With their acquisition of Johnny Cueto yesterday, the Kansas City Royals clearly announced their intention to go for it in 2015. Cueto was almost certainly the best pitcher available this deadline, and provides the club with a clear ace at the top of the rotation. It also didn't come at an exorbitant price, which is a testament to Dayton Moore's once ridiculed "process."
Between the Astros and the Royals, it's clear that American League clubs are focused on upgrading their rotations, seeing it as the surest way to dominate their opponents in a short series. It's setting up some pretty epic matchups once we finally hit the playoffs. At the moment, there are nine teams four-and-a-half games from a postseason spot or less. As we look forward to October, here's basically how the rotations of the various contenders stack up against one another:
9) Texas Rangers (Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez, Wandy Rodriguez)
Gallardo has been pretty terrific this year, his first in the American League, but the rest of this rotation struggles to generate strikeouts. With the Rangers struggling to keep pace, there's a good chance they will trade Gallardo soon anyway. Lewis and Rodriguez are also impending free agents, but don't figure to generate the same level of interest in a pitcher-heavy market.
8) Minnesota Twins (Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone, Trevor May)
Hughes is nowhere near the pitcher he was in 2014, and has allowed 23 homers in 130 innings, which makes any postseason start by him pretty dicey. Gibson has allowed 12 runs in his last two starts and Milone suffers from a pretty terminal lack of stuff. As it currently stands, Mike Pelfrey is probably the #4 starter for this team in a postseason series, , but has allowed 31 runs in his last 38 innings and I have to believe (for my own sanity, as a Twins fan) that he is going to pitch himself out of the rotation at some point.
7) Detroit Tigers (David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Alfredo Simon, Justin Verlander)
Aside from Cueto, Price is probably the best pitcher in the American League playoff race left, so this placement is really a testament to how awful the rest of Detroit's rotation has been. The formerly reliable Sanchez has been extremely homer-prone in 2015. Simon's velocity is down a tick, and even last year his ERA didn't match his underlying fielding independent numbers. Verlander is a shadow of his former self. If the Tigers bite the bullet and decide to sell, Price is going to bring a big return, but they're running out of time.
6) Toronto Blue Jays (Mark Buehrle, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison)
The resurgence of Mark Buehrle has been exciting to watch, and Estrada has been a surprising contributor. Dickey has been a disappointment since coming over from the Mets in 2013, failing to provide stability at the top of the rotation, and has cratered this year. That said, he could be unhittable on any given night, depending on what his knuckleball is doing. Hutchison is confusing at ths point. His underlying stats all suggest a league average starter, but he's got a 5.42 ERA on the year, and is allowing a .351 BABIP thanks to a 31 percent line drive rate, according to Baseball Reference.
5) New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Nathan Eovaldi/CC Sabathia)
I've given up worrying about Tanaka, whose velocity is exactly where it was last year and who has recovered nicely from two bad starts at the end of June. He'll keep pitching well until his elbow explodes...or it doesn't. I do, however, worry about Pineda's workload. While his velocity is fine, he's thrown 118 innings already in 2015, which is more than any year since his rookie campaign in 2011. Since coming off of the disabled list, Ivan Nova has struggled to generate strikeouts, but is getting by with the help of his defense. Eovaldi is a better option than Sabathia at this point, but I doubt the Yankees will keep their former ace out of the playoff rotation entirely.
4) Baltimore Orioles (Wei-Yin Chen, Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman)
If you're going by fielding independent numbers, the Orioles suffer in comparison to the other clubs on this list. However, Chen and Gonzalez have a history of outperforming those numbers. Jimenez had a 2.81 ERA before the All Star break, but has had a couple of disastrous starts since then. If something is wrong with him, the O's rotation will take a huge hit. Tillman's 2015 struggles seem to be largely BABIP related.
3) Kansas City Royals (Johnny Cueto, Edison Volquez, Chris Young,
Jeremy Guthrie Danny Duffy)
The addition of Cueto propels the Royals up this list, as he's one of the most dominant starters in the majors today. Volquez continues his ridiculous career resurgency, for which I blame the Pirates, who are goddamn wizards or something. Did you know Chris Young has a career 108 ERA+? I bet you didn't. Nobody ever wants Chris Young, but all he does is get batters out. T
here's no way around how awful Guthrie is. Maybe Yordano Ventura will right himself before October. Update: I totally spaced on Danny Duffy, who I thought was hurt. His results have been great since coming off the DL in June, but the lack of strikeouts is a concern. That said, he is probably enough to push the Royals above the Angels in these rankings.
2) Los Angeles Angels (Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver)
I'm assuming that Weaver will be back before the postseason. He's supposedly healthy, but working out the kinks on his timing, velocity, and mechanics according to the OC Register. At this point, it's sad that even if he's healthy, it's basically a toss up between him and Matt Shoemaker for the fourth spot. Richards and Santiago have been excellent, and Wilson has bounced back nicely from a disappointing 2014. Truly one of the weirdest career paths of all time.
1) Houston Astros (Dallas Keuchel, Scott Kazmir, Lance McCullers Jr., Colin McHugh)
The Cueto trade is largely being seen as a response to the Astros getting Kazmir. That's kind of silly, given that Cueto was clearly the most coveted guy out there and would've been a massive upgrade for everybody. However, even with Cueto, the Royals can't match Houston's arms. Keuchel is having a dream season with his power sinker, and has allowed only eight homers in 151 innings. Kazmir is a dynamite number two starter who is leading the American League in ERA (I feel like I just blew your mind). McCullers has struck out more than a batter per inning and has done a great job limiting homers. McHugh isn't even a weak link, as he is essentially a league average starter. If the Astros can squeak past the Angels and guarantee themselves a full series, they have a distinct advantage over whoever they're going to face in October.