Snyder's already laid out his authoritative rankings of the AL rotations, and now it's time to cast a judgmental eye toward the senior circuit. So how do the NL starting fives stack up? According to established practice, we'll start at the back end for purposes of maximum drama ...
Projected Rotation: Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, J.A. Happ, Livan Hernandez, Kyle Weiland
Rodriguez is useful enough, and Norris's stuff is quite impressive at times. But Brett Myers is now the closer, and that means after Norris there's a huge dropoff. As well, now that the Astros have in place a front office primarily concerned with things other than getting fired, Rodriguez is likely to be dealt in advance of the non-waiver deadline. That's when things will get really ugly in Houston.
Projected Rotation: Erik Bedard, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, Charlie Morton
A.J. Burnett's eventual return may improve the state of things, but there's little to like here. Bedard has the stuff to thrive, but his utter inability to stay healthy is well chronicled. McDonald is potentially useful, but elsewhere there's not much in the way of upside. Help is on the way in Gerritt Cole and Jameson Taillon, but the here and now is grim.
14. San Diego Padres
Projected Rotation: Cory Luebke, Edinson Volquez, Tim Stauffer, Clayton Richard, Dustin Moseley
The loss of Mat Latos in the trade to Cincinnati, while great for the Padres' long-term fortunes, has weakened what was already a shoddy rotation. Luebke is a prime regression candidate for 2012, and Volquez is coming off a thoroughly disappointing season. The ERAs may not wind up looking so bad at first glance, but that will be because of Petco, not the pitchers in question.
While there's upside and ceiling to be found, it's not ready to be realized. Potentially, Chacin will be the only above-average starter in the Colorado rotation. Youth plus some control issues will likely mean a widespread inability to pitch deep into games. They'll miss the relative certainties of Ubaldo Jimenez.
Projected Rotation: Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Paul Maholm, Jeff Samardzija
Garza is widely underrated. However, after him and Dempster (who's merely average-ish these days), there's a notable decline. Samardzija is coming off an impressive season in relief, but his repertoire has always been too thin for starting detail. Don't expect that renewed experiment to pay off. All of this goes double, of course, if Garza is traded at any point during the season.
To state the obvious, much depends on Santana's ability to stay healthy, shoulder a reasonable workload and recoup his effectiveness. Given all those qualifiers, it's possible Jon Niese, a breakout candidate for 2012, will emerge as the staff ace. R.A. Dickey can also be adequate. Elsewhere, though, it's an uninspiring lot, and there's a serious question as to how many innings this group can work without getting into the back end of the back end of the depth chart. Also, how will the more cramped dimensions at Citi Field affect the staff?
While the Reds can't be said to have an especially strong rotation, there's still a substantial gap between them and the 11th-ranked Mets. At this point in the rankings, you're starting to see some real depth. Cueto and Latos will make for a strong one-two punch, but Arroyo really has no business in a major-league rotation at this stage of his career. Leake and Bailey have ceiling, and there's always the reasonable chance that Aroldis Chapman will pitch his way into the mix. Provided, of course, that Arroyo is allowed to pitch his way out of the mix.
As one-two front ends go, you won't do much better than Greinke and Gallardo. Both, if healthy, can be considered certifiable Cy Young contenders in 2012. Once you get past that duo, however, there are concerns. Marcum, who struggled badly down the stretch last season, has been slowed by a sore shoulder this spring, and Narveson and Wolf figure to prevent runs at a worse-than-league-average rate.
If not for serious health concerns, the Braves' starting corps would be much higher on this list. Ace Tim Hudson is probably out until at least late April after undergoing back surgery in November. Young Hanson has Cy Young potential, but shoulder troubles caused him to miss more than 60 games last season. This spring, he's also been severely limited because of an earlier concussion. As well, Jair Jurrjens has five career trips to the disabled list. There's no questioning the potential (especially with Julio Teheran on the way), but the penchant for injury is impossible to ignore.
Kennedy and Hudson make for an underrated duo, and Collmenter, to the surprise of some, may have a chance of coming close to last season's success despite underwhelming stuff. Is Cahill ready to take the next step? One key will be cutting down on the walks without sacrificing strikeouts. His groundball tendencies are a good thing in Arizona, of course. The sooner Trevor Bauer (or Tyler Skaggs) is ready to bump, ideally, Saunders from the rotation, the better off the Snakes will be.
Kershaw is the best pitcher in the National League, and, at age 24, he may cling to that title for some time. But the rest of the Dodger rotation? Billingsley, while solid, saw his strikeout, walk and home-run rates trend in the wrong direction last season. Lilly is a capable mid-rotation guy, but Capuano and Harang are barely passable, even by fourth- and fifth-starter standards. Such a top-heavy unit is a blessing when Kershaw is pitching but potentially a curse on other days. Still, there's no overstating Kershaw's excellence and value.
Projected rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan
While the injury to Chien-Ming Wang thins the depth for the time being, this remains an underrated rotation. When he's on the mound, Strasburg is on the short list of best pitchers in baseball, and Gonzalez is coming off back-to-back seasons of sub-3.25 ERAs. Jackson? He's a wholly underrated innings guy signed to a bargain contract and entering what should be his prime seasons. Zimmermann? Potentially a very strong number two. If Strasburg and Zimmermann are each able to log a qualifying number of innings, then this will be a top-flight group. There's the possibility that the top four starters will each have an ERA in the 3.00s.
There are two factors on which the fate of this rotation will hinge: Carpenter's ability to get and stay healthy and Wainwright's ability to return to previous levels of performance straightaway. Garcia is one of the better three guys out there, and Lohse and Westbrook are potential assets at the back end. There's also depth. Lance Lynn has impressed this spring, and Shelby Miller, the top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball, should be ready no later than mid-season. One possible wrinkle: How will the semi-retirement of pitching coach Dave Duncan be reflected in the results?
Johnson boasts a sparkling career ERA of 2.98, and Buehrle, now in the no-DH league and out of homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, should thrive. Sanchez, Nolasco and Zambrano could each post an ERA better than 4.00. This ranking assumes better health (and thus Cy Young contention) for Johnson. If that's not the case, then drop them a few spots.
Lincecum has two Cys on his mantle, and Cain might be the most underrated pitcher in the league. And then there's the lavishly gifted Bumgarner, who has the potential to turn in the best season of the three. Vogelsong should step back from last year's levels, and Zito is terminally overpaid, but both are assets at the back. Even considering Lincecum's declining peripherals, this is a potent, potent rotation.
Surprise! Yes: The rotation that includes Halladay, Lee and Hamels is indeed the best in the National League. While Halladay is getting past his prime and Hamels may be bound for free agency, this remains one of the great one-through-threes in history. The five spot is going to be problematic in the absence of Roy Oswalt, but the troika up front provides enough value that the rest is just details.