MLB Rotations: Sorting the Starting Five: March 7
James Grande breaks down starting rotation battles and gives his thoughts on who the favorites to win the job are.
Generally after winter meetings and the free agents sign with their new and sometimes old teams, we begin to see how the landscape is shaping out with each team; but for this article specifically, each team’s rotation. Which teams will spend all of spring training trying to figure out who their fifth starter will be? Which teams will suffer an injury -- like the Yankees did on Tuesday with Luis Severino -- and who will they choose to fill in until the former is healthy enough to pitch? That’s what this article is going to do for anyone interested in rotation battles and even how they’re swaying. Let’s dive into the first edition!
The Yanks have a Sevvy Sevvy Big Problem!
Luis Severino didn’t make his spring training debut start Tuesday due to an uncomfortable feeling in his shoulder. Turns out, the Yanks will shut him down and place him on the injured list for the next two weeks and then he’ll be reevaluated. They’ll all but assuredly have to replace him for Opening Day, but what happens if he’s reevaluated and he’s out for some time? Who’s going to take his spot in the rotation? I won’t fail to mention that C.C. Sabathia is also suspended for the first five games of the year coming off surgery on his knee. Could the Yanks also potentially keep him out for a few starts? A strong rotation suddenly has some openings for the early stages of the year.
The Yankees have three options that have been around the team for the past couple of seasons in Domingo Germán , Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga . German would likely be the favorite and would be the most viable fantasy asset to pick up off of waivers. German made 14 starts just last season and despite some control deficiencies, amongst other things, he notched a 10.4 K/9 mark as a starter. Cessa has never shown much promise in the big leagues as his ERA as a member of the rotation during his three-year career notching a 4.93 ERA while he had a WEE BIT more success out of the pen posting a 4.37 ERA. Loaisiga is definitely the wild card of the bunch. He made nine appearances (four starts) for the Yanks in 2018, flashing tremendous stuff. In those nine appearances, he bolstered a 30.6-percent K-rate to go along with a 13-percent SwStr (swinging strike). Both ELITE marks.
What do the Tigers Have Brewing in Spring?
I’m not sure if it feels like Daniel Norris has been vying for the Tigers fifth rotation spot in spring training the past 10 springs, but that’s where I am. He’s still only in his Age-25 season, somehow, and has a shot at beating out Matt Moore for the final rotation spot.
Norris, the one-time number one overall prospect in the Jays system way back in 2014, was the headliner in the David Price trade that moved Price to Toronto. The Tigers haven’t done much commenting on who is currently the favorite to win the job, but with Norris having an option to head to the minor leagues, he seems the more likely candidate than Moore. Norris also hasn’t done himself any favors by starting his spring off allowing three earned runs over the first 3.2 innings he’s pitched. They haven’t been just three normal earned runs either, they’re all via the home run.
Moore, on the flipside, has only allowed two earned runs over 4.1 innings. I guess he’s winning? The problem with Moore is he hasn’t posted better than a 5.52 ERA in either of the past two seasons and doesn’t generate any swings and misses notching a measly 9.7-percent SwStr mark last year. The one thing Norris seemingly does is strike opponents out (8.2 K/9 over his career), which is obviously something as fantasy owners, we covet heavily. Norris would be the only KIND OF appealing option if he were to win the job, but it would be in AL-only formats.
Houston..Is There a Problem?
I’m not sure calling it a “problem” is the proper way to phrase it, but the Astros rotation doesn’t look as daunting as it has in years past once we get past Cole and Verlander. Let’s also not ignore Justin Verlander ’s advanced age for a pitcher as he enters this year at 37-years old. Josh James who was seemingly everyone’s favorite to win the fifth starters spot out of camp injured his quad which basically pulled him out of the race. Not to say he can’t one day join the rotation, but for now, it looks like Frambar Valdez and Brad Peacock are going to duke it out.
I’m sure many people asked themselves why Brad Peacock was moved to the bullpen in 2018 after going 13-2 with a 3.00 ERA and a 10.98 K/9 but then you look at his overall splits and how he fared as he got deeper into games. The first time around he held his opponents to a sub ONE ERA at 0.92. The second time his opponents faced him he was still good collecting a 3.35 ERA, but if you ever wondered why he only made it beyond six innings ONCE across 21 starts, his 8.84 ERA the third time opposing batters faced him is why. It will be interesting which version of Peacock the Astros want, however, as he was a dominant force coming out of the pen last year racking up a 35.3-percent K-rate and left 83.3-percent of base runners that were on base stranded.
Is Frambar Valdez the answer if Peacock isn’t? There is definitely some things to like about the 25-year old that could make him appealing to fantasy owners. For one, he bolstered a 70-percent ground ball rate last year. Yes, you read that correctly. The 22.1-percent K-rate is definitely something to work with as well, but he lacked a lot of control issues walking his opponents at a near 16-percent clip at the same token. Both possess fantasy value as a starter, but neither catch my eye coming out of the pen, unless you’re in a 15-team league. Peacock’s K-upside alone puts him on everyone’s radar should he win the job.
Rotation Clutter North of the Border?
The Blue Jays didn’t have much of an issue knowing who their five starters entering this season would be until they inked Clay Buchholz to a one-year deal on Tuesday. Now there are six arms vying for five spots. With Marcus Stroman , Aarón Sánchez , Matt Shoemaker , and now Clay Buchholz in four of the five, Ryan Borucki and veteran Clayton Richard will be duking it out for the fifth and final spot.
Buchholz was definitely a good addition to the Jays starting rotation as he had quite the resurgence with Arizona last season. He went 7-2 in 16 starts while posting a 2.01 ERA. That doesn’t exactly correlate with his 4.01 xFIP, but over the course of a season even that isn’t that bad of a number for a middle of the rotation type. In deep 15-team leagues, I’d consider Buchholz a back end of the staff-type pitcher.
Richard has been ol’ reliable the past two years -- at least in terms of availability -- making 59 starts and primarily staying healthy. The issue is, that everyone and their mother is aware of, is being away from San Diego deemed detrimental to Richard’s success throughout the years. Over the past two years, Richard has posted an abysmal 5.96 ERA, 23-percent HR/FB and allowed his opponents to bat .291. The HR/FB rate will NOT play in Rogers Centre as -- according to our Ballpark Ratings on the Fantasy Alarm MLB tools page -- as it ranked fifth in home runs and fourth in slugging. Not too forgiving if you ask me...or anyone with a brain.
Ryan Borucki was solid during his rookie campaign making 18 starts and posting a sub-4 ERA. Looking at his xFIP (4.62), however, it’s likely that that sub-4 mark rises into the four’s over a full campaign. Borucki relies on control more than he does striking people out as he notched a miniscule 6.17 K/9 and a 3.04 BB/9 as well. Neither Richard or Borucki possess much fantasy value unless Borucki can suddenly begin to strike a few more batters out but nothing about his minor league profile suggests he will.
It’s a Brave Task Figuring out the Fifth Starter in Atlanta
There honestly is a list of about seven guys that could end up being the Braves fifth starter at some point this year, so let’s just go ahead and break down the ones that have a shot at breaking camp in the rotation.
Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint are currently the two pitchers that are most likely to break camp with the job. Wright has started his spring training firing five scoreless innings with a 6:0 K:BB ratio. The most impressive part is that he faced a Yankees order featuring Aaron Judge and Luke Voit ; both went down via the strikeout. Wright is the team’s fifth rated prospect coming into the year and flashed some nice swing and miss stuff in the minors last year notching a 22.5-percent K-rate at Double-A and a 25.5-percent mark at Triple-A. Toussaint on the other hand may have entered spring as the fifth starter, but he’s had a rocky start allowing six hits and seven earned runs in just three innings. Toussaint, however made five starts for the big league team last year and looked sharp in doing so -- at least from the strikeout department -- notching a 9.63 K/9.
The one guy that is different than all of the guys vying for the spot is Max Fried . What’s different about Fried is that he pitched in 14 games last season and even made four postseason appearances for the Braves as well. When breaking Fried’s splits down last year, in his five starts he notched a 2.49 ERA compared to a 3.79 mark in nine games out of the pen. His ability to strike people out could separate him from the pack when the dust settles, punching out 44 over 33.2 innings. Luiz Gohara , Kolby Allard and Bryse Wilson all have outside shots, but it’s unlikely the take the job from one of the aforementioned starters by the end of this month. For me, Fried has the most fantasy appeal out of all of them considering how well he can rack up punchouts.
A lot of Unknown’s in LA LA Land
First and foremost, how many starts will Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill make this year given their recent history with injuries. Not only is he currently dealing with shoulder inflammation, but he’s spent the two seasons prior dealing with a bad back, which is the WORST sign for a pitcher who’s now 30-years old. Rich Hill has seemingly been dealing with blisters since World War II and hasn’t been able to make more than 25 starts since 2007. Yes, not 2017, that is not a typo. 2007. If I’m bringing up Kershaw’s age than we definitely have to point out Hill’s advanced age of 38 as well.
With all these unknown’s, what will the Dodgers do, especially if Kershaw does in fact open the year on the injured list? Well Ross Stripling is the most obvious choice. Not only is he the most obvious, but he’s being drafted in fantasy leagues as if that is going to happen or fantasy owners are hedging their bets assuming someone in this rotation will fall. Stripling is being drafted as the 63rd starter off the board, ahead of guys with guaranteed rotation spots such as Carlos Rodon , Julio Teherán and Michael Wacha amongst many more. Stripling was dominant in the first half of 2018 and tailed off after the All-Star break, so worst comes to worst and that becomes a trend, at least we have him when the Dodgers rotation isn’t at its peak!
The curveball could become what the Dodgers decide to do with Julio Urías , the former number one overall prospect. He’s looked sharp to start his spring training firing three innings, allowing one run (solo homer) while striking out four and walking none. There have been rumblings about a six-man rotation and although nothing official has come from manager Dave Roberts’ mouth, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. Definitely a situation we need to monitor.
Listen to Mish on the Fish
If you head over to our very own Craig Mish’s Twitter account you’ll see a very interesting quote that Mish got from the team president’s mouth about the rotation and Dan Straily and Wei-Yin Chen , who were both projected members of this staff, weren't a part of it. The five names mentioned were Sandy Alcantara , Jose Urena , Pablo Lopez , Trevor Richards , and Caleb Smith . Every single one of those names are 27 and younger, while both Chen and Straily are on the wrong side of 30. If you had either of those two in season long leagues, it’s time to get rid of them yesterday because they do not have a place in the Marlins staff going forward.
How Scary (in a bad way) is the Brewers Rotation in Fantasy Baseball?
The Brewers ace entering the year is Jhoulys Chacin , who was very good in 2018, but I did use the word ace and followed that up with Chacin’s name. Is that type of year sustainable? Time will tell, but after him, there are a lot of unknowns that will need to answered.
Jimmy Nelson didn’t pitch at all in 2018 coming off shoulder surgery and Brandon Woodruff and Zach Davies made 17 starts combined last season. Outside Chacin and Chase Anderson , the Brew Crew have answers throughout the rotation.
Freddy Peralta has an outside chance at winning a job and he has a big arm, but he has control issues showcased by his 4.6 BB/9 across 16 games (14 starts) in 2018. I mentioned he has a big arm, however, notching an 11.0 K/9 mark, which is truly elite. If he shows better control this spring -- only one inning pitched with no walks thus far -- maybe the Brewers will be forced to give him a look every fifth day. If Peralta wins a job out of camp, he’d instantly be on our radar’s out of sheer ability and potential. He’s way more appealing than guys like Davies and Woodruff.
One Pitcher is all it takes, Possibilities..for Pittsburgh
If you didn’t understand the title, it’s a song...we can’t win them all. After the Pirates top four, which is very solid, the fifth starters job is very much wide open and there are four starters with their eyes on the prize. Nick Kingham , Steven Brault , Jordan Lyles , and Rookie Davis are the four, and each really do have a chance.
Kingham, Brault and Lyles have the most experience just simply based on last season as Kingham started 15 games, Brault appeared in 45 for the Bucs, while Lyles made 35 appearances between San Diego and Milwaukee. Kingham pitched to a 5.21 ERA which doesn’t help his chances at all and he’s also allowed five earned on eight hits over five innings to start his spring. Brault hasn’t really helped his chances either, one upping Kingham allowing six earned on nine hits in six innings. The one thing Brault has working for him is he pitches from the left side and the Pirates already have four right-handers solidified in their rotation. Lyles is throwing away any chance he had as well allowing four earned in the five innings he’s pitched. Does anyone want this job?!
Rookie Davis may come from behind and actually win this job outright. Yes, he’s only appeared in one game, but it was two shutout innings -- unlike his competitors -- and he struck out three allowing just one base runner via a walk. Davis is a five-pitch pitcher that was the key competent for the Aroldis Chapman trade to the Yankees from the Reds to actually happen. We should have little-to-no interest in any of them, but Davis could actually steal this job if he pitches well and the rest of the options continue to crap the bed.
It’s Never a Bad Thing to have too much Starting Pitching, right St. Louis?
When Carlos Martínez returns, if he returns to the rotation, the Cardinals will have a lottttt of different pitching options to choose from. With Martinez not slated to return until June, John Gant looks like he’ll be the fifth starter entering the season.
For all those that have held onto Álex Reyes for dear life in dynasty leagues hoping there is a chance he’d compete for a rotation spot in camp, stop right there. There is no shot. He does, however, have a shot at making the team out of the bullpen where he can build up his arm strength and simply remain healthy enough to pitch in a big league uniform