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AL West Preview: The Starting Rotations

Our look at the Mariners’ division rivals continues with a look at the starting rotations in the AL West.

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at St. Louis Cardinals Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

While there aren’t as many big changes to the pitching staffs in the AL West, there are a few key moves that should shake up the status quo in the division. A reminder: we’re comparing the three major player groups on each division rival to each other: the lineups, the starting rotations, and the bullpens. Hopefully, we’ll answer three questions for each of these teams: what’s new, what’s good, what’s bad.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Angels Projected Rotation

Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Shohei Ohtani 27 R 156 3.22 3.69 3.72 3.1
Noah Syndergaard 29 R 161 3.38 4.27 4.20 2.8
Patrick Sandoval 25 L 143 2.62 4.04 4.18 2.2
Michael Lorenzen 30 R 131 2.13 4.43 4.49 1.1
José Suarez 24 L 133 2.32 4.56 4.67 1.3
Jaime Barría 25 R 67 2.45 5.46 5.48 0.2
Reid Detmers 22 L 79 2.79 4.38 4.42 1.0
FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections

Obviously the first name people think of when thinking about Angels starting pitching is Jose Suarez, who the Angels signed as an amateur free agent back in 2014. After spending five years in the minors, Suarez got called up briefly in 2019, sucked, got sent back down in, got called up again in 2021 and blah blah blah…

This is the problem with talking about Angels pitching. Nobody cares about players not named Shohei Ohtani. And honestly why should they? He was the only real bright spot on the team last year, racking up the most innings and maintaining the lowest ERA. Across 130 innings pitched, Ohtani struck out 156 batters while issuing a walk only 44 times. When his stuff is working, it works and no one has an answer for it. And unless batters somehow manage to get hits off his splitter, which they did only 11 times total last year, Shohei is likely going to put together another MVP caliber season on the mound. Good for him.

Worryingly for the M’s, the Angels managed to make their pitching 20% scarier by signing Noah Syndergaard last November. Syndergaard missed most of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, and only came in for a couple of innings for the Mets. One of those appearances was a bit of an implosion where he gave up 3 hits and 2 runs in the first inning. Syndergaard really is the biggest question mark of the Angels rotation. FanGraphs projections don’t really like his odds of performing well this season, giving him a 4.30 ERA over 161 innings pitched. Syndergaard throws gas, and if his stuff is on this year, he could be a real problem for the Mariners. That is a big “if,” though.

As for the other pitchers in the rotation, I just have to shrug. The Angels signed Michael Lorenzen over the offseason, but his career numbers are Not Great. He’s not a guy who goes deep into games, only pitching over 100 innings for a single season, back in 2015. He’s got a career ERA of 4.07, and last year his ERA was 5.59. The Angels are paying him $7 millon for this season, so they must see something good in him if they’re willing to pay him a million dollars for every ten innings he throws. For my part, I don’t. If the Mariners can jump on him early in a game, it’s a fair bet that they’d see the back end of the Angels bullpen by the later innings.

There’s a couple of guys the Halos are betting on to have a breakout season. Patrick Sandoval’s young and is great at generating whiffs, but historically his stuff hasn’t been great in the majors. His numbers improved in 2021, however, and he got better at making his pitches behave differently. But his fastball isn’t great, and he doesn’t pitch deep into games. FanGraphs doesn’t like him much either, giving him a projected ERA of 4.07, which is fine for a back-of-the-rotation starter and less fine for your number three with a big cliff after him. Reid Detmers may also have potential; he was a first round pick in 2020 (#10 overall), and he ruined lives back in AAA. His five starts in the majors in 2021 were a total disaster though, as he gave up 17 runs and five homers over 20.2 innings. He has a lot of room to improve, but improvement is an easier task when paired with a 70-grade curveball.

As Kate wrote about yesterday, the Angels are running a stars-and-scrubs team this year. This rotation will almost certainly not last the entire season. Only 2, maybe 3, of the pitchers here are actually Good. With Chris Rodriguez and Griffin Canning down on the 60-day IL, the Angels lack pitching depth, and will probably flounder to start the season.The Angels are spending a lot of money for mediocre pitching, and I can’t see the front office willing to let that continue for 162 games.

For Angels fans, the whiplash between an Ohtani start where he strikes out 14 batters and hits a pair of bombs followed immediatly by Lorenzen giving up 5 runs in the second inning will be jarring, and will likely have them recalling the first line of Tale of Two Cities.

For Mariners fans looking to buy tickets, I would advise you to take a look at what pitcher the Halos will be sending out and choose your date accordingly. If you wanna see some era-defining baseball, go to an Ohtani game. If you would like to see the Mariners win a baseball game, go to a Suarez start. —JP

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Astros Projected Rotation

Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Justin Verlander 39 R 180 5.48 3.50 3.73 3.4
Framber Valdez 28 L 187 2.24 3.76 3.95 2.9
Luis Garcia 25 R 160 3.01 4.09 4.13 2.4
José Urquidy 27 R 137 3.67 4.46 4.51 1.7
Jake Odorizzi 32 R 76 3.20 4.20 4.34 0.5
Lance McCullers Jr. 28 R 101 2.60 3.61 3.73 1.8
Cristian Javier 25 R 151 2.63 4.23 4.32 1.6
FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections

Digging into the Astros rotation is a bit of a rollercoaster. You start out with a pneumatic-induced jump, thinking, wow, despite getting the sad tail of Zack Greinke’s career and being without Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole, Houston still won the pennant. And they did it, in part, by having their starters post a 3.63 ERA. Houston’s pitching development is so good that they pull core pieces out of nowhere. Most famously, a 21-year-old Framber Valdez signed for $10,000 after showcasing for scouts in the DR by the headlights of their car; a story you’ve heard at least five times if you’ve ever watched a single one of his starts on TV.

And it’s not just Valdez. He, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, and José Urquidy combined for just two appearances ever on a top-prospect list from Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB Pipeline (Urquidy, at 82nd by BP and 101st by Fangraphs in 2021). Now all those guys are stalwarts for Houston. They’ve created enviable depth: imagine the luxury of being worried about Jake Odorizzi and his 4.44 FIP projection as your favorite team’s seventh-best starter. And beyond that, the Astros might keep spinning straw into gold and trot out a new ace we’ve never heard of before. Nor should we discount the possibility that Forrest Whitley, former top prospect, may live up to his pedigree some day.

But then the rollercoaster starts tick-tick-ticking uphill again as you look deeper into their numbers and think, gee, maybe there’s regression coming. As a staff, Houston’s rotation had the 28th worst difference between its ERA and its FIP, outperforming their peripherals by a hefty 0.43. The source is having both the second-best BABIP and the third-best strand rate, propping up a decidedly middle of the road 2.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Add in that Lance McCullers and his devil’s curveball are starting the year on the IL (again–this time for a tight flexor tendon), and you start thinking there’s hope that the Astros might fall from the stars in 2022.

And finally the inevitable drop when you remember the 3,000-strikeout elephant in the room. Justin Verlander, with his three no-hitters, Rookie of the Year award, two Cy Youngs (and a 2018 robbery), Triple Crown, MVP, and first-ballot-no-doubter Hall-of-Fame case, is back. The last time we saw Verlander, on Opening Day 2020, Kyle Lewis sent a fastball to New Mexico and Verlander to the Tommy John operating table. But the last time we saw Verlander before that, he was winning the Cy Young Award in a season where he struck out 300 hitters and had a 17.5% whiff rate. Yes, Verlander is 39 now, but TJ recovery ain’t what it used to be, and in his first look at Spring Training, his fastball was sitting at its customary 95.

The rollercoaster ride, like everything involving the Astros, makes you want to hurl. This isn’t the Houston rotation’s world-beating heyday of 2018-19, but there are no projects and no rookies to break in. There’s no one, not even their sixth- and seventh-best starters, who you’d want to face. If Seattle’s starters are going to match them this year, they’ll have to do it by pitching better themselves. Because even with a little regression from the main group, overall, the Astros won’t be much worse. —ZM

MLB: Spring Training-Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Athletics Projected Rotation

Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Sean Manaea 30 L 177 4.26 3.69 3.80 3.0
Frankie Montas 29 R 178 3.57 3.67 3.74 3.1
Cole Irvin 28 L 167 2.78 4.72 4.83 1.0
Daulton Jefferies 26 R 130 3.51 4.41 4.42 1.1
James Kaprielian 28 R 108 2.73 4.67 4.74 0.7
Zach Logue 26 L 52 2.76 4.78 4.87 0.3
Paul Blackburn 28 R 45 2.61 4.54 4.53 0.1
FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections

Spring training results don’t matter, but it was still striking to watch the A’s broadcast of the latest Mariners-Angels spring training game and realize the depth to which the A’s announcers, reporters, and remaining players utterly loathe the Mariners for yoinking away the team’s last shot at a playoff run before the inevitable teardown with their cheeky play effectively killing Oakland’s chances in September of 2021. Oh how the turntables have turned. This particular game, in which the Mariners thrashed the A’s 6-1, began with Frankie Montas surrendering a hit parade to the Mariners’ Opening Day-adjacent lineup, meaning that in addition to ruining two of Chris Bassitt’s last starts as an Athletic, the Mariners were now potentially doing the same to Montas.

So far, though, Montas remains in kelly green, as does fellow star of various trade fantasies Sean Manaea, with the A’s content to wait out a pitching-desperate market for a team to meet their prices and maybe win a couple more ballgames along the way, although that is almost certainly a bug, not a feature. As a one-year rental, Manaea could be gone by the time this article publishes, with the Yankees reportedly the most interested party; Montas will take more of a prospect package but the A’s likely won’t have trouble getting a team with playoffs in its sights to pay up at the trade deadline, if not before. If/when the two rotation stalwarts depart, it will leave Oakland with Frontline Starter Cole Irvin, whose season you might remember best in meme form:

Beyond Irvin is a bevy of question marks: James Kaprelian and A.J. Puk have both flashed top of the rotation stuff when healthy, but the “when” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there; Daulton Jefferies has also had some nerve issues in his elbow that prematurely ended his 2021 after pitching just 15 MLB innings after being summoned from Triple-A. The A’s also attempted to buy a starter cheap from the Rays in the oft-injured Brent Honeywell, who, you guessed it, is injured again. Zach Logue, part of the return in the Chapman trade, hasn’t made his MLB debut yet and was recently re-assigned to minors camp. Paul Blackburn is healthy, but also, is Paul Blackburn, with a career ERA pushing six. There’s (injured) upside here, but there’s also a good chance this rotation is less the Oakland A’s and more the Oakland Triple A’s. —KP

MLB: Spring Training-Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Rangers Projected Rotation

Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Jon Gray 30 R 169 2.72 4.27 4.19 2.2
Martín Pérez 31 L 134 2.10 4.96 4.85 0.8
Dane Dunning 27 R 122 2.54 4.30 4.20 1.6
Taylor Hearn 27 L 125 2.06 5.12 5.07 0.5
A.J. Alexy 24 R 94 1.71 5.14 5.13 0.5
Spencer Howard 25 R 84 2.40 4.69 4.56 0.7
Glenn Otto 26 R 66 2.32 4.55 4.43 0.6
FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections

Yesterday, I wrote about how the Rangers could have a formidable offensive lineup, particularly with a number of high-level prospects in the wings. I did also, however, make the astute observation that “pitching is still required in games.” It’s an important clarifier for the Texas Rangers because, well, they signed Jon Gray and Martín Pérez and then maybe tripped over some horse manure or a Stetson hat lying in the street, fell and promptly seemed to forget this critical component of baseball. This highly specialized amnesia specifically appears to have targeted whatever lobal locale holds the memories of, say, the first five to seven innings of a baseball game.

FanGraphs officially lists Jon Gray, Martín Pérez, Dane Dunning, Taylor Hearn and A.J. Alexy as Texas’ five starters, but you’ll notice in our table here we’ve (okay, Jake. Any time the tables look nice and have real, valuable information it’s Jake.) also included Spencer Howard and Glenn Otto. That fifth spot in the rotation has been one of the biggest question marks of their truncated spring training, with Alexy, Howard, Otto and Kolby Allard all in the running. Realistically, Howard has the edge with his strong spring debut, while Alexy and Otto are good candidates for some additional Round Rock seasoning (both only made their major league debuts last season). Allard appears destined for the pen — at least for now.

Similar to their lineup, nearly the entire projected starting rotation (including the quartet of could-be fifth starters) began their professional careers outside of the Rangers organization. The lone exception is 30-year-old Pérez, who returned to Texas two weeks ago on a one-year deal. Where the Mariners may be historically catastrophic at developing the catching position, the Rangers have struggled with starting pitching. For some fun context, the highest cumulative fWAR a starter amassed with Texas was Kenny Rogers, with 23 fWAR - and it took him 12 seasons and 1,606 innings to get there. All told, ZiPS projects the 2022 starting rotation — including Gray, Pérez, Dunning, Hearn, Howard, Alexy and Otto — to be worth 8.5 wins. And that’s with personal favorite and ghost-hunting extraordinaire Jon Gray tasked with 2.8 of those wins.

This current rotation — in whatever format you choose to shuffle the amalgamation of names — doesn’t carry the same caveat of caution as Texas’ high-upside lineup, but as with their offense, there are some compelling prospects (the aforementioned quartet, along with Jack Leiter, Cole Winn and Brock Burke) waiting rather close to the stage. —IM

AL West Rotation Summary

Team Runs Allowed/Game ERA FIP Cumulative fWAR
Team Runs Allowed/Game ERA FIP Cumulative fWAR
Angels 4.71 4.36 4.39 11.7
Astros 4.35 4.00 4.13 13.8
Athletics 4.67 4.28 4.36 9.7
Mariners 4.58 4.22 4.35 10.7
Rangers 5.01 4.72 4.64 7.5
FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections

The Astros, again, project to be the class of the division, but the Mariners aren’t far behind. They’ve really improved their projected run prevention with Robbie Ray leading the rotation. Last year, Seattle’s starting rotation accumulated 7.3 fWAR; they’re projected to beat that figure by more than three wins in 2022, a massive improvement. The only reason why the Angels starters are projected to accumulate more fWAR despite worse marks in ERA and FIP is because they’re projected to throw more total innings; a luxury the Mariners can afford due to their deep bullpen.