How important is starting pitching? Well, considering the top six teams in rotation ERA last year all made the playoffs, yeah, we'd say there's a connection.
Last year the Dodgers' rotation led baseball with a 3.13 ERA, a full quarter of a run better than St. Louis, which ranked second at 3.42. Cincinnati's rotation came next at 3.43, followed by Detroit at 3.44, Pittsburgh at 3.50 and Atlanta at 3.51.
LA won the NL West; the Cardinals won the NL Central, and beat the Dodgers in the NLCS; the Reds made the playoffs as a wild-card; the Tigers won the AL Central; the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in 20 years; and the Braves won the NL East.
Also, four of those six teams made money on the season, based on those hypothetical $100 wagers on each game. Pittsburgh led the way at + $2,300, followed by St. Louis at + $1,100; Atlanta at + $990 and the Dodgers at + $540.
Good starting pitching not only wins games and division titles and such, but can create betting profits, too.
OK, we know who had the good stuff last year; now, do we know who will have it this year?
Here's our take on which teams probably possess the best starting rotations in baseball at the moment.
The Washington Nationals already had Stephen Strasburg (183 innings, 136 hits, 191 whiffs last year), Gio Gonzalez (196 i/169h/192k) and Jordan Zimmerman (19-9); they then added Doug Fister from Detroit (14-9, 3.67). That's got to be as good a one-through-four in the rotation as any team around.
The LA Dodgers go lefty Clay Kershaw (two Cy Youngs, a 1.83 ERA last year), righty Zack Greinke (one Cy Young, 2.63 last year) and lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8, 3.00 as a ML rookie). It's a little questionable after that, where LA is hoping to get some decent production from Josh Beckett/Dan Haren/Paul Maholm/Chad Billingsley, but that's also where we'll find our best prices on the Dodgers during the day-to-day betting this season.
At the moment St. Louis is the best team in the Majors at growing its own starting pitching. Adam Wainwright has won 19 or more games three of the last four seasons; Lance Lynn has won 33 games in his first two seasons; Shelby Miller just went 15-9 as a rookie; Michael Wacha was great in half a season last year; and Joe Kelly went 10-5/2.69 in his second season.
None of those guys has ever pitched for another Big League team.
The Detroit Tigers traded Fister, and yet might not miss him. They already go Justin Verlander (one Cy Young)/Max Scherzer (one Cy Young)/Anibal Sanchez (182 innings, 156 hits, 202 strikeouts last year) at the top, and they think they can get better from Rick Porcello (4.32) and more of the same from Drew Smyly (2.37 ERA from the pen last year). Smyly is no stranger to the rotation; he started 18 games as a rookie two seasons ago.
The Tampa Bay Rays still own David Price, so their rotation, rounded out by Alex Cobb (2.76), Matt Moore (17-4 last year) and Chris Archer (3.22 as a rookie) is only a decent five-man away from really being a pain in the butt.
The Greek is offering Tampa at +800 to win the American League this season.
The Boston Red Sox, who as we recall won the World Series last fall, go Jon Lester/Clay Buchholz/John Lackey at the top, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy at the end. And that could be a tough five-some. But Doubront needs to cut down on the walks, and Peavy's mileage might showing.
The best of the rest would include the Oakland A's (92 quality starts last year); the Atlanta Braves (despite the loss of Tim Hudson); the New York Yankees (especially if Michael Pineda can eat some innings); and the Cincinnati Reds (oh, for a full healthy season from Johnny Cueto!).