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AL East Preview: Starting Rotation

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training this week, it is an appropriate time to survey the American League East’s projected rotations for the 2017 season. We’ll work our way from USA Today’s projected “Top Rotation,” the Red Sox, who are reportedly struggling with injuries to several of their rotation candidates, and the Toronto Blue Jays, who have solid staff top to bottom. We’ll conclude with an overview of New York and Baltimore, poised to battle it out for the unenviable title of worst rotation in the division.

Boston Red Sox: Projected Rotation & 2016 Statistics

Chris Sale

This offseason the Red Sox committed themselves to landing a front end starter, and they did exactly that when they shipped out uber prospect Yoan Moncada for the longtime White Sox ace. Unfortunately for the Rays, the Sox move added a third southpaw to the Boston rotation.

In 2016 Sale’s K% dropped 6% in conjunction with the worst FIP of his career, but that worst FIP ever was a mere 3.46. His devastating slider, which continued to limit opponents to a paltry .185 average in 2016, will make it tough sailing for the rest of AL East.

David Price

After signing for a whopping $217 million last offseason, David Price was a disappointment in the first half of the season posting a 4.34 ERA. He rebounded with a 3.58 ERA in the second half, but that isn’t enough to dispel concerns about the 31 year old. Price lost roughly more than a mph on both his four seamer and his sinker., which enabled batters to make good contact. On the bright side, the Rays know him well, and he’s actually seen his wOBA sit about 15-20 points higher against lefties than right-handers the past couple of seasons.

Rick Porcello

If you were to tell me heading into the 2016 season that Rick Porcello was going to be anywhere near the Cy Young conversation, I would have thought you were crazy, but nonetheless, he beat out Justin Verlander for the honors. Porcello had a perfectly respectable 2014 season, but his career track record and horrendous 4.92 ERA in 2015 certainly didn’t bode well for his chances at success into the future. His ability to induce grounders and weak fly balls was crucial to his success.

What explains Porcello’s breakout 2016? Maybe it was just the maturation of a once highly touted prospect who better understands how to utilize his stuff. But he maybe he was lucky. The projections seem to support the second theory since they like him to be an effective pitcher but not the 5 WAR player he was last season.

Steven Wright

The final two rotation spots are a bit murky as the top candidates are reporting to camp with injuries. According to the Boston Herald, the 32 year old knuckleballer, Steven Wright, has a lingering shoulder injury that ultimately cut his 2016 season short. If he can move past the injuries that continue to limit him, there’s no reason he he can’t be very effective, as his knuckleball is legit and unpredictable.

Drew Pomeranz

Pomeranz won’t throw off the mound for at least another week after receiving a stem cell injection in his elbow to combat that dreaded elbow soreness.

It didn’t’ take long for the Sox to regret parting with Anderson Espinoza to acquire Pomeranz given the drastic change in performance with his new team, and reports that San Diego concealed health concerns continue to fuel the fire. He spent the past couple of seasons shifting to the bullpen, so the workload could partially have contributed to the poor results, but even if that is the case, lingering elbow issues aren’t going to alter that for the 2017 season.

Eduardo Rodriguez

Since Rodriguez has started 20 games each of the last two seasons, he’s no longer a prospect, but he’s still new enough to the MLB to make it hard to know what we’ll see from him. His plus fastball and change-up have been as advertised, but the slider still needs some work. Regardless, he gives the Red Sox another southpaw, and even though his career numbers aren’t favorable against same handers, he took a step forward last season with a 2.96 FIP against them.

He’s slated to pitch in the World Baseball Classic for Venezuela but knee injuries have held him out this far, so it could be a much more difficult season for Boston in terms of pitching than they would have hoped.

MLB: ALCS-Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Indians Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Blue Jays Projected Rotation & 2016 Statistics

Aaron Sanchez

With a stellar sophomore season, Aaron Sanchez led a talented Blue Jays rotation in 2016. While his peripherals suggest he overachieved and is likely for some regression, he’ll continue to be a quality starter a with penchant for inducing ground balls.

It is worth noting that his FIP jumps from 3.00 to 4.85 the third time through the order, so he might not be pitching late into games as often as he did last season; however, with a sinker that is as fast anyone else’s in the league, he’s going to be effective on some level even if it’s not elite.

Marco Estrada

For years, Marco Estrada was a mediocre innings-eater for the Brewers, but he’s been a new man for Toronto. After a surprising 2015 season, he defied assumptions that he’d regress with an impressive 3.48 ERA and sub .280 wOBA. Perhaps a great deal of that success can be attributed to what has been coined the “changiest changeup” with a 11 mph average differential from his fastball. Estrada throws it more than a quarter of the time and batters can’t hit anywhere close to the Mendoza line against it.

Marcus Stroman

Marcus Stroman has been a coveted piece in a number of recent trade rumors, but he’s not going anywhere. The 25 year old possesses a vast repertoire that keeps hitters off balance through the utilization of six different pitches.

Although the success wasn’t there initially in 2015, he followed up in the second half with a 3.68 ERA 22.7 % K rate. Stroman is another extreme ground ball hitter, but he is prone to home runs if you can manage to hit a flyball off of him.

J.A. Happ

Since spending someptime with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage in a short stint with the team in 2015, Happ has been lights out as a starter. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Searage found that Happ “had too much rotational movement in his motion which dropped his arm slot and made the ball easier to track for opposing hitters. It also negatively impacted his control” and had him adjust accordingly.

That tweak has given a pitcher without dominant velocity an ability to dominate with a fastball, which last season trailed only Max Scherzer’s for Pitch F/X Value. The southpaw was a bit stingier against left handed heavy lineups.

Francisco Liriano

It’s never a good sign when a team would rather trade you with two of its top ten prospects than pay your salary, but the change of scenery seemingly helped the Blue Jays other lefty starter. In his 8 starts for Toronto, he brought his walks down and his K rate up while producing a stellar 2.66 ERA. The good news is that his slider was not quite as dominant as the past even after the trade. While he’s not going to have the longest chain if Biagini looks good this spring, Liriano is locked into a starting role to begin the year.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

NY Yankees’ Projected Rotation & 2016 Statistics

Masahiro Tanaka

The Yankees ace was dominant last season, but he’s a risky guy to have leading your rotation; as you may already know, Tanaka has been pitching with a partially torn UCL the past couple of seasons rather than opting for Tommy John surgery. “Partial Tear” is a nebulous description, but quite likely he’s more vulnerable to a complete tear despite starting 31 games last season. Tanaka hasn’t experienced a large dip in velocity; however, he has moved away form throwing the four seam as much as he did his rookie season.

Michael Pineda

Pineda’s overall results have rarely lived up to the tantalizing potential he has flashed throughout the years. Yet, his BABIP has been quite a bit higher than league average the past two seasons along with a low strand rate, so he’s probably more pedestrian than bad.

Nobody in all of baseball throws a cutter harder than Pineda; in fact, the next closest to Pineda’s 93.7 in 2016 was almost two mph slower. However, it has not been particularly effective. His slider on the other hand was virtually untouchable inducing, 146 strikeouts and whiffs about 25% of the time.

CC Sabathia

Sabathia experienced a bit of a resurgence last season, but he’s one of the few lefties in the division that the Rays won’t mind seeing on the mound. In 2016, his walk rate climbed to over 8.5% and his average velocity continues to drop every season. Additionally, the more he sees batters in a game, the harder he gets hit; each successive time through the order witnessed his wOBA go from .275 to .315 to .340, which is a pretty heavy swing by the third time he faces a lineup.

I’d expect a heavy workload for the Yankees bullpen this season with guys like CC in the rotation.

Luis Severino

In his 2015 debut, the former Yankees top prospect shined in 11 starts for the big league club. He stumbled out the gate as a part of the Yankees 2016 rotation before getting sent down to the minors for more seasoning. According to Severino, the sophomore slump was caused by inconsistency in his release point, thereby tipping off hitters, but his pitching coach was less optimistic suggesting a combination of poor “fastball command, a loss of confidence in his changeup, a flat slider and a tendency to overthrow” were to blame, so he might find himself back in the bullpen if he experiences more of the same.

Adam Warren

After starting 17 games for the Yankees in 2015 with a 3.66 ERA, he started just one game for them in 2016. He projects as a back of the rotation starter.

Bryan Mitchell

Longtime Yankees prospect Bryan Mitchell looked poised to take a hold of a rotation spot last spring before an injury knocked him out of the running. He won’t strike out a ton of players, but he looks to induce ground balls with his low 90’s cutter. Consider him a more likely candidate than the last two guys on the Yankees’ list.

Chad Green

Green struck out over 27% of the batters he faced last season as a starter, but it didn’t translate into an effective season, with a 5.94 ERA with weak peripherals. He should be considered a long shot for the rotation.

Luis Cessa

Last season, Luis Cessa was pressed into starting action and fared reasonably well for a back of the rotation guy. He limited walks to under 4%, but like Green, he’s likely a little more than organizational depth for one of the weakest rotations in the division

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles’ Project Rotation & 2016 Statistics

Chris Tillman

Tillman has been up and down the past couple of seasons, but he’s still been the team’s most reliable pitcher as he consistently out-pitches his FIP. Nonetheless, he’s another guy that won’t blow you away even if he did see a slight uptick in velocity last season. Tillman has a solid cutter and works a the high fastball well, but he’s not exactly the prototypical front of of the rotation guy.

He is expected to miss Opening Day due to a shoulder injury; it remains to seen how significant an injury this is, but it should be noted that the shoulder ailment has been lingering for sometime, even causing TIllman to spend some time on the disabled list in August. While the team has hopes of Tillman returning quickly, it wouldn’t be surprising if they pursued one of the free agent starters still on the market.

Kevin Gausman

Last month, Fangraphs’ Eno Harris followed up his “Best Pitches in 2016” piece with another focused on the best offerings possessed by starting pitchers, and Gausman’s mid to upper 90’s fastball checked in on the list. Yet, he’s more than a one-pitch pitcher; his split finger limited hitters to a .196 average in 2016 as he utilized it nearly 22% of the time. His propensity to allow home runs should give the Rays power lineup ample opportunity, especially if they can take advantage of his weak breaking ball. This former top five pick will likely surpass Tillman to be the toughest piece of this weak rotation.

Dylan Bundy

After breaking through to the majors in his first year of pro ball, Bundy’s promising career was derailed by injury. It took him more than three years to return to the Big Leagues as reliever before transitioning into the rotation in July.

The numbers weren’t stellar with a 5.24 FIP, but there were encouraging signs along the way including two consecutive starts when he took a no hitter into the sixth inning followed by game where he allowed just one hit in seven innings. Maybe he’ll recapture some of the potential he once had, but it’s hard to envision a giant leap forward this season.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Once a potent force leading the Rockies rotation, Jimenez continues to look like the shell of a player he once was as he enters his age 33 season. Not only did he struggle with walks, but the right hander was subpar against lefties allowing a .292/.378/.506 slash line. He and Miley are only projected to be in the rotation because the management failed to sign anyone else.

Wade Miley

After landing on Baltimore in a trade from Seattle, his tenure with the new team has been more of a train wreck than Jimenez’. Opposing hitters hammered his two primary offerings, a Four Seam Fastball and a Sinker, with the former garnering a -10.4 value on the Pitch F/X system. He’s better than last season indicated, but he’s nothing more than a back of the rotation guy at this point in his career.

Tampa Bay Rays

For everything you need on the Rays rotation, read here.