In the second segment of a 3-part series, we compare the starting rotations of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays.

Just to avoid being arbitrary, these are the rotation orders listed on MLB.com. Obviously, a rotation is only as good as the sum of its parts.

#1
CC Sabathia 3.31
Josh Beckett 3.42
James Shields 3.88

The averages being used are the projected 2010 FIPs, as per Fangraphs projections.

A true ace with a gangsta lean, Carsten Charles is the definition of a horse (or horse-bear chimera) amassing 724 innings over the past three seasons and never having thrown fewer than 180.1 since his rookie campaign in 2001. The move to New York didn’t have much impact on Sabathia, posting a FIP of 3.39. He’s always been able to keep the ball in the park, and that trend continued in Yankee Stadium.

Playing the Game the Right Way has seen a steady rise in his FIP over the past three seasons (3.08, 3.24, 3.63), due in part to an equally steady increase in HRs and a fairly large spike in walk rate last year (though still very impressive). Nevertheless, Beckett is one of the best starters in the league, even if he did get us kicked off his sponsor page.

Arguably one of the most underrated starters in the game, Shields had somewhat of a down year compared to the two years prior, though it was far from a disappointing campaign. Like Beckett, he saw a jump in his walks moving him from ridiculously good control to just very good. If he remains steady, Shields will continue to anchor his staff.

Advantage: Yankees

#2
AJ Burnett 4.05
Jon Lester 3.20
Matt Garza 3.88

For the first time in his career, AJ threw back to back 200+ inning seasons. Unfortunately, Electric Stuff walked 4.22 hitters per nine innings and had one of the worst K/BB rates of his career (2.01). Incredibly frustrating to watch, he’ll dazzle you one game and you want him to choke on one of his whipped cream things the next. Most of the the projection systems are forecasting improved performance from him in 2010 due to a return to career BB (3.78 BB/9) and K/BB (2.21) rates. Hopefully with a year in NYC under his belt, this will happen.

Despite a jump in ERA from the year prior, Lester had a breakout season posting a career best FIP of 3.15. His K/9 jumped to 9.96 while he maintained a steady walk rate. He might see a dip in the strikeouts, but the improvement was likely more of natural development. If he puts up another season like 2009, he’s the best pitcher on any of the staffs.

The Rays appear to be the clear winners in the deal that sent Free-Swingin’ Delmon Young to the Twins. Garza has turned in two solid seasons and, like Lester, saw a dramatic rise in his strikeout rate last year, but unlike Lester, this was accompanied by a rise in walks. Garza recently turned 26, so it is possible to say he is what he is at this point but, more than likely, there is some room for upside.

Advantage: Red Sox

#3
Andy Pettitte 4.16
John Lackey 3.73
Jeff Niemann 4.15

Pettitte, like the rest of the Five Rings Club, continues to defy Father Time. While he is certainly not what he was in the past, he remains a steady piece of the rotation. Andy is not overpowering anyone, but he has been able to keep the ball in the park. His rise in walk rate could be a sign of aging, but given the improvement in BBs seen in the second half of ’09, we can probably expect something a bit closer to his career norm (2.83 BB/9) for this season.

Fresh off signing a 5-year deal for $82.5M (Boston is such a fiscal conservative!), John Lackey goes from playing in front of peace-loving fans who love stuffed animals to fans who flip over cars. Lackey’s been fairly steady for the past three seasons in terms of rates, but he only made 24 and 27 starts in the past two seasons respectively. Obviously, the injury risk will be lessened by the fact that he is not expected to lead the staff in Boston, but at 31 years old, he’s probably not getting any healthier.

Niemann emerged with an impressive rookie year last season, posting a 3.94 ERA/4.07 FIP combo over 180 innings. Despite all of that, he’s not as young as you’d think and will enter this season at 27. Because of that, there’s probably not a whole lot to hope for in terms of upside, but if he can come close to replicating what he did last year, he will be a useful pitcher.

Advantage: Red Sox

#4
Javy Vazquez 3.53
Daisuke Matsuzaka 4.42
David Price 4.01

Vazquez is probably the second best starter on the Yankees, even if he has been labeled #4. His outlook has been covered in depth by us right here. In summary, he was one of the best pitchers in the NL last year, posting career bests in strikeouts, walks, homeruns allowed, ERA, and FIP. However, he is returning to the AL and will be turning 34 this year, so regression is to be expected. Still, Javy was a strikeout pitcher with good control (if a bit below average in HRs allowed) in his seasons with the White Sox, so he should be a very strong addition to the rotation.

Matsuzaka has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons, throwing just 167.2 and 59.1 innings respectively. Those two seasons have also seen very high walk rates. Whether this is related to his health or a natural dropoff remains to be seen. Either way, this will be an important year in determining whether or not he can still be an effective starter. If pitching ends up not being his thing, he can always work the guest speaker circuit. Word is that he charges $50 million for each conversation.

The 2007 #1 overall pick, Price emerged to produce a solid rookie season. Between AAA and the majors, he threw over 160 innings last year, so he will likely not be capped in the coming season. Price does not turn 25 until August, so even if he does not break out this year, he still has big upside. As it stands now, he should be a very solid middle to back-end option.

Advantage: Yankees

#5
Phil Hughes 3.63
Clay Buchholz 4.18
Wade Davis 4.17

Hughes had mixed results as a starter last season, while being absolutely dominant in the setup role. We know he can strike guys out and when he’s on, he’s very difficult to hit. However, he is not even 24 yet, so expecting immortality this season is a bit much. He reportedly has an cap of around 170 innings and it shouldn’t be a concern with him pitching out of the 5th spot.

Laptop Thief compares similarly to Hughes in that he has been the untouchable golden child of the organization for the past few years. He had a pretty good season last year through 92 innings, though the Red Sox would surely like to see a rise in his 6.65 K/9. His high HR rate will probably fix itself over a larger sample size given his 15.7% HR/FB. He will be turning 26 this year, so this would be the time for him to put it all together.

With only 36.1 innings to his name, Davis is clearly the least experienced of the bunch, so not too much should be made of his major league numbers last year. The Rays are very high on him and his minor league numbers support that opinion, where he maintained good strikeout numbers (with occasional control issues). This season should tell us a lot about him.

Advantage: Yankees (slight)

In general, the Yankees have an older but generally dependable staff. The Red Sox certainly look the most impressive on paper. And while the Rays might be the least intimidating entering this season, there’s definitely a lot of talent and upside there. Of course, rotations tend to be affected by injuries and ineffectiveness over the course of the season, so there’s a very good chance each one will look different as the year goes on. Given all of that, the Red Sox get the nod here with the assumption that Lackey and Matsuzaka remain somewhat healthy.

Josh Beckett
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