2010 NL East Rankings Part 2: The Pitchers

Yesterday, I went over the the starting lineups for each team, and I was happy to give out 5 points for each position winner, 1 point for the bottom guys, and the logical points for those in between. Here’s the score as it stands before looking at the pitching staffs:

SCORE: Phillies (30), Mets (24), Braves (22), Marlins (22), Nationals (22)

So if we used the ol’ permanent pitcher for both teams methodology, I’d be picking the Phillies. But clearly there’s more to baseball than just hitting and fielding, there’s a whole slew of hurlers. Less clear is what starter is in what position. Normally it wouldn’t matter, but when we’re comparing each pitcher in an individual part of the rotation, it does. I used my best judgement here, and tried to go with rotations according to BP and other sources. Forgive me if you disagree:

#1 Starter

1. Phillies – Roy Halladay
2. Mets – Johan Santana
3. Marlins – Josh Johnson
4. Braves – Jair Jurrjens
5. Nationals – John Lannan

Halladay has been arguably the best pitcher in baseball the last few years, and that was playing in the AL, facing the Boston and New York juggernauts there on the regular. Throw in the league change and Santana’s recent injury, I’m giving him the top spot. Josh Johnson stayed healthy all last year and continued to look great, and Jurrjens may regress a bit, but is still a very effective young pitcher. The unfortunately thing is that with Lannan the apparent opening day starter, I have to put him here, at the bottom of the list…

SCORE: Phillies (35), Mets (28), Marlins (25), Braves (24), Nationals (23)

#2 Starter

1. Phillies – Cole Hamels
2. Marlins – Ricky Nolasco
3. Braves – Derek Lowe
4. Nationals – Jason Marquis
5. Mets – John Maine

…and I’m forced to put Jason Marquis here. If Lannan was the #2, I might rank him as high as 3 on the list. But Marquis gets put at 4, despite some of my misgivings about him. PECOTA has him clearly more valuable than and man on the Mets staff not named Johan, so I can put him above Maine. PECOTA actually sees Marquis as pretty useful, giving him a projected VORP of 27.5. It’s amazing what 33 starts of league average ERA is worth! Hamels is at the top of the list, he has been basically a #1 value starter in the past, and may be again, although last year was rough. If you don’t know Nolasco, you should, he’s pretty impressive. And Derek Lowe is the same guy he’s been for 10 seasons. Maine rounds out the list, but if he started every game he could put up some good numbers.

SCORE: Phillies (40), Marlins (29), Mets (29), Braves (27), Nationals (25)

#3 Starter

1. Braves – Tommy Hanson
2. Phillies – Joe Blanton
3. Marlins – Anibel Sanchez
4. Mets – Mike Pelfrey
5. Nationals – Scott Olsen

Hanson is young, but he’s already been pretty dominant. I put him right at the top, and only didn’t have him as a #2 guy because he’s practically a rookie still. Blanton continues to amaze me with his effectiveness, especially in that stadium, but he does a good job. Sanchez is a strong young starter, and has a good future. Olsen has shown nothing in the last few years to make one think he can stay healthy and effective. If he does stay healthy, he may end up better than Pelfrey.

SCORE: Phillies (44), Braves (32), Marlins (32), Mets (31), Nationals (26)

#4 Starter

1. Marlins – Chris Volstad
2. Phillies – J.A. Happ
3. Braves – Kenshin Kawakami
4. Nationals – Garrett Mock/Chien-Ming Wang
5. Mets – Oliver Perez

Volstad looks like he is the real deal, and will only get better. Happ was great last year, but I expect him to regress somewhat. Not a ton, but enough to put him second. Kawakami put together a very quiet 25 starts in 32 appearances with a sub-4.00 ERA last year, making him the worst of the good here. Oliver Perez puts fear into the hearts of all Mets fans, there may be nobody on the team they like less right now, or more symbolic of their GM’s bad moves. As for the Nats, I put Mock here because I expect him to get a bunch of major league starts, unlike the Nats remaining starter early on. And yeah, I really do think he’ll have better numbers than Oliver Perez. If Wang comes back, and pitches well, he could move in to the top of the heap, easily #2 at least.

SCORE: Phillies (48), Marlins (37), Braves (35), Mets (32), Nationals (28)

#5 Starter

1. Braves – Tim Hudson
2. Nationals- Livan Hernandez/J.D. Martin/Stephen Strasburg
3. Marlins – Rick VandenHurk
4. Mets – Jonathan Niese
5. Phillies – Jamie Moyer/Kyle Kendrick/Antonio Bastardo

Hudson still has some pretty good stuff left, I don’t think that Moyer, on the other hand, has got a thing left. I don’t expect much of out Livo, but I have a feeling Martin will deliver. And even if he doesn’t come up until late June or early July, I think Strasburg adds that much value that he gets to be this high on the list only pitching 3 months. VandenHurk may be better than anyone the Nats put out there until Strasburg comes up, and Jonathan Niese isn’t anything impressive. Moyer is about as good as Livan these days, but will probably get a ton more starts. The awesomely named Bastardo will be good, but I don’t think the Phillies will feel any need to bring him up until much later in the season.

SCORE: Phillies (49), Braves (40), Marlins (40), Mets (34), Nationals (32)

One of the things toughest about this is the fluidity of the Nats rotation. I actually expect 3, 4, and 5 by the end of the year to be some combo of Wang, Strasburg, Martin, Mock and Detwiler. If Wang becomes their #3 starter in place of Olsen, I’d assume he’s there because he’s good, and I could see him as high as 2 or 3 on that list. But I tried to approximate it as much as possible, and I tried to not have multiple guys in each slot as much as possible. So this is what I came up with.

CLOSER

1. Mets – Francisco Rodriguez
2. Braves – Billy Wagner
3. Marlins – Leo Nunez
4. Phillies – Brad Lidge/Ryan Madsen
5. Nationals – Matt Capps

K-Rod is still the best of the bunch – overrated by Saves fanatics and underrated by Save-haters, he’s still a damn good reliever. Wagner’s back, and in case you forgot about him, he’s one of the best ever. Unless it’s, you know, the playoffs or something. Marlins closer Leo Nunez may not be a lock to hold the job all year, and the longer Lidge is out, the more chances that Ryan Madsen will be permanent. Matt Capps isn’t going to be horrible, I don’t think, but only if Lidge pitches all year do I think he has a chance at not being the worst of the bunch.

SCORE: Phillies (51), Braves (44), Marlins (43), Mets (39), Nationals (33)

How did we get here?

1. Phillies Р51: Dominated in the position players, have the best #1 and #2 pitchers, and the second best #3 and #4.  The only real complaint is the closer. Seems like a formula for winning the division to me.

2. Braves – 44: Not an impressive lineup, but with a strong back end of the rotation and closer, they come up with the next most points. Remember, having the best #5 starter gets you as many points as having the best #1 in this game.

3. Marlins – 43: Another lineup that is only so so – the bulk of the points come from Hanley, Uggla, and Cody Ross – their pitching staff is strong top to bottom, even with only one guy cracking the top spot.

4. Mets – 39: A strong lineup which could be stronger if healthy is complemented by a rotation that is Santana plus some guys that may or may not pitch well. If they are hurt again (Beltran, Reyes) it’s gonna be even worse. Then again, they could be healthy and both Maine and Pelfrey could step up and perform.

5. Nationals¬† – 33: The lineup has a few bright spots but still isn’t that good. Meanwhile the pitching staff is just atrocious. It’s not permanent, though. Additions of Strasburg and Zimmermann will serve to shuffle the order, and someone like Lannan as a 3rd or 4th starter would look very good.

This year, it looks to be close to the way some predict the division to actually finish. The Phillies are running away with it, and the rest of the teams packed together, with the Nats bringing up the rear. The Mets do pretty poorly, thanks to their pitching staff. Meanwhile, the Braves and the Marlins looks to slug it out for second place. There you have it, how each team will finish exactly by the end of the season. No, obviously there are other factors, like bullpens, benches, injuries, and how the guys actually perform as opposed to what we expect. But for a position-by-position comparison, that seems right to me.

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