While working on the 2015 runs prevented rankings for the National League, I noticed a strange set of trends:
- The NL featured the lowest number of “full-time” starters since 2009 (only 67 regular starters worked 100+ innings).
- Only 11 starters prevented between 4 and -4 runs (compared to 20 in 2014!)
- The middle of the league completely collapsed, as #32-#52 ranged from 2 runs prevented to -11 runs prevented (compared to 4 runs prevented to -6 runs prevented in 2014).
- In the middle rotation, fourteen starting pitchers either made their NL debut, worked their first significant season, or shifted from a previously part-time role.
This group of fourteen pitchers leapt out at me because it featured three notable Brewers: Jimmy Nelson, Mike Fiers, and the Brewers’ surprise of 2015, Taylor Jungmann:
- Kyle Hendricks worked his first full season for the Cubs.
- Jungmann debuted for Milwaukee.
- Chase Anderson worked his first full season for Arizona.
- Fiers returned for his first full season since 2012.
- Mike Bolsinger moved to the Dodgers.
- Brett Anderson pitched a full season for the Dodgers.
- Chris Heston worked his first full season for the Giants.
- James Shields made his National League debut.
- Nelson worked his first full season for Milwaukee.
- Anthony DeSclafani worked a full season with Cincinnati
- Jeremy Hellickson moved to Arizona for a full season.
- David Phelps moved to Miami for a full season
- Matt Wisler moved to Atlanta for a full season
- Rubby de la Rosa moved to Arizona for a full season
Incidentally, the Milwaukee rotation truly defined the woes of the league, too, as the Yovani Gallardo trade, and injury/ineffectiveness issues with Wily Peralta, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza were analogous to the vanishing middle-of-the-rotation:
|#17 to #50 2014 SP||2014 Performance||2015 Note||2015 Ranking|
|#17 Madison Bumgarner||217.3 IP / 10 Runs Prevented||Improved to best season in career||#6|
|#18 Edinson Volquez||192.7 IP / 8 runs prevented||to Kansas City||NR|
|#19 Andrew Cashner||123.3 IP / 8 runs prevented||Serious decline||#66|
|#20 Tyler Matzek||117.7 IP / 8 runs prevented||Struggled with injuries||NR|
|#21 Josh Beckett||115.7 IP / 8 runs prevented||Retired||NR|
|#22 Josh Collmenter||179.3 IP / 7 runs prevented||Swingman||NR|
|#23 Gio Gonzalez||158.7 IP / 7 runs prevented||Slight decline / steady performance||#28|
|#24 Michael Wacha||107 IP / 7 runs prevented||Strong Improvement||#18|
|#25 Alfredo Simon||196.3 IP / 6 runs prevented||Traded to Detroit||NR|
|#26 Jeff Samardzija||108 IP / 6 runs prevented||Traded to Oakland & Chicago (AL)||NR|
|#27 Tom Koehler||191.3 IP / 5 runs prevented||Performance decline||#50|
|#28 Jorge de la Rosa||184.3 IP / 5 runs prevented||Steady Veteran||#19|
|#29 Vance Worley||110.7 IP / 5 runs prevented||Swingman||NR|
|#30 Mat Latos||102.3 IP / 5 runs prevented||Traded; injuries & ineffectiveness||NR|
|#31 Kyle Lohse||198.3 IP / 4 runs prevented||Serious decline||#63|
|#32 Tyson Ross||185.7 IP / 4 runs prevented||Steady season||#23|
|#33 Shelby Miller||183 IP / 4 runs prevented||Traded; serious improvement||#16|
|#34 Hyun-jin Ryu||152 IP / 4 runs prevented||Shoulder surgery||NR|
|#35 Homer Bailey||145.7 IP 4 runs prevented||Injury recovery||NR|
|#36 Wily Peralta||198.7 IP / 3 runs prevented||Injuries & ineffectiveness||#49|
|#37 Yovani Gallardo||192.3 IP / 2 runs prevented||Traded to Rangers||NR|
|#38 Francisco Liriano||162.3 IP / 2 runs prevented||Serious improvement||#17|
|#39 Gerrit Cole||138 IP / 2 runs prevented||Serious improvement||#8|
|#40 Mike Leake||214.3 IP / 1 run prevented||Serious improvement; traded||#20|
|#41 Aaron Harang||204.3 IP / 1 run prevented||Serious decline||#65|
|#42 Jordan Lyles||126.7 IP / 1 run prevented||Made 10 starts||NR|
|#43 Jon Niese||187.7 IP / -1 run prevented||Serious decline||#54|
|#44 Matt Garza||163.3 IP / -2 runs prevented||Serious decline||#67|
|#45 David Buchanan||117.7 IP / -2 runs prevented||Made 15 starts||NR|
|#46 Dillon Gee||137.3 IP / -3 runs prevented||Injuries & ineffectiveness||NR|
|#47 Roberto Hernandez||121 IP / -3 runs prevented||Signed with Houston||NR|
|#48 Ian Kennedy||196 IP / -4 runs prevented||Serious decline||#60|
|#49 Ervin Santana||196 IP / -4 runs prevented||Signed with Minnesota||NR|
|#50 Chase Anderson||114.3 IP / -4 runs prevented||Full-season improvement||#35|
Isolated by specific outcome, here’s what happened to these 34 pitchers:
|34 “Middle Starters”||2015 Outcome|
|Not Ranked — Injury / Retirement / Ineffectiveness||8|
|Declined by 10 spots||8|
|Not Ranked — Moved to AL||6|
|Improved by 10 Spots||6|
|Improved by 0-9 spots||3|
|Not Ranked — Role Change||2|
|Declined by 0-9 spots||1|
This is simply a fascinating group of fluctuations: a significant handful of improved pitchers helped to define the contending runs for the Pirates and Cardinals, even if it came at the expense of a robust “middle of the rotation.” On the other hand, the middle-rotation newcomers helped to define the Cubs and Dodgers contending runs. These shifting sets of pitchers should go to show that there are no guarantees anywhere in a pitching rotation: one year’s middle of the rotation might be the next year’s AL exodus and injured/ineffective triage. At the same time, these movements can also help new groups of talent to define themselves and establish their big league careers.
Once again, a theme emerges: the Brewers must be as creative as possible with their rotation, especially as the number of full-time, regular starters decreases. There is a lot to be lost by gambling on a set, five-man rotation; building for depth, and imagining strong replacement scenarios is a great strategical tool to combat this pitching environment. Incidentally, Jungmann’s campaign is a vote in favor of this approach: when a team switches to a replacement arm, that arm might even morph into a full-time starter; it should be a telling lesson for the Brewers that a completely unexpected, eighth organizational arm was the most effective pitcher in the entire rotation.