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Ranking the rotations: 2014 edition

Feb 5, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

Stephen Strasburg AP

I’ll be dipping into my Rotoworld player projections from time to time for HBT posts. Here’s the first of this year: my ranking of each five-man rotation as we head into 2014.

Before actually posting my 1-30, I’ll start with my raw ERA rankings by league. A couple of qualifications: I’m only using the top five for each team, so depth beyond that is being ignored. Of course, the teams with quality depth outside the top five are going to do pretty well here anyway. On the other hand, this method does help teams that still have rotation spots to be decided. For example, I have the Yankees fifth starter as David Phelps, but he’s projected for just 106 innings at the moment. If he were projected at 180 instead, the rotation’s collective ERA would be higher. The Mariners are also overrated here, since Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are responsible for 48 percent of the 857 innings in the sample below.

Tigers: 3.38 in 991 IP
Rays: 3.40 in 919 IP
Mariners: 3.59 in 856 2/3 IP
Athletics: 3.65 in 912 IP
Yankees: 3.73 in 895 IP
Indians: 3.75 in 862 1/3 IP
Angels: 3.78 in 871 1/3 IP
Red Sox: 3.80 in 951 IP
Rangers: 3.83 in 812 2/3 IP
White Sox: 3.85 in 897 2/3 IP
Royals: 3.94 in 940 IP
Blue Jays: 4.06 in 847 IP
Orioles: 4.10 in 845 1/3 IP
Twins: 4.16 in 804 2/3 IP
Astros: 4.34 in 893 2/3 IP

Dodgers: 3.306 in 958 1/3 IP
Nationals: 3.312 in 1002 2/3 IP
Cardinals: 3.369 in 940 1/3 IP
Braves: 3.371 in 918 1/3 IP
Reds: 3.509 in 977 1/3 IP
Padres: 3.513 in 894 IP
Giants: 3.52 in 941 2/3 IP
Pirates: 3.60 in 865 2/3 IP
Marlins: 3.63 in 863 2/3 IP
Phillies: 3.68 in 895 2/3 IP
Mets: 3.77 in 875 1/3 IP
Diamondbacks: 3.78 in 929 2/3 IP
Brewers: 3.939 in 930 IP
Cubs: 3.945 in 940 IP
Rockies: 4.15 in 872 1/3 IP

There were a bunch of virtual ties on the NL list, requiring the extra digit. The Nationals came in just behind the Dodgers, but that’s with an extra 44 innings. The Cardinals and Braves were also in pretty much a dead heat for the third spot.

Using those ERAs as a guideline and adjusting for league, defense, ballpark and my own personal whims, here’s how I’m ranking the rotations:

1. Tigers
2. Nationals
3. Dodgers
4. Cardinals
5. Rays
6. Reds
7. Braves
8. Red Sox
9. Giants
10. Athletics
11. Padres
12. Yankees
13. Indians
14. Mariners
15. Pirates
16. White Sox
17. Marlins
18. Diamondbacks
19. Angels
20. Rangers
21. Phillies
22. Royals
23. Mets
24. Rockies
25. Blue Jays
26. Orioles
27. Brewers
28. Cubs
29. Twins
30. Astros

Some thoughts:

– The Tigers elevated the Nationals from fifth to second by gifting them Doug Fister, yet still had the artillery to claim the top spot. I’m expecting much better from Rick Porcello because of his improved K rate and the much better infield defense behind him. I also don’t see Drew Smyly dragging them down very far in his new role.

– The top three NL teams are all close, and I’d swing the edge over to the Cardinals if I were considering a team’s entire rotation picture. With Carlos Martinez and Joe Kelly likely in reserve, they’re going to be able to weather any storm. Of course, the Nationals aren’t bad there either with Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark and Nathan Karns behind Ross Detwiler. And the Dodgers have Chad Billingsley potentially on the way back from Tommy John surgery in May or June.

– I love the Braves’ upside if Brandon Beachy stays healthy and Alex Wood can hang in the rotation most of the year. Those are question marks, though.

– Pre-Tanaka, the Yankees probably would have come in 20th or so.

– The Rangers are down about four spots because of Derek Holland‘s knee injury.

– The Mets’ rotation is plenty intriguing, but the only one of their five starters I have throwing 190 innings is the guy I expect to be the weakest of the bunch, Dillon Gee. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Jenrry Mejia can do, assuming he wins the fifth spot.

– I don’t buy the idea that the Twins’ shopping spree is going to do them a lot of good. They would have actually fared better here had they passed on re-signing Mike Pelfrey and traded Kevin Correia.

  1. pastabelly - Feb 5, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    Ultimately, pitching depth in the rotation and bullpen is pretty important too. That’s why giving up Fister will hurt Detroit more than they would like to admit. St Louis has depth and can even afford to keep guys who would be top three rotation guys on most teams in their bullpen. I think they belong on top (and I’m a Sox fan).

  2. stex52 - Feb 5, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    You rated the Astros dead last on starting rotations, but you questioned their signing of Jerome Williams the other day. Here’s the thought that connects the two. Yes, the Astros have depth in the 25-year old range on their 40-man roster. No, they do not trust that depth to do the job. Williams is back up for when they give up on a lot of those other guys.

    • paperlions - Feb 5, 2014 at 10:09 AM

      Yeah, even if you plan on a year being 100% about development and would prefer to have the worst record in baseball for the pick and slot money to add to the organizational stock pile of young talent….you STILL need to have guys to pitch the 1500 innings associated with the regular season. If you can get a useful backend guy to fill 150-200 of those for a few million so that you don’t have to rush a prospect or throw a non-prospect to the wolves, that is a smart move.

      I think the Feldman move was for a similar reason….looking forward, there is no point in the next 3 years when they won’t need a back of the rotation starter. Feldman has been a useful pitcher the last few years, generally durable, with decent peripherals (league average K and BB rates with good GB rates). He is a solid bet to pitch 170 or so innings of roughly average ball….which has a lot of value even for a team in the Astros situation.

      • stex52 - Feb 5, 2014 at 11:19 AM

        Yeah, that pretty much summarizes my take on the situation. They have several guys ready to come up or sitting and waiting (Peacock, Harrell, etc.). But I think this is a vote that they don’t see those guys as high probabilities for eating innings.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 5, 2014 at 11:15 AM

      As long as he’s a backup, that’s fine. Though, optimally, there wouldn’t be room for both him and Harrell in the bullpen and I’d rather give Harrell another shot.

      I didn’t include him in the projected rotation for this exercise. If I had, that 4.34 ERA would have jumped closer to 4.50, since the guy he’d likely replace, Keuchel, is the one I have faring best of all.

      • stex52 - Feb 5, 2014 at 11:21 AM

        Well, mark me down as fairly unsure as to how Qualls or Albers fares, too.

  3. mlblogsmglasser - Feb 5, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    Mets have Syndergaard and Montero, two top 100 prospects ready to go for when those starters don’t throw more than 190.

  4. Old Gator - Feb 5, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    Considering that the Feesh daycare rotation was just really starting to come into its own in the second half of last season – closing out what was otherwise a campaign that made the treaty with the Ceylons look good with that weird no-hitter by Alvarez – I think they’ll scale that list a few notches by the time the coming season ends. For one thing, the young guns will have had a season or two under their belts. For another thing, the Feesh have yet another terrific young prospect, and a much-needed lefty for their lopsidedly righty roatation, in Andrew Heaney who looks ready to make the jump to the show this year. They also signed Saltalamacchia this orfseason and he ought to be a good influence on this crop of youngsters.

    Given most of their other signings I doubt if they have the wherewithal to climb out of the cellar yet, but if the de-Harvied Mutts or the gerontological Feelies suffer any key injuries and question marks like Marcel Ozuna and Jake Marisnick pan out, and El Keed continues to mature (which is, let’s face it, scary), they could climb out of the basement largely on the strength of their rotation.

    • spudchukar - Feb 5, 2014 at 10:49 AM

      Yesterday, I started to seriously think about the NL East in 2014, and my primary quandary was deciding whether the Pheesh, would finish 3rd or 4th. If only they had chosen differently in the off-season acquisitions for the infield, I would feel comfortable placing them at number three.

      I don’t know much about Marisnick, but if he is ready for the Bigs, after an injury shortened 2013 campaign in AA, then their outfield is better than most. I look for big things from Yellen, and a healthy Stanton should see typical 40 HR numbers from the right field slugger.

      The rotation should blossom, although I don’t prize Koehler, the others should round out the starting staff just fine. The bull pen is at least good, and should be a strength. But the infield, is still pretty sorry. The McGehee, Jones, and Furcal trio add little, and Salty doesn’t work for me either. Aren’t their some kids, (other than Cards cast-off Solano), who could perform as well?

      • Old Gator - Feb 5, 2014 at 11:28 AM

        I’m not sure when Marisnick got hurt but he and Yelich came up pretty close together. Yelich started hitting pretty quickly but his power didn’t manifest last season. Marisnick never gained any traction at all, for whatever the reason, and folks were calling him “the next Jeremy Hermida,” which of course was no compliment.

        Yeah, the infield is just awful; it looks like the Feesh got them from Sanford and Son. Solano is a good bench player, and there’s Derek Dietrich and Ed Lucas. But these are all utility guys. About the best thing you can say is, at least Polanco won’t be coming up swinging a toothpick anymore. Dietrich seems to have gotten himself into someone’s doghouse last season – the scuttlebutt on local spawrts tawrk raydeeo is that it was either the Chihuahua or Scrooge McLoria himself who got pissed orf at him for a variety of speculative reasons. Ergo, if any of the recent pickups seem to pan out in spring training I figger Derek is either gone via trade or sent back to exile like he was the second half of last season. Hechavarria is going to get another full season to see if he can hit but at least he’s great fun to watch at shortstop.

        Now, the outfield: I love the Iron Giant but this year he’s going to have to prove that he can define a strike zone and stop swinging at garbage and sucker pitches. Sure, when he gets ahold of one it’s an adventure in ballistics. However, his problems had, I think, less to do with health than with poor plate discipline – Feesh broadcaster Tommy Hutton unburdened himself of a pretty perceptive commentary on that issue during the Alvarez no-hitter last fall. He does have an uncannily accurate cannon of a throwing arm, though.

        And speaking of a monster throwing arm, the beeg question mark is Marcel Ozuna. You put him out there with the Iron Giant and they can freeze guys on the basepaths like a couple of Alcor humidors. But will Ozuna hit? The guy is strong as a baluchitherium and he had spells last season where he was raking, then he’d go cold as bucket of penguin poop, and then he’d surge again. He was in a pronounced schneid late middle of the season when he got sent back down. So we don’t know.

        Yelich looks like the number two guy in the order unless he begins to show some power. He’s a fair outfielder with an average arm. He’s gonna have to do it at the plate. Once upon a time Tweeter was supposed to provide protection for the Iron Giant. Maybe he can still be one of Justin Bieber’s bodyguards or something. But at the moment Saltalamacchia is the only guy who hits consistently enough to make a difference which means he may have to bat lower in the order than would be ideal for him.

        Questions, questions, questions.

      • gloccamorra - Feb 5, 2014 at 8:15 PM

        You have to salt the kids with some veterans, and the ones they picked up at least look better and last year’s sorry lot of vets. McGhee is a bounceback hope who’s an okay glove, Furcal is a health hope who can hit for average when healthy, Jones is a decent bat, and Salty is, as OG says, there to stabilize the pitching, not necessarily to lead the offense (though anything, ANYTHING, would help). I think it’s a better team that will score more runs for a VERY promising pitching staff. If all the stars align, it’s a sleeper team that could make Loria an insufferable I-told-you-so.

      • spudchukar - Feb 6, 2014 at 11:30 AM

        McGehee might have an OK glove, but his hands, feet and arms all suck.

        Saltalamacchia is primarily an “offensive” addition, and has little knowledge to impart.

        I can see the Feesh overcoming the Mets and Pheelies, but with their infield they aren’t ready to threaten Atlanta or Washington.

  5. chacochicken - Feb 5, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    What’s with projecting Alex Cobb as the 11th best pitcher. I think he’s pretty good an all but that seems just a tad too high.

    • yahmule - Feb 5, 2014 at 10:46 AM

      There’s some projection there, but I would not be at all shocked if he lived up to this ranking. The guy was terrific, he took a line drive off his temple and missed two months, and then went out and was pretty terrific again. With that heavy sinker and Tampa’s defense, I expect him to take another step forward this year.

    • unclemosesgreen - Feb 6, 2014 at 7:33 AM

      I’m absolutely loving Alex Cobb for this year. Dude throws a heavy, heavy sinker. Not real happy with Matthew for shining the light on him like that. Now how am I going to get him for a couple bucks?

  6. jarathen - Feb 5, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    The Angels at #19 on a list actually isn’t that bad. I mean, they have two proven starters. Then they have a young guy who we hope can continue to improve, but let’s be honest, here – he’s not an ace and hasn’t proven he is a #3 starter on any team yet. I like Richards, but I’m cautious, too.

    Then they have three lefties. One hasn’t pitched in the bigs in forever. One walks a guy every two innings. One is young and losing velocity.

  7. spudchukar - Feb 5, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    If the Dodgers add Arroyo, as has been rumored, then their top five improves. But the back half presently doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Haren, Beckett and Billingsley are at or near the “has-been” category.

    Tanaka greatly improves the Yankee front five, but their back end is still iffy at best, and this is assuming the on-again, off-again Nova can improve his consistency. I keep reading from Yankee fans how the #5 position is somehow not that important. That attitude is a fools errand, and one injury means #5 becomes #4 with nor #5.

    It is hard to see how the Indians are #13. I would take the Mariner or Pirate rotation any day. Again it is the back half that underwhelms. I’m not as big a fan of McAllister as many, and the Carrasco, Cloyd, Tomlin, and Marcum battle for #5 should be scary.

    What is comforting for this Cards fan, is the realization that no one would trade staffs with the Cards. They aren’t just the top two in 2014, the same will be said in 2016 and beyond, barring an extreme injury parade.

    • spudchukar - Feb 5, 2014 at 10:31 AM

      Ooops, should read “no #5” to end paragraph 2.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 5, 2014 at 11:27 AM

      I’m pretty high on Salazar, and I think Carrasco could surprise if he gets the fifth spot for the Indians (he was the projected choice here). But, yeah, maybe 13th is a bit high when they’re counting so much on Masterson.

      • spudchukar - Feb 5, 2014 at 1:02 PM

        I agree on Salazar, wouldn’t be surprised to see him at the ASG, but not so much on Carrasco.

    • gloccamorra - Feb 5, 2014 at 8:21 PM

      People shouldn’t forget Josh Beckett on the Dodgers. Write him off if you want, but this is his CONTRACT YEAR, and with the money thrown around for pitching these days, he could squeeze out a couple-three more years of high salary. After all, he’s only made $100 million so far, so why leave cash on the table?

  8. yahmule - Feb 5, 2014 at 10:38 AM

    I think you did a pretty nice job, except for the almost comical underranking of Hisashi Iwakuma @ 38. This also dropped Seattle a couple slots in your rotation rankings.

    His two seasons in MLB: 345 IP, 23-11 W/L, .284 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 131 ERA+, 9.0 WAR.

    Eliminate the first half of 2012, when he made a single start, and his numbers sparkle even more. His splitter is one of the nastiest pitches in the league and his overall command is excellent.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 5, 2014 at 11:21 AM

      One reason I dinged him is that he’s had trouble staying healthy consecutive seasons. Every time he ever made his full complement of starts in Japan, he missed at least a little time the following seasons. He went from 196 IP in 2003 to 159 in 2004. He went from 202 IP in 2008 to 169 in 2009. He went from 201 in 2010 to 119 in 2011. Last year, he threw 220 innings.

      • yahmule - Feb 5, 2014 at 12:27 PM

        I think that’s a valid concern. I believe some of the other pitchers ranked above him have similar question marks. I just think he slots more reasonably in the 25 range. Strong list, though.

  9. hushbrother - Feb 5, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    The Phillies at 21 seem low. Are you projecting they’ll trade Lee during the season?

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 5, 2014 at 11:25 AM

      No, not projecting any trades. I just don’t have much faith in the Kendrick, Hernandez, Pettibone and Gonzalez.

      If I were just ranking the 1-2 punches, they’d come in 3rd or 4th, trailing the Dodgers and Tigers.

      • cackalackyank - Feb 5, 2014 at 3:21 PM

        Matthew, didn’t you already do a “1-2punch” post @ 2-3 weeks ago, or was that one of the others? I know that post put them 3rd because of Hamels and Lee.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 5, 2014 at 6:23 PM

        Bill did it a few weeks ago. Seems like a fine list to me.

    • spudchukar - Feb 5, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      Hamels and Lee, and pray for the other three.

  10. historiophiliac - Feb 5, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    I’m liking your personal whims there, Matthew.

  11. leylandshospicenurse - Feb 5, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    Shouldnt you wait until all the SP sign?

  12. buffalo65 - Feb 5, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    Once the Jays add a couple with a healthy Morrow they will be moving up.

    • dirtyharry1971 - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:05 AM

      Jays will not be adding anything of value, if it wasn’t for Houston they would easily have the worst starting rotation in the AL. Easily!! Can’t wait to see them get hammered again this year!

  13. cackalackyank - Feb 5, 2014 at 8:55 PM

    Fun stuff. No real need to wait for, E. Santana, Jiminez and Arroyo to sign. They are decent but not high enough impact to move anyone’s rotation substantially, unless by some freakish twist they all signed with one of the bottom 4 or 5. Note that Garza went to the Brewers and that addition left them at 27.

  14. ndazcom - Mar 8, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    The Royals rotation had the 5th best ERA last year and their most significant change is Vargas for Santana, with a lifetime ERA difference of 0.1. Add that to exchanging Wade Davis for either Duffy or Ventura, which almost certainly an upgrade and now you have them at 5th worst. I guess time will tell.

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