Make Your Pitch: Ranking All 30 MLB Starting Rotations
Everyone is familiar with the many adages that illustrate just how important having good pitching is. I'll spare you the cliches, but if you don't have a successful pitching staff, all the offense in the world doesn't matter.
There are still several rotation spots up for grabs in spring training, so what follows is a rough estimate of what each rotation will look like (although I have included possible alternates and have factored them into my rankings).
With that in mind, it's time to rank all the rotations in Major League Baseball, from 30 to 1.
30.) Pittsburgh Pirates
1.) Paul Maholm
2.) Ross Ohlendorf
3.) Kevin Correia
4.) Scott Olsen
5.) James McDonald
Other Possibilities: Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, Brad Lincoln
When your de facto ace is Paul Maholm and your No. 2 is a guy who won all of one game last season (albeit, not entirely his fault), that earns you the title of the Worst Rotation in Baseball.
The problem herein lies that their supposed "staff leader", Maholm, is just that in title. His numbers—from his ERA+, to his K/9 and his WHIP—were off the charts bad last season.
Ohlendorf, he of the one victory, and McDonald were the only ones who even sniffed a league average ERA+ (100). While Ohlendorf sported a league average 100 ERA+, he fell victim to the ineptitude of the rest of the team, as a combination of low run support and little bullpen help led to his abysmal win total.
McDonald came over from Los Angeles, where he was highly regarded, and strung together some nice starts, posting a 116 ERA+ after he came over to Pittsburgh. He's probably got as good a chance as anyone in this rotation to be a bright spot.
Correia and Olsen both had decent stretches last season, but had pretty awful seasons in 2010 and will hope to rebound to pitching like they did in 2009 (Correia) and 2008 (Olsen), respectively.
There's some help eventually on the way with the likes of last year's second overall pick Jameson Taillon, as well as Stetson Allie, Luis Heredia and Bryan Morris, but until then, this rotation looks to be woefully bad.
29.) Cleveland Indians
1.) Fausto Carmona
2.) Justin Masterson
3.) Mitch Talbot
4.) Josh Tomlin
5.) Carlos Carrasco
Other Possibilities: David Huff, Joe Martinez, Jeanmar Gomez
Carmona is the lone solid starter of the bunch, although his 102 ERA+ was just slightly above league average last season. He generates a ton of ground balls, which helps offset his woefully low K/9 numbers.
He also allows a lot of baserunners, which can always come back to bite someone who relies on the ball being put in play.
The rest of the rotation is full of question marks. Masterson was one of the key pieces in the deal which sent Victor Martinez to Boston, but he's been hit very hard the last few seasons and may be better suited moving back to the pen.
Talbot was decent last season, but he doesn't miss enough bats to sustain long-term success. His ceiling is probably that of a No. 3, although there's still room for improvement.
Tomlin and Carrasco are great unknowns. Both are young and could improve, especially Carrasco, who was solid enough in a brief seven-game trial at the end of last season.
Another youngster, Jeanmar Gomez, could also be in the mix for a back of the rotation spot.
There's some promise here, however, the prevailing uncertainty surrounding this rotation is what keeps Cleveland this low.
28.) Kansas City Royals
1.) Jeff Francis
2.) Luke Hochevar
3.) Kyle Davies
4.) Sean O'Sullivan
5.) Vin Mazzaro
Other Possibilities: Robinson Tejeda, Bruce Chen, Kevin Pucetas
Many of the pitchers who currently occupy the Kansas City rotation are merely placeholders for the impressive crop of young studs that the Royals have accrued in Double-A.
With John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer, Aaron Crow, Danny Duffy and Jake Odorizzi, the Royals have the makings of perhaps one of the best rotations in baseball, sometime in the near future.
However, in 2011, with no Zack Greinke, this bunch will be led by offseason signing Jeff Francis. Francis never fulfilled the potential Colorado saw in him, but KC hopes he will find success below sea level (even though his career ERA is higher on the road).
Following Francis is the talented, but extremely enigmatic Hochevar. After being a high pick, Hochevar has shown flashes, but his inability to remain consistent continues to hold him back.
The rotation is rounded out by two guys who probably don't belong in a ML rotation, in Davies and O'Sullivan. Both posted sub-80 ERA+ seasons, which means, if they struggle this season, they could be quickly replaced.
Mazzaro, who was middle of the road last season for Oakland, doesn't miss enough bats to be anything more than a back-end starter. He could provide some quality innings for KC, but won't "wow" anyone.
This group is wholly uninspiring, but Royals fans need only hold out for another year or two.
27.) Washington Nationals
1.) Livan Hernandez
2.) Tom Gorzelanny
3.) Jordan Zimmermann
4.) Jason Marquis
5.) John Lannan
Other Possibilities: Yunesky Maya, Luis Atilano, Chien-Ming Wang
Of course, the Nationals rotation would rank significantly higher were it not missing young Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg will likely miss all of the 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The Nats may have saved themselves from vaulting further down this list with the acquisition of the solid, but unspectacular Gorzelanny. While he tends to allow too many baserunners, he's been striking people out at a much higher clip and seems to have regained a good deal of the confidence he had when he won 14 games in 2007.
If you saw Livan Hernandez posting a sub-four ERA, after four consecutive seasons of a 4.83 mark or higher, raise your hand. Even with Livan's out of nowhere season, the Nats still finished last in the NL East, so they'll likely need him to replicate his success if they're to remain in contention.
Speaking of Tommy John, Zimmermann is ready to begin his first full season since recovering from his own elbow surgery. A highly touted prospect coming up, Zimmermann struggled at times in a brief return at the end of last season.
The Nats are still expecting big things from him and he could be the hinge upon which this rotation swings.
The last two spots go to Jason Marquis, whose first year in the Nation's Capital was marred by injury and poor performance, and presumably John Lannan, although Lannan's performance last season anything but guarantees him a spot in this year's rotation.
If Chien-Ming Wang is healthy and throwing like he did with the Yankees from 2006-2008, he could also provide a big shot in the arm for this club.
26.) Baltimore Orioles
1.) Jeremy Guthrie
2.) Brian Matusz
3.) Justin Duchscherer
4.) Jake Arrieta
5.) Chris Tillman
Other Possibilities: Brad Bergesen, Zach Britton, Troy Patton
In his first full season in the bigs, Brian Matusz flashed a lot of the potential that has scouts viewing him as the Orioles' future ace. While he ERA+ was just below league average, he had quite a few stretches, at age 23, that seem to be solid indicators of future success.
Guthrie rebounded in a big way last season, proving that 2009 was just a bump in the road. He's now pitched to a 111 ERA+ or higher in three of his last four seasons and, as a free agent in 2012, will probably be one of the hottest names on the market as the trade deadline nears.
The Orioles will hope they catch lightning in a bottle with Duchscherer who, when last he was healthy in 2008, posted a 163 ERA+ and a sub-1.00 WHIP with Oakland. In five starts at the beginning of last season, before he was shut down again, he posted a 145 ERA+, although his K/9 was down and his BB/9 was up.
Arrieta and Tillman are both highly touted youngsters in their own right and, although both struggled at times last season, figure to improve with more experience. If either of the two takes the next step, this season, this rotation could be sneaky good.
Bergesen could easily win the fifth spot from Tillman with a strong spring and Baltimore's top prospect, Britton, will eventually make his presence felt, as well.
25.) New York Mets
1.) Mike Pelfrey
2.) RA Dickey
3.) Jonathan Niese
4.) Chris Capuano
5.) Chris Young
Other Possibilities: Dillon Gee, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana (injured)
With ace Santana rehabbing surgery for a torn shoulder capsule and not likely to return until June or July, the Mets fall further down the list of rotations.
Although this rotation appears to be a bit rag-tag, it still has decent enough potential depending on how things shake out.
Pelfrey has never fully lived up to the potential the Mets saw in him, although he did rebound in a big way in 2010, posting a 107 ERA+, up from 81 in his disastrous 2009 season. He still doesn't miss as many bats as you'd like, but the Mets need him to take the next step if they're to remain in contention.
Dickey was the feel good story of 2010, literally coming out of nowhere to post a 138 ERA+ and finishing seventh in the NL in ERA. While it may be premature to consider him a solid, top-three starter, with Dickey's ability to change speeds on his knuckleball, it'll be paramount to the Mets' success for him to continue to baffle the league in 2011.
In Niese's first full season, he was very impressive at times, even coming one batter from a perfect game in June. He hit a bit of a wall late in the season, but his 93 ERA+, at age 23, hints at further success down the road for the young lefty.
While Santana rehabs, the Mets are counting on two reclamation projects, Chris Capuano and Chris Young, to fill out their rotation. While both pitchers are former All-Stars, they also both haven't managed to stay healthy for several years.
Young and Capuano were both quietly effective in several starts at the end of last season, so the Mets hope both men can regain the form they flashed prior to being bit with the injury bug.
If they can even be average and keep New York in games, at least until Santana returns, the Mets could contend for the Wild Card spot.
24.) Arizona Diamondbacks
1.) Daniel Hudson
2.) Ian Kennedy
3.) Joe Saunders
4.) Zach Duke
5.) Armando Galarraga
Other Possibilities: Barry Enright, Kevin Mulvey, Aaron Heilman
Each one of the pitchers in Arizona's prospective rotation has been acquired by trade within the last year.
The D'backs acquired Hudson in a deadline deal which sent Edwin Jackson to the South Side of Chicago. Little did they know they were acquiring a guy who could very well serve as their ace.
In 11 starts for Arizona, Hudson's numbers were eye-popping: a 251 ERA+, a sub 0.85 WHIP and only 15 earned runs and 51 hits allowed in 79 innings. Understandably, he enters 2011 at the top of the Diamondbacks' rotation, which contains some promise.
Behind Hudson, Kennedy, in his first full season in the bigs, posted a 111 ERA+ and only allowed 163 hits in 194 IP. At 26, this could be the year Kennedy breaks out, which Arizona could certainly use.
Saunders was acquired from the Angels in last year's Dan Haren deal and, although he's not nearly as good as his outlier 131 ERA+ season in 2008, he's always managed to stay around league average. He doesn't K enough people (career 5.1 K/9) to succeed on a consistent basis.
After having a nice 2009 season, Duke regressed big-time in 2010, posting the worst season of his six-year career. He allows entirely too many baserunners and, like Saunders, doesn't miss any bats, at all.
That can be a deadly combo as we saw last season. Moving to a hitter's haven like Chase Field certainly won't help.
Finally, the rotation figures to be rounded out by Galarraga, who, aside from the notoriety he received from his perfect game that wasn't, was just average. He did put together a 93 ERA+, but at age 29, it's fair to question how much room there is for improvement.
Unless the D'Backs get an unexpected boost from the back of their rotation, this team could find itself in a lot of shootouts.
23.) San Diego Padres
1.) Mat Latos
2.) Clayton Richard
3.) Tim Stauffer
4.) Aaron Harang
5.) Wade LeBlanc
Other Possibilities: Dustin Moseley, Aaron Poreda, Cory Luebke
Last year, the Padres rode their surprise pitching to within one game of a division title.
Unfortunately, they had to shut down their young ace, Latos, for a few games in the middle of season to manage the number of innings he was throwing. That was likely the difference between San Diego reaching the postseason or not.
This year, San Diego is hoping Latos can build upon his incredibly impressive year in which he struck out more than 9/9 IP and posted a 126 ERA+. He'll headline a rotation that is going to have to carry an offense which, minus Adrian Gonzalez, could struggle mightily this season.
Richard was, overall, pretty solid, although his 3.75 ERA belies the fact that his ERA+ (98) was just average. To expect him to win 14 games again could be a stretch, but he should remain pretty reliable.
Stauffer, a former first round pick, spent most of last season as a reliever, but he did compile a 1.83 ERA in seven starts. He'll likely make the jump to the rotation this season, although his 199 ERA+ and sub 1.1 WHIP last season were completely uncharacteristic when viewed against the rest of his career.
Harang, who signed this offseason after seven seasons in Cincinnati, has been steadily regressing for the last few seasons. His numbers are down across the board, although a move to Petco Park should at least slow his regression a bit.
He hasn't won more than six games in any of the last three seasons, so it's difficult to expect much out of him as the No. 4.
LeBlanc was another pitcher who was greatly helped by Petco's spacious confines. On the surface, his 4.25 ERA doesn't appear too shabby, but when you consider his ERA+, which adjusts to the player's ballpark, was just 86, you can see his ERA doesn't tell the whole story.
Many of the Padres overachieved in 2010, so a regression back to the norm wouldn't surprise anyone.
22.) Toronto Blue Jays
1.) Ricky Romero
2.) Brandon Morrow
3.) Brett Cecil
4.) Jesse Litsch
5.) Mark Rzepczynski
Other Possibilities: Scott Richmond, Dustin McGowan, Brad Mills
Romero burst on the scene last season, posting a 111 ERA+ and only allowing 189 hits in 210 IP. He established himself as Toronto's workhorse and, with Shaun Marcum traded to Milwaukee, he assumes the role as de facto ace.
With that being said, Morrow is the one to really keep an eye on this season. He's always had tremendous potential and it's a wonder that Seattle gave up on him as soon as they did.
Last season, while his ERA+ was slightly below average, he posted a ridiculous 11 K/9 IP line to go with only 136 hits allowed in 146 IP. If he can cut down on his walks and harness his potential further, this kid could easily vault into the upper echelon of pitchers in the league.
Cecil, another of the Jays' impressive young crop of starters, was very solid in his first full season. He pitched to a slightly below league average ERA+, but won 15 games and, at 24, has a lot of room for improvement.
Litsch was hurt for most of last season and, even when he did pitch, he wasn't very effective. He's run into injury problems the past two seasons and, if healthy, Toronto is hoping he can make a return to the pitcher he was in 2007-2008.
Rzepczynski (say that three times, fast) was very effective in 11 starts as a rookie in 2009. However, his H/9 rate skyrocketed in 2010, which would explain why many of his other numbers did, as well.
He did, however, maintain his relatively impressive 8+ K/9 IP rate, so, if he can cut down on the hits, there's a possibility for improvement here.
Toronto's rotation is very young, but is full of promise and there's more help on the way. Dustin McGowan hopes to finally return from injury and young stud Kyle Drabek could make an appearance at some point later this season.
21.) Seattle Mariners
1.) Felix Hernandez
2.) Jason Vargas
3.) Doug Fister
4.) Erik Bedard
5.) Luke French
Other Possibilities: David Pauley, Garrett Olson, Michael Pineda
What other superlatives are there to use about King Felix that haven't already been overused to the point of exhaustion? Despite his low win total, Hernandez, rightfully, won the AL Cy Young last season, leading the league in numerous categories.
He had a 174 ERA+ in a league-leading 249 IP and the scary thing is, he'll only turn 25 in April. He's the primary reason this rotation is ranked so high, as the rest of its incumbents are rather average, at best.
Vargas was a pleasant surprise last season, allowing fewer hits than innings pitched and putting up a 104 ERA+. Whether or not he can replicate that kind of success, which he hadn't enjoyed since his rookie season of '05, will help determine whether or not Seattle can actually stick around past the trade deadline this year.
Fister is another pitcher who was surprisingly solid last season, although his K/9 rate of 4.9 leaves a lot to be desired. Somehow Fister has managed to make it work in his first two seasons in the bigs, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him continue to be league average, even without a high strikeout rate.
Bedard missed all of last season while recovering from surgery on a torn labrum. When healthy, he's shown he can be one of the better pitchers in baseball, but he's never started more than 15 games since he became a Mariner in 2008.
To rely on anything from him this season could be foolish, knowing his injury history.
The fifth spot could go to Luke French, who was roughed up quite a bit last season. At age 25, there's still room for improvement, but anytime your K/BB ratio is approaching 1.0, that's never a good thing.
Other than King Felix, this could be another long season in the Great Northwest.
20.) Texas Rangers
1.) CJ Wilson
2.) Colby Lewis
3.) Tommy Hunter
4.) Brandon Webb
5.) Derek Holland
Other Possibilities: Scott Feldman, Omar Beltre, Eric Hurley
How good this rotation can be hinges on one very important wild card, the health of Brandon Webb. Webb was a perennial Cy Young candidate in Arizona before he hurt his shoulder and missed basically all of the last two seasons.
While his velocity was reportedly down, whether or not he can come back or if he's a shell of his former self will go a long way towards dictating how competitive Texas will be this season.
With Cliff Lee leaving for Philadelphia, Wilson, who enjoyed a terrific season in his first as a starter, will have to assume the role of staff ace. He posted a very impressive 129 ERA+ and only allowed 161 hits in 204 IP, which the Rangers hope he can replicate.
Lewis, who was out of the majors in 2008-2009, returned with a vengeance, posting a 116 ERA+ and a sub 1.20 WHIP. He, too, pitched over 200 innings and only allowed 174 hits, numbers he'll also likely have to duplicate if Texas is to make another run at a division title.
Although Hunter has dealt with some injury issues in his first few seasons, he's also been surprisingly effective, even with his K/9 rate trending south of the 5.0 mark. Hunter also moves up a slot in the rotation, so Ron Washington and co. have to count on him to continue pitching to an above average ERA+.
The fifth spot in the rotation will likely be a battle in camp, but as long as Derek Holland flashes his immense potential, the spot should go to him. Holland strikes out almost nine per nine IP, but has to cut down on the walks to be effective.
Just entering his third season, at age 24, this could be his time to shine, which in turn would help bolster the back end of this rotation.
19.) New York Yankees
1.) CC Sabathia
2.) Phil Hughes
3.) AJ Burnett
4.) Freddy Garcia
5.) Ivan Nova
Other Possibilities: Sergio Mitre, Bartolo Colon, Joba Chamberlain
Sabathia won 21 games last season, posted a 134 ERA+ and was in the conversation for AL Cy Young. He's also reportedly lost 30 lbs., which should greatly improve his conditioning and ease the burden on rest of his body.
The one thing to watch for is that CC has thrown a ton of innings, including playoffs. Whether or not this eventually starts to take a toll on his arm could be of concern, but this year he should continue to be his dominant self.
Of course, after Sabathia, there are quite a few question marks, which is never a good thing to have in your rotation when your payroll is north of $200 million.
While Hughes won 18 games last season, his ERA+ was right around league average (102) and, moving from the pen, his K/9 rate took a nose dive (which isn't unexpected when someone makes that conversion). He also flamed out in the ALCS against Texas, so it remains to be seen if there are any remnants from those performances.
Either way, for someone who's serving as the #2 on a team with championship aspirations, Hughes is going to have to avoid those hiccups this season.
Burnett, and his massive contract, are holding down the third spot, at least for now. After a very successful first season in New York, Burnett was positively awful last year and, at age 34, it might be difficult for him to fully rebound.
Garcia should probably lock up one of the final two spots after he had a decent enough season for the White Sox in 2010, posting a 94 ERA+ (although his K/9 rate bottomed out). He's moving from one bandbox to another, so the change of scenery shouldn't affect him all that much.
Who lands the final spot is anyone's guess, but Nova, who enjoyed some success in seven starts last season, appears to have the inside track. If Colon shows he still has anything left in the tank, he may get a shot, but this rotation is dangerously unstable for a team that expects to contend.
18.) Houston Astros
1.) Wandy Rodriguez
2.) Brett Myers
3.) JA Happ
4.) Bud Norris
5.) Ryan Rowland-Smith
Other Possibilities: Nelson Figueroa, Gustavo Chacin, Cesar Carrillo
This will be the first Opening Day in quite some time that Roy Oswalt doesn't start for Houston, but Rodriguez has done an admirable job carrying the torch.
Not many people realize just how good Rodriguez has been the last few seasons, perhaps because of his lower than average win totals. He's posted a 108 ERA+ or higher and K'ed over eight per nine IP three years running.
While I wouldn't go so far as to call him a bonafide ace, he's certainly turned himself into quite the effective innings eater.
Meanwhile, Brett Myers was terrific in his first season as an Astro, posting numbers we hadn't seen since '06. He put up a 123 ERA+ in 223 innings of work and was so much more than Houston could've bargained for.
If Myers can duplicate his 2010 season, the Astros could certainly sneak up on some teams.
JA Happ, who came over in last year's Roy Oswalt trade, has never had the sterling peripherals you hear about when people forecast a pitcher's progression. However, that hasn't stopped him from succeeding at just about every stop.
He's consistently sported a 115+ ERA+ in the big leagues and, although he's a bit of a late bloomer, at age 28, he's a good bet to provide the 'Stros with some quality innings out of the No. 3 spot.
After that, things get a little dicey. While Norris has a great arm and strikes out over nine batters per nine innings, he still walks entirely too many hitters (over four BB/9). Until he can get that number down, he won't be able to harness his full potential.
The fifth spot is up for grabs, but Rowland-Smith might have the inside track, given his pretty impressive track record, prior to 2010. If he can rebound, this Houston rotation will surprise quite a few pundits.
17.) Cincinnati Reds
1.) Johnny Cueto
2.) Bronson Arroyo
3.) Edinson Volquez
4.) Homer Bailey
5.) Travis Wood
Other Possibilities: Mike Leake, Matt Maloney, Sam LeCure
The Reds possess an impressive stable of good young arms and they hope that some of those can step it up for 2011.
Johnny Cueto headlines this rotation, coming off the best season of his young career. In 2010, Cueto put together his first ERA+ over 100 (110) and was able to cut down the number of baserunners allowed.
Interestingly enough, Cueto's improvement comes as he's seemingly pitching to more contact. Whether or not that can continue is something to watch for this season.
Arroyo, even at age 34, is just about as consistent as they come. While he's never been spectacular, he has over 200 innings pitched for six years running, as well as only one season during that time period in which he's finished with a sub-100 ERA+.
Last year, Arroyo had the best H/9 rate of his career and, not surprisingly, that led to his lowest WHIP, as well.
Volquez returned from injury last season and was middle of the road, although Cincinnati had to be happy to see his K/9 rate return to its usual impressive rate. His extremely high walk rate is what has always gotten him into trouble and, if he doesn't cut that down, it's going to be tough for him to return to the level he was at in 2008.
Bailey has been quite the enigma for the Reds. While he's always possessed a world of talent, he hasn't always translated that over to the field.
Even though he wasn't anything special last season, at age 24, Bailey's K/9 went up a good deal and his BB/9 rate fell, two very positive indicators as it relates to how he'll perform this season. If he can finally harness that talent, Cincy's rotation becomes that much deeper.
Filling out the final spot will likely be one of Travis Wood or Mike Leake, both surprise rookies from a season ago. While Leake was shut down thanks to innings restrictions, Wood took full advantage, compiling a 114 ERA+ and allowing only 85 hits in 102 IP.
Whichever one goes north with the club should be adequate enough to give the Reds a good shot at repeating as division champs.
16.) Detroit Tigers
1.) Justin Verlander
2.) Max Scherzer
3.) Rick Porcello
4.) Brad Penny
5.) Phil Coke
Other Possibilities; Andrew Oliver, Alberto Figaro, Brad Thomas
Each of the top three pitchers in this rotation is 27 or younger, which certainly bodes well for sustained success.
Verlander, the unquestioned ace, has established himself as one of the top pitchers in the game. With the exception of 2008, Verlander is a lock for 17+ wins, a 124+ ERA+ and less than a hit allowed per inning.
He has also gotten his K/9 rate up to 9/10, which makes him all the more dangerous.
Scherzer was very up and down in his first season in Detroit. While he did spend some time in the minors for tune ups, he finished the season with a 120 ERA+, striking out almost nine per nine innings.
What he needs to cut down on are the walks. If he can do that, there are times when he is just downright unhittable.
Porcello is an interesting case. After springing on to the scene with 14 wins and a 115 ERA+ in his rookie season at age 20, Porcello suffered a sophomore slump, as his ERA rose a full run and he allowed almost a hit more per inning.
At 22, he's still got plenty of room to mature, but being penciled in as the No. 3, Porcello has to regain the form he showed in 2009.
Penny is no longer the dangerous power pitcher he was in Florida and LA, but he proved last year, in a largely injury-plagued year with St. Louis, that he can still be effective. Penny had his best season since 2007, albeit only in nine starts.
Detroit is hoping a healthy Penny can augment the rest of the staff and mentor the young guys.
Finally, the rotation's fifth member appears to be bullpen convert Phil Coke, who has only started one game in his brief career, which also happened to be the last game of the 2010 season.
He's been very effective as a reliever, both against lefties and righties, so that should bode well for his move to the rotation. However, there's not much else to go on to evaluate what kind of starter he'll be, so we'll just have to trust Jim Leyland for the time being.
15.) Colorado Rockies
1.) Ubaldo Jimenez
2.) Jorge De La Rosa
3.) Jason Hammel
4.) Jhoulys Chacin
5.) Aaron Cook
Other Possibilities: Felipe Paulino, Matt Belisle, Greg Reynolds
With the way Jimenez started out last season, people were wondering if he'd ever get hit. Of course, Jimenez eventually started regressing back to the mean, but the numbers he finished with were still incredibly impressive.
With a 161 ERA+, only 164 hits allowed in 221 IP, and a K/9 rate of 8.7, Jimenez posted perhaps the best season ever by a Rockie starter. At age 27, there's no reason he should slow down now, so expect another big year out of Colorado's ace.
Most pitchers lose themselves when they come to Colorado, but De La Rosa is just the opposite. Since he came to Colorado in 2008, De La Rosa has enjoyed success which he never approached prior to his arrival.
His WHIP, ERA and H/9 have all gone down, while his K/9 has gone up. While he's had a few injury problems, De La Rosa has proven he can be a very solid starter.
Hammel is another guy who, when he moved to Colorado and became a full-time starter, has enjoyed a jump in success. He had a very up and down 2010, finishing with a 96 ERA+, but his K rate was up and his BB rate was down, which bodes well for future success.
Chacin is the one to watch in this rotation. He got his first taste of the bigs last season and was every bit as impressive as expected.
His 142 ERA+, along with his 9 K/9 rate and only 114 hits allowed in 137 innings, shows that he didn't take long at all to acclimate himself to the majors. At age 23, this is a guy who, along with Jimenez, could be headlining the Rockies' rotation for a long time.
Cook is the veteran on this staff, who had a, pardon the pun, rocky 2010. It was his first season since 2003 not posting an ERA+ of 113 or higher.
Most of his peripherals remained the same, but he walked more people than usual. When you're someone who routinely allows more hits than innings pitched, that can be a recipe for disaster.
This Rockies rotation, depending on how Cook and De La Rosa bounce back and how Chacin matures, could be one of the league's best by year end.
14.) Minnesota Twins
1.) Francisco Liriano
2.) Carl Pavano
3.) Scott Baker
4.) Kevin Slowey
5.) Brian Duensing
Other Possibilities: Nick Blackburn, Anthony Swarzak, Eric Hacker
After a dismal 2009 season, Liriano returned to being the staff ace everyone knew he was capable of. While he did mix in some uncharacteristically poor starts, overall he finished with a 115 ERA+ and pushed his K/9 rate back above nine.
His BB/9 rate flattened out a bit and he allowed the fewest HR/9 in the league. However, one cause for concern is, outside of Target Field's pitcher's haven, Liriano was very ordinary, posting a 4.25 ERA with his WHIP skyrocketing by .25 points.
The Twins have to hope his home/away splits aren't as pronounced in 2011.
Pavano has had two very good seasons in his 12-year career. Not surprisingly, both came in contract years.
Last season, Pavano won the most games, posted his best ERA+ and lowest WHIP since 2004, coincidentally his last "contract year." Whether he can duplicate his 2010 season, now that he's got a multi-year deal, is probably the biggest concern for Minnesota's staff.
Baker has always been consistently solid, but not spectacular. He'll win his fair share of games and usually keeps his team in the game, posting around a league average ERA+.
However, he was also fell victim to the Target Field effect, pitching significantly better at home. This is going to be a major point to watch as we enter year two of the new park.
Slowey is another guy who has proven to be middle of the road, at best. He's only posted one season higher than a 100 ERA+, but as a No. 4, you could certainly do worse.
The last spot will probably be a toss up between Duensing and Blackburn, although, based on last year's numbers, it'd seem Duensing is the early favorite.
He was terrific as a reliever, but when he was moved to the rotation, he was 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA. His cumulative 159 ERA+ is a bit misleading, because he spent most of the year in the bullpen, but his other peripherals suggest that he may be able to sustain this success as a starter.
13.) Chicago Cubs
1.) Matt Garza
2.) Carlos Zambrano
3.) Ryan Dempster
4.) Randy Wells
5.) Carlos Silva
Other Possibilities: Casey Coleman, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall
The Cubs made a bold move this offseason, trading several high level prospects to obtain Garza. While it's debatable as to whether or not he's the No. 1 over Zambrano, Garza has proven to be an innings-eater, who gets the job done.
A move to the NL should only help him, although when the wind blows out at Wrigley, it's in stark contrast to the domes Garza is used to pitching his home games in. Nonetheless, while Garza slowed down after a terrific start to 2010, he doesn't allow many hits and, if he can cut down on his BB rate, he should be a terrific upgrade for the Cubbies rotation.
Zambrano is the ultimate wild card. When he's healthy and has his head on straight, he's proven that he can be very effective. Like Garza, he still walks too many people for comfort, but he's able to do a good job limiting the damage, thanks to his low H/9 rate.
Big Z consistently posts a 117+ ERA+, but last year's 131 was his highest since '06, which is encouraging news for Cub fans.
Dempster, as he advances into his mid 30s, is starting to regress a bit. While his H/9 and K/9 rates are still impressive, it hasn't necessarily translated to the field.
That being said, Dempster still wins a ton of games and puts up a very solid ERA+, so perhaps rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.
After a tremendous rookie campaign in 2009, Wells returned back to Earth in 2010. While he still threw 194 innings and posted a league average ERA+ (102), he wasn't nearly as effective as his first season.
Which Wells shows up this year could be a key to determining just how good this Chicago rotation is.
Silva came to Chicago in a swap of bad contracts, but he had a surprisingly good 2010. He set a career high with 6.4 K/9, far above his previous best of 4.9 in 2003.
He also allowed significantly fewer hits than he did at previous stops. Many figured the move to the NL would help Silva, but not to this degree.
Whether or not he can duplicate his 2010 success is going to be key for the Cubs in 2011.
12.) Atlanta Braves
1.) Tommy Hanson
2.) Tim Hudson
3.) Jair Jurrjens
4.) Derek Lowe
5.) Mike Minor
Other Possibilities: Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Erik Cordier
In Hanson's second full season, he had quite the up and down year. While he pitched well for most of the season, he was a victim or poor run support far too often.
That explains his under .500 record (10-11), despite a 117 ERA+ and sub-1.2 WHIP in over 200 IP. In 2011, the Braves will expect Hanson to take the next step and, at age 24, become the undisputed ace of the staff.
Meanwhile, Hudson returned from injury in 2010 to post his best season since 2003, with Oakland. His 138 ERA+ was spectacular and his 1.15 WHIP, in 228.2 IP no less, was even more impressive.
At age 35, many thought Hudson's best days were behind him, but for someone who's never relied on his ability to blow the ball by hitters, he's showing that his style of pitching can still lead to success.
Jurrjens was lights out in '09, but injuries derailed him in 2010, leading to a significant drop in ERA+ (159 to 84), as well as spike in WHIP. If Jurrjens is completely healthy this season, Atlanta should expect to see a rebound from the Curacao native.
In his second year in Atlanta, Lowe improved a bit, moving his numbers back to more respectable levels. At age 38, it's questionable how much he has left in the tank, but he's still been racking up the innings even as his career seemingly winds down.
His biggest problem has been keeping the hits down, which will be paramount to any success he might enjoy in 2011. For a fourth starter, he's adequate enough.
Minor is penciled in as the fifth starter, after having a good deal success in the minors. However, in a brief stint at the end of last season, he was hit pretty hard to the tune of a 66 ERA+ and a WHIP in the vicinity of 1.6.
Aside from the fact that he's still young, one thing that bodes well is his K rate which was on the verge of hitting double digits. If he can cut down on his hits allowed, the Braves could get some surprise production out of this spot.
11.) Chicago White Sox
1.) John Danks
2.) Gavin Floyd
3.) Mark Buehrle
4.) Edwin Jackson
5.) Chris Sale
Other Possibilities: Jake Peavy (injured), Carlos Torres, Jeff Marquez
How Peavy's rehab comes along will affect where this rotation ultimately ends up, but for the time being, he's not being included in the discussion.
Even without him, the Pale Hose rotation has the potential to be one of the best in baseball, especially if they get a full season of what Edwin Jackson gave them at the end of 2010.
In 11 starts for the Sox, after coming over from Arizona, Jackson compiled an eye-popping 135 ERA+ and his K/9 rate spiked to a career high 9.2. Whether Don Cooper's magic can sustain this kind of success for Jackson will be a defining factor in how far the White Sox can go this year.
Danks has always been one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball, consistently winning in double digits, allowing less than 9 H/9 and pitching to an ERA+ north of 117. Danks, who will be 26 in April, could be ready to take the next step in 2011, which the Sox will need if they're going to contend for a division title and more.
Floyd has been a curious case. After 2008, it looked like he ready to break out and become the full blown ace of this staff. However, since then, he's slowly regressed with his ERA+ coming down and his H/9 going up.
While Floyd is still posting respectable numbers, those are more befitting of a 3 or 4 starter than a No. 2 on a title contender. Whether or not he can find the form that made him so effective in '08 will be key to the White Sox success.
Buehrle is the old guard, as he's been with Chicago for every one of his 11 seasons in the bigs. It's alarming that his K/9 rate has slipped to bottom of the barrel levels, although Buehrle was never a big K guy to begin with.
He's still pitching better than league average, however in 2010, he fell off from the three tremendous seasons he'd had from 2007-09. He allowed a league high 246 hits, which, coupled with his low K rate, spelled trouble for the wily vet.
The Sox aren't sure what they'll get from Buehrle in 2011, at age 32, but perhaps it's time to start sliding him down the rotation a bit in the preseason projections.
The last spot, as was mentioned above, should go to Peavy, when he gets healthy. Until then, it's looking highly possible that last year's first round pick, Sale, will get the spot (unless they ask him to close).
Sale appeared in 21 games out of the pen in 2010, only months after he was drafted, and was terrific. In 23 IP, he allowed five ER on 15 hits and struck out 32. Whether he can translate that success to the rotation or not is likely to be a deciding factor in how Chicago decides to use him down the road.
If everything breaks right, this team could go very far with this rotation, especially if Peavy's back to speed.
10.) Tampa Bay Rays
1.) David Price
2.) James Shields
3.) Jeff Niemann
4.) Wade Davis
5.) Jeremy Hellickson
Other Possibilities: Alex Torres, Chris Archer, Jake McGee
This rotation is headlined by Price, who finished second in the AL Cy Young voting in 2010. Price fashioned a 145 ERA+, a K/9 rate over eight and only allowed 170 hits in 208 innings.
This is exactly what Tampa was looking for when they took Price with the first pick of the 2007 draft. The scary thing for the rest of the league is, this was only Price's second full season and, at age 25, he should be coming into his prime.
Shields was a victim of an extremely high BABIP last season, although his peripherals suggest it wasn't just that which plagued him. His 76 ERA+ was well below his career norms, even though he struck out over a batter more, per inning, than he did the previous two seasons.
He tied Mark Buehrle for most hits allowed in the AL and, although he did pitch 203 innings, not many of those turned out to be quality. It's a good bet, based on his career path, that Shields can turn it around in 2011.
The Rays will be holding their breath because they need an effective Shields to compete with the big boys in the AL East.
Niemann had his share of ups and downs in '10, but still finished the season with a respectable 90 ERA+, allowing only 159 hits in 174 IP. While he's proven he can be effective when he's throwing well, he may never become more than a middle of the rotation starter.
Of course, that's not the worst thing in the world, especially for a team that just traded away Matt Garza.
The No. 4 spot is occupied by Davis, who, in his rookie season, was rather impressive. He was league average as far as ERA+ is concerned (97), but his H/9 rate was solid.
Davis' K/9 rate was always in the 8-9 range throughout the minors, so it'll be interesting to see if last year's 6.1 was an anomaly or a harbinger of things to come in the majors. Either way, Davis is one to watch, as he could very well explode on to the scene this season.
Same goes for the No. 5 starter, Hellickson, who will be entrusted with replacing the departed Garza. In four starts last season, Hellickson was terrific, allowing six ER on 16 hits and striking out 25 in 26 innings.
His peripherals indicate that he could be very special, which is why Tampa felt comfortable dealing Garza to open a spot for him. By the end of the season, he may very well have vaulted himself as high as No. 2 in this rotation.
9.) Florida Marlins
1.) Josh Johnson
2.) Javier Vazquez
3.) Ricky Nolasco
4.) Anibal Sanchez
5.) Chris Volstad
Other Possibilities: Sean West, Alex Sanabia, Brett Sinkbeil
Just in case you weren't aware, Johnson has turned himself into one of the top 10 pitchers in baseball. He led the NL in ERA (2.30), ERA+ (182) and HR/9 (0.3!) last season, while also topping 9 K/9.
Somehow, with the Marlins offense backing him (or not), he only managed to win 11 games, but through not fault of his own. He missed a few starts due to injury last season, but if he can maintain his health, not only is he one of the best in the league, he's a workhorse as well.
Vazquez continues to shuttle back and forth between leagues, with seemingly one constant: He succeeds greatly in the NL and struggles mightily in the AL. Now that he's returned to the NL, many expect him to be similar to the pitcher who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2009.
While it's difficult to just write off Vazquez's abysmal 2010 season, there's something to be said for his trends when he leaves the AL. In 2009, with Atlanta, he struck out almost 10 per nine innings and posted a 143 ERA+.
While he may not replicate those numbers, now that he's two years older, it's still a good bet that he'll be successful for the Fish.
Nolasco is a tough one to figure out. On certain days, he looks unhittable. However, the next start, he'll get knocked around.
There's always been a consensus that he possesses some of the best stuff in the majors, but he's never been fully able to put it together. He was slightly below league average last season, but, at age 28, perhaps he's peaked.
Sanchez had one of the most unheralded seasons in the league last year. Few noticed his 118 ERA+ or his less than a hit allowed per inning.
While he still needs to cut down on his walks, he keeps the ball in the park, and has turned himself into a very effective starter. As long as he can stay healthy, he makes this Florida rotation that much more dangerous.
Volstad's second full season in the bigs was nothing to write home about, but he's been solid enough where there's hope he can improve upon last year. His K/9 rate is low, which doesn't do him any favors when he allows as many baserunners as he did.
Still, he did improve, albeit slightly, off his '09 season, so perhaps there's some hope that he can be more than a No. 5 down the road.
8.) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
1.) Dan Haren
2.) Jered Weaver
3.) Ervin Santana
4.) Joel Pineiro
5.) Scott Kazmir
Other Possibilities: Hisanori Takahashi, Matt Palmer, Anthony Ortega
When the Angels traded for Haren last season, it was thought that it would shift the balance of power in the AL West. Unfortunately, the rest of the team didn't get the message, but they enter 2011 with one of the best rotations in baseball, headlined by Mr. Haren.
Haren started out uncharacteristically slow last season with Arizona, then turned it on when he returned to the AL, where he's spent most of his career. This was completely out of character because Haren usually dominates the first half, then wilts down the stretch.
Last year aside, Haren is one of the best in the game, consistently posting a 130+ ERA+, with a 8+ K/9 rate, and allowing less than a hit per inning. His addition should make this rotation very difficult to deal with.
Weaver was the ace of this staff, before Haren showed up, but I'm sure he has no problem being classified 1b. He posted a career-best 1.07 WHIP to go along with his 135 ERA+ and also established career highs in his K/9 and H/9 rates.
Weaver actually led the AL in Ks, with 233, and has established himself as one of the premier workhorses in the game.
Santana's a very difficult pitcher to predict. His career trends seem to alternate by year: bad, good, bad, good, etc.
Last year was one of the good years, as he rebounded from a dismal '09 to post a 104 ERA+ in 222 innings. The Angels have to hope that Santana can finally put together back to back solid years or, as we've seen, he could be in for a long year.
Pineiro's first season in Anaheim was a good one, as he posted a 106 ERA+ and upped his K/9 rate by a whole point. While the new Pineiro is more of a groundball pitcher, the fact that he was able to strike more people out is encouraging.
He's done a very good job, the last two seasons, limiting the baserunners, which was his Achilles' Heel prior. As long as he continues to do what he's been doing, he should make a very solid No. 4 for Anaheim.
Finally, we come to the enigma that is Kazmir. While Kazmir's never lived up to his immense potential, the last two seasons he's basically folded the tent.
Last year was far and away the worst season of his career as it seemed nothing went right for the young lefty. Still only 27, he walked nearly as many as he struck out and seems to be in need of a major reworking.
Whether or not Anaheim can get him back on the right track could play a big role in deciding the AL West this season.
7.) Oakland Athletics
1.) Trevor Cahill
2.) Brett Anderson
3.) Gio Gonzalez
4.) Dallas Braden
5.) Rich Harden
Other Possibilities: Brandon McCarthy, Fautino De Los Santos, Bobby Cramer
Many are labeling the A's as their surprise team of 2011 and the pitching is a big reason.
Cahill was terrific last season, only his second in the bigs, and, at age 23, figures to have many more good seasons ahead. One concern is his lack of an ability to miss bats, which could make it difficult for him to sustain his 139 ERA+ and 1.1 WHIP, but until we see it, it'll be difficult to count against him.
His H/9 rate was one of the lowest in the league (7.1), which is a very promising sign.
Anderson, much like Cahill, was very impressive in his second season, at age 22. While his K/9 was also relatively low in 2010, he still managed to post a 148 ERA+, which bested even Cahill.
Anderson's issue was his inability to stay healthy, as he dealt with forearm issues all season. If he can stay healthy for 2011, this could very well be the year that he serves notice to the rest of the league that he's arrived.
Beside Cahill and Anderson, Oakland has another terrific, young top of the rotation starter in Gonzalez. Pitching in Oakland, he went largely unnoticed, but he posted a 128 ERA+ and struck out almost eight per nine innings.
While he misses the most bats of the three, his walk rate still remains perilously high. If he can cut that down to even league average levels, Gonzalez could be one of the biggest surprises of 2011 (as if he wasn't in 2010).
Braden got a lot of notoriety for the perfect game he pitched on Mother's Day, but he quietly enjoyed a very effective season, as well. His 118 ERA+ wasn't quite on the level of his other peers, but he only allowed 8.4 H/9 over 192 innings.
When you have a guy like this as your No. 4, that shows just how deep the rotation is.
As of now, it appears the last spot in the rotation will go to former A's prospect Harden, who the team brought back this offseason. Harden has frustrated many a pitching coach and manager because, when he's on, few are capable of matching his talent.
Of course, like with every enigmatic pitcher, how often he's actually on is the big question. Harden still throws entirely too many pitches at times, which limits his ability to go deep into games.
This, plus a high BB rate, offsets his usually double digit K/9 rate, although he slumped to 7.3 K/9 in Texas last season. Perhaps a return to Oakland will do Harden good.
If he returns back to the pitcher everyone knows he can be, this rotation could very well challenge for the best in the league.
6.) Boston Red Sox
1.) Jon Lester
2.) Josh Beckett
3.) Clay Buchholz
4.) John Lackey
5.) Daisuke Matsuzaka
Other Possibilities: Tim Wakefield, Felix Doubront, Michael Bowden
The Red Sox had one of the best offseasons in baseball, adding Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to an already potent lineup. However, before everyone pencils the Red Sox in to return to the World Series, these guys above are the ones that will ultimately have the final say.
Lester has established himself as one of the best pitchers in the game and is as sure of a thing as there is on this staff. He consistently pitches to a 130+ ERA+ and his H/9 rate last season was a career-best 7.2.
He also led AL starters with a 9.7 K/9 rate, striking out 225 in 208 innings. He finished fourth in last year's Cy Young voting, but he very well could win it one of these years.
Beckett is the clear X-factor here. Which Beckett shows up this season will go a long way towards determining whether or not Boston can live up to the preseason hype.
He had all kinds of problems last season and, between injuries and bad performance, he posted a sub-100 ERA+ for the first time since 2006, his first season in Boston. Both his H/9 and BB/9 rates were up significantly, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize Beckett will need to get those both down to return to the dominant pitcher we all know he can be.
Buchholz, in his first full season in the bigs, was spectacular. He led the AL in ERA+ (187) and only allowed 142 hits in 173 innings. While he still walks a few too many people, the Sox look to have found a gem in their No. 3 starter.
His peripherals might suggest that he'll regress a bit, but even if he does, he should still be among the league leaders in many categories.
Lackey was signed last offseason and had a disappointing first year in Boston. Although his ERA+ was league average (99), he allowed far too many baserunners, with both his H/9 and BB/9 being up, much like Beckett.
At age 32, it may be difficult to see Lackey rebounding all that much, but someone with his track record probably deserves the benefit of the doubt. If he can return to being the Lackey that the Sox thought they had signed, this rotation could be all kinds of dangerous.
No one really knows what to make of Matsuzaka. When he's healthy, he's usually pretty effective. Of course, that's if he's not racking up pitch counts that force him out in the fifth or sixth inning.
He improved off his awful '09 season, but that wasn't all that difficult to do. He still walks entirely too many people, although his H/9 rate did return to normal after a spike in '09.
Which Daisuke we see this year is anyone's guess, but Boston hopes it's closer to the one we saw last season and not the year before.
5.) Milwaukee Brewers
1.) Zack Greinke
2.) Yovani Gallardo
3.) Shaun Marcum
4.) Randy Wolf
5.) Chris Narveson
Other Possibilities: Manny Parra, Mark Rogers, Kameron Loe
By acquiring Greinke from Kansas City, and Marcum from Toronto, during the offseason, the Brewers catapulted themselves from middle of the road to the upper echelon of staffs in the league.
Perhaps we were spoiled by the 2009 season that Greinke put up. He seemed to regress significantly in '10, his league leading ERA+ being cut in half (205 to 100) and his league-leading WHIP rising over .17 (1.07 to 1.24). His K/9 dropped a full two strikeouts.
Knowing Greinke's track record and the stuff he possesses, many think that 2010 was merely a bump in the road. The Brewers parted with some talented prospects to land him, albeit no one who they'll miss too badly.
Marcum, after missing all of 2009 thanks to Tommy John surgery, returned with a vengeance, posting a career high 125 ERA+. He only allowed 7.5 H/9 in a season that went largely unnoticed by many big media types.
This pickup, for the cost of prospect Brett Lawrie, could end up being just as significant as the Greinke one.
Of course, both men join a rotation which was already headlined by Gallardo. Gallardo still has some bouts with inconsistency, as evidenced by his ERA+ being merely above league average (103). However, he still strikes out over nine per nine innings, and pitches a lot of innings.
At age 25, this could be his breakout year, which would coincide nicely with the two aforementioned acquisitions.
After the big three, there's Wolf. Wolf is always very solid and is a good bet to pitch around 200 innings, with an around league-average ERA+. He seems to have been a bit rejuvenated at age 32, but now at 34, Wolf's K/9 has started to drop.
That bears watching as Milwaukee really needs to get some quality starts out of their back two.
The last spot in this rotation will probably be a battle between Narveson and Parra. Parra is regarded as having the better stuff of the two, but he's about as inconsistent as they come.
He actually posted the same ERA+ as Narveson, but his WHIP has always been absurdly high. While that doesn't make him an ideal fit for the pen, Narverson probably has the inside track.
He pitched to a 79 ERA+, but only allowed barely over a hit per inning. If he can cut down on his walks, he might even be respectable.
4.) St. Louis Cardinals
1.) Adam Wainwright
2.) Chris Carpenter
3.) Jaime Garcia
4.) Jake Westbrook
5.) Kyle Lohse
Other Possibilities: Mitchell Boggs, PJ Walters, Brian Tallet
Wainwright has quickly made himself into one of the best pitchers in baseball. Each of the last two seasons, he's won at least 19 games, pitched at least 230 innings and compiled an ERA+ of 155 or higher.
Last year, he even lowered his H/9 by a full hit per inning, while his WHIP was a miniscule 1.05. When you strike out 27 more batters than you allow hits to, you've had quite the year.
Behind Wainwright is Carpenter, who even at 35, continues to put up solid numbers. Last year he posted a 122 ERA+ and a sub-1.2 WHIP in 235 innings, the second-highest total of his career.
He's shown no signs of slowing down, which gives St. Louis as deadly a one-two punch as there is in the league.
Behind them, Garcia had quite the rookie year. He posted a stunning 145 ERA+ and only allowed 8.3 H/9. He's likely going to regress, based on the number of baserunners he allows, but the Cards will need him to avoid a sophomore slump if they're to compete in a very difficult division.
Westbrook was a revelation after arriving in St. Louis midseason. In fact, his few months with Cleveland, where he was below league-average ERA+ was only the second time in the last seven seasons that had happened.
After missing all of 2009, Westbrook was understandably a little rusty at the beginning of last season. However, by the end of the year he'd returned to the very consistent pitcher we knew him to be as an Indian.
The No. 5 spot is going to Lohse, who has regressed tremendously the last few seasons and is the only thing keeping the Cardinals from a top-three ranking. Lohse has gone from an ERA+ of 113 to 86 to 60 in the last few years, bottoming out last season.
Dave Duncan's going to have to work his magic if Lohse is going to be able to turn it around. His WHIP last year was almost 1.8 and he allowed 12.6 H/9.
The Cardinals can't afford to have a weak link in their rotation with the NL Central being so competitive, so we'll see if Lohse gets the hook if he struggles early.
3.) Los Angeles Dodgers
1.) Clayton Kershaw
2.) Chad Billingsley
3.) Hiroki Kuroda
4.) Ted Lilly
5.) Jon Garland
Other Possibilities: Vicente Padilla, Jon Ely, Jeff Weaver
The Dodgers are one of only two teams (the Cubs are the other) who will roll out a rotation consisting of all five starters who had a better than league average ERA+ (100) last season.
They're led by young phenom Kershaw who, at age 22, posted a 132 ERA+, struck out over nine per nine, lowered his WHIP below 1.2, and did it all in a career-high 204.1 innings. If he can lower his BB/9 rate, the sky is the limit for this kid.
In 2009, after two consecutive 133+ ERA+ seasons, Billingsley mysteriously fell below league average, even though his peripherals remained almost the same. Last season, he returned to being above league average (107) and it will be interesting to see which pitcher we see in 2011.
Pitching in front of a suspect offense, Los Angeles will need it.
Kuroda is perhaps the most underrated pitcher in all of baseball. In his three years in the majors, Kuroda has consistently put up a 106 or higher ERA+ and pitched to a 1.21 of lower WHIP.
Last year he even upped his K/9 rate to over seven. He's one of the best No. 3 starters in the game and LA will benefit from another year of his consistency.
Speaking of consistency, Lilly is the model of it. He's now had five consecutive seasons of 106+ ERA+ and has done it in eight of the last nine seasons. He's also won in double digits eight consecutive years.
In 12 starts for Los Angeles last season, his WHIP was sub-1.00. All of these accolades and yet he profiles as the Dodgers' No. 4.
Finishing out the rotation is Jon Garland, signed from San Diego this offseason. Garland even bests Lilly, having won double digits in nine consecutive years and achieving better than a 105 ERA+ in five of the last six seasons.
His H/9 last season was a career low, his K/9 was a career high and he's almost a lock for 200 innings.
All of these arms in the Dodgers rotation, and they still have the very solid Padilla on the outside, looking in.
2.) San Francisco Giants
1.) Tim Lincecum
2.) Matt Cain
3.) Jonathan Sanchez
4.) Madison Bumgarner
5.) Barry Zito
Other Possibilities: Clayton Tanner, Henry Sosa, Alex Hinshaw
The Giants return everyone from the 2010 World Series Championship rotation with the hopes of repeating this season.
The rotation is led by Lincecum, who, after winning back to back Cy Youngs, "fell" to a ERA+ of 119 last season. He still led NL starters with 9.8 K/9 and, although he actually looked human, he quickly quelled that notion with a spectacular performance in Game 1 of the NLCS against Atlanta.
He's an absolute workhorse and, at 27, doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Cain actually had a better year than Lincecum, posting a 130 ERA+ and a sub 1.1 WHIP. He allowed only 7.3 H/9 in 223.1 IP and was terrific in the postseason.
Much like St. Louis, these guys are more 1a-1b, than they are 1-2.
Sanchez finally put it all together last season, putting up an even better 133 ERA+, to go along with a league leading 6.6 H/9. He's still striking out well over nine per nine IP, so perhaps there's a 1c to be added to the discussion.
If he didn't lead the league in walks, there might be.
Bumgarner burst on to the scene last season, posting an, you guessed it, even better 136 ERA+ in 18 starts. While his H/9 was slightly high, the fact that he's the No. 4 in this rotation gives an idea of just how good they are.
At the ripe young age of 21, it'll be very interesting to see what he does in his first full season.
Finally, the rotation is capped off by the veteran of the group, Zito. Even though he makes far and away the most money in the rotation, he was left off the playoff roster last season.
Even so, you could do far worse as a fifth starter. He posts a league-average ERA+, but still walks too many.
He'll give you 180-200 innings, which most teams would kill for out of their five spot. This shows just how deep this rotation goes and why they're ultimately ranked so high.
1.) Philadelphia Phillies
1.) Roy Halladay
2.) Cliff Lee
3.) Roy Oswalt
4.) Cole Hamels
5.) Joe Blanton
Other Possibilities: Kyle Kendrick, Scott Mathieson, Antonio Bastardo
Of course, when discussing rotations, there's no peer to the 2011 Phillies rotation. The Phillies have amassed perhaps the single greatest collection of starting pitchers in the history of the game.
Their top four starters, every one of them, would be aces on many other teams in the majors. By signing Cliff Lee this offseason and adding him to a rotation already consisting of the best pitcher in baseball (Halladay), a pitcher who's won in double digits all but one season of his 10-year career (Oswalt) and a World Series MVP (Hamels), the Phillies have made themselves prohibitive favorites.
Halladay won his second Cy Young, winning 21 games, posting a 165 ERA+, throwing a league-leading 250.1 innings and, to top it off, finished with an unheard of 7.3 K/BB ratio. He is undoubtedly the best pitcher in baseball and, even at 34 years old, hasn't slowed a bit.
Lee split his season between Seattle and Texas, posting a cumulative 130 ERA+, with a league-leading 1.00 WHIP and an even more ridiculous K/BB ratio of 10.28. The numbers that these two posted are simply astounding.
With 16 complete games between the two last season, the Philadelphia pen may not be very busy.
The No. 3, at least on this staff, is Oswalt, who the Phillies acquired midseason. He posted a 143 ERA+ and a NL-leading 1.02 WHIP, to go along with his sub-7.0 H/9 IP.
Oswalt has posted an above league average ERA+ every single season of his career.
The fourth starter, only by number, is Hamels. His 132 ERA+ was better than Lee and he eclipsed 9 K/9 for the second time in his career.
He only allowed 185 hits in 208 innings, which helped him post a sub 1.2 WHIP. This is the No. 4.
Finally, because they can't all be aces, Blanton rounds out the bunch. Although he's been solid in the past, last year was not one of those years.
He allowed 206 hits in 175 innings, which led to a bloated 1.4+ WHIP that needs to come down. His K/9 was the second-highest rate of his career, but the Phillies hope they see more of the Joe Blanton from '09.
Effective fifth starter or not, this rotation is one for the ages.
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