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A guide to the most watchable rotations: NL West

Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke in one division? Yes please.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

This is part five of a series to find the most watchable rotations in baseball. The NL East can be found here, the AL East can be found here, the NL Central can be found here, and the AL Central can be found here. A reminder of the methodology:

Age — 1 point if the pitcher was born between 1988 and 1990; 2 points, 1991-1993; 3 points, 1994 and beyond.

Effectiveness — 1 point if Steamer projects the pitcher for an ERA between 3.40 and 3.75 in 2016; 2 points, 3.00-3.39; 3 points, 2.99 or lower.

Velocity — 1 point if the pitcher's average fastball velocity in 2015, by FanGraphs' "pitch type", was 91.5-93.0 MPH; 2 points, 93.1-94.5 MPH; 3 points, 94.6+ MPH.

Strikeout rate — 1 point if the pitcher's 2015 K% was between 20.0 and 23.0 percent; 2 points, 23.1-26.0 percent; 3 points, 26.1 percent+.

Breaking ball usage — 1 point if, using FanGraphs' "pitch type", the pitcher's curveball usage plus slider usage is between 25.0 and 30.0 percent; 2 points, 30.1-35.0 percent; 3 points, 35.1 percent+.

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Zack Greinke 0 2 1 2 1 6
Patrick Corbin 1 1 1 1 1 5
Shelby Miller 1 0 2 0 0 3
Robbie Ray 2 0 2 1 0 5
Rubby De La Rosa 1 0 2 0 0 3

This offseason, the Diamondbacks rotation was branded as a "big three". But in reality, that's just not true. First of all, despite Arizona penciling Shelby Miller as the #2 starter, it was pretty evident that Corbin was the better pitcher. Even before Miller's disastrous start to the season, he was a trendy pick for biggest regression candidate. Not only was most of the baseball world forecasting it, but the projection systems were too. Steamer predicted an ERA north of 4.00 for Miller, and ZiPS wasn't much more optimistic.

It isn't all doom-and-gloom, though, and it'd be rather foolish to give up on him. I know the last few sentences just contradicted each other, but that really sums up Miller in a nutshell. He might be the most polarizing starter in the Majors right now, and he probably deserves a post of his own. Last year, he improved his strikeout rate, walk rate, and ground ball rate from 2014, which are basically the three tenets of xFIP and the sabermetric theory of pitching. He also improved his velocity and started utilizing a cutter as his main offspeed pitch. Don't forget that Miller is still young and a former top prospect.

On the other hand, even with those improvements, Miller's SIERA and xFIP still landed north of 4.00. And he was moving to a hitter's ballpark in Arizona and a division with much tougher lineups than the forgiving NL East.

If you want to watch pitching at its finest, go watch a Zack Greinke start. He no longer has the fastball that touches triple digits and the 90 mph two-plane slider. However, his slider is still plus, and he added an even more devastating changeup to his arsenal. It's pretty hard to measure pitchability, but Greinke is the definition. I didn't add watchability components for non-pitching aspects, but that would have definitely boosted Greinke even further. He plays defense, swings the bat (and flips it), and even steals the occasional base, which makes him the complete package as a starting pitcher.

Another aspect that makes the "big three" phrase rather silly is that the back two of the Diamondbacks rotation are actually quite interesting and probably have better stuff than the first three. Robbie Ray may not be a household name, but his stuff is surprisingly crisp, with a legitimate 93-96 mph heater and sharp slider from the port side.

De La Rosa had a case for best stuff in baseball before his elbow surgery with the Dodgers, routinely touching triple digits every start with his sinking fastball and coupling that with a changeup that was even better. His stuff never fully returned, with his fastball losing the top end of that velocity band and his changeup regressing quite a bit to the point where he utilizes his slider more than the change. Still, there's a lot of stuff still there, and Dave Stewart, De Jon Watson, and company still love him from their Dodgers days together.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Clayton Kershaw 1 3 2 3 3 12
Kenta Maeda 1 1 0* 1* 3* 6
Scott Kazmir 0 1 0 1 0 2
Alex Wood 2 1 0 0 0 3
Ross Stripling 1 0 0* 0* 3* 4
*using 2016 numbers to date; velocity and pitch usage, in particular, stabilize extremely quickly

If you don't like watching Clayton Kershaw, also known as "the best pitcher in baseball", then I have no idea what you like to watch. Actually, I do. You're the kind of person who likes to watch the TV screen when it goes to the snow channel. You're the kind of person who thinks the sequels to Transformers were good (Editor's note: They were not). And I get it; everyone has different tastes. I just hope that you and the three other people in the world that think like you do all watch TV together in the same room. Personally, I like watching this hammer. "Take a seat, seven".

The other members of this rotation are rather pedestrian in terms of stuff. Most of them are pitchability guys, and none of the non-Kershaw guys has any plus-plus pitches in his repertoire. Scott Kazmir, though, is one of the more interesting pitchers in the game. Like most pitchers, his whole repertoire is set up off his fastball. However, unlike most pitchers, his fastball velocity charts look like this. On some nights, he averages 94 mph, and his fastball has explosive life in those games. On other nights, though, he sits 87-88 mph and you sit there wondering how he's pitched in the MLB for so long. There probably isn't another Major League pitcher with velocity discrepancies, start-to-start, as large as Kazmir's, and for that reason, you never really know what you're going to get when you watch a Scott Kazmir start.

It's ironic that Kenta Maeda replaced Zack Greinke in the Dodgers' rotation, because Maeda is doing his best Greinke impression so far this season. Oh, and he also pitches a little bit, too. Maeda even has a diet-Greinke repertoire on the mound, utilizing a four- and two-seam fastball, slider, change, and slow curve as well. Maeda has been fantastic in the early going, and the off-the-charts pitchability has been evident since day one. He's obviously going to regress, because the laws of baseball say so. A pitcher with his lack of stuff is not going to sustain a BABIP of .253, an infield fly rate of 16.1 percent, and a 6.5 HR/FB percent. And no one runs a strand rate of over 92 percent(!) over the course of a full season.

Still, though, the first five starts have indicated that the underlying components for success are there, and even if his true talent level is somewhere between his 2.79 FIP and 3.46 xFIP, then you're looking at a high-quality pitcher on arguably the most team-friendly contract in the history of free agency. If you're looking for a pitcher with incredible stuff, then I'd recommend going somewhere else, like a Garrett Richards or Aaron Sanchez. But If you're looking for a guy with excellent feel for his craft, and Greinke isn't pitching that night, then a Kenta Maeda start may be the way to go.

If we're talking about low-velocity Kazmir, then this rotation is Kershaw and four rather boring hurlers. However, promising youngsters Jose De Leon and Julio Urias are on the verge of the Show, and they may both make their MLB debuts this season, possibly even before the All-Star break. Another pitcher to watch is Brandon McCarthy, who's returning from Tommy John surgery. Known for middling stuff early in his career, McCarthy's fastball started steadily ticking up in the two years leading up to the surgery, to the point where his fastball actually sat 93-96 mph with armside run, his cutter ticked up to 91-92 consistently, and his hammer curve parked in the low 80s. No, really.

Hyun-jin Ryu and Brett Anderson should return from the DL at some point this year, as well. Although they're both quality pitchers, neither relies on big stuff to be effective.

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Madison Bumgarner 1 3 1 3 3 11
Johnny Cueto 0 2 1 1 0 4
Jeff Samardzija 0 1 2 0 0 3
Matt Cain 0 0 0 0 2 2
Jake Peavy 0 1 0 0 0 1

This rotation easily has the potential to lead the Majors in ERA this season. Are they as flashy and fun to watch as a team like the Mets or Indians? Probably not, but a lot of that can be attributed to viewer fatigue from watching these guys throw so many innings over the years. We, as fans, often like to watch the newest phenom, and that penalizes a rotation like the Giants. Their rotation actually isn't especially old by age, but it definitely is in terms of mileage. They have combined to throw over 7500 career innings, but believe it or not, Peavy is the only one older than 31.

Bumgarner is similar to a couple of the pitchers mentioned earlier, in that you get to see some offense out of the pitcher's spot in addition to the pitching. Bumgarner is an interesting pitcher to watch, though. Partially because of the standard MLB camera angles, which come from over a pitcher's right shoulder rather than a bird's eye view, Bumgarner's slider is often visually inseparable from his fastball. He also rarely uses a changeup, so it's almost like watching a two-pitch pitcher with just a fastball and slow curve.

You probably know about Cueto already. He's mainly a fastball/cutter/changeup pitcher that's best known for his multitude of funky deliveries. He has the normal delivery, the quick pitch, the long turn with slow pause, and the slow pause with the shimmy, and he's liable to use any one in any count, provided he's pitching out of the windup.

It's a shame that my watchability rules didn't spit out a higher score for Samardzija. Personally, he's one of my favorite pitchers to watch in baseball. It doesn't make sense why he's so hittable, because the stuff is still as premium as ever. And he's one of the rare power pitchers that works quickly and pounds the zone relentlessly, as evidenced by his sub-2.00 BB/9 mark over the last two seasons. Shark has the potential to turn in a bounceback season this year; he has never pitched in an environment this friendly to pitchers - league, defense, catcher, and ballpark.


Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Tyson Ross 0 1 1 2 3 7
James Shields 0 0 0 2 0 2
Andrew Cashner 0 0 3 1 0 4
Drew Pomeranz 1 2 1 1 2 7
Colin Rea 1 0 0 0 0 1

For an MLB roster as devoid of talent as the Padres' is, their rotation sure is fun. Tyson Ross has one of the best sinker/slider combos in the Majors; if you can get past how slow he works due to the walks and long at-bats, then you'll be treated to premium swing-and-miss stuff that also happens to generate tons of groundballs and weak contact.

Andrew Cashner also has elite stuff as well. In a similar vein to Samardzija, there is no easily explainable reason why he gets hit as hard as he does, whether it be pitch sequencing, a lack of deception, being around the plate too much, or a combination of the three. He still possesses a top-of-the-scale fastball, with elite velocity to go with great sink, and his offspeed pitches aren't bad either. Last season, he pretty much stayed healthy for the first time in his career, but the results weren't quite what we all expected. His walk rate skyrocketed, but so did his strikeout rate, and you could try to explain away a lot of the poor results due to a hideous strand rate and BABIP allowed. All of these things combined to produce what looked to be a prime breakout candidate heading into 2016. However, every aspect of his 2015 season seem to be carrying over into 2016, and although the season is still young, it's anyone's guess as to what to expect going forward.

If you like sick left-handed curveballs (hint: you do), then you should check out Drew Pomeranz. Unfortunately, his repertoire is not diverse at all, which isn't a surprise considering the fact that he's been relieving for the last few seasons. He throws either his fastball or curve over 90% of the time, but that at least means that you'll get to see a heavy dosage of that nice hook throughout the game.

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Jorge De La Rosa 0 0 0 1 0 1
Chad Bettis 1 0 1 0 0 2
Tyler Chatwood 1 0 1* 0* 0* 2
Jon Gray 2 0 2 1 0 5
Eddie Butler 2 0 2 0 0 4
*using Chatwood's 2013 numbers; Chatwood made only 4 starts in 2014 and did not pitch in 2015.

Every season, the Rockies' pitching provides us with a good case study in the realization that we just haven't figured out pitching quite yet. Bettis, Gray, and Butler all used to be promising young minor league pitching prospects whose luster has certainly faded. Bettis has managed not to be a disaster while pitching half of his games at Coors Field, and Gray might still have a bright future ahead of him, but none of them is probably where we expected them to be when they were hyped minor leaguers. They're just three in a long line of fizzled prospects just like them, with names like Franklin Morales, Drew Pomeranz, and Jordan Lyles all busting in Colorado in recent years.

There are two big questions, not necessarily exclusive -- is the Rockies' pitching development system poor, or is Coors just that tough to pitch in? The second question would be: what's the prototypical profile for a pitcher to succeed in Coors, if there is one?

The Rockies seem to be trying out various possible solutions to the second question over the years. In the past, they've tried targeting ground ball pitchers who theoretically keep the ball in the yard, but that didn't work. So then they tried targeting strikeout pitchers, because the theory is that fewer balls put into play means fewer hits subjected to park effects. But that hasn't worked, so now they're onto a modified target of strikeout pitchers who rely heavily on big fastballs, especially up in the zone. The idea behind this theory is that Coors takes away break and feel from breaking balls, but a fastball will stay true and keep its velocity at any altitude, so pitchers relying more on a high, hard fastball will be less affected by the thin air. This explains the drafting of fastball-dominant pitchers like Butler and Gray, and it also explains why the Rockies targeted Jake McGee and Jeff Hoffman in trades.

Alas, the Rockies (and the rest of baseball) still haven't figured out how to find pitching for Coors Field. I could have used xFIP or some other type of context-neutral pitching stat for my watchability scores instead of projected ERA. But at the end of the day, I don't watch a pitcher because he's better than a theoretical regressed average; I enjoy watching a pitcher that's getting results and keeping actual runs off the board. That's why I used ERA as a category, and it's why I generally stay away from watching a pitcher's start in Colorado, especially when I can catch them on another day in any of the other 29 MLB venues. Someday, Jon Gray could be a joy to watch at home or away, the way Ubaldo Jimenez was for that one half of a season, and so could someone like Jeff Hoffman. But at the moment, there is no starting pitcher on the Rockies that I can recommend taking time out of your day to watch, and the watchability scores bear that out.


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The results

Dodgers -- 27

Diamondbacks -- 22

Giants -- 21

Padres -- 21

Rockies -- 14

Kershaw and Bumgarner are the big two to look out for in this division, and it just so happens that they often face each other, so you can easily kill two birds with one stone. (Note: this is not to be confused with killing one bird with one baseball, which is a mistake that Randy Johnson made.) However, every rotation besides the Rockies has an assortment of pitchers that are worth watching as well.

. . .

Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.