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Must-click link: What does a "No. X starter" mean, exactly?

Oct 7, 2010, 3:15 PM EDT

When talking about pitchers and rotations people throw around terms like “No. 1 starter” or “No. 3 starter” constantly because it serves as a sort of common understanding about ability and upside.
However, one of the problems with using that terminology comes when not everyone has the same definition of how great a pitcher has to be to qualify as a “No. 1 starter” or how low the threshold is for a pitcher to fit the bill as a “No. 5 starter.”
Bryan Smith at Fan Graphs crunched the numbers and put together a very interesting, detailed look at exactly how each spot in the rotation tends to perform.
Bryan Smith: Numbers for the Numbered Starters
Many of the results surprised me quite a bit and my main takeaway from the analysis is that people tend to dramatically overstate how good third, fourth, and fifth starters are on most MLB teams.

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Oct 7, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    Any list of aces for 2010 that includes James Shields has to have some type of flaw. Are you kidding me? 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA. He led the league in Hits Allowed, Earned Runs Allowed, and Home Runs Allowed. Yeah he has a nice K/BB and K/9 average, but really…James Shields…Ace? They must have added some points for him being Jewish :)

  2. Joe - Oct 7, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    I had to laugh a few years ago when their were rumors that the Red Sox were going to poach Jake Peavey from the Padres. (The practice of Boston fans coveting San Diego players pre-dates Adrian Gonzalez.) On more than one occasion I heard guys calling in to talk radio. “Wait a second – they’ve already got Beckett and Schilling. Both those guys are supposed to be aces. Peavy’s also a number one. Where are they going to put him? They’ve already got a couple guys who could be number ones. Are they going to pitch him third?”
    I wish I was making that up.

  3. scatterbrian - Oct 7, 2010 at 4:40 PM

    I think you’re right, even though you sound like an ass making your point. There should be a HR/9 component, which would bump Shields out of ace territory.

  4. Glenn - Oct 7, 2010 at 8:01 PM

    I wish you were, too. It’s like they think having three number one pitchers is like having three third basemen. It gets even sillier when they start talking bullpens.

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