2015 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Rotations (#1-15)

What do we have here? For an explanation of this series, please read this introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data below is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems, with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.

Yes, we know WAR is imperfect and there is more to player value than is wrapped up in that single projection, but for the purposes of talking about a team’s strengths and weaknesses, it is a useful tool. Also, the author writing this post did not move your team down ten spots in order to make you angry. We don’t hate your team. I promise.

2015-positional-power-rankings-SP

As you’ve no doubt read in our other wonderful Positional Power Rankings, what is important here isn’t so much the specific ranking for each team — the slightest of bumps in playing time distribution would put the #7 Cubs on par with the #3 Cardinals, or the #15 Marlins on par with the Tigers and Giants, who are tied at #10. (Not to mention that the ghastly spectre of Tommy John always always looms, ready to sweep the leg out from under any number of teams, as has already happened to the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays.) What’s most important here is the tiers that teams have separated themselves into, and what’s most obvious is that the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers have rotations that match the rest of their rosters: in a class of their own, primed to claw their way to a World Series championship.

#1 Nationals


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Max Scherzer 211.0 10.4 2.4 0.7 .301 76.8 % 2.80 2.78 4.9
Stephen Strasburg 191.0 10.0 2.2 0.8 .307 75.8 % 3.02 2.96 3.9
Jordan Zimmermann 191.0 7.5 1.6 0.8 .301 74.1 % 3.19 3.28 3.5
Doug Fister 192.0 6.3 1.7 0.8 .302 72.8 % 3.47 3.64 2.4
Gio Gonzalez 162.0 8.9 3.4 0.7 .301 73.7 % 3.45 3.44 2.4
Tanner Roark 40.0 6.5 1.9 0.9 .295 73.1 % 3.47 3.67 0.5
Blake Treinen 9.0 6.5 2.2 0.7 .308 71.4 % 3.64 3.62 0.1
Taylor Jordan 9.0 6.2 2.2 0.8 .307 71.0 % 3.84 3.83 0.1
Total 1005.0 8.5 2.2 0.8 .302 74.5 % 3.19 3.23 17.9

Contrary to initial expectations back in mid-January, the Nationals’ signing of Scherzer does not appear to be a move to set up a move. The Major League team who received the most WAR from their starting rotation in 2014 really did go out and invest in the consensus marquee free agent starter of the 2014-15 offseason. The gauntlet has been thrown down.

Never mind, for now, that the Nationals will be paying Scherzer eight-figure sums until Julio Urias is 33 years old. This ranking is all about 2015, and in 2015 the Nationals have the basically unprecedented luxury of bumping a starter with the 30th-best qualifying FIP of the previous season — that would be Roark, pitching to virtually the same effectiveness as Oakland A’s ace Sonny Gray during 2014 — to their bullpen.

Their fifth starter — let’s say it’s Fister — posted a career-worst 3.93 FIP, but at the same time used a top-five walk rate and a top-five line-drives-allowed rate to assemble a 2.41 ERA, which missed the top five by a margin small enough to be a rounding error.

Oh, is Gonzales actually their fifth starter? Since his first full season in 2010, Gonzales has posted over 3 WAR every year, indicative of both consistency and good health. The only other pitchers to accomplish this feat over the same timeframe are: Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, David Price, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, and Anibal Sanchez. Their fifth. Starter.

The competition for fifth-starter-ship is supposed to be a toss-up between low-ceiling prospects and/or veteran retreads whose names fans learn halfway through Spring Training. It’s not supposed to be a fiery battle between Cy Young-vote-getters. This is the bold, brave reality that the Nationals have set up for themselves.

The last time a rotation was this bogglingly stacked was the 2011 Phillies, a starting staff that inspired tomes on its way to a 102-win season and the team’s best winning percentage in 132 years of existence. And the 2011 Phillies walked into the season with Joe Blanton as their fifth starter, and when Blanton managed only eight starts due to injury, they turned to rookie Vance Worley. While the 2015 Nationals maybe don’t have the eye-bulging ceiling of the 2011 Phillies — Roy Halladay contributed 8.4 WAR for that team, Cliff Lee had 6.8; Scherzer is projected for 4.9 — they do have those Phillies beat in their ability to trot out an ace-caliber pitcher every single game. The snowball effect of having elite pitching every single game — a phenomenally rested bullpen; a playoff bullpen full of starters allowed to unleash their most vicious Wade Davis impression — might result in a team season like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

How many of the Nationals’ five starters are top-25 in cumulative starter WAR over the last five full seasons? All of them.

The cost is high, and free agency looms for a number of these fine arms as soon as seven months from now. But flags do fly for forever.

#2 Dodgers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Clayton Kershaw 221.0 10.2 1.9 0.6 .293 79.5 % 2.24 2.43 6.4
Zack Greinke 202.0 8.4 2.0 0.8 .299 75.6 % 3.04 3.16 3.8
Brandon McCarthy 179.0 7.6 1.6 0.9 .313 71.8 % 3.62 3.42 2.5
Hyun-Jin Ryu   147.0 7.9 2.1 0.8 .303 73.7 % 3.27 3.26 2.4
Brett Anderson 72.0 7.4 2.8 0.7 .305 71.4 % 3.58 3.48 1.0
Joe Wieland 74.0 7.6 2.5 1.2 .300 70.9 % 4.08 4.02 0.5
Brandon Beachy   47.0 7.0 3.3 1.2 .290 71.7 % 4.23 4.44 0.1
Zach Lee 37.0 6.4 2.9 1.1 .296 69.9 % 4.41 4.46 0.1
Carlos Frias 18.0 6.0 2.8 1.0 .303 69.4 % 4.35 4.26 0.1
Total 998.0 8.3 2.1 0.8 .301 74.1 % 3.25 3.27 16.9

As phenomenally impressive as the Nationals’ rotation is, it also wouldn’t be too surprising to see the Dodgers finish #1 in rotation WAR at season’s end. It also wouldn’t be too surprising to see the Dodgers finish somewhere around league average in rotation WAR. The Dodgers’ new braintrust of Andrew Freidman and Farhan Zaidi has set their rotation up for a highly volatile season — but by design, it would seem, which will go a long way in making the Dodgers’ season compelling viewing, no matter the result. If there is a single key to the Dodgers’ eventual success or demise, it will likely be the health — or lack of it — on this staff.

I don’t think there’s any single move that acts as a microcosm of the current state of the Dodgers other than their free agent signing of Brett Anderson. On a per-inning basis, Anderson has been a phenomenally productive pitcher for his entire career: conceivably just entering his prime years at age 27, Anderson has already averaged 3.7 WAR for every 200 innings he’s pitched, a pretty stellar rate. (Although, as Carson has pointed out previously, Anderson’s drop in fastball velocity has actually seen his per-inning productivity drop over time.) The problem is that Anderson has only pitched 206.1 innings total since the beginning of the 2011 season, an average of about 50 innings, or about eight starts a year.

Given this uncomfortably extensive injury history, there was not a large market for Anderson. The Colorado Rockies, his employer last season, turned down a $12M option for 2015, thus releasing Anderson into free agency. There, the Dodgers signed him for the hefty sum of $10M for one season, with a $4M performance bonus if Anderson pitches 200 major league innings this season — an accomplishment he has never accomplished before. If recent trends hold, Anderson will pitch 40-50 innings over 5-8 starts, producing nearly 1 WAR along the way. That’s not a bargain for $10M.

It’s worth remembering that Zaidi was in the Oakland A’s front office when Anderson was with the team, meaning Zaidi has as much first-hand experience as anybody at having to fill Anderson’s vacated spot in the rotation. (I.e., Travis Blackley being called into action for 15 starts for the 2012 A’s.) Zaidi did not have to make another gamble on Anderson’s health, and he probably didn’t have to do it for $10M. But for these mightily bankrolled Dodgers, it’s worth the roll of the dice if this is the year that Anderson can make 30 starts.

The injury concerns do not end there. Hyun-Jin Ryu managed just 26 starts last year, and is not projected by the fans (172 innings, 28 starts) nor Steamer (143/24) nor ZiPS (169/27) to make it through the year wholly intact. Since 2011, the first time McCarthy spent the full season in the majors, he has averaged about 150 innings each year. Beachy has not pitched a competitive game since August of 2013.

There are enough innings being missed here that it looks like it will take six or seven men receiving significant starts to get the team through the season. Wieland — of 39 Major League innings and one Tommy John surgery — could be called into meaningful duty for this team with visions of World Series rings, a possibility that hardly looks enticing for the Dodgers considering the middling 40 Future Value that Kiley prescribed to Wieland.

So that’s one outcome. Another outcome is that the Dodgers have acquired all of these pitchers because they believe they have found, as an organization, a way to reliably prevent injuries. In which case, Anderson or McCarthy serves as this team’s fifth starter — enviable depth that would certainly challenge the Nationals at the top of the league.

#3 Cardinals


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Adam Wainwright 197.0 7.6 1.9 0.7 .301 73.3 % 3.12 3.13 3.5
Lance Lynn 183.0 8.4 3.1 0.8 .303 73.7 % 3.46 3.54 2.6
John Lackey 184.0 7.4 2.0 1.0 .300 72.9 % 3.60 3.65 2.4
Michael Wacha 149.0 8.2 2.7 0.8 .298 73.8 % 3.41 3.48 2.1
Carlos Martinez 128.0 7.7 3.2 0.7 .309 71.2 % 3.75 3.58 1.7
Jaime Garcia   57.0 7.5 2.2 0.9 .307 72.1 % 3.65 3.54 0.7
Marco Gonzales 28.0 7.8 3.0 0.9 .298 74.1 % 3.59 3.82 0.4
Tyler Lyons 28.0 7.2 2.4 0.9 .301 71.5 % 3.82 3.83 0.3
Tim Cooney 19.0 6.5 2.5 1.0 .302 71.1 % 3.99 4.05 0.1
Total 974.0 7.8 2.5 0.8 .302 72.9 % 3.48 3.50 13.9

Behold their boring brilliance. The Cardinals went from sixth in last year’s pre-season rankings to eleventh in last year’s end-of-season rankings, and up to #3 this year. A big reason that the Cardinals underperformed expectations in 2014 — but are expected to improve in 2015 — is that the Cardinals didn’t have a fifth starter, but now (barring, of course, injury) they do.

Joe Kelly was projected to serve as a reliable fifth starter for last year’s Cardinals, but found himself traded to the Boston Red Sox after injuries limited him to just seven first-half starts. In return on the trade, Lackey actually did serve as a reliable starter, providing consistency over ten late-season starts and two postseason starts. That consistency was pretty crucial for a team that uncharacteristically started 12 pitchers last year.

While the exact identity of this year’s fifth starter is not yet nailed down, the 2015 Cardinals at least have a variety of options available to them — unlike the 2014 Cardinals. While Garcia has (yet again) eliminated himself from the competition due to (yet again) injury, St. Louis has two appealing homegrown, cost-controlled options to fill out the staff. 2013 first-round pick Gonzales already has postseason innings (as a reliever) under his belt, and has posted a sterling 1.04 ERA over five appearances this spring. He is in competition with bullpen convert Martinez, who has struck out 16 batters in his 16 spring innings. Factor in the eventual 40-50 innings that Garcia will probably manage this season, and the Cardinals’ pitching duties look like they could be split amongst seven pitchers instead of last year’s twelve-man staff, which included desperate late-season scrambles like Masterson.

Obviously, this staff isn’t rated so high just because of the potential of its back end. While Lynn’s K/9 rate has fallen in each of the two years since his 2012 debut (from 9.2 to 8.84 to 8.0), his HR/9 rate has done the same (from 0.82 to 0.62 to 0.57). Lynn’s end-of-season FIP has ended up in a remarkably narrow window between his three full seasons — between 3.28 and 3.49 — meaning that his metronomic excellence is pretty darn similar to that of his franchise.

We’ve seen enough of Wacha that it’s easy to forget he’s 23 years old: this is a pretty stellar projection for a 23-year-old who has yet to pitch 20 starts in a season! He’s younger than Marcus Stroman, Danny Salazar, Eddie Butler, and many more pitchers who still have the exciting sheen of a prospect on them.

At the top, Wainwright remains one of the game’s few bona fide aces. The killer thing is, he’s not totally being paid like one. While his annual $19.5M price tag from here through 2018 is far from a team-friendly robbery, but that’s cheaper annual value than the much-less-efficient Justin Verlander ($28M in 2015), CC Sabathia ($23M in 2015), Matt Cain ($20.8M), or Mark Buehrle ($20M). It’s hard to get a dollar-per-win bargain at that level of the MLB tax bracket, but doggone it, the Cardinals sure have done it.

#4 Padres


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
James Shields 217.0 8.1 2.1 0.7 .304 73.5 % 3.25 3.24 3.9
Ian Kennedy 200.0 8.8 3.0 0.9 .305 72.9 % 3.71 3.65 2.3
Tyson Ross 169.0 8.9 3.3 0.6 .304 73.2 % 3.33 3.29 2.6
Andrew Cashner 163.0 7.4 2.5 0.7 .301 72.2 % 3.50 3.43 2.3
Odrisamer Despaigne 93.0 7.4 3.3 0.8 .299 71.0 % 3.87 3.87 0.9
Brandon Morrow   73.0 8.5 3.2 0.8 .305 72.4 % 3.69 3.55 0.9
Josh Johnson   56.0 7.8 3.0 0.8 .311 70.8 % 3.92 3.66 0.7
Robbie Erlin 9.0 7.2 2.6 1.0 .305 71.1 % 3.98 3.88 0.1
Matt Wisler 9.0 7.6 2.8 1.0 .303 71.1 % 4.03 3.97 0.1
Total 990.0 8.2 2.8 0.8 .304 72.6 % 3.54 3.48 13.7

Perhaps lost among all the Padres’ famously prolific wheeling and dealing this winter: San Diego had an average staff and an upper-echelon bullpen last season, and, save for the addition of Shields, the arms on their roster have remained more or less intact. Additions like Derek Norris, Matt Kemp, and Justin Upton will not necessarily have to provide elite offense for this team to be successful — their staff, working in a pitcher’s park, will likely carry this team however far it can go.

While GM A.J. Preller did acquire injury-prone Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson — who had previously been united on the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays, one of the most disappointing splashy-winter teams in recent memory — the difference is that Preller acquired them both for the combined cost of $3.5M, and the Padres also have five capable pitchers ahead of those two on the depth chart. Also to consider: the Padres also acquired Brandon Maurer for Seth Smith over the winter. While Maurer is being used as a reliever this spring, and thus is projected as a member of the Padres’ bullpen, he also has experience as a starter should San Diego ever need an emergency spot start.

In other words: viable major league starters will be on the outside looking in at this rotation, a position of luxury that even heavily bankrolled teams like the New York Yankees or Detroit Tigers can’t claim. Even more encouraging for the Padres: of the top five men in the depth chart, only Cashner has a history of injury. Shields and Kennedy routinely hurl 200 innings a year, while Ross and Despaigne have clean records of health in their young careers. It should be another year of low-scoring games in San Diego — just, this time, the Padres have the arsenal to end up on top more times than not.

#5 Indians


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Corey Kluber 212.0 9.6 2.0 0.7 .312 74.2 % 3.07 2.85 5.0
Trevor Bauer 171.0 8.5 3.9 1.0 .310 70.6 % 4.38 4.20 1.1
Carlos Carrasco   162.0 8.4 2.6 0.8 .312 71.4 % 3.64 3.33 2.6
T.J. House 130.0 6.3 2.9 0.9 .316 68.9 % 4.38 4.12 0.8
Zach McAllister 103.0 7.4 2.6 0.9 .313 70.1 % 4.08 3.77 1.3
Danny Salazar 118.0 9.8 3.0 1.0 .309 73.7 % 3.65 3.51 1.9
Josh Tomlin 47.0 7.2 1.7 1.2 .313 69.4 % 4.26 3.94 0.5
Gavin Floyd   18.0 7.2 2.8 1.1 .312 70.6 % 4.32 4.21 0.1
Total 962.0 8.4 2.7 0.9 .312 71.4 % 3.84 3.60 13.4

As August pointed out earlier this offseason, the Indians starting rotation is, in terms of $/WAR, unmatched across the entire league. That was true in November, when their top five starters were projected to create 11.0 WAR while earning a combined $3.5M, and it’s true now, when their top six starters are projected to create 12.8 WAR while earning a combined $5.35M. Here are other assets on the pitching market that teams will pay $5.35M for in 2015:

-Six or seven starts by Verlander.
-Seven or eight starts by Sabathia.
-Nine or ten starts by C.J. Wilson.
-A half-season of Bronson Arroyo’s rehab.
-One season of Kyle Kendrick.

Clearly, by ending up so high on this list of projections, Cleveland isn’t pulling any cheap small-market Scrooge-ery here, either. Salazar and his career 10.28 K/9 rate just got sent down to Triple-A last week, unable to crack the rotation ahead of McAllister. FanGraphs has the team projected to win the AL Central thanks to the firepower this rotation provides. This rotation had the best K/9 rate in the majors last year, and by a significant margin, and they’re projected to be (slightly) outpaced by only the Nationals this year.

With so comparatively little invested in this rotation, the Cleveland front office took a very calculated risk in signing injury-prone Floyd to a 1-year/$4M show-me contract. Since the team does not need Floyd to fill any particular role, he will be allowed the luxury of unrushed rehab. While it’s impossible for Floyd to match the dollar-per-dollar efficiency of the rest of the staff, this still feels like a deft move for the front office to pull off, given the depth and youth the team has throughout the rest of the staff.

What’s exciting about this projection for Indians fans is that it already has built in a considerable amount of regression for Kluber, coming out of his breathtaking breakout season. Where Kluber produced at a rate of 6.1 WAR per 200 innings last season, the projection above has him going for 4.7 WAR per 200 innings, a more-than-20% drop-off in production per inning. Kluber does not have to win another Cy Young for this rotation to be the best in the American League. And if Kluber does put together another Cy Young-caliber season? Well, shoot.

#6 Mets


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Matt Harvey 173.0 9.1 2.6 0.7 .296 74.1 % 3.07 3.08 3.5
Bartolo Colon 176.0 6.2 1.5 1.0 .308 70.3 % 4.00 3.80 2.0
Jon Niese 178.0 6.7 2.4 0.9 .307 71.1 % 3.91 3.83 1.8
Jacob deGrom 165.0 8.2 2.7 0.8 .306 72.6 % 3.53 3.40 2.5
Dillon Gee 98.0 6.7 2.5 1.1 .300 70.5 % 4.23 4.24 0.6
Noah Syndergaard 93.0 9.2 2.7 0.9 .310 72.7 % 3.54 3.37 1.5
Rafael Montero 56.0 8.7 3.0 0.9 .301 73.8 % 3.62 3.68 0.9
Steven Matz 46.0 7.9 2.9 0.8 .306 72.2 % 3.69 3.65 0.6
Total 985.0 7.7 2.4 0.9 .304 72.0 % 3.68 3.60 13.4

What is this? Is this evidence of the Mets’ future looking…bright? Even with Zack Wheeler and his 2.3 ZiPS-projected WAR wiped out due to T.J., this team is right in line with the analytics-savvy Indians and the grandiose-spending Cubs. Last season, this staff provided comparable season numbers to the Cardinals and A’s, and that was with Harvey quite sadly sitting out the whole season with T.J. of his own. Not only is Harvey healthy, but both his Steamer and ZiPS projections have baked in a considerable amount of regression from his 2013 opus — ZiPS is predicting that Harvey will pitch in 2015 with only half of his per-inning effectiveness. And still the Mets’ rotation ranks this well. If Harvey doesn’t post a career-worst K/9 rate or a career-worst strand rate — which ZiPS projects him to do both — then look out.

Between ownership and the front office, from Bernie Madoff to Bobby Bonilla, the Mets have not exactly been known for shrewd financial stewardship, but this pitching staff is a refreshing exception to that rule, with this whole crew coming in at below the cost of one Verlander in 2015. The lion’s share of the money is going to Colon, who is, thrillingly, almost matching his prime earning wages from a decade ago here in his age-42 season. While Colon is definitely the one thing that is not like the others on this staff, he could end up being worth all of it: this rotation is the team’s foremost strength, and the Mets are projected to have a reasonable shot at a Wild Card spot, which would be their first playoff entry since 2006 — not to mention their first winning season since 2008.

Since a thundercloud of pessimism and disaster seems to follow the Mets through the years, however, it seems hard right now, before Opening Day, to imagine a scenario where the Mets’ 2015 season breaks in the right direction. It’s okay: Colon aside, this is the pitching staff of a youthful rebuilding team, with a bounty of future years under team control for reasonable cost. Gee will be the first starter to hit the free agent market, which won’t happen until 2017. Niese is around until 2018, with club options for the last two years of his deal. Harvey isn’t a free agent until 2019; Wheeler until 2020; deGrom and Montero until 2021; Syndergaard until 2022 at the earliest. The gang is bound to not be decimated by season-ending surgery one of those years, right? Right?

The only other question is: if the Mets can routinely draft and trade for pitching diamonds in the rough like these guys, why haven’t they been doing the same with position players?

#7 Cubs


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jon Lester 214.0 8.2 2.3 0.8 .303 74.7 % 3.23 3.31 4.2
Jake Arrieta 173.0 8.7 3.3 0.8 .301 72.8 % 3.62 3.61 2.6
Jason Hammel 161.0 7.7 2.6 1.0 .301 71.8 % 3.88 3.86 1.8
Kyle Hendricks 161.0 6.4 2.1 0.8 .303 71.1 % 3.73 3.73 2.3
Travis Wood 131.0 7.2 3.4 1.1 .296 71.8 % 4.27 4.44 0.9
Edwin Jackson 66.0 7.7 3.1 1.0 .315 69.6 % 4.36 3.98 0.7
Tsuyoshi Wada   38.0 7.9 2.6 1.0 .303 73.6 % 3.75 3.84 0.5
Jacob Turner   28.0 6.4 2.9 1.0 .312 69.0 % 4.56 4.28 0.2
Total 973.0 7.7 2.7 0.9 .302 72.3 % 3.77 3.77 13.1

So this is kind of crazy, but: after securing the most high-profile free agent of the winter, the Cubs’ rotation is projected to produce…fewer WAR than they produced last year. Huh?
Last year’s Cubs starters came in at 14.3 WAR, tied with the Rays for fifth-best in the majors. That staff was led by Jeff Samardzija, who is gone, Hammel, who left and came back, Arrieta, and Hendricks — all of whom are projected for notable regressions here in 2015. That might seem harsh of the projection systems — but, then again, here at FanGraphs we’re projecting Hammel and Arrieta to well surpass their career averages in 2015. Just, they’re projected to not surpass those career averages by as much as they did in 2014.

For his career, Hammel has had a 4.23 FIP as a starter, which includes his 17 starts as a Cub in the first half of 2014, when he carried a 3.19 FIP. His 3.86 projected FIP feels like a pretty reasonable midpoint. The same goes for Arrieta: 4.06 starter’s FIP for his career (including 2014); 2.26 last year; 3.61 projection.

Put it all together and, combined with Samardzija’s not insignificant absence, the Cubs needed to acquire a pitcher as talented as Lester just to keep pace with last year’s surprisingly excellent staff.

What will be fascinating to watch, though, is to see if the Cubs as an organization have found a way to ensure that pitchers succeed projected performance. The staff that produced a 5th-best 14.3 WAR last year was only projected to contribute a 21st-best 9.7 WAR, and that was with assumed full-season contributions from Samardzija and Hammels. What in tarnation is Theo building over there?

#8 Mariners


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Felix Hernandez 217.0 9.3 1.9 0.6 .302 75.3 % 2.79 2.74 5.1
Hisashi Iwakuma   204.0 7.4 1.6 1.0 .295 73.3 % 3.40 3.48 2.9
James Paxton 170.0 7.2 3.4 0.8 .301 71.3 % 3.92 3.91 1.5
J.A. Happ 158.0 7.6 3.2 1.1 .300 72.0 % 4.13 4.14 1.0
Taijuan Walker 130.0 8.0 3.3 0.9 .298 71.2 % 3.98 3.98 1.2
Roenis Elias 73.0 7.4 3.5 1.0 .300 71.1 % 4.17 4.24 0.4
Danny Hultzen   19.0 8.2 4.4 0.8 .301 72.5 % 3.97 4.09 0.1
Mike Kickham 9.0 7.3 3.8 0.9 .306 70.8 % 4.26 4.20 0.0
Total 981.0 7.9 2.7 0.9 .299 72.6 % 3.63 3.63 12.3

How long can an elite prospect continually be called an elite prospect? Whatever the answer, Paxton and Walker are sure to be bestowed with new labels — whether complementary or no — by the end of the season. Paxton is only two years younger than Hernandez — he’s also pitched nearly 2,000 fewer major league innings than Hernandez as well. Walker has pitched 53 major league innings. They’ve been good innings, but other top prospects of 2012 like Gerrit Cole, Julio Teheran, or Jose Fernandez have all already compiled more than 200 innings in the big show.

The Mariners really need both young pitchers to pitch and pitch well for the full season, and contributing full seasons isn’t something either player has done much of lately. Paxton has only pitched more than 125 innings once in his four seasons in the Mariner organization (during 2013, when he made his big-league debut after spending most of the season in Triple-A) and was healthy for less than half of the schedule in 2014. Walker hasn’t pitched in the big leagues without a short leash — he’s only seen the seventh inning in one of his eight career starts.

What’s scary about this Mariners season is that this is when their championship window might be open the widest: now into their third season of having Iwakuma as one of the game’s greatest free agency bargains, the stoic pitcher will hit the open market next winter. Unless Paxton or Walker take big leaps forward, the Mariners will go into 2016 without a solid #2 behind Hernandez — as, alas, has been the case for most of Felix’s years with the team.

As for Hernandez himself, his accomplishments are beginning to inch further and further up the record books. Amongst active players, Hernandez is seventh in complete games, sixth in strikeouts, and fourth in (Baseball-Reference) WAR. He turns 29 next week.

#9 Yankees


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
CC Sabathia   189.0 7.6 2.3 1.1 .306 70.4 % 4.14 3.96 2.2
Masahiro Tanaka 158.0 8.3 1.8 0.9 .300 72.8 % 3.39 3.37 2.9
Michael Pineda 142.0 7.4 2.1 1.1 .298 72.9 % 3.73 3.79 2.1
Nathan Eovaldi 159.0 6.5 2.6 1.1 .307 69.8 % 4.39 4.25 1.3
Adam Warren 141.0 8.0 3.1 0.9 .298 72.9 % 3.76 3.86 1.8
Ivan Nova   56.0 7.3 2.8 1.0 .308 70.9 % 4.10 4.07 0.5
Chris Capuano   37.0 7.3 2.9 1.2 .306 70.7 % 4.36 4.26 0.3
Chase Whitley 38.0 7.3 3.0 1.1 .307 70.2 % 4.41 4.30 0.3
Bryan Mitchell 28.0 6.6 4.4 1.3 .305 68.7 % 5.19 5.10 0.0
Esmil Rogers 28.0 7.3 3.1 1.1 .307 70.0 % 4.44 4.34 0.2
Total 976.0 7.5 2.5 1.1 .303 71.3 % 4.00 3.95 11.6

Last year, thirteen different pitchers started for the Yankees. Nine of them started at least ten games; only two of them pitched over 100 innings; only one of them pitched over 150 innings; and that guy (Hiroki Kuroda) is gone now. But Brian Cashman fought and he scratched and he clawed and the Yankees finished a respectable seventh overall in pitcher WAR in 2014.

On the one hand it seems like the invisible forces of regression would prevent the Yankees from experiencing anything close to that sheer tonnage of injuries here in 2015. On the other hand, there are a lot of pitchers here who, fairly or not, have to be called injury-prone. Pineda’s 13 starts in 2014 were his his major-league appearance since 2011. Nova has hit the DL in each year since 2012, culminating in last year’s four-start mulligan. Even though Tanaka has started twenty games each year going back to his age-18 season in 2007, his 2+ months missed in his first year stateside is anything but a positive omen. Last year, Sabathia might have taken a Bartolo-esque dip that he’ll soon recover from — or his wheels might have fallen off, Roy Halladay-style.

What Yankees fans can all but be assured of, though, is that their team will proactively maneuver to solve problems should this depth chart go awry. Last year’s trade-deadline acquisition of Brandon McCarthy went a long way in helping the team get as close to a playoff seed as they eventually did. Minor-league call-ups Greene and Whitley were supplemented with the mid-season addition of Capuano — who’s about as good a pitcher as one could hope to find available just for cash in the middle of the season. 2014’s injury-riddled debacle just might have represented a worst-case scenario for this staff — and really, things weren’t all that bad.

#10 Tigers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
David Price 220.0 8.6 1.7 0.9 .313 73.2 % 3.45 3.24 4.1
Justin Verlander   209.0 7.7 2.7 0.9 .306 71.9 % 3.83 3.72 2.9
Anibal Sanchez 163.0 8.0 2.3 0.8 .308 71.6 % 3.55 3.31 2.8
Alfredo Simon 146.0 5.4 2.8 1.1 .306 68.5 % 4.71 4.59 0.4
Shane Greene 130.0 7.0 3.3 0.9 .315 69.4 % 4.45 4.19 0.8
Buck Farmer 47.0 6.8 3.2 1.4 .310 68.2 % 5.06 4.85 -0.1
Kyle Lobstein 38.0 6.3 3.2 1.1 .312 68.4 % 4.76 4.47 0.2
Kyle Ryan 28.0 4.7 2.7 1.3 .308 66.8 % 5.22 5.01 -0.1
Drew VerHagen 19.0 4.6 3.0 1.1 .308 67.0 % 5.01 4.76 0.0
Total 999.0 7.3 2.6 1.0 .310 70.6 % 4.07 3.87 11.0

Perspective is key here: while there are twenty other teams, presumably, who would prefer to be at this spot on the projection hierarchy instead of at their own, for the Tigers this is a fall from grace, a crumbling of the empire.

In 2014 the Tigers were projected to be the majors’ best staff in this pre-season exercise, and ended up with the second-best WAR total. And then in the 2013 season, the Tigers were projected to have the best rotation, and that year’s staff lapped the field in any category you could want. Oh: and they had the most productive staff of 2012 as well. Dropping down to 10th would be something of a free-fall for this team and, alas, there is no obvious and/or cheap way to reverse course in the near future.

Unfortunately, the Tigers have nowhere to point the finger but in the mirror. They simply extended the wrong dude — it was all the way back in Spring Training 2010, but the ripples from Verlander’s $180M deal, which runs from 2013-19, have not stopped spreading. We’re entering the third year of the seven-year pact, and already Dave has listed the Verlander contract as the second-most-burdensome deal in all of baseball.

Perhaps financial concerns stemming from Verlander’s mega-deal went a long way in motivating the Tigers’ trade of Doug Fister to the Nationals in exchange for Robbie Ray, Shane Greene, and Ian Krol — a trade that you might recall Dave panning as the very worst deal of the 2013-14 offseason. What Dave didn’t even know then is that, less than 18 months later, only Krol would be left with the Tigers: Lombardozzi was traded before ever appearing in a Tigers uniform, and Ray was dealt to the Diamondbacks in a three-way trade that netted Greene. While Greene appears to be a fine young pitcher, only the most aggressive of rebuilding teams would swap him for Fister — an exchange that the Tigers have effectively pulled off. This is not a rebuilding team.

From the look of the tea leaves, the Tigers will slide even further down this list at the same time next year. Price, the best pitcher on this staff, is due to hit the free agent market — a market that the Tigers might very well be priced out of thanks to their $410M in commitments for 2016 and beyond to Verlander, Sanchez, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez, and Prince Fielder. (Yep — the Tigers are paying $30M of Fielder’s salary from 2016-2020.)

But hey: Sanchez is still really good!

#11 Giants


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Madison Bumgarner 211.0 8.9 2.1 0.8 .294 76.0 % 2.89 3.07 3.9
Matt Cain 180.0 7.6 2.6 1.0 .290 73.0 % 3.68 3.88 1.4
Tim Hudson 170.0 6.0 2.1 0.7 .305 70.5 % 3.75 3.65 1.7
Jake Peavy 171.0 7.2 2.4 0.9 .293 73.6 % 3.53 3.75 1.8
Tim Lincecum 122.0 8.0 3.5 0.9 .305 70.6 % 4.14 3.96 0.7
Ryan Vogelsong 85.0 6.9 2.9 0.9 .300 71.0 % 4.03 4.05 0.5
Yusmeiro Petit 56.0 8.2 2.0 1.0 .300 73.2 % 3.47 3.45 0.8
Total 994.0 7.5 2.5 0.9 .297 72.7 % 3.57 3.65 10.8

If there was ever a team that rendered the exercise of projections meaningless, here they are. Last year’s staff was projected to be 14th-best in the league, ended up at 20th-best, and then the World Series behind the strength of, among other things, their starting pitching.

Does this rotation look intimidating, even though it returns all eight guys who started for last year’s champions? Well, no. Actually, it looks especially not-intimidating now that Cain busted his personal streak of eight straight seasons with at least 30 starts and has to be considered a question mark going forward. Just when you think how disastrous a salary albatross Cain’s deal could be going forward (he is owed $70M over the next four seasons if the Giants choose to buy him out in 2018), you remember that the Giants won two World Series with Barry Zito as their highest-paid player. So, here are the Giants’ projections, but who knows what the heck they mean.

#12 Angels


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jered Weaver 204.0 6.6 2.5 1.2 .288 72.9 % 3.98 4.30 1.5
Matt Shoemaker 198.0 7.3 1.9 1.0 .299 72.2 % 3.67 3.67 2.5
C.J. Wilson 193.0 7.7 3.9 0.9 .303 70.9 % 4.14 4.08 1.6
Garrett Richards   176.0 8.2 2.9 0.6 .301 72.7 % 3.27 3.24 3.2
Hector Santiago 113.0 7.5 3.6 1.0 .295 73.1 % 4.02 4.29 0.9
Andrew Heaney 55.0 7.6 2.7 1.0 .302 72.2 % 3.89 3.98 0.5
Nicholas Tropeano 38.0 7.6 2.8 0.9 .302 70.8 % 3.98 3.87 0.4
Total 977.0 7.4 2.9 0.9 .298 72.2 % 3.82 3.90 10.6

My apologies if the tone of this post is getting more and more pessimistic as we venture deeper down the ranks. The projected gap in production between these 12th-ranked Angels and the 30th-ranked Kansas City Royals (a difference of 5.2 WAR) is actually smaller than the gap between the 12th-ranked Angels and the 2nd-ranked Dodgers (a difference of 6.3 WAR). Plenty of the game’s brightest young individual talents can be found further down both this list and the accompanying post looking at staffs #’s 16-30. If nothing else, though, putting this post together is showing me just how rare and special it is for an entire staff of talents to be put together.

So, the Angels: they’re a very bizarre team in that, despite being unabashedly a big-market squad, heaping portions of their recent success has been generated from players that the team is paying at Tampa Bay-bargain prices. This goes for their offense — you mighta heard of this good-hittin’ fella named Mike Trout — and it goes for their pitching staff as well.

The Angels have a young nucleus of a pitching staff that would be the envy of any cost-conscious contender. Richards is earning $3.2M in 2015 (his first year in arbitration). Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs (who will pitch in 2016 but who will miss the season due to a Tommy John surgery sustained late last summer), and Heaney all make the minimum, and all of them are under team control until after Josh Hamilton’s contract is done. Combined, these four pitchers will earn about what Weaver ($18.2M in 2015) or Wilson ($18.5) will make by Memorial Day. Hm.

And it is the uninspiring — or at least cost-ineffective — results from Weaver and Wilson that makes this staff feel old and bloated instead of young and on the rise. I can’t help but blame the two veterans for guilt by association: in recent the Angels have flushed such prolific amounts of money away on other veterans like Hamilton and Albert Pujols and Vernon Wells and Scott Kazmir, it feels like they are primed to do the same with these pitchers while the young guys carry the team.

#13 Pirates


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Francisco Liriano 169.0 9.3 3.7 0.6 .304 73.3 % 3.40 3.29 2.6
A.J. Burnett 184.0 7.8 3.5 0.7 .310 69.9 % 3.98 3.71 1.8
Gerrit Cole 177.0 8.3 2.6 0.7 .308 72.5 % 3.44 3.32 2.8
Jeff Locke 158.0 6.7 3.4 0.9 .303 71.0 % 4.14 4.15 0.8
Charlie Morton   122.0 6.7 3.0 0.7 .307 70.2 % 3.89 3.89 1.0
Vance Worley 66.0 6.2 2.1 0.8 .312 70.3 % 3.92 3.75 0.7
Jameson Taillon   47.0 7.2 3.1 0.8 .307 71.1 % 3.91 3.81 0.5
Nick Kingham 37.0 6.4 3.1 0.9 .303 69.6 % 4.28 4.22 0.2
Total 961.0 7.7 3.1 0.7 .307 71.2 % 3.80 3.69 10.3

This is, at the very least, one of the most intentionally assembled rotations in the majors. Neal Huntington and his team of analysts have put together a group of ground-ball pitchers (both starters and relievers) who generate a bunch of ground balls into Pittsburgh’s frequent defensive shifts. Over the last two seasons, Pirates pitchers have produced ground balls more frequently than any other staff — and it isn’t particularly close. I suspect this is how the Pirates have outperformed their FIP by one of the widest gaps in the majors over the same time span: they’ve produced a 3.38 ERA over the last two seasons despite a 3.61 ERA.

Clearly, great pains were taken to get the whole gang back together. By signing Liriano to a 3-year/$39M deal this winter, the Pirates made him their biggest free agent investment in franchise history, an action that speaks louder than any complimentary press-conference-speak. Burnett also returns after a sojourn to the other side of Pennsylvania. His leaving the analytically savvy Pirates for the decidedly old-school Phillies, followed by a return to the same Pirates makes Burnett’s 2015 season one of the more interesting single-season experiments going on the majors, in my opinion. Burnett’s FIP ballooned from 2.80 in 2013 (Pirates) to 4.14 in 2014 (Phillies).

But also: Burnett’s ground ball rate with the Pirates was significantly higher than it was with the Phillies (56.5% to 50.9%). Probably more importantly: in high-leverage situations with the Phillies, Burnett drifted away from the ground ball, generating one per fly ball. In high-leverage situations with the Pirates in 2013, Burnett ramped up the ground balls even higher, generating an incredible 3.83 ground balls per fly ball. If Burnett has a bounce-back year — which I do expect will happen — then the Pirates really deserve further credit for their implementation of analytics throughout the organization.

#14 White Sox


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Chris Sale   216.0 10.1 2.2 0.9 .304 76.7 % 2.96 3.02 5.1
Jeff Samardzija 208.0 8.8 2.5 1.1 .312 71.7 % 3.91 3.68 3.0
Jose Quintana 184.0 7.5 2.6 0.9 .309 71.7 % 3.84 3.70 2.5
John Danks 133.0 5.8 3.2 1.4 .304 68.0 % 5.20 5.10 -0.2
Hector Noesi 113.0 6.2 3.2 1.6 .305 68.3 % 5.37 5.23 -0.3
Carlos Rodon 75.0 10.2 5.6 1.2 .307 74.7 % 4.39 4.72 0.2
Erik Johnson   38.0 6.1 4.2 1.3 .309 67.7 % 5.37 5.16 0.0
Brad Penny 18.0 5.8 3.5 1.2 .314 67.6 % 5.19 4.89 0.0
Frankie Montas 9.0 7.2 4.5 1.4 .310 68.3 % 5.37 5.16 0.0
Total 995.0 8.1 3.0 1.1 .308 71.6 % 4.16 4.08 10.2

It remains to be seen if the White Sox’s winter spree was an admirable exercise in proactively seizing the day, or if it will end up being a cautionary tale about the perils of not building through the draft. This staff epitomizes a “stars and scrubs” approach more than any other: none of the other 30 teams have two projected sub-replacement starters among the top five on their depth chart. If the White Sox meet their projection, it would be a continuation of how last year went for the team: Sale and Quintana produced 10.1 WAR, while all the rest of the starters managed 0.6 WAR between them.

One side effect that befell last year’s team was an inability to sustain winning streaks. When a replacement-level starter is given the ball two or three days each week, it’s hard to string any wins together. The White Sox managed two four-game winning streaks last year. That’s not a very high apex to the season: the Rockies had a six-gamer, and the Rangers, Astros, and Red Sox all strung together seven-game streaks. Is this a problem that is actually solved with all the new big boppers in the lineup?

#15 Marlins


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jose Fernandez   99.0 9.9 3.1 0.6 .298 75.4 % 2.89 2.94 2.0
Mat Latos 192.0 6.9 2.5 0.8 .303 72.0 % 3.68 3.65 2.7
Dan Haren 158.0 7.0 2.0 1.1 .306 71.0 % 3.99 3.87 1.5
Henderson Alvarez 166.0 5.3 2.1 0.7 .306 70.6 % 3.79 3.80 1.4
Jarred Cosart   132.0 6.1 3.9 0.6 .301 70.7 % 4.04 4.06 0.8
Tom Koehler 103.0 6.9 3.6 0.9 .303 70.7 % 4.25 4.22 0.4
David Phelps 47.0 7.8 3.3 0.8 .303 72.1 % 3.77 3.80 0.5
Andre Rienzo 47.0 6.9 3.9 0.9 .309 69.9 % 4.45 4.30 0.1
Brad Hand 9.0 7.3 3.8 0.9 .302 71.7 % 4.11 4.16 0.0
Justin Nicolino 9.0 4.6 1.9 0.9 .305 67.9 % 4.35 4.20 0.0
Total 964.0 6.9 2.8 0.8 .304 71.4 % 3.83 3.81 9.5

Because Jeffrey Loria is around, things with the Marlins tend to look like mirrored-funhouse versions of conventional baseball teams. But, by jove, it looks like an honest-to-goodness small-market rebuilding process has been gathering momentum in Miami. As this team has inched further up the projected playoff odds — what’s this? they have the same playoff odds as the defending champion Giants? — they’ve also began to progressively shell out more money for players, including pitchers.

While Haren and his $10M price tag are covered by the Dodgers, Latos’ $9.4M salary counts as a fundamentally different approach for this team. Last year, their highest-paid pitcher was Steve Cishek at $3.8M, and their highest-paid starter was Turner at $1M. Proportionally, the Marlins have committed to a huge leap in salary from 2014, which seems like a show of good faith that bode wells for both the franchise’s relationship with Giancarlo Stanton and also the franchise’s karmic relationship to the universe as a whole. What remains to be seen is if any of these young arms — Fernandez aside, being a Scott Boras client and all — will be locked in long-term, a la Christian Yelich, or if they will be replaced to continue the rebuilding anew, a la Nathan Eovaldi.

We hoped you liked reading 2015 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Rotations (#1-15) by Miles Wray!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Miles Wray contributes sports commentary to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Ploughshares, The Classical and Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him on Twitter @mileswray or email him here.

newest oldest most voted
Sogard's Optician
Guest
Sogard's Optician

Thanks for this, but last time I check, Carlos Carrasco and Sabathia are not injured. Also, the links to those 2 pitchers are broken.