MLB National League Playoff Rotations

By Joe Tangorra

The time has come and baseball fans can rejoice as the Postseason is finally here. As we saw last year with the star-studded Mets staff, starting pitchers can lead a team to the World Series. With that being said, let’s jump in a see how each team’s top pitchers stack up.

I mentioned the Mets so let’s dive into their rotation beyond Noah Syndergaard if they advance out of the Wild Card Game.

Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Jacob DeGrom are all out for the playoffs so one would assume that the team would not have the ability to compete in the postseason. However, they have been able to piece their starts together with guys they’ve called up from their AAA affiliate. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have led the Mets down the stretch to be in a position to play in the Wild Card Game at Citi Field.

  1. Syndergaard: Thor finished the season as a bonafide top five starter in the entire major leagues but may not finish high in the Cy Young race because of his lack of innings. He finished the season with 56 FIP- which is the best in baseball, besides Clayton Kershaw, who did not qualify based on innings. Combining 0.54 HR/9 and a 23.5 K-BB%, Syndergaard is someone the Mets will ride if they want to go far this year.
  2. Gsellman: The AAA turned big league pitcher is more of an unknown than Syndergaard because of his lack of MLB Service time. In 44.2 MLB innings we have learned something about his pitching style; he has a great slider. He throws his slider 87.9 mph and generates a groundball 70.6% of the time on the pitch. From what he’s done so far in the majors, the Mets have to be content with him pitching pressure innings in the postseason.
  3. Bartolo Colon: The guy just keeps on going. His 3.99 FIP to finish the season is not great, but his run prevention has been fine. His RA/9 WAR is 3.4 which is his best since 2013. I expect the Mets to use Colon for more innings than Seth Lugo who has an xFIP of 4.71 and walks about 3 batters per 9 innings. As well as pitching, Colon has been a great fielder according to Defensive Runs Saved. He leads the league with 8.

San Francisco Giants: The Giants snuck their way into the second wild card with a strong performance against the Dodgers in the last series of the season.

  1. Madison Bumgarner: The postseason hero of two years ago is still a very solid pitcher. I do not expect him to be the legend he was in 2014, but he has shown he is still very good. One problem he has had this season is getting less ground balls and allowing more fly balls, which tend to find their way out of the park more often than ground balls do. Between 2010 and 2014 Bumgarner’s Ground Ball % hovered around 45%. As a result he let up less home runs. In 2015, it dropped to 41.7 and in 2016 is 39.6. This is somewhat of a troubling sign for a pitcher who has had so much success in the postseason. He had his best ERA this season but saw his xFIP ride to its highest since 2010. We will have to wait and see if he can regain his postseason dominance.
  2. Johnny Cueto: The former Red built on his already great career this year. This was not his best year, but he finished with a sub-3.00 FIP and a 76 FIP- showing he was not just a product of the cavernous AT&T Park. In my opinion, Cueto is the best pitcher on the Giants.
  3. Jeff Samardzija/Matt Moore: The Giants, even though their bullpen is not very good, should be a team that utilizes the bullpenning strategy outside of their top 2 guys. Samardzija has been decent for the Giants all season posting a 3.85 FIP and Moore has been just average since coming over in the trade with the Rays. He has walked 4.21 batters per 9 innings. Outside the top 2 guys and considering the Giants bullpen, the Giants’ depth is just not there. I would recommend Bochy mix and match as the game goes on.

Nationals: Like the Mets, this team is hurt by the injury bug as Stephen Strasburg has been ruled out for the NLDS. The Nationals however do have some nice depth in terms of their starting pitching.

  1. Max Scherzer – Mad Max had a rough start to the season posting a 4.57 FIP in April and a 4.16 FIP in May. Since then he has been the pitcher we have seen over the past five years, striking out over 10 batters per 9 innings and while keeping his walk rate down to about 6%. Another thing to note about Scherzer is that his FIP is significantly higher on the road than at Nationals Park. (Home 2.59, Road 3.76) He strikes out fewer on the road and his home runs per nine balloons to 1.5/9 innings compared to 0.88HR/9 at home. Look for Scherzer to match up against Kershaw in Game One.
  2. Tanner Roark – Roark is a pitcher who has major drop-off when it comes to FIP and ERA difference. Roark posted a 2.83 ERA this season in over 200 innings but the peripheral statistics show that he may not be as great as his ERA shows. His K-BB% is 11.6, which is worse than league average (13%). Roark is slated to go 2nd at the point of this writing, but against the Dodgers in the NLDS, the Nationals may be better off pitching the 3rd starter on this list.
  3. Gio Gonzalez – Gio has not had a great season by any metric you look at. He gave up a ton of homeruns (12.5% HR/FB) and pitched to an ERA of 4.57. BUT, with the Nationals facing the Dodgers this series, they should throw as many lefties as possible. Los Angeles hitters this season were the worst in the league when it came to batting against lefties. They finished the season with a wRC+ vs lefties of 72. (28% worse than league average)

Dodgers: The team that has gotten healthy at the perfect time is now able to throw out some of the top pitchers in our game this season.

  1. Clayton Kershaw – Simply one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, Kershaw only threw 149 innings this year due to the injury that sidelined him for a large portion of the season. In that little amount of time he proved to be worth 6.5 wins. (according to fWAR) He pitched to the tune of a 1.69 ERA and 1.80 FIP. He lead the league in both those categories, while also leading the league in park-adjusted FIP- with 45. Hopefully he can shake the small-sample size misconception that he is not a “playoff” pitcher.
  2. Rich Hill – The Washington National hit lefties decently well with a wRC+ of 105, but the two lefties the Dodgers are throwing out there are two of the best in all of baseball. Like Kershaw, Hill was hurt for a large portion of the season. And like Kershaw, when he was on the mound, he was dominant. The last two seasons with the Red Sox, A’s and Dodgers, Hill has had a career resurgence at the age of 36. Hill is a pitcher who manages to have virtually no difference in his FIP against righties and lefties. His big sweeping curveball plays against hitters from both sides of the plate. With a miniscule HR/9 of 0.33, Hill figures to continue building on his major success of the past two seasons.
  3. Kenta Maeda – Maeda is more of an unknown to Major League Baseball fans as he came over from Nippon Baseball League in Japan. Maeda entered his 28-year-old season as a rookie in the Major Leagues and has performed well for the Greinke-less Dodgers. He posted a 3.58 FIP and a 43.9% GB Rate.

Cubs: The Cubs recorded 103 wins this season and were the best in almost all facets of the game in 2016. The Cubs pitching staff posted a league best 3.15 ERA. One thing to note is that this Cubs defense has had an historic season in terms of run prevention.

  1. Jon Lester –  Lester was a beneficiary of the great defense as his ERA beat his FIP. Lester posted a 2.44 ERA and a 3.41 FIP. He combines a solid GB% of 46.9% and a great K% of 24.8%. The big lefty has a great fastball/slider/curveball. All pitches have a positive run value.
  2. Kyle Hendricks –  Hendricks led the league in ERA this season helped by a 81.5% LOB%. Some may argue that Hendricks has made pitches when he needed to, but the fact is, it is hard to consistently keep baserunners from scoring. Hendrick did not throw as many innings during the regular season as some other starters (190 IP), so he should be fresh this postseason.
  3. Jake Arrieta – For Jake this was really a tale of two seasons, right out of the gate he was the same pitcher we saw win the Cy Young award last year. Unfortunately for the Cubs, he has run into a major issue with walking batters as the season went on. Arrieta’s walk BB/9 in his historic 2015 campaign was 1.89 and this season it is 3.47. When you couple the increase in the BB/9 with a K/9 decrease of 0.61 batters the stats will not work out in your favor. For that reason Arrieta will be the third starter in the NLDS on this star-studded Cubs pitching staff.

As a baseball fan, I hope everyone enjoys the Postseason and expect more articles from me coming soon.

For Reference on all stats: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/pitching/

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