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Mound Musings: Back of the Rotation Candidates

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

Welcome to another season of Mound Musings. I started this column during the 2007 season and folks seem to like it, so we're giving it another go in 2011. What we do here is simple - provide our valued readers with information. You can, of course, agree with that information blindly or pick and choose parts of this piece to apply to your teams. I always enjoy the interaction in the comments section at the end of these articles, particularly those where you tell me how wise I am. All kidding aside, I enjoy the disagreements as well, particularly when they are accompanied by sound and thorough analysis to dispute a point I have made.

So have at it and welcome to the 2011 season.

This week we'll take a stroll around the league and look at a handful of rotation situations that remain unsettled headed into camp.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Full rotations:

Boston Red Sox - Dick-K at No. 5
LA Angels - Scott Kazmir OK for now at No. 5
Chicago White Sox - Whoever fills in for Jake Peavy (won't be Chris Sale) isn't worth owning
Detroit Tigers - Assuming Brad Penny is healthy
Tampa Bay Rays - Lovin' some Jeremy Hellickson

New York Yankees

Spots open: 2
Contenders: Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre

What would this article be if we didn't talk about the Yankees first? The failed pursuit of Cliff Lee combined with Andy Pettitte's retirement has the Yankees in a bit of a bind. They could pursue a trade, as they do have a solid farm system, but any sort of deal likely would come in summer, not by Opening Day. So, while we wait for that and Yankees pitching prospects (Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman) to develop, expect Nova and Garcia to break camp in the rotation. We know all about Garcia and his limitations, so Nova is the interesting guy here. He should get the run and bullpen support you want in a starter, but is he a good pitcher? Sure, maybe as an AL-only and spot mixed-league starter. Nova's minor league K/9 sits at just 6.3, and he was pretty erratic in his 42 innings in New York last year. There will be the occasional bright spot, but too many walks and too few strikeouts to really recommend him despite his youth (24).

Baltimore Orioles

Spots open: 3
Contenders: Jake Arrieta, Bradley Bergesen, Chris Tillman, Justin Duchscherer, Zach Britton

We're already hearing great things about Arrieta in camp, so consider him a favorite for one of the slots despite a 52:48 K:BB in 100-plus innings for the Birds last season. Arrieta, though, has a solid minor league track record, which makes him worth targeting in deeper leagues. Bergeson tossed 170 innings of near-5.00 ERA ball last year, but he eats innings and probably fills another slot. That leaves just one opening for the kids (Britton and Tillman) and the veteran (Duchscherer). Duchscherer probably wins the that job, but that's predicated on his health. Ideally, Tillman pitches well enough to move Bergeson to middle relief, and Britton gets further seasoning in Triple-A.

Cleveland Indians

Spots open: 2
Contenders: Mitch Talbot, Josh Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez, Aaron Laffey, Alex White

Carlos Carrasco has likely done enough (3.65 ERA in Triple-A, 3.83 in seven starts for the Tribe) to open as the Indians' No. 3 starter. Alex White has been removed from consideration it seems, but keep him in mind for a mid-season look. Realistically, it doesn't really matter who wins these jobs, as these aren't exactly guys worth targeting for a Cleveland team that looks headed for fourth or fifth place barring turnarounds from the likes of Grady Sizemore, Matt LaPorta and Travis Hafner.

Kansas City Royals

Spots open: 1
Contenders: Sean O'Sullivan, Bruce Chen

While Royals fans ponder a future rotation that includes John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer and perhaps Aaron Crow, they are stuck with mediocrity. Chen probably deserves this job, but there's little chance of a repeat of his 4.17 ERA.

Minnesota Twins

Spots open: 2
Contenders: Brian Duensing, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Kyle Gibson

Gibson is the team's top pitching prospect, but he'll likely open in Triple-A. Duensing probably begins as the No. 4 starter on the heels of a 2.62 ERA, but beware the 5.3 K/9 and .276 BABIP. Regression is a lock. Slowey has an incredible 4.6 K/BB for his career, so if he proves healthy this spring, it will be hard to deny him the No. 5 job. Blackburn has the four-year, $14 million deal and a strong late-2010 run, so he'll also be firmly in the mix. If I had to choose now, I'd prefer Slowey - more upside.

Oakland A's

Spots open: 1
Contenders: Bobby Cramer, Josh Outman, Brandon McCarthy, Rich Harden

Shocking news alert: Rich Harden is hurt. He belongs best in the bullpen at this point anyway, so let's focus on some others. Cramer had a nice little run last year (four starts, 3.04 ERA), but he's 31. Congrats Bobby, but that will be the highlight of your career. Outman offers the most upside of the bunch, but he's coming off Tommy John surgery. Keep an eye on his velocity this spring, and move him up your board if he's hitting the low 90s. McCarthy is a reclamation project who I'm pretty much done with after proclaiming the Rangers the winner in the McCarthy-John Danks deal a few years ago.

Seattle Mariners

Spots open: 2
Contenders: Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda, Nate Robertson, Luke French

The only real reason to start Pineda in Triple-A would be to delay the start of his service clock. He's already the second-most talented starter in the organization after recording a 9.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in the minors last year. No setbacks yet for Bedard, so he gets a spot if healthy. As for how he'll do in 2011 if healthy? Perhaps a 3.50ish ERA, but set the over/under on his innings at 80. Mauricio Robles is an interesting prospect sleeper, but there's no talk about his seeing time in Seattle any time soon. That leaves Nate Robertson and the best-ignored Luke French as fallbacks.

Texas Rangers

Spots open: 2
Contenders: Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, David Bush, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz

Hunter reportedly will not be handed a job despite going 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA a year ago. Can we make the leap then that Ron Washington understands semi-advanced metrics and wonders about Hunter's ability to maintain that pace given his 4.8 K/9 and 1.5 HR/9 rates? Maybe. Neftali Feliz has top-of-the-rotation stuff, and pitching coach Mike Maddux said if Felix proves himself as a starter in spring that will be his role, but I'm convinced he'll remain in bullpen for his career after dominating as the closer last season. Ogando could pitch in either role, so monitor that situation. Ultimately, expect Hunter and Holland win these two jobs, with the latter far more intriguing.

Toronto Blue Jays

Spots open: 2
Contenders: Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch, Marc Rzepczynski, Zach Stewart

Its' hard to see Drabek not winning one of these slots, but he's not guaranteed anything at this point. That essentially leaves Litsch and Rzepczynski battling for one spot with Stewart likely needing further minor league seasoning. I like Drabek quite a bit this year. He's reportedly working on refining his change to go with a solid fastball and curve. Litsch battled elbow and hip injuries while turning in nine ugly starts (5.79 ERA) in Toronto last year, but he's reportedly looking good in camp. I like him for the final spot over Rzepczynski. Neither, though, is really worth targeting.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Full rotations:

Florida Marlins - Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad at 4/5
LA Dodgers - Clayton Kershaw a No. 1 now?
Milwaukee Brewers - Great front four, with Chris Narveson not bad at the end
Philadelphia Phillies - Joe Blanton is a solid No. 5
SF Giants - A full year of Madison Bumgarner

Arizona Diamondbacks

Spots open: 2
Contenders: Barry Enright, Zach Duke, Armando Galarraga, Aaron Heilman, Jarrod Parker

Parker is the only pitcher to really get excited about here, but we're unlikely to see him before June. Enright likely gets one of these spots initially via last year's 3.91 ERA, but beware the September fade (6.89 ERA) and 4.5 K/9. He's shaky at best. Zach Duke probably gets the other spot, but a guy who allowed 25 homers in 29 starts in Pittsburgh might not be a great fit for Chase Field. Pounce on Parker when he's called up, but ignore the rest of this bunch.

Atlanta Braves

Spots open: 1
Contenders: Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Rodrigo Lopez, Julio Teheran

This one is clearly Minor's to lose for several reasons: the Braves have no left-handers in their top four, Minor was a top-10 draft pick, and, most important, he performed well in the minors and well for Atlanta despite the 5.98 ERA (43:11 K:BB in 40.2 IP). Minor has upside as that of a solid No. 3, but the same can't be said for Beachy or obviously Lopez. Teheran is head and shoulders above all these guys, but he's just 19 with only 40 innings above Class-A ball. Look for him late this year or early next.

Chicago Cubs

Spots open: 1
Contenders: Carlos Silva, Thomas Diamond, Jeff Samardzija, Todd Wellemeyer, Andrew Cashner

Silva enjoyed a semi-renaissance in 2010, going 10-6 with a 4.22 ERA and 80:24 K:BB in 113 innings. Diamond and Samardzija have serious command issues while Wellemeyer is a longshot on a minor-league deal. Cashner is the most intriguing guy of the bunch (109 strikeouts in 111.1 innings a year ago), but he has the feel of a longshot, as well, at this point and will probably open in the bullpen.

Cincinnati Reds

Spots open: 2
Contenders: Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, Mike Leake

This is probably the toughest rotation to predict. All three pitchers are ready for rotation spots. The 24-year-old Bailey is out of options, so he's a heavy favorite for the job, particularly after a strong finish (3.55 ERA, 59:19 K:BB in 58.1 innings over his last 10 starts). Leake was the opposite - strong start, huge second-half fade. Wood was pretty consistent all year, finishing with a solid 3.51 ERA and 86:26 K:BB in 102.2 innings. Because Leake has zero minor league experience, expect Bailey and Wood to get the slots with Leake the first call-up. Still a huge Homer Bailey fan.

Colorado Rockies

Spots open: 1
Contenders: Jhoulys Chacin, Felipe Paulino

Paulino is an intriguing talent with the ability to miss bats (8.1 K/9 in the majors), but command issues and inconsistency leave Chacin as the favorite for this slot. Chacin, though, is a bit better. He misses more bats and while a 4.0 BB/9 isn't ideal, he was far better than that in the minors, and he generates a fair share of groundballs. It really wouldn't be a surprise if he were the Rockies' second best starter this year.

Houston Astros

Spots open: 1
Contenders: Nelson Figueroa, Jordan Lyles, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Aneury Rodriguez

Lyles is the interesting name here as the team's top pitching prospect, but he's just 20 and it seems likely the Astros will have him open in Triple-A, though a huge spring could change their minds. Figueroa was impressive in spurts a year ago, but his stuff is best-suited for a relief role. Rodriguez has talent, but he also has some serious command issues and needs further seasoning. Rowland-Smith is unlikely to provide value.

New York Mets

Spots open: 2 (1 when Johan Santana returns)
Contenders: Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Pat Misch, Jenrry Mejia

Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey are locks for the first three slots, leaving two guys to compete to stick in the rotation until Johan Santana (shoulder) returns circa June. If healthy, Capuano and Young seem like locks, particularly considering the Mets' plan to have Mejia open in Triple-A to build stamina to be a starter. Misch is merely a fallback option.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Spots open: 1
Contenders: Charlie Morton, Brad Lincoln, Scott Olsen

Yes, Lincoln is the pitcher the Pirates thought was a better draft pick than Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw. He's basically a two-pitch starter who showed zero ability to miss major league bats last year despite a solid Triple-A effort (84:24 K:BB in 94 innings). Morton has a 5.98 career ERA and a 1.6 K/BB, so it's hard to be optimistic there. Mediocre candidate No. 3 is Olsen. He flashed some talent early last year before shoulder issues cropped up. He's still just 27, so put him down as the early favorite. But the only really interesting Pirate starter is James McDonald.

San Diego Padres

Spots open: 1
Contenders: Cory Luebke, Wade LeBlanc, Simon Castro, Dustin Moseley

Castro is the team's top pitching prospect, but he has just two starts at the Triple-A level, so expect at least another half season in the minors before he's recalled. LeBlanc had a decent 4.25 ERA in 146 innings, but his upside is limited. Luebke has a pretty solid track record and struck out 18 in 17.2 innings in San Diego last year, so make him the early front-runner, as the Padres likely will go with whoever has best spring showing, and I see that being Luebke. Moseley was pretty awful for the Yankees last year, and though the change of scenery will help, don't expect him to win this job. Luebke is an intriguing NL-only option, but I'd ignore LeBlanc and Moseley.

St. Louis Cardinals

Spots open: 1
Contenders: Lance Lynn, Kyle McClellan, Ian Snell, Miguel Batista, Adam Ottavino

Condolences to Adam Wainwright keeper league owners, as he's irreplaceable, particularly considering the internal options are far from ideal. Lynn is a former first-round pick who has apparently impressed Dave Duncan this spring (that helps), but Lynn had serious trouble with the long ball in Triple-A a year ago, resulting in a 4.77 ERA. McClellan had a 2.27 ERA in 68 games of relief and was supposed to be Ryan Franklin's top setup man, but he's reportedly in the mix for the No. 5 slot now. Snell once had 169 and 177 strikeouts in back-to-back seasons, but that was four years ago. Can Dave Duncan work his magic with Snell? We'll see this spring. Batista and Ottavino are longshots not really worth diving into here.

Washington Nationals

Spots open: 2
Contenders: Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny, Yunesky Maya

With Stephen Strasburg (elbow) unlikely to return before the 2012 season, the only Nationals starter worth investing in is Jordan Zimmerman. Yunesky Maya was wholly unimpressive when I watched him last year while Lannan and Gorzelanny are pitchers you can spot here and there but aren't of use long-term. Wang's rehab from a shoulder injury seems to be going well, but he may not win 19 games total the rest of his career much less 19 in a season as he did for the Yankees in both 2006 and 2007. Perhaps by 2012 the Nationals will have a solid rotation, but this year will be ugly again. Regan is a four-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.