Ranking MLB's Nastiest Rotations Post-Max Scherzer Signing

Luke Strickland@LSTRICK21Contributor IIIJanuary 23, 2015

Ranking MLB's Nastiest Rotations Post-Max Scherzer Signing

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    USA TODAY Sports

    With the addition of Max Scherzer, the Washington Nationals will enter the 2015 season with one of the very best pitching staffs this league has ever seen. But the pitching party is not just in Washington, as multiple teams are equipped with elite rotations throughout MLB

    The Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers have consistently fielded reliable starting pitching in recent years.

    The Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres deserve consideration as well, with each club in possession of multiple fantastic young arms.

    Then there's the Miami Marlins and Chicago White Sox, who significantly improved their rotations this offseason and have positioned themselves to compete in the season ahead.

    With so many impressive hurlers in today's MLB, it can be hard to distinguish which units deserved to be mentioned as the cream of the crop. So naturally, we're going to do what we do best at Bleacher Report: rank them.

    Here are the criteria we will use to place these nasty rotations in the proper pecking order:

    • Depth: More reliable starters equals a higher spot on the list.
    • Proven Ace: A star at the front of the rotation will greatly enhance a team's chances of winning.
    • Run Prevention: This may sound fairly obvious, but top-tier rotations will keep runs off the scoreboard.
    • Durability: In today's game, innings-eaters and bullpen-savers are valuable among starters.
    • Track Record: The more proven commodities in the rotation the better. 

    Each team will receive a 1-to-5 grade in the above categories.

    While all 10 pitching staffs will likely enjoy immensely successful campaigns in 2015, there's still a big difference between No. 10 and No. 1. We'll do our best to sift through the important qualities that produce that separation.

    Before we get into the list, let's take a look at a few teams that just missed the cut.

Honorable Mentions

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    Cleveland Indians

    The Indians will have the luxury of giving the reigning AL Cy Young winner the ball once again in 2015, as Corey Kluber returns to the Tribe on the heels of a fantastic year. Kluber went 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and over 10 strikeouts per nine innings last season. Carlos Carrasco also deserves praise for a brilliant 14 starts for Cleveland, posting a 2.61 ERA and 2.21 FIP.

    Those two provide the Indians with a solid one-two punch at the front of the rotation, but an uncertain back end caused enough concern to keep them out of the top 10. 

    Atlanta Braves

    While their offense is undergoing renovation, starting pitching figures to be the strength of the Atlanta Braves once again in 2015.

    Julio Teheran took his game to the next level last season, finishing the year with a sub-3.00 ERA and over 220 innings. Alex Wood gave the Bravos some much-needed production from the left side, after the normally consistent Mike Minor struggled for most of the season.

    Atlanta traded fan favorite Jason Heyward to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller in order to add another young arm to its clubhouse. Miller recorded a 3.74 ERA in 2014, but is only two years removed from his breakout 2013. 

    New York Mets

    The New York Mets are oh-so-close to finally seeing their vaunted young pitching talent in the big leagues all at once. A future rotation including the likes of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard has the potential to be among the league's best in the coming years.

    As for 2015, NL Rookie of the Year deGrom and Wheeler will start the season in Queens. Wheeler struck out over nine per nine innings, while deGrom led all Mets pitchers in WAR a season ago. The rotation is rounded out with quality veterans like Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee. 

    But with Harvey expected to be under an innings limit in 2015, the Mets are better suited to crack this list in 2016.

No. 10: San Diego Padres

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Score

    Depth3

    Proven Ace3

    Run Prevention3

    Durability2

    Track Record3

    Total Score: 14 out of 25

    Breaking Down the Score 

    San Diego may lack a true ace, but Tyson Ross made a pretty convincing case in 2014. Andrew Cashner's potential is unquestioned, but an inability to stay on the field has hindered his plight to be a major league ace. 

    Ross and veteran Ian Kennedy are capable of logging 200-plus innings, but the remainder of the staff's durability is more worrisome. Cashner's career high in innings is 175, and Odrisamer Despaigne and Robbie Erlin have yet to log over 100 innings in a season.

    Ross, Cashner and Kennedy give the Padres a fine pitching threesome, but the uncertainties at the back of the rotation stymie San Diego's climb up these rankings.

    The Stud

    As mentioned above, Ross picked up where he left off in 2013 with an exemplary sophomore season with the Padres.

    Ross showcased every facet that you desire in a front-line starter: durability (195.2 innings), run prevention (2.81 ERA, 3.24 FIP) and nasty, nasty stuff (8.97 K/9). The right-hander held opposing hitters to a .226 average in 31 starts. 

    The 27-year-old stuck to a trusty mix of three primary offerings: a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball and a slider.

    Ross used his slider more than any other pitch in 2014, yielding opponents to a measly .210 average. The breaking ball also become a means to produce swings-and-misses, as evidenced by a 23 percent swinging-strike percentage. 

    The right-hander also enjoyed the highest ground-ball rate of his career at 57 percent. While his two-seam heater may have been the least effective of his three main pitches, it did manage to induce ground-ball contact a whopping 71.6 percent of the time

    Ross threw both heaters with runners on base, hoping to coax hitters into double plays like this one against the Cincinnati Reds

    The Glue

    Ian Kennedy has thrown over 180 innings and made over 30 starts in five straight seasons as a full-time starter. After a shaky 2013, Kennedy returned to a resemblance of his best work. The 30-year-old posted a 3.63 ERA and also led Padres pitchers in WAR. 

    Kennedy relied heavily on his four-seam fastball in 2014, throwing it significantly more than any other pitch in his arsenal. That heater produced a strikeout percentage of 21.7 percent.

    In the past, Kennedy had incorporated a two-seamer, before almost completely abandoning it last year. This allowed him to throw his changeup more, while also mixing in a new knuckle-curve to keep opponents off-balance. 

    The Wild Card

    If San Diego's rotation is to be as prolific as it was in 2014, it'll need a healthy campaign from Andrew Cashner. 

    The former first-round pick has shown what he's capable of when at full health, boasting a career 3.25 big league ERA. Cashner has never thrown over 200 innings, logging only 123.1 in 19 starts last season. 

    Although his velocity was lower than in previous seasons, Cashner's biggest asset remains his blistering fastball. But that four-seamer did still reach as high as 98 mph last season and held hitters to a .222 average.

    Increasing the usage of his two-seam heater has also added some variety to his repertoire. It also gave Cashner a pitch he could use successfully against left-handed hitters

    An injury-free, 200-inning season from Cashner will go a long way to a Padres playoff push. 

No. 9: Miami Marlins

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    The Score

    Depth4

    Proven Ace3

    Run Prevention4

    Durability2

    Track Record3

    Total Score: 16 out of 25

    Breaking Down the Score

    The Miami Marlins are lucky to have plenty of pitching options in 2015, an important distinction with Jose Fernandez on the shelf until the summer. 

    Henderson Alvarez, Tom Koehler, Jarred Cosart and Mat Latos will make up the rest of the rotation, and each has shown above-average run prevention in their careers. 

    Besides Latos though, no Miami pitcher has multiple seasons of over 150 innings. Fernandez's health is also concerning, as the Marlins will have to rely on a group effort in order to fill the void left behind by their ace. 

    The Stud

    It would be irresponsible not to mention Fernandez here, even though he won't start the season with the Fish. The 22-year-old has been flat-out dominant over his first two seasons in the majors, posting a 2.25 ERA and fanning over 10 per nine innings.

    But for at least the first few months of 2015 season, Mat Latos will need to shoulder the load at the top of the rotation. 

    The right-hander will join the Marlins with an impressive resume. Despite making only 16 starts last season, Latos recorded a 3.25 ERA. Since his debut in 2009, the 27-year-old has struck out over eight per nine and won 60 games. 

    Latos' go-to pitch is a wipeout slider that has held opponents to a .173 average and 36 wRC+ over the course of his career

    The Glue

    With a supreme talent like Fernandez on the roster, other starters can sometimes become an afterthought. But when the Miami ace was unable to finish the season in 2014, Henderson Alvarez stepped up and became the Marlins' most dependable hurler.

    Alvarez went 12-7 in 30 starts for Miami last year, finishing the season with a 2.65 ERA. While his FIP suggests he might have overachieved last year, it also indicates that Alvarez should stick as a reliable major league pitcher.  

    Despite above-average velocity, Alvarez doesn't strike out hitters in bunches. But he does limit walks and he posts high ground-ball rates. The 24-year-old has shown he's able to maneuver around baserunners, and as he continues to develop the strikeouts should begin to increase. 

    The Wild Card

    The Marlins had an eye on improving their rotation even before this winter, trading for Jarred Cosart from the Houston Astros last season.

    Cosart has a big arm, and at worst should replace the production of the departed Nathan Eovaldi for the Fish. But the 24-year-old has the potential to become much more than that. 

    The right-hander consistently reaches the mid-to-upper 90s and uses a power cutter to create ground-ball contact. Cosart has struggled with his command at times throughout his pro career, but the righty made immense strides in that department in 2014.  

    If Cosart can continue to improve his off-speed pitches, he'll likely develop into a fairly dominant power starter. He doesn't use his change or curve as much as he should, but when he does opposing hitters are whiffing over 20 percent of the time.  

No. 8: Chicago White Sox

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Score

    Depth2

    Proven Ace5

    Run Prevention3

    Durability3

    Track Record3

    Total Score: 16 out of 25

    Breaking Down the Score

    With the addition of Jeff Samardzija, the Chicago White Sox substantially improved their starting rotation this winter.

    Samardzija and Chris Sale give the club two legitimate top-of-the-rotation starters. Jose Quintana is arguably the most under-appreciated pitcher in baseball and is a nice complement to his hard-throwing teammates. 

    John Danks and Hector Noesi leave little to be desired as the fourth and fifth starters, which could pose a serious dilemma if any White Sox starter were to be sidelined for significant time in 2015. 

    The Stud

    Both Samardzija and Sale deserve mention here, but it's the southpaw who gets the nod as the rotation's top piece.

    Since Sale's first season as a full-time starter in 2012, he ranks fifth in WAR, fifth in ERA and fourth in K/9. He could be even higher on those lists, if not for an injury scare in 2014. 

    Despite not being able to stay healthy for the whole season, the 25-year-old was still able to make a strong push for AL Cy Young last season. In 26 starts, Sale went 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA and over 10 K/9. Besides Clayton Kershaw, Sale is probably the next-best left-hander in baseball today.

    As you would imagine, Sale's explosive stuff makes left-handed hitters cry to their mothers. Same-sided batters have managed a laughable .192 average against Sale, while fanning nearly 30 percent of the time.  

    With Sale seemingly healthy and Samardzija now in the fold, the White Sox have to feel confident heading into the upcoming season.

    The Glue 

    Sale's excellence may have overshadowed Jose Quintana's solid work on the national landscape, but the White Sox recognized the lefty's value and locked him up with a multiyear deal. 

    Quintana is the perfect complement to the power styles of Sale and Samardzija.

    While he's capable of pumping it up to the mid-90s, Quintana utilizes a deep mix of pitches to keep hitters guessing. The southpaw's curve was one of the best offerings in the league last season, holding hitters to a .182 average and a 30 percent strikeout rate

    The 25-year-old has also provided the White Sox with dependable production by logging over 200 innings in consecutive seasons. Quintana, Sale and Samardzija make up one of the better trios in the AL, and should help Chicago become real contenders in the AL Central. 

    The Wild Card

    It wouldn't surprise me to see the White Sox climb toward the top of this list by the end of the season. But if the club is to do so and enjoy October baseball, John Danks will be a key reason why.

    Danks is another lefty starter for Chicago, with plenty of experience over an eight-year career. From 2008-10, Danks was an extremely valuable piece for the White Sox. He posted a sub-4.00 ERA and started over 30 games in each of those seasons.

    Injuries and inconsistencies haunted the 29-year-old over the next three years, but Danks finally was able to produce another healthy, 30-start campaign last year. Although his ERA ballooned to a 4.74 mark, White Sox fans will hope he can improve after a season's worth of good health. 

    Danks still possesses a deadly changeup, and if he can locate his heater and cutter, his ERA should plummet. He doesn't need to be a star for the White Sox, just decent. If he can accomplish that, Chicago's rotation will be among baseball's best at year's end.

No. 7: Baltimore Orioles

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The Score

    Depth4

    Proven Ace2

    Run Prevention5

    Durability3

    Track Record3

    Total Score: 17 out of 25

    Breaking Down the Score

    Despite lacking that one superstar arm, the Baltimore Orioles remain among baseball's best teams due to a very complete rotation. 

    Each Baltimore pitcher pegged to get starts in 2015 posted a sub-4.00 ERA last season, providing the Orioles with a chance to be victorious every night out. Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chin were workhorses for the consistent rotation.

    With the addition of Kevin Gausman as a full-time starter this year, Baltimore may now have its ace. But with five above-average pitchers and no proven No. 1 guy, the O's rotation isn't quite ready to crack the top five just yet.

    The Stud

    Kevin Gausman is going to be really good.

    The former first-round pick provided the baseball world with a glimpse of his immense upside in 2014, starting 20 games and finishing with a 3.57 ERA. Manager Buck Showalter then used the right-hander as a relief ace in the postseason, appearing in eight games and posting a 1.13 ERA.

    Like most top young pitching talents, Gausman brings elite velocity to the mound with him. His fastball averaged right around 95 mph last season, but the 24-year-old pushed it up to the 98-to-99 range on more than one occasion. A splitter that benefited from a 10 mph dip in velocity became his out pitch, recording a strikeout percentage of 34 percent

    He's yet to complete a full season at the major league level, but if Gausman's production can match his ridiculous talent, the Orioles rotation could become the premier unit in the American League.

    The Glue

    In two straight seasons, Chris Tillman has finished with 200-plus innings and 30 starts. The right-hander's durability is an important trait for the Baltimore staff. 

    But the 26-year-old has been productive in those starts as well. Tillman has won 29 games over the past two seasons, while holding opponents to an average under .240. 

    Entering the 2014 season, Tillman's bugaboo had been a tendency to serve up too many long balls. But he was able to correct that weakness by reducing his fly-ball rate by nearly 5 percent last year. Tillman's ERA improved from 3.71 to 3.34 and his fly-ball to home run ratio dipped from 14 percent to 8 percent. 

    The Wild Card

    Bud Norris is probably the weakest of the Baltimore starters, but his performance in 2015 could dictate how good this rotation will be. 

    The right-hander debuted with the Houston Astros before being dealt to the O's in 2013. He has a losing record in 155 career starts and a lifetime ERA of 4.23. 

    But Norris enjoyed his best season in Baltimore last year, as he set career highs in wins and ERA. The 29-year-old cut down on his walks and fly-ball rate, two things that can doom a pitcher in the hitter-friendly confines of Camden Yards. 

    Michael Barr at FanGraphs mentions Norris' newfound success against left-handed hitters as a big reason why he put together such a solid season. He'll need to continue that good work in order for the Orioles to return to the ALCS. 

No. 6: Tampa Bay Rays

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    The Score

    Depth5

    Proven Ace2

    Run Prevention4

    Durability3

    Track Record3

    Total Score17 out of 25

    Breaking Down the Score

    Despite trading David Price last season, the Tampa Bay Rays should have one of the top rotations in baseball again in 2015. 

    Led by Chris Archer and Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay starters posted a 3.48 ERA last season. Archer and Cobb figure to be at the forefront of any Rays success this season. 

    Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly possess tremendous upside and will need to provide consistent production for the club to compete in a crowded AL East.

    Alex Colome and Nate Karns will fight for the final spot in the rotation, but don't forget about Matt Moore, who's slated to return from injury at some point this season. 

    The Rays and Orioles both have outstanding rotations, but Archer, Cobb and the eventual comeback of Moore makes Tampa Bay's staff just a tad more impressive.

    The Stud

    You could make a really compelling argument that Alex Cobb is the best pitcher in the AL East. The 27-year-old posted a sub-3.00 ERA in 2013-14, while striking out over eight per nine innings.

    The right-hander is a ground-ball machine, finishing last season with the fourth-highest rate in baseball at 56.2 percent. In fact, he's averaged ground-ball percentages of over 50 percent in every year of his career.

    He sticks with his fastball and changeup in most situations, with his change generating swing-and-misses over 20 percent of the time. Only Felix Hernandez used his changeup more than Cobb did in 2014.

    If Cobb can stay healthy and give the Rays a productive 200-plus innings, he'll be able to enter the conversation of potential aces. 

    The Glue

    Chris Archer's first full season as a starting pitcher was an overwhelming success.

    The right-hander showcased his talents in 23 starts in 2013, but Archer proved he's capable of leading a rotation a season ago.

    The 26-year-old logged 194.2 innings and made 32 starts for the Rays in 2014. In those games, Archer averaged eight K/9, held opposing hitters to a .239 average and posted a 3.33 ERA (3.39 FIP).

    In 2013, Archer threw his fastball 37 percent of the time and his sinker 22 percent of the time. Those figures did a complete 180 last year though, as the righty used his fastball only 19.9 percent of the time and his sinker an increased 46.9 percent. Chris Cwik at FanGraphs believes Archer's flip-flop in usage rate led to his improved success against left-handed hitters in 2014.

    The Wild Card

    While Wil Myers was the focal point of the James Shields/Wade Davis deal a few years back, the Rays did a nice job asking for Jake Odorizzi in their return. 

    While Odorizzi's 2014 numbers may not look overly attractive on paper, he did flash multiple signs of a potential front-line talent. The 24-year-old struck out over nine per nine innings last season and actually ranked 14th in baseball in K percentage. 

    Odorizzi is fanning hitters in bunches without top-tier velocity, relying instead on an improving slider and an adopted splitter/changeup hybrid he learned from Cobb. That pitch is causing hitters to swing-and-miss 14.5 percent of the time

    If Odorizzi can put together a complete season in 2015, a young Rays staff will continue to skyrocket up these rankings. 

No. 5: Detroit Tigers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Score

    Depth4

    Proven Ace5

    Run Prevention3

    Durability3

    Track Record3

    Total Score: 18 out of 25

    Breaking Down the Score

    The Detroit Tigers may have lost Max Scherzer to free agency, but the defending AL Central champs will still trot out an excellent pitching staff in 2015. 

    David Price is one of the premier left-handed pitchers in the game, and will replace Scherzer at the front of the rotation.

    Anibal Sanchez is as talented as anybody in the league, but must overcome the injury bug after missing significant time last season. Justin Verlander's credentials are well-documented, but the right-hander is coming off one of the worst years of his career. Both will need to be at their best to make up for Scherzer's departure. 

    Newcomers Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon will also be crucial to Detroit's success this season, but proved to be competent major league starters in 2014. They'll need to be just as productive in 2015 for the Tigers to return to the postseason.

    The Stud

    Since Price became a full-time starter in 2010, there haven't been many more prolific pitchers in MLB. Price ranks fifth in WAR, wins and innings pitched during that time.

    Though it may not seem like it on the surface, 2014 was actually Price's best season to date. The southpaw threw nearly 250 innings, struck out over nine per nine innings and walked just over one a game. His 3.26 ERA wasn't the lowest mark he's ever posted, but Price set career bests in FIP, xFIP and SIERA.

    Although the 29-year-old will be a free agent at the end of this season, the Tigers probably have the better of the two pitchers between he and the departed Scherzer. Price's ability to lead a staff will soften the blow that Scherzer's void could have potentially made. 

    The Glue

    Despite the worst season of his career, Justin Verlander is oh-so important to the Tigers. 

    With Scherzer, Sanchez and now Price bettering the right-hander's production over the past few seasons, it would be easy to dismiss Verlander's impact. Yet every fifth day the Tigers can rely on him to take the ball, as the 31-year-old has thrown over 200 innings in eight straight seasons.

    That's just something you don't see in the modern game. 

    But Verlander's 4.54 ERA last season was a full run higher than his career mark. Hitters were able to sit on his fastball due to lackluster off-speed offerings. With Scherzer now gone, Verlander will need to regain the feel for his change and curve if Detroit is going to win a much-improved AL Central. 

    The Wild Card

    Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, both of whom were acquired this past winter, will fill the final two spots in the Detroit rotation. Simon has been around the league for a while now, so it's the incoming Greene that draws the most intrigue. 

    The 26-year-old impressed in 14 starts after making his major league debut last season with the New York Yankees. Greene's 3.78 ERA and over nine strikeouts per nine were enough to convince the Tigers to take a chance on the right-hander. 

    As Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs notes, Greene ranked in the top 25 percent in ground-ball rate, the top 20 percent in strikeout percentage and the top 20 percent in average fastball velocity. While we've got only a small sample size to analyze, Greene's middle-of-the-rotation potential could be quite valuable as the Tigers fifth starter. 

No. 4: Seattle Mariners

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The Score

    Depth3

    Proven Ace5

    Run Prevention4

    Durability3

    Track Record3

    Total Score: 18 out of 25

    Breaking Down the Score

    When Felix Hernandez's name is penciled in the lineup card every fifth day, your starting pitching doesn't need much more to become the strength of your squad.

    But the Seattle Mariners have paired Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton with King Felix, giving Seattle a fantastic pitching core. All three pitchers produced an ERA under 3.52 in 2014. 

    J.A. Happ, Roenis Elias and Taijuan Walker will compete for the final two spots in the rotation. Elias won 10 games for the Mariners a year ago, and the highly touted Walker was impressive in his cup of coffee at the end of the season. 

    Seattle and Detroit finished with equal scores, but Felix's dominance breaks the tie in favor of the Mariners. 

    The Stud

    While Clayton Kershaw remains the best pitcher in baseball, Felix Hernandez isn't too far behind. 

    The King continued to raise the bar in 2015 with a season for the ages. The 28-year-old went 15-6, striking out nine per nine and a 2.14 ERA (2.56 FIP). He also continued his downward trend in terms of walks, posting under two per nine for the first time in his career. 

    The right-hander's changeup has always been his best weapon, but it became his most used pitch last season. Opponents could only muster a .160 average against Felix's change, normally whacking it into the ground at a near 70 percent rate

    I could shower Hernandez with praise all day long; he's that good. The Mariners did well to ink him to a long-term deal and are now rapidly improving the roster around him. 

    The Glue

    Hisashi Iwakuma provides Seattle with some diversity in its rotation.

    The 33-year-old relies on heavy movement and sink from a deep repertoire of pitches. In fact, Iwakuma didn't throw a single pitch more than 27 percent of the time in 2014. 

    The right-hander utilizes his fastball and sinker to pitch to contact, resulting in a high number of ground balls. His splitter is probably his best pitch, which he uses to put away opposing hitters. Opponents hit just .194 against the splitter in 2014, swinging-and-missing 14 percent of the time.  

    Iwakuma's ability to command each of those offerings is a huge advantage as well. His 1.06 walks per nine innings ranked second in MLB last year. 

    With Hernandez pitching at an all-time level, Iwakuma's consistency complements the rotation well. 

    The Wild Card

    Seattle resisted the temptation to trade Taijuan Walker for an impact bat and will now likely reap the benefits of that decision in 2015. 

    The 22-year-old right-hander throws his heater hard and he throws it often. Walker topped out around triple digits last season, mostly hovering around the mid-90s.

    Major league hitters can hit any fastball though, so the development of Walker's secondary pitches will be vital for his progress. He tossed his curve very few times while up with the Mariners, but hitters struggled mightily against it, which bodes well for the future. 

    Walker started five games down the stretch for Seattle, fanning eight per nine and posting an impressive 2.61 ERA. If he can build off his brief stint with the club to close 2014, Walker could be the X-factor in the AL West in the upcoming season.

No. 3: St. Louis Cardinals

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    The Score

    Depth5

    Proven Ace5

    Run Prevention4

    Durability3

    Track Record3

    Total Score: 20 out of 25

    Breaking Down the Score

    The final three rotations on this list are a tier above the rest of the pack, beginning with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    The NL Central champs have one of the deepest rotations in baseball, with seven legitimate major league-ready starters in the organization.

    Adam Wainwright performed like the ace that he still is in 2014, but the emergence of Lance Lynn became a key development for the Cards last season. With John Lackey's extensive experience, St. Louis' rotation contains three reliable and productive starters. 

    Michael Wacha's improved health could push the Cardinals all the way to the top spot on this list by year's end, but with his injury concerns and some uncertainty surrounding who will be the fifth starter, St. Louis is just below the top two.

    The Stud

    Adam Wainwright buoyed another great Cardinals pitching staff in 2014, winning 20 games and posting a career-low 2.38 ERA. Wainwright also finished the season with over 200 innings, the fifth time he's accomplished that feat in his career.

    The 33-year-old saw a dip in strikeouts last season, but maintained his elite level of command. Wainwright also kept the ball in the ballpark, recording the third-lowest home run to fly-ball ratio in baseball. 

    Wainwright didn't deviate from his successful blueprint too much, mainly incorporating a cutter, sinker and curveball. His curve continues to be his biggest weapon, ranging anywhere from 65 to 81 mph and allowing just a .156 average.

    The right-hander has aged quite well, as he's yet to show many cracks in his armor. He'll need to perform at his customary level in 2015 with the Cubs, Pirates and Brewers all hoping to knock the Cardinals off their perch.  

    The Glue

    While Wainwright was masterful last season, Lance Lynn's career year was equally as important for the Cardinals. 

    Lynn was very productive in 2012 and 2013, and while his ERA was close to 4.00, solid FIP numbers of 3.49 and 3.28 hinted that the right-hander was on the verge of a breakout year. 

    The 27-year-old threw over 200 innings for the second straight year, winning 15 games with a 2.74 ERA. Lynn combined high strikeout totals with a decent ground-ball rate to put together his best major league campaign. 

    Lynn threw fastballs almost 80 percent of the time in 2014, which included both a two-seamer and a four-seamer. His four-seam heater was used in two-strike situations, as it resulted in a 27 percent strikeout percentage. The two-seam fastball was fantastic at inducing ground balls at a 70 percent mark

    The Wild Card

    Michael Wacha blitzed through the minor leagues, making his major league debut in 2013 with the St. Louis Cardinals. The right-hander worked his way into the postseason rotation, using the grand stage of October to announce himself to the baseball world.

    After posting a 2.64 ERA in five playoff starts, Wacha seemed poised for big things in 2014. But the 23-year-old threw only 107 innings in an injury-riddled season and was unable to contribute to the Cardinals' NLCS run. 

    Wacha looked like a future ace before his injury, striking out hitters in bunches with four plus offerings. His mid-90s fastball has only been enhanced by a disgusting changeup that has generated an almost 20 percent swinging strike rate. 

    St. Louis' pitching depth will give Wacha time to regain his groove. If he does manage to return to his pre-injury form, the Cardinals rotation has the potential to be the best in baseball. 

No. 2: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Jason Wise/Getty Images

    The Score

    Depth4

    Proven Ace5

    Run Prevention5

    Durability3

    Track Record4

    Total Score: 21 out of 25

    Breaking Down the Score

    There's no better one-two punch in MLB than Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, as both aces have dominated opposing hitters over their careers.

    L.A.'s two aces give them a leg up on just about every other staff in baseball. 

    Hyun-Jin Ryu has acclimated himself well to American baseball, posting a 3.17 ERA in his first two seasons. But Ryu battled injuries in 2014 and his health will be a determining factor in the staff's continued success.

    The Dodgers used the offseason to acquire Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson to strengthen the back end of their rotation. While both have proved they can pitch in the big leagues, their injury concerns and inconsistencies keep Los Angeles from claiming the No. 1 spot. 

    The Stud

    Clayton Kershaw's 2014 was pretty historic.

    The 26-year-old southpaw took home both NL MVP and NL Cy Young honors in a season where he posted a 1.77 ERA in nearly 200 innings. Kershaw also threw a no-hitter with 15 K's and zero walks, recorded the fifth-longest scoreless streak in the expansion era and tossed six complete games. 

    Kershaw struck out nearly two batters more per nine from 2013 to 2014, while also recording a career-best 1.41 walks per nine. As good as he was in his Cy Young season two years ago, he was somehow better a season ago. 

    He's the best pitcher in baseball, and no playoff struggles can change that.

    The Glue 

    Kershaw's brilliance in 2014 may have overshadowed Zack Greinke's contributions to the Dodgers, but it doesn't make his production any less impressive. 

    Greinke posted his second consecutive sub-3.00 ERA season last year, winning 17 games and logging over 200 innings. The right-hander also finished with the ninth-best mark in strikeout-to-walk percentage. 

    The 31-year-old hurler used a wide variety of pitches ranging from 58 to 95 mph. His changeup and slider were high swing-and-miss offerings that kept hitters honest and allowed Greinke to throw his fastball with confidence. Opponents managed only a .223 average against his heater in 2014. 

    The Dodgers may not have the best rotation in the league, but they do have the best pair of front-line starters in the game. 

    The Wild Card

    There may have been some raised eyebrows when the Dodgers signed Brandon McCarthy to a four-year, $48 million contract this winter. After all, why did McCarthy deserve such a lucrative contract based off a losing record and a career ERA over 4.00?

    That's a fair point, but L.A.'s risk could pay off in a big way. 

    McCarthy used a second-half trade to the New York Yankees to greatly enhance his free-agent allure. The right-hander went 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA in pinstripes to close the year. 

    Brendan Kuty at NJ.com wrote an article during the season that discussed a change in McCarthy's philosophy upon arriving in the Big Apple.

    While in Arizona, the Diamondbacks wanted McCarthy to trim his pitch selection, which caused him to rely too heavily on his sinker. But the Yankees told the 31-year-old to throw his cutter more, resulting in a significant spike in his K's/9 and a career-high ground-ball percentage. 

    With the top of the rotation taken care of, just a solid campaign from McCarthy should help the Dodgers finish at the top of the standings once again in 2015.  

No. 1: Washington Nationals

11 of 11

    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Score

    Depth5

    Proven Ace5

    Run Prevention5

    Durability4

    Track Record4

    Total Score: 23 out of 25

    Breaking Down the Score

    In the end, this was a pretty easy decision. The Washington Nationals can claim the title of MLB's top rotation. 

    The Nats have three true aces on the roster with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and the recently acquired Max Scherzer. While the Dodgers can match Kershaw and Greinke with any other duo in the league, only Washington can say it has a trio of No. 1 starters. 

    Plus the club's No. 4 and 5 starters would be ones and twos on virtually every other team in baseball. Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez give the Nationals unprecedented depth and really tip the scales in their favor. Tanner Roark also provides Washington with cover in case of an injury emergency.

    Washington's rotation is deep, talented, durable and loaded with front-line starters. It'll still have to go out and produce, but on paper there's no better staff in the league.

    The Stud

    There's no doubt that the Nationals are in win-now mode after the acquisition of Max Scherzer. 

    The right-hander will join a Washington staff that was already one of the best in baseball. Scherzer won 18 games for the Tigers in 2014, striking out over 10 per nine innings and posting a 3.15 ERA. 

    Since 2012, Scherzer boasts the third-best WAR among major league hurlers. Only Yu Darvish can better his strikeout numbers in that time. 

    The 30-year-old Scherzer throws hard, but he's learned to trust his off-speed pitches as his velocity has begun to dip. The former AL Cy Young has developed a deadly changeup and a swing-and-miss slider to pair with his heater.

    Scherzer isn't the only Washington pitcher capable of being an ace, but he'll be called upon to head this vaunted Nationals rotation in 2015. 

    The Glue 

    Jordan Zimmermann is one of those other Nats with ace potential.

    The right-hander has been Washington's top arm over the last few seasons. Zimmermann went 14-5 in 2014 with a 2.66 ERA and over eight strikeouts per nine innings.

    Zimmermann's success is pretty simple to understand—he doesn't walk many hitters and keeps the ball in the ballpark. The 28-year-old finished the season with the third-lowest mark in walks per nine, while sporting the 10th-best mark in home run per nine innings.

    With Zimmermann becoming a free agent after the season, there have been whispers of potential trade talks involving the righty. But if the Nationals do start the season with him on the roster, they'll boast one of the best rotations in recent memory. 

    The Wild Card

    On a staff busting at the seams with talent, Stephen Strasburg may possess the most natural ability. 

    The 6'4" hurler is the total package, with the size, skill and stuff to become one of the better pitchers in baseball history. He's proved his worth up to this point, striking out over 10 per nine and posting a career ERA of 3.02. 

    As good as he's been in his young career, it's scary to think the 26-year-old Strasburg can be even better. His career FIP actually hints that he may have underachieved to a certain extent.

    A significant sign in his progression is the consistent drop in free passes. Strasburg cut his walks per nine innings down by almost a full walk in 2014. 

    Strasburg's unlimited upside provides the Nationals with three potential aces. With less pressure to be the go-to guy in 2015, Strasburg could be poised for his best season yet. 

    Advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs