On the last edition of Breaking Down the Staffs, I took a look at the Cubs' starting rotation for 2013. In the post, I closed with the following:
As of this writing, I'm hearing the Cubs are in the mix for Dan Haren, who the Angels are aggressively trying to trade before the end of the day. Needless to say, Haren would fit nicely on a team that needs starting pitching. In a down year, Haren went 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA, 4.00 xFIP and a 142:38 K:BB ratio in 176.2 innings. The 7.23 K/9 was his lowest mark since 2006, but a shift to the NL would only help Haren. He's someone to trust as a solid No. 3 on your staff, with the possibility for much more.
That same night, the Cubs did indeed appear to acquire Haren in exchange for closer Carlos Marmol, but, ala the failed Ryan Dempster to Braves trade at the deadline, the reports were premature and the deal fell through. Without a trade in place, the Angels chose not to exercise the $15.5 million club option on Haren, thus making him a free agent. He'll surely be on the move. The DH-less NL is always the preferred destination, particularly if he stays out west (Dodgers?).
Perhaps the funniest twist in all of this is that Marmol appeared on the radio in the Dominican Republic and leaked his own trade. What we learned here: the strangest things continue to happen to the Cubs, even with Theo Epstein running the show.
So far, we've touched on the following NL teams:
NL Central: Cubs
NL East: Braves
NL West: Diamondbacks
Staying in the NL, we shift focus to the NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds, whose starters went 66-43 with a 3.64 ERA and a 3.89 xFIP while racking up 770 strikeouts in 1018.2 innings. The Reds were the only team to use their Opening Day starting five for all 162 games -- a tremendous and unlikely feat in today's game, and one which makes my job of evaluating their 2013 staff much easier.
As always, pitchers are ranked from worst to best in terms of 2013 value (with 2012 stats in parentheses).
5. Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 202.0 IP, 5.75 K/9, 1.56 BB/9, 3.74 ERA, 4.08 xFIP)
Arroyo reached 200 innings for the seventh time in the last eight years, and he improved on all three of his K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 numbers. Still, the final stats, particularly the 129 strikeouts in 202 innings, aren't impressive.
Keep in mind, Arroyo's fantasy usefulness hit its peak six years ago, and in 2011, he had a 5.07 ERA and his FIP was pushing 6. Unless you play in a weird league that gives bonus points for reaching 200 innings, you'd be wise to use Arroyo sparingly, particularly in away games where he held opposing batters to a .242 BA last year, nearly 50 points better than his home mark.
4. Mike Leake (8-9, 179.0 IP, 5.83 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, 4.58 ERA, 3.82 xFIP)
Leake was the laziest Reds pitcher as the team's only starter not to reach 200 innings. Kidding aside, Leake didn't approve all that much from a year ago, finishing with a lower strikeout rate and higher walk and home run rates. There's a pretty significant difference between his ERA and xFIP, and he wasn't lucky or unlucky with a .306 BABIP.
If he can get his 16.7% HR/FB down some, he could be in line for a nice bounce back season. Like Arroyo, he's more of an NL-only and matchup option at this point, but keep in mind he's still young at 24 and he's a former first round pick.
3. Homer Bailey (13-10, 208.0 IP, 7.27 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 3.68 ERA, 3.94 xFIP)
A popular sleeper every year, Bailey quietly put together his best season. There wasn't a terribly huge disparity in his pitching peripherals from 2011 to 2012, but he did pick up four more wins and his ERA dropped nearly a point, from 4.43 to 3.68. His xFIP ended up roughly the same (3.77 in 2011; 3.94 in 2012), and his strikeouts, walks and home runs per nine were nearly identical.
Year: K/9, BB/9, HR/9
2011: 7.23, 2.25, 1.23
2012: 7.27, 2.25, 1.13
Not shown in the numbers here is a career best 9.4% swing-and-whiff rate, which indicates more punch outs could be coming.
I like Homer Bailey and you should like Homer Bailey too. He's sure to re-enter sleeper status in 2013, but I'm much more confident he'll deliver and awaken with his best numbers yet. He's a solid No. 3 on your staff.
2. Mat Latos (14-4, 209.1 IP, 7.95 K/9, 2.75 BB/9, 3.48 ERA, 3.79 xFIP)
Latos and his tattooed arm (and neck) got off to a rough start in Cincinnati. It was inevitable leaving the pitcher paradise that is Petco Park, but you certainly didn't expect it to lead to a 5.97 ERA in the opening month. Give Latos credit: he quickly turned things around with a 3.26 ERA the next month and absolutely sizzled in the final two months (2.61 ERA in August; 2.21 ERA in September/October), helping lead the Reds to the second best record in the NL.
Latos' strikeouts per nine dropped significantly from 8.57 to 7.95, and his home runs per nine jumped from .074 to 1.07, but he did lower his walks per nine from 2.87 to 2.75.
Latos has been good for 3+ WAR in his short career, and the strong finish to 2012 is a great sign for 2013. There have always been questions about Latos' maturity, but a lot was answered with a strong first season on a new team. He won't headline your staff, but he's a safe bet as a No. 2, tattoos and all.
1. Johnny Cueto (19-9, 217.0 IP, 7.05 K/9, 2.03 BB/9, 2.78 ERA, 3.65 xFIP)
Cueto is a legit contender for the NL Cy Young award and just missed out on reaching that round, pretty number of 20 wins. Only nine pitchers were more valuable, according to FanGraphs WAR, and Cueto's 4.8 was third best in the NL.
Many suggested selling high on Cueto time and time again in 2012, and while you probably ended up on the wrong end of the deal if you did, you can't fault the logic behind the thinking. Prior to 2012, Cueto was nothing special, having reached 2.8 WAR twice. His final strikeout numbers in 2012, 170 in 217 innings (a 7.05 K/9 rate), are far from elite.
Coming off his best year in 2011, I expected Cueto to regress significantly, but that didn't happen. What I didn't buy most was his ability to keep the ball from flying out of GABP. But after posting 0.46 HR/9 in 2011, he was right there again in 2012 at 0.62. Cueto doesn't have the greatest skill set, but he's perfected his changeup which produces a swinging strike rate of 29.89%.
What Cueto has going for him is a rising strikeout rate (6.00 K/9 in 2011; 7.05 in 2012) and a fantastic offense supporting him. This is one arm Dusty Baker hasn't been able to ruin (yet), and Cueto is simply learning to pitch to his maximum ability. It's very possible that 2012 was his career year, but that's not a reason to bypass him in drafts. I'm confident drafting Cueto as a low-end No. 1 on your staff. Just be sure to surround some him with some heavy strikeout artists.
Most likely the wild card with the greatest upside I'll write about is Aroldis Chapman, who flat out dominated his competition in 2012, somersaulting his way to 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings, or 15.32 strikeouts per nine. The Reds reportedly will consider moving Chapman to the rotation in 2013, and you can't blame them. A move to the rotation would represent the biggest boom of upside to any pitcher in the league, but the possibility of it not working out is strong too. Before we know for sure what Chapman's role is going to be, I'll hold off on any insane predictions here. If you have a strikeout guesstimate in mind, double that and add a zero to the end.