Out of all of the selections on this list, the Tigers are the rotation that I feel most confident in completely imploding this year. David Price was fantastic last year in a season split between the Rays and Tigers, throwing a career-high 248 1/3 innings and striking out 271 hitters while pitching to a 3.26 ERA. I’m reasonably confident he’ll be good once again this season. Justin Verlander on the other hand, was not all that good in 2014. He’ll be 32 this month, and only threw 206 innings (his lowest since 2008). In those 206 innings, Verlander had a 4.54 ERA (his worst since 2008) and only struck out 159 hitters (his lowest since his 2006 rookie year). The average velocity on his fastball was also his lowest ever in the majors. Naturally, there’s concern about his future. I’m also concerned about Anibal Sanchez, who was fine when he was on the hill in 2014…but made just 21 starts. Sanchez turns 31 this month, and I don’t think it’s out of bounds to think we’ve already seen his best days.
The Tigers filled their final two rotation spots this winter with former Red Alfredo Simon and former Yankee Shane Greene. Simon is 33 and had a 3.44 ERA over 196 1/3 innings in 2014, but was much worse in the second half, pitching to a 4.52 ERA in 79 2/3 innings. Greene was solid as a 25-year old rookie with the Yankees last year, pitching to a 3.78 ERA in 78 2/3 innings while striking out 81. But he began to struggle in his second time around the league in September – both the Red Sox and Orioles pounded him in September after facing him earlier in the season. Was this just Greene running out of gas after a long year, or a sign of things to come?
(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
The Cubs were the winners of this winter’s Jon Lester sweepstakes, and he’ll immediately bolster their rotation. He was dominant in 2014 with the Red Sox and Athletics, tossing 219 2/3 innings, pitching to a 2.46 ERA, and striking out 220 hitters. Yes, he’s quite good. Jake Arrieta will follow Lester, and is coming off of a dominant 2014 in his own right. Arrieta made just 25 starts and threw 156 2/3 innings, but pitched to a 2.53 ERA while striking out 167. Jason Hammel returns to Chicago after a couple of months in Oakland, and he was great on the North Side before the deal. In 108 2/3 innings, Hammel had a 2.98 ERA and 104 strikeouts.
Chicago doesn’t even have slouches in their final two rotation spots. Kyle Hendricks shined in 13 starts down the stretch with the Cubs, tossing 80 1/3 innings while pitching to a 2.46 ERA. Travis Wood made 31 starts and threw 173 2/3 innings, but had an unsightly 5.03 ERA. At least he’s better than the disaster known as Edwin Jackson, who might just get released this spring. Could the Cubs rotation be the best in the NL Central this year? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, especially if the things that could go wrong with the Cardinals *do* go wrong.
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
8. Red Sox
The only member of the Red Sox rotation that was in their Opening Day 2014 rotation was Clay Buchholz, who made 28 starts and had a 5.34 ERA. At this point, Buchholz is what he is – he turned 30 last August, has never made 30 starts in a season, and has never even thrown 190 innings in the majors. It’s a fool’s errand to count on him being a significant contributor this year. Joe Kelly ended the year with Boston, and he’ll likely take up a rotation spot this year. Kelly was erratic in ten starts down the stretch with the Red Sox, posting a 4.11 ERA over 61 1/3 innings, striking out 41, and walking 32.
The three new additions to Boston’s starting five bring more reasons for optimism. Ex-Tiger Rick Porcello is just 26 and coming off the best season of his career. With Detroit in 2014, Porcello threw 204 2/3 innings and pitched to a 3.43 ERA, both career bests. However, he’s not a big strikeout rate (and never has been), and his groundball rate was a career-worst in 2014. He’ll also be a free agent after 2015, so he could be one and done in Boston. Wade Miley won’t be one and done after the Red Sox bought out the rest of his arbitration years this winter. The former Diamondback had a 4.34 ERA in 2014, but still did throw 201 1/3 innings and struck out 183. Justin Masterson is the wild card after an ugly 2014, split between the Indians and Cardinals. In just 128 2/3 innings, Masterson had an ugly 5.88 ERA along with 116 strikeouts and 69 walks. Essentially, the Red Sox are banking on bounceback years from Masterson and Kelly, continued progression from Miley and Porcello, and whatever they can get out of Buchholz. If everything goes right, they would win another title. If not, it could be another long year in Boston.
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
St. Louis is a tough rotation to read, simply because there are questions about nearly everyone. Adam Wainwright was his typical dominant self in 2014, pitching to a 2.38 ERA in 227 innings. But he began to deal with injury issues this season, and wasn’t the same guy over three playoff starts against the Dodgers and Giants. Was it just fatigue, or a sign of things to come? Speaking of injury issues, Michael Wacha followed up a brilliant 2013 by making only 19 starts because of a stress reaction in his shoulder. Whenever I hear about a pitcher with shoulder issues, I’m very hesitant on projecting future success for them – Wacha’s going to need to show everyone that he’s healthy before I’m comfortable saying he’s “back”. John Lackey was also very good over ten starts with the Cardinals in 2014, but he’s 36 with a history of elbow injuries. He’s had two great years in a row, so I’m not all that down on him right now, but there’s the lingering fear of further issues in his future.
I have no concerns about Lance Lynn, coming off of back to back 200 inning seasons and pitching much better in 2014. Carlos Martinez is likely going to be the fifth starter for St. Louis, and while he’s shown flashes of brilliance over the last two seasons in the majors, those flashes have come in the bullpen. Can he hold up under a starter’s workload? On the bright side for the Cardinals, they’re not expecting a damn thing out of Jaime Garcia this season after being let down in each of the last three seasons. This is an extremely talented rotation, but the questions are almost too much to bear.
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Before San Diego signed James Shields this week, I didn’t have them in the top ten. Then they signed Shields, I took a closer look at the Padres’ rotation, and I realized that this is a pretty damn good starting five. Shields is obviously a workhorse, notching 200 innings in eight straight seasons and posting an ERA over four in just two of those years. Shields is joined by several other talented starting pitchers, including Ian Kennedy, who had a 3.63 ERA and struck out 207 in 201 innings this season. Tyson Ross is also coming back to the Padres rotation following a breakout 2014, in which he threw 195 2/3 innings and struck out 195. The talented, yet frail, Andrew Cashner will serve as the Padres fourth starter, coming off of a 2.55 ERA, 123 1/3 inning season. Cuban revelation Odrisamer Despaigne will likely be the Padres fifth starter, and though he made just 16 starts last year, he had a 3.36 ERA in 96 1/3 innings. The Padres rotation doesn’t have the upside that the Dodgers rotation does, and doesn’t have as many questions as the Giants rotation, making this a pretty damn good quintet overall.
(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Felix Hernandez returns, and is /checks/ yep, still awesome. Seattle’s number two is Hisashi Iwakuma, who had a strikeout to walk ratio of 7.33 last season to go along with a 3.52 ERA. James Paxton will reprise his role in the rotation during his sophomore campaign, coming off of a rookie season in which he had a 3.04 ERA in 74 innings. A healthy Taijuan Walker should earn a spot in the Seattle rotation for the 2015 season, but 2014 was a lost year for Walker. He made five starts and three relief appearances in the majors, striking out 34 and walking 18 in 38 innings. In 14 starts at AAA Tacoma, Walker struck out 74 in 73 innings, but had a 4.81 ERA. Finally, former Blue Jay J.A. Happ should round out the rotation in the fifth spot after being traded for Michael Saunders over the winter. In 2015, Happ threw 158 innings and had a 4.22 ERA. So Seattle’s got two top of the rotation guys, two extremely talented youngsters, and a durable veteran in their rotation – that’s a pretty good recipe for success.
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
This is possibly an optimistic ranking for the Tribe, but I’m a believer in Cleveland’s rotation repeating their success in 2015. Corey Kluber was the AL’s best pitcher a year ago, winning the AL Cy Young and striking out 269 in 235 2/3 innings. Behind Kluber is Carlos Carrasco, who made just 14 starts in 2014 but had a 2.67 ERA and 101 in 91 innings in the rotation. Trevor Bauer is in the third spot after a breakout 2014, when he struck out 143 in 153 innings. The fourth spot will likely be occupied by former Brave Gavin Floyd, who had a 2.65 ERA in nine starts with Atlanta before fracturing his elbow. Finally, Danny Salazar will likely take the fifth spot in the rotation, and his “down year” in 2014 saw him strike out 120 in 110 innings. It’s a damn good quintet for Cleveland, and their continued success will be an important part of the team’s 2015 finish.
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
3. White Sox
Chris Sale and Jose Quintana were possibly the most underrated rotation duo in baseball last season. Well, half of that duo was underrated, because I’m pretty sure everyone knows how ungodly Sale was on the hill. But did you know that Quintana threw 200 1/3 innings, struck out 178, walked 52, and pitched to a 3.32 ERA as a 25-year old? Now you do. Rick Hahn added Jeff Samardzija to that pair this winter, and the Pale Hose have a downright fearsome trio at the top of their rotation, even if only for a year. The White Sox don’t have much depth though – their fourth and fifth starters are the thoroughly mediocre John Danks and Hector Noesi. Chicago does have Erik Johnson and Carlos Rodon in the upper minors, a pair of interesting prospects that could conceivably contribute this season. Maybe one or both will establish themselves in 2015, helping ease the pain of Samardzija’s eventual exit in free agency next winter.
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Los Angeles had the best pitcher in the world last year, and got bumped from the playoffs in the NLDS (just like the Nationals!), thanks in large part to Clayton Kershaw losing twice to the Cardinals. To help lighten the load on Kershaw this year, Andrew Friedman bolstered the Dodgers’ rotation past Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu (who had the highest ERA of that trio at 3.38), adding Brandon McCarthy and the injury-prone Brett Anderson to the trio. McCarthy struggled in Arizona to start the year, but flourished after a midseason trade to the Yankees, making 14 starts while pitching to a 2.89 ERA. Anderson is the wild card – after all, he’s made only 62 appearances in the majors over the last *five* seasons. When he’s on the hill, he’s great, but those moments are few and far between. Remember this, however – the Dodgers gave 20 starts last year to Roberto Hernandez, Paul Maholm, and Kevin Correia thanks to Josh Beckett’s inevitable injuries (along with Kershaw and Ryu missing time). They can do a lot worse than Anderson, and even if he does get hurt, the team has former Padres prospect Joe Wieland and former first round pick Zach Lee hanging out in AAA as depth.
(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
This winter, we saw quite a few teams bolster their starting rotations by acquiring a second (or third) top of the line starter to pair with their incumbent aces. Teams want to make their starting five as bulletproof as possible going into the Postseason so they can shut down their opposition, but remember – a dominant rotation doesn't guarantee success. The Giants won the World Series with Madison Bumgarner setting down opposing hitters, and no other starters doing much of anything. Buyer beware.