Baseball’s Best Starting Rotation….

In the next installment of “Baseball’s Best”, we are going to take a look at the backbone of any team. The starting rotation. So which team has baseball’s best rotation headed into 2009? We hope to figure that out today by ranking the teams in 4 categories :

1. Depth – A team needs to go at least 4 deep in their starting rotation. No 1 ace, 4 average pitchers teams on this list. Sorry Blue Jay fans

2. Ace – A great starting rotation needs an ace. A pitcher who can stop a losing streak and a guy we have no problem giving the ball to in Game 7 of the World Series

3. Innings Pitched – The mark of any good staff is to have the ability to go deep into games and save the bullpen. A great staff has pitchers who can pitch into the 7th inning

4. ERA –  Staff era is always a factor in determining who has the best rotation

Rankings for both Innings Pitched and ERA were based on Bill James’ 2009 projections. Here are the 10  best starting rotations headed into 2009:

Category ranking is in ( ).

6 – 10. Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Arizona Diamondbacks, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays

5. Philadelphia Phillies

Rankings – Depth (9), Ace (3), IP (3), ERA (10)

Rotation – Hamels, Myers, Blanton, Moyer, Happ

Analysis – The Phillies bring back the same staff, included the ageless Jaime Moyer (who might pitch until he is 70) that led them to the World Series in 2008. Led by Cole Hamels, the Phillies should once again have one of the better staffs in baseball. In my “Looking at 2010 to Predict 2009” post, I believed Brett Myers was a pitcher who could have a breakout 2009 based on his pending free agency in 2010. If Myers does have a breakout season, the Phillies rotation and the rest of the team will have a chance to defend their World Series crown.

4. Chicago Cubs

Rankings – Depth (6), Ace (7), IP (3), ERA (9)

Rotation –Zambrano, Harden, Dempster, Lilly, Marshall

Analysis –Though the Cubs are high on the list of best rotations, some of their starters will be hard pressed to duplicate their 2008 seasons. The Cubs got 17 wins each out of Tedd Lilly and Ryan Dempster last season. That will not happen again. Especially from Dempster. Dempster led the Cubs in wins, era and K’s. I am not sure if that is a good thing or bad thing. Rich Harden will be the key to the staff in 2009. When healthy, he is one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. The problem is, Harden is rarely healthy. He has only made 30+ starts once in his 6 year career. Sean Marshall is an upgrade over Jason Marquis.

3. Boston Red Sox

Rankings – Depth (1), Ace (1), IP (4), ERA (4)

Rotation –Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Penny, Wakefield

Analysis – Boston’s ranking was earned by having the most depth out of any starting rotation in baseball and by having the best big-game pitcher in the game today in Josh Beckett. When newly signed John Smoltz joins the club in June, the Red Sox rotation could go 6 deep. 7 depending on the development of Clay Buchholtz. The key to the Red Sox rotation will be the continued development of Jon Lester and the health of Brad Penny. If Penny can regain his 2006 & 2007 form (16 wins each season), the Red Sox will once again be in the hunt in the tough AL East

2. New York Yankees

Rankings – Depth (2), Ace (4), IP (1), ERA (2)

Rotation –Sabathia, Wang, Burnett, Pettitte, Chamberlain

Analysis –Out are Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Sidney Ponson from the 2008 rotation and in are CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Joba Chamberlain for 2009. No team in baseball spent more money on improving their rotation during the offseason than the Yankees. The Yankees coughed up $243.5MM for Sabathia and Burnett in hopes of bringing a World Series title to the Bronx for the first time since 2000. Burnett is the key to the Yankees rotation. Other than his 2 free agent years (2005, 2008), Burnett has been nothing more than a mediocre pitcher. It will be interesting to see how Burnett handles NY considering he has pitched in no pressure places like Florida and Toronto in his career. In case Burnett does flame out or goes down with an injury, the Yankees do have depth with Phil Hughes waiting in the wings.

1. San Francisco Giants

Rankings – Depth (3), Ace (2), IP (2), ERA (1)

Rotation –Lincecum, Cain, R. Johnson, Zito, Sanchez

Analysis – The Giants go into 2009 with the majors best rotation. They have everything you can ask for in a rotation. A staff ace in 24 year old Tim Lincecum, 2 outstanding young pitchers in Matt Cain and Jonathon Sanchez and an all-time great in Randy Johnson who is motivated to get to the 300 win mark this year. Even Barry Zito who has been nothing short of a disaster so far with the Giants, did have a 6-5 record and held batters to a .232 average in the 2nd half last season. So there are signs of improvement from him. If the Giants could ever score some runs, then these pitchers’ records will reflect how good they really are. Take a look at this comparison:

Matt Cain, 2007 & 2008 – 15-30, 3.70 era

Chien-Ming Wang, 2006 & 2007 – 38-13, 3.67 era

Amazing what run support can do for a pitcher. Practically the same era and a difference of 23 wins. If you had to start a team with Cain or Wang, I am pretty sure the overwhelming majority, including myself would pick Cain.

So the Giants go into the 2009 season with baseball’s best starting rotation. Can they stay there? That remains to be seen. Like with all the categories in the “Baseball’s Best” series, we will check back in after the quarter mark in the season.

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