In Februrary, I started a Top 5 Rotations for 2013 series, and I placed the Toronto Blue Jays at number five. Today I will continue the series, and look at the fourth best rotation for 2013.
Number Four: Tampa Bay Rays
This one was difficult, and at seasons end they could easily be in the top three, but for now I have the Rays as the fourth-best rotation as we head into the new season. During the off-season, the Rays traded James Shields, who one was one of their better pitchers, to the Kansas City Royals for a package headlined by Wil Myers. They still have a good amount of pitching, and I don't expect them to be hurt much at all in that department.
David Price had another exceptional year, finishing with five fWAR. He posted the highest strikeout rate of his career, 24.5%, while walking only 7%. He did leave a higher than average number of men on base, so we should see some regression in that department. Price is entering his age-28 season, and as long as he remains healthy he should continue to be one of the best pitchers in the game.
Matt Moore finished his first full season in the majors in 2012, and overall it was filled with some ups and downs. Control was a big concern for him, as his walk rate was below average. He didn't display the strikeout rate that he showed in the minors, but it was still an impressive 23%. Moore is only 23, and if he can put everything together he could be a top pitcher in baseball.
Jeremy Hellickson is one of the most frustrating pitchers for the advanced stats community. On the surface his 3.10 ERA looks fantastic, but his FIP was a pretty bad 4.60. Hellickson doesn't many batters out, and he struggles with walks. He also gives up his share of home runs, which is also a problem. Going forward it's hard to say exactly how Hellickson will be, but if he continues to mimic his past few seasons, he will continue to mystify sabermetricians.
Alex Cobb is also a young pitcher that the Rays managed to develop. He made nine appearances in 2011, but in 2012 he started 23 games. He posted solid results, a 3.67 FIP, and average strikeout and walk rates. Cobb likely will never be a #2 pitcher, but he's a young, cost-controlled starter who should stick around for the next few years. That alone is a nice piece to have at the back of your rotation.
The fifth spot will likely be split between a few starters, but as of now MLB Depth Charts has Jeff Niemann filling in the last spot. While he doesn't do anything flashy, for a fifth starter he gets the job done. In 2012 he missed the majority of the season with a fractured leg, but in 2013 we should expected average to slightly below average strikeout and walk rates. Again, there will probably be at least one (Roberto Hernandez), maybe two (Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi) other pitchers getting starts here, but Niemann is likely in this role when the season kicks off.
The Rays have an abundance of young pitching, and if everything works out I could easily see this team's rotation finishing higher, but as it stands right now I have them as the fourth-best rotation as we head into the new season.