Predicting Each MLB Team's 5-Man Rotation
MLB teams usually wait until spring training to decide which five members will constitute their starting rotations. Here are early predictions while we wait for exhibition games.
Those results don't solely determine preseason competitions, anyway. Coaching staffs instead consider how much major league experience their rotation candidates have, whether they'll be vulnerable to injury and whether they have sufficient command and pitch variety to pass through a lineup multiple times.
Every staff has at least one player locked into place, but there are plenty of unknowns, too. Even MLBDepthCharts is forced to make some blind guesses at this stage of the offseason.
Combining the site's projections with reports from baseball insiders led to the following conclusions.
Wade Miley was the top NL rookie pitcher of 2012.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Pat Corbin, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Brandon McCarthy, LHP Wade Miley.
McCarthy has joined the Arizona Diamondbacks on a two-year, $15.5 million contract. He's the most expensive free-agent pitcher signed by Kevin Towers since he took over as general manager.
The only uncertainty in this rotation comes from the No. 5 spot.
After trading away Trevor Bauer, the D-Backs will let Corbin and Tyler Skaggs compete for the job in spring training. Both struggled this past September, but the former showed greater command of his pitches. Skaggs can be expected to begin at Triple-A.
Daniel Hudson underwent Tommy John surgery last summer and could return sometime after the All-Star break.
Kris Medlen hasn't lost a regular-season start since 2010.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Tim Hudson, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Kris Medlen, LHP Mike Minor.
Brandon Beachy was the ace of the Atlanta Braves through June 2012, but had his breakout season derailed by a torn ulnar collateral ligament. He began a throwing program in October and hopes to rejoin the rotation by midseason.
The team hardly noticed his absence because Medlen—a Tommy John survivor himself—couldn't be beaten down the stretch (literally). Very quietly, Minor also caught fire as the year progressed. He limited opposing batters to a 2.16 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in the second half.
Delgado pitched decently before being demoted to the minors. He ought to break camp with the major league team, though über-talented Julio Teheran will have an opportunity, too.
Jason Hammel has successfully replaced Jeremy Guthrie.
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Opening Day rotation: LHP Zach Britton, LHP Wei-Yin Chen, RHP Miguel Gonzalez, RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Chris Tillman.
The Baltimore Orioles head toward next season devoid of a starter who has ever thrown 200 innings in a season. Chen came close last summer and finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year balloting.
Gonzalez, Hammel and Tillman sustained success in 2012, even during Baltimore's brief postseason run.
Jake Arrieta might make the team as a long reliever and highly touted prospect Dylan Bundy should get starts once he proves himself at Triple-A.
Boston Red Sox
Jon Lester seeks to bounce back from an awful campaign.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Clay Buchholz, RHP Ryan Dempster, LHP Felix Doubront, RHP John Lackey, LHP Jon Lester.
The Boston Red Sox won't make wholesale changes to their starting pitching despite last season's struggles. Lester is getting the benefit of the doubt following an uncharacteristically ugly campaign.
With Tommy John surgery in the rear-view mirror, Lackey should be throwing harder than he has in recent years.
Dempster is the new graybeard of the staff. He represents an obvious upgrade over Aaron Cook.
The Cubs signed Edwin Jackson through the 2016 season.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Matt Garza, RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Jeff Samardzija, RHP Carlos Villanueva.
Projected starters Feldman and Garza will definitely be dealt by the Chicago Cubs if they pitch well from the get-go. The rebuilding team still wants to acquire young pieces with whom to build a perennial contender.
Right-hander Scott Baker is in the same situation. However, don't bet on him being ready to start in April. When he does fully recover from elbow surgery, it might come at Villanueva's expense.
If the aforementioned veterans get traded, Arodys Vizcaino and Travis Wood could be inserted into the rotation.
Chicago White Sox
Jake Peavy has proved that he can excel when healthy.
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Opening Day rotation: LHP John Danks, RHP Gavin Floyd, RHP Jake Peavy, LHP Jose Quintana, LHP Chris Sale.
Floyd is on the trading block, tweets Danny Knobler of CBS Sports, so the Chicago White Sox may ultimately strike a one-year deal with a free-agent starter.
They seem hesitant to pull the trigger on any exchanges because Danks is somewhat questionable coming off a shoulder procedure. Chicago won't hurry to compromise its depth.
Quintana faded after the All-Star break, recording just two wins over his final 15 starts. On the other hand, Peavy and Sale pitched brilliantly throughout the season.
Former closer Aroldis Chapman is transitioning to a starting role.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Bronson Arroyo, RHP Homer Bailey, LHP Aroldis Chapman, RHP Johnny Cueto, RHP Mat Latos.
Every pitcher who started a game for the 2012 Cincinnati Reds is still with the organization.
Unimpressed with Mike Leake's performance, they have decided to promote Aroldis Chapman from the bullpen.
The Cuban Missile excelled in the closer's role and reactions to his proposed move have been mixed. Some worry that being stretched out could lead to serious injury (e.g. Neftali Feliz). The rest believe he can make the transition smoothly like Chris Sale did for the Chicago White Sox.
Even if Chapman disappoints, Cincinnati's rotation should be formidable with Cueto and Latos leading it.
Ubaldo Jimenez hasn't helped the Indians.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP Justin Masterson, RHP Zach McAllister, RHP Brett Myers.
ESPN Insider's Jason A. Churchill (subscription required) suspects that the Cleveland Indians could be in the hunt for Chris Capuano of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Presently, their rotation lacks a left-hander. They also have an internal option—former strikeout king Scott Kazmir, who spent 2012 in an independent league.
The Tribe have plenty of question marks. Carrasco didn't pitch last season and Myers appeared exclusively in relief. Newly acquired Trevor Bauer needs better command of his powerful stuff.
Cleveland's new additions put pressure on Jimenez to make adjustments after an abysmal second half (via Baseball-Reference.com).
Colorado will pay Jorge De La Rosa $11 million this summer.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Jhoulys Chacin, LHP Jorge De La Rosa, LHP Jeff Francis, RHP Juan Nicasio, LHP Drew Pomeranz.
Only minor changes to the Colorado Rockies roster this winter. All the potential starters were on the team in 2012.
A stress fracture relegated left-hander Christian Friedrich to the disabled list. He should be healthy this spring, but his 6.17 earned run average drops him in the pecking order.
Edwar Cabrera will likely go down to Triple-A for a few weeks of seasoning. Everyone is intrigued by his ability to miss bats.
Anibal Sanchez was at his best in September and October.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Doug Fister, RHP Anibal Sanchez, RHP Max Scherzer, LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Justin Verlander.
The one glaring omission here is Rick Porcello. He's arguably a better pitcher than Smyly, but not as good of a fit for the Detroit Tigers. His tendency to induce ground balls hurts them because their corner infielders have below-average range.
Porcello cannot co-exist with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but a handful of teams will be interested in trading for him in the coming weeks.
Each of the above starters kept their ERAs below 4.00 last season. Verlander, of course, is the best in the business.
Newly-acquired Alex White will fight for a rotation spot.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Lucas Harrell, RHP Phil Humber, RHP Jordan Lyles, RHP Bud Norris, RHP Alex White.
The Houston Astros completed a few low-risk, low-reward moves to bolster their rotation.
John Ely and White were acquired in separate trades. Neither has strong stats at the MLB level, though the latter is only 24 years old, so it's too early to declare him a lost cause.
Humber's 2012 campaign went into a tailspin after his improbable perfect game. He couldn't tempt batters to chase outside of the strike zone, but he performed solidly for the Chicago White Sox the previous year.
Kansas City Royals
It's been many years since K.C. last had an ace like James Shields.
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Opening Day rotation: LHP Bruce Chen, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Jeremy Guthrie, RHP Ervin Santana, RHP James Shields.
In two months, the Kansas City Royals have revamped their starting rotation.
Chen's career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio makes him a leading bounce-back candidate. Less exposure to the Texas Rangers and Kauffman Stadium's friendly conditions will help Santana rebound, too.
K.C. relinquished prized prospects for Davis and Shields.
Former No. 1 overall draft pick Luke Hochevar might be starting elsewhere once the temperatures rise. The only role he'll get on the Royals is one as a reliever.
Los Angeles Angels
Jered Weaver perennially contends for the AL Cy Young Award.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Joe Blanton, RHP Tommy Hanson, LHP Jason Vargas, RHP Jered Weaver, LHP C.J. Wilson.
Last year's rotation had much higher preseason expectations. This group could produce better results.
A trustworthy innings eater, Blanton has reach at least 190 frames six of the past eight years. His ceiling isn't as high as Dan Haren's, but the Los Angeles Angels just need him to be healthier.
Hanson is difficult to gauge. His velocity suddenly dropped at age 25.
Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams can jump in if injury strikes, though according to Baseball-Reference.com, both performed below replacement level in 2012.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw nearly defended his 2011 NL Cy Young Award.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Josh Beckett, RHP Chad Billingsley, RHP Zack Greinke, LHP Clayton Kershaw, LHP Hyun-jin Ryu.
The Los Angeles Dodgers really have eight MLB-ready starting pitchers to consider! I predict that they will regularly use their five youngest.
Despite a partially torn UCL, agent Dave Stewart believes Billingsley can avoid major surgery, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.
Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang—both in the final guaranteed years of their contracts—are trade bait. If either stick around through spring training, they would keep Ted Lilly company in the bullpen.
Ricky Nolasco wants out of Miami.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Henderson Alvarez, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, LHP Wade LeBlanc, RHP Ricky Nolasco, RHP Jacob Turner.
Eovaldi and Turner pitched fairly well in partial seasons with the Miami Marlins, but Alvarez and Nolasco need to shake off their mediocre results.
Perhaps Tom Koehler would step in if the Fish grant Nolasco's wish and trade him.
Yovani Gallardo is Milwaukee's undisputed ace.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Marco Estrada, RHP Mike Fiers, RHP Yovani Gallardo, LHP Chris Narveson, RHP Mark Rogers.
Aside from Gallardo, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com insists that none of the rotation candidates are assured to start. He writes, however, that Narveson (rotator cuff surgery) is "expected to be back to 100 percent" before reporting to Arizona in February.
Estrada's outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio and consistency give him an edge over the younger Brewers.
Though Fiers struggled as the season wore on, the Milwaukee Brewers cannot dismiss his initial excellence (1.80 ERA, .547 OPS against through Aug. 7).
Rogers has to compete with Wily Peralta. Rogers is out of minor league options and not experienced in relief work, factors which should earn the soon-to-be 27-year-old an opportunity.
The Twins probably overpaid for starter Kevin Correia.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Kevin Correia, LHP Scott Diamond, LHP Brian Duensing, RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Vance Worley.
Pelfrey is believed to be ahead of schedule in recovery from Tommy John surgery. He's less than a year removed from the procedure, so his command could an issue when 2013 begins.
Bringing in Correia on a $10 million contract doesn't necessarily improve the rotation. In each of the past three seasons, the right-hander has slumped after an effective April.
Unfortunately, Rich Harden never stays healthy, but the Minnesota Twins pine for his great strikeout rate. He signed a minor league deal last month.
New York Mets
Jon Niese already has a long-term contract with the Mets.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Dillon Gee, RHP Matt Harvey, RHP Jenrry Mejia, LHP Jon Niese, LHP Johan Santana.
Which version of Santana will take the mound next season? The wheels fell off soon after his no-hitter.
Zack Wheeler can leapfrog Mejia after another month or two at Triple-A.
New York Yankees
This should be Andy Pettitte's final MLB season.
Opening Day rotation: RHP Phil Hughes, RHP Hiroki Kuroda, RHP Ivan Nova, LHP Andy Pettitte, LHP CC Sabathia.
Pettitte and Sabathia are the two most accomplished southpaws in the American League and their skills haven't diminished yet.
Even though both dealt with injuries in 2012, there shouldn't be much concern. Pettitte's shattered ankle has mended and Sabathia opted for an arthroscopic procedure to clean out his elbow.
Nova is the enigma of this group. He enjoyed a great rookie campaign for the New York Yankees, but couldn't prevent home runs as a sophomore.
Entering his age-26 season, David Phelps is a serious threat to claim the No. 5 spot. He started 11 times for the Yankees this past summer, mainly in August and September with a playoff berth on the line.
Brett Anderson turns 25 in February.
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Opening Day rotation: LHP Brett Anderson, RHP A.J. Griffin, LHP Tommy Milone, RHP Jarrod Parker, RHP Dan Straily.
Bartolo Colon has only five games remaining on his PED suspension. When it finishes, he'll probably bump Straily to the bullpen.
Milone and Parker led the Oakland Athletics to an AL West title in 2012. Anderson hasn't been fully healthy since 2009, but his potential is equally great.
With starts from all of the aforementioned pitchers, the A's rotation finished with the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the American League last season.
Roy Halladay was not his usual, dominant self last season.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Roy Halladay, LHP Cole Hamels, RHP Kyle Kendrick, LHP John Lannan, LHP Cliff Lee.
The question is whether the Philadelphia Phillies have three aces or two.
Halladay's campaign was interrupted by a strained latissimus dorsi in his back. His performances before and after the injury were inconsistent, ending a streak of six straight years in Cy Young contention.
Kendrick and Lannan are prototypical back-end starters. Overall, this rotation is extremely experienced.
A.J. Burnett surprised everybody in 2012 with an effective year.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP A.J. Burnett, LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP James McDonald, RHP Kyle McPherson, LHP Wandy Rodriguez.
Great things are expected of Burnett for the first time since 2009. Being an impending free agent provides added motivation.
Nothing about Liriano's recent seasons suggest he can be an All-Star-caliber pitcher again. However, the Pittsburgh Pirates notice the trend of AL starters improving when they switch leagues.
McPherson has only three career MLB starts and an advanced prospect such as Gerrit Cole could supplant him by midseason.
San Diego Padres
Clayton Richard is an innings-eater for the Padres.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Anthony Bass, RHP Jason Marquis, LHP Clayton Richard, RHP Tyson Ross, RHP Edinson Volquez.
"We feel we have seven or eight guys who could start a game in April," general manager Josh Byrnes told Corey Brock of MLB.com. That kind of vague statement makes the prediction process awfully challenging.
Richard and Volquez are locks after starting throughout 2012. Recovered from an unlucky broken wrist, Marquis should join them from the onset.
Andrew Cashner and Cory Luebke will round out the rotation whenever they recover from a lacerated tendon and Tommy John surgery, respectively.
San Francisco Giants
Matt Cain threw a perfect game for the Giants last season.
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Opening Day rotation: LHP Madison Bumgarner, RHP Matt Cain, RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Ryan Vogelsong, LHP Barry Zito.
The San Francisco Giants will begin the season with these five rotation members for the second consecutive year. Every other National League team made at least one change.
Of course, there are concerns about Lincecum. He returned to dominant form in the 2012 playoffs, but as a reliever. To put the inconsistency behind him, he must get ahead in the count more frequently.
Manager Bruce Bochy stuck with this group until the division title was sewn up. Right-hander Chad Gaudin will probably fill in if anything goes awry during 2013.
Hisashi Iwakuma re-signed with Seattle for a nice pay raise.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Blake Beavan, RHP Felix Hernandez, RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP Hector Noesi, RHP Erasmo Ramirez.
Although the Seattle Mariners share a division with left-handed sluggers Josh Hamilton, Carlos Pena and Josh Reddick, they aren't going to force a southpaw into the rotation. Perhaps later this summer, left-handed prospects Danny Hultzen and James Paxton can put the aforementioned sluggers at a platoon disadvantage.
Hernandez is arguably the sturdiest starter in the sport, but there's a dramatic drop-off from him to the other rotation members, none of whom has ever started 30 games in a single season.
St. Louis Cardinals
An odd nerve injury sidelined Chris Carpenter for much of 2012.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Chris Carpenter, LHP Jaime Garcia, RHP Lance Lynn, RHP Adam Wainwright, RHP Jake Westbrook.
The St. Louis Cardinals missed Garcia in the NLCS when he was sidelined with shoulder problems. The 26-year-old is fully healthy again and even considering participating in the World Baseball Classic.
Wainwright could realistically be a Cy Young Award contender in his second season back from Tommy John surgery. Other starters—Carpenter and Stephen Strasburg, for example—have excelled under the same circumstances.
Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller looked comfortable in their MLB debuts, though it's doubtful that either will make the 25-man roster.
Tampa Bay Rays
David Price will earn $10.1 million on the small-market Rays.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, LHP Matt Moore, RHP Jeff Niemann, LHP David Price.
Despite the subtractions of Wade Davis and James Shields, the Tampa Bay Rays still possess an enviable collection of arms.
They must be excited to observe Moore follow in Price's footsteps. The former actually reached the majors at a younger age, and the stats from his first full season were even more encouraging.
Hellickson continues to surprise by surrendering very few runs with such hittable pitches. He's done it for part of three seasons, however, and the skeptics are beginning to cross over. The next step for him is to work more efficiently and survive into the later innings (only 2 CG in 64 GS).
Roberto Hernandez signed a one-year deal to be an emergency starter.
Yu Darvish was unhittable at times during his debut season.
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Opening Day rotation: RHP Yu Darvish, LHP Matt Harrison, LHP Derek Holland, RHP Alexi Ogando, LHP Martin Perez.
The Texas Rangers have available payroll and a couple of competitive division rivals. It would be shocking if they didn't add another starter (likely via trade).
Darvish pitched beautifully to finish the season, but his occasional wildness and inability to hold baserunners need to be addressed.
Harrison, meanwhile, was a deserving All-Star whom the Rangers have wisely discussed offering a contract extension to. A high home run rate sabotaged Holland's 2012 numbers. He'll be better this coming season.
Until the anticipated move is complete, Texas has to worry about using Perez in the No. 5 spot coming off 38 unsuccessful innings.
Toronto Blue Jays
Who knows what to expect from Ricky Romero in 2013?
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Opening Day rotation: LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP R.A. Dickey, RHP Josh Johnson, RHP Brandon Morrow, LHP Ricky Romero.
Veteran rotation leaders Buehrle and Dickey both did pretty well for themselves in the National League.
The latter is the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. His unique brand of knuckleball should be equally untouchable on the Toronto Blue Jays so long as he grips it the same way.
We cannot be as optimistic about Buehrle. On the Toronto Blue Jays, he'll be pitching in a hitter's ballpark and frequently visiting others around the AL East. It's practically assured that he leads the league in hits allowed for the fifth time in nine seasons (assuming he stays healthy).
Johnson and Morrow are classic power pitchers, but nobody knows how Romero will respond to an awful season.
No more innings limit for Stephen Strasburg!
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Opening Day rotation: LHP Ross Detwiler, LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Dan Haren, RHP Stephen Strasburg, RHP Jordan Zimmermann.
Though the Washington Nationals don't have great depth behind their finest five, the 2013 season—and postseason—will go marvelously if none of them suffer from significant injury.
Gonzalez and Strasburg can punch out anybody when their offspeed pitches are biting. Lacking world-class stuff, Haren and Zimmermann relentlessly attack the strike zone. They put opposing batters in defensive situations and rarely walk a soul.
Even Detwiler maintained an above-average 3.58 earned run average over 27 starts last year. That's pretty impressive for a weakest link.