MLB Preview 2011: Ranking the AL Central's Starting Rotations
A good starting rotation can cure many ills, and with the AL Central up for grabs like it normally is, whoever assembles the strongest rotation could easily take the division come September. There is some real pitching talent in the division, but we've also lost three of the last four AL Cy Young Award winners (CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Zack Greinke).
At the end of the year, whichever rotation fares best will probably get a chance to strut their stuff in the postseason. With that, let's take a look at how the AL Central's rotations stand up to each other.
#5: Kansas City Royals
He may not be Zack Greinke, but Jeff Francis is not a bad addition to the Royals.
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After trading Zack Greinke, it'd be hard for the Royals to end up anywhere but in last place. While the addition of Jeff Francis certainly doesn't hurt, the rest of the rotation, like LOST, leaves more questions than answers.
It seems questionable whether Luke Hochevar, at 27 years old, will develop past registering negative WARs. New addition Vin Mazzro looks good at first glance, but only accumulated a 0.0 WAR in two Oakland seasons. Sean O'Sullivan didn't look great in the minors or the majors, leaving real doubts about his development from here.
Kyle Davies projects as a solid #3 or #4 starter, but isn't going to carry the Royals. They need to see a lot of development out of the farm system before even sniffing another Cy Young award. For now, their rotation is in shambles.
#4: Cleveland Indians
The Indians need Fausto Carmona to anchor their young rotation in 2011.
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Like the Royals, it's all about the young guns for the Indians seeing as not a single starter will be over 27 on Opening Day. Fortunately for the Tribe, the future looks a little bit brighter in Cleveland than Kansas City right now.
Assuming Fausto Carmona continues breaking out of his post-2007 funk, he can anchor the rotation. We all know he finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting that year, and he is slowly getting back into that form.
The rest of the young guns give Indians fans hope. Justin Masterson seemed to get it at the end of last year (2.08 ERA, 29 strikeouts to only 6 walks in his final 34.2 innings). Mitch Talbot had some success in his first full major league season; hopefully his stats will start to look more like his minor league stats (5.0 to 8.1 SO/9, 4.3 to 2.1 BB/9). Same for Carlos Carrasco (6.6 to 8.6 SO/9, 3.4 to 2.9 BB/9) and Josh Tomlin (5.3 to 7.9 SO/9, 2.3 to 1.9 BB/9) in their first full major league seasons.
If the Tribe's young starters continue to cut down on their walks and get their strikeouts up, they could surprise some people this year. Like the 2000 movie Almost Famous, which featured Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Billy Crudup, Zooey Deschanel and Anna Paquin before they were big, this could be the breakout year for Masterson, Talbot, Carrasco and Tomlin.
#3: Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander's an ace, but the rest of the Detroit staff needs to catch up to him.
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There's a good chance that Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in the AL Central; if only the rest of the Detroit rotation was as strong.
Max Scherzer and Phil Coke will likely make a strong top three with Verlander. The combined strikeout power between these three will be enough to carry the team on most nights.
The questions in the rotation come in the forms of Rick Porcello and Brad Penny. Porcello had a strong 2009 campaign but things fell apart in 2010. Penny's just the opposite, with poor 2008 and 2009 seasons, but a fairly strong 2010 campaign.
This Tigers rotation reminds me of Funny People, which I came into with great hopes. How can a comedy not be super-funny when it's got Adam Sandler, Johan Hill and Judd Apatow? Especially with a title like Funny People? Sometimes things just don't work out (see 2010 Porcello, 2008-2009 Penny). The Tigers need to hope that 2011 is more Get Him To The Greek or Knocked Up.
#2: Minnesota Twins
The Twins need Francisco Liriano to mature into a consistent, bona-fide ace this year.
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The re-signing of Carl Pavano certainly helps the Twins rotation, but there are still significant holes. A Liriano/Pavano one-two punch is solid, but they need 2006/2010 Liriano all the time, not the 2008/2009 version.
The rest of the Twins rotation (Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn) are all solid, but need to be a little bit better all around. It's definitely a strong rotation, just one in need of a consistent, transcendent star.
The Twins rotation is like the current SNL roster. There is plenty of talent right now, but the show isn't as funny as it could be. Right now, it's missing one or two go-to-people that are always funny and make the show. There are plenty of glue people, but not enough Will Ferrells, Adam Sandlers, or Chris Farleys.
#1: Chicago White Sox
John Danks is quickly establishing himself as a great, young pitcher.
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When I looked at the Chicago White Sox rotation this year, I couldn't believe the level of talent it contained. In the last three years, not one starter has lower than 2 strikeouts per walks or an ERA+ below 106. The average WAR of four of their five starters is above 2.7.
The only one below 2.7? That would be 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy.
A starting rotation of Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, Edwin Jackson and a recovering Jake Peavy is strong, but the key very easily could be John Danks. Danks has been severely underrated for his accomplishments the last three years.
Any pitcher with a 5.4 average WAR, an ERA+ of 126, 2.35 SO/BB and a WHIP of 1.241 is deserving of at least one All-Star bid; Danks has none. At age 25, John Danks looks like he could take the torch from Mark Buehrle and become the ace of the White Sox staff.
If Jake Peavy were to come back at even 85%, this rotation could develop into the Phillies of the AL. The level of depth here rivals the 2001 Ocean's 11 movie. For that reason, the Chicago White Sox have the best starting rotation in the AL Central.