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Comparing the National League's fifth starters

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Fifth starters generally don’t make or break a team, but several teams have an advantage at the back of their rotation. A look at the National League fifth starter projections.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Monday I took a look at the American League fifth starters per MLB's team page depth charts. While the starting rotation roles continue to be defined in the offseason, I thought it would be interesting to see how teams view their fifth starters in the first week of February compared to how it actually works on the field. This is a fluid exercise, but it's clear in some cases that teams have a solid plan (league average innings-eaters, significant rotational depth, plans in triple-A, etc).

This is not meant to be a scientific exercise, but rather to see how things change as the season progresses. Per the MLB.com team depth charts, the following players are projected to be their teams fifth starters in 2016:

Name 2015 Team G GS IP H ER HR SO BB WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Zack Wheeler Mets -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Hyun-Jin Ryu Dodgers -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Carlos Martinez Cardinals 31 29 179.2 168 60 13 184 63 1.29 9.22 3.16 0.65 0.318 78.8 % 10.6 % 3.01 3.21 3.28 3.4
Jason Hammel Cubs 31 31 170.2 158 71 23 172 40 1.16 9.07 2.11 1.21 0.288 72.8 % 12.8 % 3.74 3.68 3.47 2.4
Robbie Ray Diamondbacks 23 23 127.2 121 50 9 119 49 1.33 8.39 3.45 0.63 0.311 73.8 % 7.3 % 3.52 3.53 4.03 2.1
Chase Anderson Diamondbacks 27 27 152.2 158 73 18 111 40 1.3 6.54 2.36 1.06 0.302 72.3 % 11.1 % 4.3 4.14 4.17 1.6
Joe Ross Nationals 16 13 76.2 64 31 7 69 21 1.11 8.1 2.47 0.82 0.265 70.0 % 9.7 % 3.64 3.42 3.62 1.4
Vincent Velasquez Astros 19 7 55.2 50 27 5 58 21 1.28 9.38 3.4 0.81 0.31 68.2 % 7.1 % 4.37 3.46 4.15 1
Jonathan Gray Rockies 9 9 40.2 52 25 4 40 14 1.62 8.85 3.1 0.89 0.384 67.3 % 9.8 % 5.53 3.63 3.84 0.8
Colin Rea Padres 6 6 31.2 29 15 2 26 11 1.26 7.39 3.13 0.57 0.29 65.5 % 7.1 % 4.26 3.45 3.93 0.5
Jon Moscot Reds 3 3 11.2 11 6 2 6 5 1.37 4.63 3.86 1.54 0.243 75.8 % 11.8 % 4.63 5.62 5.54
Justin Nicolino Marlins 12 12 74 72 33 8 23 20 1.24 2.8 2.43 0.97 0.259 74.0 % 8.6 % 4.01 4.85 5.3
Ryan Vogelsong Giants 33 22 135 140 70 17 108 58 1.47 7.2 3.87 1.13 0.299 70.5 % 11.2 % 4.67 4.53 4.55
Mike Foltynewicz Braves 18 15 86.2 112 55 17 77 29 1.63 8 3.01 1.77 0.349 67.7 % 13.7 % 5.71 5.05 4.61 -0.1
Matt Cain Giants 13 11 60.2 71 39 12 41 20 1.5 6.08 2.97 1.78 0.304 71.6 % 14.8 % 5.79 5.54 4.94 -0.5

13 of the 15 pitchers threw Major League innings last season; their stats are shown in the above table. Zack Wheeler and Hyun-Jin Ryu missed the entire season due to injury, so they do not have 2015 totals.

Based on last year's totals, it is unsurprising to see the Cubs and Cardinals seem to be approaching 2016 from a position of strength compared to other teams. Carlos Martinez had an excellent 2015, striking out over a batter per inning and posting a 3.01 ERA in 179 innings.

The Cubs are in similarly good shape. Although It could be argued that Kyle Hendricks ends up the actual fifth starter for the Cubs, in either case having Jason Hammel listed in that slot currently gives them a significant edge, particularly when looking at the Pirates, who have Ryan Vogelsong slated in the spot going into this season.

The worst players last year who are penciled in a team's rotation are Matt Cain and Mike Foltynewicz. Cain posted the worst numbers of his career last year, and managed to cost the Giants a half game despite throwing only 60 lousy innings. As shown below, his Steamer projection is bullish compared to his total numbers last season.

The projections for 2016 show how the Cubs and Cardinals have a distinct advantage at the fifth starter slot compared to the division competitors (especially the Brewers and Reds).

Name Team ERA GS G IP H ER HR SO BB WHIP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR RA9-WAR
Carlos Martinez Cardinals 3.48 28 28 159 143 62 12 157 56 1.25 8.86 3.18 3.37 3.0 2.3
Jonathan Gray Rockies 4.22 28 28 160 159 75 20 147 56 1.34 8.26 3.16 4.09 2.3 2.4
Jason Hammel Cubs 3.76 28 28 157 147 65 19 144 41 1.2 8.3 2.35 3.8 2.2 2.0
Hyun-Jin Ryu Dodgers 3.42 16 16 94 90 36 9 79 23 1.19 7.53 2.16 3.54 1.6 1.4
Joe Ross Nationals 3.92 23 23 129 128 56 14 108 39 1.29 7.52 2.71 3.87 1.6 1.4
Robbie Ray Diamondbacks 3.91 23 23 127 114 55 14 125 52 1.31 8.85 3.72 3.95 1.5 1.6
Colin Rea Padres 4.18 24 24 137 137 64 15 111 48 1.35 7.27 3.15 4.11 1.3 0.6
Zack Wheeler Mets 3.7 11 11 65 59 27 6 64 24 1.28 8.81 3.37 3.63 1.0 0.7
Mike Foltynewicz Braves 3.88 16 61 137 125 59 17 137 53 1.3 9.02 3.46 4.01 0.9 0.9
Matt Cain Giants 3.94 23 23 130 128 57 16 97 39 1.29 6.75 2.72 4.22 0.7 0.8
Ryan Vogelsong Pirates 4.41 19 19 109 113 53 13 79 37 1.38 6.55 3.09 4.38 0.6 0.3
Vincent Velasquez Phillies 3.23 2 22 29 24 10 3 34 11 1.17 10.47 3.26 3.39 0.4 0.4
Justin Nicolino Marlins 4.61 10 10 56 64 29 7 28 15 1.4 4.53 2.42 4.63 0.1 0.1
Chase Anderson Brewers 4.05 1 1 1 1.29 7.19 2.59 4.21 0.0 0.0
Jon Moscot Reds 4.44 2 2 9 9 4 1 7 3 1.38 6.52 3.15 4.73 0.0 0.0

Jonathan Gray is projected to take a huge leap forward in 2016. Gray is slated in at the moment as the team's number five starter, though as the season goes on, if he does live up to his projections that will most definitely change as only Jorge de la Rosa is projected to contribute more value for the Rockies' rotation.

The Diamondbacks' rotation is in good shape as well at the back-end. Rubby de la Rosa could be considered their fifth starter, but he and Robbie Ray are projected for fairly similar numbers, with Ray projected to put up 1.7 Wins (and the current rotation as slated does not include Archie Bradley).

The teams most in trouble are the Brewers, Reds, and Marlins. None of these teams is expected to contend, and their problems are far deeper than the back-end of their rotation. The best hope for Miami is that Justin Nicolino shows he can get big league hitters out over the course of perhaps 60-80 innings, but the lack of expectations for Moscot and Chase Anderson can't go unnoticed.

It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out as we get closer to opening day. There are plenty of replacement level-ish players to move around, and rotations generally remain fluid throughout the spring and summer due to injuries and promotions. It's just one of those things where if you have an advantage early, it's generally a good sign.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score and a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.