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Inside FUBAR: Forming The Ultimate Starting Rotation Using Advanced Stats

Felipe Melecio uses MLB advanced stats to form the ultimate 2015 starting rotation.

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We released our first installment of Felipe’s Ultimate Baseball Advanced Rankings (or FUBAR for short) earlier this month, as we ranked all 30 Major League Baseball teams using advanced stats. We now take an in-depth look at one of the criteria used to compile these rankings, starting pitching.

Methodology

We use two stats to come up with our pitching rankings: FIP and SIERA.

FIELD INDEPENDENT PITCHING (FIP)

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.

FIP only considers the following components:

  • Strikeouts
  • Walks
  • Hit Batsmen
  • Home Runs Allowed

SKILL-INTERACTIVE EARNED RUN AVERAGE (SIERA)

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.

Top 10 Starting Rotations in MLB

Based on the sabermetrics, the Chicago Cubs have the best starting rotation in baseball. Before we dig deep on the advanced stats, let’s see how our top 10 looks like using traditional figures:

Top FUBAR Rotations’ Traditional Stats
Team W L ERA K BB
Cubs 10 8 4.08 158 36
Pirates 11 8 3.00 167 58
Rays 10 10 3.37 161 52
Nationals 11 11 3.55 157 45
Cardinals 13 5 3.11 144 46
Dodgers 13 5 3.80 156 37
Indians 9 14 5.44 164 53
Mets 15 9 3.01 149 33
Yankees 12 7 3.87 143 41
Padres 12 10 3.93 183 61

One thing you will notice is that there are at least six teams that many people will agree belongs on this list. The Pirates, Rays, Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Mets have top 10 ERAs.

Then you have teams like the Cleveland Indians whose Earned Run Average is above and beyond the other teams’. Even the Chicago Cubs’ being at the top of the list with a 4.00 ERA is laughable. But as one will see, the traditional stats do not always tell the entire story:

Top FUBAR Rotation’s Advanced Stats
Team K% BB% FIP SIERA WHIP
Cubs 23.0% 5.2% 3.26 3.35 1.19
Pirates 23.2% 8.1% 3.27 3.47 1.19
Rays 23.9% 7.7% 3.36 3.46 1.07
Nationals 20.3% 5.8% 2.96 3.73 1.34
Cardinals 19.8% 6.3% 3.26 3.71 1.22
Dodgers 22.8% 5.4% 4.12 3.25 1.18
Indians 24.7% 8.0% 3.61 3.40 1.47
Mets 19.6% 4.3% 3.48 3.52 1.18
Yankees 19.3% 5.5% 3.55 3.71 1.29
Padres 23.2% 7.7% 4.40 3.54 1.31

As one will see, the Cubs can rack up the strikeouts and limit their walks. It is a major reason why they’re at the very top of this list. Matter of fact, their Strikeout:Walk (K:BB) ranks second behind the New York Mets.

The Pirates ranked second as their Walk Rate (BB%) also ranked the highest of this group. Just like the Cubs, however, they too can rack up the strikeouts.

Meanwhile in Tampa, it was much speculated before the season that the Rays had the best rotation in the American League East. So far, the numbers suggest that they do.

The Yankees are carrying their momentum from 2014 into this season from a pitching aspect.

The Padres were also perceived to have a good starting rotation at the start of the season. The numbers have backed up that perception.

And let’s not count out the Indians out just yet. The output has not been there, but the advanced metrics suggest that Cleveland might not be as bad as they appear to be right now. It will be very interesting to see if the rotation plays up to their potential.

Ultimate Starting Rotation

So now we know who the best rotations are, but which starting pitchers will make up our Ultimate Starting Rotation? We will be naming our top five pitchers, but first, here’s a quick list of pitchers that missed our cut:

  • Jake Odorizzi–The former Royals’ top-tiered prospect is playing up to his potential and carrying the Rays’ staff.
  • Lance Lynn–Adam Wainwright is out for the year, but Lynn has stepped up to become the team’s new ace.
  • Jake Arrieta–Jon Lester received all the cash, but Arrieta has been the team’s best pitcher.
  • Carlos Carrasco–Last year’s Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, has gotten off to a rocky start, but Carrasco has picked up the slack for the club.
  • James Shields–“Big Game James” brought his game to a much bigger ballpark and has benefited greatly.
  • Aaron Harang–Depending on guile, location, and veteran craftiness, the 37 year-old Harang is proving that you can succeed as a fly ball pitcher in Philadelphia.

Our Starting Rotation looks like this:

Ultimate Starting Rotation
Player W L ERA FIP SIERA
Max Scherzer 2 3 2.11 1.96 2.63
Michael Pineda 4 0 2.97 2.19 2.64
Felix Hernandez 5 0 1.73 2.39 2.34
Clayton Kershaw 1 2 3.72 2.82 2.10
Gerrit Cole 4 1 2.27 2.62 2.68

Scherzer is proving why Washington paid him all that money. The former Cy Young winner should be the frontrunner to win it again, this time in the National League.

It’s very early, but if he receives the award, he would join a small group of pitchers who have won it before in both leagues: Randy JohnsonRoger ClemensPedro MartinezRoy Halladay, and Gaylord Perry.

Pineda has been the Yankees’ savior this season. He has overcome injuries and cheating scandals to become the ace of this pitching staff.

Hernandez became the fourth youngest pitcher to reach 2,000 strikeouts.

Not one to give up easily, but Kershaw is also in the mix to reach his third consecutive Cy Young award. He has uncharacteristically struggled against home runs this year, but a pitcher of Kershaw’s caliber is too good to be denied by the advanced metrics.

Finally, Gerrit Cole has quickly become one of the best starting pitchers in the game today and has become the Pirates’ best starter. He has lived up to the hype that followed him as a former, highly touted prospect.

The full list:

Looking Ahead

So you’re a fan of pitching duels, you say? Well, the month of May will provide plenty of opportunities for you to check out two really good pitching staffs squaring off against each other. The following are the series where our top 10 rotations will meet in the next two weeks:

1. #9 Yankees vs #3 Rays–May 11-14: At the very least, this series will feature Chris Archer (the 12th ranked best pitcher in FUBAR) and hot-shot prospect, Nate Karns

2. #8 Mets vs #1 Cubs–May 11-14: If you like pitching, this is the series you need to watch. Game One has Jacob deGrom facing our 17th ranked pitcher, Jon Lester. Game Two will feature young phenom, Noah Syndergaard against our eighth best pitcher, Jake Arrieta. Our 18th best pitcher, Matt Harvey will be featured in the third game.

3. #5 Cardinals vs #7 Indians–May 12-14: Tough road for the Indians to get their season back on track. But these are the series that show what your team is made of. The first game should feature our seventh best pitcher, Lance Lynn, versus number nine pitcher, Carlos Carrasco. John Lackey will go up against our 21st ranked pitcher, Corey Kluber. The series finale should pit two, up-and-coming pitchers in Michael Wacha against Trevor Bauer.

4. #2 Pirates vs #1 Cubs–May 15-17: May 16th is Lagwagon Day. It’s also a day that Cole and Lester will face each other. Meanwhile, A.J. Burnett will try his luck against Arrieta in the series finale.

5. #4 Nationals vs #10 Padres–May 15-17: Jordan Zimmermann vs Tyson Ross in the first game. Stephen Strasburg (19th ranked pitcher) vs Andrew Cashner in the second.

6. #5 Cardinals vs #8 Mets–May 18-21: The leaders of the NL East will host the leaders of the NL Central.

7. #9 Yankees vs #4 Nationals–May 19-20: The series will be short-lived, but the big-name players alone should have people glued to their screens.

8. #1 Cubs vs #10 Padres–May 19-21: This will be a monumental test for the Cubs’ young prospects going up against a deep pitching staff and a ballpark that is unforgiving.

9. #8 Mets vs #2 Pirates–May 22-24: Too soon to tell who will pitch, but Gerrit Cole against any of the Mets’ starters will be a duel worth recording. Did we mention how impatient the Pirates’ hitters are at the plate?

10. #10 Padres vs #6 Dodgers–May 22-24: Divisional ramifications are on the line in this series. Too soon to tell who will be pitching in this series, but one has an inclination that both teams will have their best starters available for this series.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com and are good through May 8, 2015.

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