Central Processing – Pitching Components


It has been over a month since an edition of Central Processing has been posted, but today it makes a, hopefully, triumphant return to KoK.  Last night, I came up with an interesting way to look at and comparing the pitching of AL Central.  There are 3 main components to any team’s pitching staff; the rotation, the bullpen, and the closer.   This version of Central Processing attempts to assess the best of the pitching in the division by looking at each team’s highest ranking pitcher from each of the 3 areas while relying mainly on ERA+.

A minimum of 25.0 innings pitched on the season were required to qualify for consideration. Stats listed do not include games played on Friday 8/14/09

The Starters:

  • 179 ERA+  Zack Greinke – Royals (25) [159.1 IP, 2.43 ERA, 1.1.49 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, 9.4 K/9, 5.06 K/BB]  Hopefully Zack’s appearance at the top of this list doesn’t come as a shock to anyone at this point in the season.  Among this group he has the best ERA, WHIP, K/9, and K/BB.  In short, he is the dominant starter in the division and padded his division lead tonight with another 7 shutout innings.  Sadly the bullpen still sucks and the Royals blew another excellent outing by one of their starters.
  • 163 ERA+  Edwin Jackson – Tigers (25) [151.2 IP, 2.79 ERA, 1.160 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, 7.1 K/9, 2.45 K/BB]  Justin Verlander (138 ERA+) gets all the hype, but Jackson has been the Tigers best pitcher this season.  I never thought he could sustain his early season success, but he certainly has proven me wrong.  It appears this former top prospect has finally put it all together.  While it seems like he has been around forever, he is only 25, just like Greinke.
  • 140 ERA+  Aaron Laffey – Indians (24) [72.0 IP, 3.25 ERA, 1.403 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9, 4.9 K/9, 1.22 K/BB]  One of these things is not like the others and it’s Aaron Laffey.  A 4.0 BB/9 and 1.22 K/BB is not a recipe for sucess in MLB, but somehow Laffey has been getting it done.  Of course, this spot would belong to Cliff Lee (145 ERA+ while in Cleveland) but he is now pitching out of his mind in Philadelphia.  With Lee and Pavano gone, Laffey becomes the defacto ace of the Indians pitching staff with only 215 ML IP under his belt.  He’s just 24, has a bright future ahead of him, and definitely needs some help in the rotation.
  • 126 ERA+  Mark Buehrle – White Sox (30) [160.2 IP, 3.70 ERA, 1.164 WHIP, 1.7 BB/9, 4.7 K/9, 2.71 K/BB]  Buehrle, at 30 years old, is the old man of this group.  He is not flashy, but he is steady, consistent, reliable and leads this group in BB/9.  In 10 ML seasons only once has he finished the year with an ERA+ below 100 (95 in 2006).  This season Buehrle has done what he has always done in his career and based on the way he pitches, he figures to keep producing at this level for several more years.  The perfect game was a nice touch.
  • 104 ERA+  Nick Blackburn – Twins (27) [146.2 IP, 3.99 ERA, 1.411 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 3.7 K/9, 1.76 K/BB]  Heading into the season, I thought the Twins would have the best rotation in the division.  Instead they have the worst and only Blackburn possesses an ERA+ above 100 among the starters.  Scott Baker has been pitching very well since opening the season on the DL.  He got torched in his first several starts, but has been coming on and should be the Twins representative on this list by the end of the year.  Kevin Slowey looked like he was putting things together but was been lost for the season.  The real Francisco Liriano still hasn’t taken the time to stand up and it is looking more and more like he won’t be able to recapture his pre-surgery form.  Blackburn and Perkins were supposed to be the interchangable parts at the back of the rotation and instead here we are.  Nick has done what he was supposed to do this year, but unfortunately for the Twins, the rest of their rotation hasn’t pulled it together.  Baseball is a funny game.

    The Relievers:

    • 185 ERA+  Matt Guerrier – Twins (30) [56.1 IP, 2.24 ERA, 0.817 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9, 6.1 K/9, 4.22 K/BB]  The Twins bullpen has been spotty and much maligned, but Guerrier and Jose Mijares (ERA+ 170) have been extremely solid options for Gardenhire.  Guerrier is the leader among this group in all the statistical categories except K/9. It bears repeating that the starting rotation has absolutely killed this team.
    • 183 ERA+  Matt Thornton – White Sox (32) [49.1 IP, 2.55 ERA, 1.095 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 11.3 K/9, 4.13 K/BB]  Thornton leads a ridiculously strong relief core for the White Sox.  Of the relievers who have thrown 40 or more innings for Chicago this year, their worst ERA+ is D.J. Carrasco’s 122.  Yes, that is the same D.J. Carrasco who pitched for the Royals from 2003-2005 and who has never had an ERA+ less than 92 in his career.  With a bullpen like this, and a decent rotation, their record should be a lot better than it is.
    • 151 ERA+  Brandon Lyon – Tigers (29) [54.0 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1.130 WHIP, 3.7 BB/9, 6.0 K/9, 1.64 K/BB]  Lyon has bounced back from a rough 2008 and has come close to recapturing his 2007 form when he had an ERA+ of 176 with the Diamondbacks.  His 2009 season to date is an interesting case study.  On the one hand, his 1.130 WHIP and 6.5 H/9 are the best of his 8 year ML career, but on the other hand his 3.7 BB/9 is the worst of his career.  After a rough start in April and May, Lyon has been lights out and is capable of carrying his level of performance through the rest of the season.  Like the White Sox, the Tigers have a deep and solid bullpen, but could be even better if Rodney was setting up Lyon.
    • 128 ERA+  Matt Herges – Indians (39) [25.1 IP, 3.55 ERA, 1.184 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 6.4 K/9, 3.00 K/BB]  Herges is old, plays for the Indians, and is significantly better than any Royals reliever.  Apparently having the first name of Matt can lead to becoming the best reliever on your team.
    • 105 ERA+  Ron Mahay – Royals (38) [39.0 IP, 4.15 ERA, 1.744 WHIP, 4.2 BB/9, 7.8 K/9, 1.89 K/BB]  Mahay is the best of the worst with an ERA+ just slightly above league average.  In fact, until Kyle Farnsworth returns from the DL, Ron is the ONLY Royals reliever to have an ERA+ above 100.  It would be a lot easier to trust the process if I knew in advance that the “process” this offseason involved blowing up this bullpen save Joakim Soria.

      The Closers:

      • 251 ERA+  Joe Nathan – Twins (34) [43.2 IP, 1.65 ERA, 0.802 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 11.7 K/9, 5.70 K/BB]  Nathan is the best closer in baseball not named Mariano, and at this point, there is an argument to be made that he is better than Rivera.  As far as the AL Central goes, not counting IP, he has the best numbers in every statistical category listed here.  If the rotation was performing up to expectations a lot more people would be aware of Nathan’s 2009 season.  He is a stud and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
      • 186 ERA+  Joakim Soria – Royals (25) [34.2 IP, 2.34 ERA, 1.010 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 11.2 K/9, 4.78 K/BB]  Soria is quickly turning into the AL Central’s heir apparent to Joe Nathan.  The Mexicutioner has the 2nd best numbers in all the stats listed here.  If you put Mariano and Nathan 1st and 2nd in the rankings of MLB closers, Soria can stake a legit claim on 3rd.  If only the rest of the bullpen wasn’t so god awful.  Even just one reliable reliever to bridge the gap from the starters to Soria would have a major impact on this team.  Sadly that wouldn’t help the defense and baserunning, but you have to start somewhere.
      • 122 ERA+  Bobby Jenks – White Sox (28) [40.0 IP, 3.82 ERA, 1.250 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 8.6 K/9, 3.45 K/BB]  Jenks gets the job done and does it with solid stats.  The ERA is a little high but the WHIP, BB/9, K/9, and K/BB are all pretty darn good.  I have nothing else positive to say about him because I hate the White Sox so very much.
      • 120 ERA+  Fernando Rodney – Tigers (32) [50.0 IP, 3.78 ERA, 1.300 WHIP, 4.3 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 1.96 K/BB]  A 4.3 BB/9 for a ML closer?  A K/BB under 2.0?  Why is this guy finishing off games for Detroit and how exactly are they in first place?  The world may never know and baseball is a funny game.
      • 96 ERA+  Kerry Wood – Indians (32) [40.0 IP, 4.72 ERA, 1.375 WHIP, 4.3 BB/9, 10.1 K/9, 2.37 K/BB]  He can still strike out more than a batter per inning, he still has control issues, and he can’t stay healthy.  A lot of GMs are pretty relieved that they didn’t end up with Kerry Wood in the offseason.  Unfortunately for Mark Shapiro, he isn’t in that group.  Wood hasn’t been a terrible pitcher this year, but he has been a terrible closer.

        The Totals:

        • 540  Minnesota Twins – The fact that they lead the division by this much and are only in 3rd place highlights how bad the rotation has been.  Of course when your closer has an ERA+ more than double that of 3 other closers it is pretty easy to rack up the points.
        • 470  Kansas City Royals – Their bullpen and defense is absolutely killing the efforts of Greinke and Soria.
        • 434  Detroit Tigers – Steady as she goes for the Tigers.  They don’t have the best pitcher in any of the groups, but they also don’t have the worst.
        • 431  Chicago White Sox – See the above and change out Tigers for White Sox.  In the end, and it kills me to say this, I think they are the 2009 AL Central division champions.
        • 364  Cleveland Indians – The Royals should be ashamed that this team is ahead of them in the standings.  The Indians traded Victor Martinez and Cliff Lee and still pulled away from the last place Royals.  Indians fans should be targeting 2011 as the earliest they can return to prominence in the AL Central.

          Obviously the above is not an accurate representation of each team’s pitching staff, but I think it is interesting to note how the best options stack up against each other.  Every time I write an edition of Central Processing, I wonder how the Tigers are still in first place, but there they are.  With respect to the above, the Royals clearly need to rebuild their bullpen beyond Soria.  Since Farnsworth is signed to a outrageous sum of money we know he will be back as well, but in terms of ERA+ he is at least average.

          So many holes so little money …

          Tags: Aaron Laffey AL Central Baseball Bobby Jenks Brandon Lyon Chicago White Sox Cleveland Indians Detroit Tigers Edwin Jackson Fernando Rodney Joakim Soria Joe Nathan Kansas City Royals KC Kerry Wood Mark Buehrle Matt Guerrier Matt Herges Matt Thornton Minnesota Twins MLB Nick Blackburn Ron Mahay Zack Greinke