Ahead of the 2018 Major League Baseball season, much is being made of the supposed decline in the value of starting pitching. Increasingly, fewer and fewer starting pitchers are averaging one inning per game throughout the regular season (the minimum for ERA title eligability), suggesting that the typical MLB rotation’s workload is decreasing sharply. However, while this is a lot of truth to these claims, it would be folly to argue that entering the season with an effective — and more importantly, healthy — starting rotation is anything but vital. Here are three teams who will be doing just that on March 29.
Number 3 – Washington Nationals
I have had my top 2 cemented for some time. This 3rd position has had me thinking for a while. It seems scandalous that a rotation with Clayton Kershaw present doesn’t make the top 3. The Phillies also laid a stake with the signing of Arrieta to work alongside Nola. They haven’t even discussed the Indians, Diamondbacks, Yankees.
But it was the trio of Scherzer, Strasburg and Gonzalez, which swung the Nationals for me. Between them and Roark and Cole, they pitched 134 games (810 innings) in 2017, with a strikeout record of 9.7 K/9 (this means they struck out on average 9.7 batsmen a game – anything over 9 is considered excellent.) They also only gave up 3 walks per game at an ERA of 3.19 (ERA is an average of how many runs they concede in a game.) Scherzer himself pitched at a 2.51 ERA, with a K/9 record of 12.0, with Strasburg excellently following up with a 2.52 ERA and a K/9 record of 10.5 himself. Gio supported with a 2.96 ERA — one of the reasons why the Nationals got to the NLDS last season. If they sign Alex Cobb from FA, it only gets stronger.
Number 2 – Chicago Cubs
The Cubs had a good rotation in 2017, which only improved with the signing of Jose Quintana from the White Sox. Losing Jake Arrieta (which hurt a lot) and John Lackey (didn’t hurt as much), meant that the Cubs had lost two of their starters. An ERA of 3.97 in 2017 was barely mouth-watering, but considering Lackey was responsible for 4.59 of that average, the Cubs had a good base.
Lester, a two time Cy Young nominated pitcher, Kyle Hendricks, an ERA of 3.03 last season and Quintana, ‘pitched’ in with a record of 7-3 (7 wins, 3 losses at time of withdrawal from game) and a K/9 record of 10.5, occupied the 3 positions. Signing Tyler Chatwood from the Rockies was an improvement on Jon Lester for me. Don’t read too much into his ERA stats, he has spent the last 5 years home pitching at the notorious batting friendly stadium, Coors Field (it is the highest stadium above sea level, meaning the air is thinner and so the ball travels further.)
Then the Cubs picked up the best pitcher on the FA market in Yu Darvish. Darvish has a career ERA of 3.42 and an impressive K/9 record of 11.0. He also completely destroyed the Cubs in the NLCS for the Dodgers last season. The depth shown by having pitchers like Quintana and Darvish potentially pitching 3rd/4th in your rotation is the reason why I believe the Cubs to be so high.
Number 1 – Houston Astros
The Astros had a good rotation last year which consisted of Keuchel, with an ERA of 2.90 in 2017, McCullers Jr who had a K/9 record of 10 and a HR/9 record of 0.6 (meaning he effectively gave up just over 1 home run in 2 games), and Charlie Morton, who pitched his best year since 2013 in regards to ERA, and his best ever in regards to K/9, (10), and WHIP (Walks & Hits per Inning Pitched – any score close to 1 is seen as excellent), with 1.193. Peacock is amongst the names who make up the last two places, who in my view, is a brilliant bullpen pitcher. It gets to September 1st, and Houston decide that a record of 80-53 wasn’t quite good enough so they acquired Justin Verlander. Verlander, who had a career ERA of 3.46, propelled Houston to new levels with a 5-0 record, an ERA of 1.06 and a WHIP of 0.647…phenomenal. So Houston finish the league with a remarkable 101-61 win record. Houston then win the ALDS, the ALCS and finally, the World Series, beating the Dodgers 4-3.
A lot could be said in regard to the power they had in their batting line-up, but it was certainly backed up with excellent pitching, especially from Morton in that final game to win 5-1. Their rotation season ERA was nowhere near the best in the game however (that was shared between the Nationals and Dodgers – 3.19) and their WAR was behind the Nationals, Indians, Diamondbacks, to name a few, so they decided more firepower was needed. That came in the form of Gerrit Cole form Pittsburgh. For the last 5 years, PNC Park is where Cole has been plying his trade, amassing an ERA of 3.5 and a K/9 figure of almost 9. He struggled a bit in places last year, but playing alongside Keuchel, Verlander, Morton and McCullers will only help his game. Not saying Cole is another ace in their pack, but he rounds off their rotation quite nicely as potentially the 5th starter.
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