MLB Power Rankings: Ranking Every 2012 Starting Rotation

Zachary Petersel@@ZPeterselFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2012

MLB Power Rankings: Ranking Every 2012 Starting Rotation

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    With the season officially under way, it's time to rank major league baseball's top starting rotations. In ranking the teams, there were two main things I considered:

    First, does the team have an ace? Also, how deep is the rotation?

    For me, having an ace is ultra important for many reasons. Not only does it provide the entire team a boost on the days he is pitching, but he allows the rest of the pitchers in the rotation to take on smaller roles.

    For a team like the Seattle Mariners, Felix Hernandez gives his team's own hitters a better attitude going into his starts, and he takes a lot of pressure off lesser pitchers like Jason Vargas and newcomer Hector Noesi. He is a guy they can look up to.

    In addition to that, the ace more often than not will prevent long losing streaks. By the end of the season such streaks are the things that knock teams out of contention.

    In regards to depth, I am talking how many quality starting pitchers does the team have.

    The teams at the top of the list like the Rays, Phillies and Angels all have at least four excellent, top-flight starters. On the other hand, the teams at the bottom like Astros are lucky to have one.

    All that being said, baseball is a game where the teams change on a daily basis. Nobody thought the Diamondbacks were going to be good last season, but this year they have a top-10 starting rotation and some are predicting them to make it all the way to the World Series.

    So even if your team does not currently rank that high, in a month or two, new aces will have developed and new depth in the starting rotation will emerge. Akin to last year with the D-Backs and Dodgers moving up, the rank of each starting rotation will adjust accordingly. 

    Here are my rankings of every starting rotation in baseball!

30. Baltimore Orioles

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    1. Jake Arrieta

    2. Tommy Hunter

    3. Jason Hammel

    4. Brian Matusz

    5. Wei-Yin Chen

    The Baltimore Orioles have the only rotation in baseball without a standout No. 1 starter. 

    When your ace is a question mark, that cannot be good. At this point in his career, Jake Arrieta is just that. The only upside arm in the rotation is Brian Matusz, who could return to the top prospect he was a year ago after his velocity returned this spring.

29. Houston Astros

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    1. Wandy Rodriguez

    2. Lucas Harrell

    3. Bud Norris

    4. J.A. Happ

    5. Kyle Weiland

    The Astros are not going to be very competitive this season—that we know. However, at least with Bud Norris, J.A. Happ, and young Jordan Lyles waiting in the wings, they can build some excitement for the future.

    Rodriguez has been a quality starter over the past few seasons, but beyond him the fans in Houston will go into every game not knowing what they are going to get from their starting pitchers.

28. Kansas City Royals

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    1. Bruce Chen

    2. Luke Hochevar

    3. Jonathan Sanchez

    4. Luis Mendoza

    5. Daniel Duffy

    The guys to watch here are Sanchez and Mendoza. While Chen and Hochevar are nothing special, they are consistent and provide innings—two valuable commodities. On the other hand, Sanchez could be special and Mendoza is definitely on the rise.

    Sanchez has ace potential, striking out 205 batters as recently as 2010, and Mendoza has been fantastic this spring, leading the majors with a 0.47 ERA.

27. Chicago Cubs

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    1. Ryan Dempster

    2. Matt Garza

    3. Jeff Samardzija

    4. Chris Volstad

    5. Paul Maholm

    With Dempster and Garza, the Cubs have a strong top two for their rotation, but they simply have no depth behind them.

    Samardzija and Volstad have had great springs, but neither of them have had sustained success in the regular season.

    I liked the Maholm signing for upside purposes, but his previous arm troubles scare me, especially considering the Pirates were willing to let him walk away for nothing. 

26. Oakland Athletics

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    1. Brandon McCarthy

    2. Bartolo Colon

    3. Tom Milone

    4. Graham Godfrey

    5. Tyson Ross

    The A’s make it this far into the list despite three unknowns in their rotation because I believe Brandon McCarthy will validate his 2011 with an even better 2012.

    Tom Milone was the last piece in the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals, but he will surprise people and be a solid starter in the majors right away. 

25. Cleveland Indians

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    1. Justin Masterson

    2. Ubaldo Jimenez

    3. Josh Tomlin

    4. Derek Lowe

    5. Jeanmar Gomez

    There are plenty of question marks surrounding this rotation, but I am a big believer in a Ubaldo Jimenez turnaround this season despite his little incident this spring.

    With Masterson and Ubaldo leading the way, a return to mediocrity from Derek Lowe, and either Tomlin and/or Gomez performing as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, the Indians will be competitive in the AL Central. 

24. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    1. Erik Bedard

    2. Jeff Karstens

    3. James McDonald

    4. Kevin Correia

    5. Charlie Morton

    ALT: A.J. Burnett (DL) 

    Provided A.J. Burnett can return from facial surgery early in the season, the Pirates will have the best rotation they have had in a long time.

    James McDonald is going to be a stud, and Jeff Karstens is not as bad as people think he is. While you cannot rely on Erik Bedard given his injury history, if the Pirates get anything from him they will have a very solid front four.

    I don't know why Kevin Correia was picked to start Opening Day last season, but as a back end starter, he could be a solid innings eater. 

23. Minnesota Twins

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    1. Carl Pavano

    2. Francisco Liriano

    3. Liam Hendriks

    4. Nick Blackburn

    5. Jason Marquis

    ALT: Scott Baker (DL) 

    The success of the Twins rotation in 2012 will depend on the health and form of Francisco Liriano.

    Before his Tommy John surgery he was one of the top up-and-coming pitchers in the game, but Liriano has struggled a lot recently, with an ERA above five in two of his last three seasons. However, there is a lot of depth here with Pavano, Blackburn and Marquis, so the rotation will be a strength for the Twins if Liriano can return to top form.

22. Colorado Rockies

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    1. Jeremy Guthrie

    2. Jamie Moyer

    3. Juan Nicasio

    4. Jhoulys Chacin

    5. Drew Pomeranz

    I love this rotation's potential and as a Rockies fan, I would be very excited.

    Having to pitch in Camden Yards against the AL East lineups is no picnic, but Jeremy Guthrie was always solid. Moving into the joke that is the NL West, even in Coors Field, I think Guthrie could have a huge season.

    Slotted third is Juan Nicasio in what would be a great story if he returns to form after last season’s horrific injury. Combined with Jhoulys Chacin and Drew Pomeranz, the Rockies have three great, young arms that should be in their rotation for a long time. 

21. Chicago White Sox

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    1. John Danks

    2. Jake Peavy

    3. Gavin Floyd

    4. Chris Sale

    5. Philip Humber

    This is a rotation full of names and pedigrees. Problem is, I do not see these players living up to expectations.

    John Danks has been consistently good in a tough pitchers park and Gavin Floyd has had four straight 10-plus win seasons. After that, the questions come flying in.

    Can Jake Peavy return to form? What can we expect from Chris Sale in his first year as a starting pitcher? Is Phil Humber the great White Sox pitcher of 2011 or the one who flamed out in two other organizations?

    When these questions are answered, the White Sox will either land a lot higher or a lot lower on this list.

20. St. Louis Cardinals

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    1. Kyle Lohse

    2. Jaime Garcia

    3. Adam Wainwright

    4. Lance Lynn

    5. Jake Westbrook

    ALT: Chris Carpenter (DL)

    It is quite possible the Cardinals make me regret putting them this low, especially after Lohse's start last night, but the more teams I started doing, the further down the list the Cardinals went.

    Somebody please tell me, what exactly is special here?

    Adam Wainwright had a nice spring, but he is coming off Tommy John surgery. Kyle Lohse as a No. 2 starter is no more than mediocre. Jaime Garcia has upside, but is still injury prone. Lance Lynn was a reliever last season and Jake Westbrook is terrible. 

    With the unknown severity of Chris Carpenter’s injury and their almighty pitching coach, Dave Duncan, retiring, I do not see the Cardinals' pitching living up to expectations.

19. New York Mets

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    1. Johan Santana

    2. R.A. Dickey

    3. Jon Niese

    4. Mike Pelfrey

    5. Dillon Gee

    The Mets have the potential to be a very solid rotation and finish higher on this list if everything pans out. The problem is, there are a lot of ifs.

    Can Johan Santana return to the form that made him the best pitcher in baseball from 2003-2008? Can Jonathan Niese take the next step and win 15 games? Will Mike Pelfrey finally develop into a consistent winner that his stuff and pedigree say he should be? Will Dillon Gee improve upon his first season and pitch as a No. 3-type starter some scouts think he can be?

    There are too many questions to list them higher, but the potential is also too great to list them lower.

18. Seattle Mariners

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    1. Felix Hernandez

    2. Jason Vargas

    3. Hector Noesi

    4. Blake Beavan

    5. Kevin Millwood

    Essentially, this is Felix Hernandez and then everybody else.

    As I mentioned in the beginning, I place a lot of value in an ace. When a rotation has a perennial Cy Young candidate who is capable of winning 20 games and striking out 200 people in his sleep, it greatly improves a rotation by taking pressure off everyone else.

    Jason Vargas has developed into a nice starting pitcher after a couple of seasons with off-the-field problems, and Hector Noesi should be a nice rotation addition. Playing in the pitching haven that is Safeco Field should help the overall stats of this rotation.

17. San Diego Padres

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    1. Edinson Volquez

    2. Cory Luebke

    3. Dustin Moseley

    4. Clayton Richard

    5. Tim Stauffer

    Talk about a pitching haven. Petco Park may have the ability to make Edinson Volquez look good again.

    With Cory Luebke and Clayton Richard on board, the Padres have two up-and-coming left-handers for their rotation, with Luebke being the gem of the pair. After a stellar second half last season earned him a nice contract extension, the Padres are expecting big things and Luebke will deliver.

    Despite his walks, Volquez should be able to win double-digit games, and Tim Stauffer is a better fifth starter than most teams have in this league. The Padres will not hit, but their pitching will be fun to watch.

16. Toronto Blue Jays

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    1. Ricky Romero

    2. Brandon Morrow

    3. Joel Carreno

    4. Henderson Alvarez

    5. Kyle Drabek 

    The Blue Jays' pitching staff has the daunting task of pitching against the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox every year. It doesn't help that their stadium ranked as the fourth-best hitters park in all of baseball in 2011. 

    All of that being said, the Jays have two potential Cy Young candidates in Romero and Morrow. Alvarez and Drabek have the potential to be stellar if they can harness their control, and over the course of the season could provide the fans in Toronto a lot of exciting ball games.

    When this list rolls around in 2013, with a front four of Romero, Morrow, Alvarez and Drabek still intact, the Blue Jays may leapfrog both the Yankees and the Red Sox for the second-best rotation in their division.

15. Cincinnati Reds

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    1. Johnny Cueto

    2. Mat Latos

    3. Bronson Arroyo

    4. Mike Leake

    5. Homer Bailey

    Latos and Cueto give the Reds two No. 1 type starters, each of whom is capable of winning 20 games in a weak NL Central if healthy. 

    Mike Leake should continue to improve and be a quality No. 3 starter and Bronson Arroyo won 47 games from 2008-2010, so the Reds will have some serious depth in their rotation this season. 

14. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    1. Clayton Kershaw

    2. Chad Billingsley

    3. Chris Capuano

    4. Aaron Harang 

    5. Ted Lilly

    Because the Dodgers have the reigning Cy Young winner in their rotation, their rotation is automatically placed in the top half of baseball.

    Clayton Kershaw is just that good.

    I think Harang and Capuano will prove to be nice signings and provide good innings while Chad Billingsley turns back the clock and provides the 200 strikeouts he is capable of. 

13. Atlanta Braves

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    1. Tommy Hanson

    2. Jair Jurrjens

    3. Mike Minor

    4. Brandon Beachy

    5. Randall Delgado

    ALT: Tim Hudson (DL), Julio Teheran (top prospect)

    Last season, this Braves rotation was spectacular, finishing toward the top in just about every pitching category including the fourth-best ERA in all of baseball. Coming into 2012 however, there are simply too many injury concerns to list them any higher.

    Tommy Hanson missed time last season with shoulder issues. Jair Jurrjens' health and mechanics are always in question. Tim Hudson will miss the start of the season after back surgery. Top prospect Arodys Vizcaino is already out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Julio Teheran had an awful spring.

    With everyone healthy, this is a top-five rotation, but at this point in the season, it falls quite short of that mark.

12. Boston Red Sox

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    1. Jon Lester

    2. Josh Beckett

    3. Clay Buchholz

    4. Felix Doubront

    5. Daniel Bard

    The names Lester, Beckett and Buchholz are still there, but the buzz has disappeared. Is it because of the collapse of last September or because the performance has never matched the hype?

    Beckett already has an injury concern with his thumb, Lester has never had an ERA under 3.2 and Buchholz has only started more than 16 games once in four seasons as a starter. 

    The questions continue with Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard, as neither of them have started a game at the big league level.

    At the end of the day, I am a believer in the names. Lester will have the best season of his career, Beckett will fight off this injury and Buchholz will return to his 2010 form and win 12-15 games. 

11. Detroit Tigers

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    1. Justin Verlander

    2. Max Scherzer

    3. Doug Fister 

    4. Rick Porcello

    5. Drew Smyly

    Some will probably have the Tigers higher on this list because of Verlander, but I am not sold on the back end of this rotation.

    I believe this is the year Max Scherzer breaks out, but I do not believe in the hype Doug Fister and Rick Porcello are getting. Before his dominant three months in Detroit, Fister had a FIP above four in each of his first two seasons in Seattle.

    In addition, with him and Porcello being ground-ball pitchers, having Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder at the corners of their infield will not help keep runs off the board.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    1. Ian Kennedy

    2. Daniel Hudson

    3. Josh Collmenter

    4. Trevor Cahill

    5. Joe Saunders

    This could be the rotation of the National League champions. Who would have thought that a year ago today?

    Whether or not you believe me, the D-Backs' top two starters can be put against any other pairing in the National League and hold their own, if not beat them the majority of the time.

    That includes the group in Philadelphia.

    With Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson leading the way, the D-Backs will definitely be in the race come September. With Josh Collmenter, Trevor Cahill and Joe Saunders behind them, all five starters may end up with an ERA under four.

    That is a world of upside in the desert. 

9. Miami Marlins

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    1. Josh Johnson

    2. Mark Buehrle

    3. Ricky Nolasco

    4. Carlos Zambrano

    5. Anibal Sanchez

    A healthy Josh Johnson brings this group up a couple of slots. Without Johnson leading the way, this rotation would fall very far down, so at No. 9, we find a happy medium.

    When Johnson has pitched, he has been spectacular to the tune of a 2.98 career ERA and a 2.14 ERA in 2010 and 2011 respectively. However, he has had a lot of trouble staying on the field consistently, making only nine starts last year.

    Mark Buehrle is a very solid No. 2 but after that there are a lot of question marks.

    Nolasco and Sanchez have incredible stuff, but never manage to put together complete seasons. I expect a comeback season from Carlos Zambrano pitching for Ozzie Guillen in Miami, but he is far from a guarantee at this point in his career.

8. Texas Rangers

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    1. Colby Lewis

    2. Derek Holland

    3. Matt Harrison

    4. Yu Darvish

    5. Neftali Feliz

    Yu Darvish as a No. 4 starter? There are a lot of scouts predicting 20 wins and 200-plus strikeouts for him. How is that fair?

    With Neftali Feliz checking in at the No. 5 spot, this is the deepest rotation we have seen to this point and could be the only rotation where their fifth-best starter turns into the best of the bunch by the end of the year.

    Each of these five can win 20 games, especially with the loaded Rangers lineup. I expect a huge season from Darvish and Derek Holland, who will follow up his breakout second half when he went 9-1 with a 3.06 ERA to win 18 games in 2012. 

7. New York Yankees

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    1. CC Sabathia

    2. Hiroki Kuroda

    3. Phil Hughes

    4. Ivan Nova

    5. Freddy Garcia

    ALT: Michael Pineda (DL), Andy Pettitte (late arrival)

    CC Sabathia is quietly building himself a Hall of Fame resume if he continues to pitch this well. In his first three years in the Bronx, Sabathia has 59 wins, and is as close to a sure thing as you can find in the majors.

    Hiroki Kuroda will slide into the No. 2 spot, and while he may not put up the same numbers that he did in L.A. considering he is moving from the pothole that is the NL West into the band box that is Yankee Stadium, he will still win 12-15 games. 

    The upside here lies with Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Andy Pettitte.

    Hughes won 18 games in 2010 and when he got past his dead-arm issues of early 2011, he was back to pitching at that level. Garcia was very solid last season, winning 12 games in half of his starts. Knowing Andy Pettitte, he will win 10 games before the season is up and find a way to start Game 2 of the ALDS come October. 

    I do not think Michael Pineda or Ivan Nova will make it through the year without serious injuries to both of their arms, so having Pettitte as the seventh starter on the depth chart was not a bad idea.

6. Washington Nationals

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    1. Stephen Strasburg

    2. Gio Gonzalez

    3. Jordan Zimmermann

    4. Edwin Jackson

    5. Ross Detwiler 

    The Nationals boast three starting pitchers in Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann who could each win 15 games and strike out 200 batters. Not too many teams in the league can say that.

    Add another starter that has won double-digit games each of the last four seasons in Edwin Jackson, who still has upside at the age of 28, and the Nationals have built themselves into a serious ball club in one offseason.

    Strasburg has the potential to be the best pitcher in all of baseball, but as is always the case with him, it comes down to health. Without Strasburg, the Nationals would fall more than a couple spots down this list, but if he stays healthy, Washington will be in contention for the top spot in the NL East all season long.

5. San Francisco Giants

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    1. Tim Lincecum

    2. Matt Cain

    3. Madison Bumgarner

    4. Ryan Vogelsong

    5. Barry Zito

    If you thought the Nationals had a good front four, take a look at this front three. 

    Lincecum has two Cy Youngs already under his belt, and has remotivated himself coming into 2012 and looks to re-emerge as one of the top pitchers of the game.

    Matt Cain has a career 2.97 ERA over the past three seasons, and at 27 years old should still be getting better heading into 2012.

    Madison Bumgarner may in fact be the best of the bunch, and I explain everything you need to know here, but to sum it up he went 9-4 post-All-Star break last season with a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This kid is only 22 years old and is a flat-out stud.

    Again, he is their No. 3 starter.

    The reason they are this "low" on the list is because Barry Zito is still on the team. Unfortunately for Giants fans, the team is still on the hook for two more seasons and potentially $57 million if his option kicks in.

    Imagine the Giants rotation in if they did not trade Zack Wheeler to the Mets for Carlos Beltran. By late 2013, this group would have been scary good.

4. Milwaukee Brewers

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    1. Yovani Gallardo

    2. Zack Greinke

    3. Randy Wolf

    4. Shaun Marcum

    5. Chris Narveson

    Coming into 2011, Clayton Kershaw was just a great young pitcher. He had won 13 games in 2010 with a ton of strikeouts, but was still having some trouble with his control. He went on to win the Cy Young. 

    My pick to have a Kershaw-esque breakout during the 2012 season is Yovani Gallardo. While it will not be as drastic considering Gallardo won 17 games last year, he has cut his walks in half from 2009 and had over 200 strikeouts three straight seasons. I think he wins 20 games easily and takes home the Cy Young.

    The only thing that may prevent Gallardo from winning the award is Zack Greinke, but only because they would split the vote. Greinke had the best K/9 last year of any starting pitcher to go along with a great FIP, and is another starter who will finish in the top 10 of the Cy Young race for 2012.

    Filling out the rest of the rotation with Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum and Chris Narveson gives the Brewers three potential No. 3 starters, with Marcum capable of being an ace when he's at his best.

    With star power and depth, the Brewers are very deserving of this ranking. 

3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    1. Jered Weaver

    2. Dan Haren

    3. Ervin Santana

    4. C.J. Wilson

    5. Jerome Williams

    The only thing preventing the Angels from being the No. 1 or 2 on this list is their No. 5 starter, Jerome Williams. I hate to pick on him, but with Weaver, Haren, Santana and Wilson all capable of winning 20-plus games, having a guy like Williams at the end of the rotation just does not seem right.

    Jered Weaver broke out last year to win 18 games with an unbelievable first half in which he had a 1.86 ERA in 140 innings at the All-Star break.

    Haren won 16 games last year and has averaged 14 wins over the past seven seasons with a 3.49 ERA.

    Santana has won 16-plus games three different times in his career, and despite only 11 wins last year, had a career best 3.38 ERA.

    C.J. Wilson won 31 games over the past two years, not to mention a 2.31 ERA away from Rangers Ballpark, and an even better 0.53 ERA at Angel Stadium, his new home.

    So to say Jerome Williams and his career record of 27-29 does not fit is not really a stretch, but at the same time, this Angels rotation is going to be unbelievably good regardless of who the fifth starter is. 

2. Tampa Bay Rays

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    1. James Shields

    2. David Price

    3. Jeremy Hellickson

    4. Matt Moore

    5. Jeff Niemann

    ALT: Wade Davis

    Starting one game in his career was enough for Matt Moore to know he could dominate the best offense in the American League, on the road, in Game 1 of the ALDS last season. What does a seven-inning performance in which you gave up just two hits and two walks with six strikeouts get you on this Rays' staff?

    The fourth spot in the rotation.

    With James Shields (249 IP, 11 CG, 224 K), David Price (224 IP, 218 K, 19 W in 2010) and Jeremy Hellickson (13 W, 2.95 ERA, .210 opponents' BA) in town, there is not much room for him to move up either. 

    Following Moore is Jeff Niemann, the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft who has won 10-plus games each of the past three season, and Wade Davis, who was sent to the bullpen despite winning 23 games over the past two seasons. 

    The Rays are so loaded with starting pitching that is still so young that they will not just sit atop this list for 2012, but for the foreseeable future. 

1. Philadelphia Phillies

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    1. Roy Halladay

    2. Cliff Lee

    3. Vance Worley 

    4. Cole Hamels

    5. Joe Blanton

    Vance Worley and Joe Blanton are both good enough to be No. 2 or No. 3 starter on just about every rotation in all of baseball. Except for their own team, that is. Worley may be slotted third, but that is only because the team wants Hamels to start the home opener

    Despite an 11-3 record with an 8.1 K/9 ratio for Worley and a 73-62 career record for Blanton, these two pale in comparison to Halladay, Lee and Hamels—three of the best starting pitchers the game has to offer.

    Over the last four seasons, Halladay has not placed out of the top five in the Cy Young race, winning it once and finishing second place two other times. Doc has averaged 19 wins over those four years with a 2.59 ERA and 213 strikeouts each season. 

    Lee had one of the greatest seasons I can remember in 2010, with a sub-human K:BB ratio of 185:18 on the year, good for 10.28:1. He was unhittable in the second half of last season, going 8-2 with a 1.79 ERA.

    As if those two were not good enough, Hamels may be the best of the bunch this year.

    He has trimmed his ERA each of the last two seasons, settling at 2.79 last year with career bests in WHIP, H/9 and K:BB. Heading into his age-28 season, Hamels is the best No. 3 pitcher in all of baseball, and will get paid to be somebody's ace when the season concludes. 

    What puts these three over the top and into the No. 1 spot for the starting pitcher rankings is that they have been absolutely stellar in the postseason. Halladay's no-hitter, Hamels' World Series MVP and Lee's performances with both the Phillies and Rangers have left no doubt that they can perform when the lights shine brightest.