The Yankees solidified their starting pitching staff Wednesday when they signed Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million contract. Signing Tanaka was an absolute necessity for the Yankees to have a competitive team this season. While they still have holes in the bullpen and infield the Yankees now have one of the better starting pitching staffs in MLB. Where does it rank in the ultra competitive AL East though? Here are my AL East starting pitching staff rankings:
5. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays had one of the worst starting pitching staffs in all of MLB last year and nothing much has changed going into this season. They lost Josh Johnson, who was a bust for them anyways, and did not make any upgrades. Toronto’s starting rotation had the 27th ranked FIP (4.59) and the 29th ranked ERA (4.81) in MLB last year. Dickey’s transformation from the NL East to AL East went badly last season, as he went 14-13 with a 4.21 ERA. However, he pitched much better in the second half with a 3.56 ERA, so that may be a good sign headed into 2014. Buherle’s stuff is just not good enough to be a #2 starter in the AL East. Morrow has never been able to live up to his potential due to injuries and inconsistency, and at 29 years old it is seeming more unlikely that he ever will. Happ doesn’t belong in an MLB rotation anymore. Rogers has good stuff, but has never been able to put anything together.
4. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles had a few good starters last season but struggled as a staff, as they ranked 29th in FIP (4.64) and 26nd in ERA (4.57). They lacked an ace last season and back end starters. This year they still lack an ace, but their back end starters could be better. Tillman was their best starter last season, but his numbers were better than his stuff would suggest (4.42 FIP), so he probably had a lot of luck factor into his success. Chen had an o.k. season in his second season in Baltimore, but he remains a fly ball pitcher in the A.L. East and only had a 6.83 K/9 rate last season. Gonzalez was a Yankee killer last season, but he was not as good against everybody else. Norris was acquired at the trade deadline last season and improves their depth with his plus slider. Gausman is a real wild card. He struggled in his rookie year, although his 3.99 FIP was much better than his 5.66 ERA suggests. However, he is still ultra talented, and obviously you cannot give up on him after one season. He was considered one of the best prospects in MLB and averaged 95.9 MPH on his fastball last season. If he can start living up to his hype that would be huge for the Orioles.
3. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox got surprisingly good starting pitching last season on their way to a World Series Championship. They were 16th in FIP (3.96), 10th in ERA (3.84) and 3rd in WAR (15.9). They have very good depth, and Lester and Buchohlz are good at the top. Although, I do not consider either a true ace. Buchholz cannot really be considered a true ace until he starts pitching 200 innings every year, and he has not even done that once in his career. If he stays healthy and pitches like last season he would be an ace. Lester had a bounce back season last year, but he hasn’t had an ace caliber season in three years. Both were successful last year in large part due to their fastballs, as FanGraphs had Lester’s fastball 8.3 runs above average and Buchholz’s 11.8 runs above average. Lackey repeating his comeback season will be a huge key for Boston. Continuing to keep the ball on the ground (career best 46.8 GB%) and limiting walks (career best 1.90 BB/9) will be keys to that. Peavy had a rough postseason, which might be a bad sign heading into this season if he is declining. Doubront would be a better 5th starter option than Dempster.
2. New York Yankees
The Yankees also have great depth like Boston, but they do not know who their best pitcher will be. You can make an argument for any of their top four pitchers as to who will be their best. The Yankees were 17th in ERA (4.08), 10th in FIP (3.88) and 4th in WAR (14.8) last season. Sabathia returning to at least an above average pitcher is a huge key for the Yankees. He has continued kept the weight off this offseason and has added more strength, so hopefully that helps raise his fastball velocity. His fastball last season only averaged 91.1 MPH and was worth 19.6 runs below average according to FanGraphs. This led to a huge uptick in home runs and an inability to put batters away. Nobody knows exactly what to expect from Tanaka, but he could easily end up being the ace of the staff. Obviously, how long it takes him to adjust to the American game will be a big factor for him this season. Kuroda was the best Yankee pitcher last season with a 3.31 ERA, but he fell off dramatically at the end of the season. It seemed to be due to fatigue, so the Yankees should try to be watchful of that this season. Kuroda and Tanaka might have the two best splitters in all of MLB Nova was outstanding in the second half of last season and will look to carry that forward to 2014. He improved by raising his GB rate back to 53.5% and by getting rid of his slider. His fastball and curve combination proved to be what worked for him. All Yankees fans are probably rooting for Pineda to win the 5th spot and being able to finally see what he can do.
1. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays rotation underachieved a little bit last season, but as long as Price stays I expect them to be better this season. They were far from bad last season, as they ranked 9th in MLB in ERA (3.81) and 11th in FIP (3.89). However, Price did not have as good of a year as he is capable of, and Hellickson had an awful year. Archer did not debut until June and Cobb and Moore both missed time with injuries. Moore and Archer both have electric stuff and should keep getting better. Moore may be of the best left-handed starters in MLB already, as he went 17-4 last year with a 3.29 ERA. The next step for Moore to get even better is to cut down on his walks and fly balls. Archer has an electric fastball and slider, so he will look to do what he did last year over a full season. Cobb was excellent last season due to his great changeup, and he should be able to pitch at a similar level in 2014.