MLB 2011: Ranking the Starting Rotations

Max BorlandContributor IIIMarch 9, 2011

MLB 2011: Ranking the Starting Rotations

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    Eric Miller/Getty Images

    Here's how I rank them. I used the starting rotations indicated by each team's depth chart on MLB.com. In some cases I didn't include a guy listed there (because I didn't think he'd pitch enough to have an impact) or included a guy not listed there (because I thought he'd pitch enough to have an impact).

    The rotations are ranked with rough projections for each pitcher. The projections are my own, and if you disagree profoundly with any of them, don't hesitate to state your case. They are generally based on a look at previous MLB performances, how I think their career arc is going, whether I thought they overachieved or underachieved previously and in the case of younger guys, minor league stats.

    It also helped to watch some of the clips available on MLB.com, so I could see what some of the guys I was less familiar with can do.

    Some rotations have more than five guys. Some teams are using their springs to have guys compete for a rotation spot. Of course, there is always the possibility—or likelihood—of injury, so more than five pitchers will invariably collect at least a few starts on a given team.

    In the projections, I give the expected W-L record, ERA, K/BB totals and innings pitched. Obviously, I don’t expect these all to be 100 percent correct. In fact, I expect to be ridiculously far off on occasion. Weird things happen. Someone will profoundly overachieve. Someone will get hurt. Someone will have just been badly misjudged. It happens.

    Note that in my innings pitched projections, I didn’t bother with thirds of an inning. For my purposes, 200 innings, 200.1 innings and 200.2 innings are the same thing.

    So, here we go. Starting with the worst...

30: Kansas City Royals

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    Luke HochevarDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Luke Hochevar [9-15, 4.58, 136/64 K/BB, 185 IP]

    (2) Jeff Francis [7-11, 4.25, 93/38 K/BB, 148 IP]

    (3) Vin Mazzaro [7-13, 4.43, 110/69 K/BB, 167 IP]

    (4) Kyle Davies [8-12, 4.77, 130/82 K/BB, 187 IP]

    (5) Bruce Chen [2-8, 5.45, 75/44 K/BB, 106 IP]

    (6) Sean O’Sullivan [1-2, 5.52, 15/9 K/BB, 28 IP]

     

    The Royals’ rotation is headlined by newcomer Jeff Francis, who has lost much of the last three seasons to injury and when healthy, was decent at best.

    Former first-round draft pick, Luke Hochevar (consolation for their abysmal 2005 season) never worked out, and the same could be said for Kyle Davies and Bruce Chen, who would be in competition for a mop-up role on most other teams.

    Vin Mazzaro will have to do a lot to save this rotation from being one of the very worst in baseball, but I don’t even think a Cy Young caliber season from him (unlikely) would accomplish that.

29: Washington Nationals

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    Livan HernandezAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Livan Hernandez [10-14, 4.66, 99/58 K/BB, 187 IP]

    (2) Jason Marquis [5-11, 5.05, 51/44 K/BB, 101 IP]

    (3) Jordan Zimmerman [10-7, 3.75, 148/56 K/BB, 167 IP]

    (4) Luis Atilano [6-9, 4.48, 88/55, 172 IP]

    (5) John Lannan [9-12, 4.52, 84/55 K/BB, 160 IP]

    (6) Yunesky Maya [3-5, 4.67, 30/17 K/BB, 54 IP]

    (7) Tom Gorzellany [6-10, 4.21, 83/43 K/BB, 116 IP]

     

    The 2011 Nationals rotation is headlined by two aging pitchers with suspect command and below-average stuff. Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis have managed to cobble together a few good seasons, and the longevity these two have gained from it is surprising.

    Marquis, for all his grounder-generating talent, has pitched to an ERA of 4.56 and an even higher FIP in 1543.2 career innings. Hernandez and John Lannan are soft-tossing finesse pitchers who will have to eat more innings than any rational human being should ask them to. But there is hope.

    Strasburg, whose eventual recovery should gain Tommy John plenty of fans around the DC area, will be the ace, and he will be great (in 2012).

    Jordan Zimmerman is good enough that I think Jim Riggleman should just hand him the ball 30 times and let him figure things out.

    Yunesky Maya is 29 years old with 26 major league innings under his belt. His breaking ball has little bite, and he doesn’t throw very hard but does have five pitches.

    Last year, Nationals starters had the third worst strikeout rate, the fourth worst K/BB rate, the second worst BAA, the third worst percentage of runners left on base, the fifth worst ERA, the eighth worst FIP, the worst line drive rate, a middling groundball rate and the second-lightest workload.

    This year they won’t get the 68 innings of Stephen Strasburg, though they will give Jordan Zimmerman a shot. It doesn't sound like things are going to be better in 2011.

28: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Paul MaholmJ. Meric/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Paul Maholm [10-12, 4.27, 118/64 K/BB, 201 IP]

    (2) James McDonald [12-12, 3.73, 173/75 K/BB, 188 IP]

    (3) Ross Ohlendorf [7-12, 4.56, 108/59 K/BB, 166 IP]

    (4) Kevin Correia [7-9, 4.67, 87/54 K/BB, 132 IP]

    (5) Scott Olsen [4-9, 4.58, 69/39 K/BB, 111 IP]

    (6) Charlie Morton [6-9, 4.47, 87/41 K/BB, 126 IP]

     

    Poor defense may have made things difficult for Pirates pitchers in recent years but wouldn’t exactly have been Cy Youngs with a better fielding team behind them. Pirates starting pitchers threw an ERA of 5.28 (which only improves to 5.00 if you include their relievers) last year, over a run and a half worse than the leader, Oakland.

    The discrepancy between Pittsburgh starter’s team ERA and team FIP is a striking 59 points, but this doesn’t mean the pitching is completely off the hook. This rotation’s FIP was 4.69, second-worst in baseball. Their strikeout rate was the second lowest, they surrendered home runs at the fourth-worst rate, they allowed line drives at the second-worst rate and this manifested itself in their 1.53 WHIP which ranked dead last. Pirates starters only threw 871.2 innings, worst in the majors.

    At least they made some changes to their staff though. The most noteworthy is a full season of James McDonald, the only Pirate starter with serious strikeout power, and they are going to lean heavily on him.

    Kevin Correia was paid $8 million to pitch like a middle rotation guy, and it won’t take him long to start to miss PETCO park. He started throwing his fastball and slider (the only two pitches that worked for him in 2009) less last year and saw his home run and walk rates skyrocket.

    Subtracting Zach Duke was wise but replacing him with Scott Olson probably won’t change things much. He’s just the same mediocrity with a different name on his back. Charlie Morton and Ross Ohlendorf are not as bad as their W-L records of 2010 suggest, but both will probably be alright at best.

    I don’t see much upside in any of these guys (other than McDonald). Maybe playing for such a hopeless team with such incompetent management made it hard to stay motivated. Clint Hurdle is a far smarter manager than John Russell (who liked to use Javier Lopez against righties), but the effect of that is hard to gauge.

    There is reason to be optimistic about the Pirates’ future, but that has more to do with the offense than the pitching. The rotation has some new faces, but I really don’t think there are going to be any revelations among this group.

27: Cleveland Indians

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    Fausto CarmonaNorm Hall/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Fausto Carmona [9-13, 4.11, 121/71 K/BB, 203 IP]

    (2) Justin Masterson [7-12, 4.27, 162/83 K/BB, 200 IP]

    (3) Carlos Carrasco [7-8, 3.73, 141/53 K/BB, 161 IP]

    (4) Mitch Talbot [6-11, 4.44, 112/70 K/BB, 181 IP]

    (5) Josh Tomlin [5-8, 4.15, 81/34 K/BB, 118 IP]

    (6) Jeanmar Gomez [2-3, 4.28, 40/25 K/BB, 65 IP]

    (7) David Huff [1-5, 5.00, 29/19 K/BB, 5.00, 51 IP]

     

    The Indians are a team in transition, waiting for a day their fans stop missing CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. It isn’t going to happen in 2011 as this staff is mostly composed of young guys with iffy stuff.

    I know Fausto Carmona has one excellent and one solid season to his credit, but he looks like a middle of the rotation guy at best. Justin Masterson has yet to fulfill his potential and even if he makes steps towards it, he won’t do much to bring these guys up in the ranks.

    Carlos Carrasco, retrieved from the Phillies in the deal for Lee, is a realistic candidate to surprise everyone outside of Cleveland this year but I can't count on him to step up and be an ace immediately.

    Cleveland doesn’t have much strikeout power and will allow too many walks for guys who pitch to contact. Some of these guys look to me like fifth starters at best (Tomlin, Huff, Talbot) but they will be expected to eat a few hundred innings between them and it will be rough.

26: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Joe SaundersRob Tringali/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Joe Saunders [10-14, 4.30, 117/63 K/BB, 210 IP]

    (2) Daniel Hudson [12-9, 3.43, 193/63 K/BB, 204 IP]

    (3) Ian Kennedy [10-12, 4.18, 171/73 K/BB, 195 IP]

    (4) Barry Enright [3-9, 4.78, 46/27 K/BB, 96]

    (5) Zach Duke [3-7, 4.51, 42/23 K/BB, 77 IP]

    (6) Armando Galarraga [7-13, 4.37, 111/62 K/BB, 167 IP]

     

    Two years ago the Diamondbacks may have had the best top of the rotation in the major leagues. One year ago they gave 200 innings to Rodrigo Lopez (5.00 ERA, luck roughly neutral).

    This year, they have Joe Saunders leading the pack and a bunch of question marks filling out the rotation. The Edwin Jackson trade with Chicago gave them a potential ace in Daniel Hudson, the most exciting thing in Arizona not named Upton, but there is no way he will pitch well enough for D-backs fans not to notice what the other guys do.

    It seems like a tall order for Ian Kennedy to repeat his 3.80 ERA (lucky batting average on balls in play) or to ask Joe Saunders to return to his 2008 form (batting average on balls in play, low home run rate) or to ask Barry Enright to pitch like he did in 99 innings last year (very lucky BABIP, many home runs).

    Zach Duke is too easy to hit, and Armando Galarraga walks too many for a guy who pitches to contact. Every pitcher in this rotation, with the exception of Hudson, is going to have to be very lucky to avoid getting beaten up on over the course of the year.

25: New York Mets

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    Johan SantanaJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Johan Santana [8-4, 3.45, 62/21 K/BB, 79 IP]

    (2) Mike Pelfrey [11-13, 4.13, 118/70 K/BB, 209 IP]

    (3) Jon Niese [10-10, 4.27, 94/58 K/BB, 164 IP]

    (4) R.A. Dickey [8-11, 4.34, 106/58 K/BB, 185 IP]

    (5) Jenrry Mejia [1-2, 3.67, 20/11 K/BB, 28 IP]

    (6) Dillon Gee [5-9, 4.41, 88/48 K/BB, 136 IP]

    (7) Chris Capuano [3-4, 4.32, 48/24 K/BB, 68 IP]

     

    This rotation is made up of guys who are either unlikely to stay healthy, too unproven to expect much from or headed for a decline.

    Johan Santana, who is still effective despite declining strikeout rates will be out for at least half the season. Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey had nice seasons in 2010, but both seem to have overachieved.

    Pelfrey’s rough K/BB rates and Dickey’s decision to throw the knuckleball 83 percent of the time suggests that NL hitters could figure these guys out at some point in 2011, though to be fair both could be reasonably good innings-eaters.

    The Mets will be hoping Jenrry Mejia, Dillon Gee and/or Chris Capuano can string together a bunch of quality outings, but I wouldnt be too confident. Mejia will probably spend most of the season in the minors, Gee probably should spend most of the season in the minors and Capuano was just alright back when he was healthy.

    If The Nats had Strasburg in their rotation, this Mets group would be a reasonable bet for worst in the division. As it stands, this was an average rotation in 2010 (with Santana healthy for most of the year and Dickey and Pelfrey’s fine performances) that is headed for a decline.

24: Baltimore Orioles

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    Jeremy GuthrieHarry How/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Jeremy Guthrie [12-11, 4.05, 122/53 K/BB, 204 IP]

    (2) Brian Matusz [12-9, 3.91, 162/69 K/BB, 196 IP]

    (3) Jake Arietta [9-11, 4.31, 95/61 K/BB, 170 IP]

    (4) Brad Bergeson [9-13, 4.62, 91/51 K/BB, 186 IP]

    (5) Justin Duchscherer [2-6, 4.45, 34/26 K/BB, 66 IP]

    (6) Chris Tillman [4-7, 4.88, 57/38 K/BB, 86 IP]

     

    The Orioles are relying heavily on youth, with the exceptions of Guthrie and Duchsherer. Arietta, Matusz, Bergeson and Tillman are all 25 or younger at present and will have to establish themselves in a division with some of the strongest lineups in baseball.

    Jeremy Guthrie returns as the team’s de facto ace, a position he will keep warm for Brian Matusz. His success has come from good command of his pitches, but his stuff isn't outstanding. Chris Tillman and Jake Arietta are going to have to improve their control, but Arietta in particular, has the stuff to be a quality major-league pitcher.

    I would worry that Matusz’ delivery will cause arm problems in the future, but as of now, he’s got the best strikeout stuff in this rotation and better command of his pitches than everyone except Guthrie.

    Justin Duchscherer has been effective in the past, but I doubt his hip will hold up to a whole year of starting games. I also worry about his switch the AL East and his diminished velocity. With Kevin Millwood gone, Koji Uehara and Mark Hendrickson in the bullpen (where they belong) and the likes of Daniel Cabrera a fading memory, there is potential here, but there is also uncertainty.

    I’m projecting these six pitchers to eat about 888 innings, less than in 2010, slightly more than in 2009. That would have ranked them 29th last year. Hopefully, one of the young guys in this rotation steps up and exceed my expectations. Otherwise, they’re probably going to have to bring someone else in or let someone pitch through growing pains.

23: Houston Astros

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    Wandy RodriguezJoe Robbins/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Wandy Rodriguez [10-13, 3.52, 191/67 K/BB, 212 IP]

    (2) Brett Myers [10-14, 4.17, 161/65 K/BB, 203 IP]

    (3) J.A. Happ [8-13, 4.22, 135/80 K/BB, 171 IP]

    (4) Bud Norris [9-12, 4.15, 187/84 K/BB, 188 IP]

    (5) Nelson Figueroa [5-10, 4.17, 84/41 K/BB, 111 IP]

    (6) Aneury Rodrigeuz [2-6, 4.23, 40/24 K/BB, 53 IP]

    (7) Lance Pendleton [1-4, 4.35, 29/14 K/BB, 38 IP]

    (8) Ryan Rowland-Smith [2-6, 4.81, 31/19 K/BB, 56 IP]

     

    The Astros starters should do a decent job of striking guys out but consist largely of overachievers and guys who might be better suited for a relief role. I expect them to give up more than a few runs above what they allowed last year.

    Wandy Rodriguez is a very good pitcher, with strikeout stuff and an outstanding breaking ball, and I expect him to continue his success. If the Astros have one strength, it’s pitching, but as you can see, I ranked the rotation 23rd-best.

    They should be able to cobble together a serviceable group to back up their top three, but I doubt anyone’s going to emerge and take the NL Central by storm. J.A. Happ and Brett Myers both overachieved last year, and are in for a decline. This rotation as a whole, is going to be worse that last year’s. Houston starters wont be embarrassingly bad, but few teams should be jealous of them.

22: Texas Rangers

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    C.J. WilsonNorm Hall/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) C.J. Wilson [13-10, 4.33, 155/83 K/BB, 189 IP]

    (2) Colby Lewis [14-10, 4.24, 194/73 K/BB, 212 IP]

    (3) Tommy Hunter [9-9, 4.38, 92/45 K/BB, 165 IP]

    (4) Brandon Webb [8-7, 3.75, 130/45 K/BB, 168 IP]

    (5) Derek Holland [6-6, 4.19, 106/43 K/BB, 122 IP]

    (6) Matt Harrison [2-4, 5.08, 42/29 K/BB, 76 IP]

    (7) Scott Feldman [1-3, 4.58, 25/14 K/BB, 45 IP]

     

    I’ve told anyone who will listen that this rotation overachieved last year.

    C.J. Wilson should allow more hits and see a little more than 5.3 percent of his fly balls leave the yard this year. Colby Lewis should also allow a few more hits, and Tommy Hunter should allow a lot more hits.

    There are things to like about these three. Namely, C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis’ ability to strike guys out plays well for them in a weak division, however Wilson’s walks need to decline and Hunter’s strikeouts need to increase.

    Brandon Webb is a big question mark. I have trouble believing his command of his sinker is completely gone.

    These guys were good enough last year that adding Cliff Lee gave them one of the best rotations in baseball, but without him they really aren’t at the level that should inspire fear in anyone. They will benefit from the lineups they get to face often, but they won’t rank among the best. Though not without talent or especially shallow, patient lineups should be able to handle these guys.

21: San Diego Padres

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    Mat LatosEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Mat Latos [13-10, 3.14, 216/65 K/BB, 221 IP]

    (2) Clayton Richard [11-13, 3.91, 151/79 K/BB, 203 IP]

    (3) Tim Stauffer [6-7, 3.83, 113/58 K/BB, 154 IP]

    (4) Aaron Harang [9-12, 4.09, 136/59 K/BB, 191 IP]

    (5) Wade LeBlanc [4-8, 4.36, 107/59 K/BB, 160 IP]

    (6) Dustin Moseley [3-9, 4.87, 41/24 K/BB, 59 IP]

    (7) Cory Luebke [2-3, 3.84, 43/15 K/BB, 46 IP]

     

    The Padres pitched well in 2010, but their success in that regard was unlikely.

    Mat Latos is a legitimate talent and his presence is the most exciting thing in San Diego, but it’s rather unfortunate that so much weight is going to be on his 23-year-old shoulders. He will be the ace and is deserving of the role, and Clayton Richard will be an adequate No. 2.

    Richard is a decent pitcher, nothing more. He walks too many but not way too many. He pitches far better at home, as expected and goes reasonably far into games (six or seven innings most of the time).

    The rest of the rotation spots are going to guys with something to prove but who shouldn’t be especially intimidating on the mound. There’s Tim Stauffer, who has never started more than 14 games or pitched more than 82.2 innings in a season. He does have excellent movement on his two seamer and a couple of good offspeed pitches, so I can see why they want to give him a chance to start.

    Wade LeBlanc is your run-of-the-mill hittable fourth or fifth starter. It is not outlandish to think that Aaron Harang might find success at PETCO Park if you remember what Jon Garland did last year. Even if Cory Luebke is immediately effective and Harang cashes in on the PETCO bonus, this is still an underwhelming bunch.

20: Seattle Mariners

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    Felix HernandezOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Felix Hernandez [14-11, 2.75, 217/68 K/BB, 236 IP]

    (2) Doug Fister [9-14, 4.24, 102/39 K/BB, 184 IP]

    (3) Jason Vargas [9-11, 4.12, 121/54 K/BB, 197 IP]

    (4) Erik Bedard [5-5, 3.53, 90/39 K/BB, 93 IP]

    (5) Michael Pineda [2-1, 3.54, 33/11 K/BB, 33 IP]

    (6) David Pauley [5-9, 4.67, 79/42 K/BB, 125 IP]

    (7) Luke French [3-7, 5.15, 30/18 K/BB, 56 IP]

     

    They have the best pitcher in the league. They have a pitcher-friendly home park, play outstanding defense and have a lineup that will probably score more than 513 runs this year (513 was good for worst in the majors in 2010).

    This isn’t an atrocious rotation because chances are at least a couple of the non-Felix guys will be reasonably effective. But it’s anything but dependable.

    Doug Fister and Jason Vargas pitched acceptably well in 2010, but neither has really done enough to earn the “reliable” label, nor have they shown they can go deep into games on a regular basis. Erik Bedard is almost never healthy, but if they got close to 200 innings from him, this rotation would be significantly better.

    Mariners fans should expect big things from Michael Pineda, but will it happen right away? Probably not. If it does, this pitching staff easily bests last year’s, even if Fister and Vargas struggle.

    Felix Hernandez, with his four pitches all above-average to outstanding, is the ace of this staff and would probably be the ace of any other American League staff. David Pauley and Luke French are in the mix as well, giving this team options if someone completely bombs out.

    I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if these guys find themselves climbing a few spots in the rankings a few months from now, but I don’t consider anyone beyond King Felix a sure bet for effectiveness and durability.

19: New York Yankees

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    CC SabathiaAndrew Burton/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) CC Sabathia [18-8, 3.40, 198/70 K/BB, 241 IP]

    (2) Phil Hughes [12-9, 3.71, 163/63 K/BB, 195 IP]

    (3) A.J. Burnett [14-11, 4.11, 170/85, 200 IP]

    (4) Ivan Nova [9-8, 4.32, 110/59, 161 IP]

    (5) Freddy Garcia [7-8, 4.62, 58/32 K/BB, 105 IP]

    (6) Sergio Mitre [1-3, 5.05, 15/8, 28 IP]

    (7) Bartolo Colon [2-5, 4.84, 29/12 K/BB, 49 IP]

     

    CC Sabathia may have less weight on his knees, but there is more on his shoulders. The 2010 Yankees are minus Andy Pettitte and not for lack of trying, Cliff Lee.

    Sabathia is a sure thing, but behind him, Hughes has to step up and eat innings and Burnett has to find his stuff, wherever he left it. I think both will be fine, probably better than people give them credit for, but beyond them it gets dicey.

    Some combination of Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Sergio Mitre is going to have to cover some 300 innings. Nova was just alright in a short audition in 2010. His arm moves somewhat wildly during his delivery, which could be a problem, but otherwise he should become a decent middle-of-the-rotation guy.

    Recent reports tab Freddy Garcia as a leading candidate for a spot in the rotation. While not an atrocious pitcher, he will, on occasion, get beat badly due to some notable declines in velocity in recent years.

18: Cincinnati Reds

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    Edinson VolquezJeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Edinson Volquez [12-7, 4.01, 180/93 K/BB, 185 IP]

    (2) Bronson Arroyo [14-12, 4.08, 122/62 K/BB, 207 IP]

    (3) Johnny Cueto [13-11, 4.11, 151/63 K/BB, 197 IP]

    (4) Homer Bailey [10-11, 4.34, 156/70 K/BB, 175 IP]

    (5) Travis Wood [12-8, 3.91, 132/45 K/BB, 162 IP]

    (6) Mike Leake [4-4, 4.14, 45/22 K/BB, 67 IP]

     

    There is competition for the rotation spots at the back of this rotation, but unlike other teams, the Reds should be optimistic about whoever gets the job. While the Yankees have to choose from the likes of Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, the Reds have three guys with plenty of potential.

    You’ll notice I didn’t project any of the trio to have an excellent year, but I think they all could develop into very productive pitchers. Travis Wood was the best of the three in 2010, and he commands his pitches well but was a little lucky with the BABIP-against and HR/FB rate.

    Homer Bailey made great strides in 2010, getting the walks under control for the first time in his major league career. I think Leake will be the odd man out, come April, but he would be an excellent spot starter for them.

    Great American Ballpark is a friend to no pitcher, which makes me think that some of the HR/FB rates we saw last year won’t last. I am more excited about the back of this rotation than the front, over the longer term, anyway.

    Good things can be said about the Reds’ top three, but both Arroyo and Cueto were the beneficiaries of luck that they cannot expect to repeat year in, year out. This rotation (disregarding the departure of Aaron Harang, which is a bonus) is probably going to be a bit worse this season.

    Their collective ERA was 4.05 in 2010, ranking 13th among major league teams. That sums them up to me. There is upside all over the place (Volquez’s strikeout potential, Arroyo’s durability, Cueto and Wood’s solid command of their pitches) but as a whole, they just don’t measure up to the best rotations in the majors.

17: Detroit Tigers

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    Justin VerlanderMichael Buckner/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Justin Verlander [17-9, 3.39, 225/70 K/BB, 230 IP]

    (2) Max Scherzer [14-8, 3.32, 200/74 K/BB, 206 IP]

    (3) Rick Porcello [10-13, 4.25, 100/47 K/BB, 193 IP]

    (4) Phil Coke [7-9, 4.45, 115/60 K/BB, 146 IP]

    (5) Brad Penny [7-8, 4.33, 94/39 K/BB, 152 IP]

    (6) Andrew Oliver [4-4, 4.26, 30/15 K/BB, 32 IP]

     

    The top two guys in this rotation are enviable to most teams. What Justin Verlander has done in three of the last four seasons and what Max Scherzer did in the last two-thirds of 2010 give Detroit something to seriously look forward to in 2011.

    The end of the rotation is a step down from what division rivals Minnesota and Chicago have going for them.

    Phil Coke and Brad Penny are experiments, in a conversion from the bullpen and a gamble in health, respectively. Phil Coke doesn’t have horrible stuff, but fly-ball pitchers don’t allow only two home runs in 64.2 innings without some luck.

    Brad Penny is a huge health risk with only two 200-inning seasons and five 30-start seasons in his 10 years as a starter. The Tigers have two of (arguably) the top four starters in the AL Central, but what they have behind them is, by major league standards, mediocre. This is a top-heavy rotation and will remain that way until Andrew Oliver is ready, probably in 2012.

16: Florida Marlins

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    Josh JohnsonMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Josh Johnson [15-8, 2.89, 204/55 K/BB, 206 IP]

    (2) Ricky Nolasco [14-8, 4.15, 171/40 K/BB, 185 IP]

    (3) Javier Vazquez [11-12, 4.09, 158/57 K/BB, 190 IP]

    (4) Anibal Sanchez [10-10, 4.17, 163/78 K/BB, 205 IP]

    (5) Chris Volstad [10-13, 4.39, 116/67 K/BB, 189 IP]

    (6) Sean West [2-2, 4.00, 45/22 K/BB, 55 IP]

    (7) Alex Sanabia [3-1, 3.68, 28/12 K/BB, 43 IP]

    (8) Adalberto Mendez [1-3, 4.73, 34/16 K/BB, 39 IP]

     

    The Marlins got a lot of mileage out of recycling young players at nearly every position for the first decade and a half of their existence. It worked pretty well for them, I would say, but they have recently started to show a commitment to some of their more heralded young players with contract extensions for Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco.

    In Johnson and Nolasco they have two excellent command pitchers, both capable of striking out a batter per inning and walking very few. The challenge has been with the back end of the rotation consisting of the likes of Chris Volstad who has an ERA of 4.88 over his last 59 starts.

    They attempted to address the problem with Nate Robertson (ERA of 5.47 in 100.1 innings), Andrew Miller (5.89 in 220 IP), Scott Olsen (4.63 in over 100 starts) and a year of Mark Hendrickson (who has often proven he shouldn’t start games).

    The 2011 Marlins rotation expects Johnson and Nolasco to be healthy, which would be a huge improvement over most recent seasons. Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad and Javier Vazquez are hardly a problematic back of the rotation, but Sanchez needs to stay healthy, Vazquez needs to rediscover some of his velocity and Volstad has to pitch better than he has in recent memory.

    There’s a lot to like, but also a lot that could go wrong.

15: Chicago Cubs

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    Ryan DempsterChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Ryan Dempster [14-9, 3.78, 192/77 K/BB, 211 IP]

    (2) Matt Garza [15-11, 3.73, 178/67 K/BB, 214 IP]

    (3) Carlos Zambrano [12-10, 3.90, 160/80 K/BB, 179 IP]

    (4) Randy Wells [10-5, 3.36, 105/44 K/BB, 145 IP]

    (5) Carlos Silva [3-7, 4.83, 48/18 K/BB, 91 IP]

    (6) Andrew Cashner [7-7, 4.17, 91/44 K/BB, 105 IP]

     

    The Cubs pitched fairly well in 2010. Their failure to hit was more to blame for the 87-loss season. This rotation loses Ted Lilly and Tom Gorzellany, making it entirely right-handed, but if potent left-heavy lineups are the biggest problem, then things really aren’t as bad as they could be.

    For the Cubs, the pitching will be fine. They have two very reliable top-end guys in Dempster and Garza, probably both good for 200 innings. Garza could adapt to the National League even better than my ERA projection indicates.

    The Cubs are still waiting for Andrew Cashner to figure things out, though he will probably find some way to steal Carlos Silva’s job before too long. They have said they consider him their future, as his stuff is stellar (his command, not so much).

    If his future happens to begin when Dempster and Garza are still in this rotation, and if Randy Wells pitches like I think he can, this will be a very strong rotation over the next few years.

    I really don’t see this group failing to at least give the Cubs a chance to climb back over .500. Note that Wells’ innings projection is so low because I think his delivery will give him arm problems.

14: Minnesota Twins

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    Francisco LirianoHannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Francisco Liriano [16-9, 3.21, 206/64 K/BB, 202 IP]

    (2) Carl Pavano [14-12, 4.00, 113/38 K/BB, 211 IP]

    (3) Scott Baker [9-7, 4.16, 141/40 K/BB, 165 IP]

    (4) Brian Duensing [10-6, 3.97, 110/56 K/BB, 178 IP]

    (5) Kevin Slowey [7-7, 4.33, 125/31 K/BB, 164 IP]   

    (6) Nick Blackburn [3-6, 4.72, 36/19 K/BB, 84 IP]

     

    Pitching is an unnatural action for a human being, but the Twins’ pitching rotation is especially rife with questions of durability. Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano making great strides towards putting the operation room behind them, which is a start, but Baker and Slowey need to be healthy for this rotation to be as good as I think it can be.

    Twins’ starters led all of baseball in walk rate last year, and they are bringing back the exact same rotation. With that great control, also comes strikeouts in the case of Liriano; grounders, in the cases of Pavano and Duensing; and potential, in Baker and Slowey.

    Baker and Slowey have shown glimpses of success in the past and are vital to the depth of this staff. My concern with this staff is the amount of innings they can eat, which is why it’s good that they have Blackburn to make a few starts and provide long relief. I think these guys are more talented than my ranking gives them credit for, but the health issues loom large.

13: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Ricky RomeroLeon Halip/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Ricky Romero [15-10, 3.82, 177/80 K/BB, 217 IP]

    (2) Brandon Morrow [13-8, 3.85, 216/84 K/BB, 183 IP]

    (3) Brett Cecil [12-11, 4.11, 143/64 K/BB, 208 IP]

    (4) Kyle Drabek [5-3, 3.77, 85/40 K/BB, 98 IP]

    (5) Jesse Litsch [4-6, 4.40, 99/44 K/BB, 144 IP]

    (6) Marc Rzepczynski [4-5, 4.49, 61/33 K/BB, 69 IP]

     

    The eldest member of this rotation is going to turn 27 in July and 2011 will probably be another year of development for them.

    Ricky Romero, while not your prototypical ace is a terrific groundball generator who misses bats. Brandon Morrow misses even more bats, with 10.95 per nine innings in 2010. Brett Cecil is a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, good for close to, if not more than, 200 innings. Kyle Drabek is a future ace with one of the best curveballs in the minors.

    The Jays probably aren’t expected to compete in 2011, but it is a year of transition for this team. They need Morrow to get closer to 200 innings (he was shut down early last year). They need to see if Jesse Litsch can recover from the injuries that plagued him last year.

    They need to get Drabek more innings so he can become a force in this rotation in 2012 when he’ll be 24. Cecil and Romero are still young. They need to prove they can be consistent contributors, though there is little reason to believe they can’t.

    Last year these guys went deep into games for the Jays and ranked among the better teams in terms of strikeouts and grounders generated. They’re getting better.

12: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Chris CarpenterMarc Serota/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Adam Wainwright [19-9, 2.71, 207/57 K/BB, 227 IP]

    (2) Chris Carpenter [17-8, 3.17, 165/54 K/BB, 219 IP]

    (3) Jake Westbrook [13-9, 3.95, 124/62 K/BB, 200 IP]

    (4) Jaime Garcia [14-10, 3.48, 167/73 K/BB, 202 IP]

    (5) Kyle Lohse [6-9, 4.48, 93/46 K/BB, 147 IP]

    (6) Kyle McClellan [7-5, 4.12, 93/44 K/BB, 127 IP]

    (7) P.J. Walters [4-6, 4.73, 52/26 K/BB, 64 IP]

    (8) Lance Lynn [2-2, 3.83, 37/18 K/BB, 45 IP]

     

    I loved this rotation when it included Adam Wainwright. He gave the Cardinals a one-two punch at the top that could go toe to toe with the Halladay-Lee and Lincecum-Cain duos.

    Jaime Garcia has developed into a reliable starter, even with his inevitable regression, and Jake Westbrook will be fine with his groundball rate always impressive. The Cardinals have one rotation spot up for grabs and have Kyle Lohse’s injury history to keep in mind, which means there are three youngsters who may get some significant time on the mound.

    The leading contender for a rotation spot seems to be Kyle McClellan, who has never started a major league game. He does have four quality pitches, however and gets plenty of grounders.

    P.J. Walters is about to turn 26 and has been roughed up in 46 big-league innings, but he has been a good strikeout pitcher in the minors and could become an effective starter.

    The last candidate is Lance Lynne, 23, who should spend one more season in AAA. Last year, Cardinals’ starters pitched to a 3.50 ERA, second best in the majors.

    Without Wainwright and with Garcia’s ERA likely to rise by at least half a run, this group is bound to be worse than last year’s. Still, they have three rotation spots that will provide them with competent pitching and the potential for the same from the other two.

    They won’t be destroyed by Wainwright’s absence, but they will notice it.

11: Tampa Bay Rays

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    David PriceMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) David Price [15-9, 3.14, 203/85 K/BB, 228 IP]

    (2) James Shields [11-11, 4.15, 183/52 K/BB, 211 IP]

    (3) Jeff Niemann [10-9, 3.91, 141/65 K/BB, 196 IP]

    (4) Wade Davis [11-9, 4.33, 129/66 K/BB, 182 IP]

    (5) Jeremy Hellickson [10-6, 3.75, 133/39 K/BB, 155 IP]

    (6) Andy Sonnanstine [2-2, 4.50, 49/21 K/BB, 78 IP]

     

    The Rays will be expecting a lot from Cy Young Award runner-up David Price, who is probably only in line for the slightest of declines. He has the stuff to be dominant for a long time.

    I expect a slight resurgence from James Shields as well, mainly because he is such a good control pitcher. He started throwing harder last year, and he is probably going to have to choose between the extra strikeouts and a lower home runs allowed total.

    Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis are both relatively new to the majors, though neither is as new as Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson has been given a spot in the rotation, and he impressed last year, but pitched so few innings it’s hard to know what to expect.

    His minor league stats show a good strikeout pitcher with control, which can only be a good sign. I expect him to be good but probably not for 200-plus innings. Andy Sonnanstine should collect a few starts here and there, or more than a few if someone gets hurt.

    The Rays are a team in transition, and their rotation reflects that. They will get Hellickson ready for his future as David Price’s co-ace and let Niemann and Davis work out any remaining kinks as they gain more major league experience. If Hellickson isn't able to replace Matt Garza’s value immediately, he will be soon.

    This rotation will get better in a year or two, and it isn’t bad now.

10: Colorado Rockies

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    Ubaldo JimenezDilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Ubaldo Jimenez [16-10, 3.42, 213/92 K/BB, 218 IP]

    (2) Jorge de la Rosa [10-12, 4.25, 170/84 K/BB, 188 IP]

    (3) Jhoulys Chacin [14-8, 3.61, 184/80 K/BB, 189 IP]

    (4) Jason Hammel [11-10, 4.06, 152/48 K/BB, 196 IP]

    (5) Aaron Cook [8-13, 4.44, 59/38 K/BB, 85 IP]

    (6) Felipe Paulino [6-6, 4.21, 131/64 K/BB, 146 IP]      

     

    The Rockies have drafted well and assembled a rotation well-suited to pitch at Coors Field. Last year, Rockies starters posted the second-highest groundball to flyball ratio in the majors as well as the lowest flyball percentage. They did allow a fair amount of line drives, but this group of pitchers has shown that it won't get beat by leaving the ball up too often.

    This manifested itself with the second-lowest home run rate in 2010 (and the third-lowest over the last three seasons). It is because of this that we have to remain open to the possibility of Ubaldo at least coming close to his success from 2010 and the chance that some of these other guys tap into the potential they are said to have.

    Jason Hammel and Felipe Paulino are both candidates for breakout seasons. I think this was a very intelligently assembled rotation. It’s not the flashiest, the most imposing or the most talked-about, nor is it a fashionable pick to lead the league in any particular area but it has been effective.

    Rockies starters had the sixth-highest strikeout rate last year (7.34 per nine innings) but also the fifth-highest walk rate (3.42 per nine), which characterizes this as a power-pitching group. The top three starters in particular are high-strikeout, high-walk guys, but they get enough strikeouts to survive the walks and all three keep the ball on the ground.

    That will work nicely for them against some National League lineups, particularly several of their division rivals. The Rockies have a preference for hard throwers with good offspeed stuff, which is often a recipe for success in a pitcher.

    They are working to put the days of Jeff Francis and Jason Jennings (and Aaron Cook?) in the rearview mirror. This is the most talented group the Rockies have fielded in years and though that doesn’t mean they will be the most effective, it certainly means the ceiling is high.

    My ranking for this rotation may seem a little high based on some of these projections, but I think the potential is too much to ignore.

9: Chicago White Sox

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    Mark BuehrleJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Mark Buehrle [14-12, 4.19, 98/46 K/BB, 209 IP]

    (2) Gavin Floyd [14-10, 3.88, 166/64 K/BB, 205 IP]

    (3) John Danks [15-9, 3.95, 168/72 K/BB, 216 IP]

    (4) Jake Peavy [11-5, 3.61, 168/57 K/BB, 178 IP]

    (5) Edwin Jackson [10-12, 4.39, 145/67 K/BB, 184 IP]

    (6) Chris Sale [1-1, 3.00, 31/14, 34 IP]

     

    The White Sox have assembled a rotation of groundball pitchers with good control. The big question facing the team this year is whether Jake Peavy will heal and be competitive in the American League. Early reports indicate he should be ready by early April.

    Mark Buehrle will rely heavily on the groundball, though he walks so few guys that he can get away with pitching to contact, even in this small ballpark.

    John Danks and Gavin Floyd have spent three seasons showing us what they can do. Each should finish the season with something like 200 to 220 innings pitched and an ERA around 4.00 (or potentially a little lower).

    This rotation looks a lot like their rivals’ in Minnesota. They have an ace with great strikeout potential who has struggled to stay healthy and depth behind him, with reliable guys who are talented if not elite.

    Edwin Jackson, the team’s fifth starter, is capable of dominating one day and falling apart the next. Chris Sale could pick up a few starts late in the season. This rotation looks to be an improvement over last year’s group who ranked ninth in baseball in FIP (3.80), fourth in walks per nine innings (2.72) and fifth in innings pitched by starters (1004.2).

    They may be just a notch below the 2005 championship club’s rotation who got solid 200 inning, sub 4.00 ERAs from four different starters, which almost never happens these days.

8: Milwaukee Brewers

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    Zack GreinkeChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Zack Greinke [16-9, 2.92, 221/50 K/BB, 223 IP]

    (2) Yovani Gallardo [14-9, 3.75, 216/83 K/BB, 199 IP]

    (3) Shaun Marcum [14-9, 3.55, 175/45 K/BB, 205 IP]

    (4) Randy Wolf [13-10, 4.23, 144/74 K/BB, 212 IP]

    (5) Chris Narveson [13-8, 4.21, 158/65 K/BB, 187 IP]

     

    Last year’s rotation pitched to the second-worst ERA in the major leagues, but this year they replace Doug Davis, Dave Bush and Manny Parra (55 combined starts in 2010) with Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum (64 combined starts).

    Greinke is a potentially dominant pitcher, who will post a great K/BB ratio and go well over 200 innings. Marcum, though less dominant, also has good command of an arsenal of pitches that includes the best changeup in the majors last year. He walked only 43 in 195.1 innings, pitching in a division that could take walks in their sleep.

    This is a formidable rotation, but with the potential for greatness comes the possibility of a collapse. We know Greinke’s greatest enemy is his own mind, and he is as likely to get beat by himself as he is by an opposing lineup.

    Yovani Gallardo is an outstanding strikeout pitcher, but the walks prevent him from ranking among the elites. Marcum has struggled to stay healthy, and Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson will probably be mediocre.

    The Brewers’ rotation is strong at the top end and back end probably won’t be terrible, which means they have five guys who will pitch this team to a competitive season, and that’s good enough to make a run at the NL Central title.

7: Oakland Athletics

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    Brett AndersonEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Brett Anderson [14-6, 3.42, 142/43 K/BB, 188 IP]

    (2) Dallas Braden [13-9, 3.93, 127/50 K/BB, 215 IP]

    (3) Trevor Cahill [14-10, 4.07, 128/69 K/BB, 207 IP]

    (4) Gio Gonzalez [12-12, 4.00, 172/88 K/BB, 193 IP]

    (5) Rich Harden [4-7, 4.53, 67/39 K/BB, 80 IP]

    (6) Brandon McCarthy [3-4, 4.31, 48/25 K/BB, 65 IP]

     

    This is the best rotation to lack at least one household name. Everyone brings something to like, nay, something to love, to the table, and they are all 29 years old or younger (three of their top four are under 26).

    Partial list of things to love about the A’s rotation: Brett Anderson’s refusal to surrender walks, Dallas Braden’s gutsiness and improved control, Gio Gonzalez’s fastball and curve, the movement on Trevor Cahill’s two-seamer.

    There is also plenty to work on. Gonzalez could walk fewer, Cahill will come down to Earth in 2011 (his BABIP-against was .236 last year), Anderson and Harden need to stay healthy, but the tools are there to be successful despite the reasons for worry.

    Few teams have as much potential starting games for them, and the improved offense and upgrades to an already strong bullpen, means more wins for these starters as well. This rotation is the key to a season of winning baseball in Oakland.

6: Los Angeles Angels

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    Jered WeaverRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Jered Weaver [15-11, 3.27, 220/56 K/BB, 222 IP]

    (2) Dan Haren [14-10, 3.52, 209/44 K/BB, 219 IP]

    (3) Ervin Santana [12-12, 4.08, 147/65 K/BB, 194 IP]

    (4) Joel Piniero [12-9, 3.95, 107/41 K/BB, 183 IP]

    (5) Scott Kazmir [5-7, 4.75, 86/64 K/BB, 145 IP]

     

    If the Angels miss the playoffs again, the starting rotation won’t be to blame.

    The emergence of Jered Weaver—who was always good but under the radar—and the trade for Dan Haren give the Angels two strikeout pitchers with very good control. Both could contend for the Cy Young award.

    Ervin Santana and Joel Piniero are above-average major league starters. Piniero made only 23 starts but 17 of them were quality starts and his skill set projects to long-term success. Santana only failed to go six innings in five of his 33 starts.

    Scott Kazmir is not the same pitcher he was three years ago, thanks to constant shoulder problems and declining velocity on the only pitch that ever really worked for him. He never went deep into games anyway, and the Angels will have to decide whether they want to cut their losses and just get their 150 or so innings out of him (probably losing most of those games) or try him in the bullpen.

    Offense should be a roadblock to high win totals for these guys, but their rotation is their greatest asset, and it ranks as one of the best.

5: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Clayton KershawChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Clayton Kershaw [15-8, 3.09, 221/86 K/BB, 212 IP]

    (2) Chad Billingsley [14-10, 3.46, 199/78 K/BB, 206 IP]

    (3) Ted Lilly [12-11, 4.19, 156/54 K/BB, 189 IP]

    (4) Hiroki Kuroda [13-10, 3.42, 150/45 K/BB, 193 IP]

    (5) Jon Garland [12-12, 4.05, 116/62 K/BB, 206 IP]

    (6) Vicente Padilla [2-3, 4.20, 23/11 K/BB, 31 IP]         

     

    The Dodgers have a stacked rotation. Health is an issue, but effectiveness shouldn’t be.

    Chad Billingsley has had minor injuries here and there that probably kept him from stringing together three straight 200-inning seasons. Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda have both missed time over the last two seasons as well.

    When healthy, Billingsley is an ace-caliber pitcher and should pair with Clayton Kershaw to provide a ton of strikeouts. Ted Lilly is a good finesse pitcher, which allows him to survive a high flyball rate. Jon Garland is one of the surest things in baseball health-wise and should spin that sinker into another successful season.

    If anything goes wrong, there’s Vicente Padilla—nothing special but not horrendous. Considering that Padilla would be a candidate to crack at least the middle of most rotations, the Dodgers are in good shape.

    Kershaw may be vaulted into uncharted territory in terms of innings limits, but this pitching staff is one of the more likable things about the team. If they are forced to give starts to John Ely or Carlos Monasterios, they still wont be in terrible shape, but the fact that they don’t have to is encouraging.

4: Boston Red Sox

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    Jon LesterChris McGrath/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Jon Lester [20-8, 3.18, 221/68 K/BB, 205 IP]

    (2) Josh Beckett [15-10, 3.77, 182/51 K/BB, 198 IP]

    (3) Clay Buchholz [16-11, 3.63, 158/72 K/BB, 202 IP]

    (4) John Lackey [15-8, 3.67, 160/66 K/BB, 211 IP]

    (5) Daisuke Matsuzaka [10-6, 4.48, 155/84 K/BB, 175 IP]

    (6) Tim Wakefield [5-4, 4.63, 38/21 K/BB, 66 IP]

     

    There are health concerns all over this rotation but depth to survive them and no shortage of talent either.

    Josh Beckett missed time in two of the last three seasons. John Lackey has been hurt too, as have Matsuzaka and Buchholz. Tim Wakefield should get a few starts here and there, but he should be a last resort.

    The injury factor is very real but offset somewhat by the depth. Four of these guys can be or have been aces. Any one of them could go out and dominate any lineup on a given day and most of them have a realistic shot at giving the team 200 solid innings.

    Matsuzaka belongs in the back of the rotation, as he has struggled with control. He has not adjusted well to the five-man rotation, having only completed one game since joining the Red Sox. Still, he throws hard, has a good slider and can pitch competently enough for a fifth starter.

    Lester would be a legitimate Cy Young candidate if he were able to get his inning total somewhere near 230, but he’s never been north of 210.1.

    The increased run support, by virtue of new signings and the health of guys like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew, will get these guys loads of wins. I expect a decline from Buchholz’ ridiculous 2010 stats and some resurgence in Beckett and Lackey as the former bounces back from an injury-plagued year and the latter gets used to his new division.

    The strength of this rotation is in the fact that they get strikeouts while minimizing the walks—often the mark of a good pitcher. Most of these guys are moderate to extreme groundball pitchers as well.

3: Atlanta Braves

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    Tim HudsonJamie Squire/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Tim Hudson [15-9, 3.53, 125/66 K/BB, 208 IP]

    (2) Derek Lowe [15-10, 3.88, 131/63 K/BB, 196 IP]

    (3) Tommy Hanson [16-9, 3.25, 196/64 K/BB, 213 IP]

    (4) Jair Jurrjens [12-10, 4.02, 133/65 K/BB, 184 IP]

    (5) Mike Minor [8-6, 3.87, 140/53 K/BB, 161 IP]

    (6) Brandon Beachy [3-3, 3.66, 63/28 K/BB, 72 IP]

     

    The Braves always seem to pitch well, with their Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz trio being to gold standard for dominance in a starting rotation. Last season Braves starters ranked sixth in baseball in ERA (3.80) and seventh in FIP (3.88), and their relievers were even better.

    They are now a team in transition—true of their offense as well—working to usher in an era of Tommy Hanson as their ace and Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy playing the Glavine/Smoltz to his Maddux.

    The three pitchers are all 24 years of age or younger, and Hanson is already an All-Star quality pitcher. Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson are still effective as well. Both generate plenty of grounders and command their pitches reasonably well.

    The Braves have a window of at least a couple of years where these two veterans remain quality pitchers and their younger guys become productive major leaguers, which means an exciting 2011 for Braves fans.

2: San Francisco Giants

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    Tim LincecumChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Tim Lincecum [17-9, 2.85, 240/71 K/BB, 217 IP]

    (2) Matt Cain [14-9, 3.21, 176/69 K/BB, 225 IP]

    (3) Jonathan Sanchez [13-12, 3.88, 212/101 K/BB, 202 IP]

    (4) Madison Bumgarner [11-7, 3.61, 129/40 K/BB, 176 IP]

    (5) Barry Zito [10-14, 4.19, 137/80 K/BB, 190 IP]

     

    This rotation carried the Giants past two of the better offenses in baseball last October. Since the emergence of Tim Lincecum and people starting to take notice of Matt Cain, this has been one of the more talked-about rotations in baseball. It isn’t getting worse.

    No experiments with Todd Wellemeyer this year. No ineffective last hurrah for Randy Johnson either. Lincecum and Cain are joined by Jonathan Sanchez, who lives and dies with the strikeout, and Madison Bumgarner, who walked only 26 in 111 innings last year.

    Even Barry Zito pitched reasonably well over the last two seasons. Just ask the Yankees, who would love it if their fifth starter puts up an ERA of 4.15 in 199 innings.

    Lincecum will be dominant as usual. Cain, reliable and efficient as usual. But the surrounding cast is the best since the Giants have employed this duo.

    Their expansive home ballpark is a key advantage, but this group would be good in any park. Look for Giants’ starters to lead MLB in K/9 for a fourth consecutive year. A third consecutive year leading MLB in BAA is a possibility as well.

    Their flaw is with the base on balls, but they have the right kind of walk-happy guys—the kind who get their strikeouts too. The Giants are a team whose starters’ talents [and ballpark] outweigh their weaknesses. This rotation is stacked.

1: Philadelphia Phillies

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    Roy HalladayEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Probable rotation and projections:

    (1) Roy Halladay [20-10, 2.72, 202/32 K/BB, 230 IP]

    (2) Cliff Lee [18-8, 3.36, 172/40 K/BB, 211 IP]

    (3) Cole Hamels [15-10, 3.54, 186/54 K/BB, 199 IP]

    (4) Roy Oswalt [15-10, 3.66, 188/57 K/BB, 214 IP]

    (5) Joe Blanton [12-11, 4.37, 135/56 K/BB, 187 IP]

    (6) Kyle Kendrick [1-2, 4.68, 12/8 K/BB, 27 IP]

     

    I know I’m jumping on the bandwagon here. I know disgruntled Mets, Yankees and Rangers fans are scrambling to find things not to like about this Phillie pitching staff. I remember when Cliff Lee signed his deal (I’m a Yankee fan). The New York City sky looked a little darker that day. I think the Sun just sort of felt like skipping over us. But I digress.

    These four pitchers—you know which four I’m talking about—just don’t do bad seasons. They just don’t do mediocre. And even if one of them does in 2011, even if one of them retires tomorrow or breaks both arms and a leg or just loses all talent, there are three other aces to fall back on.

    Yes, ask the questions we all so desperately want to ask. But Roy Halladay has to get old sometime, right? But Cliff Lee’s ERA with Texas was 3.98, remember? He got beat in those two games against San Francisco, didn't he? Don’t you remember Roy Oswalt’s 2009? And speaking of 2009, how about Cole Hamels’ 4.32 ERA?

    These arguments carry no weight. So what if one of these guys is just decent? Just mediocre? So what if two of them are? There are four of them. When one has a bad game, the others can and probably will pick him right back up the next day.

    And even if one of them has a rough time for a few starts, they are all too good for it to last very long. The offense will support them too.

    We shouldn't forget Joe Blanton. He’s good enough to be a No. 3 on most teams, and he won’t hurt these Phillies.

    I think the chances are very high that all five of these starters go 200 innings, which is huge because it will take pressure off the bullpen. It will also take pressure off of the other starters. The bullpen is so likely to be well rested at any given time that Charlie Manuel probably wont have to push Halladay to 250 innings.

    The beauty of this rotation is that the manager doesn’t have to squeeze every last drop of excellence from his ace(s). CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez are all going to have to not only be aces, but they will also have to make up for the short starts by back-of-the-rotation guys.

    They will have to eat the innings that the bullpen and other starters might not be able to. That is not the case with Philadelphia. The bottom line is, any question you can ask about these Phillies, you can ask about pretty much any other pitcher.

    Pitching is such a ridiculously arm-damaging exercise that there will always be questions of durability, of effectiveness, to ask. With the 2011 Phillies rotation, there is more depth, which means there are more chances for these questioners to be silenced once the season starts.