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#1, #2, #3, #4, and #5 NL Starters At The Halfway Point

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When describing starting pitchers, we often say things like "he's an ace" or "he's a #4 pitcher". A pet peeve of mine is the wrongful labeling of a pitcher to a certain rotation spot, based on subjective perception rather than objective fact. Poll a group of baseball fans about this topic and you will likely receive a vast array of opinions. My take, which is similar to the ones shared in this post and this post, is that if a pitcher is in the top 1/5 of starters in his league, then he should be called a #1 starter. The next 1/5 are #2's, the next 1/5 are #3's, etc. I pulled some statistics from FanGraphs to devise a quick and dirty way of classifying National League starters at the halfway point of the season (the Mets have played 81 games, hence I'm calling this the halfway point).

A total of 7,613 innings were thrown by 121 different NL starters through Sunday. I put together a spreadsheet of all these pitchers, their innings pitched, and their FIP (fielding independent pitching). Dividing 7,613 by 5, I created 5 groups of 1522.2 innings. Beginning with the pitcher who boasts the best FIP (P.J. Walters, 1.04 FIP through 4 innings pitched), I summed innings until reaching 1522.2 to determine #1 pitchers. I did the same all the way through the bottom spot on the list, filled by John Koronka and his 11.90 FIP. Standard caveats apply here -- FIP doesn't account for batted balls like tRA, it isn't park adjusted, etc., but it's better than ERA for evaluating a pitcher's performance. Here are the results, showing pitcher classification, the number of pitchers that fit that classification, and the corresponding FIP:

Rank Pitchers FIP Range
#1 22 0.00-3.53
#2 19 3.54-3.95
#3 19 3.96-4.55
#4 24 4.56-5.09
#5 37 5.10+

Keep in mind that of the top 22 pitchers, only 9 have thrown at least 100 innings. Rodrigo Lopez owned the Mets on Friday night and has a 2.25 FIP through 6.1 innings, but calling him a true #1 is a stretch. Here is how the Mets' pitching staff stacks up, using this method:

Pitcher IP FIP Rank
Jon Niese 10.2 1.72 High #1
Johan Santana 109.1 3.91 Low #2
Mike Pelfrey 88.2 4.10 High #3
Livan Hernandez 96.2 4.68 High #4
Fernando Nieve 27.2 4.74 High #4
John Maine 61.2 4.90 Low #4
Tim Redding 47.2 5.05 Low #4
Nelson Figueroa 6 5.70 Low #5
Oliver Perez 21.2 6.04 Low #5

While it's true that Jon Niese should be freed from his minor league shackles, it's doubtful he would mantain his high #1 status. This means the Mets' best starter has been the equivalent of a low #2 pitcher, and most innings pitched by starters have been by #4 and #5 types. Only 14 starters have been worse than Ollie, but he'll get a shot to improve on that starting Wednesday night. Peruse the spreadsheet if you like, and here are some notable names and their classifications:

#1

  • Tim Lincecum
  • Javier Vazquez
  • Chris Carpenter
  • Dan Haren
  • Josh Johnson
  • Ricky Nolasco (he's baa-aack)

#2

  • Cole Hamels
  • Yovani Gallardo
  • Derek Lowe
  • Aaron Harang
  • Ted Lilly

#3

  • Carlos Zambrano
  • Roy Oswalt
  • Johnny Cueto (maybe not after last night's Phillies shellaquing)
  • Randy Wolf
  • Ryan Dempster

#4

  • Aaron Cook
  • Barry Zito
  • Chris Volstad
  • John Lannan
  • Edinson Volquez

#5

  • Rich Harden
  • J.A. Happ
  • Jeff Suppan
  • Braden Looper
  • Jamie Moyer
  • Brett Myers