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March 13, 2015

Pitching Backward

Every Team's Pitching Depth, Ranked

by Jeff Long

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Last year Sam did some analysis to identify which teams had the most effective depth in their starting rotation. Sam noted just how fragile starting rotations are: that only about one team per league per year gets 25 starts out of all five starters, and most of the teams that do make the playoffs. He also linked to an article by Eno Sarris that found two-thirds of teams will have two starters get hurt at the same time—in other words, will need not just a sixth starter but a seventh at some point each season.

With the glut of recent injuries to key starting pitchers (Darvish, Lee, Stroman, etc.) teams are again reminded that no plan is strong enough to withstand 60 Newton meters of valgus stress. And so we will make an attempt to see which teams are best positioned to manage the loss of two key starters.

Below is an assessment of 30 teams’ sixth and seventh starters, categorized by level of personal tribulation suffered by Frank Grimes. how they would do in the event of an apocalypse.

Methodology: Using BP’s depth charts, and adjusting in only a couple cases to reflect current realities, we identified two pitchers likely to be called upon in case of injury to current rotation member. We pro-rated each pitcher’s WARP over 165 innings; summed, sorted. I also made an effort to not include guys who won’t be available until midseason (like Matt Moore), since they don’t fit the spirit of this exercise. Also, no adjustments were made for the recent injuries announced by the Rangers, Phillies, or Blue Jays. After all, they’re just getting a head start on bringing along their sixth and seventh starters.

Doomsday Prepper pitching depth

Cubs (Kyle Hendricks, Jacob Turner) 3.4 WARP
Angels (Nick Tropeano, Andrew Heaney) 3.9 WARP
Indians (Zach McAllister, Josh Tomlin) 2.6 WARP
Diamondbacks (Chase Anderson, Randall Delgado) 2.2 WARP
Mets (Noah Syndergaard, Dillon Gee) 1.7 WARP

If these teams were people, they would be the ones who are on a first-name basis with the guy at the counter at the local military surplus store. They have plenty of “food” in storage for a rainy day, you know, just in case. The Cubs are the editors of the self-published Survivalist magazine, as beyond Hendricks and Turner—both solid options—they also have Tsuyoshi Wada, who pitched well last year. (Good thing, too. Turner’s elbow is already barking.) The Angels are the most improved on this list, having risen from our lowest tier last spring, and having last September relied on a series of all-hands-on-deck bullpen starts to clinch the AL West. The other six pitchers listed in this tier would all fit adequately in the fourth spot of some second-division team’s rotation.

Ex-Military/SWAT/Etc. pitching depth

Padres (Odrisamer Despaigne, Robbie Erlin) 1.8 WARP
Twins (Tim Stauffer, Alex Meyer) 1.9 WARP
Cardinals (Jaime Garcia, Marco Gonzalez) 1.7 WARP
Dodgers (Juan Nicasio, Joe Wieland) 1.6 WARP
Marlins (David Phelps, Brad Hand) 2.0 WARP
Giants (Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Vogelsong) 1.3 WARP
Athletics (Chris Bassitt, Jesse Hahn) 1.7 WARP

These teams aren’t really prepared for a specific apocalyptic scenario per se, but they could pretty much get their post-apocalyptic survival thing going with minimal effort. They’re well trained and will figure things out if they need to. The Padres and Giants have each had one of their best 2014 starters squeezed out of crowded rotations, while the Twins and Cardinals each have a top prospect in the high minors ready to go (or to contribute in the bullpen in the meantime). The Marlins have the benefit of the world’s swingiest swingman, “our bedrock… in a chaotic and frightening world,” as this year’s BP Annual put it. Like the group above, each team typically pairs a capable veteran with a top prospect, promising both dependability and upside depending on the nature of the need. The biggest issue here is that the capable vets aren’t quite as good, but still these teams would likely be in decent shape despite losing two starters.

Outdoor Enthusiast pitching depth

Astros (Dan Straily, Asher Wojciechowski) 1.4 WARP
Mariners (Danny Hultzen, Roenis Elias) 1.2 WARP
Royals (Yohan Pino, Brandon Finnegan) 1.4 WARP
Nationals (Tanner Roark, Blake Treinen) 1.1 WARP

The equivalent of the guy who prudently put together a Go-Bag for the inevitable day he has to Go!, but that was four years ago and everything in it has since expired. Even the Purell—Purell has an expiration date! Still, expired Purell is better than hose water, and in the end this guy’s probably going to be okay. Roark is the exception in the group, as he is arguably good enough to push the Nationals up a tier or two on his own, but even he has a short track record of success, just like every other pitcher on this list. Ultimately, Hultzen and Finnegan are the half-cooked pitchers you’d desperately like to avoid in emergency call-ups, not just because they probably aren’t ready to contribute but because their teams would prefer to spend this season developing them so they will be ready someday. Hultzen’s also a good example of a particular species of pitcher you tend to see on these lists: The “depth” that comes with so many injury warnings that they require an extra layer of depth for when they break. The reigning king of this species is probably Matt Harrison, which, speaking of whom…

Doomsday Prepper Who Is Unfortunately Allergic To Grass, Sunlight and Bottled Water pitching depth

Rangers (Lisalverto Bonilla, Matt Harrison) 2.2 WARP

Boy, it looks better in a projection than it does in reality.

Self-Taught Survivalist pitching depth

Red Sox (Henry Owens, Robbie Ross) 1.3 WARP
Phillies (Chad Billingsley, Miguel Gonzalez) 1.0 WARP
Blue Jays (Todd Redmond, Liam Hendricks) 1.0 WARP

What this group lacks in practical experience, they make up for with internet-provided knowledge. They may have never camped a day in their life, but they know the proper technique for constructing a fallout shelter from twigs and leaves and that has to be worth something. The bummer for each team is that their starting pitching is already a question mark without anything bad happening to it. That the understudies for all three teams combined to make just 18 major-league starts last year makes the stakes all the higher. Expect to hear a trade rumor or two around these teams before the season begins, or else the GMs to start prepping “we really believe in insert AAA player here” quotes now.

Millennial pitching depth

White Sox (Carlos Rodon, Erik Johnson) 0.9 WARP
Braves (Josh Outman, Daniel Winkler) 0.8 WARP
Tigers (Tom Gorzelanny, Kyle Lobstein) 0.8 WARP
Yankees (Chase Whitley, Ivan Nova) 0.7 WARP
Rays (Burch Smith, Alex Colome) 0.7 WARP

Let’s be honest. Millennials are ill-suited to surviving a large-scale extinction event. I say this as a card-carrying member of the millennial generation, but come on. We’re all glued to our phones, best friends with Google, and use apps as our yule log come Christmastime. Much like Millennials, this group of teams is in pretty bad shape if something bad were to happen to a couple of their starters. (The White Sox are obviously the possible exception, but one is cautious projecting a saves-the-day season from a pitcher with six professional starts.) Unfortunately for these teams, they don’t make an app for acquiring decent no. 6 starters, so things will go downhill pretty quickly.

“I give up” pitching depth

Brewers (Tyler Thornburg, Taylor Jungmann) 0.3 WARP
Rockies (Jonathan Gray, David Hale) 0.0 WARP
Reds (Dylan Axelrod, Anthony DeSclafini) -0.3 WARP
Pirates (Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke) -0.3 WARP
Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez, Dylan Bundy) -0.5 WARP

So whenever our family dinner table conversation inevitably turns to post-apocalyptic scenarios, my mother replies that she’d rather not endure the difficulties that come with life in a barren wasteland. This feeling, I imagine, is shared by the Brewers, Rockies, Reds, Pirates, and Orioles. Now, not all of these teams are created equal. The Brewers, Rockies, and Reds have put themselves in this situation to some degree by trading away pitching. For them, this won’t be a real surprise. The Pirates, on the other hand, take a shotgun approach to replacing pitchers that have suffered hypothetical injuries, while the O’s have invested a tremendous amount in the two pitchers listed, but seen a lot of things go wrong on the way to here. So while the O’s and Pirates hope and pray that maybe there’s a Four Seasons still operating just over the hill, the other clubs here have likely consigned themselves to their inevitable fate. They say being zombified is painless.

Notes: Pitching depth charts are, of course, fluid, and while we did our best to identify numbers six and seven, the teams themselves don’t necessarily even know who those pitchers are right now. Further, depth doesn’t stop at seven. So we acknowledge the limitations here.

Jeff Long is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

Related Content:  Los Angeles Angels,  New York Mets

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