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2014 MLB Capsule: The Ultimate Starting Rotation

Felipe Melecio uses advanced metrics to rank the top 2014 MLB starting pitchers to see if the Cy Young voters got it right.

Felix Hernandez

Last week, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted for the best pitchers in both the National and American League. They declared Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers the winners of each league. Kershaw winning was not news to anyone as the big lefty probably won the award months ago. The announcement last week was just a formality.

Where things got interesting was how the writers voted in the American League as only 10 points separated Kluber and “King” Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. Making things more complicated was how deep the A.L. was in starting pitchers with plenty of big names and former winners on the list.

But where do the elite pitchers truly fit in this past season? We know where the baseball writers, whose votes were more subjective than anything, stand. Nevertheless, it is important to rate the very best pitchers of 2014 based on performance and not solely on intangible and random criteria.

This is why, just like we rated the best hitters of 2014 and the best defensive players of this past season, we will once again be utilizing Felipe’s Ultimate Baseball Advanced Rankings (or FUBAR for short). For pitchers, all we care about is the following criteria:

  • Does a pitcher yield high strikeouts?
  • Does a pitcher control his walks?
  • Does a pitcher limit the home runs he gives up?
  • How has the pitcher performed with regard to batted balls?

We use two advanced stats to measure a pitcher’s performance. They are Field Independent Pitching (FIP) and Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average (SIERA).

FIELD INDEPENDENT PITCHING

One of the most popular measures for a pitcher’s success, FIP is a better, more accurate substitute to Earned Run Average (ERA). FIP, at its most elementary, creates a hypothetical world where a pitcher does not have to worry about random factors that affect his production or performance, such as defense and luck. Instead of penalizing or giving too much credit to pitchers, FIP only highlights the outcomes where a pitcher has the most control:

  • Strikeouts
  • Walks
  • Hit Batsmen
  • Home Runs Allowed

By only accounting for these controllable outcomes, we  are able to justly and accurately evaluate a pitcher’s performance as much as possible.

SKILL-INTERACTIVE EARNED RUN AVERAGE

SIERA, just like FIP, also takes into account a pitcher’s skill in yielding high strikeouts and limiting walks and home runs. Where the two metrics differ is that SIERA also takes into account balls in play and does a better job explaining the more complex aspects of pitching. Of course, both FIP and SIERA are calculated on an ERA scale.

What FUBAR does is rank the top pitchers, regardless of league, based on FIP and SIERA. A points system is used to reward the top players from both statistical categories. The higher a pitcher’s ranking in each metric, the more points that pitcher gets.

BEST PITCHER IN BASEBALL

It’s not even close, as Clayton Kershaw takes the double, topping both FIP and SIERA. The real competition is in the next three slots of our number-centric rotation.But for now, Clayton Kershaw, in 2014, is the king of the hill, no matter which traditional or advanced statistic you cite.

BRAWL IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE

The voters may have thought that the Cy Young was only a two-way race between King Felix and Kluber, but had they done a bit more digging, they would have seen a new challenger approaching in Chris Sale. FUBAR states that only 75 points separated these three pitchers from the second spot behind Kershaw (by comparison, 150 points separated Kershaw from the first runner-up).

In the end, despite reports and numbers suggesting a dip in velocity, FUBAR likes Hernandez, over Kluber and Sale, to be the recipient of the American League Cy Young Award.

MISSING THE CUT

There were some great stories from the mound in 2014, but we only need five to create our Ultimate Starting Rotation. Here are the pitchers that fell short this year in being named to our team:

  • Jordan Zimmermann pitched a no-hitter in the last game of the season. He also pitched an incredible game in the second game of the National League Division Series.
  • Zack Greinke, on any other team, would have received more attention, but he’ll have to settle to being Kershaw’s sidekick.
  • Phil Hughes had himself a great bounce-back season after many in the baseball world thought he would never live up to lofty expectations in New York. Whether his 2014 season was more fluke than skill is still up for debate, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
  • David Price would be part of a three-headed monster in Detroit that looked like a real threat in this year’s playoffs. Though it did not work out that way for the Tigers, Price cemented his place among baseball’s elite.
  • Garrett Richards was having a dandy of a season, even establishing himself as the true ace of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Unfortunately, a horrific knee injury in August ended his season, robbing him, and baseball fans everywhere, of a new, emerging star in 2014.

OTHER NOTABLE OMISSIONS

There was a three-way tie for 12th overall on these rankings. They were some of the biggest names in baseball: 2013 Cy Young Winner, Max Scherzer; 2014 MLB Playoffs hero, Madison Bumgarner; two-time World Series champion, Jon Lester.

THE ULTIMATE STARTING ROTATION

ULTIMATE STARTING ROTATION

Player

K% BB% WHIP FIP SIERA BABIP
Clayton Kershaw 31.9 4.1 0.86 1.81 2.09

.278

Felix Hernandez

27.2 5.0 0.92 2.56 2.50 .258
Corey Kluber 28.3 5.4 1.09 2.35 2.61

.316

Chris Sale

30.4 5.7 0.97 2.57 2.56 .280
Stephen Strasburg 27.9 5.0 1.12 2.94 2.64

.315

As one could see, the numbers were really close for the race in the American League, but as mentioned, FUBAR liked Felix Hernandez to be the number two pitcher behind Kershaw. Rounding out our starting rotation is Tommy John surgery survivor and former pitching prodigy, Stephen Strasburg, who technically has not even entered the prime of his career yet. Then again, neither has Sale or Kershaw. Of these five pitchers, not one player will be 30 years old on Opening Day 2015. So not only are these five the faces of starting pitching in 2014, but there’s a really good chance this list may not look too different this time next year.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.

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