Previewing the 5 Biggest MLB Starting Rotation Battles
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in a matter of weeks, and pitching rotations are anything but set. Sure, the aces and following hurlers have guaranteed spots, but the jobs at the back of the starting rotation will need to be determined by an old-fashioned battle of the arms. It may be ugly at some points, but managers will need to make a decision before the start of the season.
The fact of the matter is that starting rotation battles are a part of the game, and we as fans love it. Everyone picks their side, trash talking ensues and the anticipation mounts once a final decision is made and the regular season looms.
This season is no exception. From the Toronto Blue Jays' uncertainty at the No. 5 spot to young arms seeking to establish themselves on other teams, spring training 2013 will be full of intensity and focus on the mound.
Tampa Bay Rays: Jeff Niemann vs. Roberto Hernandez
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Remember Fausto Carmona? You know, the right-hander who helped lead the Cleveland Indians to the playoffs in 2007? Well, for those who missed the story over the past couple of years, it turns out his real name is Roberto Hernandez and he's three years older than we initially thought.
Despite this controversy, he started three games for Cleveland last year and went 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. After the Indians chose not to bring him back, he was given a chance for a fresh start with the Tampa Bay Rays.
It is likely that Hernandez will battle Jeff Niemann for the final spot in the rotation. Niemann only started eight games last season due to injury, going 2-3 with a 3.08 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.
Niemann is definitely helped by seniority, but he is coming back from a fractured leg. For a pitcher, that's a serious injury. He thus needs to make sure that he is fully healthy and ready to pitch at top form next season, or else Hernandez could very well take his spot.
Kansas City Royals: Wade Davis vs. Luke Hochevar
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The Royals made quite the splash this offseason, acquiring James Shields and Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for top prospect Wil Myers. The trade shook up the team's starting rotation, as Kansas City had also acquired Ervin Santana from the Los Angeles Angels, plus had Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie on the roster.
Davis is expected to be the No. 5 starter, but he may face a challenge from Luke Hochevar. Granted, Hochevar is coming off another terrible campaign, having gone 8-16 with a 5.73 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 2012, but he is still the man the Royals took with the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft. That has to count for something.
Davis, on the other hand, is coming off a season in which he worked solely out of the bullpen. He went 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 70.1 innings, but as we have seen with Joba Chamberlain of the New York Yankees, just one season spent in the bullpen can mess with a potential starter's mechanics.
In this case, we'll just have to see who the better man is come spring training.
Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran vs. Randall Delgado
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The battle for the No. 5 spot in the Braves' rotation is simple. Whoever does a better job in spring training gets to be a starter until Brandon Beachy is ready to return from Tommy John surgery.
In this case, it's really anyone's game. Delgado has the advantage in that he started 17 games last year to Teheran's one, but he only went 4-9 with a 4.37 ERA. Teheran went 0-0 on the year, and posted a 5.68 ERA with a superior WHIP of 0.95.
Both men are talented young hurlers and at ages 21 and 22, they have bright futures ahead of them. Regarding how they'll perform in Atlanta in 2013, it's just a matter of seeing who has a better training camp.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Chris Capuano vs. Chad Billingsley
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Come spring training, Chris Capuano is going to need all of the good luck he can get. Even after going 12-12 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.22 WHIP for the Dodgers last season, his spot in the rotation is anything but secure. Los Angeles added two key pieces in Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, leaving the No. 5 spot up for grabs.
The man challenging Capuano could very well be teammate Chad Billingsley, who is expected to be ready for the season after suffering a partial ligament tear in his elbow last season. In 25 starts, Billingsley went 10-9 with a 3.55 ERA over 149.2 innings.
It's going to be a tough call for Dodgers manager Don Mattingly regardless of who has the better spring. Capuano is a lefty that lets the Dodgers mix up the rotation, while Billingsley is a lock to provide solid innings when healthy.
No matter how you look at it, this battle ends with someone being disappointed.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Battle for the No. 5 Spot
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Thanks to a trade for 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey this offseason, the Blue Jays have a situation most teams dream of. They have way too many pitchers.
The team also executed a trade for shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson.
Brandon Morrow rounds out the No. 4 spot, leaving the final spot in the rotation up for grabs.
The question presents itself. Who will it be? The Blue Jays have the following men who could make a play for the spot: Ricky Romero (pictured), Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ. Drabek is recovering from Tommy John surgery, so whether or not he is in the battle depends on how his elbow is feeling come spring training. Romero is the favorite, but his off-2012 season makes him a question mark. He went just 9-14 and posted an ERA of 5.77 with a 1.64 WHIP.
Happ's numbers were not much better, though overall better than Romero's. He went 10-11 with a 4.79 ERA and 1.40 WHIP.
The fact of the matter is that Toronto's rotation in 2013 is going to be far better than it was in 2012, but not before manager John Gibbons figures out the back end of it. He has some good arms from which to choose, and not even a spring training battle could make it easier.