Can MLB's Top Rotations Carry Their Teams to Glory
In recent years, baseball has seen a shift from offensive-powered to pitching-powered teams. That’s not to say we still don’t have power offenses. Last year, the Yankees broke their single-season home run record with 245 long balls.
However, more and more franchises are starting to build their teams around pitchers. Look at the Nationals, Phillies and Rays. (The Rays didn't make these top rotations with the loss of James Shields.)
In this day and age, pitching wins championships. It is the backbone to any team.
Chances are, if a club has a weak starting rotation, they’re in for a long season. We’ve seen how pitching injuries have severely hurt a team’s playoff run.
Many teams are starting to form elite pitching rotations in hopes of hoisting the World Series trophy. But, there are only six teams who I consider to have the top rotations in baseball.
At this early stage, let’s see if these rotations have what it takes.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
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1. R.A. Dickey
2.. Josh Johnson
3. Mark Buehrle
4. Brandon Morrow
5. Ricky Romero
The Blue Jays have vastly improved in every aspect of their lineup this winter. Most important is the pitching rotation. Last season, Romero was the Opening Day starter. This season, Romero is slated for the No. 5 spot.
That can only be good news.
Adding Johnson, Dickey and Buehrle makes them one of the deepest pitching rotations in the majors. After the Marlins' fire sale, Toronto became AL East favorites and World Series contenders., according to nesn.com.
The AL East was one of the most competitive divisions last year, with the Yankees and Orioles going down to the wire and the Rays falling off in the last month. Now, the Blue Jays have put themselves in a great position to take the division.
R.A. Dickey is the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. He went 20-6 with 230 strikeouts with the New York Mets last season. He brings a veteran presence and a nasty knuckleball to the Jays.
A year after starting only nine games due to a slew injuries, Josh Johnson is coming off a season when he pitched the second-most innings in his career (191.1). Playing for a new team, one that clearly wants to win, should be good for Johnson. He showed how good he can be in 2010, posting a 2.30 ERA. He is a top-of- the-line starter and capable of carrying a team to glory (when healthy).
Buehrle has been an innings-eater his entire career. He has thrown more than 200 innings and started more than 30 games every year since 2001. He’s not the most dominant pitcher, but one you can certainly rely on to keep the game close every fifth day.
Morrow and Romero are the only starters who have been on the Blue Jays before this season. Romero will benefit since he won’t be looked at to lead this team. His ERA skyrocketed to 5.77 last year. With the help he now has, he won’t feel as much pressure and should be able to just pitch his game.
Morrow was on the disabled list for more than two months with an oblique injury last season. He has tremendous upside and a great mound presence. I think he will have a career year and show just how valuable he is to this rotation.
If all goes right, the Blue Jays can easily win the AL East with the team they have assembled. Again, it all relies on the pitching. And this pitching staff is incredible. General manager Alex Anthopoulos had a winter I’m sure he’ll never forget.
2. Washington Nationals
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1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Gio Gonzalez
3. Jordan Zimmermann
4. Ross Detwiler
5. Dan Haren
With the acquisition of Gio Gonzalez last offseason, the Washington Nationals quickly became a major force in the NL East. With the signing this offseason of Dan Haren, it stabilizes a rotation that was looking for back-end depth.
Stephen Strasburg won’t be limited in his innings this year and will single-handedly make the Nationals a dangerous team if they’re able make the playoffs again. He was shut down after 159.1 innings last year, but not before piling up 197 strikeouts. The former first overall draft pick is emerging as one of the dominant pitchers in the game.
Runner-up for the Cy Young last year, Gio Gonzalez is one of the best No. 2 starters in the majors. He was 21-8 in his first year with Washington. A dynamic lefty, Gonzalez is a perfect complement to the dominant Strasburg.
Behind them is Jordan Zimmermann, a 26-year-old who is showing signs of being a top-tier pitcher. His numbers have been above average, with 12 wins last year and an ERA under 3.00. He is a ground-ball pitcher who has his fair share of strikeouts. He had 153 in 2012.
Ross Detwiler is coming off of his most impressive season, compiling an ERA of 3.40. He still needs to develop, but he will be a key factor if the Nationals are to make a run in the playoffs.
Newly signed Dan Haren rounds out maybe the best staff in the National League. A proven veteran, Haren is an innings-eater. He won’t be called on to do too much, just enough to provide the team enough innings to get back to Strasburg.
The Nationals pitching is very good and could have done some damage last year if Strasburg had been available in the playoffs. With him back, this rotation will be one of the best in baseball. He will propel them to the NL East title and a return to the playoffs.
3. Detroit Tigers
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1. Justin Verlander
2. Max Scherzer
3. Anibal Sanchez
4. Doug Fister
5. Drew Smyly/Rick Porcello
The Tigers' pitching rotation should put them in immediate contention in the AL Central. It is centered around 2011 MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. He hasn’t started fewer than 30 games in his major league career and is arguably the best pitcher in baseball, surely the best in the American League.
Last season, Verlander threw six complete games in 238.1 innings pitched. He added a complete game in the clinching Game 5 of the ALDS against the Oakland A’s.
With the quality of the the other starters in the rotation, it's no surprise this team reached the World Series a year ago. If Verlander performs anywhere near the way he has for the past four seasons, good things will continue to happen for this team.
Max Scherzer, the No. 2 starter, came to life last season en route to the best season of his career. He is capable of throwing in the upper 90s and has tremendous movement on his off-speed pitches.
“Mad Max” is still improving and has yet to reach his potential. This is the year I think he figures it all out and helps give Detroit a shot to repeat as American League champions. Scherzer was second in the league in strikeouts last season, racking up 231. He was behind only Verlander, who fanned 239.
After acquiring Anibal Sanchez at the deadline a year ago from the Miami Marlins, he posted a 4-6 record with a 3.74 ERA. Those aren't great numbers, but his playoff performance was good enough for him to sign an $80 million contract. Sanchez is a solid third starter and will benefit from a full year in Detroit.
Doug Fister is slated to be the No. 4 starter. On many team, he would an option No. 2. He’s coming off an injury-plagued season, but was still able to have 17 quality starts in 26 outings. Fister remains a big piece in this rotation.
To round out a premier pitching rotation, Detroit will turn to either Drew Smyly or Rick Porcello. Porcello has been rumored to be on the trade market. Keeping them both will add depth to this rotation. It may be the best move because behind the two of them, there aren’t too many options.
Porcello has been consistent throughout his career, throwing no fewer than than 170 innings in a season. He has a career ERA of 4.55.
Smyly is 23 and pitched extremely well in his first year in the majors. The only lefty in the bunch, he had a 3.99 ERA in 23 appearances, including 18 starts.
With the experience in this rotation, the Tigers could well find themselves back in the World Series. The signing of Torii Hunter added defense and an above-average bat in a lineup that includes Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder.
The Tigers are primed for another deep playoff run.
4. San Francisco Giants
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1. Matt Cain
2. Madison Bumgarner
3. Tim Lincecum
4. Barry Zito
5. Ryan Vogelsong
San Francisco is fresh off its second World Series victory in three years, thanks in large part to its pitching staff.
When a staff has already won two World Series, you can’t exclude it from any list of the league’s best.
Ace Matt Cain is the model of consistency. He threw the 22nd perfect game in major league history last season and signed a $127.5 million contract. He won 16 games, the most of his career, and posted a 2.79 ERA, the lowest of his career. He is the face of the franchise and continues to get better.
Madison Bumgarner is only 23. He is coming off the best season of his career (16-11, 3.37 ERA). This pitching staff may be together for a long time. We should get accustomed to seeing the Giants fight for the NL West title year in and year out.
Tim Lincecum is coming off the worst season of his career. Once a top-five pitcher in the league and two-time Cy Young winner, Lincecum was demoted to the bullpen in the playoffs. He had a 10-15 record for the season. He has to fix his mechanical flaws and build his endurance to get back to the level he was at three years ago, but he is still “The Freak.” I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back to form next season.
Barry Zito, another former Cy Young winner, is No. 4 in this rotation. He hasn’t been the same pitcher in San Francisco as he was with the Oakland A’s, but he did post his first winning record (15-8) with the Giants last season. The bite on his curveball can still buckle the knees of the game's best hitters. If he can pitch well enough to keep the Giants in the game, he should see success next year.
Ryan Vogelsong has resurrected his career the last two seasons with the Giants. He is a solid No. 5 starter. In a rotation filled with Cy Young talent, Vogelsong has performed his best in big situations, which should bode well for his confidence.
Though they don't have many big names, the Giants' staff is one of the best in baseball. Expect that to continue. A big question mark is Lincecum, but he can easily have a bounce-back season.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
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1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Zack Greinke
3. Josh Beckett
4. Hyun-Jin Ryu
5. Chad Billingsley
The Dodgers' rotation, along with their offense, will certainly give the Giants a run for their money. They have bolstered their pitching this offseason with the signings of Greinke and Ryu.
Kershaw, 2011 Cy Young winner, is clearly the ace. He’s been consistent his whole career and is arguably the best left-handed pitcher in the game. After a hip injury at the end of last season, Kershaw will be ready to handle the load once again in 2013.
The most sought-after free-agent pitcher this offseason landed in Los Angeles. Zack Greinke has pitched well his whole career, and the offense of the Dodgers should provide him with plenty of run support. The addition of Greinke gives the Dodgers a No. 2 starter who rivals Gio Gonzalez in Washington and Cole Hamels in Philadelphia.
Greinke has a lot to prove with his $147 million contract. I believe he will earn it. He’s pitched his best while with the Brewers in the National League.
Josh Beckett is a great pitcher. He showed he could be an ace in Boston. Now in Los Angeles, Beckett doesn’t have to be that ace. He can lurk in the shadows of Kershaw and Greinke. Though his production has declined, he showed some positive signs last September, posting a 2.65 ERA. We'll see if he can carry some of that over to this season.
Korean native Hyun-Jin Ryu comes highly touted to LA. Per the LA Times, he becomes the first player to jump from the Korean League to the majors. He is known for winning the Korean League’s strikeout title five times. In seven seasons in Korea, he had a 2.80 ERA while going 98-52.
If it doesn’t pan out, Aaron Harang is waiting for his chance after a solid 2012 season.
Chad Billingsley will be the fifth starter on a deep Dodgers team. Billingsley has had trouble staying healthy, but if he can avoid injury, this team could be the one to beat in the NL West.
6. Philadelphia Phillies
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1. Roy Halladay
2. Cole Hamels
3. Cliff Lee
4. Kyle Kendrick
5. John Lannan
The Phillies are a team that is going to rely heavily on their pitching to get them to the playoffs. They could realistically have three 20-game winners this season.
While pitching is the most important part of the game, there’s a big if with the Phillies' offense. If they can start driving in runs, the Phillies' pitching staff will guide this team to glory. Again, that’s a big if.
Roy Halladay is a workhorse. He has been a machine for more than a decade and one of the most dominating pitchers in the game. Coming off of an injury-plagued season, Halladay will put last season behind him and be back as good as ever. I don’t think there’s any question about that.
Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are two of the top left-handed pitchers in baseball. Hamels, a World Series MVP, is experiencing shoulder soreness, which is being downplayed by GM Ruben Amaro, according to csnphilly.com. He is important to this Phillies team, having started more than 30 games each year since 2008.
Hamels is coming off of his strongest season. He won 17 games, including two complete game shutouts, and struck out 216 batters, the most of his career.
Cliff Lee is consistent and has been putting up solid numbers for years. He lacked run support last season, which hurt his record. But if he puts up the same numbers as last year (211 innings pitched, 3.16 ERA), the Phillies will be in good shape.
This may be the best Big Three in the majors, which is why they are being mentioned. After their top three, however, the rotation takes a slight downward turn.
Kyle Kendrick is set to be the fourth starter, but we don’t know what to expect from him. After being bounced around from starter to reliever, he has struggled, compiling a 4.30 career ERA. He is no more than an average pitcher, but showed signs of breaking out last season, going 7-3 over his final 10 starts.
Time will tell what Kendrick we’re going to see in 2013.
John Lannan was signed to be the fifth starter. This gives the Phillies three left0handed pitchers in their starting five. Lefties are valuable, but Lannan has been trying to prove himself his whole career.
A change of scenery could benefit him. He pent most of last season in AAA for the Nationals and will be eager to prove he is still a big league pitcher.
The Phillies lack any depth behind Lannan, and though there are pitchers such as Tyler Cloyd and Jonathan Pettibone ready to step in if needed, they aren't proven. There could be problems behind Philadelphia's big three if someone were to get injured.
An aging offense and an aging pitching staff mean time is running out for the Phillies to be contenders with this group. I think they will fall just short of reaching the playoffs.