Top 5: Pitching Rotations

These are heady days for baseball fans.  Every team is undefeated, and hope springs eternal.  With the first games of Spring Training set for Friday, it seemed like it was time to start blogging about baseball again.

A question that seems to be on every baseball fan’s mind is  – who has the best starting pitching staff in baseball?  Below is my humble attempt at answering that question.  Let me know if you agree/disagree.

The Phillies boast a rotation that would make any team jealous. (photo from

1. Philadelphia Phillies – While this might seem like a homer call, the Phillies have to be considered the best collection of starting pitching in the league.  After pulling off one of the major surprises of the off-season by signing Cliff Lee, the Phillies have four legit #1 starters.  The Phillies (on paper) have the best pitching rotation since the Braves of the early 1990s (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Steve Avery).  This is my initial reaction to the pitching staff – taken from my post Merry Cliffmas and Happy Halladays!:

Think about this, Lee, who won the Cy Young in the AL in 2008 joins a staff that includes: reigning Cy Young winner Roy Halladay; 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels; and 3-time All-Star Roy Oswalt. What other team can match that pitching depth?  The answer – NONE!

Just look at their numbers from last season:

I know that Lee, Hamels and Oswalt did not have great records, look at the other stats! Ridiculous. Also keep in mind that when Oswalt was with the Phillies he was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA. The Phillies now have the best pitching staff in the league.

It doesn’t matter who takes the fifth starter spot (though I think it will be Joe Blanton), the Phillies have the most formidable starting rotation in baseball.

Tim Lincecum anchors the rotation for the defending World Series champions.

2. San Francisco Giants – As seen in last year’s NLCS, the Giants’ pitching staff can hang with the Phillies.  Tim Lincecum, who struggled at times last season, found his form in the playoffs. Matt Cain made the Phillies’ offense look pedestrian. Jonathan Sanchez looks like he is ready to take the next step toward becoming an elite lefty. Madison Bumgarner developed over the course of the season and looks set for a big year.  The only question mark is Barry Zito as the fifth starter, but if he even has an average year (10-14, 4.45 ERA in his time with the Giants) he will be a pretty decent 5th starter.

If Beckett and Lackey can bounce back, the Sox will be tough. (Image from CBS local/Credit: Dan Roche/CBS)

3. Boston Red Sox – Some might question the Red Sox being ranked this highly, especially after the poor performance last season of Josh Beckett, John Lackey and the enigma that is Daisuke Matsuzaka, but I believe that at least one of the aforementioned pitchers will rebound this year.  If more than one can return to the form all have previously exhibited, the Red Sox will have a formidable rotation.  Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (17-7, 2.33 ERA), two guys I thought deserved more Cy Young consideration last season, anchor the rotation.  Even if Beckett and Lackey turn in career average years – 15-10, 3.96 ERA for Becket & 15-10, 3.89 ERA for Lackey – the rotation should be good enough to win the AL East.  Any positive contribution Dice-K can give will be an added bonus.

Trevor Cahill and the Athletics could unseat the Rangers in the AL West. The A's certainly have the pitching.

4. Oakland Athletics – This selection might surprise some, as the Athletics toil in obscurity in Oakland, but the A’s have a legit rotation.  I think this excerpt from a post on pitching rotations sums up the A’s:

Check out these stats and compare them with any pitching staff in MLB: Brett Anderson 7-6 2.80 ERA  75 K’s, Trevor Cahill 18-8  2.97 ERA  118 K’s, Gio Gonzalez 15-9 3.23 ERA  171 K’s, Dallas Braden 11-14  3.50 ERA 113 K’s and a perfect game. Average age…25!!  Oakland led the AL with a 3.56 era, 17 shutouts and held opponents to a .245 batting average.  Question mark is 5th starter but they have many young guys to choose from in the minors and they also signed Rich Harden. If they can get any hitting they could be a team no one would like to play come October.

Clayton Kershaw is my early dark horse for the NL Cy Young. This kid is for real.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers – Four of the Dodgers’ starters finished last season with ERAs under 3.60.  Not too shabby.  Clayton Kershaw led the way with a 13-10 record and an ERA of 2.91 and will be just 23 at the start of the season.  Forming the rest of the rotation behind Kershaw are Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.39 ERA), Chad Billingsley (12-11, 3.57 ERA), Ted Lilly (7-4, 3.52 ERA w/ the Dodgers), and Jon Garland (14-12, 3.47 ERA w/ the San Diego Padres).

In making this list, several teams just missed the number 5 spot (I feel like the top 4 are pretty set).  The St. Louis Cardinals would likely have made the top 5, but with concerns about the health of Adam Wainwright‘s elbow, the rotation is weakened.  Some have been touting the Milwaukee Brewers with Zack Greinke joining Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo at Miller Park.  I think the Brewers have the beginnings of a very good rotation, but it remains to be seen how Greinke will adjust to the NL and whether Marcum is for real.  A third team that many have in their top 5 are the Padres.  Mat Latos and Clayton Richard are two studs at the top of the rotation but after the top 2 there are more questions than answers.  Also, could Latos be in for a sophomore slump? Lastly, the Atlanta Braves are in the discussion as well, especially if Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens can rebound from subpar 2010 seasons.  Looks like I could have found one more team and written a top 10.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.


10 responses to “Top 5: Pitching Rotations

  1. How can you possibly not include the White Sox? Their pitching is going to be unreal! peavy is gonna bounce back tremendesly, and Buehrle will be good. So will Denks!

  2. I can see how the White Sox could have made the last paragraph where I mentioned the other teams that just missed the top 5. However, I just don’t think they are good enough to make the top 5. If Peavy bounces back, Danks continues to improve and Buehrle performs a little closer to his career averages, the Sox will have a very good rotation. Floyd and Edwin Jackson are capable #4 and #5 starters, though consistency has been a problem for both.

  3. starters start but the team gotta pitch a complete game as Mariano Rivera might display
    the padres and giants have great bullpens
    which gives the giants the best pitching in mlb again
    and the padres the second best

  4. Here’s my top 5 because I disagree with this list:

    1. Phillies (need I explain?)

    2. Boston Red Sox: If Daisuke is your number #5 starter, chances are you may be stacked. Throw in a healthy Josh Beckett, veteran John Lackey, a stud in John Lester and a kid with huge potential in Clay Buccholz. Call 911 because the Sox are armed and loaded.

    3. San Fransisco Giants: Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner should all have stellar seasons. If Sanchez and the slightly over-paid Zito can step it up, this rotation is dangerous.

    4. Milwaukee Brewers: C’mon guys, how do you leave the Brew Crew out?? I see Greinke as the opening day starter, followed by their original #1 in Gallardo then the Jays former #1 in Marcum. Add it all together and you get 3, thats 3 opening day starters from lat year. And who knows, maybe Randy Wolf even joins in on the party.

    5. St.Louis Cardinals…NOT… Tampa Bay Rays: Before Wainright was injured I may have said the Cards, but they lack depth with Adam out for the season. That’s why I’m going with The Rays, lead by David Price and his lonely hearts club band. Even with Garza gone, the Rays can now come into the season young guns-a-blazin. Lets see what Davis and Niemann do in their second full season. And top prospect Hellickson will get a shot.

    Conclusion: 2 of the top 5 pitching staffs in the league are in the AL East, and I’m not whining just because I’m a Jays fan…
    This list probably will change throughout the season because baseball in unpredictable but on paper, these seem to be the best rotations.

    Notable mentions: Cardinals and White Sox as previously mentioned, The A’s, Rangers, Angels and Dodgers

    • Alex,

      I can’t argue with your first three rankings. Obviously, the Phillies have the best rotation. I think the Red Sox have the potential to be a great rotation too. I agree with your comments on them.

      I gave the Brew Crew and honorable mention. I’m just not sold on the rest of their rotation, and adjusting to a new league can be tough even if it is from the AL to the NL.

      As for the Rays, I think losing Garza hurts them, but I must admit that I overlooked them when I created my list. They certainly deserve an honorable mention.

  5. This list needs to be updated, with Barry Zito out Ryan Vogelsong has been lights out.

    • I totally agree that the list needs to be updated. The first list was written before the season started. Who could have predicted Ryan Vogelsong pitching as well as he has? I am happy to see him doing well because he’s from Pennsylvania (my home state) and went to college near where I grew up. I’m always happy to see people from my area do well. That said, he’s a journeyman pitcher who, prior to this season, was used mostly out of the bullpen. He also has a career ERA of 5.21 and last pitched in the majors in 2006! I will be interested to see if he can keep up his stellar form.

      If I had to re-rank the list now I’d go with:
      1. Phillies – While Oswalt and Lee haven’t pitched as well as expected, they have the 2nd best ERA in the majors (3.12) behind Atlanta (3.07). The only reason the Phillies don’t have more wins is due to an offense that is impotent at times. Halladay and Hamels have been lights out, and they have gotten solid contributions from Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley.
      2. Giants – As mentioned by Brian, the Giants have had a great season. Vogelsong is pitching very well and every starter on the staff has an ERA under 4.
      3. Atlanta – The Braves move up into the list. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson have been lights out, and the rest of the staff is pitching well. Brandon Beachy has solidified the 5th spot in the rotation.
      4. Padres – The Padres make it into the list as well. Even with Mat Latos posting an ERA nearly a run higher than his ERA last year (3.86 vs. 2.92), the Pads have been excellent. too bad their offense stinks.
      5. Oakland – The lone AL team on the list, the A’s have been as good as advertised and have gotten contributions from 9 different starters. Even with Dallas Braden pitching just three games thus far, the A’s have the lowest ERA in the AL. Same comment as the Pads about their offense.

  6. Pingback: Top 5: Pitching Rotations – Revisited | The Rally Cap

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