AL East Position Matchup: Starting Rotations

This ranking is going to be a bit different from my others. Instead of evaluating each teams No. 1- 5 starters individually, I am going to rank each teams starting rotations. Because of this, it is a bit longer than the rest. The Yankees made the biggest splash over the offseason, adding Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda to their rotation, while dumping inconsistent AJ Burnett and his large contract. The Sox took a different approach, hoping to bolster their rotation through some of their best arms in the bullpen last year.

Here’s how the rankings shake out:
For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCFRFDH

1. Tampa Bay Rays (D. Price, J. Shields, J. Hellickson, W. Davis, M. Moore)
2. New York Yankees (C. Sabathia, M. Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, I. Nova, P. Hughes)
3. Boston Red Sox (J. Beckett, J. Lester, C. Buchholz, D. Bard, A. Aceves/A. Miller)
4. Toronto Blue Jays (R. Romero, B. Morrow, B. Cecil, H. Alvarez, D. McGowan)
5. Baltimore Orioles (Z. Britton, T. Wada, W. Chen, T. Hunter, J. Hammel/ J. Arrieta)

The Rays are the clear choice for the number one rotation in the East, considering they arguably have the top rotation in all of the American League. The Rays rotation is real good, and really, really young. Their starting rotations average age is 25. Leading the way for the Rays is former 1st pick and Vanderbilt standout David Price.  His outstanding college career has quickly become an afterthought to his already outstanding 4 year Major League career. Price immediately became a force against big league hitters, shutting up the Sox in the ALCS in 2008 with a win and a save. Although Price saw a bump up in his ERA (3.49 in 2011 vs 2.72 in 2010), many analysts believe he actually pitched better in his 12-13 campaign last year than his 19-6 2010 season. Despite his bloated ERA, Price increased his K/9 ratio, while also dramatically lowering his walks/9. James Shields is the Rays second pitcher. He had an outstanding year in 2011, with a 2.82 ERA and 1.04 WHIP and 225 K’s. Despite his great year, statistics point to the fact that Shields got a bit lucky and I see him regressing a bit to his career norms with an ERA around 3.9 and WHIP around 1.2, still good numbers for a number 2 pitcher. Rounding out the Rays rotation is Jeremy Hellickson, Rookie of the Year last year, Wade Davis, and Matt Moore. All are great options in the end of the rotation. Hellickson had a sub-3 ERA, but had the lowest BABIP (opponents Batting Average on Balls in Play) by a starter since 1988 (.224). I don’t see him being so lucky this year, but I expect an ERA around 4. Wade Davis is the worst out of the bunch, after seeing his ERA and WHIP rise during each of his three seasons in the bigs. Despite this, he is still only 26 and can be a very valuable fifth pitcher for the Rays. Matt Moore is the most intriguing of the entire rotation. At 22, Moore ranks as the top prospect for 2012. He had a similar impact to Price in his first small stint in the Majors last year. He pitched stellar for the Rays in their only win vs the Rangers in last years ALDS with 7IP, 2H, 2B, 0 ER and 6K’s. The 6-2 lefty has a fastball that tops out around 97 mph, coupled with an incredible curveball. Moore is definitely a prospect to watch throughout the year for the Rays.

Next up is the Yankees. Their starting rotation this year is determined to make sure their team is not only known for its outstanding offense, but solid pitching as well. CC Sabathia is their ace and arguably the best pitcher in the division, with at least 19 wins in each of his three years with the Yanks. CC has been one of the most reliable pitchers in the league in the past five years, reaching at least 230 innings in every year. At 31 years old, CC should have no problem having another great year for the Yanks. Michael Pineda was the Yankees biggest offseason acquisition this year, as he came over in January in a trade for Jesus Montero. Montero was one of the Yankees most coveted prospects, which says a lot of Pineda’s value.  Pineda is one of the best young pitchers in the MLB. He is a 22 year old, 6′ 7″ giant who just throws straight fire. He had the fourth highest average MPH on his fastball in the entire league at age 22. His fastball combined with his filthy slider led to a 9.1 K/9 last year. Although Pineda has displayed brilliance, there are questions to his consistency (he was 8-6 with 3.03 ERA in 1st half of 2011, 1-4 with 5.12 ERA in 2nd half). Also, he has an “inverted W” pitching style, (similar style to Adam Wainwright, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Stephen Strasburg, Joba “the Hut” Chamberlain), which puts an unhealthy amount of stress on your elbow. Basically, what that means is that he’s eventually going to need Tommy John Surgery. They also added Hiroki Kuroda from the Dodgers, which was a big move because the Sox were very interested in him. Kuroda was as consistent as you could get as a starting pitcher in the last few years. Although his record didn’t reflect his good pitching due to shit run support, he had 3.45 ERA the past four years, including a career best 3.07 ERA last year. Despite this, Kuroda is 36 years old and has pitched on crappy teams, so his ERA could potentially balloon when the pressures on in New York. Rounding up the Yankees rotation is Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes. Nova had 16 wins last year in his rookie season, with a 3.70 ERA. Nova is a ground ball pitcher, which could hurt him giving the aging Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the left side of his infield, so I project some regression from his stellar rookie year. Hughes is projected to fill out the competition for the last spot in the Yankee rotation. He was once regarded as a top prospect, but has gotten murdered during a few of his stints in the majors. He has displayed greatness both as a starter and out of the bullpen, but needs to limit his mistakes in order to be an effective starter, especially now that he has a slower fastball than years prior.

The Red Sox fill out the third spot in the ranking. Their top three starters all have the potential to be Cy Young candidates. The most frustrating is Clay Buchholz. Clay displayed brilliance in 2007 when he pitched a no-hitter in his second Major League game. Then he battled depression and got rocked in the Majors and looked as if his career had gone sour. Fortunately Clay came back and dominated the big leagues in 2010 with a 2.33 ERA. Clay’s career took another downfall last year when his season was shortened to a back injury. Hopefully he’s fully healed from his injury and can return smoothly this year. Josh Beckett is another frustrating pitcher of the Sox. We all know what happened in the collapse of last year and Beckett was one of the major problems. Beckett is 31 and entering his 7th year with the Sox, but this year he will be without his personal catcher Jason Varitek. How he will do without Tek remains to be answered. He still finished with a solid year last year despite the collapse (13-7 2.89 ERA 1.03WHIP), so let’s hope he comes back with a mean streak with the desire to prove all the doubters wrong. Jon Lester, on the other hand, has been very consistent for the Sox in the past four years, with an ERA below 3.47 and at least 15 wins in each year. I think Lester is the number one candidate to be a leader for the rotation and take last years collapse on his back. He showed he can handle adversity when he battled cancer in 2006 at age 22, so I think he’ll be able to help the Sox put last year behind them. Daniel Bard is expected to fill the fourth spot of the Sox rotation, despite his great success in the Sox bullpen the last few years. He displays a lot of upside, but did not prove himself as a starter in the minors, so it should be interesting to see his development. Bard can always be put back into the bullpen if this doesn’t work out (think the Papelbon experiment in 2007’s spring training). Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller should duke it out for the last spot in the rotation. I’m hoping Miller finally lives up to hype as a former first round pick with the Tigers, considering he is only 26 years old.

The fourth best rotation is the Blue Jays, who aren’t far behind the Sox. Ricky Romero is their ace, who went 15-11 with a sub-3 ERA. Although I expect his ERA to increase a little from last years numbers, Romero is still a great first option in the AL East. Brandon Morrow is the Jays second option. Morrow has always displayed a high K/9 rate and a solid WHIP (1.29 last year), but has continually displayed problems pitching with runners on base, resulting in higher ERA’s. (4.72 last year, 4.37 career). Morrow is a good pitcher, but I think he is better suited for the bullpen. Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan will be average pitchers at best. Cecil got hit hard in April last year and was sent down to Triple-A for a few months, but was too high of a draft pick for the Jays to give up on. McGowan dealt with shoulder surgeries from 2008-2010, and came back last year with control issues. Durability remains a question with him. The Jays last spot is filled with Henderson Alvarez, who thrives on his incredible control (1.13 BB/9). He pitched well in his 10 starts last year and should continue to perform well if he can keep the ball on the ground and maintain his control.

The Orioles remain in the cellar for starting rotation rankings. They don’t deserve much even being said about them. They traded their best pitcher Jeremy Guthrie away to the Rockies in the offseason. On the bright side, they acquired two pitchers from the Japanese league that figure to grab a spot in the rotation. Tsuyoshi Wada had a 1.51 ERA last year, but we all know how well Dice-K’s stills translated to the MLB. Wada is a control pitcher whose pitches top out around the high 80’s. Wei-Yin Chen is a 26 year old lefty that throws harder than Wada and has had a 2.48 ERA over the past four seasons in Japan. I don’t see these two pitchers making a big impact in the offensively stacked AL East. Zach Britton led the Orioles last year with a whopping 11 wins. Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter, James Arrieta, and Chris Tillman look like they will all fight for starting rotation spots, but none of these pitchers look like they will have much impact.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCFRFDH

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