It’s a list aimed more at fantasy drafts, but Eno Sarris’s ranking of the top 175 starting pitchers in baseball ($) is founded on pretty sound principles. By using a data trifecta that combines 2020 performance projections with metrics for both stuff and command, Sarris compiled a comprehensive ranking based on a mix of numbers and feel. That’s not easy to explain in great detail here, but he “leaned towards stuff, but made sure that starters had a certain level of command given a certain level of stuff.”
Projections came from ATC projections, created by Ariel Cohen, because they take the best of the available projections and bring them together. Command numbers come from STATS Perform and Command+. Because of an agreement with STATS Perform, I can publish those numbers here exclusively for The Athletic subscribers. I can’t do that for the Stuff numbers I’m using, which come to us from Driveline Baseball, because they use those stats as part of their consultation suite for major league teams.
There was plenty of weight given to those pitchers who’ve demonstrated success in the past, so this isn’t like the top 175 first-year prospects list we just wrote about. The Cubs managed to get five names on the list, a mildly impressive for a team that doesn’t even have that many official starters, but they they aren’t necessarily littering the upper echelons.
Since stuff — specifically how good a pitcher’s offerings are — factors pretty heavily, the Cubs get dinged on the overall scoring. Only two starters made the top 40, with neither in the top 30, while the other three came in at No. 87 or lower. As you can see in the chart below, Yu Darvish’s superior stuff has him out in front with the No. 31 spot. Then it’s Kyle Hendricks (40), José Quintana (87), Jon Lester (124), and Adbert Alzolay (175) in the very last position.
There’s a lot more information in the original post, some of which is proprietary, so I’m going to limit my commentary here to some simple observations. That means I won’t tell you who the top pitchers were, though you can probably guess with decent accuracy. I will, however, share some rankings of former Cubs: Dylan Cease is at 71, Jake Arrieta is 77, Cole Hamels is 95, and Zack Godley is 172.
Back to the brief commentary, starting with Darvish’s 92.2 Command+ rating. While it’s lower than anyone other than Tyler Glasnow (90.3) ranked above him, and among the six lowest in the top 69, it’s actually a far sight better than Darvish was ranked about halfway through the season. His Command+ of 86 was ranked 156th as of July 12, dead last among all pitchers who’d faced a minimum of 200 batters. He made some changes and got much more confident as the season wore on, so there’s reason to believe he could outperform this ranking in 2020.
As expected, Hendricks leads the team in terms of command. We don’t know where he and the others rank in terms of stuff because the numbers Sarris use come from Driveline, but I’d be willing to bet Hendricks actually looks pretty good in that regard. Remember, it’s not all about velocity.
There’s really not much to say about Quintana, who is literally right in the middle of the pack. Pretty much the same goes for Lester, who really started to show a little rust along the wheel wells this past season. The key moving forward will be to make sure he’s in the best position to succeed, which could even mean stretching his rest out a little bit to keep him fresh as the season wears on.
Alzolay is an interesting case, particularly since he may not be a starter at all this season. It’s possible or even likely that he’ll get some time in the rotation, but everything is pointing toward his primary role coming in the bullpen. Durability and experience factor heavily in that decision, though it’s also a matter of Alzolay developing a reliable third pitch to go with his fastball and breaking ball.
Even if he does get that changeup working now that he’s throwing it with more of a four-seam grip, he simply hasn’t built up enough innings to carry the load as a full-time starter. As such, it’s hard to argue with what appears to be a pretty weak projection for him. You do have to wonder, though, where Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills would have ended up had the list continued on for a few dozen more places. Then again, that might be depressing when you consider there are only 150 actual starting spots across MLB.
Feel free to take all of this however you’d like, whether that’s as a damning indictment of a threadbare rotation or as a prime example of how the Cubs could easily outperform expectations. After all, projections aren’t going to be right every time. For the Cubs’ sake, they’d better not be in this case.