Collapsing Middle Rotation | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

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.

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