Buster Olney recently ranked the top 10 MLB rotations on his ESPN blog (Insider required). I think Olney has the right top three but the order is certainly debatable. The Phillies won’t be bringing Roy Oswalt back and Tampa is likely to trade one of Wade Davis or Jeff Neimann. Those moves don’t neccesarily shake up the ranks but I’ll just be looking at a four man rotation which I hope some team will eventually try again.
Before we take a look at Olney’s top three, I should warn you that I’ll be using some nerdy metrics. So let’s cover those real quick. For the full definition, click on the link to go to the Fangraphs glossary. FIP (fielding independent pitching) measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period and assumes pitchers have little control over balls in play. xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) is a lot like FIP but uses a league-average homerun rate since those tend to fluctuate from year to year. xFIP and SIERA are useful tools for predicting a pitcher’s future performance. Speaking of SIERA (skill-interactive earned run average), it differs from xFIP in that it doesn’t ignore balls in play and tries to explain how pitchers limit hits or prevent runs. Finally, WAR (wins above replacement) is a good starting point to see what a player’s value was to his team. In this case, I’ll be using fWAR (Fangraphs wins above replacement). Got it? I know @tomcoach966 has already stopped reading but let’s get to it…
As Buster points out in his post, Roy Halladay is a future Hall of Famer even if he retired tomorrow. Luckily for the Phils, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon and Doc isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Cliff Lee, as good as he is, has stretches where he looks like the most dominant pitcher in the league. Happy Birthday Cole Hamels. The lefty turned 28-years-old on December 27 and has free agency approaching after the 2012 season. If he has another season like 2011, Hamels will probably get more than Jered Weaver’s 5-year/$85 million extension. Vance Worley is the eyesore of the rotation. Not that he was bad but Worley is likely closer to a 4.00 ERA pitcher than a 3.00 ERA pitcher. That’s three aces in the Phillies rotation. If you want to nitpick, it’s at least two aces and a number two. I can’t argue against Philadelphia holding the top spot.
This whole list changes if the Rays deal James Shields for a king’s ransom. There’s no indication that will happen but you never know when a mystery team is lurking. Shields was fantastic in 2011 including a Major League leading 11 complete games. David Price, along with Shields, struck out over 200 batters in 2011. And they might have more strikeout help on the way with Matt Moore. Moore only threw 9.1 Major League innings in 2011 but the young lefty is a future ace. Moore’s 11.52 K/9 in Double-A in 2011 was the lowest strikeout ratio of his professional career. Jeremy Hellickson is the eyesore of this rotation and he won the AL Rookie of the Year award. Hellickson’s 2.95 ERA was largely influenced by the good defense around him and an unsustainable .223 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Moore’s youth and Hellickson’s upcoming regression make me hesitant to rank the Rays’ rotation over the Angels’…
This Angels squad fell 1.2 wins short of the Phillies rotation WAR. Jered Weaver and Dan Haren are in the top 9 pitchers in total WAR over the past five years, joining an elite club with Halladay and Lee. Weaver is more popular with the traditional crowd and takes a bit of hit from the stat-y crowd because, as a flyball pitcher, he benefits from his home park and defense. It’s splitting hairs, really. Weaver is a great pitcher. Haren seems to fly under the radar somehow. I had him third in my BBA Cy Young ballot ahead of Weaver who finished second in the BBWAA’s voting. C.J. Wilson signed a 5-year/$77 million contract with the Angels after two very good seasons as a starter in Texas. Even though he’s 31-years-old, Wilson doesn’t have a ton of mileage of his left arm since he just transitioned from the bullpen in 2010.
If Wilson continues along his 2010-2011 path and stays healthy, the Angels win twofold by taking him away from the Rangers. The eyesore in this rotation is Ervin Santana. And all he did was throw a no-hitter in 2011. Santana, as Buster points out, was fifth in the AL in ERA after the All-Star game. What Buster didn’t mention is Wilson was second with a 2.56 ERA. All of that is abritrary, of course, since I can pluck stats to make or break any point over a small sample size. However, Santana wouldn’t be the fourth starter on any team other than the Angels (and Phillies). He literally has no-hitter stuff.
I’d probably rank the Angels ahead of the Rays but Matt Moore is super dreamy. Either way, these rotations are the cream of the crop. The Giants kids are pretty good too.