MLB Preview 2011: Ranking the AL Starting Rotations

Aaron TitinerContributor IIApril 4, 2011

MLB Preview 2011: Ranking the AL Starting Rotations

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    The dilemmas surrounding the pitching situations have been remarkable this off-season.  The slap to the face of the Yankees by Cliff Lee, and the surprise sign by the Rangers of injury-ridden Brandon Webb, have been two very interesting instances. 

    As the days dwindle and the rosters are being shaped, we get a much better idea about what the rotations are going to look like.  The AL, being the supreme league in Major League Baseball, has about as wide of a spectrum in rotations as you'll be able to find.  Not only is there a high number of extremely successful young-guns, but the amount of veterans who have slowly slipped out of recognition are becoming more noticeable. 

    Here I will rank the 14 pitching staffs in the American League by overall ability, previous seasons statistics and outlook for the 2011 season. 

14. Kansas City Royals

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    1. Luke Hochevar

    2. Jeff Francis

    3. Kyle Davies

    4. Bruce Chen

    Most people think that losing Greinke was a huge loss for the Royals.  If you looked at the No. 2 through No. 5 pitchers from last year, they were all relatively mediocre. Nobody stepped up to ace the rotation. 

    Since KC veteran Luke Hochevar has taken the ball from Ned Yost as KC's headlining pitcher, the follow-up of Francis, Davies. and Chen can prove to be a young group with some potential. But it won't be nearly enough to bring KC to the playoffs.  

13. Cleveland Indians

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    1. Fausto Carmona

    2. Carlos Carrasco

    3. Justin Masterson

    4. Josh Tomlin

    5. Mitch Talbot

    Other than Carmona, nobody else in this rotation has had the chance to prove they are worthy of a starting spot.  The average age of these five guys is roughly 25 years old.  It's easy to say that this is one of the youngest staffs in the whole league. 

    From an offensive standpoint, the Tribe is definitely improved, but the rotation is what's going to keep them out of a playoff run.

12. Baltimore Orioles

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    1. Jeremy Guthrie

    2. Chris Tillman

    3. Zach Britton

    4. Brad Bergesen

    5. Jake Arrieta

    Now that Showalter is the full-time skipper for the O's, lots of questions about last year's horrid play have suddenly vanished.  The rotation is still very young and inexperienced. But the overall lineup is extremely strong, and will have to be dealt with throughout the American League.  

    As far as pitching goes, these five have had a relatively successful Spring Training. However, it will all come down to Guthrie, who has never posted more than 11 wins and never had under a 3.60 ERA.

11. Toronto Blue Jays

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    1. Ricky Romero

    2. Brandon Morrow

    3. Brett Cecil

    4. Kyle Drabek

    5. Jesse Litsch

    Losing Marcum may prove to be a huge loss for the Jay rotation.  A front three of Romero, Morrow and Marcum could have been great for the Toronto club. The young guys in Cecil and Litsch are going to have to prove that they can go several innings during each start.  

    The big question is to see where Kyle Drabek will fit in.  Obviously, he was one of the biggest prospects heading into this season. But it will be interesting to see where his numbers come up compared to previous rookie pitching stars like David Price and Stephen Strasburg. 

10. Seattle Mariners

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    1. Felix Hernandez

    2. Jason Vargas

    3. Doug Fister

    4. Erik Bedard

    5. Michael Pineda

    If the Mariners didn't have King Felix, they would probably be dead last on this list.  Other than Erik Bedard who is always plagued by injuries, none of these pitchers have put their name out there.  

    In Felix's case though, a stellar 2010 campaign, which only saw 13 wins, can definitely be improved.  Jack Cust and Miguel Olivo are big improvements over last year's starters, and Felix should have no problem getting 18-19 wins in 2011.

9. Minnesota Twins

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    1. Carl Pavano

    2. Francisco Liriano

    3. Brian Duensing

    4. Nick Blackburn

    5. Scott Baker

    2010 AL Comeback Player of the Year Francisco Liriano has a lot on his plate in 2011.  The loss of several key bullpen pitchers might pose a problem for him.  

    Looking down the list, Pavano & Duensing have had some previous experience. Duensing, the younger of the two, has had some past success coming out of the bullpen.  

    Blackburn & Baker are two guys who happen to be lucky enough to fill out the bottom of the rotation, and really have not had any success their past few seasons.

8. Detroit Tigers

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    1. Justin Verlander

    2. Max Scherzer

    3. Rick Porcello

    4. Brad Penny

    5. Phil Coke

    I strongly believe that Justin Verlander has been the most under-appreciated pitcher over the last five years.  While his numbers haven't been those of Halladay or Sabathia, Verlander has been putting up a stellar set of stats.  Throughout those years, Verlander has an 83-50 record with 958 K's in 1053.0 innings.  His ERA is also pretty good at 3.77.  Even though 2008 was his worst season thus far, 2009 saw him earn 19 wins and a Major League leading 269 strikeouts.  

    After Verlander, the big rotation stud is Scherzer, who is also becoming a big strikeout threat in D-Town.  Porcello is still very young, and has lots of room for improvement. 

7. New York Yankees

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    1. CC Sabathia

    2. Phil Hughes

    3. A.J. Burnett

    4. Ivan Nova

    5. Freddy Garcia

    It's quite a shame that Sabathia has to headline this staff with two washed up veterans and two young guys who have still yet to shine.  

    Burnett is as inconsistent as they come.  He may strikeout 200+ in a season, but will also finish with at least a 4.50 ERA.  Likewise, Freddy Garcia hasn't been that good since his 2005 World Series campaign with the White Sox. In fact, he's been looking to re-energize his career in the Bronx.  

6. Tampa Bay Rays

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    1. David Price

    2. James Shields

    3. Wade Davis

    4. Jeremy Hellickson

    5. Jeff Niemann

    What makes this one-two punch so enjoyable is that they are very different types of pitchers.  Price is not known for striking out a ton of batters. But he always (in his short career) lingers in the high 2.00s and low 3.00s in ERA, because of his ability to get hitters to hit the ball in play and using defense to record outs.  

    On the other hand, Shields is a great strikeout pitcher. But he is known for giving up home runs, and has surrendered 133 in his first five seasons.  

    Looking down the line, Davis and Niemann both have shown some stardom in their short tenders. And star prospect Jeremy Hellickson is looking to continue his 2010 success.  

5. Texas Rangers

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    1. C.J. Wilson

    2. Colby Lewis

    3. Derek Holland

    4. Matt Harrison

    5. Alexi Ogando

    If Brandon Webb can stay healthy for the first time in a long time, this rotation will be the deadliest in the American League.  

    Wilson and Lewis have proven to be unsung threats throughout the league. They put up great numbers last year during the season, and even better numbers in the World Series.  

    Holland, Harrison and Ogando may have a tough time improving. Their two rotation stars have not had a whole lot of experience, despite being 30 (Wilson) and 31 (Lewis) years old.

4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    1. Jered Weaver

    2. Dan Haren

    3. Ervin Santana

    4. Scott Kazmir

    The key to success in Anaheim is the fourth guy on that list.  Scott Kazmir has consistently become one of the worst pitchers in the league over the last few years.  From 2005-2008, Kazmir went 45-34, with 742 Ks in 689.2 innings and a stellar 3.51 ERA.  Since 2008, his numbers have dropped to 19-24, with 210 Ks in 297.1 innings and a scary 5.42 ERA.  

    Knowing that Weaver & Haren are usually very consistent pitchers, and Santana is always a lingerer, Kazmir will need to return to Devil Ray form to compete with the rival rotation up next.

3. Oakland Athletics

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    1. Trevor Cahill

    2. Dallas Braden

    3. Brett Anderson

    4. Gio Gonzalez

    5. Brandon McCarthy

    In a chat I had with Harold Reynolds, I asked if he thought if the White Sox had the best rotation in the American League.  He said he does like the staff on the South Side, but he believes the rotation in Oakland is one of the three best in the league.  

    The average age of this rotation sits at only 25 years, but the experience that they have showed in such a short amount of time is unparalleled.  

    Trevor Cahill finished ninth last year in the AL Cy Young voting due to his 18-8 and 2.97 performance.  The other big up-and-coming star is Gio Gonzalez. His great season last year, with 171 Ks in 200.2 innings, shows that he has the ability to start as many games as necessary.  If McCarthy, veteran of the White Sox and Rangers, can pair up with the other four, we may see Oakland heading far into October.

Who Is No. 1? Debating the Sox

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    Chicago White Sox:

    1. Mark Buehrle

    2. Gavin Floyd

    3. John Danks

    4. Jake Peavy

    5. Edwin Jackson

    Boston Red Sox:

    1. Jon Lester

    2. John Lackey

    3. Clay Buchholz

    4. Josh Beckett

    5. Daisuke Matsuzaka

    On paper, it's probably easy to say that the Red Sox have a better rotation than the White Sox.  I'll tell you up front, I am biased to the White Sox. But let's do some comparing between these staffs, and you'll see who ends up as the better rotation.

    1.  Who is the only pitcher in the last 10 years to have 10 wins, 30 starts and 200+ innings in all of those years?  Mark Buehrle.  You probably never would have guessed that Buehrle would have been the guy to accomplish this. But even more than Sabathia, Halladay, Oswalt and Johan Santana, Buehrle has proven that he is the most consistent pitcher of the last decade.  

    2.  The hope for the Red Sox this year is a breakout from Josh Beckett.  Beckett hasn't had a good year since 2007, when he went 20-7 and had a 3.27 ERA.  Since then, his record, while great at 35-22, has seen a decline in strikeouts and an increase to a cumulative 4.39 ERA.

    3. Do you want to know Gavin Floyd's statistics from June 8, 2010 to August 7, 2010?  Floyd had 12 starts and ended with a 6-2 record.  

    Not bad.  

    In 83.1 innings, he had 68 strikeouts and 19 walks.  In those 83.1 innings he gave up 11 runs for an unbelievable 1.19 ERA.  At that same point, his batting average against was a disgusting .203.  I'd say this guy has some unbelievable potential.  

    4.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the entire league last year was John Lackey.  Once I found out that Lackey was teaming up with Lester, Beckett and Buchholz, I thought the season was over before it started.  

    Lackey came into the 2010 season with a 69-38 record and a 3.49 ERA from 2005-2009.  When 2010 came, he flopped as nobody had expected, and ended the season with only 14 wins and 4.40 ERA.  

    5.  The big story for the White Sox is obviously the health of reigning Cy Young winner Jake Peavy.  I remember seeing his season end against the Angels last year, and ever since then, the season for the South Side had fallen apart.  In Peavy's last six starts last year, he had only 37.2 innings, but had 31 Ks along with a 1.67 ERA. Not to mention, hitters had just a .194  batting average against him.  I think it's pretty clear that this pitcher is not one to be messed with, even though he hasn't been in top form since 2007.

    I firmly believe that the White Sox have the better rotation coming into 2011.  The Red Sox have more injury-prone starters, and don't have a lot of backup support when these guys go down.  With that said No. 2 for the American League goes to the Boston Red Sox and No. 1 goes to the Chicago White Sox.