It's official: The Washington Nationals have bolstered their starting rotation by acquiring former Oakland Athletic Gio Gonzalez. Washington sent four highly ranked prospects to Oakland in return for the biggest trade chip of the winter. Gonzalez will join Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, John Lannan and possibly Chien-Ming Wang or Ross Detwiler in the Nationals rotation.
Washington hasn't been the only team this offseason to improve its starting rotation. The Padres traded Mat Latos to the Reds for several players including Edinson Volquez. The Reds then shipped Travis Wood to the Cubs for Sean Marshall in a four-player deal.
John Danks recently signed a five-year extension with the Chicago White Sox while former Sox pitcher Mark Buerhle decided to take his talents to South Beach and sign with the Miami Marlins. Boston decided that reliever Daniel Bard will begin spring training in the rotation to transition into a starting pitcher. And last, but not least, the Texas Rangers won the rights to Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.
Strasburg and Gonzalez will be a great tandem when pitching against the very talented NL East teams. There are a ton of great 1-2 combinations in baseball, but where do the Nationals' stars rank? Here's a look at the best 15 top-of-the-rotation duos in MLB today.
Derek Holland: 16-5, 3.95 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 162 K
Colby Lewis: 14-10, 4.40 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 169 K
The Rangers lost their ace in C.J. Wilson to the divisional rival Angels, but Holland and Lewis will still be a viable duo going into the 2012 season. These two pitchers were 2-3 in the rotation last season, and their advancement is subject to change if Texas is able to sign Yu Darvish to a contract.
Holland had an above-average regular season and a near-flawless postseason. The lefty with the funny mustache was masterful in Game 4 of the World Series, pitching 8.1 scoreless innings while only allowing two hits in a 4-0 victory. Holland was 2-0 in 24 innings (six appearances) throughout the Rangers' failed run at a World Series championship.
Even with a 4.40 ERA, Colby Lewis had a successful second season back with the Texas Rangers after playing in Japan for two seasons. His strikeouts were down from a year ago, but he also managed to decease his walks. The ERA jumped by about half a run, mainly because he allowed 14 more home runs (35 total) in 2011 than in 2010. He will get the Rangers into the seventh inning in nearly every game which helped Texas a lot last season.
Tim Hudson: 16-10, 3.22 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 158 K
Jair Jurrjens: 13-6, 2.96 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 90 K
Despite aging, Tim Hudson is still a very consistent pitcher who has won 16-plus games in the past two seasons. Jurrjens has drawn a lot of trade interest this off-season and could be on the move before Spring Training.
Hudson missed some of the 2008 season and most of the 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery but has been great since then. He was a 17 game winner last season while being named to the All-Star team and then won another 16 games this past year. If Hudson can stay healthy, he can be one of the best pitchers in baseball, keeping his ERA right around 3.00 and throwing over 200 innings.
Jurrjens has grown to be one of the better young pitchers in the game. He won 13 games this year even though he only started 23 total. His endurance has to get better because great pitchers can't be throwing 152 innings in a season. Many teams are interested in trading for Jurrjens because he is a good 2nd or 3rd starter and a few more years behind Hudson will only make him better.
Tim Lincecum: 13-14, 2.74 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 220 K
Ryan Vogelsong: 13-7, 2.71 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 139
Tim Lincecum had a tough 2011 but he is still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. Vogelsong is one of the up and coming pitchers on the West Coast even at age 33. The Giants are lucky enough to have an ace in Lincecum and three pitchers who are all worthy of being deemed the number two in Vogelsong, Bumgarner and Cain. Vogelsong gets the edge over the other two since he pitched the best out of them in 2011. The defending champs didn't have the season they expected but they will be contenders for plenty of years to come.
The Freak didn't get the run support he deserved, much due to the injury of slugging catcher Buster Posey. His statistics are pretty similar to 2008 when he won the Cy Young (also won in 2009), besides the strikeouts which are much lower. He is still a franchise pitcher who has the ability to win every time he steps on the mound.
Vogelsong had a great season for the Giants after coming over from Japan. He was tied for the team lead in wins with 13, had the lowest ERA and was also named to his first All-Star team. He led the NL in ERA for a short period of time and still finished with a low ERA of 2.71, the sixth best in the MLB. If he can keep doing what he's been doing, he should be very successful in San Francisco.
Chris Carpenter: 11-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 191 K
Kyle Lohse: 14-8, 3.39 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 111 K
The World Champions have a very strong rotation built around Chris Carpenter. Adam Wainwright, usually the #2 starter in the St. Louis rotation was sidelined for the entire season but Kyle Lohse proved that he can be just as good, winning 14 games during the regular season.
Carpenter had another Chris Carpenter year and even though the wins aren't as high as some of the other great pitchers in the league, Carpenter won when it counted, in the playoffs. Is anyone better than him in the postseason? He went 4-0 in six games during the 2011 playoffs where he led the Cardinals to a World Series title.
When Adam Wainwright went down, the Cardinals weren't sure of who would step up. Well, Kyle Lohse definitely did. Lohse led St. Louis in wins with 14 and also ERA at 3.39, a new career low .Even though he was shaky in the postseason, he was a great replacement for Wainwright. He should start the season as the teams #2 pitcher and he deserves some credit for helping the Cards win the Wild Card.
Josh Johnson (2010 stats): 11-6, 2.30 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 186 K
Mark Buehrle: 13-9, 3.59 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 109 K
Johnson was out for majority of the season in 2011 but his 2010 numbers speak for themselves. Buehrle was a big acquisition for Miami after already signing Jose Reyes but failing to acquire CJ Wilson. Buehrle is still one of the best left-handers in the game and should do well in the NL East. Together, they should help bring the Marlins back into the playoff race, especially with the addition of Jose Reyes to compliment Hanley Ramirez.
The big righty led the league in ERA back in 2010 when he was an All-Star and finished 5th in the Cy Young voting. Sure, he only pitched in a handful of games in 2011 but he shouldn't have any issues returning back to "ace" form.
Buehrle is about as consistent as you can get in baseball. He's won at least ten games in every season since becoming a starter; not to mention he's won the Gold Glove for AL pitchers the past three seasons. If he can replicate what he was doing in Chicago to Miami, he and Johnson will have no problems whatsever.
Stephen Strasburg: Out for most of 2011
Gio Gonzalez: 16-12, 3.12 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 197 K
Even though Strasburg missed nearly all of 2011 with Tommy John Surgery, he should be fine for the start of 2012 and continue to be the flame-thrower we have seen since his college days. As noted, Gonzalez was a big pickup for the Nationals and pitched well for Oakland over the last few seasons.
Stephen Strasburg is one of the most exciting young pitchers we have ever seen. He climbed the minor league ladder quickly and we've gotten a glimpse of what's to come for the future of the Washington Nationals. Even though his statistics are a small sample size, it's still very impressive. He may be 6-4 in his short major league career but the strikeouts come so easy to him because he has so many "out" pitches.
The Athletics decided to sell Gio at what could be his peak and the Nationals hope that he stays successful for many years to come. He won 16 games this past season for a terrible Athletics team. Gonzalez ranked in the top 10 in the AL in wins, strikeouts, walks and ERA. The All-Star was an innings eater in Oakland and could win close to 20 games if he got more run support. With Strasburg pitching in front of him, this young tandem could lead Washington to several division titles.
Ian Kennedy: 21-4, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 198 K
Trevor Cahill: 12-14, 4.16 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 147 K
Ian Kennedy was one of the best stories of 2011, winning 21 games and finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young voting. Cahill struggled in Oakland last season but the trade that sent him to Arizona will really help his career.
It's interesting to question whether Brian Cashman still would've traded Kennedy to Arizona if he had known that he would win 21 games in 2011. He probably still would have since Curtis Granderson had a great season and Kennedy wasn't very good in New York or even in 2010. 2011 was possibly his breakout year since he did finish in the top 10 of six different pitching categories.
Cahill should also help the Arizona rotation after pitching in Oakland the last three seasons. His 2011 numbers aren't too impressive but his 2010 ones definitely are. He went 18-8 in 30 starts and had an ERA under 3.00. This past season he increased his strikeouts but so did his walks. Cahill should get more offense in Arizona than he did in Oakland which should improve his overall game.
Yovani Gallardo: 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 207 K
Zack Greinke: 16-6, 3.83 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 201 K
These two are both aces on a Milwaukee squad that went to the playoffs this past season. Gallardo had a good year, finishing 7th in the NL Cy Young voting while Greinke also put up good numbers in his first season in Milwaukee. The Brewers have two pitchers who are great at striking batters out, both ranking in the top 10 in K/9 with Greinke leading the league.
Gallardo has increased his wins over the last three seasons as well as increasing his strikeouts while also lowering his walks; the key to every great pitcher. Greinke's 2011 numbers are comparable to Gallardo's only Greinke lost 6 games where Gallardo lost 10. Greinke's ERA is also a little higher but the two combined are almost unstoppable. Neither was an All-Star in 2010 but that shouldn't be something we become accustomed to. Their postseason woes shouldn't be a cause for concern at the moment as both are still very young and learning the game.
Clayton Kershaw: 21-5, 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 248 K
Chad Billingsley: 11-11, 4.21 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 152 K
Clayton Kershaw owned the National League in 2011, winning the Cy Young and the Triple Crown after leading the NL in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Billingsley didn't have the best year but pitching behind Kershaw is no easy task.
Kershaw, along with Matt Kemp, tried their best to help the Dodgers to the playoffs last season but unfortunately they couldn't get it done. What more can you ask of your ace other than to win the Cy Young and the pitching Triple Crown in one season? The 23-year old is one his way to a tremendous career if he can keep pitching the way he did in 2011.
Billingsley didn't have his best season in 2011 but he has become a pretty consistent pitcher. He is going to win at least 10 games every season and is still young enough to keep improving. If he can get more run support and get his walks down, he could be one of the better pitchers in the league. With Kershaw pitching in front of him, the Dodgers could really do some damage in the NL West in the next few years.
CC Sabathia: 19-8, 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 230 K
Ivan Nova: 16-4, 3.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 98 K
CC Sabathia continues to do what he does best, pitch. His numbers are consistently amazing and it doesn't look like he will be slowing down anytime soon. Nova had a very impressive season for his rookie campaign, winning 16 games.
Sabathia has won 59 games in the last 3 seasons. That's a lot. In those seasons he's finished at least in the top 4 of the Cy Young voting. He's only 31 and is a candidate to surpass 300 career wins before he retires.
Nova may not be the true #2 pitcher for Joe Girardi and the Yankees but he is definitely the second best starter on the team. AJ Burnett continues to struggle and there really isn't anyone else who has the potential of Nova at this point. He turned plenty of heads by winning 16 games in his rookie season.
Nova isn't a big strikeout guy and he didn't throw that many innings but he does have one of the best strikeout pitchers/innings eaters in the game throwing ahead of him, so he should learn quickly. He and Sabathia are going to win a lot of games for the Yankees in the next few years.
Josh Beckett: 13-7, 2.89 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 175 K
Jon Lester: 15-9, 3.47 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 182 K
These two guy can be two of the best of the game, when they aren't drinking or eating in the clubhouse. Despite taking forever on the mound and annoying broadcasters (and now manager Bobby Valentine), Beckett was still named an All-Star for the third time in his career. Lester was also named to the AL All-Star team for the second straight season and has now won 15-plus games for the fourth consecutive year.
Beckett and Lester have dominated most of the AL for the last couple of seasons and they will continue to do that as long as they stay healthy. Beckett constantly gets hurt and if Lester goes down as well, there are going to be some really serious issues in Boston; especially considering they really only have three starting pitchers going into the season.
When the two are on their game, they are nearly unstoppable.
David Price: 12-13, 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 218 K
James Shields: 16-12, 2.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 225 K
These two pitchers helped shocked the world, mainly Red Sox Nation, by pulling off a big September comeback to clinch a playoff berth on the last day of the season. Price's record is deceiving since all of his other stats are among the league leaders. His season numbers are very comparable to Felix Hernandez's when he won the Cy Young in 2010, when Price finished second. Shields had another great season, finishing third in this years Cy Young voting behind Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver. Both were All-Stars in 2011, as they should be.
Price and Shields are two of the ringleaders of this young Rays team and will for many years to come. They also have Matt Moore who is said to be a younger, better Price. That's scary. Shields has also turned his career around after having more losses than wins in the past two seasons. He led the league in complete games and shutouts in 2011 and can pitch almost 8 innings every game. Joe Maddon loves when these two pitch because he usually only has to use one reliever, at most, during a game.
Justin Verlander: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 250 K
Max Scherzer: 15-9, 4.43 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 174 K
If this slideshow was about ranking the top 15 aces in baseball, the Tigers would have it one won easy, but it's about the best 1-2 combos. Verlander absolutely dominated baseball this season, unanimously winning the AL Cy Young while also adding the AL MVP to his mantle. He led the majors in wins, WHIP and strikeouts while winning the Triple Crown for the American League. Verlander is one of the few pitchers who can throw a no-hitter every time he steps on the mound. In 9 of his 34 starts in 2011 he allowed no more than 3 hits. He's just as good as it gets.
Max Scherzer is one of the best #2 pitchers in the game, winning 15 games last season but has to get his ERA down by allowing less home runs. He is still young and can learn a lot from Verlander.
The two led the Tigers into the playoffs but an exit in the ALCS was not what they were looking for. Verlander-Scherzer at the top of the Tigers rotation can only mean good things for the people in Detroit. The competition in the AL Central is not what it used to be and the Tigers should clinch that division as long as they have those two pitching 2 out of every 5 days.
Jered Weaver: 18-8, 2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 198 K
CJ Wilson: 16-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 206 K
The Angels made a big improvement to their offense by signing Albert Pujols to a mega-deal but the signing of CJ Wilson was almost just as important. Weaver by himself is one of the best pitchers in the game and has now finished in the top 5 of the Cy Young voting in consecutive seasons. Wilson, had a great regular season leading the Rangers to the second best record in the AL. Wilson will compliment Weaver nicely, as will the rest of the Angel rotation. He has a lot of expectations to live up to and it will be interesting to see how he plays against his former team.
Jered Weaver was classic Jered Weaver in 2011. He won 18 games, had a low ERA, a small WHIP and almost 200 strikeouts. The AL West isn't too tough of a division to pitch in, but facing the Rangers 18 times per year is no easy task. He is still 9-6 in his career against Texas and has an ERA of 3.41. He sneaky delivery only adds insult to injury to the batters who face him. If the Weaver/Wilson combination works out, the Angels could be going places fast.
Roy Halladay: 19-6, 2.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 220 K
Cliff Lee: 17-8, 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 238 K
Surprised? A lot of these rankings were very close but putting the Phillies' 1-2 combo as #1 was easy. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are two of the greatest pitchers we will ever see play the game. We have seen them do it on separate teams and last season we got to witness what they were capable of doing while on the same team. They didn't win the World Series this season but it is inevitable that they win a ring together in the near future.
Halladay was awesome with Toronto and he has been just as good with the Phillies. He's won at least 16 games in the last six seasons and has struck out at least 200 batters in each of the last four years. Also in the last four years, he's won the Cy Young once and finished second twice. He's a workhouse who wants to pitch the entire game every time he gets on the mound, throwing complete games 8 times in 2011. He is arguably the best pitcher in baseball and will be until he decides to hang up his spikes.
Not only is Halladay the best right-handed pitcher but Cliff Lee could easily be the best left-handed pitcher in the game as well. Finishing in the top five of seven pitching categories this season, Lee has had a great 2011 campaign. He, along with Halladay, is accustomed to striking a ton of guys out and barely walking anyone. In 2010, he only walked 18 batters in 212.1 innings pitched. No that isn't a typo either.
These two aces can do some unbelievable things; things we may not see for a very long time between teammates.