Heaney's IP), along with Matt Harvey: 

Pitcher: (Cumulative stats) fWAR, RA9-WAR, IP | (Rate stats) ERA, FIP, K/9, BB/9

Andrew Heaney: 3, 4, 2 | 4, 3, 3, 3 (average 3.1)

Jaime Barria: 4, 3, 4 | 3, 5, 5, 5 (average 4.1)

Tyler Skaggs: 3, 4, 4 | 4, 3, 3, 4 (average 3.6)

Felix Pena: 4, 4, 5 | 4, 3, 4, 4 (average 4)

Garret Richards: 5, 5, 5 | 3, 4, 2, r (average 4.3)

Nick Tropeano: r, 5, 5 | 5, r, 4, 5 (average 5.1)

Shohei Ohtani: 5, 4, r | 2, 2, 1, 5 (average 3.6; 2.5 by rate alone)

Matt Harvey: 4, 5, 3 | 5, 5, 4, 3 (average 4.1)

OK, let me interpret that for you. First of all, "r" stands for Replacement Level - meaning worse than #150 in the majors. Pretty bad.

The stats are in two groups, before and after the |. The first group are cumulative stats - essentially, how the pitcher performed relative to a full season. The second group are rate stats, meaning the quality of performance.

Summary

What does all of that mean? It means that Heaney is basically the definition of a #3 starter; Skaggs is #3-4, Barria is a #4, although rate stats see him more as a #5. Pena is pretty much the definition of a #4. Richards performed like a #3, although in very limited time. Tropeano is a #5 at best. Ohtani performed like a #2-3 overall, although in very limited time. Harvey was probably a #4 overall.

So let's say the Angels go into 2019 with a rotation of Heaney, Skaggs, Harvey, F Pena, and Barria, with Tropeano as the #6, and that they perform as they did in 2018. That gives them a rotation of a 3, 3.5, 4, 4, 4, and 5. Not so good.

But there is room for improvement. Skaggs has a good chance of being a solid #3, as does Harvey. But as you can see, extrapolating from 2018, the Angels have a rotation comprised of guys in the 3-5 range, with an average of 3.7 through the first 5, which means that the average Angel starter is basically a good #4.

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Just now, Randy Gradishar said:

Defined by AW, a #1 starter is deGrom, and maybe Sale and Scherzer. No other team has a #1 pitcher.

How about this definition of a #1: top 10 in both fWAR and ERA. fWAR covers peripherals and stuff; ERA covers actual performance. Let's use 150 IP minimum rather than qualified, to get Sale in there.

Top 10 fWAR (150+ IP): deGrom, Scherzer, Verlander, Sale, Corbin, Cole, Bauer, Severino, Nola, Kluber

Top 10 ERA (150+ IP): deGrom, Snell, Sale, Bauer, Nola, Verlander, Scherzer, Kershaw, Mikolas, Freeland/Foltynewicz

The bold-face are players in both top 10s - they are undisputed #1s, at least in 2018. That leaves us with:

Pitcher (fWAR rank, ERA rank)

Corbin: 5, 18 = average #11.5. Borderline.

Cole: 6, 12 = average #9. Makes the cut.

Severino: 8, 25 = average #16.5. Probably not quite, with that 3.39 ERA.

Kluber: 10, 13 = average 11.5. Borderline, although his consistency makes hiim an easy #1.

Snell: 12, 2 = average 7.0. Yep.

Kershaw: 24, 8 = average 16. Not quite. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Mikolas: 15, 9 = average 12. Not quite.

Freeland: 10, 16 = average 13. Not quite.

Foltynewicz: 19, 10 = average 14.5. Not quite.

So I've got nine clear #1s (the six in both top 10s, plus Cole, Kluber, and Snell). You could make arguments for Corbin and some of the others - not to mention Carrasco, Clevinger, Syndergaard, etc.

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At the end of the day the answer is yes, it is subjective :)
As for me i think if you have to ask, you probably have your answer.
Plus you have to qualify it a little, are we talking about team ace, league ace, career or season?    

Bottom line, we dont have one.  I personally have always found them a bit overrated and would prefer more better down the rotation over a typically top heavy one, but if you can pull off both you are set. 

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54 minutes ago, Erstad Grit said:

I really enjoyed this. I also agree with your description of our staff.  Get greinke and ray.  

I see this posted often. The Dbacks would have to pay for a lot of Grienkes contract in order for him to fit within the Angels budget.  I just don't see that happening unless they included Adell which probably won't happen so I don't see how this is possible and why it's been posted a good amount.

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2 hours ago, Stradling said:

Greinke, Ray, Avila and $20 million for Kole, Suarez and Marsh.  

Personally I think that is too much. Greinke's surplus value is about negative $40M-$45M give or take. Three years with $104M left on his contract with projected WARs of 2.92, 1.92, and 0.92 over the next three years in his age 35, 36, and 37 seasons. Happ just signed for basically $17M per year and he is going to be 36, 37, and 38 over those three years and that is free market value so he has no surplus value.

Realistically, Zack probably has at least negative $30M in "surplus" value, possibly more. It really depends on how you believe Greinke performs over the next three seasons. If you believe Steamer he will be at about 3.4 WAR. If you apply a common aging curve he will be at 2.4 WAR in 2020 and 1.4 WAR in 2021. That is worth about $70M give or take. Still a difference of $34M based on a $9.5M/WAR free agent valuation with 7% year over year inflation starting in 2019.

Basically adding Ray cancels out Greinke. Kole has about $15M in surplus value, Suarez probably has about $20M-$30M, possibly more, and Marsh has about $25M-$30M give or take.

Everything rides on what you think of Greinke's ability moving forward. Personally I say pass on him he is too big of a risk to take.

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Cool stuff AJ!

I like your methodology.  

I kind of think you're being a bit stingy at the top which has a trickle down effect.  I generally consider the top few to be ace level and then the second tier is #1 starters.  so on and so forth.  

I ran last year's starters data and calculated some standard deviations.  I excluded any player with less than 80ip and less than 15 starts.  

the SD for WAR was 1.64 and the avg WAR was 2.14.  Which means that 68.2% of the league was from 0.5 to 3.78.  that is the range I'd consider 2-5.  #1's are above 3.78, and aces are above 5.4.  Below 0.5 is a swing or spot.  

to further stratify the 2-5 range of 0.5 to 3.8, I could use partial SD's or just eyeball it.  AJ called anyone a 2.2 or above a #3.  I would be a bit more liberal and call it from 1.7 to 2.7 and from 2.7 to 3.7 a #2.  From 0.6 to 1.6 a #4 and below 0.6 a #5 or worse.  

Regardless of he designations, your numbers are extremely close to the actual SD values.    

 

 

  

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11 hours ago, Stradling said:

Greinke, Ray, Avila and $20 million for Kole, Suarez and Marsh.  

I wonder why Avila didn’t get too may at bats last season. I couldn’t find anything about injury other than that the manager sat him a lot. His career obp is pretty good and he has a good caught stealing percentage at catcher. As for Kole, how would you propose the team gets a new right fielder? 

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12 hours ago, Stradling said:

Greinke, Ray, Avila and $20 million for Kole, Suarez and Marsh.  

Sign me up. I'd even throw in another player/non top 10 prospect.

16 minutes ago, Halokingfish said:

As for Kole, how would you propose the team gets a new right fielder? 

If money wasn't an issue, I'd sign Markakis to something like 2/$20m and get steady production, or take a chance on Adam Jones for a 1/$10m.
Carlos Gomez and Avisail Garcia would be a little interesting too. More risk, so money would have to make sense.

If money was an issue, then I'd go after Robbie Grossman (.266/.371/.400/.711 as a Twin) or look at cheap vets to platoon - Granderson, Parra, Guyer, Maybin, Szczur, Melky.

Should the cheap vet/4th OF-type platoon fail, it's Adell time, or maybe an extended look at Hermosillo if he's showing life.

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2 minutes ago, totdprods said:

Sign me up. I'd even throw in another player/non top 10 prospect.

If money wasn't an issue, I'd sign Markakis to something like 2/$20m and get steady production, or take a chance on Adam Jones for a 1/$10m.
Carlos Gomez and Avisail Garcia would be a little interesting too. More risk, so money would have to make sense.

If money was an issue, then I'd go after Robbie Grossman (.266/.371/.400/.711 as a Twin) or look at cheap vets to platoon - Granderson, Parra, Guyer, Maybin, Szczur, Melky.

Should the cheap vet/4th OF-type platoon fail, it's Adell time, or maybe an extended look at Hermosillo if he's showing life.

 

You know what? It would be really cool if Harper was a realistic option. Trout, Harper, Ohtani, Upton. That’s a ton of power. But I know Harper is too expensive and some think he is rather overrated but still one can dream

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4 minutes ago, Halokingfish said:

You know what? It would be really cool if Harper was a realistic option. Trout, Harper, Ohtani, Upton. That’s a ton of power. But I know Harper is too expensive and some think he is rather overrated but still one can dream

If Arte wanted to open up the pocketbook and it didn't hurt our chances of extending Trout, I'm in the camp that would be all for it. 

But I don't think it's that realistic. I'm personally feeling we may see Adell rather quickly, so at this time, I'd be fine dumping Kole's salary if possible and trying something cheap in the interim.

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Hi junky,

 

I appreciate the work that took which makes me feel worse that they let Richards and Shoemaker walk. I don't believe signing those guys would hurt that much, especially Shoemaker who would have pitched for us in 2019. The book on Eppler seems to be to collect pitchers who may be slightly inexpensive, but may give more positive input for that cost. He knows better than anyone that you can't have enough pitchers. Still, I think the time has come to go for the high model and skip the mediocre stuff. 

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#1 - #5 is a subjective ranking.

A #1 on the Angels might be only a #2-3 on some other team.

But here's my thinking about starters' rankings.

#1 is your stopper. When the team has lost a few games in a row, this guy comes in and gets a win. He's super-confident, and the whole team feeds off of this confidence. He's capable of pitching a Complete Game on any given day. He frequently pitches 7 innings in a game and almost never pitches fewer than 6. He pitches 200 innings per season. This guy is the guy who can carry your team. He's the guy who you want to start in Game 1 of the WS. Justin Verlander comes to mind.

#2 is probably equally talented to the #1, but maybe not quite as reliable in terms of IP/Game and as a result, the confidence is not quite as high.

#3-5 is populated with guys who alternately have good and bad outings. Pick whoever you think is having the best season so far and that's your #3, etc. Championship teams have a guy who steps up to become a strong #3, mediocre teams do not.

In terms of the Angels, Jared Weaver was a #1 in 2014.

Richards came close in 2015 but he never had the confidence so I would put him as a #2.

 

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I like @Jay‘s thoughts. There is more to what defines a role than numbers or upside. All of this should be combined into the definition. 

I’d say someone like John Lackey, Jarrod Washburn, even Joe Saunders for a brief moment, fit the bill of a #1 ace despite not having the pure dominant stuff of one, simply because of their consistency or ability to provide quality starts, or outduel another team’s ace when a big win was needed.

That Saunders v. Greinke game will alway be one of my favorite pitching performances. The peripherals and stuff weren’t there, but Saunders was huge for us numerous times for a couple seasons.

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5 minutes ago, Jay said:

#1 - #5 is a subjective ranking.

A #1 on the Angels might be only a #2-3 on some other team.

But here's my thinking about starters' rankings.

#1 is your stopper. When the team has lost a few games in a row, this guy comes in and gets a win. He's super-confident, and the whole team feeds off of this confidence. He's capable of pitching a Complete Game on any given day. He frequently pitches 7 innings in a game and almost never pitches fewer than 6. He pitches 200 innings per season. This guy is the guy who can carry your team. He's the guy who you want to start in Game 1 of the WS. Justin Verlander comes to mind.

#2 is probably equally talented to the #1, but maybe not quite as reliable in terms of IP/Game and as a result, the confidence is not quite as high.

#3-5 is populated with guys who alternately have good and bad outings. Pick whoever you think is having the best season so far and that's your #3, etc. Championship teams have a guy who steps up to become a strong #3, mediocre teams do not.

In terms of the Angels, Jared Weaver was a #1 in 2014.

Richards came close in 2015 but he never had the confidence so I would put him as a #2.

 

I really like this, but how many #1’s were there last year, 4?

i miss the work horse type starters, the guys where even if they have a day where they don’t have their best stuff they find a way to get you through 7 innings.  I just don’t think baseball is played that way anymore.  

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5 minutes ago, Stradling said:

I really like this, but how many #1’s were there last year, 4?

i miss the work horse type starters, the guys where even if they have a day where they don’t have their best stuff they find a way to get you through 7 innings.  I just don’t think baseball is played that way anymore.  

not at all. when a starter doesn't have his best stuff he's pulled in the 5th inning

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