Needless to say, not all rotations in baseball are created equal. Some teams have five starting pitchers who are trustworthy and reliable to bettors, while others barely have one or two. You obviously need to handicap each pitcher separately – as opposed to betting on a team based on the strength or weakness of their rotation – but looking at the comparative strengths of the rotations from a betting perspective is still a useful and entertaining exercise. Here are my top four rotations in order:
Tampa Bay Rays – By an measure the Rays are clearly atop this pile. Wade Davis has posted the weakest numbers of the five pitchers, and at 4-4 and 4.01 ERA he’s been far from a problem. The other four – Garza, Price, Niemann, and Shields – have been brilliant. They are a combined 21-5, and none of them has an ERA over 3.00. The five starters have combined to have the best WHIP in the league, and the second best opponent batting average. The performance has led to results as well – the Rays have the best record in the league by 4.5 games, are an incredible 19-5 on the road, and are the most profitable betting team in the league. The most impressive thing about this team is their sustainability. All of their pitchers are clearly in form and confident right now, but none of them seem to be pitching out of their minds. They are all young, talented guys with mountains of upside who are playing in a system that supports them. If one of their arms does falter or suffer an injury then they are still in good shape. Jeremy Hellickson, the best pitcher in the minor leagues not named Strasburg, is just biding his time in Triple-A waiting for an opportunity.
San Diego Padres – If you had told me coming into the season that the Padres were going to be this high in the rankings I probably would have suggested you get off the crack. This unlikely bunch is getting the job done, though, and they have made the Padres the second most profitable in the league. Jon Garland joined his fourth team in four seasons in the offseason, and he has responded by pitching the best that he ever has. He’s 6-2 with a very solid 2.10 ERA, and he’s giving the whole rotation leadership and confidence. The rest of the rotation seems to be pitching over their heads. Clayton Richard, a piece of the Jake Peavy deal, has found a new maturity in his third season in the league. 22 year old Mat Latos has already set a career high in strikeouts, and has much better control than you expect from a pitcher of his age and stage. Wade LeBlanc is building on the promise he showed last year. Veteran Kevin Correia emerged as a solid pitching option last year in his first year with the Padres after six years in San Francisco, and this year he’s doing it all again. It’s much harder to believe that this team will be as good at the halfway point as it is at the quarter pole than it is for Tampa Bay, but they get credit for what they are doing now.
San Francisco Giants – It’s no surprise that Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are putting up big numbers, but Barry Zito is much more of a surprise given his recent history. Lincecum has been everything we have come to expect – a 5-0 record, a 7-2 team record when he starts, a K-to-BB ratio of nearly 3.75-to-1, and a solid 2.35 ERA. Cain has pitched well – a 2.88 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP – though bad luck has left him at just 2-4 on the season. He’s just not getting the run support he needs. Zito is back in old-time form with a 6-2 record and solid stats across the board. Jonathan Sanchez has shared the bad luck of Cain, but has taken a clear step forward from last year, and is the fourth starter with an ERA of 3.00 or lower. The lone frustration in this rotation has been Todd Wellemeyer. His position in the rotation has been in peril do to his weak play, but he harnessed that pressure and played his best game of the year in his last outing on Tuesday. Together this rotation leads the league in opponent batting average. This team hasn’t succeeded on the scoresheet as much as they should have, but their fundamentals are sound and the results will come.
St. Louis Cardinals – No team has had more quality starts than the Cardinals this year. It’s no surprise that the top of their order is legitimate – Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are elite pitchers. They are doing their jobs this year – a combined 11-4 with 16 quality starts in 20 tries. It’s the other guys that have really been impressive, though. 23 year old Jaime Garcia has been a revelation – 4-2 in eight starts with a minuscule 1.28 ERA in his first season as a full-time starter. Brad Penny had been pitching as well as he ever had, but his last two starts were troubled, and now he’s out of action with an injury he suffered when he was hitting a grand slam. Kyle Lohse hasn’t bee solid at times, but has been the low point of the rotation because he has lacked consistently. Now he’s facing an injury to his arm that could cost him some real time. The future might not be as bright as it could be for the Cards, but right now their arms are getting the job done.