So who has the game's best rotations? In ranking baseball's rotations 1 through 30 for the 2011 season, I relied upon the pitchers' statistics from last year and their projections (from the respected PECOTA system) for this year. I added a dollop of scouting perspective, nudging certain teams one way or the other based on industry evaluations and expectations.
1.) PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
2010 Starters: 3.55 ERA | 6.97 K/9 IP | 1.19 WHIP
By far baseball’s best. Cole Hamels went from ace of the 2008 World Series champs to the number four guy, and he’s still great.
2.) SAN FRANCISCO
2010 Starters: 3.54 ERA | 7.99 K/9 IP | 1.25 WHIP
Ace Tim Lincecum had an “off” year, for him, so it’s reasonable to expect improvement. Weak link Barry Zito has the highest salary ($18.5 million).
3.) LOS ANGELES DODGERS
2010 Starters: 3.99 ERA | 7.95 K/9 IP | 1.26 WHIP
Ted Lilly, who turned down free agency to re-sign, provides some much appreciated depth. Clayton Kershaw, 23, already is very good. Chad Billingsley should be better.
4.) LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM
2010 Starters: 4.05 ERA | 6.77 K/9 IP | 1.31 WHIP
In Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, the Angels have a pair of potential aces. The key could be former Mets prospect Scott Kazmir, who has to bounce back from a miserable 2010.
5.) OAKLAND A'S
2010 Starters: 3.47 ERA | 6.12 K/9 IP | 1.24 WHIP
An impressive young staff, featuring a pair of lefties in Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez and possible late bloomer Brandon McCarthy. Network Associates Coliseum is a pitcher’s friendly confines.
6.) CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2010 Starters: 4.26 ERA | 6.32 K/9 IP | 1.34 WHIP
Jake Peavy's remarkable return from a detached latissimus dorsi is on hold, due to tendinitis in his rotator cuff. There's still decent depth here, though.
7.) BOSTON RED SOX
2010 Starters: 4.17 ERA | 7.41 K/9 IP | 1.35 WHIP
If Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka all maximize their potential, the Sawx could be elite, as Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are a great top two.
8.) MINNESOTA TWINS
2010 Starters: 4.17 ERA | 6.38 K/9 IP | 1.29 WHIP
The big question is, can frontline guys Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano duplicate their 2010 performances? This is Pavano’s first multi-year contract since his Yankees days.
9.) FLORIDA MARLINS
2010 Starters: 4.14 ERA | 7.01 K/9 IP | 1.36 WHIP
It’s their final season to capitalize on the pitchers’ haven that is Sun Life Stadium. If Javier Vazquez reverts to somewhere near his 2009 form, this is a really good rotation.
10.) COLORADO ROCKIES
2010 Starters: 4.21 ERA | 7.34 K/9 IP | 1.36 WHIP
How close can ace Ubaldo Jimenez come to matching his 2010 results? And how close can Jorge de la Rosa get to 200 innings?
11.) TEXAS RANGERS
2010 Starters: 4.23 ERA | 7.16 K/9 IP | 1.33 WHIP
Something to monitor here: How will returnees C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis hold up after pitching so deep into October last year? Brandon Webb is a gamble.
12.) NEW YORK YANKEES
2010 Starters: 4.35 ERA | 6.97 K/9 IP | 1.34 WHIP
They’re easy winners of the “Most Likely to Make an In-Season Trade” award. Both A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes serve as significant question marks.
13.) CHICAGO CUBS
2010 Starters: 4.00 ERA | 7.29 K/9 IP | 1.36 WHIP
They held onto Victor Zambrano because they thought they could count on him once more. Meanwhile, Matt Garza, like Greinke and Marcum with Milwaukee, should enjoy the league switch.
14.) DETROIT TIGERS
2010 Starters: 4.46 ERA | 6.72 K/9 IP | 1.36 WHIP
Justin Verlander ranks among the very best pitchers in the game. Can Rick Porcello climb back from his sophomore slump? Can Phil Coke make the switch from reliever? What can Brad Penny do?
15.) ATLANTA BRAVES
2010 Starters: 3.80 ERA | 6.63 K/9 IP | 1.28 WHIP
PECOTA sees better times for young Tommy Hanson and worse ones for older Tim Hudson. Young Mike Minor will be looked upon to produce in the back of the rotation.
16.) TAMPA BAY RAYS
2010 Starters: 3.99 ERA | 7.18 K/9 IP | 1.29 WHIP
Loads of potential here, as David Price, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson all have upside. To date, though, other teams trump them in results.
17.) MILWAUKEE BREWERS
2010 Starters: 4.65 ERA | 7.37 K/9 IP | 1.45 WHIP
Zack Greinke (cracked rib) will miss the start of the season, and Shaun Marcum concerned team officials with an ailing shoulder. So much for the renovation.
18.) SEATTLE MARINERS
2010 Starters: 3.83 ERA | 5.89 K/9 IP | 1.25 WHIP
King Felix Hernandez, as he tries to defend his AL Cy Young Award, might have a worthwhile running partner in young Michael Pineda. Erik Bedard is giving another try.
19.) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
2010 Starters: 4.67 ERA | 5.62 K/9 IP | 1.40 WHIP
There are high ceilings throughout the rotation, topped by Brian Matusz, and veteran Justin Duscherer tries once again to stay healthy and reclaim his All-Star form.
20.) HOUSTON ASTROS
2010 Starters: 3.90 ERA | 7.90 K/9 IP | 1.34 WHIP
Can ace Brett Myers pitch as well as he did last year? Will Wandy Rodriguez justify the team’s long-term commitment in him? Can J.A. Happ justify his prime role in the Roy Oswalt trade?
21.) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
2010 Starters: 4.30 ERA | 7.35 K/9 IP | 1.35 WHIP
They could trade Shaun Marcum (to Brewers) because they have impressive young arms like Kyle Drabek, Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero. Even Brandon Morrow is only 26.
22.) CINCINNATI REDS
2010 Starters: 4.05 ERA | 6.58 K/9 IP | 1.32 WHIP
It’ll be Edinson Volquez’s first full season since his breakout 2008. Kids Homer Bailey and Travis Wood have to deliver.
23.) ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
2010 Starters: 3.50 ERA | 6.79 K/9 IP | 1.30 WHIP
Chris Carpenter spent the spring battling a balky left hamstring. With Adam Wainwright done for the year, Carpenter has to be great and Jaime Garcia has to build on his freshman campaign.
24.) NEW YORK METS
2010 Starters: 3.80 ERA | 6.31 K/9 IP | 1.36 WHIP
We’re not counting Johan Santana, because who knows when he’ll be back and how he’ll pitch? Much falls upon the Chrises, Capuano and Young.
25.) SAN DIEGO PADRES
2010 Starters: 3.73 ERA | 7.15 K/9 IP | 1.32 WHIP
Their magnificent bullpen last year hid the reality that their rotation, besides Mat Latos and Jon Garland (now with the Dodgers), wasn’t very good.
26.) ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
2010 Starters: 4.39 ERA | 6.70 K/9 IP | 1.35 WHIP
Yankees export Ian Kennedy established himself as a real big-leaguer last year, and Daniel Hudson made interim GM Jerry DiPoto look smart for the Edwin Jackson trade with the White Sox.
27.) WASHINGTON NATIONALS
2010 Starters: 4.61 ERA | 5.61 K/9 IP | 1.44 WHIP
Livan Hernandez’s 2010 looks like the outlier in an overall decline. His fellow veteran Jason Marquis has to bounce back from a brutal first year with the Nats.
28.) KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2010 Starters: 5.25 ERA | 6.26 K/9 IP | 1.47 WHIP
With Zach Greinke gone, this could get real ugly. Even if Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies, Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar and Vin Mazzaro all exceed expectations, the sum result would be unimpressive.
29.) CLEVELAND INDIANS
2010 Starters: 4.53 ERA | 5.55 K/9 IP | 1.46 WHIP
Fausto Carmona is simply not the pitcher the Indians hoped he would be. Maybe former Red Sox Justin Masterson, now 26, can make a climb.
30.) PITTSBURGH PIRATES
2010 Starters: 5.28 ERA | 5.58 K/9 IP | 1.53 WHIP
The Pirates desperately need high-end pitchers to support the young nucleus of Andrew McCutcheon and Pedro Alvarez, but no one on the current rotation fits that bill.