What is a #1 starter? Is it different than an ace? What about an ACE? How much better is a #1 than a #2? Though these labels are fairly arbitrary, they do provide a quick way of classifying pitcher. I personally break things down into 10 groups; Aces, #1 starters, #1/2's, #2's, #2/3's, #3's, #3/4's (see where this is going yet?), #4's, #4/5's, and #5's (which is where swing-men and the like get lumped in). tRA+ can be used to assign values to the various groups, which is what I did (other factors, such as durability, come into play also, but this is just something I was interested in and not a rigorous study or anything). I then looked at five starters for each club (usually the guys who had pitched to the most, but not always) to see how the rotations stacked up. The labels are based entirely on 2008 pitching performances for the team the player pitched for most; some guys have pitched like Aces despite not being that talented, and some top starters are having relatively down years.
Aces: tRA+ of 135 or better - Cliff Lee (176, CLE), Brandon Webb (165, ARI), Rich Harden (162, OAK), Dan Haren (150, ARI), Tim Lincecum (149, SFG), Joba Chamberlain (145, NYY), Randy Johnson (140, ARI), Jorge Campillo (138, ATL), Chad Billingsley (138, LAD), Roy Halladay (137, TOR), Ervin Santana (137, LAA), Ben Sheets (137, MIL), Sean Gallagher (136, CHC), CC Sabathia (135, CLE)
That is a pretty good collection of pitchers there. Cliff Lee and Brandon Webb are likely to win Cy Young Awards for their respective leagues. Arizona will be tough to beat in the playoffs with Webb, Haren, and a still very effective Randy Johnson. One would have to be crazy to call Jorge Campillo and Sean Gallagher aces, but they've pitched very well (though Gallagher did less well after he was traded to Oakland). Since he was traded, Sabathia has actually been better (180 tRA+). A few names are noticeably missing, but this is for 2008 performance only.
#1's: tRA+ around 130 - Edison Volquez (133, CIN), John Danks (131, CHW), Josh Beckett (130, BOS), Ryan Dempster (130, CHC), Derek Lowe (129, LAD), Javier Vazquez (128, CHW), Matt Cain (127, SFG)
Matt Cain is over-shadowed by Tim Lincecum (which is kind of ironic, since Cain is the way bigger guy), but he's still a very good pitcher. How are the White Sox in first place? Good pitching, from Danks and Vazquez especially. Anyone surprised to see Lowe this high? I was, a little, but he guy still gets those groundballs. Considering how short of a contract he may get this off-season, I wouldn't mind if the O's made an inquiry.
#1/2's: tRA+ around 122 - Andy Sonnanstine (125, TBR), Clayton Kershaw (124, LAD), Jon Lester (123, BOS), AJ Burnett (123, TOR), Kevin Slowey (123, MIN), Tim Hudson (123, ATL), Justin Duchscherer (122, OAK), Jonathan Sanchez (122, SFG), Ubaldo Jimenez (121, COL), Cole Hamels (120, PHI), Scott Kazmir (119, TBR), Jair Jurrjens (119, ATL), Hiroki Kuroda(119, LAD)
Andy Sonnanstine? Really? No wonder the Rays are in first place; their "#4" starter is pitching better than many team's "#1's". The NL West is going to be interesting in the coming years, with Haren, Webb, and Johnson in Arizona; Billingsley, Kershaw, and Kuroda in LA, and Lincecum, Cain, and Sanchez in San Fransisco (not to mention Jimenez in Colorado - and Jake Peavy hasn't even been grouped yet). Of these, Hamels and Kazmir are the guys I would have guessed as #1 starters right now.
#2's: tRA+ around 115 - James Shields (117, TBR), Jose Contreras (117, CHW), Justin Verlander (116, DET), Mark Buerhle (116, CHW), Carlos Zambrano (115, CHC), Zach Greinke (114, KCR), Felix Hernandez (114, SEA), Brian Moehler (114, HOU), Johan Santana (113, NYM), Shaun Marcum (112, TOR), Jake Peavy (112, SDP), Matt Garza (112, TBR), Dustin McGowan (112, TOR)
The White Sox, the Blue Jays, and the Rays all have very good rotations. Another surprise, with Brian Moehler ahead of Johan Santana and Jake Peavy. Six teams have yet to be mentioned; the O's, Rangers, Marlins, Nationals, Cardinals, and Pirates. Hard to compete without a top-of-the-rotation starter.
#2/3's: tRA+ around 107 - Scott Baker (111, MIN), Gil Meche (111, KCR), Mike Pelfrey (111, NYM), Jo-Jo Reyes (111,ATL), Daisuke Matsuzaka (110, BOS), Andy Pettitte (110, NYY), Sidney Ponson (110, TEX), Adam Wainwright (109, STL), Aaron Cook (109, COL), Ricky Nolasco (108, FLA), Ted Lilly (108, CHC), Paul Maholm (108, PIT), Jeremy Guthrie (107, BAL), Fausto Carmona (107, CLE), Dave Bush (107, MIL), Doug Davis (107, ARI), Mike Mussina (107, NYY), Nick Blackburn (107, MIN), Jorge De La Rosa (107, COL), Joe Saunders (106, LAA), Roy Oswalt (106, HOU), Cha Seung Baek (106, SDP), Manny Parra (106, MIL)
Only the worst team in baseball (Washington) doesn't have at least one guy above the level of a #3 starter. I guess Texas doesn't have one anymore either, though Sir Sidney has been far worse in his time with the Yankees. The majority of these guys aren't who you would think of as quality starters (Seattle gave Cha Seung Baek away for practically nothing to the Padres, for example). Sorry O's fans, but Jeremy Guthrie really (really) isn't an Ace - he's a good pitcher, but the team will need a better one (or two) to make the playoffs. Or four more guys around his level, I guess. That actually seems more like what they have going on, with Tillman, Arrieta, and Matusz not likely to be #1's but more #2/3's.
#3's: tRA+ around 100 - Chien-Ming Wang (103, NYY), Jared Weaver (103, LAA), Joe Blanton (103, OAK), John Maine (102, NYM), Charlie Morton (102, ATL), Erik Bedard (101, SEA), Andrew Miller (101, FLA), Josh Johnson (101, FLA), Tim Wakefield (100, BOS), Armondo Galarraga (100, DET), Jamie Moyer (100, PHI), Wandy Rodriguez (100, HOU), Shawn Hill (99, WAS), Darrell Rasner (99, NYY), John Lackey (99, LAA), Tim Redding (99, WAS), Gavin Floyd (98, CHW), John Lannan (98, WAS), Jason Bergmann (98, WAS)
The Nats finally show up - four times. If their fifth starter was a #1 instead of a #4/5 (and they had a little offense), then they might having something to work with. Wang isn't a bad pitcher, though he is overrated because of the Wins the Yankees offense gets for him. Jamie Moyer might pitch until he's 50 - he's been throwing about 80-81 for a few years now, and still gets outs. I wonder if the increase in average velocity in baseball (I'm pretty sure that is true) has actually helped Moyer, as hitters are used to gearing up for faster pitches? Lackey is obviously higher than a #3.
#3/4's: tRA+ around 95 - Clay Buchholz (97, BOS), Garrett Olson (97, BAL), Luke Hochaver (97, KCR), Micah Owings (97, ARI), Oliver Perez (96,NYM ), Brett Myers (96, PHI), Kason Gabbard (95, TEX), Jason Marquis (95, CHC), Jesse Litsch (94, TOR), Greg Smith (94, OAK), Todd Wellemeyer (94, STL)
I like this group, since it has a lot of similar pitchers in it. I guess Brett Myers is the one who's fallen farthest, but otherwise it's pretty accurate, I think (though Buchholz will be moving on up in the future). Say it with me everyone; "Garrett Olson is perfectly capable of being a back-of-the-rotation starter for the Orioles next year." Alrighty, then.
#4's: tRA+ around 90 - Livan Hernandez (93, MIN), Bronson Arroyo (93, BOS), Jeremy Bonderman (92, DET), Phil Dumatrait (91, PIT), Jeff Francis (91, COL), Glen Perkins (91, MIN), Johnny Cueto (91, CIN), Dana Eveland (90, OAK), Greg Maddux (90, SDP), Nate Robertson (90, DET), Randy Wolf (90, SDP), Chris Waters (89, BAL), Kyle Lohse (89, STL), Zach Duke (89, PIT), Jarrod Washburn (88, STL), Scott Olsen (88, FLA), Kevin Correia (88, SFG), Kenny Rogers (88, DET), Barry Zito (88, SFG)
No way would I have guessed that Livan and Zito (or Washburn, for that matter) were this high. A few pitchers have a lot more upside than this (Bonderman, Francis, and Cueto in particular; maybe Olsen), but the rest are in this area. Nice to see Chris Waters so close to Kenny Rogers (as the comparison has been made before), though I would prefer if he pitched like The Gambler of five years ago. This is the first year (since 2003 at least) that Maddux has dropped below the #2/3 level. Amazing.
#4/5's: tRA+ around 85 - Kevin Millwood (87, TEX), Mark Hendrickson (87, FLA), Ian Snell (87, PIT), Edwin Jackson (86, TBR), Odalis Perez (86, WAS), Brad Penny (86, LAD), Jon Garland (85, LAA), Brandon Looper (85, STL), Brandon Backe (85, HOU), Carlos Silva (84, SEA), Daniel Cabrera (83, BAL), Paul Byrd (83, CLE), Adam Eaton (83, PHI), Vincente Padilla (83, TEX)
Please Andy MacPhail, don't sign Jon Garland. Do you see Carlos Silva there? Don't make that mistake. That would be bad. In other news, Daniel Cabrera needs to stop trying to be Carlos Silva. He was actually gotten worse (tRA-wise) four years in a year. Stopping trying to throw strikes and just let it rip; at least with 98 mph fastballs, he throws a gem every once in a while. Now, he just is mediocre every time out. Snell is probably the best of this bunch, and I expect to see him back amongst the #1/2's (like he was last year) soon.
#5's: tRA+ around 80 or less - Jeff Suppan (82, MIL), Kyle Davies (81, KCR), Shawn Chacon (80, HOU), Brian Bannister (80, KCR), Scott Feldman (79, TEX), Joel Piniero (79, STL), Aaron Harang (79, CIN), Josh Banks (78, SDP), Brian Burres (77, BAL), Kyle Kendrick (73, PHI), Tom Gorzelanny (73, PIT), Carlos Villanueva (73, MIL), Jeremy Sowers (72, CLE), Greg Reynolds (72, COL), Pedro Martinez (71, NYM), Josh Fogg (66, COL), Miguel Batista (62, SEA)
Pedro just might want to retire after this season. He still can be effective, but I don't know if he's going to be. Harang should shoot back up to the #1's area once he's healthy next year. Banny, unfortunately, might be here to stay. Also, I would just like to once again laugh in the general direction of the Pacific North-West. Yes it's mean (and I'm sorry), but that doesn't make it any less funny to me.
So that's it; 30 teams, 150 pitchers. The O's this season have had a rotation of #2/3, #3/4, #4, #4.5, #5. That will just not cut it. For next year, I see Guthrie (#2/3), Cabrera (#4/5), and hopefully Olson (#3/4) as set. Sheets and Sabathia aren't necessary, but Lowe and Burnett would make the group pretty solid. Lowe (#1), Burnett (#1/2), Guthrie (#2/3), Olson (#3/4), and Cabrera (#4/5) probably won't beat out the other AL East teams, unless Daniel finally turns that corner (at this point, it seems like he's been in a round room his whole career). With a top-five offense though, the O's would have a shot.