Major League Baseball free agency kicks off this weekend, as free agents can begin negotiating with teams at 12:01 am on Saturday. This winter, the Pirates are in the market for at least one starting pitcher: Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano will return to the rotation for sure; Charlie Morton (one more guaranteed season on his contract) and Jeff Locke (arbitration eligible) will presumably be given another shot … Tyler Glasnow will likely be held down in AAA until the middle of the summer … meanwhile, A.J. Burnett is retiring and J.A. Happ is a free agent. The Bucs have dipped into the free agent starter pool often in the past, and there should be options there this winter if they choose to go that route.
Our preliminary rankings for this year’s starting pitching class are below. I’ve broken them down into tiers, using the past three years of performance as a guide. As well as age, I specifically looked at innings pitched, K/9, BB/9, ERA, and WAR (FanGraphs), weighting the more recent seasons more heavily (5/4/3 – a la the Marcel projections). I then calculated each pitcher’s percentile within each category and totaled them, finding some decent results.
This system has its pros and its cons. It was difficult for pitchers who, in particular seasons, pitched very little. It was more difficult for those who didn’t pitch at all. For that reason, I excluded Cliff Lee, Bronson Arroyo (still has a club option out-standing at the time of writing this), Brandon Beachy (also club option), Shaun Marcum, and Chad Billingsley. Lee (whose $27.5 million club option was declined by Philadelphia on Tuesday) hasn’t thrown a pitch since July of 2014, and at age 37, I have no idea where to put him (he’s probably retiring anyway). On the other hand, Marcum, Beachy, and Billingsley didn’t pitch at all in 2014 and sparingly in 2015, and I don’t think they’re worth worrying about right now. I also scratched Brandon Morrow, Sean O’Sullivan, and Rich Hill, who threw 120.2, 108.2, and 73 innings, respectively, in the last three years combined.
Precision was not my utmost intent (hence the tier-based method), and I made adjustments where I saw fit. Below the rankings, there’s an embedded Excel app where you can choose specific players and see their percentile ranks.
– Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia have had their club options exercised.
– Zack Greinke has officially opted out of his current contract with the Dodgers and is a free agent.
– The Royals did not exercise their end of Jeremy Guthrie‘s mutual option, so he is a free agent.
– All the numbers I used can be found via FanGraphs, h/t MLB Trade Rumors.
Without further ado…
These four are undoubtedly the best pitchers available. They also won’t be coming to Pittsburgh.