That’s a great question isn’t it? Ted Berg of USA Today Sports named the Cubs the best rotation heading into the 2016 MLB season. It’s definitely not out of the question, but I’m not sure that I agree with it.
I will say that it is refreshing to not have to hear how amazing the Washington Nationals pitching staff is. Despite the departure of Jordan Zimmerman, this is still a very highly touted rotation (they came in at No. 3 on his list). Max Scherzer is a stud, but the rest of that rotation is questionable.
Seriously, Stephen Strasburg has shown elite stuff, but he hasn’t had an elite FULL season just yet. Gio Gonzalez is the No. 3 and he is about as consistent as an 80-year old’s bowel movements. Tanner Roark and Joe Ross showed nice potential — and Lucas Giolito shows exciting promise — but that’s a lot to base a top five rotation on, especially after all we heard last season was how amazing this best rotation in baseball was when they weren’t even the best rotation in their division.
Now, the Cubs, they made some nice moves that did in fact both improve and deepen their rotation. Stealing away the Cardinals best pitcher last season — sadly that was John Lackey — and having him slide in as the No. 3 in Chicago is highly beneficial to any team. You will be tough tasked to find a better one-two punch than Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester.
Allow my Yankees bias to shine through, but the acquisition of Adam Warren makes their rotation six deep with an experienced starter coming out of the bullpen. Warren is arguably the best swingman pitcher in the game, and his skill set has a huge advantage in the smaller ball of the National League. Especially if Kyle Hendricks or Jason Hammel come out slow. Add in Clayton Richard and this rotation is legitimately seven deep.
That being said, the New York Mets made it to the World Series because of their rotation. Sure, you can argue with me that with Yoenis Cespedes‘ added pop at the trade deadline this team would have made it anyway, but the Mets were already in contention at that point. The rotation kept arguably the worst offense in baseball in a position for Cespedes to lift them to October.
There can be two arguments made against the Mets as the best rotation, but I don’t subscribe to either.
You can say that this rotation doesn’t have the longevity in the Major Leagues to guarantee that they will achieve the same success. Well, that’s not fair, especially if you are going to nab the Nationals as the third best rotation right behind them. Roark was all over the place as a swingman last season, nowhere near the pitcher of his breakout performance of the year prior. Joe Ross has less experience than some of the Mets young guns. He looks great, but over a small sample size.
You can also say that the Mets lost some depth with Jon Niese heading to Pittsburgh. That doesn’t matter. Zack Wheeler will be back soon enough that should the ageless wonder Bartolo Colon falter, he would be able to slip in nicely. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. That’s sexy.
I also would bump the Nationals down even further because I just like a few other rotations a little bit better.
The San Francisco Giants have to be considered scary. Think about it, it’s an even year. Plus they added a World Series champion to a rotation that already has World Series champions.
Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are going to be tough for teams to get around, and although I think Jeff Samardzija is the most overrated pitcher in baseball, he is returning to the National League and into the third slot in the rotation. His expectations will be lowered, which should make him pitch better, especially in the NL West where his propensity for the long ball should be kept in check.
Yes, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain are wild cards, but Peavy should easily be a .500 pitcher with a sub-4.00 ERA because that’s who Peavy essentially is. Matt Cain has not been the same since his injury, but he is still only 30-years old. Plenty of pitchers have bounced back, many have crumbled and never returned. Should that happen Chris Heston is waiting in the wings. Heston was one of the surprises of 2015, and should continue to improve as long as he doesn’t continue to bean people.
Another rotation that I think is significantly improved and could be under the radar is the Arizona Diamondbacks. There’s no reason to expect that Zack Greinke won’t rise to the occasion and become one of the best aces in the MLB. Throw out Shelby Miller‘s win-loss record last year with a terrible Braves team and you’ll see he has been a model of consistency since becoming a full-time starter. Entering his age-25 season, we may see him start to reach that full potential. At the very least he shouldn’t see a fall off from his career norms of a mid-3.00 ERA and a low 1.20 WHIP.
I’m a huge Patrick Corbin fan. He looked good in his small sample size in his return from Tommy John surgery and now no longer needing to be the ace of the staff, he slips into the three slot as one of the better middle rotation arms in baseball. After that the D-backs are deep.
You would assume that Robbie Ray and Rubby De La Rosa will fill out the rotation, but you have Chase Anderson waiting to swoop in should one come out of the gates poorly. Looking in their bullpen, they have experienced arms that should injury strike, they could turn to as starters. Daniel Hudson (59 career starts), Randall Delgado (48 career starts) and Josh Collmenter (75 career starts) are all now part of the Diamondbacks bullpen. They are also all under the age of 30. That’s a lot of safety nets in a league where pitchers succumb to Tommy John surgery on a weekly basis.
You have to like the St. Louis Cardinals rotation. You know why? Because they are the St. Louis Cardinals. They haven’t had a bad rotation since Bob Gibson pitched.
The Cleveland Indians have an exciting, young rotation. Corey Kluber should bounce back and be the ace the Tribe needs. Carlos Carrasco is the real deal. 216 strikeouts and 43 walks in 183 innings? That’s nasty right there. Danny Salazar took a huge step forward and that gives the Indians a very formidable one through three.
The Chicago White Sox are getting a lot of love this offseason from quite a few experts. That’s largely due to the fact that Chris Sale is one of the premier lefties in the game, and he is only 26. I like Jose Quintana‘s game, but I’m not sold that he is the top of the rotation material that the White sox expect him to be with the departure of Samardzija. Carlos Rodon is special and I am excited to see his sophomore campaign.
But this rotation has John Danks in it, and he hasn’t been anywhere close to good since 2010. Most depth charts have Erik Johnson tabbed as the fifth starter. Does the casual fan even know who that is?
If I had to name my Top 10 rotations in the MLB right now, it would look like this:
- New York Mets
- Chicago Cubs
- Cleveland Indians
- San Francisco Giants
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- St, Louis Cardinals
- Washington Nationals
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Houston Astros
- Chicago White Sox
Alas, pitchers and catchers haven’t even reported yet. The sad truth is that someone will be injured in less than a month, a hot prospect will rise up the charts and a rotation that everyone is sleeping on will skyrocket. The Yankees and Red Sox could easily have top ten rotations by May, because any rotation that features Masahiro Tanaka or David Price is off to a good start.
That’s why I can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report. We’re almost there. And soon every writer that made a projection in January will be proven wrong.