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MLB Barometer: Rotation Power Rankings

Vlad Sedler

Vlad Sedler covers baseball and football for RotoWire. He is a veteran NFBC player and CDM Hall of Famer, winning the Football Super Challenge in 2013. A native Angeleno, Vlad loves the Dodgers and Kings and is quite possibly the world's only Packers/Raiders fan. You can follow him @RotoGut.

At this point, we all know the drill. Beware the dicey two-step pitcher. Don’t drop your stud hitter in a slump. Hit the waiver wire a week early to pick up the stud prospects like Rougned Odor last year, or Michael Conforto and Randal Grichuk this year, who spent brief stints in the minors. Finally, always, always lock in and target specific categories you’re deficient in.

Instead of my standard intro this week, I wanted to have some fun with my own set of power rankings. Below are my rotation rankings for the remainder of the season. I’ll omit the fifth starter since it’s usually a moving target; only the Cubs and Cardinals have been able to maintain essentially the same unit since the beginning of the season. Without further ado...

ELITE

1. Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel)

The starting rotation’s quality start percentage (62 percent) is out of this world – 56 of them in 91 starts. None of the five (including Kyle Hendricks) average less than 7.5 K/9 and all of them have a WHIP of 1.10 or less. In fact, Hendricks would arguably be the ace of a few of the league’s worst rotations.

2. Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark)

Due in part to their solid bullpen, the Nats lead the majors in wins (56 through Sunday’s action) and ERA (3.18). Gonzalez is no longer an SP2 and Roark is a touch above league average, but the Strasburg and Scherzer combo gives their rotation the best 1-2 punch in the majors.

3. Cleveland Indians (Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin)

I’d put the Mets here but they are slowly falling apart via injuries, and that doesn’t include Harvey who was of no help to us this year. Salazar and Carrasco both carry ERA’s under 3.00. Kluber is a former Cy Young winner and Tomlin (averaging one walk per nine) is doing his best Cliff Lee impression, minus the velocity. They are going to be a scary unit down the stretch, and that doesn’t even include former uber-prospect Trevor Bauer who can be sloppy, but is averaging 8.5 K/9.

4. New York Mets (Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Logan Verrett)

5. San Francisco Giants (Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Peavy)

The Shark holds this group down. He’s been a disappointment with his new club even after leading the majors in earned runs and hits allowed last season. Peavy continues to defy Father Time on the mound, though his 5.09 ERA may not show it. Peavy is much better at AT&T Park (3.98 there, 6.64 on the road).

6. St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Mike Leake)

The unlisted Jaime Garcia has pitched below expectations this year, but at least he’s healthy and has made it this far. I’m expecting a decent six-week stretch before he tires out late in the season. Wacha and Leake have been serviceable, the latter of whom has thrown double-digit strikeout games in back-to-back games. Unfortunately, it’s too late to buy low on CMart after his slow start. He may well be one of the 10 best pitchers in the majors from this point on.

7. Los Angeles Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy)

The Dodgers will likely make a deadline deal to move them up higher in this tier. Dodger fans have to be worried about Maeda’s stamina over these last couple of months in his first season stateside. Kazmir is a walking walk-machine this year (3.59 BB/9). The Blue Crew is strong depth-wise with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Bud Norris in the mix and Brett Anderson and Alex Wood returning soon.

SECOND TIER

8. Houston Astros (Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Doug Fister)

Keuchel had a first half to forget (6-9, 4.80 ERA) following his Cy Young season, but has strung together two quality starts so far in July – 13 K, three ER, three BB in 11 IP. The McBrothers are holding their own, but are inconsistent from start to start. McCullers is striking out close to 12 batters per nine though. Thanks to the bullpen, the Astros had the second-best ERA in the AL in the first half. Fister gets the nod over Mike Fiers as the fourth of this bunch as he has been more effective and reliable. Fister’s 3.64 is well over a full run better than Fiers’.

9. Pittsburgh Pirates (Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow)

Sure, Ray Searage is known as the SP whisperer, but that’s more folklore than fact. He’s one of the league’s best but there’s only so much you can do with wild guys like Liriano and Juan Nicasio. The park certainly helps, as does the return of Cole. Most exciting will be the promotion of Glasnow and the pairing of him and Taillon in the rotation together. Jeff Locke and Jon Niese are below average pitchers but hold their own at PNC Park.

10. Boston Red Sox (David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright)

11. Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris)

Matt Boyd pitched a gem against the Twins on Monday, but I’d still rather have Norris. Fulmer (9-2, 2.13, 1.07) has been better than we could have ever imagined and can help bolster this rotation into the top 10, as should the return of a healthy JZimm.

12. Miami Marlins (Jose Fernandez, Adam Conley, Wei-Yin Chen, Tom Koehler)

13. Toronto Blue Jays (Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada)

Everyone knew how talented Sanchez is, but not many expected him to become the ace of this staff this quickly. The Blue Jays have the third-best team ERA in the American League and this rotation is one of the deepest in the league including veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. How far up it can climb up these ranks relies on a bounceback second half from the disappointing Stroman.

MIDDLE TIER

14. Philadelphia Phillies (Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Jeremy Hellickson)

This staff has matured rather quickly as the big three (Nola, Eickhoff, Velasquez) have combined for a 57 percent QS rate in 56 starts. Nola looked sharp against the Marlins on Monday following an incredibly rough stretch (27 earned runs over his last 24 innings prior). Though Hellickson weighs them down, you can argue that this group belongs into the bottom of the second tier.

15. Seattle Mariners (Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Wade Miley)

I wouldn’t be shocked to get some arguments for a higher ranking. The park factor is huge for these guys and they’re getting more run support than they’re used to, but it hasn’t been helping Miley (5.05 home ERA), one of the least effective starters in the majors. This staff needs to trade for a starter and get a healthy Felix back if they want to fight for that divisional crown.

16. Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, A.J. Griffin)

17. Tampa Bay Rays (Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Blake Snell)

See what I did there? No Drew Smyly. As one of his biggest supporters from his days with the Tigers, it’s safe to say that Smyly is a huge liability to the rotation and might be better off in the bullpen. I can easily be talked into moving this group up. Archer, Odorizzi and Moore are all so talented, but their results from one start to the next are almost impossible to predict. We shouldn’t necessarily assume that Archer will turn it around. This team needs a true ace to step up to the plate, and all four guys are capable.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks (Zack Greinke, Archie Bradley, Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray)

Unfortunately, this group toes the rubber for half of their starts in Chase Field. All four of them have ERA’s at least a full run better on the road. That’s putting it mildly for Corbin (7.15 home, 3.64 road) and Greinke (5.04 home, 1.85 road). I’m a fan of Ray for streaming on the road due to his K-rate (26 percent) and Bradley, despite the erratic control, is quickly becoming one of my favorite pitchers in the majors.

19. New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi/Ivan Nova)

20. Chicago White Sox (Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, James Shields, Miguel Gonzalez)

Probably should be ranked higher because of Sale and Quintana, but the Shields/Gonzalez combination really anchors this rotation down.

21. Oakland Athletics (Rich Hill, Sonny Gray, Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman)

There are certainly going to be some pieces moving off of this roster. Luckily for A’s fans, Manaea won’t be one of them.

22. Kansas City Royals (Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy, Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura)

23. Colorado Rockies (Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, Jorge De La Rosa)

Not a bad staff at all. Imagine if Gray or the two Tylers called PNC Park home.

BOTTOM TIER

24. Atlanta Braves (Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz, Tyrell Jenkins)

25. Los Angeles Angels (Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, Tim Lincecum, Jered Weaver)

26. Milwaukee Brewers (Jimmy Nelson, Junior Guerra, Matt Garza, Zach Davies)

27. Minnesota Twins (Jose Berrios, Ervin Santana, Tyler Duffey, Ricky Nolasco)

28. Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Dylan Bundy, Yovani Gallardo)

29. Cincinnati Reds (Anthony DeSclafani, Dan Straily, Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed)

30. San Diego Padres (Andrew Cashner, Colin Rea, Christian Friedrich, Edwin Jackson)

RISERS

Howie Kendrick (MI/OF, LAD)

Kendrick is a popular visitor in this column for personal reasons. I’ve watched him here in SoCal for years (both with the Angels and Dodgers) and think he’s one of the hardest working guys in baseball. He is also one of the league’s best contact hitters. Chances are, Kendrick is available on your 12-team waivers and I’d urge you to strongly consider adding him, especially if your squad is in need of a batting average boost. Kendrick has averaged an 82 percent contact rate over his career – a number that has only dipped below 80 percent in two seasons. Since the beginning of the month, Kendrick is hitting .426 with seven RBI and seven runs scored. He has been receiving plenty of starts as the team’s leadoff hitter. He has slowly raised his average from the doldrums of the Mendoza line as he recovered from a spring training injury, up to .271, on way towards his career average of .292.

Sandy Leon (C, BOS)

Leon splits time behind the plate with Ryan Hanigan, but could prove to be a better C2 for your 15-teamer in part-time at-bats over BA-killers like Jason Castro and Chris Iannetta. Leon is hitting .448 in the month of July with a home run and seven runs batted in, though we can easily expect a BA that’s fueled by a .556 BABIP to take a hard tumble. An undrafted prospect originally in the Nationals system out of Venezuela, Leon has been shuttled up between the minor and majors for the better part of the last five seasons. He won’t offer much in the power department, but there’s slight value there playing in the AL East and as part of the Red Sox lineup. If you just lost Yan Gomes and need a replacement, you’re better off picking up Leon over Gomes’ real-life replacement, Chris Gimenez.

Adam Conley (SP, MIA)

Conley has been stellar over three starts this month (four ER, 18:5 K:BB) after a rough stretch from late May through June where he was borderline droppable in 12-team leagues. He is striking out nearly a batter per inning (8.52 K/9) this season but has had issues with free passes, walking three or more batters in six of his 19 starts this year including seven against the Nationals in mid-May. As fellow RotoWire scribe Paul Sporer points out in this Fangraphs piece, Conley’s biggest issue is his third run through an order of opposing batters. In his starts before the All-Star break, batters hit .295 against Conley the third time through, compared to .244 the first time and .198 the second time through. Conley has only pitched beyond six innings once in his last seven starts. Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez has been taking it easy on his pitch count as Conley has only finished a game with over 92 pitches twice in those last seven outings. Conley has been better at home (.211 OBA in Marlins Park, .265 on the road) and gets division rivals there in his next two outings. This Friday, Conley faces a Mets team he threw six scoreless with nine strikeouts against in early April. After that, another home start against the Phillies.

Anthony DeSclafani (SP, CIN)

Reds fans must be happy to have their ace back. After feeling discomfort in his oblique late in spring training, the Reds put their expected Opening Day starter on the disabled list. DeSclafani dealt with a couple of setbacks with the oblique, but eventually made it to the lineup on June 10. He has made six starts on the year, five of which have been quality starts, winning four times. Since walking six batters in his first two starts with only four strikeouts, DeSclafani’s K:BB ratio has been a sterling 34:3. He works primarily off four pitches and occasionally mixes in a changeup. But he’s been using his slider more often than last season and it’s been a tough one for opposing batters (.196 OBA in 56 at-bats). DeSclafani’s fastball tops out at 95 mph, but he doesn’t have overpowering stuff. He relies on above average control and clever sequencing. I wouldn’t expect him to ever be a SP1 or perennial All-Star, but instead a nice middle of your fantasy rotation starter. DeSclafani will likely crack the top 200 overall in drafts next March after being drafted 260th on average this preseason. Look for DeSclafani to get moved to a contender at or around the trade deadline.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Max Kepler (OF, MIN)

The Berlin-born prospect was promoted two weeks into the season. He wasted away on the Twins bench serving primarily as a pinch hitter before the clueless organization decided to send him back down to get full-time at-bats. He was called back up to play in the outfield when Miguel Sano got hurt and hit safely in 15 of the final 18 games in June. The five-tooled rookie leads all major league hitters in runs batted in this month with 19, through Sunday’s games. At this point, he’s all but owned in 12-team formats in the NFBC. This may end up being his best month of the season, but either way many of us snoozed, so we lose. This kid has a bright future.

Carlos Santana (1B, CLE)

Santana has made the most of his opportunity leading off against right-handed pitchers. He is hitting .357 with 11 runs scored and four homers so far this month. Santana’s BB-rate (12.8 percent) is the lowest mark of his career (career 15.4 percent) but it hasn’t affected his OBP all that much – his .352 rate isn’t far off from the last couple of seasons. He has hit 20 long balls and is on pace to surpass his career-best 27 HR from 2011 and 2014. Most impressively, Santana has greatly improved his K-rate to just under 15 percent – a nearly four percent improvement over his two previous seasons. He is easily out-earning his 200 ADP as the 21st first baseman taken in March drafts. Santana is currently the seventh-most productive first basemen according to the NFBC player rater.

Christian Yelich (OF, MIA)

Here we go again. If you’re a regular Barometer reader you’ve probably noticed a pattern of Yelich appearing in this column at least once a month as I continue to make my case about Yelich winning the NL batting crown, now known as the Tony Gwynn award. As we embark on the 16th week of the season, Yelich’s .318 ranks fifth in the NL behind Daniel Murphy (.350), DJ LeMahieu (.330), Wilson Ramos (.327) and Martin Prado (.322). As you can see, Yelich has some work to do to catch Murphy, who has 118 hits to Yelich’s 100 in 23 more at-bats. Yelich has picked up the pace in July (.348), but has hit just two home runs since the beginning of June. I searched for this wager in Vegas sportsbooks during the RotoWire company trip to Vegas, but couldn’t find it. Nevertheless, I still believe.

Hector Santiago (SP, LAA)

Figuring out how Santiago is going to perform from start to start is almost as difficult as trying to project Jason Heyward’s yearly 5x5 stat line. Santiago’s split from before and after last year’s All-Star Game (2.33 pre, 5.47 post) is well documented, and I took to Twitter at this year’s break curious if we could expect the exact opposite this season. He is off to a nice start after posting a 4.58 ERA before this year’s break by shutting out his former employer, the White Sox, striking out seven in seven innings. That makes three consecutive scoreless outings including one against the Red Sox in Fenway. It almost makes you expect the other shoe to drop and for Santiago to serve up seven earnies against the Rangers at home this week. Speaking of Angel Stadium, his home/road ERA split is the one that’s most pronounced – 5.87 in Anaheim and 3.03 on the road. Continue to expect the unexpected with Santiago. But for now, he’s a must-own in 12-team formats.

FALLERS

Matt Wieters (C, BAL)

Wieters is struggling badly this month, hitting just .139 with no homers, three RBI and one run scored. His .155 ISO matches last year’s mark from his truncated season, but a .292 BABIP is fueling a batting average hovering around the .250 mark. It’s hard to believe that Wieters is 30 years old now and in his eighth season in the majors. His 7.5 percent BB-rate and 22 percent K-rate is on par with last season as well. Currently sitting at nine home runs, there is always a chance he reaches the 20 mark for the fourth time in his career, but Wieters will need to heat up and pick up the pace soon to get there. Wieters still gets a rest about three times every two weeks, but that was always expected following Tommy John surgery. He is currently ranked eighth among catchers on the NFBC player rater. Best case scenario is that he surges into the top five. I’ll put a 35 percent chance of that happening.

Yasmany Tomas (OF, ARI)

Tomas is another struggler with the exact same July line as Wieters (0-1-3) and is hitting .150. He hit 13 home runs prior to the All-Star break, seven of which came last month. Of those seven, five came in mid-June series’ in favorable parks – Coors Field and in Citizens Bank Park. His power split is near equal (six homers vs lefties, seven vs righties) but contact-wise Tomas is much more efficient against southpaws, hitting .296/.367/.960 against them while batting just .231/.268/.641 against right-handers. Surprisingly, Tomas is doing more damage away from Chase Field (10 HR, .289 on the road vs. three HR, .215 at home). Moreover, his hard-hit rate has spiked considerably (41 percent) from last season’s 31 percent. Tomas has been hitting lower in the lineup recently and might not find his name on the lineup card quite as often given all of the options the Diamondbacks have there. I hate being the guy who drops decent players on the downswing of slumps, but Tomas was on the roster bubble in one of my 12-team NFBC leagues where I was looking to add Conforto. Luckily (or so we shall see), Bud Norris made for an easier cut given a scheduled at-Washington start this week and a likely demotion to the 'pen once Clayton Kershaw returns. Tomas’ home/road splits are fluky and should move towards balancing out. If you’re deciding whether to play him versus a similar option during a given week, pay most attention to the opposing pitchers first and how many lefties he has on an upcoming week’s slate.

Nomar Mazara (OF, TEX)

It’s fun to own the rookie who gets promoted early and starts their career off on a tear. But all we have here is yet another example of why we always need to temper our expectations with the youngsters. Mazara hit .333 in 63 April at-bats and followed it up with a seven homer April while slugging nearly .500. Mazara took a dip in June (two HR, .359 SLG) and so far this month is hitting just .214 with one measly run batted in. Mazara was rightfully pushed down from the magical three-spot to bat seventh in the Rangers lineup. Then there’s this tweet from Jeff Passan of Yahoo on Monday:



Sending Mazara down is a legitimate possibility, though what is most important for the Rangers is maintaining their lead over the Astros and Mariners in the AL West. Mazara has a bright future in the league, though I’d temper expectations of him being a perennial All-Star. Mazara is currently the OF36 on the NFBC player rater and could be a top 100 overall pick next season depending on how the rest of the season shakes out for him.

James Paxton (SP, SEA)

The fourth-year southpaw from our neighbor up north has yet to hit to make more than 13 starts nor surpass 100 innings in a season and hopes that 2016 will be the first. The oft-injured Paxton lost the final rotation spot to Nate Karns out of spring training but was promoted to the Mariners for a start against the Padres on June 1. It was an interesting season debut as he struck out seven in just under four innings while serving up three earned runs (eight run total) on 10 hits. He followed that up with his best outing of the season – a 10-strikeout performance in a loss to the Indians. It was the second double-digit strikeout game of his career with the first coming in his rookie season in 2013. His strikeouts have dipped significantly in July. Paxton has just five total in 18.2 innings (three starts) after striking out 41 in 34.2 June innings. Paxton maintains a decent walk-rate (6.3 percent) but his WHIP sits at an uncomfortable 1.69 after allowing nearly nine hits per outing over his last five. Dropping him in 15-teamers is certainly premature, but it’s not out of the question in 12-team leagues especially with starts on the road against the Blue Jays and Pirates over the next couple of weeks. Don’t sweat dropping him this week for the likes of Jose Berrios (promotion coming) or Jake Peavy’s two home starts next week.