USA TODAY Sports Weekly
Ranking the rotations
Young Braves last in rankings of starting staffs
As football season winds down, our focus begins to shift toward baseball. Before players report to Florida and Arizona this month, however, we offer our thoughts on the best rotations in the majors after an active offseason of player movement.
A caveat: Starting pitching, by nature, is a fickle thing. Sometimes great pitchers get hurt or suddenly prove ineffective; sometimes guys emerge as aces seemingly overnight. And there’s enough parity in the major leagues and potential for injuries that it’s not unreasonable to expect some team ranked in the bottom 10 here will wind up with one of the majors’ 10 best rota- tions in 2016, and vice versa.
Our list is informed by recent stats and 2016 projections, but it is on the whole a subjective list:
1. Chicago Cubs: We did not begin this list expecting to name the Cubs rotation as the best in baseball. The New York Mets, Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians can all probably match the excellent top three of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey, but the Cubs’ depth sets them apart. Only the St. Louis Cardinals have Nos. 4 and 5 starters that stack up to Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, but St. Louis can’t match Chicago in the front end of the rotation.
2. New York Mets: The Mets have young fireballers for days and days, as last seen powering the club to the 2015 World Series. The lack of longer résumés keeps the Mets from the top spot on this list. Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz have a combined total of zero major league seasons with more than 200 regular-season innings pitched. Folk hero Bartolo Colon should fill the fifth slot in the team’s rotation until Zack Wheeler returns from Tommy John elbow surgery.
3. Washington Nationals: The Nats own two true aces in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, a duo good enough to give them a top-half rotation even if they trotted out three total scrubs behind them. But they don’t: Gio Gonzalez makes for a strong No. 3 starter, Joe Ross offers big upside and top prospect Lucas Giolito could join the group by the AllStar break.
4. Cleveland Indians: Corey Kluber did not quite match his 2014 American League Cy Young heights in 2015, but his peripherals suggest he’s still every bit that good. Carlos Carrasco is quietly awesome. Danny Salazar made good on his great stuff with a great 2015 season. And often-frustrating former mega-prospect Trevor Bauer, 25, still has time to put it all together.
5. St. Louis Cardinals: Stalwart Lance Lynn will miss the season after having Tommy John elbow surgery. The return of Adam Wainwright and the remarkable depth means they won’t fall far: If Wainwright, 34, can be the pitcher he was (121-67, 2.98 ERA for his career) before the Achilles tear that ruined his 2015 season, St. Louis could own the best starting staff in baseball again. Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are young and very good, and Mike Leake gives the Cardinals durability.
6. Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale (10.3 career strikeouts per nine innings) might be the world’s most dominant pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw. Jose Quintana is criminally underrated, and Carlos Rodon looks like a potential stud. The White Sox’s remarkable ability to keep their pitchers healthy brightens the outlook on the South Side, enough to overlook the shakiness in the back end of their rotation.
7. Los Angeles Dodgers: Speaking of top-heavy: Kershaw is the difference between the Dodgers and a second-division starting rotation, but Kershaw’s so good they land squarely within the top 10 here. The lefty should open the year as the obvious favorite to win the National League Cy Young Award even after finishing third in 2015, because no pitcher in baseball can match Kershaw’s recent track record (88-33, 2.11 ERA since the start of 2011). Behind him, the Dodgers will hope for good health from Scott Kazmir, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brett Anderson.
8. Houston Astros: The rotation appears a bit top-heavy thanks to reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, but the group behind him is at least solid. Lance McCullers Jr. made his big-league debut in 2015 after only 32 innings above Class A ball