Revisiting 2018 AL East Position Rankings: Starting rotation, bullpen, manager - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Paul Folkemer

Revisiting 2018 AL East Position Rankings: Starting rotation, bullpen, manager

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

It’s time for the grand finale of my end-of-season 2018 AL East position rankings. In Part 1, I reviewed the infields. Part 2 covered the outfields, DHs and benches.

So far, the Orioles have ranked last in six categories. There are three categories left: starting rotation, bullpen and manager. How many more last-place rankings will the Orioles pile up? (Spoiler alert: All three of them.)

For reference, here are my preseason rankings for these categories.

Rotation

Preseason rankings:

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Blue Jays
  4. Rays
  5. Orioles

The Red Sox and Yankees were both top-heavy in their rotation; each club had three pitchers make 27 or more starts but used a revolving door for the remaining spots. The Sox were led by Chris Sale, who posted his usual dominant numbers, going 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA and 237 strikeouts. His 13.5 strikeouts-per-nine rate would have led the AL, but he fell four innings short of qualifying because of shoulder inflammation that landed him on the DL. Behind Sale, former Cy Young winners David Price (16-7, 3.58) and Rick Porcello (17-7, 4.28) boosted the Sox.

The Yankees got solid performances out of their top three of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia — especially ace Severino, who was 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA — but Sonny Gray was a disappointment in his first full year in pinstripes. Gray had a 4.90 ERA and 11-9 record in 30 games (23 starts), and his numbers would surely be worse if he hadn’t gotten to feast on the lowly Orioles five times, going 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA against them. July acquisition J.A. Happ, though, was a great addition for the stretch run. He was a perfect 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA.

It’s tricky to rank the Rays’ starters because, well, they completely changed the definition of a starting pitcher. Their “opener” strategy, in which they used a reliever for the first inning or two before turning to a more traditional multi-inning guy, was met with skepticism at first but turned out a huge success, already leading other teams to copy the Rays’ approach. Tampa Bay starters (including openers) had the third-best ERA in the AL, albeit with 200 fewer innings pitched than any other team. Of course, they didn’t need any unconventional approaches with ace Blake Snell, who made himself a Cy Young frontrunner with the AL lead in wins (21) and ERA (1.89) while racking up 221 strikeouts.

The Blue Jays, on paper, opened the season with a solid group of veteran starters. But as they say, the game isn’t played on paper. Every member of their rotation underperformed or got hurt — or both. Marco Estrada was the only pitcher with more than 25 starts, and he had a 5.64 ERA. By the end of the season, four-fifths of their rotation was comprised of pitchers who had started the year in the minors. All told, Toronto’s starters’ ERA was 5.14, which would have ranked last in the division if not for…

…the flailing Orioles. Their 5.48 rotation ERA was the worst in all of baseball, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who watched them on a daily basis. Their three main starters — Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb — combined for a 17-46 record and 5.23 ERA. The Orioles lost at least 20 games started by each of those three hurlers. Fourteen pitchers made a start for the 2018 Orioles, and none of them had an ERA better than 4.43, which was Kevin Gausman’s mark before he was traded to Atlanta. It doesn’t get much uglier than that.

End-of-season rankings:

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Rays
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

Bullpen

Preseason rankings:

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Orioles
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Rays

The Yankees’ bullpen was every bit as dominant as I expected it to be. They had four pitchers who made at least 55 appearances and averaged more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings — David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Chad Green and closer Aroldis Chapman — and all had an ERA of 3.23 or lower. The Red Sox, too, boasted a ton of strikeout artists, including Matt Barnes (14 K/9), Heath Hembree (11.4), Joe Kelly (9.3) and closer Craig Kimbrel (13.9). Boston’s crew, though, tended to be more hittable than New York’s.

The Rays’ relief ERA was a solid 3.80, but again, those numbers are skewed, because their use of the opener blurs the lines between starters and relievers. Right-hander Ryne Stanek, for instance, made 30 relief appearances along with 29 “starts.” Even closer Sergio Romo started five games. Still, most of their pitchers were pretty good, no matter what inning they appeared. Stanek (2.98 ERA), lefty Jose Alvarado (2.39) and ex-Oriole Chaz Roe (3.58) provided capable relief, but Romo was only 25-for-33 in save opportunities.

The Blue Jays’ most used relievers were the good but not great Tyler Clippard and Ryan Tepera. Nobody in the Jays’ bullpen really stood out besides veteran Seunghwan Oh, who was traded at the deadline. Speaking of trades, the Orioles dealt away nearly all their veteran relievers, including Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day (who was injured at the time). That left them with a threadbare group for the last two months, although Mychal Givens acclimated himself well to the closer role.

End-of-season rankings:

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Rays
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

Manager

Preseason rankings:

  1. Buck Showalter, Orioles
  2. John Gibbons, Blue Jays
  3. Kevin Cash, Rays
  4. Alex Cora, Red Sox
  5. Aaron Boone, Yankees

For my money, no manager in baseball did more with less than Cash, who deftly squeezed a 90-win season out of a no-name Rays’ roster that was in constant turnover. Cash’s ability to help implement the “opener” pitching strategy, and to get his team to buy into it, showed he was both forward-thinking and a respected leader in the clubhouse. First-time skippers Cora and Boone both enjoyed 100-win seasons in their managerial debuts, which is no easy feat, even with stacked rosters. Cora in particular was a perfect fit for the Red Sox, leading them to a franchise-record 108 regular season wins.

It’s a very different story, unfortunately, for the final two AL East managers, both of whom are now unemployed. The Blue Jays parted ways with Gibbons (for the second time) after the club went 73-89, opting to look for another manager to guide their rebuild. As for Showalter, he’s always been the No. 1 manager in my rankings for as long as I’ve been writing them. But presiding over a 115-loss season — tied for fourth-worst in modern MLB history — certainly changes that opinion. The Orioles had little choice but to go in a different direction, as I wrote just before Showalter’s departure was made official.

End-of-season rankings:

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  1. Cash, Rays
  2. Cora, Red Sox
  3. Boone, Yankees
  4. Gibbons, Blue Jays
  5. Showalter, Orioles

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. cedar

    October 17, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks for revisiting and re-ranking the positions. It’s telling that the”highlight” of these three posts was the infield as they were the only group to not finish every slot ranked last. Next year I can hope that the positions may start at or near the bottom but by the end of 2019 we can see measured improvement.

  2. Jacobs1928

    October 18, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    Excellent!!!

  3. willmiranda

    October 19, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    Thanks for another sharp and gutsy report. I once thought of consistency as a virtue, but the Orioles are making me rethink that.

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