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Who Really Has the Best Rotation in the AL West?

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Yesterday, Sports Illustrated writer Jon Heyman published an article about the "best units" in baseball. You know, best lineup, best infield, that sort of thing. The first subject he tackled? Best rotation. His choice? The Angels.

Despite the loss of John Lackey to Boston, the Angels still possess the deepest, most balanced rotation in baseball.

Yes, the Angels. While he does admit that "Red Sox, Yankees and White Sox rotations probably have stronger cases to be cited as the best overall starting staffs based on their top-heavy strengths", he crowns Los Angeles's rotation as the "deepest, most balanced rotation in baseball". He continues:

But it's hard to make a case any team has a rotation as solid as the Angels from top to bottom.

Remember, the Angels rotation is going to look something like this: Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir, Joel Piñiero. Heyman is right about one thing--it's balanced. But is a balanced rotation really all that useful of an asset? Is a rotation of five mediocre pitchers better than an ace or two, followed by scrubs? Can a rotation led by Jered Weaver really be considered good?

Let's scale this back. It's pretty obvious that the Angels don't have the best rotation in baseball. But do they have the best rotation in the AL West? To find out, I looked up the current starting five for each AL West team (according to their official webpage's depth chart).

Alwestrotations_medium

And here is each rotation member with their CHONE projected park-adjusted FIP. The rotation's average FIP is on the right column.

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It's clear. Seattle has the division's best rotation, and it's not close. They may very well have the best rotation in all of baseball. Addtionally, those averages give all five rotation members equal weight. Seattle's best three pitchers are all projected to have lower FIPs than 14 out of 15 of the non-Seattle starting pitchers in the division. When you account for the fact that front-of-the-rotation pitchers will likely pitch thirty or forty more innings than fourth or fifth starters, Seattle's advantage in the division grows even more.

Odds and Ends

  • Yeah, I know. It was my first thought as well: That Colby Lewis? Yes. CHONE absolutely loves him, and it probably has a lot to do with Lewis's 8+ K/BB ratio with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan. And yes, you read that number right. He posted an 8.02 K/BB in two seasons, averaging over a strikeout per inning with a 2.82 ERA. As a starter. That's insane, no matter where you pitch.
  • I didn't want to start projecting injury time, because that's a really complicated topic fraught with far too many error sources. I suppose you can just mentally dock Seattle, Oakland, and Texas a bit for relying on Bedard, Sheets, Duchscherer, and Harden. CHONE projects innings pitched, but I wanted to use the latest available Spring Training depth charts, whereas CHONE had to rely on rotation spot guesses from a month ago. Even if you figure that Bedard's rotation spot will be 50% replaced by a sixth starter (Doug Fister), Seattle's rotation FIP still leads the division by nearly 20 points.
  • You know what's even worse? FIP, by definition, doesn't account for defense. Seattle's defense was historically good last year. I'd bet on a majority of Mariners pitchers having lower ERAs than FIPs.
  • Consider that Seattle's rotation is also "playoff friendly" in that they can drop the fifth starter and rely on their top talent more often, due to the ridiculous amount of off-days. If I were a manager, I really would not want to run into a team that could be pitching Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, and Erik Bedard three out of four playoff games.
  • Replacing Gio Gonzalez's projected 4.62 FIP with Trevor Cahill's projected 5.08 would put Oakland's average projected FIP in a virtual tie with Los Angeles's. Of course, replacing an injured Sheets or Duchscherer with Trevor Cahill would be worse. I really hope Cahill can breakout with the help of that new curveball he has.