Buster Olney wrote two columns in the past week discussing which team had the strongest rotation, the first of which was his opinion and the second of which was the opinion of talent evaluators from major league teams. In each case, the Phillies were given the Conch by a wide margin. (P.S. For those of you who don't understand the Conch reference, please go immediately to your local library, push through the crowds of homeless people pretending to read the New Yorker for 3 hours so they can escape the cold, and read Lord of the Flies.) Given that this question has been agreed upon and resolved, it falls upon the people of America to answer the difficult, somewhat disturbing question that lies at the other end of the rainbow. Namely, which team has the worst starting rotation in MLB as the Hot Stove season winds down and we enter the 2011 season.
In the grand tradition of all things American, I will now steal Olney's gimmick and create a Top Ten list of the worst rotations in baseball. Yes, this does make doubly unoriginal, but the Hot Stove has just about wrapped up and we have to write about something. If this comes off as a failure, just remember that everone makes one mistake. At the absolute worst I will do a better job on this list then Jim Hendry has assembling a team in Chicago i.e., overpaying Soriano, Dempster, Zambrano, Fukodome, Samardzija and a cast of others to the point that you cannot compete with a 144 million dollar payroll.
This list will be done from 21st to 30th so that I can give those last few teams their proper due.
21) Cleveland Indians- While lacking a dominant #1, the Indians do have a couple of solid options at top in Carmona and Masterson (especially if he can get a little luckier with his BABIP and strand rate) and a young back end of the rotation that is capable of improving as they move closer to their primes.
22) Minnesota Twins- The Twins are the first of three teams to show up on this list that fit the elite #1, dumpster fire 2-5 mold. I love Francisco Liriano as much as the next guy but Slowey, Blackburn, Baker, and Duensing are the reason that the Twins are always a bridesmaid never a bride once the playoffs turn around. Also, any time your #1 has had as much surgical work on their pitching arm as Liriano has, it pushes you down a couple spots in the rankings as you are only one twinge in the elbow away from Armageddon.
23) Seattle Mariners- Superficially the numbers for this rotation are not to bad. However, park factors play an enormous role in making long relievers like Jason Vargas and Doug Fister look good. Outside of was Hernandez, not a single one of these pitchers were ever projected to do anything good and if not for the cavernous dimensions none of them would. The 4.55 road ERA as a team stands as evidence of their mediocrity, especially as Hernandez's stats count as a part of that stat.
24) Arizona Diamondbacks- Not much to say about the Diamondbacks. Kennedy, Hudson, Saunders, and Enright are the textbook definition of mediocrity. If any of these pitchers steps up as an elite option, Arizona can move up off this list.
25) San Diego Padres- The Padres are basically a carbon copy of the Mariners. They rank lower for 3 reasons though. One, we have less evidence to indicate that Latos will consistently pitch as well as he did last year then we do for Hernandez. Two, the park factors for the Padres are even stronger than those for the Mariners per Baseball-Reference.com. Three, the Padres have Wade LeBlanc, a pitcher who somehow succeeds despite not having a single pitch that ranks above 45 on the 20-80 scale.
26) Baltimore Orioles- The Orioles suffer from having the worst 3-5 starters not found on the bottom two teams on the list. Bergesen will go down in history as the player who hurt himself throwing too many pitches for an offseason Orioles commercial. Tillman is such a gopherball specialist that team #24 turned him down in trade preferring a mediocre reliever. Arrieta is just Arrieta a player good enough to make the majors without having the talent necessary to flourish once there. If the Orioles can pick up Pavano, they would move to the top of this list. Without him, they are left hoping that one of their many young hurlers can step up to shore up this rotation.
27) New York Mets- Johan Santana is on the DL and coming back from major surgery, their #2 starter is a 36 year old knuckleballer who has never pitched half as well as he did last year, and they are still starting Oliver Perez and paying him 12 million dollars for the privilege. At least they have a wealth of minor league talent to fill the gaps, right? Oh no, I forgot, they had Omar Minaya as a GM so the pickings are thinner than Glenn Beck's credibility as a media member.
28) Washington Nationals- Strasburg's Tommy John's surgery pushes the Nationals almost all the way to the back of the line. I love Jordan Zimmerman's stuff but we have no proof that he can hold up over an entire season. John Lannan has combined a 4.5 K/9 with a 3.1 BB/9 ratio to create peripheral stats that only his mother could love, and honestly even she doesn't start him on her fantasy team, go ahead and ask her. Livan Hernandez is 36, or 42 in Latino pitcher who somehow misplaces his original birth certificate years and has worn the title of innings eater for so long that we will rename it after him when he retires. Unfortunately, this is the top half of their rotation. Only the abject misery beneath them keeps them from settling to the bottom of the heap.
29) Kansas City Royals- The simple fact that the Royals are not the bottom rotation in this league chills me to my very core. There is not a single starter anywhere on this rotation that qualifies as anything more than a barely serviceable #4 starter. The simple fact that Vin Mazzaro qualifies as a city's great white hope is a stronger argument for contraction than I am comfortable with as a baseball fan. Gil Meche is getting paid 11 million dollars to play long reliever because, as Joe Posnanski has covered on several occasions, Royals management subscribes to the "stop crying Tinkerbell, 150 pitch counts were good enough for Old Hoss Radbourn and they are damn sure good enough for you" school of asset management. Although, I do see Dayton Moore's rationale. Why spend money on your pitching staff when it can be better spent on extra base hit phobic catchers, an outfielder with platoon splits so bad that Jim Abbott could strike him out provided he was willing to pitch left handed, and a center fielder with the most negative WAR amongst eligible players in 2010.
30) Pittsburgh Pirates- The last time a team assembled a rotation this bad they were trying to tank the season so they could move the team to Miami. Unfortunately there is no Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn on this rotation to save them from the cellar of the NL Central. The Pirates acquired Scott Olson this offseason after he was cut loose by the Washington Nationals and Kevin Correia after he was let go by the Padres. Apparently Neal Huntington thinks that signing players not good enough for the 25th and 28th rotations will somehow improve his franchise. I know that one year WAR results do not possess predictive value by themselves but Correia was worth 0.1 WAR last year. The entire 6 man rotation clocked in at 5.4 WAR, highlighted by the combined 1.5 WAR for Correia, Olson, Ross Ohlendorf, and Charlie Morton. Honestly, it was difficult to separate the Royals and Pirates on this list. The main factor that dooms the Pirates to the cellar is that reinforcements are not on the way. The Royals have a wealth of prospects on both sides of the diamond that they can offer in trades to improve their rotation along with the possibility of one or more of the pitchers cracking the major league rotation. The Pirates are who we thought they were(ah Dennis Green the gift that keeps on giving) and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Well the list is done for now. All that remains is to sit back and wait for the negative comments to trickle in from the readers offended that I made a Jim Abbott joke or ranked their team too low on the list. I can't wait to read them.
NOTE: Please see the companion post I wrote to combat Josh's assessment of the Twins rotation.