With most teams scrambling to figure out who will pitch for them every fifth day and some teams struggling to name even their fourth starter, I thought now might be a good time to isolate the best rotations in all of baseball. After all, run prevention is the new black, and chicks totally dig the curveball. It's curved for her pleasure! How best to rank these quintets but to analyze their CHONE projections at Sean Smith's fine Baseball Projection website; I'll be listing each pitchers' predicted runs saved above replacement pitcher and adding them up because my understanding of statistics is similar to that of a chimpanzee. Actually, each 10 runs saved above replacement is worth about one extra win so that makes it easier for my primate brain to comprehend. I'll also throw in some of my own emotional prejudices to make it less of a pragmatic exercise. I'm not a robot, people.
Join me as I mix stat projections with sheer instinct as I count down the top eight collections of starting pitchers in the majors. Sorry, Orioles fans: you're the only team in the AL East that didn't make the cut, but if you follow my advice and send your hitters up north, you might have something to cheer for in 2009.
Onto the rankings!
- 8. Toronto Blue Jays: (Halladay 50, Litsch 28, Purcey 20, Richmond 14, Cecil 11, ; total: 123): Thank goodness the Jays' pitching staff is solid because they've got that pesky "worsening offense" dragging them down. Roy Halladay will kick ass and take names, but if the Jays want to contend for third place again, lithe lefties David Purcey and Brett Cecil will have to make hay while the sun shines.
- 7. Boston Red Sox: (Beckett 43, Matsuzaka 36, Lester 27, Penny 13, Wakefield 14; total: 133): This number can be significantly improved if Tito Francona has enough confidence in Clay Buchholz to give him a starting job after an atrocious 2008. Clay had an amazing spring and outperformed veteran Brad Penny in every way. All this competition could be for naught if Tim Wakefield's fingers finally fall off; you can't throw a knuckler without actual knuckles. Also, John Smoltz is a Red Sock now and could outperform Wakefield, Penny and Buchholz if he's healthy enough.
- 6. San Francisco Giants: (Lincecum 41, Cain 36, Zito 14, Johnson 19, Sanchez 20; total: 130): Like Wakefield in the Sox rotation, Twitter dullard Barry Zito is the long pole in the tent in San Fran. If you or anyone you know have information that may lead to the location of Zito's fastball, last seen in Oakland circa 2005, please contact your local authorities. I expect more innings and better production out of Jonathan Sanchez than CHONE, though, because Bruce Bochy will want to work that young luscious arm as much as possible to help save his job.
- 5. Atlanta Braves: (Vazquez 46, Lowe 36, Jurrjens 22, Kawakami 21, Campillo 13; total: 138): The X-factor in this rotation is rookie sensation Tommy Hanson, who might not come up until midseason, so I'll leave him out. Javy Vazquez and Derek Lowe are enough to give the team a chance for contention, but if the Braves had a healthy Tim Hudson to replace Jorge Campillo, this might have been the best rotation in the NL.
- 4. Tampa Bay Rays: (Kazmir 38, Shields 43, Garza 31, Sonnanstine 34, Price 8; total: 154): David Price might not actually be the man with the plan for the fifth slot; Jeff Niemann will probably start out the year in that position. But if Price can be even half as good as he was in October 2008, the Rays have a loaded staff to roll out every single day of the week. All this even after trading Edwin Jackson to the Tigers, natch. They've got the best depth despite not having a true Cy Young candidate.
- 3. Arizona Diamondbacks: (Webb 52, Haren 48, Jon Garland 19, Max Scherzer 19, Doug Davis 14; total: 152): Speaking of Cy Young candidates, Brandon Webb has finished in the top two of the voting for three straight years, winning the award back in 2006. Look out for 28 year old Danny Haren though; his strikeouts keep going up and his walks keep going down. This might be his turn at stardom. Also, Doug Davis had cancer.
- 2. Los Angeles Angels: (Santana 42, Weaver 37, Lackey 37, Saunders 27, Escobar 26; total: 169): Good news/bad news. Everyone in the rotation has vet talent and experience shutting down AL hitters. Everyone in the rotation has a big fat red flashing light that says "creampuff". It's a veritable MASH unit, people! Without any injuries, this is the best rotation in baseball because the weakest link isn't too weak. But Ervin Santana has a sprained UCL, Jered Weaver has shoulder tightness, John Lackey is on the DL with a forearm strain, Kelvim Escobar is rehabbing a torn labrum, and Joe Saunders was raped by a wallaby. Nick Adenhart starts the year in the rotation; if he ends up with 15+ starts because of injuries to others, I'll move this rank all the way down to #8.
- 1. New York Yankees: (Sabathia 59, Burnett 39, Wang 22, Pettitte 24, Chamberlain 30; total: 174): The Yankees, however, have a slightly better contingency plan if (when) A.J. Burnett hits the disabled list. One of Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Alfredo Aceves and yes, even Kei Igawa should be ready to make the two hour drive from Scranton to New York just in case. I don't buy the high walk rate and subpar ERA for Chien-Ming Wang; in fact, I think he and the rest of the Yankees' staff will do the best job preventing tater tots and free passes. They'd better anyway because their defense up the middle and in the outfield isn't going to win any Gold Gloves.
So despite numerous calls for my head, I refuse to give up the abject homerism and have predicted that my favorite team has the best collection of arms in the game. I'm not the only one who thinks so! But really, prove me wrong: which of these or the other 22 rotations do you think is the best around?
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user NJ Tech Teacher)