With big names like David Price and Aroldis Chapman coming into the division (or in Price’s case staying there), the American League East’s pitching has become an interesting thing to look at for the coming season. Indeed there’s so much talent in rotations and bullpens alike that it looks like the arms will decide what’s often the most competitive division in baseball. So let’s take a look at who has the edge based on the latest projections for 2016 performance.
Aside from win totals, which can be very misleading, ERA (Earned Run Average), FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), and WAR (Wins Above Replacement) are probably still the three stats that best define the effectiveness of a starting pitcher. In looking at how the AL East starting rotations stack up in these categories, I’ll be using ESPN’s depth charts as currently listed (subject to change before the season). Stats are listed as ERA/FIP/WAR.
- Chris Tillman: 4.28/4.62/1.5
- Miguel Gonzalez: 4.46/4.82/0.6
- Ubaldo Jimenez: 4.19/4.28/1.8
- Kevin Gausman: 3.50/3.56/3.9
- Mike Wright: 4.68/4.98/0.0
- David Price: 2.95/3.11/4.9
- Clay Buchholz: 3.64/3.66/2.7
- Rick Porcello: 3.80/3.74/2.8
- Eduardo Rodriguez: 3.81/4.02/1.6
- Joe Kelly: 3.72/3.75/0.7
- Masahiro Tanaka: 3.35/3.57/3.9
- Michael Pineda: 3.36/3.53/3.5
- Nathan Eovaldi: 3.96/4.11/2.0
- CC Sabathia: 4.09/4.20/1.7
- Luis Severino: 3.82/4.02/2.4
- Chris Archer: 3.23/3.28/4.1
- Alex Cobb: 3.52/3.53/1.0
- Drew Smyly: 3.32/3.71/2.4
- Jake Odorizzi: 3.65/3.97/2.2
- Erasmo Ramirez: 3.96/4.16/1.3
- Marcus Stroman: 3.66/3.70/3.3
- Marco Estrada: 4.44/4.95/0.5
- R.A. Dickey: 4.25/4.74/1.1
- J.A. Happ: 3.93/4.17/1.7
- Jesse Chavez: 3.87/4.10/1.6
Averaging those numbers out across rotations, we see pretty clearly that the Orioles and Blue Jays are unlikely to keep up with the rest of the division. On the other hand the average projection for the rotations of the Red Sox (3.58/3.66/2.54), Yankees (3.72/3.87/2.7) and Rays (3.54/3.73/2.2) are very comparable, and all relatively strong. But which team has the true edge?
The Rays lead in ERA projections, which is still what a lot of fans would look to first. However, it’s been proven time and time again that ERA isn’t necessarily the best measure of a pitcher or rotation. In fact, looking back at how ERA has affected outcomes, one is reminded that the Angels were the best team in the MLB in 2014 despite a 3.58 ERA that was good for only 15th in the league. Last year Toronto won the AL East with the 12th best team ERA, and Kansas City was the best team in the American League with the 10th best.
Though it tends to look similar to ERA, FIP has become the more trusted metric by a lot of baseball analysts, and in that category the Red Sox look to have the edge by a sliver over the Rays and fairly substantially over the Yankees. The Yankees’ only lead is in WAR, which is being skewed by some pretty bold projections for a few starters. Eovaldi pitched well in 2015 but won a lot of games by virtue of great run support. Pineda is a health risk; and Severino, despite an electrifying debut stretch in the MLB, is entering his first full season. That those two average out to a projected 2.63 WAR seems somewhat optimistic.
Considering those projections it looks as if three rotations in the AL East have a shot at being above average. But the Red Sox have the strongest case for fielding the most reliable starting rotation.
Where bullpens are concerned, there’s just too much player movement between now and spring training to form any sort of total projection. However, even with an unclear picture it’s hard to come to any conclusion but that the Yankees have the edge in the pen. After the addition of Aroldis Chapman to Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, New York essentially has three of the top five or so closers in the game, and their combined numbers are mind-boggling. There’s always the chance that Chapman will miss half the season due to a suspension related to a domestic violence investigation. Should he play, the Yankees will have the best bullpen by any measure, regardless of the middle innings.
Put it all together and you’ve got a good old-fashioned Yankees versus Red Sox showdown. But if health holds up across the board it looks like your 2016 New York Yankees should boast the best total pitching in the AL East.