Sixty Feet, Six Inches: Team effects on starters II
Last week we looked at three elements of starting pitching in the National League -- team success, starter talent and bullpen performance -- to determine which pitchers are best situated for success and might be worth a pickup. This week we'll do the same for the American League. Note that the statistics are for starters only and include all games played through Wednesday ("BP ERA" is the team's bullpen ERA):
As expected, the three division leaders -- Boston, Cleveland and Los Angeles -- are the best in wins by starters, with the three division cellar dwellers -- Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Texas -- being the worst. Remembering that wins are greatly influenced by the team's defense and its bullpen, these are the best and worst teams for mining starters.
For ERA, Oakland, Los Angeles and Baltimore are the best, which is a red flag for Oakland and Baltimore's bullpens. Looking at the other two division leaders beside the Angels, Boston's starters are being helped by the best bullpen in the AL (7-1, 19 saves), while Cleveland is the only AL team with a winning record with neither its rotation nor bullpen ERA below 4.00. That indicates good team run support (second in the majors) which helps rotations and can create vulture wins for bullpens. The worst ERAs are Texas', Tampa Bay's and Seattle's. In fact, if Texas doesn't turn things around, its rotation will be historically bad as only the seventh team with a rotational ERA over 6.00. Tampa Bay has a quartet of starters in Durham under 25 years old -- Jason Hammel, Andy Sonnanstine, J.P. Howell and Jeff Niemann -- that have been dominant and deserve a chance. Keep an eye on these guys if you need pitching help, especially in AL-only.
Oakland, Chicago and Boston are the best in WHIP, which suggests Oakland should be seeing more wins (their bullpen is bad, but not the worst) and Chicago could see its starters' ERA fall to meet its WHIP, which makes it a team to watch. Three teams to forget about because of their WHIPs are the usual suspects: Texas, Seattle and Tampa Bay (at least until that bus from Durham arrives).
Boston, Minnesota and Los Angeles lead in strikeout rate with Baltimore and strikeouts league leader Erik Bedard in fourth. Minnesota is helped by Johan Santana (an unsurprising second in the AL) and Boof Bonser (a bigger surprise at sixth). Remembering to always go for the strikeout pitcher, Bonser should not be available in any league. Incidentally, the Twins called up Kevin Slowey, who could also help in strikeouts and has great control. Get him now. The worst in strikeouts are New York, Kansas City and Cleveland. How bad is New York overall in this category? The starters as a whole are barely above "Mr. No Strikeouts" Chien-Ming Wang (4.70 team K/9 versus Wang's 4.50 K/9). Roger Clemens' arrival will improve the Yankees' strikeout rate, but the question is whether a guy that appears only for his starts will make the other pitchers around him better (probably not). Conversely, Cleveland is bucking the trend with a poor strikeout rate but a successful team, even with C.C. Sabathia's 8.92 K/9 contribution. I reiterate their run production helps atone for their pitching sins.
In addition to run support, the Cleveland starters' control also contributes to winning games, with the Indians being in the top three in K/BB, along with Boston and Minnesota. In case you're missing a recurring theme, Boston has good rotation, supported by good defense and a strong bullpen, which means Jon Lester is worth a speculative pickup. At the bottom of the table for K/BB are Texas, New York and Kansas City, three teams to avoid for pitching right now.
Baltimore, Oakland and Boston are the best at keeping the ball in the park with the lowest HR/9. This is impressive for Boston and Baltimore because neither plays in a pitchers' park, and hints that the Mazzone influence might make Baltimore a rotation to reckon with in the near future, since they gave up the most home runs in 2006. Oakland usually has a good rotation, and if they can just get Rich Harden and Huston Street healthy, they could arguably be the best in the AL. The worst at giving up homers are Toronto, Texas, Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Keep in mind none of these teams is a surprise; Texas and Tampa Bay are bad, and Toronto and Minnesota were in the bottom half of the AL last year in home runs allowed.
Chicago, Oakland and Boston have been the least dependant on their bullpens by having their starters pitch deepest into games. For Boston, this is simply starter talent. For Chicago, it's the fear of handing the ball over to a bullpen with an ERA over 5.00. For Oakland, it's a little of both. The starters most likely to make the earliest exits are Texas, New York and Seattle. The Mariners and Rangers are the inverse of the White Sox, with bullpens much stronger than their rotations, while the Yankees are mediocre on either side of the sixth inning.
The best bullpens, with respect to ERA, belong to Boston, Minnesota and Seattle. One could envision the Mariners improving if they agree never to hand the ball over to Jeff Weaver again and if Felix Hernandez can get back to form. The worst bullpens are Tampa Bay, Detroit and Chicago, which may mean a gradual drop in the standings by the Tigers unless they can improve their relievers, a tough assignment with Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney both on the disabled list.
Four seasons ago I opened the first "Sixty Feet, Six Inches" with a comparison of the mercurial performance of pitchers to the great or awful sound of Stevie Nicks' voice. Since that time, the column has given birth to a spinoff -- "Relief Efforts" -- and I've written over a quarter of a million words about the subject. During that time I've also had the opportunity to exchange ideas with readers all over the world. But with the end of this paragraph, I end my authorship of both columns and my work at ESPN. Thanks to everyone that made it possible. Feel free to drop me a line every now and then and perhaps we'll see each other down the road. Until then, and for the last time, watch the runner at first.
David Young has been a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and TalentedMrRoto.com. He can be reached at MrSnappy@TalentedMrRoto.com