We just performed this exercise for position players; now, we’ll look at the best-performing starters who inked minor-league pacts last winter. With a helpful head start from many of the commenters in the above post, I’ve identified the rotation pieces that couldn’t get 40-man spots in the offseason but have nevertheless emerged as useful big league performers in 2018.
Unlike the group of hitters, many of the names that will appear below also showed up on our early-season glance at minor-league signees from the starting pitching ranks. Indeed, every member of the original list warrants some mention here.
Without further ado …
- Dereck Rodriguez, Giants: The bonanza of the 2017-18 minor-league class, Rodriguez has been one of the most impressive rookie starters in all of baseball despite being allowed to reach minor-league free agency last fall by the Twins. It’s unlikely he’s a true-talent 2.34 ERA pitcher — in particular, it seems doubtful he’ll continue to hold opposing hitters to a .264 BABIP and 5.7% home run rate — but he’s certainly producing quality peripherals (3.14 FIP / 4.01 xFIP / 4.08 SIERA). In any event, warning about regression for Rodriguez is like somewhat akin to raising concerns with the futures market for gold after your neighbor discovers a lode in her backyard. The Giants can count their found fortune later; for now, it’s enough that they’ve already received a huge contribution from Rodriguez and control him for six more seasons to come.
- Wade LeBlanc, Mariners: Though he signed a MLB deal with Seattle just before the start of the season, that was a minimal commitment ($650K) that was only handed out after LeBlanc had been released from his minors pact with the Yankees. Accordingly, we’ll consider him a part of the field. LeBlanc pitched so well in the first half of the year that he landed a rare mid-season extension. The results haven’t been as good since, but LeBlanc still owns a strong 3.81 ERA through 113 1/3 innings with 7.1 K/9 against just 1.8 BB/9.
- Derek Holland, Giants: Though he hasn’t produced bottom-line results as impressive as those maintained by Rodriguez or some others on the list, Holland is filling up innings with solid overall outcomes for San Francisco. He’s now through 124 2/3 frames of 3.97 ERA ball; this is already his most productive season since way back in 2013. This still isn’t the pre-injury version of Holland. He once threw about two miles an hour harder, after all. But he’s carrying a career-high 10.7% swinging-strike rate this year and now seems in line for a major-league contract next winter.
- Jeremy Hellickson, Nationals: It’s sobering to think about how an already-tough Nats season would look without Hellickson. He’s carrying a 3.54 ERA through 84 innings, with 6.6 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 along with a 46.2% groundball rate. Unsurprisingly, ERA estimators value him more as a low-4’s type of pitcher, but that’s still a useful back-of-the-rotation piece.
- Anibal Sanchez, Braves: Given the depth and duration of his struggles in recent seasons, it’s all the more surprising to see Sanchez performing so well. He has finally gotten a hold on the homer problems that plagued him. Though he’s certainly benefiting from an unsustainable .243 BABIP-against in producing his sparkling 2.83 ERA over 86 frames, Sanchez’s contributions to date are valued in the high-3 ERA-equivalent range by estimators. He has been exactly what the Braves needed for a youthful staff.
- Clay Buchholz, Diamondbacks: Long a talented pitcher when things are clicking, Buchholz has been on since heading to Arizona. He’s through 64 frames with a 2.67 ERA. Though regression seems in store, and his velocity is well off his peak levels, Buchholz is getting whiffs at nearly a career-high rate.
- Edwin Jackson, Athletics: It’s only eight starts, but they’ve been awfully useful ones. The veteran hurler has given the A’s 47 frames of 2.87 ERA pitching since finding his way to the organization in the middle of the season. ERA estimators don’t really think he has pitched that well, as he’s sporting a 4.01 FIP, 4.45 xFIP, and 4.57 SIERA. The Oakland ballclub, too, surely knows that Jackson — like some of its other veteran hurlers — can’t be relied upon to keep up his current level of production, which helps explain the recent addition of Mike Fiers and a slew of relief pitchers. Still, Jackson has already made a nice contribution since joining his record-tying 13th MLB team.
- Tyson Ross, Padres/Cardinals: When last we looked, Ross had a 3.28 ERA in 35 2/3 innings. He has faded since, but still gave the Padres 22 starts and 123 1/3 frames of 4.45 ERA ball on the whole. Ross has shown some hints of his vintage skillset at times this year, but hasn’t sustained it over full outings or a full season as a starter. Now, it seems, he’ll be viewed as some kind of hybrid reliever in St. Louis, perhaps offering an opportunity to unlock some hidden value for the 31-year-old.
- Honorable Mention: There are a few more hurlers who’ll surely come to mind for some, but who I felt didn’t deserve full features. Wade Miley has a 2.10 ERA for the Brewers, but it’s only over 34 1/3 innings and the peripherals aren’t very appealing. Brett Anderson (Athletics), Yovani Gallardo and Austin Bibens-Dirkx (Rangers) have given some innings, but not enough or good enough to warrant inclusion. The age-defying Bartolo Colon has certainly reached some notable milestones and compiled some frames, filling up 130 1/3 for the Rangers, but really has not been very effective. Trevor Cahill quite likely would have ended up on this list, but he waited things out and landed an MLB deal late in Spring Training. As Jeff Sullivan wrote recently, that has panned out quite nicely for the Athletics.
So, who’d I miss? Let me know in the comments!