In 2014, National League pitchers allowed approximately 84 fewer runs than their 2013 counterparts. This development might seem strange, given that 2014 was so thoroughly advertised as the “Year of the Pitching Injury.” Most notably, Jose Fernandez of the Marlins and Matt Harvey of the Mets were unable to pitch full seasons (or whatsoever) in 2014, thanks to elbow injuries. Yet, those two pitchers are merely the headliners, given their #2 and #3 rankings behind only Clayton Kershaw last season; it’s quite thrilling to see rookies take over the top of a league, and it’s devastating when injuries impact those pitchers’ abilities to defend their performances and build a legacy. Injuries were everywhere, it seemed, especially around top rotations: Mat Latos, Kris Medlen, and Patrick Corbin are three strong examples of pitchers impacted by injury in 2014 (and there’s more, still). Added to this group of pitchers are another set of arms that were better-than-average in 2013, and below average this year (Brewers arm Marco Estrada is a headliner in this category):
|“Lost” 2013 Pitchers||IP||Runs Prevented|
|J. Turner (ChC)||34.7||-11|
|J. Turner (Mia)||78.3||-18|
Despite these injuries and “lost” hurlers, the National League continued its general trajectory into “deadball” territory, but there’s an even more stunning development: the number of regular starters that worked 100+ innings in 2014 increased. Fans can mourn the absence of Fernandez, Harvey, Medlen, Corbin, and others, but four pitchers do not make a league: Jacob deGrom stormed the front of the Mets rotation in Harvey’s absence, suddenly showcasing that team’s excellent pitching depth. Jason Hammel returned as a National League regular, appearing on the Senior Circuit for the first time since 2011 (just in time for a career resurgence, too). Jordan Lyles jumped back to the National League from the AL Astros, and he worked 126.7 innings of slightly-above-average baseball. Vance Worley also returned from the Junior League, as did Aaron Harang (well, he spent most of 2013 in the AL, anyway).
|2014 Improvements||IP||Runs Prevented|
The National League middle rotations drove the league, in many ways. Despite the absence of runs allowed, there were not as many aces and #1 starters in 2014. Instead, the number of pitchers working between 9 runs prevented and -4 runs prevented skyrocketed: between 2013 and 2014, fourteen more starters worked in the mid-rotation range of moderate runs prevention. Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta were two notable workhorses to improve in 2014 and land in this range; Jeff Samardzija, Alfredo Simon, and Josh Collmenter also pitched notable seasons within this range.
|+40 Runs Prevented||1||1|
|30-39 Runs Prevented||3||2||3|
|20-29 Runs Prevented||7||5||5|
|15-19 Runs Prevented||4||6||5|
|10-14 Runs Prevented||5||11||3|
|0-9 Runs Prevented||21||15||25|
|-1 to -4 Runs Prevented||10||4||8|
|-5 to -14 Runs Prevented||18||12||10|
|-15 to -24 Runs Prevented||2||8||6|
|-25+ Runs Prevented||3||4||4|
|Total 100+ IP SP||73||68||70|
Notably, four of the Brewers’ five regular starters fall into this “middle rotation” resurgence in 2014. In many ways, Peralta, Gallardo, Matt Garza (163.3 IP, -2 runs prevented) and leader Kyle Lohse (198.3 IP, 4 runs prevented) could serve as the poster boys of this league. One of the reasons the Brewers rotation arguably helped the club compete is their much-cited quality starts stat; even when the pitchers weren’t at their best, they kept the games close and generally allowed a manageable number of runs. Yet, from a broader perspective, one can also note that if the league featured eight fewer arms in the 10+ runs prevented range, the Brewers arms were also competing against pitchers that were suddenly working closer to their level.
This league-wide development in 2014 raises interesting questions for the 2015 roster: certainly, the Brewers are in very good shape with five 100+ IP hurlers under reserve in some way, shape, or form for next season. This is an enviable position for any NL club, especially since every club except the Brewers needed at least eight regular starters, replacements, or emergency (1 GS) starters to complete their season. On the other hand, the general distribution of talent between these arms leads one to ask: who will break out for the 2015 Brewers? Who will be that arm to work a notable above average season? Who will be that arm to seize a #1 ranking? One can use the general environment of the 2014 NL, as well as the progression from 2012-2013, to note that the league’s pitching talent will not always be clustered around the middle. For this reason, the Brewers arguably ought to look to further enhance their rotation for 2015, or at least double down on depth.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
2011-2014 NL Rotations with Runs Prevented
Runs Prevented Calculations are my own. They will be published over the course of a series of articles ranking 2014 NL pitchers and rotations.