August has already walked you through the rest. Now let us together take a walk through the best! The best, according to our preseason projections. It sounds better to leave out that last part, though. Always gotta remember to think about marketing. By the way, here’s a reminder of what we’re doing. It should be easy enough to figure out even without that link, but I just wanted to cover all my bases, which is a baseball expression. Here are the starting rotations, ranked:
Below, the Mets get the coveted #1. Not that they don’t deserve it, but as you’ll see, or as you can see in that plot, the Mets and the Dodgers are tied. So maybe that’s kind of a bummer, because it’s more fun to have ties broken, but this does leave the door open to arguments. Nothing quite as healthy for a person as Internet arguments. Especially about statistical projections of the unknowable future.
Mainly, the right thing to do here is think about tiers, and less about specific ranks. The Mets and Dodgers are separated from third place by more than a full win. There’s more than a win between fifth and sixth, and there’s a win between sixth and seventh. Then there’s one win between eighth and 14th. There’s a half-win between ninth and 14th. Many of these teams are close to one another, so don’t fret too much about how this is organized. Really, don’t fret too much at all, about anything. I know I just encouraged you to argue earlier in this introduction, but I’ve had a change of heart. Don’t: do that. Do: read what follows! Let’s talk about the 15 best rotations, as we see them.
|Jacob deGrom||202.0||9.3||2.3||0.8||.302||75.6 %||3.00||3.00||4.9|
|Matt Harvey||209.0||8.8||2.1||0.8||.297||74.8 %||3.00||3.05||4.9|
|Noah Syndergaard||182.0||10.0||2.3||0.9||.306||75.5 %||3.12||3.04||4.3|
|Steven Matz||159.0||8.8||2.9||0.8||.306||73.9 %||3.48||3.49||2.8|
|Bartolo Colon||113.0||6.1||1.3||1.1||.306||70.8 %||3.98||3.87||1.5|
|Zack Wheeler||65.0||8.7||3.5||0.8||.308||72.9 %||3.72||3.72||1.0|
|Rafael Montero||28.0||8.3||3.1||1.0||.304||72.8 %||3.87||3.87||0.4|
|Gabriel Ynoa||9.0||5.3||2.1||1.4||.305||67.1 %||5.03||4.86||0.0|
|Seth Lugo||9.0||7.7||3.1||1.3||.307||70.0 %||4.59||4.47||0.1|
What the Dodgers [see below] have is an absurd amount of depth. What the Mets have is an absurd amount of front-line talent. The Dodgers are kind of about mixing and matching. The Mets are comparatively stable. The one question is when Wheeler will be healthy and strong enough to slide in for Colon. For now, Colon is a perfectly adequate No. 5, and people are mostly just focused on the first four. Or, if we’re being honest, on the first three.
deGrom has had stretches of looking like the best pitcher in baseball. Harvey has had stretches of looking like the best pitcher in baseball. Syndergaard has had stretches of looking like the best pitcher in baseball. deGrom was outstanding in 2014, then last year he started throwing harder by a mile and a half. Harvey was otherworldly before his surgery, and then last year down the stretch he re-discovered his slider. Syndergaard throws everything 100 miles per hour, unless he’s throwing things 80 miles per hour, and it’s so easy to see how he could blossom into the game’s very best. On pure stuff, no one’s more blessed. He might even be underrated, because of his rotation company.
But there’s no question in my mind that the Mets have three legitimate Number Ones, three legitimate aces. It’s an easy thing to fall in love with, as long as everybody’s healthy. I feel bad for Matz, because as good as he is, he has no prayer of getting his share of attention. I’m not someone who believes that a pitcher’s reputation should be in part dependent on his rotation slot, but Matz is going to be a No. 4, even though he has the ability to play up a couple slots. After people drool over the names in front of him, they’ll be too exhausted to continue. Maybe, as has been known to happen, people will just start taking the known aces for granted, and then Matz will feel more fresh. So, there’s a chance. But maybe I just shouldn’t worry about Matz’s level of praise. He probably just wants to pitch and be good.
As always: an injury significantly changes the picture. The Mets’ best players are hard-throwing pitchers, and that gives them a certain level of risk. I don’t know if this always needs to be addressed. We understand, right? Something could happen on any given pitch, but until or unless it does, the Mets have a rotation now we could be looking back fondly upon in a couple of decades.
|Clayton Kershaw||222.0||11.0||1.8||0.6||.296||81.5 %||2.05||2.22||7.7|
|Scott Kazmir||162.0||8.4||2.4||0.9||.299||74.0 %||3.45||3.53||2.7|
|Kenta Maeda||185.0||8.0||2.1||0.9||.302||74.2 %||3.35||3.44||3.3|
|Alex Wood||141.0||7.3||2.6||0.9||.305||72.3 %||3.72||3.73||2.0|
|Hyun-Jin Ryu||47.0||7.6||2.1||0.8||.305||73.4 %||3.43||3.41||0.9|
|Mike Bolsinger||46.0||8.3||3.2||0.9||.307||72.5 %||3.80||3.72||0.7|
|Brandon McCarthy||47.0||7.5||1.8||1.0||.304||72.2 %||3.69||3.65||0.7|
|Zach Lee||37.0||6.5||2.0||1.0||.303||70.6 %||3.89||3.83||0.5|
|Brett Anderson||28.0||6.5||2.4||0.7||.309||71.9 %||3.65||3.58||0.5|
|Carlos Frias||28.0||6.4||2.5||0.9||.306||70.6 %||4.02||3.97||0.3|
|Brandon Beachy||19.0||6.8||3.7||1.2||.299||70.4 %||4.62||4.69||0.1|
|Ross Stripling||9.0||6.9||2.8||1.0||.304||70.1 %||4.19||4.15||0.1|
|Julio Urias||9.0||8.6||3.2||0.9||.304||72.7 %||3.70||3.70||0.1|
|Jose De Leon||9.0||10.1||3.0||1.1||.304||74.3 %||3.57||3.58||0.1|
It’s fair to argue whether the Dodgers really have the best rotation in baseball, because as seen here, they’re essentially tied with the Mets, and you can argue either way in a tie. So, maybe the Dodgers should be No. 1, or maybe the Dodgers should be No. 2. But the bigger point is one a good number of people appear to be missing: this rotation is excellent. Absolutely, yes, it’s unstable. It’s unstable sort of by design, which is why the Dodgers assembled so many options. But come year’s end, expect this rotation to be at or near the top in total value. Even with all the injuries, the Dodgers are sitting pretty.
A year ago, the Dodgers ranked behind only the Cubs in rotation WAR. They of course lost Zack Greinke, but you could also say this: all the non-Kershaw starters combined to be worth 9.4 WAR. Do you think they can do better than that this time around? I think they can do better than that this time around.
We don’t need to dwell on Kershaw. As long as his arm’s attached, he’s the best starter in the game, and even if his arm were unattached, he could probably fare okay with the other. Now, the uncertainties: Kazmir struggled down the stretch, and was recently recorded at a low velocity. Maeda has known health questions, and Ryu is recovering slowly from shoulder trouble. Bolsinger’s out because of his oblique. McCarthy is coming back from ligament replacement. Beachy’s surgery punch card says the next one’s free. Anderson seems likely to miss at least half the season.
All that — all that — and still, they can survive. Most helpful is that Kershaw is practically two aces in one. But also, this spring, Wood is back to his rookie-year velocity, and his rookie-year arm slot. He’s a major sleeper. Maeda isn’t actually injured, not yet, and Andrew Friedman didn’t express any Kazmir concern. Urias is more or less ready, and there might not be a better pitching prospect. De Leon is an excellent prospect hidden in Urias’ shadow. Bolsinger will return. Ryu should return. McCarthy should return. Anderson should return. And on, and on. There are so many positives here, no matter how many negatives it feels like there have been. The Dodgers are loaded.
Of course there could be setbacks. Of course there could be more injuries. If something were to happen to Kershaw, the unit might be crippled. But if something were to happen to your heart, the rest of you would be dead. That’s not really a weakness.
|Jake Arrieta||206.0||9.4||2.4||0.7||.294||76.2 %||2.76||2.92||5.2|
|Jon Lester||210.0||8.8||2.1||0.8||.300||75.3 %||3.07||3.16||4.7|
|John Lackey||176.0||7.7||2.2||1.0||.298||74.1 %||3.51||3.67||2.8|
|Kyle Hendricks||139.0||7.3||2.2||0.8||.302||72.7 %||3.55||3.63||2.3|
|Jason Hammel||130.0||8.0||2.4||1.2||.298||73.1 %||3.84||3.95||1.6|
|Adam Warren||66.0||8.1||2.8||0.7||.296||74.5 %||3.27||3.48||1.2|
|Travis Wood||28.0||8.7||3.3||1.0||.297||75.2 %||3.58||3.82||0.4|
|Dallas Beeler||9.0||6.1||3.0||0.9||.302||70.4 %||4.17||4.22||0.1|
|Carl Edwards||9.0||10.5||5.4||0.7||.304||74.6 %||3.65||3.71||0.1|
|Eric Jokisch||9.0||6.3||2.9||1.1||.302||70.8 %||4.28||4.35||0.1|
|Aaron Brooks||9.0||6.6||1.9||1.1||.307||70.3 %||4.16||4.06||0.1|
It makes me laugh when people say the Cubs have a thin starting rotation. Okay, I lied, it doesn’t, because laughter would be a weird response, but I don’t know where the impression comes from. Maybe people are just trying to find a hole, any hole, in the roster the front office has developed and assembled, but this rotation is more than good — it’s outstanding, provided Arrieta doesn’t start showing signs of mileage. That’s a legitimate concern, if you’re the anxious type, because Arrieta has thrown an awful lot of baseballs of late, but any worry should be on the backburner until there’s an actual red flag. The one thing we know for sure is that Arrieta has been worked hard, but we have absolutely no idea how well he can handle that, and we should probably assume he can handle it fine until we hear otherwise.
Lester’s throwing issues make him a target for criticism, and that’s understandable, because it’s a curious problem of his, and it’s clearly exploitable. Yet it’s not something that should be blown out of proportion. By far the most important thing is that Lester is good at throwing the ball home, and last year he was worth four wins by the ERA version of WAR. The year before, six wins. The year before that, four wins. Lester is this rotation’s second starter, but he’s good enough to be a lot of teams’ first. Lester is anything but a weakness.
And when you move on — I mean, what do you want? Sure, the Cubs can’t match the Mets’ raw talent, but Lackey just ran a sub-3 ERA over 33 starts. Hendricks had a WAR of 3.4, and though scouts have never liked him, he had the same K-BB% as Cole Hamels. Hammel is a No. 5 coming off a year in which he averaged a strikeout an inning, and I’m a big fan of Warren as depth. That depth could be important — Lackey’s age is up there, and maybe something happens and Hendricks or Hammel get hit around. It’s not like these pitchers are bulletproof. But if you don’t like what the Cubs have put together, your standards are too high. At all five rotation slots, individually, the Cubs rank better than average. That’s…that’s really good. That’s a good thing to be able to say about a rotation.
The Cubs’ rotation isn’t a weakness. The Cubs don’t have weaknesses. Lucky them!
|Max Scherzer||211.0||10.6||2.1||0.8||.304||78.2 %||2.70||2.71||5.8|
|Stephen Strasburg||182.0||10.2||2.0||0.8||.310||76.2 %||2.92||2.83||4.7|
|Gio Gonzalez||170.0||8.6||3.4||0.7||.311||72.9 %||3.58||3.43||3.1|
|Tanner Roark||132.0||6.2||2.2||1.0||.301||71.7 %||3.91||4.01||1.4|
|Joe Ross||121.0||7.5||2.7||1.0||.304||71.7 %||3.88||3.86||1.5|
|Lucas Giolito||94.0||8.3||3.3||1.0||.306||72.1 %||3.97||3.94||1.1|
|A.J. Cole||19.0||7.0||2.5||1.2||.301||72.6 %||4.07||4.25||0.2|
|Yusmeiro Petit||19.0||8.0||1.9||1.2||.304||72.9 %||3.86||3.82||0.2|
|Taylor Jordan||9.0||6.0||2.4||0.9||.309||69.8 %||4.11||3.98||0.1|
It happened quietly, but Scherzer just added a mile and a half to his fastball. He also ran a career-high strikeout rate while chopping his walk rate literally in half. It happened quietly because Scherzer was known to be good, so people weren’t surprised that he was good. It happened quietly also because the Nationals struggled around him, and Scherzer himself had a rough stretch after the break. Scherzer’s year got hidden, but it was still a hell of a way for him to kick off that long-term contract. Going into last year, the Nationals’ rotation was supposed to be amazing, and Scherzer more than held up his end of the bargain.
Strasburg did, and he didn’t. Before the break, see, he allowed a .340 wOBA, which was the league-average wOBA posted by first basemen. Then he went on the DL and came off, and over the remaining stretch he allowed a .223 wOBA, which was the wOBA posted by Christian Bethancourt. In Strasburg’s final 10 starts, he racked up eight walks and 92 strikeouts, and so it’s not hard to see why some believe he’s gotten back to being on top. Given health, we can reasonably say that Strasburg is fantastic, and so, therefore, while the Mets get so much rotation hype, the Nationals can probably match them in the first two slots. Syndergaard becomes the difference.
But, how much of a difference, really? Oh, Syndergaard is better than Gonzalez, who’s fine. He’s better than Roark, who’s worse. He’s better than Ross, who’s interesting and underrated. But Giolito looms, and there’s a chance he can do in 2016 what Syndergaard did in 2015. You don’t want to put those expectations on a prospect, but there’s a chance we get to the end of the season and the Nationals’ rotation has matched or exceeded the Mets’ group. There’s a lot of ability here. Giolito should make something like 20 starts, and while that might just get him 100-110 innings, the strikeouts are going to be there.
Could be, Giolito struggles with his location. Command isn’t yet a strength of his. But Ross will quietly help prop this rotation up, even as he fights to develop a better change. And Gonzalez, somewhat amazingly, has been a 3+ win pitcher now six years running. He used a lot of his sinker last year but it also turned out to be his worst pitch, so he could walk that back in the name of more strikeouts. Gonzalez might never feel so reliable, but reality hasn’t matched that perception.
The Nationals, just overall as a team, feel underrated at the moment. I get it; recency bias and everything. But, if you feel like you’re kind of down on the Nationals, look at their roster. Look at this rotation. This is a team to be afraid of.
|Corey Kluber||216.0||9.5||1.9||0.8||.307||74.3 %||3.14||3.01||5.5|
|Carlos Carrasco||192.0||9.8||2.2||0.8||.308||74.4 %||3.07||2.90||5.1|
|Danny Salazar||173.0||9.6||2.6||1.0||.300||74.7 %||3.45||3.49||3.3|
|Trevor Bauer||159.0||8.6||3.9||1.1||.301||72.1 %||4.24||4.31||1.5|
|Josh Tomlin||123.0||7.4||1.6||1.4||.300||71.8 %||4.11||4.12||1.4|
|Cody Anderson||75.0||5.6||2.7||1.1||.296||70.2 %||4.39||4.54||0.5|
|Mike Clevinger||28.0||7.2||3.4||1.3||.307||70.1 %||4.79||4.75||0.1|
|T.J. House||18.0||6.2||3.5||1.0||.313||68.5 %||4.68||4.50||0.1|
Say, a representative from the American League! And a predictable one, I think it’s fair to say. The Indians were a popular pick a season ago because of the strength of their starting rotation, and it hasn’t at all been depleted. And now, even better, the rotation is supported by a stronger team defense. Not that it matters all that much, on account of the crazy number of strikeouts and everything.
By the runs that he allowed, Kluber just experienced something of a step back, but as far as I can tell he’s just fine, being as unhittable as ever. He has the benefit of owning two of the top individual pitches in the game: both his cutter and his breaking ball are spectacular, and that makes him less vulnerable to a breakdown. One curious thing about Kluber is that he’s been hurt on his fastball even though he’s thrown it barely half the time; you could argue he should throw it even less.
Carrasco, like Kluber, looks better if you examine the numbers that aren’t ERA. By those numbers, he’s an ace, and Carrasco has the kind of full repertoire that allows him to be effective even when he doesn’t have a pitch on a particular night. His slider is good, his curve is good, and his changeup is good, so you really don’t know what you’re going to get. Carrasco just allowed the eighth-lowest contact rate out of qualified starters.
The story with Salazar is his split-change, and all he ever needs to be able to do is set it up. To this point he’s done that often enough. It’s funny to think about this group and realize they don’t even have to rely on Bauer figuring anything out. God knows he’s always trying to put everything together, and he’s generated his whiffs, but there’s legitimate concern Bauer will just never have it in him to locate consistently. The result of which is a string of five-inning starts. Tomlin and Bauer might be opposites — Bauer underachieves his stuff, being more wild, and Tomlin overachieves his stuff, being more precise. He’s still not precise enough to avoid home runs, but as a No. 5, Tomlin works.
And then there’s Anderson, who I like as a sleeper, because in spring his fastball has played up something like three full miles per hour. Anderson might not even make the rotation, but if his arm strength sustains, there are serious parallels you could try to draw between Anderson’s stuff and Matt Harvey’s. Cody Anderson is not Matt Harvey, but Anderson throwing 95 is more of a weapon than Anderson throwing 92. He can’t be held off that long, if he stays as strong as he’s looked.
The Indians’ rotation isn’t a secret. Anderson is a secret, but the group overall is recognized for being strong, and this is the strength of the team. The team is supposed to be pretty damn good, so, yeah. This was a lot of words to tell you what you knew.
#6 White Sox
|Chris Sale||227.0||11.0||2.0||0.9||.310||76.9 %||2.89||2.83||6.6|
|Jose Quintana||203.0||7.6||2.2||0.9||.313||72.1 %||3.70||3.54||4.0|
|Carlos Rodon||168.0||9.3||3.9||1.0||.307||73.1 %||3.95||3.96||2.5|
|Mat Latos||150.0||7.2||2.8||1.2||.311||70.1 %||4.50||4.30||1.7|
|John Danks||143.0||6.2||2.8||1.3||.305||69.6 %||4.77||4.71||0.9|
|Erik Johnson||46.0||7.5||3.9||1.3||.306||71.1 %||4.67||4.69||0.3|
|Chris Beck||28.0||5.3||3.2||1.3||.308||67.9 %||5.21||5.06||0.1|
|Jacob Turner||19.0||6.4||3.2||1.4||.316||67.6 %||5.21||4.83||0.1|
|Scott Carroll||9.0||5.0||3.4||1.2||.310||67.9 %||5.16||5.06||0.0|
When Sale was first a starter in the majors, four years ago, he was throwing his fastball around 91-92. And there was this expectation floating around that Sale wouldn’t be able to manage the innings for the long haul, but instead, Sale’s kept at it, and last year his fastball was up to 94-95. Not unrelatedly, Sale’s gone from striking out a quarter of his opponents to striking out a third of his opponents. At some point, Sale won’t be a good or healthy starter anymore. Maybe that’ll happen when he’s 30. Maybe that’ll happen when he’s 40. Now? Right now, Sale is about as good as it can possibly get. The White Sox rotation features easily the most underrated starter in baseball. Sale is also somehow underrated, and that’s probably just the White Sox’s fault. There’s nothing wrong with his performance.
Quintana is the grossly underrated one, being 13th in innings since 2013, and ninth in WAR. That might eventually turn, either because Quintana gets worse, or because enough people refer to him as underrated that he becomes appropriately rated. But he commands his pitches without being overpowering, and there aren’t many arms throwing superior curveballs. It’s not easy to put your finger on what Quintana does best, but it’s no easier to put your finger on anything he does poorly.
In theory, there’s going to be additional pressure on Rodon, now that Samardzija has left. In reality, Samardzija wasn’t good, so Rodon was going to be the No. 3 no matter what. If you don’t know his deal, it’s pretty easy to boil down — elite-level slider, power fastball he has some trouble controlling, and a developing change. Changeups are always referred to as “developing” until they’re actually good, so Rodon’s not a finished product. If he were to become one, he could be a harder-throwing Francisco Liriano. At the least, he’s electric often enough to be an overall contributor.
The rotation winds down quickly. Latos is a health and personality risk. Danks is a longball risk. Johnson is a general misery risk, but you shouldn’t sell him short. Consider that, in Triple-A in 2014, he ran a K-BB% of 2%. In Triple-A in 2015, he ran a K-BB% of 18%. He also recovered some strength on his fastball, so Johnson took steps toward achieving the career people used to wonder about. He’s already been optioned, so he won’t make the rotation out of camp, but he’s positioned to get another opportunity, and he could stick with relatively little improvement.
|Adam Wainwright||195.0||7.2||1.9||0.7||.304||73.0 %||3.31||3.31||3.8|
|Michael Wacha||174.0||8.0||2.8||0.9||.299||73.5 %||3.60||3.71||2.5|
|Carlos Martinez||170.0||8.8||3.1||0.7||.313||73.4 %||3.41||3.29||3.3|
|Mike Leake||201.0||5.9||2.3||0.9||.301||71.2 %||3.88||3.95||2.3|
|Jaime Garcia||114.0||7.1||2.3||0.7||.304||73.3 %||3.39||3.45||2.0|
|Marco Gonzales||74.0||6.9||2.9||1.1||.304||71.5 %||4.21||4.27||0.6|
|Tim Cooney||28.0||6.8||2.4||1.0||.303||71.5 %||4.00||4.04||0.3|
|Tyler Lyons||19.0||8.3||1.9||1.0||.304||73.8 %||3.52||3.54||0.3|
|Alex Reyes||9.0||9.0||5.4||0.8||.304||72.3 %||4.24||4.29||0.1|
I think this kind of captures the spirit of the Cardinals: A year ago, they ranked seventh in baseball in rotation WAR. Their top starter left as a free agent, and they lost another good starter to Tommy John surgery. Now the Cardinals are projected to finish seventh in baseball in rotation WAR. You can try to deplete the Cardinals, but it seems like they always have replacements at the ready, and this time around one of their replacements is named Adam Wainwright.
Obviously, the Cardinals would be better if they still had John Lackey. They’d be better if they had a healthy Lance Lynn. But the group they have today is big on talent, even if it’s also big on uncertainty. With a guy like Wainwright, you generally don’t love to see a starter coming off a year mostly lost to injury, but considering his was a non-arm injury, it might actually work out better for him. Even though Wainwright’s well into his 30s, the healthy version has been consistently outstanding, and I think he’s still an ace.
Wacha has pitched like an ace before, but he struggled toward the end of 2015 due to what seemed like a mechanical breakdown. If that’s fixed, there shouldn’t be too many questions, but that’s something we’ll have to look for early on. His arm angle was getting up unusually high, and most everything went wrong.
The question with Martinez has to do with the shoulder that brought his 2015 season to an early halt. I can’t help it — any shoulder discomfort causes me worry, yet it seems like all the lights are presently green, and to Martinez’s credit he greatly improved his changeup. Before last year, Martinez struck out 11% of lefties. During last year, he literally doubled that. Martinez with a changeup is a top-of-the-rotation starter.
There’s almost no point in talking about Leake. The thing that makes him most interesting has nothing to do with what he does on the mound. Leake’s fine, and no more or less than that. Garcia is more like Leake turned on his head, because Garcia isn’t reliable, but he comes with tons of upside. Garcia’s career ERA-? 87. His career FIP-? 87. His career xFIP-? 87. Jon Lester’s career FIP- is 87. Despite everything Garcia has been through, he hasn’t really lost power off his fastball, and he’s still a strike-throwing grounder machine. You don’t want to count on Jaime Garcia, but when he can take regular turns, he’s better than the majority of his peers.
The listed depth is perfectly adequate, and the most interesting arm belongs to Reyes. Reyes is suspended on account of marijuana. I live in Portland, Oregon, and if I wanted I could walk out my front door and buy legal weed from a nearby shop in seven minutes. Reyes is 21 and he’d be right to wonder why the world is how it is. Anyhow, he could be an option in the second half, should the Cardinals need one.
|Madison Bumgarner||226.0||9.3||1.9||0.8||.294||77.7 %||2.72||2.96||4.9|
|Johnny Cueto||216.0||7.8||2.2||0.7||.289||75.0 %||2.98||3.27||3.8|
|Jeff Samardzija||202.0||7.9||2.0||0.8||.301||72.8 %||3.34||3.33||3.4|
|Jake Peavy||152.0||7.1||2.4||1.0||.292||73.4 %||3.63||3.87||1.5|
|Matt Cain||110.0||7.1||2.7||1.1||.294||72.3 %||4.03||4.23||0.6|
|Chris Heston||66.0||6.9||3.1||0.8||.300||71.6 %||3.77||3.91||0.6|
|Clayton Blackburn||9.0||7.1||2.5||0.9||.302||71.9 %||3.71||3.77||0.1|
|Ty Blach||9.0||5.4||2.3||0.9||.301||69.8 %||4.17||4.20||0.1|
|Kyle Crick||9.0||9.7||7.3||0.7||.304||72.7 %||4.44||4.61||0.0|
|Chris Stratton||9.0||6.6||4.1||1.0||.301||70.3 %||4.46||4.56||0.0|
|Adalberto Mejia||9.0||6.6||3.4||0.9||.299||70.8 %||4.12||4.23||0.0|
Here’s one thing I can tell you: Even though the Giants rank pretty high here, and even though they’ve committed several fortunes to their starting rotation, that same rotation presently has a spring ERA of 8.13. Incredibly, that’s not quite the worst mark in baseball, but there are worries flying around. Bumgarner has allowed worse than a run an inning. Peavy has allowed worse than a run an inning. Cueto and Cain have allowed worse than a run an inning, and Samardzija has allowed almost a run an inning. Kudos to Stratton, on his five shutout frames. I guess that makes him the ace?
There’s real volatility here. No, I’m not concerned about Bumgarner. He’s working around a couple early aches and pains, and he’ll find himself. This is why there’s a spring training. Last season was maybe his best, and he’s a known entity. The Giants know they have a No. 1.
They just might not know what else they have. As you recall, Cueto was ineffective in the second half. Samardzija was even worse, and whatever issues they have seem to be more psychological or mechanical than physical. And maybe it’s better that way, and the track records are encouraging, but it would be silly to ignore the risk. The Giants wouldn’t be the first team these pitchers have frustrated.
Peavy and Cain have deteriorated. Peavy, in fairness, remains playable, but he’s not one to push to 100 pitches. And Cain feels like a virtual certainty to at some point need another DL stint. Not that Cain doesn’t have his own bounceback potential, but Heston could turn out vital for this unit. He seems like the swingman, and he gets enough whiffs and bad contact to deliver five or six innings in a pinch. For all I know, Heston could end up with more innings than Peavy or Cain. For all I know, he could end up with more innings than Peavy and Cain.
If the Giants get their breaks — well, Bumgarner was just a five-win pitcher, and the year before, Cueto and Samardzija were also four- or five-win pitchers. If things work out perfectly, the Giants could quietly have a Mets-like top three. The downside, though, is real enough that the Giants are going to need to count on their infield. Good thing the infield is terrific.
|Masahiro Tanaka||185.0||8.3||1.8||1.2||.297||73.4 %||3.59||3.64||3.5|
|Michael Pineda||153.0||8.1||1.5||1.1||.308||72.3 %||3.60||3.43||3.3|
|Nathan Eovaldi||152.0||7.4||2.6||1.0||.313||70.9 %||4.08||3.87||2.4|
|Luis Severino||149.0||8.3||3.0||1.1||.299||73.2 %||3.81||3.94||2.3|
|CC Sabathia||133.0||7.3||2.6||1.3||.310||69.9 %||4.54||4.36||1.4|
|Ivan Nova||102.0||6.6||2.8||1.1||.306||69.9 %||4.41||4.43||1.0|
|Bryan Mitchell||38.0||7.3||4.4||1.1||.309||69.6 %||4.82||4.74||0.2|
|Luis Cessa||28.0||6.3||2.7||1.4||.309||68.5 %||4.92||4.73||0.2|
|Tyler Olson||19.0||6.6||3.1||1.2||.297||71.8 %||4.29||4.54||0.2|
It would be an exaggeration to say the Yankees rotation is a lottery ticket. The chances are far higher that the Yankees hit the jackpot. On the other hand, if a lottery ticket isn’t a winner, you’re out a dollar, or whatever a lottery ticket costs. If something goes wrong with the Yankees, they’re out a lot more than that. They’d conceivably stand to lose what a lottery winner would stand to win. Perspective!
Just on talent, I think this is all befitting of the Yankees organization. Being what they are, the Yankees are accustomed to the finer things in life, and, well, Tanaka has maybe the world’s best splitter. Eovaldi has one of the game’s better fastballs, and Pineda has one of the game’s lower walk rates, and Severino has one of the game’s higher ceilings. Sabathia is a $25-million No. 5, and even he is coming off what was an acceptable year by some measures. Give this group 150 starts and the Yankees are going to the playoffs.
But there’s simply no way around the red flags. Tanaka’s UCL feels kind of like our fault system here in the Pacific Northwest — at some point, there’s going to be a catastrophe. Pineda hasn’t proven his own durability, leaving aside his strange trait of being hittable. Eovaldi’s velocity is tantalizing, as is the splitter he developed down the stretch, but his arm was barking in September. Sabathia’s various physical issues are secondary to his biggest battle. This puts some pressure on Severino, who’s made all of 11 big-league starts. And I think, because of the concerns, the Yankees could end up missing Adam Warren.
Maybe Nova will be the key. As much as he struggled, he was still throwing the same stuff he threw in 2013, so he might’ve just needed to knock off the rust. If he finds himself a little bit, he could be an effective emergency plug-in, and then that helps the Yankees’ depth. It’s something they’ll be hoping for. They’re going to be doing an awful lot of hoping.
#10 Red Sox
|David Price||213.0||9.1||1.7||0.9||.310||75.2 %||3.16||3.06||5.0|
|Clay Buchholz||168.0||7.7||2.4||0.8||.312||71.2 %||3.79||3.58||2.8|
|Rick Porcello||160.0||6.9||2.0||1.0||.313||70.0 %||4.01||3.76||2.4|
|Eduardo Rodriguez||121.0||7.4||2.6||1.0||.308||72.1 %||3.91||3.86||1.6|
|Joe Kelly||113.0||7.3||3.3||0.9||.313||71.0 %||4.16||4.04||1.3|
|Steven Wright||75.0||6.2||2.9||1.2||.303||70.3 %||4.56||4.58||0.4|
|Roenis Elias||55.0||7.4||3.6||1.0||.308||70.6 %||4.39||4.35||0.4|
|Henry Owens||47.0||7.7||4.1||1.1||.301||72.2 %||4.39||4.54||0.3|
|Brian Johnson||9.0||7.3||3.7||1.0||.305||71.0 %||4.36||4.39||0.1|
|Brandon Workman||9.0||7.3||3.1||1.2||.310||70.5 %||4.51||4.38||0.1|
I like Dave Dombrowski because he doesn’t overthink things. The Red Sox needed help in the bullpen, so Dombrowski got one of the game’s best closers. And the Red Sox needed help in the rotation, so Dombrowski got one of the game’s best starters. Scouts who’ve watched the Sox this spring have said they look like a team in need of a No. 2. That’s better than what the scouts were saying a year ago.
The only question about Price seems to concern his ability to deliver in the playoffs. I don’t even buy into that, but for now, it’s not what’s important. Price throws strikes, and he throws powerful strikes, so it’s like he takes the Cliff Lee approach to success while pausing to blow a few extra batters away. The fastball’s elite. The changeup’s elite. And about that fastball — Price just threw it north of 94 miles per hour. He hadn’t done that since 2011, and that seems to suggest he’s not on the verge of declining.
I think of Porcello as the No. 2 here, because of Buchholz’s historical unreliability. You probably know the Porcello story by now, but when he joined the Red Sox, he tried to work a four-seam fastball up in the zone. In theory it was a fine idea, but Porcello had always succeeded through staying down with his sinker, and when he eventually got back to doing that, he found himself. So expect Porcello to be a sinker-thrower going forward, and he’s blending it with a curveball he’s tried to model after Adam Wainwright’s. I like Porcello’s current profile.
Buchholz is coming off lots of strikeouts, and a career-best walk rate. The issue is that, for the third time in five years, he fell short of 20 starts, this time because of his elbow. You see the potential for shakiness here. That carries over to Rodriguez, who’s fought a spring knee problem. That could have mechanical consequences, but even if it doesn’t, Rodriguez has power stuff but not much of a swing-and-miss pitch. So he’s more acceptable than good. Kelly? I’m tired of waiting on Kelly. Wright doesn’t do a lot for me. Elias doesn’t do a lot for me. Owens has been interesting for a while, and the changeup is legitimate, but last year he didn’t throw enough strikes, and that’s a bad sign for a pitcher who doesn’t often top 90.
For as long as Buchholz is starting, the Red Sox should be happy, and their rotation could even be considered a strength. If something happens to him again, that’ll put pressure on some younger guys. At least — at least — that first slot is filled. They couldn’t have gotten someone much better to fill it.
|Felix Hernandez||224.0||8.8||2.2||0.8||.303||73.9 %||3.19||3.13||5.0|
|Taijuan Walker||181.0||8.3||2.6||1.2||.302||71.5 %||4.03||3.98||2.1|
|Wade Miley||175.0||7.1||3.0||0.9||.308||70.8 %||4.14||4.00||2.0|
|Hisashi Iwakuma||169.0||7.4||1.5||1.1||.299||72.8 %||3.61||3.61||2.7|
|Nate Karns||130.0||8.5||3.4||1.2||.302||71.9 %||4.23||4.24||1.1|
|James Paxton||74.0||7.5||3.4||0.8||.303||70.7 %||4.03||3.91||0.9|
|Vidal Nuno||9.0||7.8||2.1||1.3||.299||72.9 %||3.97||4.08||0.1|
|Joe Wieland||9.0||7.0||2.3||1.2||.307||70.5 %||4.31||4.19||0.1|
|Michael Montgomery||9.0||6.9||3.2||0.9||.304||70.2 %||4.20||4.15||0.1|
Quietly, I wonder if the Mariners can almost match the Yankees’ collapse potential. Felix hasn’t had a physical issue as public as Tanaka’s, but there have been questions about a variety of his body parts, and he’s coming off a second-half WAR of 0.5. Iwakuma, of course, failed a physical for a team that really wanted to sign him. Karns pitched just once after August last year because of his forearm, and he’s had a bad spring. Paxton made only 13 big-league starts last year, and he’s had a worse spring. Miley seems durable, but he had an ERA in the mid-4s. Walker seems durable, but he also had an ERA in the mid-4s.
That’s a very pessimistic paragraph, and I can’t imagine everything there is going to break in the wrong direction. As shown here, the Mariners’ starters should be more good than bad, kind of like the rest of the roster. So many things about the Mariners make them look like an 84-win ballclub. But with some reasonable bad rotation luck, maybe it’s a 74-win ballclub. Individually, I like each of these pitchers, yet the worry bug is unkillable.
If I had to guess, I think Felix last year was brought down by some lower-body issues. If he can ward those off, I think he’s still Felix. With Iwakuma, he’s long been effective and underrated, and based on reports the Dodgers were more worried about Year Three than Year One. If these two starters are able to go every time, the Mariners should be competitive.
And then it could be Walker who determines whether the rotation is fine or quite excellent. Beginning with his last start of May, Walker walked 17 batters while whiffing 118, so he sort of has a Michael Pineda profile of power and strikes and a few too many hard hits. Miley is entirely unspectacular, but you saw what the market was for No. 3s. Karns comes with a game-changing curveball. Paxton has everything you want but for command and proven durability. Unfortunately those two things are important.
There’s volatility here. There’s volatility in every rotation, but especially in this one, I think. With luck, it could be top-five. With different luck, it could be bottom-ten. Thankfully, as they say, baseball is very easy to predict.
|Dallas Keuchel||217.0||7.8||2.3||0.7||.302||74.6 %||3.16||3.30||4.8|
|Collin McHugh||185.0||7.7||2.4||1.0||.302||72.4 %||3.77||3.81||2.9|
|Doug Fister||163.0||5.8||2.0||1.2||.307||70.9 %||4.25||4.33||1.6|
|Lance McCullers||130.0||9.2||3.8||0.9||.307||73.3 %||3.74||3.74||2.2|
|Mike Fiers||150.0||8.3||2.7||1.3||.296||73.7 %||3.95||4.13||1.8|
|Scott Feldman||77.0||5.9||2.7||1.2||.300||69.2 %||4.51||4.51||0.6|
|Asher Wojciechowski||28.0||6.5||3.3||1.5||.307||68.8 %||5.18||5.09||0.0|
|Dan Straily||19.0||8.5||2.7||1.3||.306||72.2 %||4.21||4.20||0.2|
|Brad Peacock||9.0||8.0||3.8||1.4||.302||71.3 %||4.69||4.73||0.0|
Last year, the league-average starter threw his fastball 91.7 miles per hour. Keuchel doesn’t do that. McHugh doesn’t do that. Fister doesn’t do that. Fiers doesn’t do that. Feldman doesn’t do that. Wojciechowski doesn’t do that. Straily doesn’t do that. Peacock might not do that anymore. In this group, McCullers is the only power pitcher, and that makes the Astros unusual in this day and age, but don’t mistake a lack of power for a lack of ability or for a lack of strikeouts. The Astros are projected for a better strikeout rate than, say, the Cardinals are. Maybe this is a sign of a market inefficiency. Maybe the Astros are just good at handling softer-throwing pitchers.
There’s not really anything not to like about Keuchel. Strikeouts? He had the same rate as Zack Greinke. Walks? He had the same rate as Jake Arrieta. Contact? No one allowed a lower rate of hard-hit batted balls. Keuchel thrives in one or two spots, and he’s consistently able to stay there. Few pitchers in the game have better command, so Keuchel throws strikes while staying out of the zone. What could be better than that?
The Astros would’ve loved to add another top-of-the-line starter. Of course, the market went insane, so they couldn’t do that, but I’m sure they’re happy with what they have, because this rotation goes five deep. McHugh regressed some from where he was in his breakout, but he remained an above-average starter, exceeding 200 innings and throwing just 34% fastballs. You could say McHugh’s pitchability is through the roof.
McCullers has the big-time upside, being the owner of a mid-90s fastball and a starter’s version of Craig Kimbrel’s breaking ball. He’s working his way through what seems like a minor shoulder issue but he was going to have his innings monitored anyway. Fister has very different upside, because even the best version of Fister was more command over power, but according to reports, Fister this spring has re-discovered his old velocity level, so that bodes well. The Astros also want him to throw more curveballs, leaning less on his sinker and therefore generating more whiffs.
Then there’s Fiers, who’s somewhat improbably a strikeout-an-inning pitcher. That’s where he is after more than 400 big-league frames, so there’s no questioning it anymore. He’s good when he doesn’t give up home runs. Sometimes, there are home runs. Feldman will be the first line of depth, and you could do worse. He throws fastballs like McHugh throws fastballs, and his game is avoiding hard contact. He’s going to get his opportunities, because of McCullers and otherwise, and if the Astros end up with a major rotation problem, it’ll be because of an issue I don’t see coming yet. The Mets, they’re not. Good enough, they are.
|James Shields||207.0||8.6||2.8||1.0||.306||73.4 %||3.66||3.66||3.1|
|Tyson Ross||188.0||9.1||3.5||0.6||.310||73.0 %||3.38||3.24||3.8|
|Andrew Cashner||175.0||7.5||2.7||0.9||.308||71.1 %||3.86||3.69||2.6|
|Colin Rea||130.0||6.8||3.3||0.9||.307||70.3 %||4.29||4.22||1.1|
|Robbie Erlin||111.0||7.0||2.7||1.2||.306||69.4 %||4.47||4.30||0.8|
|Brandon Morrow||93.0||8.1||2.9||0.8||.310||72.0 %||3.83||3.59||1.5|
|Drew Pomeranz||38.0||9.6||3.4||0.8||.301||75.8 %||3.27||3.45||0.7|
|Buddy Baumann||19.0||8.5||3.3||0.8||.307||73.3 %||3.63||3.65||0.3|
|Luis Perdomo||9.0||7.2||3.3||1.0||.306||70.4 %||4.31||4.25||0.1|
It’s funny, looking back — people thought the Padres would be competitive in large part because of their rotation. Their rotation was basically this plus Ian Kennedy. Don’t get me wrong, this is fine, and this rotation still ranks in the upper half, but this group isn’t special. The Padres just hope it’ll be special enough they can swap some pieces for younger help come July.
Or maybe sooner! There are already rumors surrounding Shields. He cleared waivers last summer, but situations change, and Shields is clearly still able to help. Though he lost a little bit of his fastball, he also set a career-high in strikeouts, and the home-run rate is unlikely to remain so high. One interesting thing about Shields: his famous changeup has been good for negative value each of the last two seasons. His real value doesn’t match his name value, but he’d be a useful supporting pitcher on a better team.
Ross is the prize here, a maybe-ace who’s a free agent after next year. If things go as it looks like they will, Ross could be the biggest piece moved midseason. For a fastball/slider righty, he’s effective enough against lefties, and by pitch-type run values, the last three years, Ross has had three of the eight top sliders in baseball. The slider usage makes him risky, but he’s proven his worth.
Cashner frustrates, because only his fastball is consistent, and that means his fastball is hittable. He does, however, still throw in the mid-90s, so his baseline is fairly high. Morrow frustrates for different reasons. If you can believe it, he’s coming up on 32 years old. Erlin is a pitching machine programmed to throw strikes, with no other settings. Rea has been an attention-getter at camp. He’s gained two ticks on his fastball and his repertoire spans five pitches, so there’s a sleeper for you. Rea could be a fun one to watch all season.
The Padres are projected as if they’ll keep the staff together all year. I think that’s unlikely, so the rotation won’t be good all season long. Neither will the Padres be, but at least with the Craig Kimbrel trade, it’s possible to see better days not too far ahead.
|Gerrit Cole||206.0||8.6||2.2||0.7||.308||73.2 %||3.19||3.09||4.5|
|Francisco Liriano||184.0||9.4||3.4||0.7||.304||74.4 %||3.27||3.25||3.6|
|Jon Niese||153.0||5.9||2.6||0.8||.311||70.1 %||4.07||3.94||1.7|
|Jeff Locke||93.0||6.8||3.3||0.8||.306||70.8 %||4.10||4.05||0.9|
|Ryan Vogelsong||92.0||6.7||3.2||1.1||.307||70.1 %||4.47||4.35||0.6|
|Juan Nicasio||85.0||7.8||3.5||0.8||.306||72.1 %||3.89||3.84||1.0|
|Tyler Glasnow||65.0||9.6||4.5||0.8||.302||73.6 %||3.78||3.84||0.8|
|Jameson Taillon||47.0||7.1||3.2||0.8||.309||70.8 %||4.08||3.97||0.5|
|Nick Kingham||28.0||7.0||2.8||0.9||.305||70.9 %||4.01||3.98||0.3|
|Kyle Lobstein||9.0||6.3||2.7||0.8||.310||70.7 %||4.02||3.90||0.1|
It’s fine if you feel unimpressed. You probably should feel unimpressed. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with Cole, and there’s nothing wrong with Liriano. That’s a solid top-two, and those are the starters the Pirates will most count on. This isn’t a new formula. It’s the rest of the initial fivesome that doesn’t seem to resemble that of a should-be contender.
They picked up Niese because they didn’t like the prices for other mid-rotation starters. That’s totally justifiable. And, you know, Niese has been mostly an average starter for something like six years. He’s also coming off a career-low rate of strikeouts. Locke? Well, Locke gets grounders, and he doesn’t not get strikeouts, but he’s fringe-y. Vogelsong’s history is the most interesting thing about him. He did, I suppose, get back to 2011 velocity, so that’s something. He’s a fifth starter. No one goes wild about fifth starters.
Here’s the upside: Nicasio and Glasnow. Nicasio might still end up a long reliever, but he could at least get spot starts, and he has yet to allow an official run in spring. He’s dominant against righties, and he could be the newest Ray Searage success story. And Glasnow is the top prospect who’s probably big-league ready now. Oh, sure, he has kinks to work out, and the Pirates will let him try to do that in Triple-A, but Glasnow could be third in this rotation for the stretch run. And that introduces a different element. This says nothing of the Taillon mystery; he hasn’t pitched in a couple years, but of course he’s still got that big-time prospect glow.
The Pirates have some depth, including one of the better pitching prospects in the game. And, for heaven’s sake, maybe they could also just go out and get another J.A. Happ if they needed to. The Pirates have proven they’re good at making the most of what they have. At first, they’ll probably just limit their back-of-the-rotation starters. It’s among the reasons they’ve built a deep and powerful bullpen. And then further help could be on the way. The Pirates’ rotation is unlikely to dominate, but I trust them to get what they need out of the unit, whatever it ends up looking like.
|Chris Archer||196.0||9.3||3.0||0.8||.301||74.8 %||3.22||3.26||4.1|
|Jake Odorizzi||161.0||8.3||2.7||1.1||.294||74.7 %||3.61||3.83||2.2|
|Drew Smyly||141.0||8.9||2.6||1.1||.293||76.2 %||3.46||3.72||2.1|
|Matt Moore||129.0||8.3||3.7||1.1||.299||72.8 %||4.11||4.27||1.1|
|Erasmo Ramirez||120.0||6.8||2.6||1.1||.297||71.0 %||4.11||4.22||1.1|
|Blake Snell||84.0||8.8||4.6||1.0||.299||72.9 %||4.09||4.23||0.8|
|Alex Cobb||49.0||7.7||2.7||0.8||.300||73.4 %||3.46||3.58||0.8|
|Jacob Faria||38.0||8.0||3.5||1.0||.302||72.5 %||4.07||4.18||0.4|
|Taylor Guerrieri||19.0||7.0||2.8||1.0||.299||71.7 %||4.03||4.16||0.2|
|Matt Andriese||9.0||7.3||2.2||0.9||.303||72.9 %||3.56||3.65||0.1|
The shame about Archer is that, for as wonderful as he is, there’s only one of him. The good news for Tampa Bay is that he plays for the Rays, and last year Archer had his true breakout into ace-hood. He rode a dominant slider to 29% strikeouts, and although his second half was worse, what that really means is that his September was worse. As an overall package, as a player and as a human, Archer’s a type any team would kill for. Who would they kill? I don’t know and I don’t want to find out.
Things get messier behind Archer, for a variety of reasons. I mean, things get messier behind every team’s ace, but, take Odorizzi — he built some on his 2014, but he hasn’t found a good third pitch. Smyly’s been forced to miss significant time with shoulder problems. That being said, you might not believe this, but last year 186 starters threw at least 50 innings. Smyly ranked eighth in strikeout rate, between Archer and Corey Kluber. Drew Smyly! There’s something promising here.
Toward the back, I’m not sure how much longer we wait for Moore. Incredibly, in spring, he has yet to walk a batter, and some observers think he’s making strides, but 2015 was pretty awful and 2012’s fastball was a while ago. So, he’s a mystery box. Ramirez moved forward after coming over and he just unlocked the full potential of his changeup. So he’s a definite starter, but maybe one with a relatively short in-game leash.
Snell, you know for his minor-league shutout streak. His unhittability is ahead of his command, but he’s probably about good for five-inning starts. Cobb will be an interesting wild card because he might be ready to return from Tommy John for the second half. Cobb was a locked-in No. 2 before getting hurt, so maybe he’ll be referred to by the front office as the best possible deadline acquisition.
Not that you should count on successful mid-year Tommy John returns, but if Cobb does come back and looks sharp, that’ll provide a significant boost to a rotation that might be in need of one. The uncertainty in the front five balances out the potential, so the Rays are going to treasure their prospective reinforcements.
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