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2023 AL West Preview: The Starting Rotations

A new superstar will make his mark on the AL West this year.

Texas Rangers Introduce Jacob deGrom Photo by Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/Getty Images

A superstar out, a superstar in. There were some pretty significant changes to the starting rotations in the AL West. 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.

Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Angels Projected Rotation

Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Shohei Ohtani 28 R 171 4.28 3.10 3.06 4.3
Tyler Anderson 33 L 184 3.36 4.32 4.42 1.9
Patrick Sandoval 26 L 163 2.64 3.66 3.75 2.7
José Suarez 25 L 141 2.62 4.25 4.25 1.5
Reid Detmers 23 L 145 2.93 4.17 4.13 1.9
Tucker Davidson 27 L 51 2.19 4.46 4.49 0.2
Chase Silseth 23 R 42 2.64 4.22 4.19 0.4
FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections

Every year I say “this is the year the Angels are a force in the AL West” because every year I feel like it could be true. Dodging the perennial threat of two of the best players in baseball history, who both happen to play on the same team, which happens to be in the same division as the Mariners, feels like being targets in a shooting gallery where the luck will run out eventually. Unfortunately for the Angels in past years, the pop guns have been clenched in the white-knuckled fists of Arte Moreno, one of the most over-involved owners in pro sports, and despite those two superstars, the club has failed to grow much talent around them, especially on the pitching side. PECOTA actually likes the Angels to finish ahead of the Mariners, but sees that coming through an especially rosy forecast of 24.6 WARP for the Angels hitters, vs. a mere 10 WARP combined for the pitching staff. That’s the lowest in the division* (* the part of the division that’s actually trying to win baseball games), which seems appropriate as the Angels looked at their rotation from last year and decided one Tyler Anderson would fix it.

Is it fair, though? Last season the Angels actually ranked sixth among all starting staffs in fWAR, albeit with the caveat that their starters pitched about a hundred fewer innings than the league-leading Astros, and over fifty fewer than the Mariners. As a unit they had the eighth-best K/9 in the league, and used the un-juiced ball to their great advantage, with a HR/FB rate of just 10.2%, fourth-lowest in the league. That was aided by their pitchers being one of the top ten staffs in baseball both at keeping the ball on the ground and limiting hard contact, a mark that will only improve with the addition of Tyler Anderson, who was elite in 2022 at limiting hard contact.

Overall, though, this rotation has a high but risky ceiling that teeters on Ohtani’s continued health, a pair of young pitchers sorting out their command and finding consistency, and a workable #6 starter rising from the ranks of a trio of young but flawed pitchers. I still can’t let go of my deep-seated fear of the Angels suddenly revealing they’ve been playing possum and kicking the Mariners into third place (or worse) in the division, but unless Phil Neven finds a way to start Ohtani for every single game, starting pitching probably won’t be the thing to fear.

#1 Starter: Shohei Ohtani

Him, you probably know. Making Mariners fans miserable since 2018, this might be the last year Ohtani suits up in Angels red unless a major course-correction happens in the organization. That’s the bright side. The un-bright side, for Mariners fans, is Ohtani continues to be Very Good At Everything; last year he made up for a slight dip in offensive production by ramping up on the pitching side, striking out even more batters while walking fewer and, most importantly, showing he had the ability to endure upwards of 150 innings pitched. ZiPS sees him as being about the same pitcher next year, as does PECOTA. Hopefully it’s the last year we have to see Ohtani in the AL West.

#2 Starter: Patrick Sandoval

Starting his fifth year in the bigs, the 26-year-old remains a bit of a mystery. He possesses tremendous strikeout stuff despite a subpar fastball thanks to a life-ruining changeup, but command struggles that have haunted him for his whole career mean you don’t really ever know which player will be taking the mound that day: the dominant strikeout machine, or the one who can’t seem to find the zone. Sandoval is the highest ceiling pitcher in the Angels rotation not named Ohtani, which is why he possesses the #2 slot, but a changeup/slider-first pitcher is a risky proposition even with stellar command.

#3 Starter: Tyler Anderson

Last year the Angels went out and made a splashy/risky signing, acquiring the services of the often-injured Noah Syndergaard. Like the rest of the Angels’ 2022, the move did not work out, and they wound up trading him to Philly for their playoff run for a pair of outfield prospects. This year, the Angels went the opposite direction, signing safe-but-unspectacular Tyler Anderson to a three-year deal to anchor the middle of the rotation. Mariners fans are familiar with Anderson and what he can do from his 2021 tenure with the team, but he’s coming to the Angels after spending a career year with the Dodgers, a team in southern California with a slightly better track record of developing pitching talent.

#4 Starter: Reid Detmers

The 10th overall pick in 2020, Detmers has been one of the poster children for “pitching development isn’t linear”—especially not when said pitcher never got to pitch below Double-A. After struggling in his debut season, Detmers had some stellar moments in 2022, including tossing a no-hitter against the Rays in May. But like Sandoval, Detmers also depends on a pitch that can be difficult to corral in his bowling-ball curveball, and his game-to-game performances are equally difficult to predict. Some days he looks literally unhittable, like on May 10 against the Rays; in his next outing against the Rangers, he gave up two homers and three runs and lasted just 3.2 innings. Detmers has a slightly lower ceiling than Sandoval but better command, and could be a very solid mid-rotation pitcher once he finds some consistency–not out of the question yet, considering how brief and unconventional his ascent to the majors has been.

#5 Starter: José Suárez

Watching Suárez come up through the minors was like a nightmarish shadow that revealed itself to be a hat rack when the big-league lights were flipped on. Racing from High-A to Triple-A in 2018, it seemed like he would be the Next Big Thing for the Angels, but his stuff stalled out at that level and he’s only been okay at the big league level, as batters have consistently hit him hard.

#6 Starter: ???

Because of Ohtani, the Angels have wedded themselves to a six-man rotation, which makes the back end of this rotation look even more…well, backend. Griffin Canning is probably the favorite to win the role, although he has appeared in a grand total of 43 games over the past four years because of injury, including missing all of 2022 with a back injury. Canning’s chief competition for the role is Tucker Davidson, who was the return in the Raisel Iglesias trade. Davidson wasn’t able to stick as a starter in Atlanta as he’s had issues with command and missing bats, but can serve in a long relief/opener role while Canning is getting up to speed. Chase Silseth is a dark horse candidate and might have the best stuff out of the three with a mid-90s fastball and a pair of quality secondaries in a splitter/slider combo, but despite the Angels yanking him from Double-A for 28 big-league innings last year, remains the most raw of the three. —KP

Houston Astros

Houston Astros vs Philadelphia Phillies, 2022 World Series Set Number: X164229 TK1

Astros Projected Rotation

Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Framber Valdez 29 L 195 2.70 3.25 3.44 3.4
Cristian Javier 26 R 166 3.01 3.87 4.03 2.2
Lance McCullers Jr. 29 R 147 2.48 3.62 3.74 2.1
Luis Garcia 26 R 156 3.16 4.11 4.07 1.8
José Urquidy 28 R 155 3.62 4.32 4.39 1.3
Hunter Brown 24 R 101 2.63 3.59 3.55 1.0
Forrest Whitley 25 R 48 1.84 5.04 5.03 -0.1
FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections

No surprises here, the Astros are once again projected to have the best starting pitching by PECOTA in the division–although behind both the Yankees and Tampa Bay. If that feels vaguely insulting towards an Astros pitching staff that piledrove the Yankees in the ALCS, well, that’s probably correct. Projection systems are recognizing that the Astros lost their top pitcher this off-season in Justin Verlander, and they’re not entirely sold on Framber Valdéz as a replacement, because apparently thinks groundballs are undemocratic. Much of the success of the Astros’ 2023 pitching staff depends on Lance McCullers’ health. With a 1-2-3 of Valdéz, Javier, and McCullers, the Astros are well-positioned to again be one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, even if they’re not The Best post the departure of Justin Verlander, a phrase I just cannot type enough.

However, if the often-injured McCullers goes down for any significant amount of time, the job of carrying the mid-to-back parts of this rotation fall on a group of pitchers with unspectacular stuff, a post-post-post-hype prospect, and a group of unheralded unknowns who will probably turn out to be awesome superstars anyway because, you know. Astros.

#1 Starter: Framber Valdéz

With Justin Verlander departing for big city bright lights, the continually-underappreciated Valdéz gets a chance to step into the spotlight as the #1 for baseball’s reigning champs. While Mariners fans are well-acquainted with the deadliness of Valdéz, he flies largely under the radar nationally because his stuff isn’t anything that will light up baseball twitter or cause long strings of fire emojis and over-the-top reactions. His fastball is just okay, his strikeout numbers are meh, and he doesn’t get a lot of silly, gif-able swings. In fact, his starts are fairly boring to watch, brutally efficient joints as he gets batter after batter to pound the ball into the ground for seven-plus innings in which he seems to barely break a sweat. Thanks, I hate it.

#2 Starter: Cristian Javier

If Framber put up the quietest four-and-a-half win season ever, Javier put up a noisy three-and-a-half one. Last season Javier dropped his double-digit walk rate down to an acceptably-high 9%, and improved his first-pitch strike percentage significantly, which allowed him to be even more aggressive in going after batters. Javier’s fastball isn’t particularly hard but it gets above-average ride, creating a lot of fouls and weak contact, allowing him to then bust out his slider or curveball for the putaway once the batter is behind in the count. Javier’s improvements might have gone slightly unremarked upon in the fearsome Houston rotation, but like Valdéz, he too should find a place in the sun this season as Houston pitchers have a tendency to just keep getting better.

#3 Starter: Lance McCullers Jr.

And here we see the first question mark of the Astros’ rotation. When healthy, McCullers has been a Mariner-killer–but that “when healthy” part is doing a lot of heavy lifting. After missing most of 2022 with a right forearm strain, McCullers returned in August, just in time to fire a dominant ALDS game against the Mariners; this is after he missed time in 2021 with right shoulder soreness, time in 2020 with neck nerve irritation, and all of 2019 with right elbow surgery. Currently, he’s been shut down from throwing in spring training temporarily due to “arm soreness.” If he’s healthy, McCullers is a force, but that “if” looms large.

#4 Starter: José Urquidy

Aside from having an annoying tendency to hit Mariners batters, Urquidy’s shiny sub-4 ERA hides some rough expected results. Batters hit Urquidy hard last year, especially feasting on his fastball: a .482 SLG on the pitch is poor enough, but a .526 xSLG is worse. Urquidy has solid stuff but struggles to get batters to chase, which can get him into unfavorable counts and bad spots. The Astros are perhaps the best-known team in baseball for tinkering with a pitcher’s arsenal, but Urquidy enters his fifth year with the club with relatively static results.

#5 Starter: Luis Garcia

By results, Garcia and Urquidy should be flipped in the rotation order, but we’re going off how PECOTA has them listed. Similar to Urquidy, Garcia’s fastball averages around 94 and catches too much of the heart of the plate too often, but he pairs it with a cutter that misses bats along with a slider that induces plenty of whiffs. None of Garcia’s pitches are elite, which is probably why he’s seen as more of a #5 than a #4, but he commands a deep arsenal. The biggest issue facing Garcia coming into 2023 will be the introduction of the pitch clock, as he was one of baseball’s slowest (they should really call the pitch clock the Luis Garcia Rule); it will remain to be seen how having to pitch more uptempo affects him.

Other names to know:

  • Hunter Brown: The Mariners saw just a little bit of Hunter Brown last season, the latest unheralded pitching prospect to crop up in Houston orange. Brown’s two best pitches are his high-90s fastball and hard slider, which could presage a path to the bullpen (the role he appeared in during the Astros’ playoff run), but the Astros have asked him to work on his hard-breaking curveball and have kept him stretched out as a starter.
  • Forrest Whitley: The Astros’ 2015 first-rounder has had a winding path through the minors, to say the least, but he’s healthy at last and prepared to compete for a job at the back end of the Astros’ rotation, which seems to have a little more room in it these days. Whitley has the elite stuff that could be a difference-maker, but he’ll need to prove he can hold hitters down at the Triple-A level first.
  • Brandon Bielak has spent the past three seasons yo-yoing between Triple-A and the bigs; he’s a break glass in case of emergency, serviceable fifth starter if something goes wrong with the above options. —KP

Oakland Athletics

Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Athletics Projected Rotation

Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Paul Blackburn 29 R 156 2.58 4.18 4.14 1.4
James Kaprielian 29 R 142 2.16 4.57 4.69 0.4
Drew Rucinski 34 R 169 2.74 4.18 4.15 1.2
Shintaro Fujinami 29 R 157 1.86 4.03 4.11 1.2
Ken Waldichuk 25 L 122 2.62 3.84 3.92 1.4
Kyle Muller 25 L 106 2.49 3.88 3.87 1.1
JP Sears 27 L 90 3.11 3.80 3.85 0.8
FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections

If there’s one reason for fans in Oakland to have a little hope for the future of their ballclub, it would be found in their starting rotation. Through the various trades they’ve made over the past year and a half, the Athletics have accumulated a number of promising young starters, many of whom are ready to start making an impact in the majors as soon as this year. They also went out and signed a pair of intriguing arms who are coming over from Asia — Shintaro Fujinami from the NPB and Drew Rucinski from the KBO. They’ll all join a couple of veteran holdovers who haven’t been traded away yet to form a surprisingly deep, if unproven staff.

Paul Blackburn is the “veteran” of the group, entering his seventh season in the big leagues, though he’s accumulated less than 250 total innings pitched in those previous six years. He enjoyed a breakout season last year, however, and wound up pitching a career-high 111.1 innings. A torn tendon in his throwing hand ended his season in early August but he’ll be looking to prove that last year wasn’t a single-season fluke. The biggest difference for him was a newfound ability to get batters to chase his pitches, leading to the highest strikeout rate of his career. A little on the older side at 29, he’s only just reached his first year of salary arbitration. If he shows that his adjustments can stick, he could be on the way out this summer.

Of the two international signees, Fujinami is definitely the one with the most potential. He was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NPB draft, the same year Ohtani went first overall. His raw stuff is excellent, with a fastball that averages 96 mph, a decent gyro slider, and a hard splitter that really improved last year. His main problem that’s dogged him throughout his career is a lack of command. It’s been so bad, he’s often been relegated to the minor leagues to get his pitches under control. Last year, something clicked and he posted the lowest walk rate of his career despite not necessarily increasing his zone rate. Instead, he leaned into throwing his splitter and increased his chase rate. He’ll join the A’s rotation with some risk that his control issues will force him to move to the bullpen if he can’t make the transition well.

In Rucinski, the A’s are arguably getting the KBO’s best starting pitcher. That’s nothing short of a miracle considering the last time he made an appearance in the major leagues, he was a journeyman middle reliever on his fifth organization in seven professional seasons. He made the jump to Korea in 2019, remade himself into a starter, and dominated the league for four straight seasons. He’s already entering his age-34 season so this isn’t a move with an eye towards the future. Rucinski is looking for one last shot at major league success and the A’s are hoping to get a Chris Flexen-esque success story for their rotation.

After those three veterans, the A’s will need to sort through a plethora of young, promising starters who could form the backbone of the next great Oakland pitching staff. Three of them came over in the same deal — the Frankie Montas trade last summer. Ken Waldichuk made his big league debut after that trade and showed some promise in seven starts down the stretch. He had a breakout year in the minors before moving to Oakland has the potential to rack up tons of strikeouts with a good fastball, a sweeping slider, and a developing changeup. JP Sears also made his debut last year and fits the mold of the command-first starter the A’s have coveted in recent seasons. His flat fastball plays up beyond its mediocre raw stuff, his slider is pretty good, and his elite control will allow him to survive as a back-end starter for a while. The final piece from that trade, Luis Medina, has the best raw stuff of the trio. He can hit triple digits and he possesses two secondary pitches that flash plus. His biggest issue is honing in his command, but Oakland has the time and space to allow him to develop as a starter while dealing with his growing pains.

The other prospect who will almost certainly see some time in the big league rotation this year is Kyle Muller, one of the pieces who came back in the Sean Murphy trade. A big lefty with an equally big fastball and two above average breaking balls, he already has almost 50 innings of major league experience under his belt from his time in Atlanta. There are a number of other young starters on Oakland’s 40-man roster who could see some time in the majors at some point this year. Adrián Martínez was up-and-down with the A’s last year and Freddy Tarnok came over in the Murphy trade alongside Muller. With an interesting mix of both veterans who could be shipped out this summer and a wave of prospects on their way up, Oakland’s starting rotation should be filled with plenty of interesting names no matter what time of the season it is. —JM

Texas Rangers

New York Yankees v. Texas Rangers Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Rangers Projected Rotation

Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Player Age Throws IP K/BB ERA FIP WAR
Jacob deGrom 35 R 172 6.76 2.62 2.34 5.5
Martín Pérez 32 L 181 2.38 4.14 4.12 1.8
Jon Gray 31 R 172 3.10 3.95 3.78 2.5
Nathan Eovaldi 33 R 152 4.21 3.87 3.72 2.5
Andrew Heaney 32 L 133 4.27 3.85 3.62 2.3
Jake Odorizzi 33 R 80 2.83 4.47 4.42 0.2
Dane Dunning 28 R 69 2.61 4.34 4.15 0.3
FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections
New York Yankees v. Texas Rangers Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

November, 2021. March, 2022. December, 2022 (3x). And lo, the Texas Rangers’ rotation was assembled in free agency at these stages, with slight deference to Martín Pérez as a free agent only briefly. The Cops of The Range have been the American League’s most aggressive utilizer of the path of free agency to talent acquisition over the past two winters, and it may have finally built them a contender. Most projection systems still see Texas as a feeble-hitting club whose depth will hinder them, but the range of outcomes they boast is second-to-none. That hinges in large part on a veteran rotation that FanGraphs’ Depth Charts project as the second-best unit in MLB, with most of its 2022 members pushed back to the bullpen or minors as depth. Given all the injury risk in this group, however, Texas is banking heavily on either better health than in past, or at least staggering their injuries and affording their top five ample rest to avoid sinking right back to 2022’s morass.

#1 Starter: Jacob deGrom

Oh yeah, him. Whither Justin Verlander, enter deGrom, the most dominant right-handed pitcher of the last nine years, with an ERA+ of 155 that leaves Verlander (138) closer to Lance Lynn (124). You’ll also see it argued deGrom has the edge on Verlander in future durability, with deGrom’s 224.1 IP over the past three years outpacing Verlander’s 181.0, but the massive risk inherent in deGrom’s hefty contract this summer is how deGrom has missed time persistently over the past couple campaigns. When healthy, deGrom is likely the best pitcher in the division, and perhaps the sport. Even in 2021 when he was limited to 15 starts, his production was akin to Cliff Lee’s half season of Marinerdom, an ace to pace all aces. Seattle can only hope, outside of the unappealing realm of wishing ill health, to dodge deGrom more effectively than they did Verlander in 2022.

#2 Starter: Martín Pérez

The veteran southpaw turned in the best performance of his career in 2022, earning a qualifying offer he accepted from his original signing club in a triumphant return. With the ball getting sucked dry of juice, contact managers like Pérez had a window towards success unlike in years past, and that window opened to an All-Star Game appearance. The more mixed track record of the 32-year-old southpaw soon to be entering his 12th season in the big leagues gives pause to his efforts to repeat, but a return to his groundball-generating roots does seem to be a promising recipe for success. It’s likely the lefty will see some regression however, particularly after a stomach-churning drop in his HR/FB% that may yo-yo back in 2022.

#3 Starter: Jon Gray

Ghost hunting and generating perplexingly inconsistent performance, Gray has long been a favorite of pitching enthusiasts, particularly while he was stuck vacillating in his production in the thin Colorado air. His struggles to stay fully healthy have stymied a true breakout, and while his heater found another gear in the Texas heat last year, it was once again a season slightly in between. The hirsute slider slinger has many of the tools that should make an elite arm, but much like his compatriots in this rotation, health and a few shortcomings with consistency have held him in the realm of the more average. Nonetheless, Gray now has company in his state of somewhat high-variance possibility that balances out to project for an average-ish arm. At 31, he’s this group’s youngest arm.

#4 Starter: Nathan Eovaldi

In a sense, Eovaldi is a stabilizer for this group, a veteran with the only other 180+ inning season in the past three years besides Pérez in 2022. And that is certainly what Texas will hope they’ve acquired, as Eovaldi’s sixth big league employer. Much like Gray, Eovaldi’s stuff has often somewhat outpaced production, but not so much that his performance has been subpar. In Boston, the hard-throwing righty at long last achieved his apex, capped with a stellar 2021 that earned him a multi-year deal far more than his injury-shortened 2022. Eovaldi could make or break this rotation, which otherwise is laden with injury risks and question marks. The 33-year-old is no guarantee himself, but even as each player in Texas’ rotation proves a coin flip of sorts, it’s noteworthy that the right landing could leave this club with a potent 1-thru-5 that can match anyone on any night.

#5 Starter: Andrew Heaney

Much like Pérez, Heaney had a breakout at last in 2022, years after his initial prospect luster had sloughed off behind injuries and underachievement. The sly southpaw is now 32, with just a single season back in 2018 where he made 30 starts or threw 180 innings. However, like the rest of his compatriots, when healthy, he’s been a reasonable performer. That includes absolutely eye-popping production in half a season or so with the Dodgers in 2022 that earned him a multi-year deal from Texas. His heat has ticked up with improved delivery efficiency, and while he is functionally a two-pitch pitcher, both the fastball and slider are capable of keeping hitters honest.

Rotation Depth: Jake Odorizzi, Glenn Otto, Dane Dunning, Spencer Howard, Cole Ragans, Cole Winn, Jack Leiter

This group is, with the exception of Odorizzi, essentially the rest of the starting pitching depth of the 2022 Texas Rangers. The difference is, of course, that Otto, Dunning, Howard, and Ragans are slated to be in the bullpen and/or Triple-A Round Rock instead of making double-digit starts for an ostensibly competing Rangers club. That doesn’t inherently make any of those players better year-over-year, however, unlike the top five, every member of this group save for Odorizzi is on the preferred side of 30 when it comes to development and arm health. Much like the actual still-prospects, Winn and Leiter, there is a decent pedigree for this entire group, first round picks or well-regarded arms, the lot of them at a certain stage of their career. Texas has an enviable luxury here then, to reward any of this group showing promise in Triple-A with spot starts as their venerable ship of free agent starters springs leaks throughout the year with a bevy of optionable arms. Odorizzi is almost synonymous with sixth starterdom at this point as well, a quintessential stabilizing arm who is not exciting but gives a club a respectable chance on any given night. Whether Texas has the bats to build leads or the bullpen to hold them, however, is another story. —JT

AL West Starting Rotation Summary

Team Runs Allowed/Game ERA FIP Cumulative fWAR
Team Runs Allowed/Game ERA FIP Cumulative fWAR
Angels 4.47 3.94 3.96 13.1
Astros 4.14 3.84 3.93 12.1
Athletics 4.40 4.12 4.15 7.9
Mariners 4.04 3.78 3.92 11.3
Rangers 4.18 3.76 3.59 15.5
FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections

Surprisingly, the Mariners project to have the best run prevention unit in the division which is due to the strength of both their rotation and their bullpen. As far as the starters go, all the new additions in Texas have elevated that group ahead of everyone else. The Astros, Angels, and Mariners look to have pretty even projections for their starting groups with the M’s holding the advantage in projected ERA.