I wanted to write up a post gushing about how cool it is that Rob Neyer is joining SB Nation, but I've decided against it. Don't want to scare him away too quickly, if you know what I mean. So rather than talk about how Rob is my Bill James and blah blah blah, I thought we would, you know, talk about some baseball. And we shall.
With the official conclusion of the football season coming quickly (shockingly, I don't stop watching after the Pro Bowl), I thought it would be a good time to start previewing things for the upcoming season. Obviously when you're talking about ranking groups of players, it's probably not going to get as in-depth as one of Justin's graphics or Lucas' Pitch F/X breakdowns. But these are the kinds of things that fans think about when they're sitting around: "So, who's got the best rotation in our division?" And these are the questions I'm setting out to answer. So whether you're arguing over an infield, a bullpen, or which road jerseys look best, I'll be ranking them here in the coming weeks. Except not the jerseys, because nobody cares about my thoughts on the Rays' color scheme. So let's dive in, before I bore you guys to death and make Rob regret his latest career move.
We'll start off with the AL West, because it's the AL Best. (See what I did there?)
4) Mariners: Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Luke French, David Pauley, Erik Bedard
It's not too often that you'll see the worst rotation in a given division employing the league's top pitcher, but that appears to be the case in Seattle. Despite having the AL Cy Young to toss out there every fifth day, it's hard to see this rotation thriving next season. ZiPS projects King Felix to be the club's only above-average starter unless Bedard can prove to be healthy (and we still have no idea how he'll pitch post-injury), and that's not really an unreasonable projection. Fister and Vargas are solid back-of-the-rotation starters, but right now they're slotted into the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in Seattle's rotation. It's always nice to have an ace, but they're making things a lot harder by filling out the spots behind him with fifth starters and fringe guys.
3) Rangers: Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, Brandon Webb, Scott Feldman, Dave Bush
The Rangers failed in their bid to re-sign Cliff Lee and subsequently failed to find a suitable replacement for the club's rotation, so starting pitching doesn't appear to be a strength for next season. Lewis and Wilson appear to still be above-average starters, but beyond that the Rangers are taking on a lot of risk. Holland or Webb could emerge as another high-quality starter, but right now it looks like two good starters, some No. 4/5 types, and that high-risk/high-reward duo. Bush gives them some added depth, but they're going to be worse this season unless Webb or Holland comes through.
The Angels had a ton of money to spend this offseason (see: Vernon Wells), but you pretty much never heard about the possibility of them spending it on starting pitching. That's probably because there wasn't much a need in the rotation. Sure, they could've forked up cash to make Scott Kazmir the West Coast's version of Oliver Perez, but the club appears to be willing to try again with the lefty after giving up a good deal of value to acquire him. With Weaver and Haren at the top of the rotation, the club has one of the better one-two punches in the game. There's huge upside in this rotation, as each of the club's top-five starters has posted an elite pitching season before, which helps to offset the lack of depth. A Weaver-Haren-Santana-Pineiro-Kazmir rotation could be unreal, or it could falter if the team's forced to turn to alternatives.
1) Athletics: Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, Brandon McCarthy, Bobby Cramer, Josh Outman
In terms of name value, LA's rotation puts Oakland's to shame. But the A's haven't been tinkering with their lineup all offseason just for the hell of it. If this rotation takes a step forward next season, and there's reason to believe it could, it's pretty easy to view the Athletics as contenders despite a lack of offensive firepower. Anderson only pitched 112 innings last season due to injury, but he'll be regarded as an elite guy by the end of 2011 if he's healthy all year. Cahill, Gonzalez and Braden all got attention last season for their performance, and for the most part that attention is warranted. With a strong defensive infield and three fantastic groundball pitchers in Anderson, Cahill and Gonzalez, this team might end up being underrated going into next season. People aren't pumping up the A's much this offseason, but with this rotation maybe they should.