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What exactly is a #2 starter?

Both on A's Nation and elsewhere in the baseball blogosphere one frequently encounters debates about pitchers being potential #2 or #3 (etc.) starters. Most commonly this shows up in discussions of prospects, but lately I have seen a lot of it in reference to the A's rotation. Usually when I encounter it, I have the feeling people vastly over-estimate just how good a pitcher needs to be to qualify for these designations. It seems like people think of #1 guys as being like Justin Verlander, #2s as almost as good, #3s as being good but unspectacular, #4s as being solid major league pitchers and #5s as being below average.

I decided to check out the actual distribution curve of AL pitchers. To do this, I took the top 84 players (6 per team) ranked by Innings pitched, then sorted them by ERA. The top 14 then were the actual #1s, 15-28 were the #2s and so on.

Of course this is imprecise: a few of the guys with low innings are going to be rotation mainstays next year; and it completely ignores ballpark effects. It promotes a few lucky pitchers and demotes a few unlucky ones. But to be fair, I am not looking for a precise formula, just for a reality check.

Here are the ERA cutoffs for each category (the lowest ERA to make the grade)

#1 3.29 or better

#2 3.74

#3 4.25

#4 4.85

#5 5.52

What did the A's have? Among qualifiers: Two #1 starters (Griffin and McCarthy); three #2 starters (Colon, Parker, and Milone); one #4 (Blackley); and one #6 (Ross).

In addition, Anderson would have been a #1 and Strally a strong #3 had they qualified. (Godfrey would literally have been off the chart - a #8).

Earlier I was reading a post wondering where the A's might get a #2 starter. I guess my answer is, we already have him - perhaps as many as five of them actually.

Of course it is unlikely that all these guys will be among the top 28 starters. Personally, I have my doubts about Colon. But I actually do believe that Anderson, Griffin, Parker, Milone, and Strally are each at least 50% likely to perform at that level or better. I look forward to another season with A's near the top of the pitching leader board, while we whine about strikeout rates and BABIP.

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