Ranking the top 10 starting rotations

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
12:30
PM ET
What, you didn't think the New York Yankees would rebuild after missing the playoffs last season, did you? Masahiro Tanaka -- signed to a seven-year, $155 million deal, with a player opt-out clause after four years -- joins what could be a formidable Yankees rotation.

How good? Here are my top 10 rotations heading into the 2014 season, keeping in mind that Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Bronson Arroyo and Matt Garza are still out there and could boost any of these groups another notch. (Click here to provide your own rotation rankings.) I've also listed seven starters, which I factor into the rankings, since nobody makes it through a season with just five guys. (Statistics presented are 2013 totals, with FanGraphs WAR also listed.)

10. Texas Rangers (3.99 ERA, .256/.317/.411, 16.0 WAR)
Rotation: Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Nick Tepesch, Colby Lewis

The Rangers' rotation is always underrated, but Texas hasn't won 90-plus games the past four seasons just because of the offense. These guys have to pitch in a park where the ball flies and the summer heat can be lethal, so they're never going to lead the league in ERA. By WAR, they were the second-best rotation in the majors in 2013. Darvish finished second in the Cy Young voting and may be the favorite this season. Perez showed promise with a strong rookie season. The concern is the depth, especially with Holland out for at least three months after knee surgery.

The big questions: Is Harrison healthy after missing almost all of last year after back surgery? Is Perez ready to handle 30 starts and more innings?

9. Atlanta Braves (3.51 ERA, .253/.305/.395, 13.0 WAR)
Rotation: Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood, David Hale, Aaron Northcraft

The Braves keep churning out starting pitchers. Teheran, after a disappointing year in the minors in 2012, suddenly mastered his slider and curveball, threw strikes and from May onward posted a 2.86 ERA. With the continued development of Minor, the top three looks very solid. Next up: Wood, a second-round pick out of Georgia in 2012 who soared through the minors and had a 3.13 ERA with the Braves (3.54 in 11 starts). He's a lefty and some believe he'll end up in the bullpen, but I like his chances in the rotation.

The big questions: Will Beachy get all the way back from his 2012 Tommy John surgery? Who starts in case of an injury? Remember, this is a team that had to start Freddy Garcia in a playoff game in October.

8. Cincinnati Reds (3.43 ERA, .245/.298/.395, 12.0 WAR)
Rotation: Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani, Daniel Corcino, Robert Stephenson

Reds starters have been remarkably durable the past two seasons. They didn't miss a single start in 2012 and only Cueto spent time on the disabled list in 2013 as Cincy starters pitched the second-most innings in the majors behind the Tigers. Give some credit to pitching coach Bryan Price, who takes over as manager this season. Arroyo is unlikely to return to the Reds, but Cingrani, with his deceptive delivery and sneaky fastball, is ready to take his spot after a strong showing filling in for Cueto.

The big questions: Can Cueto stay on the field for 30 starts? Are youngsters Corcino and Stephenson ready if needed?

7. Tampa Bay Rays (3.81 ERA, .250/.309/.398, 11.5 WAR)
Rotation: David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Colome, Jake Odorizzi

The Rays starters benefit from a pitcher-friendly home park and a defense that usually rates above average, but I like the chances of this group to perform better than in 2013. Not only did Price and Cobb miss some time (Price with forearm tightness, Cobb with a concussion), but Moore and Archer also have the ability to raise their games to another level. Archer dominates righties with a lethal slider. If he can improve his change to get lefties out more consistently, he could be a big winner.

The big questions: Will Price be in uniform on Opening Day? Can Hellickson rebound from a 5.17 ERA? He actually had better strikeout and walk rates than in 2012.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers (3.13 ERA, .245/.300/.371, 13.9 WAR)
Rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Stephen Fife

Wait, the team with the best rotation ERA in the majors last season ranks sixth? Yep, that's how good these rotations are. The Dodgers have to be disappointed they fell short in the Tanaka sweepstakes; we'll now see if they go after one of the free-agent starters, unless they're counting on Beckett (yes, he's still around!). They have the best pitcher in baseball in Kershaw, Greinke pitched like an ace in 2013 (2.63 ERA), and Ryu proved to be the real deal with a 3.00 ERA over 192 innings. Of course, they benefit from pitching in Dodger Stadium (as well as at San Francisco and San Diego).

The big questions: What does Haren have left? Will Beckett and Billingsley (returning from Tommy John surgery) contribute anything? If Haren pitches like he did in the second half with the Nationals (3.52 ERA as he curbed his gopherball problems) and Greinke gets back to 200 innings, this could certainly be the best in the majors, even with concerns about the No. 5 spot.

5. New York Yankees (4.08 ERA, .267/.320/.418, 14.8 WAR)
Rotation: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren

Seven years for Tanaka may prove to be a risky proposition, but he's an excellent bet for 2014. I listed him third, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's the team's best pitcher from the get-go. The Yankees' rotation was pretty good last year -- ranked fourth in FanGraphs' WAR -- as you have to remember that pitching in Yankee Stadium doesn't help. Now they've replaced Phil Hughes (5.19 ERA) with Tanaka. I'll call that a major upgrade. Andy Pettitte is gone, but if Pineda can return after missing two years with shoulder problems, that will be a huge bonus. It's not a group without issues, however, especially the ages and wear on Sabathia (4.78 ERA in 2013) and Kuroda (5.40 ERA his final 10 starts).

The big questions: Will Tanaka handle the pressure and big contract? Is Sabathia still a top-of-the-rotation guy?

4. Boston Red Sox (3.84 ERA, .247/.314/.395, 15.9 WAR)
Rotation: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, Ryan Dempster, Brandon Workman

The Red Sox may lack an ace -- although Buchholz was pitching like one last season until he landed on the disabled list -- but they have terrific depth. Lester is pitching in his free-agent season; if he can remain focused for six months like he did in the postseason, look for a big year. Buchholz has never pitched 200 innings and his health is always a question, so I think of him more as a No. 2 or No. 3.

The big questions: Can Lackey repeat his big year, when he posted a career-low walk rate? Does Peavy have anything left in the tank?

3. St. Louis Cardinals (3.42 ERA, .250/.311/.371, 13.6 WAR)
Rotation: Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez

Let's see. Ace? Check. Young guns? Check. Workhorse innings eater? Check. Forgotten lefty who is pretty decent? Check. Depth? Check. Put it this way: When a guy like Martinez, who throws in the upper 90s, probably can't crack the rotation, it must be pretty good. I guess it's possible this group could regress -- maybe the league figures out Miller (basically a two-pitch pitcher in 2013), maybe Wacha settles in as a No. 3 or 4 and not a 1 or 2, maybe Lynn has peaked, maybe Garcia can't stay healthy. I'll take my chances.

The big questions: What is Wacha's ultimate upside? Who wins the final spot?

2. Washington Nationals (3.60 ERA, .247/.300/.385, 13.4 WAR)
Rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Nate Karns

What makes this group so enticing and potentially so dominant is that everybody brings something different to the table. Strasburg with the big fastball and wipeout curve (batters hit .134 with one home run against it). Zimmermann with the fastball he spots so well and the killer slider. The lefty Gonzalez with the big hook (batters hit .113 with one home run against that pitch!). Fister comes over from the Tigers with his array of curves, sliders and changeups. Detwiler throws a hard sinker. There is excellent depth as well in Roark, Karns and Taylor Jordan. The Nationals disappointed a year ago, but I'm back on the bandwagon with this group.

The big questions: Is this the year Strasburg tops 200 innings and becomes an ace? Is Detwiler healthy, and will he pitch like he did in 2012?

1. Detroit Tigers (3.44 ERA, .248/.302/.357, 25.3 WAR)
Rotation: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, Jose Alvarez, Robbie Ray

So who does new manager Brad Ausmus give the ball to on Opening Day? You have to give it to the Cy Young winner, don't you? The Tigers led all rotations in innings and strikeouts (102 more than the Rangers and Indians). Their No. 3 starter led the American League in ERA. Yes, Fister was traded to the Nationals, but I'm a huge Smyly fan and think he'll step in nicely as the fifth guy. Bonus: The infield defense should be drastically better this year, which will help everyone, most notably ground ball specialist Porcello. They don't quite have the depth with the sixth and seventh guys as other groups, but the top three are so dominant that I still like the Tigers as the best rotation of 2014.

The big questions: Will Verlander bounce back from his "off" year? Will the lack of depth pop up?

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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