A new front page is set up, a new audience is welcomed, a merger is finalized, and more brilliant writers are brought aboard. But while we at Baseball Essential look forward to a bright future, let me first look back once again to the 2014 MLB season.

So far I have ranked the top infields, outfields, and now starting rotations. What will it be next? Well the only people who know are myself….and anyone who can follow a pattern frankly.

So before we begin, first some ground rules:

1. The stats used are from only when the pitcher or pitching staff is starting a game.

  1. To be qualified, a team must have at least 5 pitchers that pitched at least 70 innings when starting a game this year (all pitchers named next to team are qualifying pitchers)
  2. A pitcher can be included on multiple teams, as long as he pitched 70 or more innings in starts this year.
  3. This is a ranking of starting rotation production in 2014 not just how big of names there are, or how they will fare in 2015.

 

So, now that we’ve (I’ve) discussed the rules and we’ve (you’ve) agreed, let’s begin the countdown.

 

 

      10.  Milwaukee Brewers (Willy Peralta, Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza, Marco Estrada)

The Milwaukee Brewers had a disappointing end to the year, missing the playoffs after starting the season so hot. The starting rotation, however, exceeded expectations. The only Brewer to truly falter after the all-star break was staff “ace” Kyle Lohse. Lohse had nine wins before the break with an ERA of 3.26, but only four wins and a 4.04 ERA in the second half of the year. The surprise of the year for the Brewers was the post all-star break surge of veteran pitcher Mike Fiers. Fiers pitched in four games before the break but started none. After the break he started 10 games and pitched to decision in all of them. He racked up six wins with an ERA of 2.09 and averaged over six innings a game. Blame the poor finish to the season on the bullpen or the offense, but don’t pin it on the starters.

  1. Pittsburg Pirates (Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Vance Worley)

The Pirates may not have had any all-stars in their rotation this year, but what they had was six pitchers whom each put together a solid year. All six pitchers had an ERA under four and only Liriano and Morton had losing records. Strikeouts weren’t very hard to find either, four of the six pitchers mentioned had at least 100 K’s on the year. All in all this staff was good enough to get to the playoffs but had no one to match up with San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner. I would argue that this starting rotation is one all-star away from a top four rank.

  1. Cincinnati Reds (Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Alfredo Simon, Homer Bailey, Mat Latos)

Johnny Cueto is pretty awesome, now let’s talk about the rest of the Red’s starters. The Reds got to teams in a different way this year. The pitching is normally solid but it hasn’t been this good in a long time. The absence of production from stars like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce was what kept this team from contending, not the pitching. Mike Leake had his second very solid season and veteran Alfredo Simon had a phenomenal year. Simon started his first game since 2011 and the most of his career (32). Latos was on and off with injuries, as usual, but was certainly on when he was in, if that makes sense. Homer Bailey is the last piece in this starting staff and was just about average this season. Like so many others Bailey seemingly just wasn’t as motivated with his new contract set in place.

  1. Atlanta Braves (Julio Teheran, Aaron Harang, Ervin Santana, Alex Wood, Mike Minor)

The Atlanta Braves starting rotation had three big stories this year: Julio Teheran’s 2013 break out year was for real, Mike Minor’s 2013 break out year was not for real, and “Aaron Harang, as in that terrible pitcher Aaron Harang?” Aaron Harang had the lowest ERA of his entire career (3.57) and finished the year with 12 wins. The Braves dominated opposing offenses with strikeouts, finishing 4th in the league among starters. All Braves starters (excluding Minor who had 120 K’s) had at least 150 strike outs on the year. The Braves had a good year in 2014, but with Kris Medlen returning next year I expect them to be higher on this list next year.

  1. Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman, Wei Yen Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Kevin Gausman)

We all know about the Orioles offense, but this pitching staff is what turned this team from a wild card, to a number one seed. The O’s starters did not start out the season so well, but finished among the best in the league. Five of the six O’s starters had an ERA of at least 3.95 before the all-star break, but only one of those six had an ERA above 3.75 after the break. Ubaldo Jimenez is clearly the worst of a playoff pitching staff and will likely not have a spot next year. Jimenez was the only O’s starter that finished the year a 4.00+ ERA, and was also the lone Oriole starter with a losing record. Four of the Six Orioles starters finished the year with 10+ wins (Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Norris) and you’ve got to think that Gausman would have gotten to 10 wins if he had played the whole season (Gausman finished 7-7 in 20 starts).

  1. Kansas City Royals (James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy)

“The Royals really? It’s so boring! Why not the Tigers or the Angels?” Yes the Royals, I know that they’re a bland team with nobody that really jumps off the page, but they got it done and they get it done and they deserve to be here. Royal’s ace James Shields led the Royals in wins and gave fans at least one name they’ve heard before. The Royal’s ERAs were very respectable, only one pitcher (Guthrie) had an ERA above 3.75. Danny Duffy led the Royals starters in ERA, but was the only one to finish the year with less than 10 wins and a losing record (8-11). The Royals may be without Shields next year, and if that’s the case a new ace will need to be found or they may lose their spot on this list.

  1. Seattle Mariners (Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Roenis Elias, Chris Young, James Paxton)

The Mariners had one of the most well-rounded starting rotations in baseball this year. The ace performed as an ace should, the young guys pitched great early in the season and passable late in the year, and the veterans led the team to wins that the offense didn’t help much with. Felix Hernandez may now have lost the title of “Best Right Handed Pitcher in Baseball” but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t still a hall of fame talent that will contend for the Cy Young every year. The Mariners may not have had the very best starting rotation this year, but they finished top 10 in just about every stat that matters and are good enough to secure a playoff berth, once the bats play better that is.

  1. Oakland Athletics (Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Jeff Samardzija, Tommy Milone, Jon Lester)

The starting rotation of the Oakland Athletics would not have been featured on this list before two blockbuster trades were made, but the additions of Samardzija and Lester bump them all the way up to number three. In fact, if this was the pitching roster from the beginning of the year, the A’s might be number one on the list. Gray, Kazmir, Chavez, and Milone were, however, on the roster at the start of the year and all had fine seasons. It’s hard to say if the trade was the reason for Gray, Chavez, and Kazmir’s weak play post all-star, but it was evident that something was off. Chavez was relieved of his position in the starting rotation very soon after the break, starting 19 games in the first half and only two in the second. As for Gray and Kazmir, well let’s look at the numbers. The two all-stars gave up a combined ERA of 2.59 with a record of 21-6 before the break compared to a 4.32 ERA and an 8-13 record after all-star weekend. Even if the A’s lose Lester they will still be strong, but they will be without an all-star and will need to find a, close to, worthy replacement.

      2.   Los Angeles Dodgers (Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Dan Haren, Hyun Jin Ryu, Josh Beckett)

How could a pitching staff that includes Clayton Kershaw be ranked any lower than second best? The fact is it can’t. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and possibly the best player overall. The addition of Zack Greinke is almost too much to handle, and you could argue that Hyun Jin Ryu and Josh Beckett are the best number 3 and number 4 starters in the league. Dan Haren was more than frustrating for Dodger fans to watch this year, but is serviceable, for now that is. No Dodgers starter had a losing record and only Josh Beckett had less than 10 wins on the year. The Kershaw led staff led all starters in wins and were second in the following categories: ERA, Losses, Runs, Earned Runs, WHIP, K’s, and Shutouts. Two of those shutouts were of course no-hitters by Kershaw and Beckett. All in all this was a phenomenal year for Kershaw, and a great year for the collection of Dodgers starters.

      1.   Washington Nationals (Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Tanner Roark, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez)

You most likely saw this coming right? The Nationals starting rotation is as strong as anyone at the top, and deeper than anyone at the bottom. All five Nat’s starters had 10 of more wins on the year and the ERA’s were really almost unbelievable. Referring to the order of starters above the ERA’s are 3.14, 2.66, 2.85, 2.41, 3.57. When the biggest highest ERA one of your starters is throwing is a 3.57, you can rest assured you will be high on this list. The Nationals starting rotation finished first in ERA, Runs, Earned Runs, WHIP, and Stolen Bases. Much credit is given to the catcher when a runner is caught stealing, and deservedly so, but when it comes to holding a runner on, the Nationals are better than anyone else only allowing 33 SB while the starter is in the game. The Nationals had and likely will have the best starting rotation in baseball, and if they can stay healthy, I expect even bigger things this coming year.
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Will Gribin is a correspondent for Baseball Essential.

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