To keep things in perspective here, the No. 5 spot in most rotations generally puts up horrible results. The average ERA for the No. 5 spot is generally in the mid-5's, and rarely does a team last the entire season using only one or two pitchers in the role. More often, the No. 5 starter role consists of a flurry of generally failing options, as few teams will the last year using only a few starting pitchers. Injuries, trades and promotions tend to take a major toll on pitching depth. Well, mostly injuries, but you get the idea.
So expecting big things from most of these guys isn't particularly realistic. And frankly, if one of these guys does manage to break out during the season, he's not likely to be considered the No. 5 starter much longer. So on some level, you're simply looking at the first line of next season's fifth starters here. But here they are, 2011's anticipated NL Opening Day fifth starters, ignoring a couple of temporary early-season injuries- namely, Zack Greinke, Jon Garland and Aaron Cook.
16. Nelson Figueroa, Houston
Figueroa's the kind of guy that probably won't last the year. He turns 37 in May, and while he's not a horrible option, he's not part of the future and the Astros need to check out some guys that might be.
15. Charlie Morton, Pittsburgh
2010 was a disaster for Morton, but the raw stuff is still decent. His numbers were much stronger in 2009 with Pittsburgh and in 14 Triple-A starters last season. He's only 27, and there's some hope.
14. Wade LeBlanc, San Diego
He was replacement level in 146 innings in 2010, but the Padres are giving the lefty another go in 2011. He's typically put up decent numbers at Triple-A, but you wonder when fellow southpaw Cory Luebke could pass him up.
13. Armando Galarraga, Arizona
He's never really been more than a back-end guy that eats innings, but there's no reason that he can't fill a Rodrigo Lopez-like role with the D-Backs this season. Then again, Arizona may have better options at some point.
12. Chris Capuano, New York
He's likely to lose his spot once Santana gets healthy, but that's not going to be for a while. He's had a solid spring and pitched solidly in 66 innings last season after missing 2007 and 2008, so he could end up being a nice bargain for New York if he's healthy.
11. Kyle McClellan, St. Louis
The former set-up man is moving to the rotation to fill Adam Wainwright's spot, and there's reason to believe that he can be solid. He needs to prove that he can miss bats as a starter, but he should get an extended look.
10. Chris Narveson, Milwaukee
The lefty proved to be a solid starter last season, and at 29 seems capable of filling the same role again. He's improved a good deal since posting a 5.43 ERA in Triple-A three years ago.
9. Andrew Cashner, Chicago
I mentioned two weeks ago that Cashner should be starting, and luckily the Cubs agree with me. It remains to be seen how his offspeed stuff and command will play as a starter right away, but most evaluators believe that he can be a frontline starter in time.
8. Tom Gorzleanny, Washington
With Cashner filling his role in Chicago, Gorzelanny's taken hold of the No. 5 spot in D.C. with his new club. It's tough to know what to expect from him, but he pitched well in 2010 and is still pretty young.
7. Brandon Beachy, Atlanta
Signed as an undrafted free agent, Beachy began 2009 in Single-A, and finished 2010 with three starts in Atlanta. He's apparently beat out Mike Minor and Rodrigo Lopez to begin 2011 as the club's fifth starter, and his impressive 2010 indicates that he's ready for the role.
6. Barry Zito, San Francisco
He's making $18.5 million, which is outrageous for a No. 5 starter, but that doesn't make him worthless. You know he's good for 190+ innings, which has value, and at this point he projects as a 2 WAR pitcher. Most teams would take that from a fifth starter.
5. Mike Leake, Cincinnati
Leake skipped the minors last season and has a rotation spot early in 2011 thanks to Johnny Cueto's injury. He doesn't have top-of-the-rotation upside but should be a solid starter for a while.
4. Jon Garland, Los Angeles
He'll probably start the year on the DL, but when he comes off he'll be one of the most reliable No. 5 starters around. At this point he depends mostly on pitching to contact and keeping the ball in the park, but the durability is a major plus.
3. Chris Volstad, Florida
The tall right-hander needs to prove that he can consistently miss bats, but he was already solid in 2010 and is only 24. 2011's likely a key season for him in terms of reaching his ultimate potential, but the track record of low K rates indicates some limited upside.
2. Joe Blanton, Philadelphia
People focus on the first four guys in Philly's rotation, but Blanton is also an exceptional fifth option. He may end up getting traded and he's awfully expensive for his role, but for now Phils fans should just appreciate how strong their rotation is one through five.
1. Jason Hammel, Colorado
He's quietly put together consecutive strong seasons in Colorado, and the club's pitching depth has probably been understated some of late. Hammel would be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter on most teams, and it shouldn't surprise anybody if he's the second- or third-best pitcher for the Rockies in 2011. Landing him during Spring Training in 2009 was an absolutely fantastic move by GM Dan O'Dowd.