Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pitching As A Relative Strength

Although more often than not I put some thought into a topic before putting together a full fledged post, sometimes the topic just happens. This afternoon, a follower on Twitter posed a very interesting question. He asked, "Where do you see the Twins rotation amongst the AL Central competition." As recently as last season, it would be easy to quickly dismiss the thought and suggest they are dead last. Heading into 2015 however, it's not quite as easy.

To understand the foundation the Twins stand on, we probably first need to comprehend what they are up against. Going in order of how I see the AL Central shaking out, let's take a look.

Detroit Tigers

I still hate the idea that the Tigers could win the AL Central, but looking at the White Sox and Indians, the Tigers still are where I lean. Although the Detroit offense should be impressive if it can stay healthy, this rotation is not at all at the same level as 2014. I'm not going to claim to know the order of any of these other rotations, but here is likely how the Tigers go:
  1. David Price
  2. Anibal Sanchez
  3. Justin Verlander (skipped while on DL)
  4. Shane Greene
  5. Alfredo Simon
Last season, Price came over from the Rays and was welcomed rather uncomfortably. Sure, he posted a 3.26 ERA, but he also gave up more than four runs four different times in just 11 starts. There's no doubt he's deserving of the looming extension (and after losing Max Scherzer Detroit has to pay the man), but I'm not sure that brighter days are ahead. Anibal Sanchez is a constant injury risk, and while on he's great, the Tigers simply shouldn't rely on him at this point.

I was of the belief that Verlander would bounce back this season, but he's showing signs of age before the season even gets going. I like Greene's upside, but there's still plenty for him to prove. Rounding out the rotation, a 33 year old Simon got paid off of his first year starting since 2011. His 4.33 FIP (fielding independent pitching) last season causes some real reason for concern.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are going to need their offense to show up, and I think it will. Their rotation has plenty of power at the top, but there's a significant cliff at the end. Here's who should be included:
  1. Chris Sale (beginning on the DL)
  2. Jeff Samardzija
  3. Jose Quintana
  4. John Danks
  5. Hector Noesi
Sale and Samardzija are both quality pitchers and the White Sox should be fine there. Samardzija passed his regression test with Oakland (3.14 ERA in 16 starts) and should be counted on to continue the trend. From there however, things get uncertain.

I like Quintana and think he can is a quality major league starter. He's young and he should only get better, if not for the next two, this is my favorite rotation in the Central. John Danks is rough, and as a 4th option even worse. He's getting paid, and the White Sox didn't want to go with the youngster Carlos Rodon yet. That will hurt them. Noesi is a back end of the rotation guy and is prone to blowups. He doesn't strike many out and doesn't miss enough bats. Knowing that Brad Penny is the option behind him, the White Sox are in trouble if they need to start shuffling.

Cleveland Indians

If you love the Indians to be a dark horse in the Central, and even the American League this year (and plenty do), it begins and ends with their rotation. Offensively, the Tribe should score, but they will need to be banking on the return of Kipnis and Swisher, while hoping that Moss and Brantley continue to perform. The biggest reason I dislike the Indians as a trendy team is that I don't buy their rotation:
  1. Corey Kluber
  2. Carlos Carrasco
  3. Trevor Bauer
  4. Zach McAllister
  5. TJ House
Kluber is the reigning Cy Young. He's a stud, nothing to see there. The Indians will then give the ball to Carrasco, who's started just 54 games in his five year major league career. Last year he owned a 2.55 ERA but made only 14 starts. He had a 2.44 FIP a season ago, yet he had never posted a mark better than 4.10 previously in his career. Carrasco has also never thrown more than 134 innings in a season. It's too small of a sample size, and I just can't get on board.

I like Bauer more than most, but the former top prospect is much to uncertain to rely on. He'll be lights out one night, and a walk machine the next. McAllister and House rounding out the group shouldn't excite anyone. Blame some poor defense (3.45 FIP/5.23 ERA) but McAllister didn't prove anything a year ago. House has a good deal of upside and should be expected to take steps forward, but his 3.69 FIP was actually worse than his ERA (3.35) and it will be interesting to see how he competes in his second year in the big leagues.

Kansas City Royals

If the Indians are the trendy pick, the Royals are anything but. I have them finishing at the bottom of the division and I just don't like their offseason at all. It's not that losing James Shields was detrimental, but the pieces they brought in as replacements should cause skepticism. Here is how the rotation should look:
  1. Yordano Ventura
  2. Danny Duffy
  3. Edinson Volquez
  4. Jason Vargas
  5. Jeremy Guthrie
First, yuck. Second, the Royals rotation was recently ranked as one of the worst in the major leagues, and it's with good reason. Ventura may very well be a Cy Young candidate, but the cliff begins after him. Danny Duffy should be expected to provide quality again for Kansas City, but a 3.83 FIP and a 2.53 ERA suggest his surroundings were a large part of the reason for his success. Edinson Volquez coming over from Pittsburgh could get ugly quick. He owns a 4.44 career ERA with all but three seasons coming in the National League. He's posted an FIP under 4.00 only once, and that was size years ago.

Both Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie are on the wrong side of 30, with the former likely staring an ERA near 5.00 in the face. The fact that Joe Blanton believes he can crack this group on the back end is probably telling in and of itself.

Minnesota Twins

This brings us to the Twins (no I don't have them finishing last). While Minnesota's offense was in the top ten in runs scored a season ago, it didn't matter with the rotation bleeding runs. It's quite conceivable that the bullpen will be the culprit this season, but the rotation should have far more questions than answers. It's slated to look like this:
  1. Phil Hughes
  2. Ervin Santana
  3. Ricky Nolasco
  4. Kyle Gibson
  5. Tommy Milone
Hughes was lights out last season, but for the most part, that could have been expected. His FIP (2.65) improved as it should have leaving Yankee Stadium. Although the outfield defense is expected to get worse, Hughes doesn't have to prevent a record amount of walks to improve. His 3.52 ERA leaves room to get lower, and he should once again be considered a staff ace.

Of the group, Santana may actually be the wild card. While I'm excited by the signing, I noted that Santana actually concerns me a decent amount this year. The Twins need him to be good, and better than his trends suggest. Nolasco was billed as an innings eater and an ace when signed last offseason. that was a mistake by the Twins, and only compounded by the former Marlin pitching through injury. He's never going to be a top of the rotation guy, but an ERA right around 4.00 and a quality third starter should be expected.

Gibson likely stands to take the biggest step forward this year. Settled into a guaranteed rotation spot, and another year removed from Tommy John surgery, Minnesota should expect more from their former first round pick. He's never going to strike a lot of guys out, but getting his K/9 up around 7.0 is fair and something that should lower his ERA into the high three range.

The fifth spot is likely going to be the most fluid for the Twins. Milone isn't exciting, but you know what you're going to get. His 4.21 FIP average isn't going to be conducive to a low ERA, but Target Field should aid him just like the Coliseum. Healthy this season, he can give the Twins innings at a 4.10 clip until Alex Meyer or Trevor May is ready.

While this became extremely long winded, I hope the point got across. There is no clear cut favorite when it comes to rotations in the AL Central. At the end of the day, the top dogs have more questions than answers on the back end. The Twins may not have the top tier aces, but they probably have more reliable quality throughout. Minnesota is not yet in a position to consider the rotation a strength, but if the Twins are going to shock some people, it will come on the backs of their starting pitchers hovering around their perceived potential.

No comments:

Post a Comment