Welcome back, Rotoballers! We are now on the fourth edition of Turning Two. If you have missed our other pieces, how dare you. We have discussed who will hit 50 HR, who will rack up 300 K, and who will hit .350. Our next topic flips back to the pitchers. Which pitchers will reach the 20 win mark?
Twenty wins is no easy feat, but it's certainly feasible. Wins are more of an arbitrary number, contingent on numerous external factors. Last year we saw three pitchers join the group (Rick Porcello - 22, Max Scherzer - 20, and J.A. Happ?-20) with four pitchers falling within two wins of reaching 20. There are three main keys to reaching the 20 win mark: a solid IP/GS rate, a strong supporting cast offensively and defensively, and a quality bullpen. They all aren't requirements, but it sure does make life a lot easier.
One of the pitchers in our selections (way to be bold, Ben) has already reached 20 wins in his career, but there are also some young guns who haven't fully made their full mark on the MLB scene. We wanted to avoid the low hanging fruit in the form of studs from Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston. Let's get started!
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Turning Two: Will Any Pitcher Win 20 Games?
Carlos Martinez, STL
Man, I am going to be 2-for-2 with these picks, I am telling you now! CMart is my first one, as he enters 2017 as the Cardinals ace after earning 16 W in 195 IP last season. He kept his ERA just north of 3.00 for the second straight season, and held opponents to a .232 BAA. He was also able to increase his groundball percentage yet again, ending with the fourth highest in the league (56.0 GB%). But enough about him, let's talk about the external factors since we all know Wins is quite an arbitrary stat.
The Cards offense scored the fourth most runs in the league in 2016. This offseason they added veteran switch hitter Dexter Fowler to roam centerfield and hit atop the lineup followed by hopefully full healthy seasons out of Aledmys Diaz, Matt Carpenter, and Jhonny Peralta, all of whom were lost to injury for at least a month each last year. This is certainly a team that is poised for a solid year, and don't get me started on that bullpen! Seung Hwan Oh following up a stellar "rookie" season, Rosenthal and Broxton, and then a three headed monster of LHP consisting of Brett Cecil, Kevin Siegrist, and Zach Duke. You give this crew a lead in the 7th inning, they ain't giving it up. Martinez will crest the 200 inning mark this year, and with the new offense and improved bullpen, he is going to get those four extra dubs.
Ben: Martinez has two-straight seasons now with a sub-3.10 ERA, and should go over 200 innings for the first time this season. The Cardinals committed the sixth most errors in the league last season, but if Martinez continues pitching this well 20 wins is well within his grasp.
Marcus Stroman, TOR
I am so damn confident in this pick. Even more so then when I made it last year.... In 2016 Stroman just suffered awful luck. He pitched the 11th most innings in baseball, and out of the top 16 only David Price had a higher BABIP. Out of the top 20 IP, Stroman owned the lowest left on base percentage. Out of the top 30 IP, Stroman owned the highest HR/FB%. You can't make this stuff up. I mean in his 14 starts after the All-Star break, he only earned two wins, yet boasted a 3.01 xFIP with almost a strikeout per inning. I am literally shaking my head as I am writing this. Ridiculous luck.
Stroman is the TOP groundball starting pitcher in the bigs. Which is awesome because he has a top 10 defense behind him thanks to veterans Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. Devon Travis is alright too, I guess. The bullpen might look very weak after losing Brett Cecil, Drew Storen, and Joaquin Benoit, but I like what the Blue Jays got going on in there. Roberto Osuna is arguably a top-five closer in the league, and they now have a TON of experience leading up to the 9th inning, including Jason Grilli, Joe Smith, J.P. Howell, and Aaron Loup. Lock it in, Marcus Stroman will win 20 games this year. Did you guys not see what he did to those team Dominican Republic bats in the WBC? This kid has the stuff.
Ben: Stroman made some improvements in the second half last season, but will still need to get his Hard and Soft hit percentages back in order. If he fixes that and lowers his BB/9 to his rookie season levels, then I’ll be more of a believer in this selection.
Justin Verlander, DET
The former 20-game winner got back on track last season, after a triceps injury hindered his 2015 production. He made 34 starts last season, throwing a league-leading 27 quality starts. He was top-four in the league last season in K-BB% (21.8 percent), K% (28.1 percent), and batting average against (.204). He posted his highest K/9 at 10.04 since 2009, when it was at 10.09. His 3.04 ERA was the 11th lowest in the league among qualified starters, however his microscopic second half ERA of 1.96 is the real eye opener. Over his final 18 starts, he only allowed more than two runs twice, and failed to pitch at least six innings only twice.
Heading into his age-34 season, Verlander still has plenty left in the tank. He can still touch 98 with his fastball, and mixes his pitches extremely well. Even when he allowed hitters to make contact last season, the seven guys behind him gave him all the help they could. The Tigers committed the third fewest errors in the league last season with a big help from Jose Iglesias, who led all shortstops last season with a .991 fielding percentage. The offense scored the 11th most runs in the majors last season, and will now have a healthy Nick Castellanos and J.D. Martinez back in the lineup. If he can continue his second half success, 20 wins seems likely for the ace.
JB: I got nothin'. Dominant Verlander is back. Nice park, great offense, good defense, bullpen that performs above their skill level, and a rubber elbow that can throw for dayssss. Only thing that could stop him from hitting 20 W is a fluctuation against his favor in HR/FB%. He posted the lowest GB/FB% of his career in '16. Giving up that amount of flyballs is living dangerously.
Tanner Roark, WAS
Roark may be a surprising choice for this exercise, but J.A. Happ showed us last season that a good but not elite pitcher in the right situation can still rack up the wins. Roark got a starting rotation spot back last season after appearing out of the bullpen for the majority of 2015. He started 33 games, 22 of which were quality starts. He held a 2.83 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, while throwing a career high 210 innings. He may have sported a 2.36 K/BB ratio, but Roark was a master at limiting quality contact last season. He held hitters to a .225 average thanks to a Soft Hit% of 23.1 percent, the third highest rate in the league. On top of that, his Hard Hit% of 24.3 percent was the lowest rate among all qualified starters. The mediocre contact fueled his 48.7 percent GB%, as well as his 9.4 percent HR/FB rate which was fifth among starters.
The lack of strikeouts and the 79.4 percent contact rate mean plenty of balls get put in play. However, the Nationals stellar defense limits the damage done. They committed the second fewest errors in the league last season, and will be replacing the error-prone Danny Espinosa with the more defensively responsible Trea Turner. A strong bullpen is also huge for a pitcher earning wins, and the Nationals bullpen held the second lowest ERA last season at 3.37. On top of all of that, the Nationals boast a top-10 team offensively; they have been in the top-10 in runs scored each of the past three seasons.
JB: To be fair I do think Tanner Roark is a nice pitcher, and I would certainly take him in the back end of my fantasy rotation. But if anyone is expecting the same output we saw last season, I'll take what they're drinking. In 2015, Roark owned a 4.38 ERA. Last season he owned the sexy 2.83 ERA. Both seasons had the exact same 4.17 xFIP. The batted ball statistics were almost identical, the pitch type percentages were close enough, and the velocities were the same. Which season is legit and which one is the outlier? I can't honestly say. I will note that the bullpen is very underrated for 2017, led by Shawn Kelley, Koda Glover and Joe Blanton. The names aren't flashy, but I expect good seasons out of all three.