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Do the Tampa Bay Rays have best starting rotation?

There's an argument to be made that the Rays have the best rotation in the majors.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays starting pitchers aren't getting enough credit for the things they are doing very well to begin the season. The expectation, after last season, was that the burden of many innings would fall onto the bullpen. But the Rays bullpen has only had to throw 36.1 innings 13 games into the season (2.8 IP/game). This is the fifth lowest amount in Major League Baseball.

The Rays Starting Rotation:

Rays Rank (MLB) Rank (AL)
IP/Game 6.1 4 2
K% 29.5% 1 1
BB% 5.6% 2 1
HR/FB 13.3% 19 11
BABIP 0.287 16 9
WHIP 1.07 5 1
ERA 3.16 8 4
ERA- 89 11 6
FIP 3.27 8 2
FIP- 87 8 2
xFIP 3.04 4 1
xFIP- 79 4 1
SIERA 2.79 1 1

The starters are doing some things incredibly well. These include inducing strikeouts, limiting walks, and racking up innings. Many fans would expect the strikeouts as the Rays staff had the fourth-highest strikeout percentage in the league in 2015. The walk rates are surprising, though, as they had the 18th lowest last season at 7.4%.

The biggest key to start the season has been getting more innings out of the rotation, as last season they threw the eighth-fewest innings. They are currently getting just under an extra 0.5 an inning a game out of their rotation and are on pace to throw 992.8 innings. That would be an increase of almost 80 innings that would be shifted from the bullpen to the starters.

The biggest problem for the starters to start the season has been allowing home runs. Last season they had the 12th lowest rate at 10.9% (8th AL). This has led to good, but not great ERA and FIP numbers. They allow home runs, but by leading the AL in WHIP they have limited the damage from their opponents.

The Rays pitchers have allowed right around a league average BABIP rate, so it's not as if the Rays are getting very lucky results on their balls in play.

The Breakdown:

Jake Odorizzi 18.2 27.0% 4.1% 4.5% 0.320 0.239 0.270 0.357 0.273 2.41 2.10 55
Drew Smyly 21.2 34.2% 5.1% 12.0% 0.156 0.133 0.177 0.301 0.207 2.91 2.93 78
Matt Moore 18.1 28.4% 4.1% 11.1% 0.283 0.217 0.270 0.333 0.269 2.95 3.01 80
Chris Archer 15.1 30.7% 10.7% 41.7% 0.436 0.328 0.400 0.567 0.418 5.87 5.87 159
Erasmo Ramirez 5.2 20.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.200 0.158 0.200 0.211 0.188 0.00 2.18 57

That is four incredibly good starters and one that is trying to drag the starters' rankings down like an anchor. This is not the kind of anchor in the rotation that we expect out of Chris Archer. He won't continue to allow home runs on 41.7% of his fly balls or allow batters to tee off to a .328/.400/.567 line.

Jake Odorizzi has been the only one, outside of Erasmo Ramirez's lone start, that has limited homeruns. This had led him to be tied for the second high fWAR for a pitcher behind Noah Syndergaard through the early part of this season.

Drew Smyly has been pretty special. He's allowing nearly nobody to reach base, but when a batter is able to reach they have been able to do some damage as he's allowed a .168 ISO.

Matt Moore has been really effective to start his first full season after Tommy John Surgery. The strikeout numbers are nice to see, but the way he has limited walks has been more impressive. If Moore is able to limit his walks he could remind everybody why he was in discussion as one of the top three prospects in baseball with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

What does this mean?

Not a whole lot this early, as a few starts could easily swing numbers in another direction, but it's really nice to see success from a rotation that Rays fans know had the potential to be one of the best in the league heading into the season.

The Rays starting rotation has basically been as dominant as the Yankees bullpen, and the Phillies have the only rotation that is within 5% of the Rays league-leading 23.9% K-BB%.

Archer needs to find the command on his fastball and join his comrades in the dominant starting rotation that we know they have the potential to be. Archer doesn't need to be as good as Smyly was last night, but tonight would be as good a night as any to get started on the right track.