Looking back at the 2015 season the AL East continued on balance a strong division. The league lacked a true bottom feeder with the final win totals being fairly close: Blue Jays 93, Yankees 87, Orioles 81, Rays 80 and Red Sox 78. Not one team ran away with the division as everyone took a turn in first place, however by the end of July it appeared the Yankees would take the division. Of course the Blue Jays would go on a magical second half run and end their 22 year playoff drought. Heading into 2016 it appears there again will be no bottom feeder but there also is no clear leader.
I always enjoy pre-season projects even if they are meaningless which they pretty much are. One of my favorite tools is the Fangraphs projected standings, they have a variety of projection systems, depth analysis and playoff odds to keep ones mind running. Not all of their projects are posted yet but once we get a little closer there will be lots more to consume. Either way we can look at the AL East pitching staffs and see which teams might take the title of the Pitching Beast of the East. In the future I will look at offense and defense but lets look today at the pitching.
Using the Fangraphs depth charts as a starting point we can see who they project to start or fill out the most innings in the pen. It’s not a perfect science but its a good tool. I always then consider injury risk, past performances or age and if their system over/under estimates their players. I will combine the Pen & Rotation for my overall rankings.
5th Place – Orioles
The O’s are the clear bottom feeder when it comes to pitching. They lack a true top of the rotation arm and have a series of question marks with their rotation. As per fangraphs their rotation should be Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez and Tyler Wilson. The top 3 all have a chance at being serviceable mid-rotation starters (or a disaster) and Gausman could work his way to a #2 type. Not enough ceiling for me and a big depth issue. The top 4 relievers are projected to be Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz and Brad Brach. Bring back O’Day to set up Britton was a much-needed but as a whole it lacks the depth compared to their rivals.
4th Place – Blue Jays
The Blue Jays did a lot of work to help ensure they have depth for the 2016 but they also didn’t bring in top talent. Under Mark Shapiro they appear to taking the strategy that with a league best offense they only need an average pitching staff. They appear to have exactly that. Top 6 starts projected are Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Jesse Chavez and Drew Hutchison. They have a good chance at being better than their projections with very mild optimism given towards Dickey, Estrada, Happ. There also is a high ceiling for the up and coming Stroman and they boast good options for the 5th starter compared to some of their rivals. That being said there is not massive upside to the rotation. The Top 4 relievers are projected to be Drew Storen, Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil and Aaron Sanchez. As a group the pen is much improved with the addition of Storen and should Osuna/Sanchez stay in the pen its a solid group. By no means the best in the AL but very strong.
3rd Place – Red Sox
The Red Sox pitching staff is where I disagree with fangraphs the most. They have true top end talent but I just do not buy some of the lofty projections. The rotation as projected David Price, Rick Porcello, Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez and Roenis Elias. There is no denying that Price was a much-needed addition for the Red Sox. Their rotation in 2015 was a disaster and having a true ace in Price is a clear advantage. However I am not prepared to believe that Porcello and Buchholz will both have strong seasons. There is a depth issue as well but the addition of Price takes them from the O’s level to middle of the pact. The top 4 relievers projected are Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Carson Smith and Junichi Tazawa. They have a nice top 4 with the additions of Kimbrel and Smith, easily one of the better 4 in the league.
2nd Place – Rays
The Rays have for years been the masters of bring up arms and then trading them once they become too costly. It’s pretty remarkable what they have been able to do and in 2015 they allowed the 2nd lowest runs per game in the American League. Projected rotation of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Erasmo Ramirez and Matt Moore. Archer has grown into a true ace and probably one of my favorite pitchers in the league. Beyond Archer there is a lot to love with returns from Moore and potentially Alex Cobb near the end of the year. Of course you can never discount the classic unknowns coming from the Rays. The top 4 relievers are projected to be Brad Boxberger, Jake McGee, Danny Farquhar and Alex Colome. As a unit the pen is projected to be the weakest in the AL but because of their rotation they easily slid into 2nd place for me with the potential to be the best.
1st Place – Yankees
I picked the Yankees as the best pitching staff because when you combine their pen with their rotation I think it edges out its competitors. That being said I also think their rotation has some risk attached to it but I am going to give them the on paper benefit. Their top 6 rotation projections are Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. If all of their arms are healthy and pitching to potential they could boast a very tough starting staff. Of course every single name listed posted some level of injury or performance risks. For me Severino looked like a legit starter in his 2015 debut which gives them a boost but they have to figure out a plan with Sabathia who looked nearly washed up at times last year. Again because of the injury risks they have the potential to fall off hard but that brings us to their pen. Their top 4 are projected as Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances and Chasen Shreve. The three-headed monster of Chapman, Miller and Betances is actually downright unfair and gives the Yankees a distant advantage as they have the ability to shorten games with their pen. So with the combination of pen and rotation I have to give the slight edge to the Yankees but of course I think they have one of the higher risk potentials of the AL east.