Baseball players reporting to their respective spring-training complexes and actually going through on-field workouts means one thing: spring is officially in the air. It also means that regardless of what happened last season or throughout the winter, every squad has a clean slate. But that doesn’t mean we can’t temper (or amp up) expectations by looking at projections, right?
As MLB teams continue preparing for 2019, we’ll be looking at how different areas of the field are expected to perform compared to last year. This information will be valuable if you’re looking to wager on baseball at bet-pa.com and other online sports books. After looking at the league as a whole, we’ll then drill down to the biggest projected risers and fallers. The first area of big-league rosters that will be looked is — you guessed it — starting rotations.
The projected fWAR production and MLB rank (along with the 2018 numbers) are all sourced by FanGraphs. It should also be noted that these projections are just that, and they should be taken with a grain of salt. However, they’re great because it provides an objective opinion on what we could potentially expect to unfold over the following six or seven months.
All The Data
Here’s a look at how every team’s starting rotation is expected to perform in 2019, along with how it compares and contrasts to what they just accomplished.
Based off how the top five teams performed in 2018, there’s a good chance we’ll see a handful of rotations outperform their projections. A number of these estimations are conservative on purpose.
Now that we can see what the expectations are for all MLB rotations, let’s take a look at those projected to rise and fall the most in the projected rankings. We’ll look at four teams on each end of the spectrum, starting with the risers and finishing with the fallers.
Cincinnati Reds (+12)
Three-fifths of Cincy’s projected Opening-Day rotation was acquired via trade within the last few months: Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, and Tanner Roark. What’s interesting to note here is that each of them were planning on entering 2019 with it being their final year under team control. That’s still true for Wood and Roark, but not Gray, who signed an extension as part of the conditions of his trade.
Although Gray needs to use the upcoming season to erase a nightmarish 2018, he at least has a mostly solid track record to his name. Luis Castillo and Anthony DeSclafani — the two holdovers from last year’s rotation — could very well be the x-factors.
Castillo took a step back after an impressive showing as a rookie, but one can hope he’s trending in the right direction after posting a 2.44 second-half ERA over his final 66.1 innings (5.49 ERA in 103.1 first-half innings). As for DeSclafani, he was a bright spot for the Reds from 2015-16 before missing all of ’17. He’ll need to bring last year’s career-worst 41.9% hard-hit rate back down to its regular levels (33.8% for career).
Washington Nationals (+11)
The Nationals have also rebuilt their rotation, but in a much different way. They did ship Roark to Cincinnati, but have also added Patrick Corbin on a monster deal, along with Anibal Sanchez and Jeremy Hellickson on much smaller deals (although Hellickson was technically re-signed).
As one can imagine, Washington’s rotation production is expected to be incredibly top-heavy. Max Scherzer (5.8), Corbin (3.5), and Stephen Strasburg (3.1) are currently projected to generate a smidge over 77.0% of total rotation fWAR.
Sanchez could end up being a solid value pickup if his rebound performance with the Atlanta Braves is sustainable. Through 136.2 innings in ’18, he produced a 2.83 ERA and 2.4 fWAR. In his previous three seasons with the Detroit Tigers (415.2 innings), he posted a combined ERA of 5.67 with just 2.2 fWAR.
While the veteran right-hander’s 79.4% strand rate was a career high, it was encouraging to see him amp his ground-ball rate back up to 45.0%. Between 2015 and 2017, Sanchez kept setting new career-low marks in that department, with it bottoming out at 35.6%.
Miami Marlins (+6)
The Marlins are on a list for a good thing? Well, let’s not get too crazy about it just yet. Instead of being projected to have the league’s worst rotation, they’re currently ranked 24th.
Wei-Yin Chen is coming off a rough year (4.79 ERA and 1.34 WHIP), but Miami was probably happy that he was mostly healthy. The southpaw threw 133.1 innings in 2018 after tossing just 33 frames the year before. Jose Urena looks to be the leader, and he’ll hope to keep his strikeout rate (18.3% in ’18) on the rise while also bringing his hard-hit rate (38.2% in ’18) back down to normal.
Caleb Smith will be a hurler to watch because of what he did in 77.1 innings last season. His year was cut short due to shoulder troubles, but he did post a 27.0% strikeout rate to go along with a 4.08 SIERA. His month of May was the most impressive of all — in 27.2 innings, he posted a 2.60 ERA with a .243 wOBA allowed, 25.5% strikeout rate, 9.1% walk rate, and 22.2% soft-hit rate. He also loved pitching at home (3.13 ERA in 37.1 innings) more than he did on the road (5.18 ERA in 40 innings).
Chicago Cubs (+6)
There’s no way around it — the Cubs’ clear x-factor in their rotation is going to be Yu Darvish. Chicago wasn’t able to make a big-ticket acquisition this winter because of budget concerns, but getting a healthy and productive Darvish will probably feel like one.
His first season of a six-year, $126 million contract was basically a disaster. Not only did he throw just 40 innings (eight starts), but those innings also weren’t good ones. Darvish kept the strikeouts coming (27.2%), but he also kept the walks coming (11.7%) to go along with a 4.95 ERA and 0.2 fWAR.
For a hurler that never finished with an ERA above 4.00 while always tossing at least 100 frames per year since debuting with the Texas Rangers in 2012 (outside of missing all of 2015), this had to feel weird. So, between (hopefully) getting a healthy Darvish and a full year of Cole Hamels, the Cubs’ rotation has a chance at seeing an uptick in production.