With Spring Training a little over a week away, teams will be getting ready for the 2018 season. At this moment in time, how does the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting rotation stack up against the rest of the NL?
Last season, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ starting rotation had the lowest ERA in the NL at 3.39. The Washington Nationals’ starting unit led the NL in innings pitched at 973.0. The Nationals also led the way in strikeouts at 1012.
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation was, for all intents and purposes, a “middle of the pack” unit. The club’s starters ranked eighth in the 15-team NL in fWAR with 11.7, eighth in K/9 at 7.72 and seventh in strikeout percentage with 19.9 percent.
With a starting five that is more or less set for the Pittsburgh Pirates, how will things look this season? Let’s take an early look separating by tiers.
This top three may be the best in baseball. Scherzer and Strasburg are both top five right handed starters in the game. Gonzalez was excellent last season as well. The three combined for a 14.9 fWAR last season, the highest in the NL for a trio. Roark and Cole round out a great rotation. Joe Ross, who had Tommy John surgery last July, should return at some point this season.
Scherzer and Strasburg are probably the best one two punch in the majors. Those two are rivaled by only Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco of the Cleveland Indians. If they stay healthy and do what they generally do, the Nationals will take home their fourth NL East division championship in five years.
This left-handed heavy rotation should be excellent yet again this season. Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game. Hill continues to lead the curveball revolution. Wood broke out last season as a top of the rotation starter. Julio Urias is currently injured but will return by mid-season. Maeda and Ryu are great back end of the rotation options.
The biggest concern with this unit the risk of injury. Kershaw has totaled 200 innings once in the past four years. Wood has never thrown more than 189.2 innings. Hill will be 38 years old when the season starts and threw the most innings last year (135.2) since 2007 when totaled 195.o.
Injuries crippled this unit in 2017. Syndergaard went down early in the season and never returned. Harvey was terrible in his limited time. deGrom was the only starter who put forth a solid 2017 campaign having an fWAR of 4.4.
Health will be key for these five in 2018. deGrom and Syndergaard could easily both be worth five or six wins in 2018. Harvey needs to bounce back. Matz and Wheeler need to stay healthy. Seth Lugo provides good depth. The Mets could be what they were in 2015 if their starting pitchers stay on the field.
After a down year in 2016, Greinke returned to his 5.0+ fWAR self in 2017. Ray broke out as a strikeout mogul and Godley came out of nowhere to have a great season. This is the most balanced rotation in the NL as not one of these starters had an fWAR below 2.5.
Arizona may have had the second or third best starting rotation in the NL in 2017. The Greinke signings has worked out thus far. Ray and Godley were cheap gets that are really paying off. Corbin is finally starting to hit his stride after various injuries over the years. The Walker for Jean Segura swap has been good to both the D-backs and Seattle Mariners.
San Francisco Giants
Losing Bumgarner killed the Giants last season. When he returned, the Giants were well out of contention. Samardzija had a better season than the numbers suggest. He was worth 3.8 wins. He struck out more batters and walked less than in 2016. Cueto was awful by his standards in 2017. His fWAR of 1.2 was the lowest of his career. Straton was okay in his 10 starts and 13 games total last season but does have command issues. Beede has never pitched in the big leagues.
Like the Mets, injuries and underachieving crippled this unit in 2017. The talent in there. Expect them to bounce back in 2018.
Lester is now 34 years old and had his worst season last year in terms of fWAR (2.7) since 2012. Hendricks also took a step back in 2017 by striking out less batters and walking slightly more. Quintana was good but not great with the Cubs last season having a 3.74 ERA in 84.1 innings pitched. Chatwood was nothing special with the Rockies last season being worth 1.1 wins. Montgomery was decent as well as 1.3 win guy.
As of right now, the Cubs rotation is nothing to be intimidated by. They are still looking to add another starter though which would affect these rankings. For now though, the Cubs have a middle of the road starting rotation.
St. Louis Cardinals
Martinez and Wacha provide a solid top two. They were worth 3.3 and 3.2 wins respectively in 2017. Wainwright struggled last season posting a career high ERA of 5.11. He is now 36 years old. Weaver impressed in his short time as a starter last season as he struck out 10.74 batters per nine. He had an ERA of 3.88 but xFIP of 2.93 in 60.1 innings pitched. Mikolas pitched for the Rangers last season and was unproductive having a 6.44 ERA in 57.1 innings.
Like the Cubs, the Cardinals will look to add at least one more guy. They have Alex Reyes slated for a return sometime in May. Other than Martinez and Wacha, this rotation is mediocre at best.
This rotation is young with the exception of Nova. Taillon was good last season despite having to defeat cancer, which is obviously fantastic. He has ace-like potential. Williams and Kuhl took huge leaps in becoming regulars to the rotation. Nova had a strong first half then fizzled out. Glasnow will most likely get another shot at starting. If he continues to struggle throwing strikes, expect either Joe Musgrove, Steven Brault, or Nick Kingham to take the reigns.
This unit will either excel or regress in 2018. Taillon needs to take that next step and fill the shoes of Gerrit Cole. Williams and Kuhl need to progress. Nova needs to eat innings. Glasnow needs to throw strikes.
Jimmy Nelson is the true ace of this staff and he had shoulder surgery last September. Anderson was solid last season posing an fWAR of 3.3 in 141.1 innings pitched. Davies did his best by eating innings and nipping corners with his 90 mph fastball. With and ERA of 3.90, Davies somehow managed to win 17 games. He was worth 2.8 wins. Suter had moderate success shifting back and forth from starter and reliever. Chacin and Gallardo figure to be the bandaids until Nelson is ready to return.
Last season, this rotation overachieved greatly. Whether they can repeat it in 2018 has yet to be seen. It should be noted that the Brewers are still looking to add another starter.
Gray has the potential to be special. After an injury early in the season, he returned and did not disappoint. In 110.1 innings, Gray had an ERA of 3.67 and xFIP of 3.45. He was worth 3.2 wins. Marquez and Freeland were worth 2.4 and 2.0 wins respectively. Bettis returned from beating cancer late last season so he never really had to opportunity to hit his stride. Once again, great for him. Anderson will most likely battle it out with Jeff Hoffman for the final rotation spot.
With the exception of Gray, this rotation will attempt to just hold it down as long into games as they can before handing the ball to the Rockies’ new revamped bullpen. The Rockies have build their pitching staff in reverse order. Bullpen first, starting pitching second. It will be interesting to see how effective this strategy is.
San Diego Padres
These are the bottom feeders of the NL in terms of starting rotations. These pitchers are mostly young. They have potential. That said, they were among the worth in the NL in the 2017. Expect some of the same in 2018.
Free agent disclaimer
If Yu Darvish signs in the NL, it would obviously have a huge impact on the team he signed with. So much so, that that team would jump up a tier. For example, if Darvish signs with the Cubs, they all of a sudden have a top five rotation in the NL.
If guys like Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, or even Lance Lynn sign in the NL, it would also have an impact on these rankings. Not as much as Darvish, but pitchers such as these could move a team up a slot.
Spring Training is almost upon us. Many players still have to sign. The next six weeks will be quite something.
But for now, these are the rankings.
Photo credit – Keith Allison – Flickr Creative Commons