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Labeling Pitchers Beyond Rotation Values

In my process of learning the in's and out's of baseball over the last few years, there have been things that bug me. One is that people are annoyed when you call their favorite prospect a future #3 starter. I always knew that being a "#3" was rare but how could I classify that? Well, I couldn't, so I just moved on and let it eat at me. That's how I get so obsessed with things, but it's also how I do what I do.

Now I have figured out how the lower minors work, how they lead to the upper levels and what it takes to make it to the majors. Now, I had enough data and knowledge to find what makes a major leaguer successful. I can now tell you how rare that "#3 starter" actually is, along with a lot more information.

I used data from 1961-2012 for my analysis at the big league level. I used the same theory as I did with minor leaguers, only I included everyone in the calculations. Oddly enough, the basic numbers are pretty similar.

There are 27 different categories for pitchers. This is the list of them and how frequently they are found in the majors.

PPP 0.27%
PPA 0.40%
PPB 0.02%
PAP 6.11%
PAA 8.65%
PAB 0.06%
PBP 1.11%
PBA 1.11%
APP 0.78%
APA 2.65%
APB 0.20%
AAP 7.80%
AAA 26.89%
AAB 1.50%
ABP 2.14%
ABA 5.05%
ABB 0.18%
BPP 0.92%
BPA 1.38%
BPB 0.87%
BAP 4.39%
BAA 10.66%
BAB 4.85%
BBP 2.97%
BBA 5.41%
BBB 3.65%
PBB*             0.00%

Some categories have a wider base of players but many of these categories are very specific. Below is short synopsis of what type of player fits in each of category and some basic info about each group.

PPP: Only 68 player seasons have fit into this category since 1961. Sandy Koufax owns four of them, as does Johan Santana. Curt Schilling has 6 of them, Justin Verlander owns three and Pedro Martinez leads with SEVEN.

PPA: 103 seasons have fit into this area. In 2012, Jeff Samardzija, Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Yu Darvish fit into this category. It's not as elite as PPP but it is a very rare group. These are the players I would consider aces or #1 starters.

PPB: Since 1961, only 6 seasons have fit in this category. Four of them are Nolan Ryan and two belonged to Randy Johnson.

PAP: 1568 player seasons fit in this category, or about one per team per year. While not being evenly distributed, these are the pitchers we would typically consider #2 and #3 starters. They are the players that eat innings, K a handful each game and don't walk many players. In 2012, there were 37 of them. They included good pitchers like King Felix and Madison Bumgarner but also included Tom Milone and Scott Diamond. Both Milone and Diamond will likely not repeat this feat.

PAA: There are usually about 44 of these pitchers per season and are also in th #2/#3 starter range. They eat innings, K some and walk a handful as well. They are the same as PAP will less command, essentially.

PAB: Only 15 players have fit in this category. Most recently Daniel Cabrera in 2006. In the past, Bobby Witt, J.R. Richard and Nolan Ryan have fit in this category. They are players that will typically log more than 100 BB in a season but still be effective. It's a rare group due to the unusual skill set. 

PBP: Another rare class that includes just 285 player seasons since 1961. It is even more rare recently, only occuring 27 times since 1995. Amazingly enough, 9 of those 27 have been Twins, five alone have belonged to Carlos Silva. This is a rare class that is hard to replicate succesfully, although the Twins continue to try. Bill Gullickson is the only other player to repeat this consistently in the majors.

PBA: The innings eater with a low strikout rate, while commanding the strike zone adequately is a successful pitcher. It would likely be labeled a #3 because of how many innings they pitch but they are not a high end pitcher. Only 285 pitchers have had seasons like this since 1961. It has only occured 23 times since the turn of the century.

PBB: Does not exist. No one will let this wild throwing K-less guy pitch enough innings.

APP: Last year had 26 players in this category. It took from 1961 to 1990 to have the first 26 players in this category. It encompassed most of the "closers" from those days. Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Moose Haas, Goose Gossage and later Dennis Eckersley, Tom Henke and  Jeff Montgomery and Lee Smith. Now, it's the best relievers, mostly closers.

APA: This class is mostly dominant relievers but occasionally has high ends starters who have injuries or partial seasons for some reason. Last year there were 61 players that fit in this class. Just for prespective, it took from 1961-1984 to reach 61 players in this class. From 2008-2011, each year had about 40. This is a growing category and it has ramped up lately. Hell, there were only 52 in all of the 1980's. These are players, that if I needed a starter, I'd try in the rotation.

APB: Impact arms sometimes have control problems. These are those players. Armando Benitez, John Rocker, Derrick Turnbow, Carlos Marmol. Only 52 player seasons fit here since 1961. 32 of them have been since 2000.

AAP: This is another huge category. It encompasses middle relievers and back of the rotation pitchers for the most part. Players in this group that are under 25 have more potential than the rest. These players are slightly higher on the spectrum than the AAA players simply due to better command.

AAA: This is the bulk of the back of the roation reliever talent. Over the last 15 years there have been 150-200 of these pitcher each year. That's amounts to about 1/3 of all the players in the majors each year.

AAB: These are the average players that lack command. Players along the lines of Oliver Perez, Gio Gonzalez before he figured it out, Jon Sanchez, Sam Deduno, Daniel Bard and the like. Only 384 since 1961 fit in this category.

ABP: These are the players that are PBP players on their off years. These are replacement level players essentially. Nick Blackburn and Aaron Cook were last years members.

ABA: These are the AAA players that don't K enough players. These guys are high groundball rate guys or they are off to pasture. Derek Lowe and Chien Ming Wang are two of the 2012 examples.

ABB: This is what happens when the wheels fall off and the team tries to let them work it out…Only 45 players fit here since 1961. Only 3 since 2000. Daniel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis are the last two.

BPP: These are typically specialists. They have strong K and BB rates and typically pitch less than an inning per appearance.

BPA: This class covers specialists that don't have great command. Many young future starters who just get a handful of starts fit in this group.

BPB: An odd combination of players. Most of these guys have the potential to be closers and high end relievers but need to gain command to be dependable players long term.

BAP: Dependable usable relievers. Nothing special. Just guys but at least they have good command.

BAA: Only middle relievers. Nothing more.

BAB: Only middle relievers with below average command. Nothing more.

BBP: Only middle relievers with good command and poor K rates. Nothing more.

BBA: Probably shouldn't be in the bigs..

BBB: Probably shouldn't be in the bigs..

To sum this up, less than 1% of MLB pitchers would be ace level or #1 starters. About 17% are #2 and #3 starters. So when someone says that they could be a #3 starter, they are predicting that they will be in the top 18% of MLB pitchers.

I hope that using these labels going forward help to delineate these titles more than just randomly assigning them.


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