Ranking the starting rotations in the AL Central
The AL Central has been one of the most predictable, uncompetitive divisions in the majors for years. There always seems to be a tight race at the top, as well as a legitimate contender who stands alone. This past season was an exception, as the underdog Kansas City Royals finally lived up to their youthful potential and superseded the perennial-winner Detroit Tigers by advancing further in the playoffs.
Next season appears to be different. The AL Central as a whole has greatly improved in recent weeks, and with the conclusion of the Winter Meetings the gap between teams in the division appears to have shrunk. So with the offseason in full swing, how does each team stack up piece-by-piece?
This week, we’ll look at and rank the starting rotations of all five AL Central teams, starting at the bottom.
**Note: this is assuming that Max Scherzer and James Shields sign elsewhere, as expected. This also does not include additional signings or trades, obviously, and rankings are subject to change barring a move.
5. Minnesota Twins
2014 MLB Ranks: 29th ERA, 30th hits, 5th BB, 30th K, 27th WHIP
2015 Rotation: Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone
The Twins made one of the splashes this offseason in the starting pitching department scooping up Ervin Santana to a 4 year/$54 million deal. He had some success last season with the Braves, but he was pitching as their number three-four starter in a relatively pitcher-friendly park. Since 2010, however, he has been a relatively consistent starter, reliable for 200 innings and a 3.50-4.00 ERA. Time will tell if this is a good pickup for the Twins, but it’s certainly not worse than what they had previously in the rotation.
Phil Hughes, their “ace”, is best served as a number two or three pitcher. He lacks dominant stuff, but makes up for it by possessing excellent control. In 209.2 innings, Hughes only surrendered 16 walks. That’s as many walks as home runs given up by him in 2014. That type of control keeps him as a reliable pitcher for the Twins, but it’s hard to think of him as a real ace.
Ricky Nolasco is coming off of his worst professional season where his ERA inflated to 5.38. He’s a fairly consistent pitcher, however, and is a bit of a Ervin Santana clone. He can log up a good amount of decent innings, but he is prone to make his share of mistakes.
In his first extended major league action, Kyle Gibson was a roller coaster. The Indians feasted on him, as did most of the AL Central, but he showed flashes of brilliance. He could be an essential piece of the Twins’ rotation this season.
Tommy Milone is a player of intrigue at the bottom of the Twins’ rotation. He is a young lefty with an impressive arm who was acquired by the A’s in the middle of last season. He had some success with Oakland last season, but got rocked after joining the club in August. If he can return to his previous form (if not improve), he could round out the bottom of the rotation.
The Twins have their share of question marks with this unit, but it’s certain that they lack a dominant starter. They don’t strike hitters out, and they gave up the most hits in the MLB. They are a group of three through five pitchers hoping to survive in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, and it could be a long season for them.
4. Chicago White Sox
2014 MLB Ranks: 27th ERA, 25th hits, 30th BB, 26th K, 29th WHIP
2015 Rotation: Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, Jose Quintana, John Danks, Hector Noesi
Minus a midseason injury that forced him to miss a month worth of starts, Chris Sale could have won the AL Cy Young. He was having that great of a season and he was still in consideration despite having only 26 starts. Sale does everything well: he throws strikeouts at a high rate, he keeps the ball in the park, and he sits hitters down with the best of them. He’s simply elite.
Jeff Samardzija is a solid pickup by the Sox, and he’s a fantastic number two starter for them. He was the coveted ace for the Cubs not long ago, but after spending time with the A’s last season he was acquired by the second Chicago team of his career. He should thrive with them in this role.
The White Sox organization covets last year’s number two starter Jose Quintana. Acquired from the Yankees organization in 2012, Quintana has continued to grow and develop as a starting pitcher since entering the league. He has never pitched above a 3.76 ERA at any level and he was actually a pretty solid pitcher last season. We could get into the fact that he’s an undervalued pitcher, but that’s like beating a dead horse with him.
So why are they ranked #4 with a top-three like this? Well, there’s a considerable dropoff after these three. John Danks and Hector Noesi aren’t exactly dominant. In fact, they’re just barely serviceable. Danks has been declining since 2010 when he posted the best season of his career but has a 26-41 record and an ERA around 4.73 since then. He gives up hits like he plays for the rest of the AL Central, and he doesn’t overpower many hitters. The Sox are certainly looking to improve this spot.
Hector Noesi is a similar story - a 27-year old who has had little-to-no success in the majors. He carries a career ERA of 5.16 and has bounced around a bit in recent years. He’s hoping to find a home in Chicago, but he has a lot to prove to keep this spot in the rotation.
The Sox are top heavy, and they’ll certainly get some great outings from their top three guys. After that, however, they’ll be at a disadvantage most games unless they address this weakness in the remainder of the offseason.
3. Kansas City Royals
2014 MLB Ranks: 12th ERA, 15th hits, 8th BB, 25th K, 14th WHIP
2015 Rotation: Yorando Ventura, Jason Vargas, Edinson Volquez, Danny Duffy, Jeremy Guthrie
Losing James Shields would be a big hit to this strong rotation, but thus far he hasn’t garnered much attention behind Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. However, it’s unlikely that he returns to the AL-Champion Royals, so we’ll exclude him until that changes. Shields is the definition of a workhorse, and he is excellent at protecting the base paths with his 1.18 WHIP. He’d be an excellent retention for the Royals.
Ventura hurled as a rookie, emerging as a legitimate number two starter for the club. He’s got some major-league heat, which visibly baffled hitters last season. He could continue to grow, which would be scary for the rest of the Central.
Vargas is a pretty average number three starter pitcher, but he brings consistency to the middle of the rotation. He had an excellent year last season and while he won’t overpower many hitters, he has the ability to get out of trouble given his poise and low walk rate. He makes hitters beat him one-on-one, and he wins that matchup more times than not.
To bolster the rotation, KC forked out $20 million over two years for former Pirates starter Edinson Volquez. He is a guy who caught what I like to call “AJ Burnett syndrome”, coming out of a significant slump to succeed for the Pittsburgh club last season, en route to a decent payday with the Royals. He will be a hit-or-miss signing for the team, and definitely won’t fill the shoes of an ace by any means. This is the definition of a risk vs. reward signing. And not to over-analyze or anything, but Kauffman Stadium is historically his worst park to pitch in. So, that should be fun.
Duffy was a great surprise last season for the Royals. He had great success in five appearances in 2013 and he rolled it into 2014 en route to leading the team in ERA for a starting pitcher (2.55). He often struggled with run support as evidenced by his 8-11 record, but he dominated hitters on a regular basis. He had difficulties with control from time to time, but that can be expected from most 25-year-old pitchers. Look for him to grow next season.
The biggest question mark in the Royals rotation (besides the future of James Shields) is their low strikeout rate. They don’t often overpower hitters and this could be a point of concern if hitters can find a groove or get deep into counts on a consistent basis. Getting these talented starters out of the game early could be a focal point of opposing offenses, limiting the effect of this unit. That all said, they have some great talent as it was enough to win the AL Championship in 2014.
2. Cleveland Indians
2014 MLB Ranks: 13th ERA, 19th hits, 13th BB, 1st K, 17th WHIP
2015 Rotation: Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Gavin Floyd, Carlos Carrasco, TJ House/Danny Salazar/Zach McAllister/Josh Tomlin
Corey Kluber is as good as they come at the top of the Indians’ rotation. The AL Cy Young winner had a season to remember, coming essentially out of nowhere to lead the Tribe in a stellar season in which he trumped AL Central ace Chris Sale and reigning champ King Felix to win his first Cy Young honor. After him, the drop-off is significant.
The key piece of a blockbuster deal in December 2012 involving Indians fan-favorite Shin-Soo Choo, Trevor Bauer showed that he is full of potential. The kid has some nasty stuff, but struggled with consistency in his first considerable time in the majors. The 2011 first round pick logged 26 starts with the Tribe and continued to improve throughout the season.
The sole addition to the Indians’ starting rotation, Gavin Floyd, was signed from the Atlanta Braves earlier this week. The 31-year old is joining the club after overcoming a serious elbow injury but was limited to only nine games last season. In his brief time, however, Floyd showed some great stuff boasting a 2.65 ERA and a 2-2 record. In years when he’s pitched considerable innings, his ERA has hovered between a 3.84-4.37. He’s consistent, but not dominant, and is a low-risk signing for the Tribe to gain a number three or four starter.
Carlos Carrasco is coming off a stellar season as well where he finally appeared to live up to his long-time potential. The hurler posted a career-best season, showing drastic improvement following his demotion to the bullpen. Check out the numbers:
The improvement is staggering, really. As you can see, Carrasco was demoted following a dreadful start to the 2014 season, posting an astronomically high 6.46 ERA. He pitched for three months in the bullpen, putting up pretty impressive numbers and only surrendering 7 runs in 36.1 innings. This earned him a return to the rotation, where he flourished, providing a fantastic complement to the dominant Kluber.
The fifth spot should be interesting for the Tribe, where there will be heavy competition between Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister and TJ House. All three have an interesting case. Salazar was phenomenal as a rookie in 2013, earning the Wild Card playoff start for the Indians. He regressed in 2014, but still has the stuff to be an ace in the majors. He struggled largely with consistency and pitch count and failed to provide quality starts on a regular basis.
Zach McAllister is an average pitcher coming off of an injury and a less-than-stellar 2014 campaign, and he should be an interesting case this spring. He is also out of minor league options and should start the season in the bullpen if he doesn’t earn a rotation spot.
TJ House burst onto the scene in 2014 for the Tribe providing a great change-of-pace left-handed starter. Josh Tomlin has had some major league experience, but has an injury history and hasn’t pitched meaningful innings in some time now. For now, we’ll go with the lefty House as the favorite just for sheer diversity.
Overall, the Indians have a great plethora of talent in the rotation, but they lack established dominant number two or three starters and carry too many question marks to bode much confidence. They do have one thing that most clubs lack – Major League depth. They possess nine starters capable of stepping in at any time, which gives Terry Francona flexibility as well as the freedom to mix and match until the ideal starting five emerge. They also pitched as well as anyone in the bigs for the last two months of last season, so definitely could end next season much higher on this list.
1. Detroit Tigers
2014 MLB Ranks: 24th ERA, 26th hits, 10th BB, 17 K, 24th WHIP
2015 Rotation: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Alfredo Simon
With Max Scherzer, this rotation could be the most potent in baseball. But it looks like he’s gone, so we’ll nix him until we hear otherwise. Even without him, the Tigers possess enough depth in starting pitching to remain atop the AL Central. Anibal Sanchez could be a respectable one or two starter on most teams, as could David Price. Even without Scherzer, who is likely to sign somewhere else at this point, this is still a Top-10 starting rotation, especially at the top.
Justin Verlander is a dominant starter, though he is coming out of an off year where he posted his worst ERA since 2008 (4.54). He experienced a significant dip in strikeouts, WHIP and batting average against, and he finally looked the part of a human being rather than a pitching machine.
David Price was the key move at the 2014 MLB trade deadline as the Tigers went all-in to improve their pitching staff and take the division crown. Price is a dominant ace who should thrive with this talent around him and lessened expectations of not being “the guy” anymore, but rather “a guy” in a talented rotation.
Anibal Sanchez was once an ace as well, and he is an outstanding number three or four starter. While he has never eclipsed 200 innings in his career, he is reliable for 25-30 starts and can hit 200 strikeouts for a club. He doesn’t give up many hits and he will win his share of games for the Tigers.
Alfredo Simon was the latest Detroit pickup, coming over from the Reds after geat season season with them last season. The young slinger should round out this rotation beautifully and is an advantage over most bottom-of-the-rotation pitchers.
The Tigers only question mark is their depth, especially if/when Scherzer signs elsewhere. This unit had a down year as a whole, but a bounce back from Verlander and a full season of David Price should brighten things up. However they lack AAA depth at starter and an injury to a top starter could be a huge blow to this unit.
House was excellent is it possible that he is drops down to good or simply mediocre next year just as Salazar did last year, of course it is. Carrasco got on a roll but I'm not buying momemtum carrying over an offseason. Is it possible his walk rate regresses a bit or that his confidence issues resurface if he gets hit hard a couple of times, of course it is. None of these things are a given to happen but the possibility that everyone pitching for the Tribe is guaranteed to improve on career high numbers (at the major league level) across the board is laughable. Ever heard of a sophomore slump or promise unfulfilled, it happens all the time. I hope it is all roses like you predict cuz that means you can write us in for 95 wins or so before a pitch is thrown.
comparing apples to oranges with Sanchez to Carrasco. Sanchez is an established starter and Carrasco was put in the pen early by an overzealous, overly emotional Tito. Also, never said that Floyd was better than Sanchez
Tigers have a good rotation: I think it's a bit overrated with Verlander being very mediocre the past two years, for that matter below mediocre. I think some in the media confuse being good with being experienced with being good. I also think that some are looking at the name Verlander and thinking he's been the same guy that was dominant years ago.
In the case of the Indians. I find it funny that some on here say that the Indians rotation will more than likely regress and it might because no one knows. In saying that ALL indicators show that the rotation will get even better. IMO, the ppl who say this are into the CLE who is me stuff because all of these guys seem to be pointing up , EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM. To say that the Indians are questions because they haven't pitched an entire year after what they showed in the most crucial times of the year is bit extreme, IMO
They did essentially replace him with Price, so the dropoff wasn't really steep there (still give Scherzer a slight edge in stuff and strikeout ability, as I'm not convinced Price will keep up the higher strikeout level he showed last year, much higher than the rates in his previous years).
The real dropoff for the Tigers over the past season was the loss of Fister and now Porcello from the rotation, essentially replacing them with Simon and Lobstein. That is a dropoff no matter how you slice it since Fister and even Porcello are more proven than Simon as a starter (last year was only Simon's second year as a starter in his career, and the other year in 2011 for BAL was decent at best, making me question whether he can handle AL lineups consistently), let alone Lobstein, who has less experience than any of the Indians' young starters (7 games), even fewer than House. In fact, the Tigers' rotation is similar to the White Sox's rotation because it largely depends on the top three, provided Scherzer leaves as many think he will.
So, yes, the Tigers' rotation may still be the strongest in the AL Central, but that gap has narrowed considerably over the past season and now this offseason. Add in that Verlander has not been the dominant Verlander of old (and hasn't been for several years now), and the Indians or another team could certainly take that title away after a strong showing in 2015.
Listen our staffs ERAs, WHIPS, and K/9 numbers give us a glimpse of the potential we hold but you can't just assume these numbers will be the same given a full season of performance. There will be growing pains with young starters, even talented ones (i.e. Salazar and most of Carrasco's indians career)
Also, Sanchez and Floyd are not comparable. Sanchez is clearly better (Career 3.53 ERA 3.46 WHIP), than Floyd (Career ERA 4.40, FIP 4.36), that's the difference between a number two starter and a number four starter. The Tigers have the best rotation in the division on paper, hopefully by season's end the tribe will overtake them.
Not that the Indians can't be the best AL Central rotation at the end of the season, but as of right not they just aren't.
Danny Salazar 2013"
Comment of the week.
House would have to be down until mid-July to get an extra year of control. For Salazar, it would be early September.
Id love to see the Tribe pickup Sean Doolittle, here's controllable for 6 yrs with a 4 yr deal locked in, with 2 option yrs. He is relatively cheap too with about 4/$10.5M remaining on his deal.
Doolittle is a KO lefty, and would be the equivalent of adding a LH Cody Allen. He wouldn't come cheap, but IMHO would be a tremendous pickup.
Another arm I think the Indians should check in on is Ryan Cook, he's also a former AS BP arm, entering his arb yrs might be motivation for BB to move him before his cost $$$ rises.
There are other considerations here, the Indians add options... Let's say the best rotation coming out of ST is much different than we think... With an injury or regression the Tribe has built in some security. Who would you rather have out there Salazar, McAllister, House, Tomlin or an arm they claimed off of waivers or worked a minor trade for? Someone like Nick Maronde or Charles Brewer? I'll go with any of those four, thank you.
Here's an overlooked aspect... Let's say, Salazar and House both end up in AAA until mid May or June....the Indians will add another year of control. That could be huge....not for just them, but also for potential trade value later on.
As good as this rotation pitched last yr, there is a high probability that we see some regression in one or two, and growth in one or two. Chances are it evens out a bit. I like the fact they've added depth, however, Id still like to see the Tribe pickup a young SP or two (with options remaining) in a trade.
Sanchez is a question mark because he's had some injury issues over the past three seasons where he really reliable. Verlander has been very mediocre at best going on two years is he less of a question mark??
2. White Sox
Indians felt they needed to add more depth to the rotation and IMO, they guaranteed the job TO FLoyd to get that done. Nothing wrong with that because yyou will need depth over course of the year. I wouldn't take it as we aren't sure about the guys we have though
in the case in which you put forth then you can technically put Kluber in that group too. At some point with young pitching the talent is so immense and some have dominated for stretches that you put the lack of experience to the side. Sometimes it backfires an sometimes it doesn't. For that matter some proven starters don't pan out, that's the nature of pitching all together. Remember Mike Hampton??
In the case of these guys, sure they can fall on their faces but it depends on if you think the glass is half full or half empty. Look at the case of Verlander. He's proven but he's been a shell of himself for going on two years now. I wouldn't call him a sure thing even if he's "experienced".
My point is this in the case of some guys you put the experience stuff to the side and say they have gotten it done and the sample space we've seen is good enough to know that with even more experience they will be here at some point in time. They might fail of course but they might be big time. To call them a question mark based on what we saw is a bit extreme. Velrlander, Sanchez are every bit the question marks. Simon wasn't very good in the 2nd half, if not mistaken but because he's "experienced" it's ok. This is a bit of flawed thinking , IMO because talent over the course of the year will win over experienced .
you can't count on one year even if you win the Cy Young
Danny Salazar 2013
I bet when the Indians approachd John Hart to talk about Justin Upton the first name that came up was Carrasco and for that matter any other name. He's proven because anyone can see that it wasn't a flash in the pan and I need to remind you that he had a similar spell(not nearly as long as this one) that was dominant too
In the case of Salazar and Carrasco these guys are rounding into shape as 3's or higher. They too would get alot of interest from teams who would put them in rotation in the same roles and be happy
All in all some in MLB take the experience thing too far because it doesn't take taling to realize that the arms that we're dealing with here are not the most experienced but the upside, experience and talent in which they do possess points in an obvious direction
BTW... House was better than Both Salazar and Bauer . Let's not make experience more than what it is and paralyze us to make us think that what we saw in the 2nd half was a bit of fluke because it wasn't
It's encouraging the showing Carrasco put forth, and IMO the strides both Bauer and Salazar made throughout the year. But they are far from being established, and that's not necessarily meant to be a knock. They just haven't done it yet.
Kluber has been skyrocketing for 2 seasons now, while the rest need more time is all. We know what he's fully capable of doing. We have beliefs and hopes of what Bauer, Salazar, House, & Carrasco can be, but we ultimately don't have enough to go by yet.
You can argue that even Gavin Floyd is more established as a solid, backend 3-4 starter when he was healthy because he did it for a few seasons.
What is really cool IMO is that a couple years ago, many of us were concerned with the lack of "in house" pitching coming up. Now we're discussing potentially just how good nearly 5 starters can be.
Pretty damn cool if you ask me.
Any news on Brandon Beachy? I'm not sure if he's signed anywhere, but he's a talented young (28) SP that would fall into a similar scenario. I wouldn't mind seeing the Tribe do something like that with Beachy.
Was Dayton Moore with Atlanta when they drafted Medlan?