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Starting Pitcher Rankings: Chris Sale and Jose Quintana maintain status

Jeff Samardzija, on the other hand ...

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We checked in on Bill James' Starting Pitcher Rankings at the All-Star break, but we didn't do so at the end of the season. The day after Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to remedy it.

If you missed that post or hadn't heard of the rankings, James devised a tool to evaluate starting pitchers and give them the same treatment as professional golfers or tennis players. Clayton Kershaw is No. 1. He's been No. 1 for a while, and it'll be a big deal when he's no longer at the top. That's kinda what he's going for, and it's a fun idea.

If you're interested in the details behind the rankings, here's an excerpt from last year's Bill James Handbook:

The system is based on Game Scores. An average Game Score is 50; a really, really bad game is zero, and a fantastically good game is 100. 30% of the Game Score is added to the player's score every time he pitches, so that a pitch picks up 15 points if he just has a decent, ordinary type game -- a borderline Quality Start, let's say. Each starting pitcher starts at 300 when he makes his first major league start (300.000), and a player can't go below 300, but with each start he also loses 3% of his previous score -- so, for example, if a pitcher racks up a "50" in his first major league start, his score goes from 300 to 306; 300, times .97, plus 50 times .30.

As long as a pitcher pitches well, his score moves upward from 300. When he pitches poorly, his score moves down. There is more to the system than that, of course; this isn't the place to get into every detail. There are park adjustments, and a pitcher's score goes down if he doesn't start on schedule, and goes down more rapidly if he doesn't make a start for several weeks. The won-lost record doesn't play into it; pitching 7 innings with 2 runs in a win is the same as pitching 7 innings with 2 runs in a loss.

And if you want more detail, you can find it on his site.

At any rate, when eyeballing where the White Sox stood at the end-of-season rankings, two things jumped out.

Good news: The White Sox are one of five teams with two pitchers in the top 25 under contract, and the only one in the American League.

Bad news: They had three pitchers in the top 25 at the start of the season.

Chris Sale finished at No. 6, holding his ground as one of the league's best, and Jose Quintana continued his tooth-and-nail climb toward national exposure by reaching No. 21. The other teams with two:

  • Cubs: Jake Arrieta (No. 4) and Jon Lester (No. 10)
  • Nationals: Max Scherzer (No. 3) and Stephen Strasburg (No. 13)
  • Padres: Tyson Ross (No. 18) and James Shields (No. 20)
  • Pirates: Francisco Liriano (No. 24) and Gerrit Cole (No. 25)

Jeff Samardzija gave the Sox a third top-25 pitcher, but his awful August was captured by the rankings, as he had the most precipitous fall for a pitcher who stayed healthy all season.

Nevertheless, he wouldn't have counted toward this measure, just like Zack Greinke (No. 2), David Price (No. 6), Johnny Cueto (No. 14) and Jordan Zimmermann (No. 17) don't for their 2015 employers. Should one of those pitchers end up with an AL team, the White Sox' rotation boast could be short-lived. At least Sale and Quintana will come (much) cheaper.

Anyway, here's how the Sox starting staff fared by James' rankings:

End 2014 Start 2015
Break Finish
Chris Sale 5 (560.8) 6 (516.8) 3 (570.2) 7 (555.6)
Jeff Samardzija 19 (517) 18 (473.0) 16 (498.9) 42 (473.3)
Jose Quintana 28 (495.5) 27 (451.8) 23 (484.1) 21 (505.6)
John Danks 110 (416.9) 105 (372.9) 105 (393.8) 84 (424.2)
Carlos Rodon NR NR 156 (355.7 108 (408.7)


Sale: The Condor dropped a couple spots in the rankings, and some of it was his own doing -- his 4.33 ERA would be captured in game scores, even if he was able to diminish the adverse effects with strikeouts. But even if he had allowed a more normal amount of runs by his standards, he might not have been able to hold off Zack Greinke (who went from 10th to second) or Jake Arrieta (who shot from 63rd to fourth).

Samardzija: While he disappointed in the first half, his ERA wasn't awful (4.02), especially for the impresssive amount of innings (125). As a result, he was actually able to climb three spots in the rankings, as there was a lot of fluctuation in that range of pitchers. Then he collapsed in the second half. It's hard to lose that much ground in a season, much less a half, when injury isn't an issue. The pitchers in that territory who did -- Adam Wainwright, Jered Weaver and Doug Fister -- all missed a significant amount of starts.

Quintana: While he didn't deserve to be overshadowed by Samardzija at the start of the season, he didn't have the starting pitcher rankings in his favor. Now he does. He's on the same block with more exciting pitchers like Sonny Gray, Jacob deGrom, Chris Archer and Cole, Neighbors say he keeps to himself.

Danks: He had the biggest climb of the four horsemen despite the least exciting season, but when it gets towards No. 100, you can get a lot of credit for being unexciting but around. Make 30 starts in consecutive seasons, and the guys with abbreviated seasons (Ervin Santana, Brandon McCarthy) and collapses (Bud Norris, Mat Latos) will float by in the other direction.

Rodon: Hopefully we'll see what it's like when a pitcher ranked around No. 100 has a standout season.