In our last episode, we took a look at the NL East position players, giving out 5 points for the best player at each position, 1 point for the worst. The Nats and the Braves dominated the competition, with the Phillies looking surprisingly weak in several positions. Here’s where we stand coming into the pitching round of the competition:
SCORE: DC (32), ATL (32), PHI (22), NY (19), MIA (15)
As for that pitching, well, reasonable people can disagree on who is the number one starter. It’s easy here in Washington, but take a look at Philadelphia: Halladay has the best pedigree, Hamels is the opening day starter, and Baseball Prospectus predicts Lee will have the highest WAR.
Meanwhile, over in Atlanta, Hudson is starting Opening Day and has the pedigree, but Maholm will start their 2nd game. I’m sorry, but Paul Maholm is not their #2 guy. And Medlen is starting their 4th game, but well, really he’s not a #4 guy. The effect? Well, Medlen would be on top of the #4 starter group if I put him there, but putting him there seems disingenuous, so the Braves’ score suffers. I’ll try to call it like I see it, and I won’t spend any more time arguing about why I placed a guy in each slot.
And while you all voted on which kind of music to use, I’m already starting to run out of 70s/80s early/pre-metal songs that don’t just fall under plain old early hard rock or 80s hair metal. Should be interesting. Let’s see how this turns out:
1. Nationals – Stephen Strasburg
2. Phillies – Roy Halladay
3. Braves – Tim Hudson
4. Mets – Johan Santana
5. Marlins – Ricky Nolasco
This might not even be an argument if Strasburg had finished all of 2012, but I’ve got no doubts about putting him first. Hopefully this year we can all stop acting as if we know more than the Doctor Doctor and just watch him throw. Halladay had a bad 2012, but he also finished top 5 in the Cy Young voting in each of the 6 years prior to that. Hudson is still effective, but not what he used to be. Santana is a big question mark, and might not pitch enough to finish anywhere but the bottom here, while Nolasco as a #1 begins to hint at how bad the Marlins pitching staff is – and it gets much worse from here.
SCORE: DC (37), ATL (35), PHI (26), NY (21), MIA (16)
1. Phillies – Cole Hamels
2. Nationals – Gio Gonzalez
3. Braves – Kris Medlen
4. Mets – Jon Niese
5. Marlins – Henderson Alvarez
Cole Hamels would do well in the #1 starter category, and he is a legit ace. Gio was incredible last year, and if even he repeats that performance, it would still be close to determine which one of those two is better. Medlen is no slouch, either, if his 2012 is to be believed. Niese is not a bad pitcher, but he can’t hang with the top 3. We quickly see how Helpless the Marlins are – Henderson Alvarez is young and should improve, but still won’t be very good.
SCORE: DC (41), ATL (38), PHI (31), NY (23), MIA (17)
1. Phillies – Cliff Lee
2. Nationals – Jordan Zimmermann
3. Braves – Mike Minor
4. Mets – Shaun Marcum
5. Marlins – Wade Leblanc
It wouldn’t be a big shock if Cliff Lee was the best pitcher in the entire league this year, let alone this group. After finishing 6-9 last year despite finishing top 15 in ERA and pitcher’s WAR, you wouldn’t blame him if he was a bit Paranoid, but he should still be among the best. Zimmermann was great last year, but it’s hard to expect him to exceed what Cliff Lee can do. Minor is also very good, and he and Zimmermann could flip flop positions here. Marcum is probably a better pitcher than Minor, but I am not counting on the Mets third starter to make 30 starts this year thanks to his recurring shoulder problems. Wade Leblanc plays for the Marlins.
SCORE: DC (45), ATL (41), PHI (36), NY (25), MIA (18)
1. Nationals – Dan Haren
2. Mets – Matt Harvey
3. Braves – Paul Maholm
4. Phillies – Kyle Kendrick
5. Marlins – Nate Eovaldi
Dan Haren is the most talented and accomplished on this list by a longshot. If you think Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have great control, well you’re right, but check out this list. His second half last year indicates that talent isn’t all gone, after a rough first half. And if Haren pitches like he did before 2012, this season could be a year of Easy Livin for Nats fans. You might not have noticed Harvey last year, because he was on the Mets, but the 23 year old struck out 70 batters in 59 2/3 IP in 10 starts. He is a very strong back of the rotation starter, and probably won’t be in the back of the rotation very long. Paul Maholm usually hovers around league average – and his ERA+ over the last 4 years is right there at 98. Not bad, nothing special. Kyle Kendrick has been better than that, although not by much, recently, and could finish third, or even second here, if Harvey disappoints. Nate Eovaldi is a name I just made up.
SCORE: DC (50), ATL (44), PHI (38), NY (29), MIA (19)
1. Braves – Julio Teheran
2. Nationals – Ross Detwiler
3. Phillies – John Lannan
4. Mets – Dillon Gee
5. Marlins – Jacob Tuner/John Maine/Kevin Slowey
A #5 starter is asked to just go out and do his duty – nothing spectacular, eat some innings and not get destroyed – The Trooper of the rotation. But this division does have pretty good starters here. Teheran is a big prospect in the Braves organization and is more talented than the rest of this group. He’s gotta put it together, but he’s looked awesome this spring. Detwiler was great last year, but his low BABIP and strikeout rates indicate he won’t be that good again. Still, he makes a great #5 starter. John Lannan might continue to outperform what everyone expects, although the move to that ballpark worries me – he doesn’t get alot of strikeouts and he’s not as good at inducing grounders as you might think. Still, it seems silly to bet against him. Dillon Gee will probably win the role for the Mets because he’s not a bad pitcher. Someone will be the 5th starter for the Marlins, probably.
SCORE: DC (54), ATL (49), PHI (40), NY (32), MIA (20)
1. Braves – Craig Kimbrel
2. Phillies – Jonathan Papelbon
3. Nationals – Rafael Soriano
4. Marlins – Steve Cishek
5. Mets – Frank Francisco
When you bring a closer in to the game, you expect to win. But nobody was more Lights Out than Kimbrel last year, and as long as he’s not facing the Dominican Republic in the WBC, he is untouchable. Papelbon continues to be one of the best in the league, and Rafael Soriano is not far behind. Soriano has some of the best numbers of any reliever in the last few years, but I’ll give the Phillies closer the edge because he has dominated in the role. Cishek is probably better than Francisco, although Bobby Parnell on the Mets might be better than either one of them.
FINAL SCORE: DC (57), ATL (54), PHI (44), NY (33), MIA (22)
How did we get here? Here’s a snapshot of each team, and an appropriate theme song:
All this offseason the Nationals have been thought of by many as World Series favorites, and the most complete team in the league, and it shows up here. They were able to distance themselves from the Braves lineup thanks to starting pitching, but it’s still as close many expect. But they won’t have to exceed expectations, and they won’t need incredible seasons from individual performers, they just good seasons from most of the team to stand United as a team on the top of the NL East.
They are a close second, and this list doesn’t factor in one of the Braves biggest advantages – their bullpen outside of the closer. Their starting pitching staff isn’t quite up to Philly’s or Washington’s, and if the Braves win the division, it will have alot to do with that lineup. But that Fireballing bullpen, with Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Jordan Walden, will be big contributors to any success they have.
The Phillies have some real talent, but serious doubt creeps in to their success due to age. Howard and Utley both spent significant time on the DL last year, and aren’t the players they used to be, even if they can both still be very good. Their top starters are great, but Halladay is going to be 36 and Lee will be 34 this year. The best players are closer to being 20th Century Boys than the future stars of the league.
The Mets are not going to be a very good team. But they have a legitimate superstar and MVP candidate in David Wright, and Major League talent in other positions. I don’t expect a ton of wins, but this team is not an embarassment, despite the budget issues of ownership. And if everyone behind Wright plays great at the same time – Santana, Duda, Davis, Murphy, and Harvey – they could put people Back in the New York Groove. It’s a long shot for sure, but there’s a shot.
There are three guys in that starting rotation that alot of baseball fans have never heard of, and many of their position players are equally mysterious. Other than Giancarlo Stanton and some possible contributions from Logan Morrison or Placido Polanco, there aint much on the offense. Stanton may be the only good player on this team, and he may be crying to his old teammates at the All Star game, telling them about how different things are Since You Been Gone. This team didn’t just finish last, it is significantly lower than the rest. This team is practically devoid of Major Leaguers.