The AL Central has made a few pitching acquisitions lately, with the Royals vastly overpaying for James Shields and Wade Davis on Sunday night, and the Twins giving 2 years and $10 million to Kevin Correia on Monday night. Much digital ink has been splashed around about the James Shields acquisition, and rightfully so. As the dark days of January approach, I may re-examine the issue in depth, but this article is about looking at the current state of AL Central starting rotations. What have the Royals bought in 2013 in exchange for a lot of money and a lot of talent?
I have listed the above teams by their standings in 2012.
At merely a glance it’s clear that the Indians and Twins have two of the worst rotations in the majors. Jimenez and Masterson have had success in the past, but the degree to which they resurrect that success – if at all – is up for debate. Masterson was never able to get lefties out, and Jimenez relied more on velocity than most pitchers, and unfortunately when his fastball lost a few ticks it appears what little command he had went with it. I like McAllister more than some, mostly because I think legitimate #4/5 starters that are dirt cheap are worth quite a bit. After those three, frankly, you can shuffle around several other names as candidates for the rotation, but I’m not sure it matters for the purposes of this article. The Twins gave up Ben Revere in order to get Worley, who is a solid back-end starter if healthy, and paid a higher AAV to Kevin Correia than the White Sox did for Jeff Keppinger. Correia will turn 33 next year, hasn’t had a league average ERA since 2007, has a career ERA+ of 88, and has had a sub-5 K/9 the last two years. He’ll fit right in on the Twins.
It is possible that recently acquired Trevor Bauer will factor into the Indians’ rotation for this year, but he has been tremendously inefficient in the minors, and apparently has all kinds of issues with coaching. I have heard that Bauer is in love with blowing people away with his fastball, and doesn’t think locating it is particularly important – good luck with that in the majors. Bauer certainly has potential, however, more so than any other arm close to the majors in that organization. If anything all this does is cement them as 4th above Minnesota.
Shields by himself likely puts the Royals’ staff ahead of the rotations of Cleveland and Minnesota. But really, for that acquisition to be worth it, the Royals have to make the playoffs in 2013 or 2014. Frankly, I just don’t think their rotation is better than either Detroit or Chicago’s, and all of this conversation is ignoring the fact that the Royals’ offense was even worse than their pitching last year. Let’s take it one slot of the rotation at a time.
Verlander is obviously the best pitcher in the division, and although I like Kershaw better, many would have him pegged as the best in the majors. Shields has been much more durable than Peavy (a low hurdle), having pitched more than 200 innings in each of the last 6 seasons. However, when Peavy’s been healthy he’s been of equal quality or better. Peavy’s only a year older than Shields, has a better career ERA+ (116 to 107), and posted better results last year in a much harder park to do it in. Shields has had a better K/BB ratio for his career, though. Let’s just give the slight edge to Shields for the sake of this conversation, but it’s close.
Next we turn to the #2 starters. Scherzer has always had big strikeout stuff, but last year he turned it into results, posting an ERA+ of 113 to go alongside his K/9 of 11.1. He did, however, struggle with his efficiency and hurt his ankle in September, leaving him shy of 200 IP once again. Chris Sale had a dominant season, managing an ERA+ of 142. Even with his issues of stretching out to a full season workload Sale pitched 5 more innings than Sherzer did. Given Sale’s body type and delivery there are questions about his ability to stay durable and consistent, but after last season I’m going to stay optimistic until given reason to believe otherwise. Scherzer and Sale have their warts, but they are incredibly talented – compare this Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie is about as average as it gets, and he’s going to be 34 next year. There’s just no way anybody would take Guthrie over either Scherzer or Sale. I’d probably lean toward Sale out of this bunch, and I think you can make an argument that going forward he is the best pitcher in the division after Justin Verlander.
The Tigers have a good third starter in Doug Fister. He limits walks and home runs and strikes out enough batters to make him really effective. John Danks terrifies me, as the White Sox are due to pay him a lot of money over the next few years and injuries to the throwing shoulder are the worst thing that can happen to a pitcher. However, Danks is only going to be 28 next year, has a career ERA+ of 109, and was progressively improving his peripherals on a yearly basis back toward his best year of 2008. Ervin Santana has flashed good seasons before with swing and miss stuff, striking out 214 batters in 2008. However, he’s never been that good since. Last year he posted the worst FIP in the majors, giving up a league-leading 39 home runs in an extremely pitcher-friendly park. Santana’s walk rate spiked, and his strikeout rate plummeted. Heading into his age 30 season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Santana were able to rebound to being about league average, but he was completely atrocious last year. Fister is probably the best of this group until Danks shows that he’s back to 100%. The Royals are a distant third in this slot of the rotation also.
I am also confident that Gavin Floyd and Jose Quintana are the best 4-5 of the bunch, for as much as I think Smyly could turn into a good back-end starter, the evidence is mounting that Rick Porcello is just not very good, and I don’t think he ever will succeed in front of Detroit’s infield defense. Wade Davis may or may not be able to succeed in the starting rotation – he depends so much on velocity, and that velocity may only be available to him in short stints out of the bullpen. Bruce Chen is a dark wizard of hate against the White Sox, but otherwise he’s not very good, and all of this assumes that the Royals don’t stick with Luke Hochevar who is flat out awful.
The White Sox have a lot of volatility in terms of their starting rotation. There are injury and stamina questions from top to bottom. However, the upside of their rotation is also excellent. The Tigers are stronger #1-3, but can’t quite match Chicago’s depth. The Royals, meanwhile, have given up an insane trove of prospects in return for the third best rotation in the division. In my opinion, the White Sox and Tigers will be much more vulnerable in 2014 and 2015, but instead Dayton Moore greatly diminished the quality of his organization for those years in an attempt to push past two superior teams in 2013. The offseason isn’t over yet, but that is the current reality.
Matt already covered the Tigers’ signing of Anibal Sanchez and that it occurred after this article was drafted. It seems the best way to get some news going this offseason is for me to write about something so it can change immediately or even as I write about it. Regardless, Anibal Sanchez has been a slightly above average starter for some time now, however he has a long history of shoulder injuries. These have cost him entire seasons, or have flared up in the offseason costing him time during spring training. It is absolutely an upgrade in 2013 for the Tigers should he remain healthy, and perversely it makes the Royals’ trade for Shields look even worse. Still, this is a gigantic commitment going forward for a guy with an injury history like Sanchez’ — 7 distinct shoulder injuries since 2006. I have spoken to knowledgeable people who say they would rather have Brandon McCarthy for this contract, let alone for the contract he signed for, and they have described Sanchez’ shoulder as a “time bomb.”
The question now becomes whether they push Porcello or Smyly out of the rotation. Either way, Sanchez is an upgrade and I think gives the Tigers an edge in their rotation going into next year. Personally, if I’m Detroit I try to trade Porcello to a team that feels optimistic about their infield defense and needs a starter. It is likely that Smyly will be the odd man out, however.