Reading about Hiroki Kuroda's start yesterday, and watching it on TV, it occurred to me how welcome the Japanese right-hander would've been in Yankees camp a year ago. In light of Cliff Lee opting for the Phillies and Andy Pettitte opting for retirement, Kuroda would have stood as the second starting pitcher, behind only CC Sabathia and ahead of less reliable options like A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
Now...Kuroda is still very welcome, yet he takes up less of the spotlight thanks to the arrival of Michael Pineda, as well as last year's development of Ivan Nova.
So I think we'd all agree that the Yankees have greater starting rotation depth than they did a year ago at this time. Of course, their 2011 starting rotation wound up performing extremely well, so what we're talking about here is your classic "on paper" look, which I suppose can be updated in this stat-analysis-heavy age to "probabilities and expectations."
Let's look at the 14 teams that went .500 or better in 2011 and compare their starting rotation depth now to a year ago at this time. We'll break up the classifications into "Markedly better," "Arguably better," "About the same," "Arguably worse" and "Markedly worse."
Arizona: Markedly better, assuming Josh Collmenter's current condition isn't serious. Collmenter produced a very good rookie season, and Trevor Cahill is aboard.
Atlanta: About the same. While Derek Lowe is out, and kids Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran posted encouraging seasons in the minors and received cups of coffee in the majors, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Jair Jurrjens all enter the spring with health questions.
Boston: Markedly worse, now that John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka are out of the picture and Clay Buccholz is returning from a season marked by back problems. The one positive is they can feel better about Josh Beckett than they did a year ago.
Detroit: Arguably better, thanks to the acquisiton last July of Doug Fister. Although I don't think anyone foresees Fister maintaining the excellence he displayed in the final two-plus months of '11.
Angels: Markedly better, with C.J. Wilson coming over from rival Texas to give L.A. of A. as good a front four as anyone in baseball. Arguably, that is.
Dodgers: Markedly worse. Chris Capuano is not a great replacement for Kuroda. And the law of averages says that Clayton Kershaw is bound to fall back to Earth a little.
Milwaukee: About the same. Which is quite good.
Yankees: Markedly better, for the reasons we discussed.
Philadelphia: About the same, as youngster Vance Worley steps up and Roy Oswalt takes off into free-agency limbo.
St. Louis: Arguably better, assuming Adam Wainwright can contribute quickly (but acknowledging that it takes many longer than a year) coming off Tommy John surgery.
San Francisco: Arguably worse. While they still have their dynamic duo of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner put together a good 2011, Jonathan Sanchez is gone to Kansas City after pitching poorly last year. And while Ryan Vogelsong enjoyed a wonderous '11, he's now down with a back injury. Furthermore, prospect Zack Wheeler is in the Mets' organization.
Tampa Bay: Markedly better, with all five guys from last year back and healthy and the addition of stud rookie Matt Moore.
Texas: Arguably better, as Derek Holland and Matt Harrison clocked strong 2011 campaigns, former closer Neftali Feliz joins the rotation and stud rookie Yu Darvish is aboard. It's not markedly better out of respect to the departed Wilson, who was darn good, and because Felix and Darvish, their stuff notwithstanding, have adjustments to make.
Toronto: About the same. They have the same kids with upside, but only Ricky Romero enjoyed a strong 2011 season.
Thoughts? Of the 14, we have seven "betters," three "worses" and four "sames." So the well-run teams generally remained well-run.
Among teams with losing records, you'd have to designated Cincinnati, Miami and Washington as "markedly better," as they're all expected to contend, and Oakland as "markedly worse," by design. The Mets would be "about the same," in that there's at least some hope that Johan Santana can contribute this season.
--Check back later for a contest.