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Friday, March 11, 2005

AL CENTRAL Starting Rotations

I've chosen to separate the pitching staffs into two posts, starters and relievers. Health for pitchers is always a crapshoot and a major injury could dramatically change the ranking. In fact, in the time since I started drafting this article, C.C. Sabathia has pulled a muscle (somewhere beneath his fat) and may start the season on the disabled list. Minnesota is a clear number one at this position and Kansas City is a very clear last place. A reasonable argument could be made for any order of 2, 3, and 4th place. I went with Cleveland as second best rotation because of their depth.

1. Minnesota - The Ace of their staff is the reigning AL Cy Young award winner, Johan Santana. However, manager Ron Gardenhire has said he plans on Brad Radke as the opening day starter. Carlos Silva pitched much better in the second half last year which could be a precurser for a break-out season. Conversely, Kyle Lohse tailed off posting a 6.10 ERA after the All Star break. Joe Mays and Terry Mulholland will vie for the fifth starter position. Mulholland is 42 and Mays had a 6.30 ERA last year so the Twins will continue to look for other options for their fifth starter and a trade from their outfield depth is not out of the question. The Batter's Box has a look at recent Cy Young winners follow-up season in their season preview of the Twins.

2. Cleveland - C.C. Sabathia is slated to be the opening day starter. However, I don't believe there is much difference between starters one through five all are capable of more than 15 wins. Kevin Millwood was signed to a creative contract with incentives to stay healthy. Cliff Lee had two very different halfs last year. Did he just tire down the stretch or did opposing teams notice and exploit a flaw. Jake Westbrook would be my guess to take a step back this year. He was third in ERA last year so he could take a step back and still have a pretty good year. Scott Elarton is an enigma. Is he the lousy pitcher who went had no wins and 8 losses accompanied by a 8.33 ERA last year in the first half? Or is he the decent pitcher with a 4.12 ERA in the second half. Jason Davis and Kaz Tadano are waiting in the wings to fill-in if someone suffers an injury.

3. Chicago - This off season, Orlando Hernandez was added to an already decent group of pitchers. Mark Buehrle won 16 games last year but more importantly pitched 245 innings most in the American League. Freddy Garcia's won/loss record was much better after being acquired from Seattle but that was largely due to improved run support as his ERA was more than a run higher after leaving spacious SAFECO Field. Jose Contreras never provided the Yankees with what they expected when they signed him out of Cuba. Also, despite a couple good starts he didn't really turn his season around after being dealt to the White Sox (5-4, 5.30 ERA). Jon Garland has been pushed to the back of the rotation but I think by mid-season he will be pitching better than Contreras or Hernandez who are both getting long in the tooth.

4. Detroit - The Tigers' struggles over the last few year have hidden the fact that they have a very good group of young pitchers developing. The best of the bunch is Jeremy Bonderman who had a very good second half last year (5-3 with 2.33 ERA in last 8 starts) which I think point towards a breakout season in 2005. Jason Johnson at 31 is the old man of the rotation. I have to wonder if Johnson was hurting at the end of the season as he went 0 and 7 from the start of August with a 7.13 ERA. Additionally, Johnson had the 2nd highest home ERA in the American League which is odd since Comerica Park is considered a pitchers park. Mike Maroth bounced back from a 21 loss season in 2003 to be the Tigers most consistent pitcher. Nate Robertson will eat innings but never be considered better than a back end of the rotation type pitcher. Gary Knotts will get the first shot as the number 5 pitcher. Not sure how many runs it costs over the course of a season but Johnson, Robertson and Knotts are considered very poor fielding pitchers. In fact, in 2004 Robertson had the lowest fielding percentage (.853) of any AL pitcher. Bonderman will get some Cy Young votes but the rest of this group grade out as average at best.

Kansas City - It is painful even writing about this bunch. Brian Anderson had a horrid season last year after being signed to be the staff ace. His ERA was nearly a run higher than his career average. He made no excuses, however maybe based on his wife's health he may have had trouble keeping his head in the game. Zack Greinke is the future number one pitcher on this staff. He would have had a winning record last year with a little better runs support. Runelvys Hernandez missed all of 2004 due to injury. Jose Lima signed as a free-agent in the off-season could help but with a career ERA of exactly 5.00 after 199 games started (and another 130 in relief) it isn't likely. It has been five seasons since Lima had an ERA under 4.00. On the bright side, he is bringing his wife with him. Jimmy Gobble is walking batters almost as often as he strikes them out. That usually makes for high pitch counts and short careers.

Hat tip Chris of A Large Regular for pointing out Mrs. Lima.

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