In what has been the most active offseason in recent memory, a number of MLB teams have made dramatic changes in reshaping their rosters. These reshuffled rosters have shone some light on each organization’s respective philosophy with regard to roster construction, and it has become clear that there are some teams that simply value pitching and defense more than a potent and explosive offensive lineup. These varied philosophies will be put to the test when the 2015 season finally begins, but before it does, a look at the best rotations in all of baseball can be helpful in determining which teams will be contenders and which ones will have an area of weakness when it comes to the players who take the mound each game.
There have been a lot of starting pitching changes, with big-name free agents signing long-term, high-value deals with new teams, trades helping to reshape rotations, and prospects being potentially called up to bolster a team’s starting pitching depth. In ranking the top ten rotations in all of baseball, it is important to weigh each rotation’s recent performance along with the likelihood that they will repeat that performance in 2015. Furthermore, the defense that plays behind each pitcher matters, as the players in the field play a vitally important role in terms of run prevention. A strong rotation can only mask a weak defense so much, so an above-average defensive team will certainly help a rotation in improving their overall ranking.
The age and injury histories of the pitchers that make up each rotation also plays a role in the rankings, as will the available starting pitching depth that each team has at its disposal in the event of an injury. The only significant unknown at this point in the offseason is the team for which James Shields will pitch in 2015, as he is the only starting pitcher remaining – barring any trades – that could be considered a difference-maker in terms of the overall rankings.
10 New York Yankees
This may be something of a surprise, but the Yankees rotation was a lot better than the results indicated a year ago. During a season in which four out of five starters went down with injury, the Yankees were still able to post an xFIP (expected fielder-independent pitching) of 3.47, which was good for fourth-best in the majors in 2014. The Yankees have added Nathan Eovaldi to the mix, a young, high-upside pitcher with a good opportunity for a breakout season in 2015. With the talented Michael Pineda back and Ivan Nova set to return at midseason, there is hope for this rotation yet.
Of course, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia are big question marks, as Tanaka’s elbow could very well require Tommy John surgery at some point this season. If Tanaka is able to stay healthy, he is a legitimate ace and he should again be dominant. Sabathia, in spite of his 5.28 ERA, was actually quite good in his 46 innings of work. He posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio since his 2007 Cy Young season, and his xFIP was 3.11, starkly contrasting his inflated ERA and making him a good candidate for a bounce-back season if he is healthy. The defense behind the pitching staff is much better as well, so the Yankees rotation could be among the best in baseball if they are able to remain healthy. That’s a big “if,” but the potential is certainly there.
9 San Diego Padres
The Padres have a built-in advantage given the fact that 81 of their games are played in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. The outfield defense is a significant concern, as it may be the worst defensive group in all of baseball and could prove detrimental to the effectiveness of the starting rotation. The staff, however, should again be stout with a strong front three in Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross. Elbow, neck, and shoulder injuries limited Cashner in 2014, but he was still able to post a 2.55 ERA in his 123.1 innings of work and should be healthy to start 2015. The back end of the rotation has some questions, as Robbie Erlin, Matt Wisler, and Odrisamer Despaigne will likely compete for the four and five spots in the rotation now that Jesse Hahn has been traded. Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson are also in the mix on incentive-laden deals, so the pitching staff is certainly not without options and has some solid depth. The Padres rotation ranked 8th in xFIP a year ago and 9th in ERA, and there is no reason they should not be solid again in 2015.
8 Detroit Tigers
It appears that the Tigers did not make any great effort to retain Max Scherzer, and perhaps that is because they felt comfortable with their 2015 rotation without him. Fronted by David Price, the Tigers have a solid group that should keep Detroit in contention, especially if Justin Verlander is able to bounce back or figure out how to be effective with declining velocity. Anibal Sanchez is an excellent third option, Shane Greene looked solid in 78.2 innings with the Yankees, and Alfredo Simon is an interesting add to the rotation after being converted back from being a reliever. Would the Tigers be ranked higher if the team had held on to Scherzer and Rick Porcello? Almost certainly, but Dave Dombrowski has been such an excellent GM that it is hard to question anything he does.
7 New York Mets
The Mets benefit significantly from the return of staff ace Matt Harvey, the continued development of Jacob deGrom, and the potential arrival of Noah Syndergaard. Along with Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon, the Mets have the potential to field a very productive pitching quintet. Harvey is the biggest potential difference-maker, and how he returns from Tommy John surgery will have quite an effect on the overall strength of the rotation. Harvey was famously anxious to pitch in 2014, but the Mets and Harvey ultimately exhibited patience in order to better ensure a healthy start to the 2015 season. A strong season from Harvey and contributions from the other rotation members could have the Mets exceeding expectations in 2015.
6 Cleveland Indians
The Indians have the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner anchoring their staff, and despite Corey Kluber’s outstanding 2014, there is still some indication that there is room for improvement. Going 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and 2.57 xFIP, Kluber was durable and posted an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.27. Carlos Carrasco has the opportunity to build off of his 134 solid innings of work in 2014, a season in which he posted a 2.55 ERA and 9.40 K/9 rate. Trevor Bauer, a young pitcher who was somewhat inconsistent a year ago, will be joined by Gavin Floyd and one of Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Zach McAllister or Josh Tomlin to round out a shockingly cost-efficient and outstanding starting rotation.
5 Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are going for it all this season, having added right-hander Jeff Samardzija via trade to a rotation that already features an outstanding lefty in Chris Sale. Jose Quintana will be the third starter, and is coming off of an excellent 2014 in which he posted a 3.37 ERA in over 200 innings of work. With Samardzija and Sale at the top, the rotation could be even stronger if Carlos Rodon ends up slotting into the back end of the rotation. He has only pitched 24.2 minor-league innings, but there is some indication that he may have a chance at joining a very good Chicago rotation. This rotation is vastly improved over a season ago, and the addition of Samardzija could end up being the difference in helping the White Sox contend in a strong division.
4 St. Louis Cardinals
The depth of the Cardinals rotation allowed them to trade away Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward and still remain among the very best rotations in all of baseball. In fact, the addition of Heyward – one of the most proficient outfielders in the game today – actually helps the rotation, particularly when considering the added run prevention that Heyward brings. Adam Wainwright is the ace of the staff, and there are few better in that role. In 2014, Wainwright was 20-9 with a 2.38 ERA in 227 innings, and he figures to repeat or improve on his performance in 2015. With Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, John Lackey, and Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals have a formidable pitching staff that could propel them to yet another playoff berth.
3 Seattle Mariners
There is a lot to like about the Mariners rotation, particularly at the top. King Felix is arguably the best pitcher in baseball, having another outstanding season in 2014 while just missing out on another Cy Young Award. Hernandez was 15-6 with a 2.14 ERA in 236 innings, averaging 9.46 strikeouts per nine innings last season, but the Mariners are not solely reliant on their ace, as Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and J.A. Happ are all productive components of the Mariners rotation. Iwakuma is among the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball, and Paxton and Walker have yet to reach their respective ceilings in terms of their ability. A breakout season from either of the two could make opposing lineups cringe at the thought of having to face the Seattle starters in a series of any length.
2 Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have what is likely the most talented rotation in all of baseball, but there are some obvious concerns about the durability of those talented members of the pitching staff at the back-end of the rotation. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are bona-fide aces and there is no reason to expect anything but excellence from either of them. Hyun-Jin Ryu has been quietly among the best starters in baseball and is very likely a candidate for most underrated. Those three starters helped the Dodgers to lead all of MLB in xFIP in 2014 while finishing second in ERA. That is quite impressive considering the pitchers who filled out the rest of the rotation throughout the 2014 season.
The questions about the Dodgers rotation begin at the back of the rotation, as the club added Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson to fill out the four and five roles. McCarthy was magnificent after being traded to the Yankees, and the Dodgers believe that a new workout regimen aimed at strengthening his shoulder will allow him to finally be a durable rotation member. The most interesting addition is Anderson, who only pitched 43.1 innings a season ago due to injury. Anderson is undeniably talented, and he has ace-like stuff when healthy. If this rotation can hold together for all of 2015, the Dodgers will be very, very good, especially considering all of the moves the club has made with the goal of improving the defense.
1 Washington Nationals
Even before the Nats added Max Scherzer to their rotation, it was very likely that the Washington franchise could have easily laid claim as the top rotation in all of baseball. This is a rotation that led the league in ERA a year ago, and now that they have added the top free-agent pitcher on a 7-year, $210 million deal, the rotation could be even better. It’s fun to consider the fact that Tanner Roark, who was excellent in 2014 while going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA, will probably be relegated to a bullpen role, and Gio Gonzalez will be manning the fifth spot in the rotation. Of course, this all presumes that the Nationals do not move one of their pitchers before the season begins, as there have already been rumors that Jordan Zimmermann and even Stephen Strasburg are available via trade.
The Nats are excellent from top to bottom, and they can also withstand any injury to a starter with the depth that they now have at their disposal. It is clear that this is a team that is built to win right now, and this pitching staff may very well be one of the very best ever assembled. It has already been compared to the Braves rotation that dominated the 90s, and is probably the best rotation since the group the Phillies rolled out in the 2011 season. With this group of starters, anything short of a trip to the World Series will certainly seem like a major disappointment.
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