2014 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Pitchers (#16-#30)

What do we have here? For an explanation of this series, please read this introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position. The author writing this post did not move your team down ten spots in order to make you angry. We don’t hate your team. I promise.

Jeff already rolled out the Top 15 this morning, so here’s the second half of the starting pitching list. As with this morning, here’s the chart, though we will talk about the right side of things in this post.

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Again, keep the separation in mind more than the ranking itself, as you can see from the graph that there’s a big chunk of teams from #11-#23 that aren’t all that different. And, as Jeff noted, some teams that are transitioning relievers into the rotation will be overrated by the forecasts, which are still going to have relief pitcher projections stretched out to starting pitcher innings totals. These aren’t perfect, and we don’t pretend that they are. Take them as an overview, not gospel, and realize that with this many moving parts, there’s a huge amount of variance around all these forecasts. Projecting pitching is hard.

#16 White Sox


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Chris Sale 198.0 9.6 2.3 1.0 .305 74.8 % 3.31 3.23 4.6
Jose Quintana 194.0 7.1 2.9 1.1 .302 71.9 % 4.12 4.09 3.0
Erik Johnson 160.0 7.2 3.8 1.2 .304 70.0 % 4.75 4.65 1.0
John Danks 150.0 6.1 2.8 1.5 .303 69.0 % 4.95 4.82 0.7
Felipe Paulino 92.0 8.6 3.8 1.2 .306 71.9 % 4.44 4.35 1.0
Andre Rienzo 65.0 6.8 4.7 1.2 .306 69.0 % 5.21 5.03 0.1
Charlie Leesman 38.0 6.6 5.6 1.4 .312 67.7 % 5.92 5.65 -0.1
Dylan Axelrod 38.0 5.9 3.4 1.4 .309 68.5 % 5.32 5.10 0.1
Nestor Molina 20.0 5.3 3.0 1.5 .310 66.7 % 5.55 5.24 0.0
Total 953.0 7.5 3.3 1.2 .305 70.9 % 4.44 4.34 10.5

The White Sox rotation is somewhat like the Mariners, just without the same flashy prospects. Sale and Quintana are excellent, with Sale being especially excellent, and they are projected to produce about 70% of the rotation’s total value. The drop-off from #2 to #3 is very steep, however, and unless Don Cooper has figured out how to keep Felipe Paulino’s arm in good working order, there isn’t a lot of upside here.

Erik Johnson put up some flashy numbers in the minors last year, and has generated some excitement based on his and his Triple-A results, but the forecasts are very skeptical about his ability to be a quality big league starter in the short term. In a short stint in the big leagues last year, he didn’t show the same ability to get strikeouts as he had in the minors, and he showed nothing against left-handed hitters to suggest that he can work through a line-up stacked with them on a regular basis. There’s certainly potential for growth, but for 2014, he probably shouldn’t be counted on as an impact guy.

Their best hope to outperform this projection is probably from getting a resurgent Danks to look more like the pitcher he was before his shoulder gave out, and that’s a dicey proposition. His peripherals were actually okay last year, as it was primarily home runs that drove down his value, and some positive regression on the home run rate could make him a decent back-end starter. But shoulder surgery returnees have a terrible track record, and even if Danks does defy the odds, he’s probably mid-season trade bait.

#17 Reds


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Johnny Cueto   168.0 7.0 2.4 0.8 .295 73.7 % 3.46 3.66 2.1
Homer Bailey   202.0 7.8 2.3 1.1 .297 73.2 % 3.67 3.70 2.6
Mike Leake 171.0 6.0 2.2 1.1 .297 71.2 % 4.10 4.17 1.2
Tony Cingrani 157.0 10.2 3.8 1.1 .291 77.8 % 3.43 3.80 2.0
Alfredo Simon 38.0 6.9 2.9 1.0 .295 72.8 % 3.87 4.14 0.3
Brett Marshall 38.0 6.7 4.4 1.6 .297 69.7 % 5.34 5.46 -0.3
Jeff Francis 19.0 6.4 2.3 1.2 .300 70.1 % 4.36 4.31 0.1
David Holmberg   9.0 5.9 3.5 1.4 .295 69.9 % 4.91 5.05 0.0
Mat Latos   158.0 8.0 2.5 1.0 .296 73.9 % 3.55 3.59 2.3
Total 960.0 7.6 2.7 1.1 .295 73.5 % 3.75 3.89 10.2

With perfect health, this is probably a top 10 rotation, as there are really no obvious weak spots one through five. Latos, Cueto, and Bailey are a pretty nifty top three, and nobody has yet figured out how to hit Tony Cingrani’s singular pitch. If you give each of these guys 30+ starts, and Mike Leake takes the hill every fifth day to throw strikes, the Reds rotation is a strong one, and they are legitimate playoff contenders.

The problem is that this is not a collection of guys you can write in for 30 starts apiece, and there is basically nothing after the starting five that a contender should want to roll out on a regular basis. Because of the recurring injury problems that Cueto and Latos especially have battled throughout their careers, too many innings are likely to be handed to replacement level fill-ins, dragging down the rotation’s overall performance. And without a true dominating #1 at the top, weaknesses at the back end can turn what should be a good rotation into an average one pretty fast.

#18 Blue Jays


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Mark Buehrle 205.0 5.7 2.2 1.2 .303 70.6 % 4.40 4.39 1.9
R.A. Dickey 183.0 7.1 2.6 1.3 .294 72.7 % 4.09 4.26 2.3
Brandon Morrow 161.0 8.7 3.3 1.2 .307 72.8 % 4.14 4.04 2.2
Drew Hutchison 159.0 7.5 3.4 1.2 .306 70.7 % 4.49 4.38 1.5
Dustin McGowan 75.0 8.9 4.1 1.0 .307 73.8 % 3.99 4.07 0.9
J.A. Happ   66.0 7.7 3.9 1.3 .304 71.4 % 4.62 4.54 0.7
Esmil Rogers 47.0 6.8 3.3 1.2 .311 69.1 % 4.81 4.53 0.3
Todd Redmond 20.0 7.3 3.0 1.7 .303 71.2 % 4.97 5.04 0.1
Marcus Stroman 19.0 8.4 2.6 1.4 .306 71.6 % 4.32 4.16 0.2
Ricky Romero 9.0 6.0 4.9 1.2 .305 68.5 % 5.36 5.25 0.0
Total 944.0 7.3 3.0 1.2 .303 71.6 % 4.33 4.31 10.1

I’m not sure there’s a higher variance rotation anywhere in baseball. For nearly every pitcher on this team, you could make a somewhat compelling case for almost any outcome. Mark Buehrle has a long track record of consistently outperforming his peripherals, and his peripherals aren’t terrible; he’s also a 35 year old with an 84 mph fastball in Toronto. R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young two years ago, but he was basically an average pitcher last year and turned 39 at the end of last year. Brandon Morrow is a longtime enigma. Drew Hutchison is a rookie working his way back from Tommy John surgery. Dustin McGowan’s arm is held together with scotch tape; not even the good kind, the cheap generic version you get at the dollar store.

So, yeah, maybe the Blue Jays rotation will be average. Or maybe it will be amazing. Or maybe it will be terrible. I have no idea. This feels like an optimistic forecast, but then again, these guys all have talent and some track record of success. It wouldn’t be that weird if Dickey’s knuckler went back to being incredible, Buehrle outperformed his FIP, and a couple of top prospects finally were healthy enough to show why they were top prospects. It also just wouldn’t be that weird if soft-tossing senior citizens got lit up and broken pitchers stayed broken. This rotation is basically just one big bag of who the hell knows.

#19 Royals


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
James Shields 214.0 7.9 2.5 0.9 .306 73.1 % 3.66 3.60 3.9
Jason Vargas 191.0 5.8 2.5 1.4 .289 71.0 % 4.52 4.71 1.2
Jeremy Guthrie 171.0 5.0 2.6 1.2 .301 70.1 % 4.65 4.73 1.0
Bruce Chen 157.0 6.1 2.8 1.4 .293 73.0 % 4.36 4.69 1.3
Yordano Ventura 138.0 7.8 3.8 0.9 .304 72.0 % 4.14 4.14 1.6
Danny Duffy 57.0 8.7 4.2 1.0 .303 74.4 % 3.87 4.02 0.7
Kyle Zimmer   28.0 8.2 3.8 1.2 .302 71.4 % 4.40 4.36 0.3
Wade Davis 9.0 7.7 3.1 1.0 .312 73.2 % 3.98 3.96 0.1
John Lamb 9.0 4.8 3.1 1.4 .309 67.6 % 5.43 5.24 0.0
Total 977.0 6.7 2.9 1.2 .299 72.0 % 4.24 4.33 10.0

The projections are relatively high on the young Royals arms, giving solid forecasts to not only Yordano Ventura, but also to Danny Duffy. Duffy, in fact, is forecast to be the team’s second best starting pitcher, or, he would be if he hadn’t been optioned to Triple-A the other day. Still, as a #6 starter with some upside, most teams are expected to do a lot worse, and Duffy’s positive projections have to be taken as a good sign for the organization’s future.

It’s just that the #2-#4 spots are something of a real problem. Between Vargas, Chen, and Guthrie, the Royals have invested a sizable portion of their moderate payroll on veterans to stabilize the rotation, only the forecasts think that they’re basically just all in the way of better hurlers. Yes, they all have some history of posting better ERAs than FIPs, so the WAR forecasts here probably underrate them each a little bit, but even going by ERA, this isn’t exactly a stellar group for a team that has its eyes on a playoff berth. There’s nothing wrong with having a guy like Vargas, Chen, or Guthrie around, but three of them seems a bit like overkill, especially since Duffy will now have to wait for one of them to get injured in order to make the rotation better.

#20 Angels


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jered Weaver 207.0 7.1 2.3 1.2 .287 75.0 % 3.68 4.02 2.7
C.J. Wilson 203.0 7.9 3.5 0.8 .305 72.1 % 3.85 3.73 2.6
Garrett Richards 171.0 6.1 3.4 0.9 .307 68.8 % 4.47 4.18 1.3
Tyler Skaggs 149.0 7.8 3.6 1.0 .300 72.9 % 3.97 4.06 1.7
Hector Santiago 113.0 8.2 3.9 1.0 .296 74.5 % 3.87 4.25 1.1
Joe Blanton 47.0 6.9 1.9 1.3 .314 68.8 % 4.54 4.11 0.4
Jose Alvarez 47.0 5.7 2.8 1.4 .307 68.2 % 5.12 4.95 0.0
Matt Shoemaker 20.0 5.6 2.2 1.3 .308 68.7 % 4.73 4.53 0.1
Michael Roth 19.0 6.3 4.3 1.2 .308 68.7 % 5.09 4.95 0.0
Total 976.0 7.2 3.2 1.0 .301 71.9 % 4.08 4.10 9.7

Over the winter, the Angels identified their rotation as a primary area of concern, and shipped out one dimensional slugger Mark Trumbo in order to acquire a pair of young arms to improve the organization’s present and future supply of hurlers. The team clearly felt that they really needed to dramatically improve the starting pitching in order to live up to expectations and make a run in the competitive AL West.

Good news: the rotation is projected to be better than last year. Bad news? The forecast calls for a minimal +1 WAR improvement, going from 2013’s +8.7 to 2014’s +9.7, and they creep up only from 23rd to 20th after the big off-season trade. With Jared Weaver around, it’s easy to argue that WAR underrates the Angels staff, but then again, Weaver threw 150 innings with an ERA significantly lower than his FIP last year too, so I don’t know how much improvement the Angels can realistically expect at the top of the rotation. Basically, the Angels are betting that the forecasts and Santiago’s peripherals are both wrong, and he’s more of a good starter instead of an overmatched swingman.

There is actual, unqualified good news though: Even with a mediocre rotation, our forecasts still have the Angels as the slight favorite in the AL West. Their offense is just that good.

#21 Cubs


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jeff Samardzija 207.0 8.7 3.0 0.9 .303 72.7 % 3.70 3.55 3.3
Travis Wood 184.0 6.8 3.1 1.2 .288 73.6 % 4.10 4.49 1.3
Edwin Jackson 163.0 7.1 2.8 0.9 .310 70.6 % 4.11 3.80 1.9
Jason Hammel 149.0 6.9 3.2 1.0 .300 71.4 % 4.12 4.10 1.6
Carlos Villanueva 150.0 7.5 3.0 1.1 .294 72.9 % 3.99 4.09 1.3
Chris Rusin 48.0 5.0 3.0 1.1 .300 68.7 % 4.70 4.68 0.1
James McDonald   20.0 7.5 4.3 1.3 .298 71.3 % 4.71 4.75 0.0
Jake Arrieta   20.0 7.6 4.2 1.0 .298 70.6 % 4.44 4.41 0.1
Casey Coleman 19.0 6.3 4.0 1.2 .301 69.7 % 4.85 4.82 0.0
Arodys Vizcaino 9.0 7.9 3.6 1.1 .307 72.8 % 4.14 4.15 0.1
Total 968.0 7.3 3.1 1.0 .299 72.0 % 4.07 4.07 9.7

The Cubs first half rotation is unlikely to look much like it’s second half rotation, so realistically, this is just the group that gets Chicago to the trade deadline; the Cubs actual rotation on the season will probably be a bit worse than this. Samardzija is widely expected to be traded at some point this year, and Hammel could easily be this year’s Scott Feldman, a short-term rehab project who gets flipped for value in July.

But, until those trades occur, the Cubs feature five somewhat effective starting pitchers. Samardzija is the only impact guy, but #2-#5 aren’t complete black holes, and the rotation should likely be the strength of the Cubs roster. Wood won’t repeat his 2013 season, in all likelihood, but he’s likely underrated by his WAR forecast — note the 39 point gap between his ERA and FIP in the table above — while Jackson, Hammel, and Villanueva aren’t far off league average. Since the Cubs are almost certain to be sellers at the deadline, they could very well be the team driving the pitching market this summer, and potentially could end up trading most of the guys listed above before the year is out.

#22 Pirates


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Francisco Liriano   197.0 8.6 3.5 0.6 .300 72.8 % 3.42 3.27 3.0
Gerrit Cole 183.0 7.5 3.0 0.7 .303 72.0 % 3.69 3.58 2.1
Charlie Morton 166.0 5.9 3.1 0.6 .309 69.8 % 4.01 3.92 1.2
Wandy Rodriguez 152.0 6.3 2.5 0.9 .295 71.7 % 3.82 3.85 1.5
Edinson Volquez 115.0 7.0 3.9 0.9 .308 68.7 % 4.52 4.13 0.6
Jeff Locke   55.0 6.9 4.0 0.8 .301 71.2 % 4.14 4.14 0.3
Vance Worley 28.0 5.9 3.0 1.1 .320 68.1 % 4.93 4.46 0.1
Brandon Cumpton 19.0 5.6 3.1 0.8 .301 69.4 % 4.29 4.24 0.1
Jeanmar Gomez 19.0 5.8 2.9 0.8 .297 70.5 % 3.94 3.95 0.1
Phil Irwin 10.0 5.8 2.4 1.0 .305 68.8 % 4.36 4.19 0.1
Jameson Taillon   9.0 7.0 3.2 0.9 .302 71.3 % 3.99 3.94 0.1
Total 952.0 7.0 3.2 0.8 .303 71.0 % 3.90 3.77 9.0

The 2014 Pirates will be a good test of whether last year’s breakthrough was the result of good pitchers having great years, or whether the organizational context made the arms look better than they were through aggressive shifting and defensive contributions. Replacing A.J. Burnett with Edinson Volquez is a significant gamble, but the Pirates have to be encouraged by their success with rehab projects of late; if they turn Volquez into a quality starter, then we’ll have to shift a good portion of the credit for the 2013 success from Burnett and Liriano to the organization as a whole.

But they’re still going to need Liriano to be excellent again, because the loss of Burnett and Jameson Taillon’s elbow concerns mean that there simply isn’t a depth of top-end arms anymore. If Liriano breaks down, the rotation gets very thin very quickly, especially if Taillon’s current elbow pain is a precursor to something more significant. Gerrit Cole could easily outperform the projection above and become the team’s #1 starter, but the back-end is a pretty big bet on a bunch of question marks, and Liriano isn’t exactly a sure thing himself. I’d take the over on this group’s performance, since ZIPS and Steamer don’t know about the Pirates shifting practices, but there’s some real risk of implosion here as well.

#23 Braves


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Julio Teheran 196.0 7.8 2.6 1.0 .299 74.7 % 3.60 3.84 2.2
Alex Wood 179.0 8.2 3.1 0.7 .305 73.6 % 3.39 3.36 2.8
Ervin Santana 189.0 7.3 2.6 1.1 .301 71.4 % 4.11 4.05 1.4
David Hale 94.0 6.1 3.9 1.1 .304 69.8 % 4.74 4.72 -0.1
Aaron Harang 65.0 6.5 3.2 1.4 .306 69.9 % 4.91 4.75 -0.1
Mike Minor   135.0 8.0 2.4 1.1 .295 75.3 % 3.55 3.72 1.6
Gavin Floyd   84.0 7.5 2.7 0.9 .299 72.2 % 3.75 3.76 1.1
Gus Schlosser 10.0 5.8 3.3 1.2 .304 68.6 % 4.81 4.63 0.0
J.R. Graham 9.0 6.2 3.1 0.9 .302 70.2 % 4.17 4.10 0.1
Total 960.0 7.5 2.9 1.0 .301 72.7 % 3.89 3.92 9.0

Behold the power of injuries. This isn’t just about the loss of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, but also the reduced innings forecast for Mike Minor as well, who will start the year on the DL after off-season issues with his shoulder. If Minor beats the 135 inning projection here, things get a lot better in a hurry, as all of the replacement innings are being forecast at replacement level. The more Minor and Gavin Floyd pitch, the less the team needs to rely on David Hale and Aaron Harang, and simply shifting innings back to quality hurlers would make the Braves rotation just fine. But Minor and Floyd are question marks, and the reality is that any further injuries to the remaining starters will continue to force low quality arms into the rotation.

But, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a chance for the Braves to blow these projections away. Santana’s value is underrated by this forecast because of the timing of when he signed; the ZIPS projection was a league neutral forecast, and that hasn’t been revised into an NL setting yet, so his revised Atlanta projection would push him up closer to league average. Teheran and Wood both have the talent to be +3 WAR pitchers, and Minor/Floyd would make for a solid five if everyone gets healthy and pitches well at the same time. But that’s a lot of ifs, and the fact that the Braves have already dealt with injuries doesn’t exclude them from dealing with more as the season goes on. I’ll take the over on this projection too, but like with Pittsburgh, there’s a lot of risk here.

#24 Diamondbacks


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Wade Miley 198.0 6.6 2.6 0.9 .303 71.3 % 3.94 3.84 2.3
Trevor Cahill 197.0 6.6 3.5 0.8 .301 70.6 % 4.07 4.03 1.9
Bronson Arroyo   168.0 5.3 1.7 1.3 .295 70.9 % 4.32 4.43 1.0
Brandon McCarthy 164.0 5.7 1.7 1.0 .306 69.4 % 4.11 3.85 2.0
Randall Delgado 92.0 6.8 3.4 1.3 .297 70.8 % 4.59 4.64 0.4
Archie Bradley 94.0 7.5 4.7 0.9 .300 70.8 % 4.46 4.45 0.5
Zeke Spruill 29.0 4.9 3.5 1.2 .301 68.7 % 5.01 5.00 0.1
Bo Schultz 19.0 5.4 3.9 1.1 .300 69.2 % 4.91 4.92 0.0
Total 959.0 6.3 2.8 1.0 .301 70.5 % 4.22 4.18 8.2

The loss of Pat Corbin hurts a lot, and exposes why the D’Backs spent so much time this winter shopping for an ace. Without Corbin at the front of the rotation, this group is pretty similar to the Brewers, with a lot of good-not-great starters at the top end and some real questions at the back end.

The D’Backs appear to be hoping that top prospect Archie Bradley can be the answer to some of those questions, even though he’s not part of the Opening Day roster. However, for all the stuff and the strikeouts that he managed in the minors last year, the projections simply don’t see a big league impact hurler for 2014. The questions about his command are legitimate, and he simply wasn’t as effective in Double-A as his 1.97 ERA might suggest. The forecasts here suggest that the prospect community may be overrating Bradley’s near term impact, or at least, that his upside isn’t as close to being realized as you might expect from a pitching prospect often rated as the best in the game.

#25 Brewers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Yovani Gallardo 193.0 8.0 3.1 1.0 .306 71.7 % 4.04 3.83 2.0
Kyle Lohse 199.0 6.0 1.9 1.3 .297 71.9 % 4.20 4.29 1.4
Matt Garza 183.0 8.4 2.6 1.1 .305 73.0 % 3.84 3.73 2.2
Wily Peralta 150.0 7.1 4.1 0.9 .307 70.1 % 4.50 4.33 0.7
Marco Estrada 141.0 8.2 2.4 1.3 .297 73.6 % 3.92 3.93 1.6
Tyler Thornburg 28.0 7.8 3.9 1.3 .302 71.9 % 4.54 4.63 0.1
Mike Fiers 19.0 7.8 3.0 1.4 .301 72.1 % 4.39 4.40 0.1
Johnny Hellweg 19.0 6.1 7.1 1.0 .308 67.9 % 5.94 5.86 -0.2
Will Smith 19.0 8.4 2.7 1.1 .306 73.2 % 3.81 3.76 0.2
Jimmy Nelson 19.0 7.6 4.9 1.1 .304 71.0 % 4.67 4.69 0.0
Total 970.0 7.5 2.9 1.1 .303 71.8 % 4.15 4.09 8.2

The Brewers rotation is a bit like the Reds rotation, in that there is a lot of balance from #1-#5, with no huge difference between the team’s best and worst starters. Unfortunately, that lack of separation comes from the fact that none of them are really all that great, with the front of the rotation consisting mostly of pitchers that you’d rather have in the middle or back-end on a true contender. Gallardo, Loshe, and Garza have their strengths, but as a front three on a team that isn’t going to play great defense… well, the Brewers probably aren’t going to lead the league in run prevention.

Especially if anyone gets hurt. As we saw last year, the Brewers don’t have much in the way of upper level pitching depth, and injury fill-ins are unlikely to provide much value. It’s possible that Jonathan LuCroy could frame this rotation into being better than the sum of their parts, but on the other hand, the Brewers have had LuCroy for several years now and their pitching has been mostly lousy in spite of his presence. A lack of high-end starters at the front or depth at the back make this a rotation with a lot of downside.

#26 Padres


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Andrew Cashner 198.0 7.2 2.6 0.7 .296 71.5 % 3.57 3.50 2.2
Ian Kennedy 203.0 8.0 2.8 1.1 .297 74.2 % 3.75 3.94 1.6
Tyson Ross 168.0 7.4 3.7 0.7 .302 70.8 % 3.96 3.85 1.1
Eric Stults 168.0 5.8 2.3 1.0 .299 71.0 % 4.06 4.01 1.2
Robbie Erlin 67.0 6.9 3.1 1.1 .300 71.3 % 4.24 4.22 0.3
Matthew Wisler 28.0 7.2 3.2 1.0 .302 70.6 % 4.17 4.07 0.1
Burch Smith 19.0 8.9 2.9 1.1 .300 74.9 % 3.62 3.71 0.2
Joe Wieland   10.0 7.8 2.7 1.1 .298 71.7 % 3.97 3.85 0.1
Jesse Hahn 9.0 5.4 3.4 1.1 .296 69.5 % 4.63 4.64 0.0
Josh Johnson   104.0 8.2 2.9 0.8 .308 71.9 % 3.76 3.51 1.3
Total 975.0 7.3 2.9 0.9 .299 71.8 % 3.86 3.82 8.0

If Josh Johnson is healthy and gives the Padres a full season of performance at his previous levels, this rotation could actually be pretty interesting. And if the Padres could trade Cameron Maybin for Andrew McCutchen, their center field situation would suddenly be amazing. That might actually be more likely than the team getting a full healthy year out of Johnson, especially now that he’s set to miss the first month of the season with arm problems.

But, jokes aside, there are some reasons for hope here. Burch Smith walked the world in his debut last year, but the forecasts buy into his minor league track record and think he’s got a chance to be pretty solid this year. Cashner, Kennedy, and Ross have all shown flashes of upside at times, and it’s not too hard to see a couple of them doing better than the projections listed here. Eric Stults is unoffensively decent enough. And when Johnson is in the rotation, their starting five might actually look pretty good, especially if Smith comes up and proves the projections right. But, as is the theme at this part of the list, it takes a lot of things working right to get to that scenario, and things hardly ever work out exactly as hoped when it comes to pitching. More likely is that Johnson spends good chunks of the season injured and Smith has to replace either Cashner or Ross at some point, giving the team a few interesting arms but never a rotation full of guys living up to their potential.

#27 Marlins


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jose Fernandez 196.0 9.7 3.2 0.6 .297 75.7 % 2.94 2.97 4.1
Jacob Turner 172.0 5.9 3.7 1.0 .302 69.3 % 4.63 4.50 0.4
Nathan Eovaldi 171.0 6.6 3.6 0.9 .306 70.8 % 4.23 4.09 1.3
Henderson Alvarez 159.0 5.1 2.4 0.7 .302 69.5 % 3.99 3.89 1.6
Tom Koehler 141.0 6.4 4.1 1.0 .305 69.8 % 4.69 4.56 0.3
Brian Flynn 27.0 6.4 3.6 0.9 .307 70.1 % 4.38 4.23 0.2
Brad Hand 28.0 7.7 4.9 1.1 .300 72.8 % 4.43 4.61 0.1
Angel Sanchez 28.0 6.3 4.6 1.2 .307 68.2 % 5.35 5.14 -0.1
Kevin Slowey 28.0 6.6 1.9 1.2 .309 71.4 % 4.17 4.09 0.2
Total 951.0 6.9 3.4 0.9 .303 71.0 % 4.11 4.02 8.0

The Marlins rotation throws very hard. There’s actually some growing optimism about their talent level due to the spring training velocities that have been recorded on a daily basis, and it’s not too hard to get excited about Jose Fernandez. But after their ace, the velocities and the performances stop lining up so neatly. Henderson Alvarez still doesn’t miss any bats, and I’m pretty sure we can expect serious regression in his 2.6% HR/FB rate from 2013. Tom Koehler and Nathan Eovaldi have yet to turn their stuff into strikeouts either, and while the power arms are intriguing, the forecasts think both project below average starters for 2014.

The unheralded Brian Flynn is pretty interesting, and if top prospect Andrew Heaney joins the rotation at some point, there absolutely is upside here, but it’s more of a long term hope than a 2014 reality. The Marlins have something very special in Fernandez, but the rest of the group is more flash than reality at this point. Maybe Alvarez becomes Ivan Nova and learns how to miss bats, but until he does, the drop-off from Fernandez to the rest is going to remain quite steep.

#28 Twins


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Ricky Nolasco 200.0 6.5 2.1 1.1 .316 68.7 % 4.42 3.97 2.5
Kevin Correia 194.0 4.9 2.5 1.3 .314 67.2 % 5.11 4.67 0.8
Phil Hughes 160.0 7.3 2.5 1.3 .312 71.2 % 4.50 4.31 1.5
Mike Pelfrey 157.0 5.7 2.9 1.1 .318 67.6 % 4.93 4.44 1.4
Kyle Gibson 134.0 6.1 3.5 1.1 .317 67.7 % 5.04 4.61 0.7
Samuel Deduno 47.0 6.3 4.6 0.8 .310 68.5 % 4.86 4.61 0.2
Scott Diamond 47.0 4.7 2.1 1.1 .315 67.5 % 4.77 4.35 0.4
Trevor May 20.0 7.6 4.6 1.2 .313 69.0 % 5.12 4.79 0.1
Total 959.0 6.1 2.7 1.2 .315 68.4 % 4.80 4.40 7.6

It will be better than last year. It can’t be worse, really. The additions of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes will help bring some legitimacy to the team’s pitching staff, though they aren’t exactly rotation saviors themselves. Quite simply, the Twins are going to have to be patient and wait for guys like Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, and the rest of the arms on the farm before they have a rotation that can compete in the AL Central again.

This is, essentially, a rotation of place holders. Correia and Pelfrey are obviously just eating up innings while the team rebuilds, but even Nolasco and Hughes fit that bill to some extent; the team is transitioning to a new wave of young talent, but those guys aren’t ready yet, so the Twins needed some arms to step in and keep a Major League product on the field while they wait. It’s not a terrible plan, but it’s also not a rotation with much upside. At least, not right now.

#29 Mets


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Bartolo Colon 203.0 6.2 1.6 1.0 .306 71.9 % 3.78 3.63 2.2
Zack Wheeler 171.0 8.2 3.8 0.9 .302 72.4 % 3.98 3.98 1.4
Dillon Gee 160.0 6.6 2.5 1.1 .301 70.7 % 4.20 4.15 0.7
Daisuke Matsuzaka 76.0 7.0 4.1 1.3 .299 70.1 % 4.89 4.93 -0.2
Jenrry Mejia 94.0 6.9 3.3 0.8 .308 70.8 % 4.15 3.94 0.6
Carlos Torres 47.0 7.4 2.9 1.1 .298 72.0 % 4.03 4.09 0.2
John Lannan 19.0 5.0 3.6 0.9 .305 68.1 % 4.80 4.63 0.0
Rafael Montero 46.0 7.9 2.1 0.9 .301 73.8 % 3.40 3.40 0.6
Jon Niese   123.0 6.9 2.7 0.8 .305 71.4 % 3.86 3.72 1.1
Noah Syndergaard 20.0 8.7 3.1 0.9 .305 73.3 % 3.72 3.65 0.2
Total 959.0 7.0 2.8 1.0 .303 71.5 % 4.03 3.95 6.9

If the Mets were contenders and made their rotation decision based solely on 2014 expected performance without regard to long term development or service time interests, they might actually have a pretty solid starting five. Noah Syndergaard is projected as a league average starting pitcher right now, and the projections think Rafael Montero is actually their best MLB ready pitching prospect, not Syndergaard. Jenrry Mejia is a solid arm and a huge upgrade over Daisuke Matazuaka. Toss any two of those three in with Colon, Niese, and Wheeler and the Mets would have a staff that is both not terrible and pretty interesting.

But the Mets aren’t contenders, and they should be making rotation decisions based on long term expectations, not trying to maximize their 2014 win potential. So Syndergaard goes to the minors, and Mejia might join him. Dice-K gets to stick around, at least for now, and punish the world with death-through-pausing approach to pitching. What the Mets rotation is and what it could be are two very different things. Maybe just don’t want the games when Matsuzaka pitches, and buy an MILB.tv subscription to watch Syndergaard instead. He’ll be in Queens soon enough.

#30 Astros


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Scott Feldman 178.0 6.6 2.7 1.1 .306 69.4 % 4.47 4.21 1.7
Jarred Cosart 155.0 6.6 4.8 0.9 .305 69.8 % 4.74 4.59 0.7
Brett Oberholtzer 113.0 6.4 2.9 1.5 .304 69.4 % 5.02 4.92 0.3
Jerome Williams 112.0 6.1 2.8 1.2 .310 67.9 % 4.91 4.55 0.7
Brad Peacock 112.0 8.0 4.0 1.4 .307 70.0 % 4.99 4.82 0.4
Dallas Keuchel 56.0 6.0 3.0 1.0 .314 68.0 % 4.67 4.22 0.5
Lucas Harrell 56.0 6.0 4.1 1.0 .310 67.9 % 4.96 4.59 0.3
Paul Clemens 47.0 6.0 3.5 1.6 .308 68.2 % 5.53 5.31 -0.1
Alex White   48.0 6.4 4.0 1.2 .310 68.5 % 5.14 4.88 0.1
Asher Wojciechowski   28.0 6.1 3.4 1.3 .310 68.3 % 5.10 4.83 0.1
Mark Appel   28.0 4.8 3.3 1.5 .304 67.0 % 5.55 5.32 -0.1
Anthony Bass 19.0 6.3 3.3 1.2 .311 68.7 % 4.95 4.62 0.1
Total 952.0 6.5 3.5 1.2 .308 69.0 % 4.88 4.64 4.8

And then there’s this. The Astros have a plan in place, and it’s a pretty good; they’re loading up on impact prospects and high draft choices, with a wave of talent coming that will make the Astros pretty interesting in the not too distant future. But that future is not here, and it’s not even all that close yet. So you get Scott Feldman, staff ace. I like Scott Feldman, but when he’s not only your ace but projects for as much value as your #2-#4 starters put together, well, that’s not great.

Of course, this entire rotation is fluid, and guys will move in and out based on their performance, as the Astros season continues to be one giant experiment in throwing things at a wall until they find enough pieces that stick. Eventually, it won’t be like this. Now, though, this is what they have, and this is what they’ll take to the hill. It’s not going to be pretty. It will get better in Houston, but not this year.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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3M Spokesman
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3M Spokesman

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t
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t

That sentence would be a lot more fun if it just ended after the word scotch.

“Dustin McGowan’s arm is held together with scotch.”

Diageo PLC
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Diageo PLC

A bottom shelf blend, such as J&B.

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