There has been a lot of talk ever since the Gio Gonzalez trade about which teams have the best rotations in baseball and just where the Nats rank after trading for Gonzalez. Baseball is ripe with pitching, and a lot of teams have really good rotations, but it still being the off-season and a lot of player movement has yet to take place it is hard to talk about complete rotations. I will say if a top three is known then the rotation is good and if a top five is known then that rotation has a chance to be one of the top five in baseball. I am also not sure who exactly is still under team control so praising the Brewers and Randy Wolf as their fifth starter when I don’t even know if Randy Wolf is still Brewers’ property is a little misguided. So instead of the best rotations in baseball we will call this the best top threes in baseball.
There are a couple that are obvious. The top threes of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels and Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner have had so much ink spilled on them in recent memory that nothing more really needs to be said. Everyone knows that Halladay is the Ace of Aces and that Lee is a magician who can make a baseball defy the laws of physics. Lincecum is a two time Cy Young award winner and remains one of the best young pitchers in the game of baseball, and Cain is a bulldog on the mound with the stuff to go along with the attitude. Those top threes are obviously the best of the best, but they could have some company in 2012.
With the addition of CJ Wilson the Angels now have a top three of Weaver, Haren, and Wilson. This is a very good if not spectacular top three, It could be as good as Philadelphia’s if Wilson can pitch like he has the last two seasons. Weaver was the runner up for the Cy Young award this past season and has been one of the most consistent starters in baseball, and Dan Haren has always been quietly underrated while putting up spectacular numbers. This top three might already be as good as those listed above as I don’t think i need to quote any stats to convince anyone that this is one of the better top threes in the game of baseball.
Next up are the Tampa Bay Rays. It is a bit tough to say who their top three is as the rotation is so deep. It could be Price, Shields, Hellickson or Price, Shields, Moore depending on how much faith the Rays have in the young rookie, but seeing as they already gave him a long term deal it appears to be a lot. Still Hellickson is very good and was the 2011 AL rookie of the year in his own right. If we were expanding this to include all five starters it might be hard to argue against the Rays as having the best rotation in baseball as they aren’t bogged down by a Joe Blanton or Barry Zito at the back end.
This is where the list gets tough if I am expected to make it seem like it is a ranking. So I won’t. I am not saying any of these rotations is better than another at the moment, but they all have a chance to be elite depending on health and consistency. This collection of top threes includes the Braves (Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens/Beachy), the Marlins (Johnson, Sanchez, Buehrle), the Nationals (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez), the Cardinals (Wainwright, Carpenter, Garcia), the Reds (Latos, Cueto, Leake), the Brewers (Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum), and the Diamondbacks (Hudson, Cahill, Kennedy).
Every one of those top threes has a chance to be special. Obviously not every one of them will. The Braves and Marlins are the ones standing on the most slippery ground as there are big concerns about the shoulders of Josh Johnson and Tommy Hanson, and if there is something a baseball team doesn’t want to be concerned about it is a shoulder of one of their pitchers. The Cardinals also have injury concerns but those are if Wainwright can pitch like he did before having TJS, and 90% of the pitchers that have had that surgery make a full recovery. The worries with the elbow of a pitcher are small compared to the shoulder, and don’t forget Wainwright threw one of the best curve balls in baseball history when he struck out Beltran to end the 2006 NLCS.
Latos and Cueto shouldn’t be concerns for the Reds, but Mike Leake is. They have to hope he can continue to develop and this is the year he puts it all together and this is the season he pitches two hundred innings with a ground ball rate among the best in baseball. The Diamondbacks have the be a little worried that Hudson and Kennedy were just one year wonders. Hudson has the better peripherals and should be able to maintain his level of success, but there are more than a few signs that Kennedy’s season was a bit of a mirage. They also have to hope that Cahill is more the 2.97 ERA pitcher he was in 2010 than the 4.16 ERA pitcher he was in 2011. His FIP says he is more of the latter than the former so that concern might be quite large.
The Nationals and Brewers have the least to worry about. If their top threes pitch like themselves they they are among the best in baseball. The Nationals should be a bit concerned about the health of Strasburg as he did show a bit of shoulder weariness before he had the TJS in 2010, but that could have just been fatigue. If Strasburg pitches like he can then he is among the best pitchers in baseball. The only thing that stands between Strasburg and a legendary career is health, and with pitchers that is always the great unknown.
The Brewers have much less to be worried about with their top three and if everyone can stay healthy and pitch like themselves then they are already among the best in baseball. The Prince Fielder free agency saga and the Ryan Braun positive PED test has distracted people a bit from one of the Brewers main strengths. The Brewers had the sixth fewest runs allowed per game in the NL in 2011, and that was with an awful infield defense and a bullpen that was erratic at times. The Brewers starting pitching means they shouldn’t be counted out as much as some seem to be ready to. The Giants had a good rotation and got career years out of a number of position players and ended up winning the World Series. Offense is a lot easier to luck into than pitching, and the Brewers have plenty of that in their rotation.
Oddly enough I think I ended up with a top five top threes in baseball. In order it would be the Phillies, Giants, Angels, Rays, and Brewers. Remember this is my ranking before 2012 has even arrived. There is a long way to go before the players have their say about it, and a lot can happen between now and the end or even start of the baseball season.