The starting pitching rotation of a MLB team is usually a five-man group and is hands-down the most important unit on a baseball team. A good starting rotation will cover up blemishes a team may have such as a thin bullpen or weak hitting. It is the difference between a 90-win season and a 90-loss season in the major leagues. This is primarily why the ace of a pitching staff is the most valued player and the face of a franchise.
Some of the biggest stars in the game like L.A. Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw, Detroit Tigers RHP Justin Verlander, Texas Rangers RHP Yu Darvish, St. Louis Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright, and Seattle Mariners RHP Felix Hernandez are expected and entrusted to win every fifth game their team plays.
After all, they were signed to a big, lucrative contract to do just that and put fannies in the seats at the park.
Conversely, teams will take whatever they can get from their fifth starters, which isn’t much since the last MLB expansion in the 90s watered down the pitching talent pool, mostly innings pitched to preserve the bullpen. This is why a quality fifth starter is not a luxury item and teams having said item will have a big advantage.
So, after all that, these are my five best 5th starters in Major League Baseball:
By Ralph Battiata – @RalphB1471
5. Cardinals RHP Joe Kelly
Holding down the fort at the back-end of the best pitching staff in MLB, Kelly was instrumental in the Cardinals National League Championship season in 2013 pitching from both the bullpen and the starting rotation in his first full year in the Big Leagues.
In two short years, Joe has already pitched 29.1 post-season innings with a 3.68 ERA, 24 K to 13 BB, and a 1.33 WHIP. Kelly owns a 16-12 record with a 2.97 ERA, 161 K to 84 BB, and a 1.370 WHIP in 242.1 Innings Pitched in his career. At only 25 years of age, Kelly has plenty of time to improve and have a great career.
#3 Starter Potential
4. Athletics LHP Tommy Milone
Bringing up the rear for the Oakland A’s, Milone made his MLB debut in September of 2011 with the Washington Nationals and was traded to the A’s for standout lefty Gio Gonzalez in December.
Over parts of four MLB seasons, Tommy owns a 26-20 record with a 3.94 ERA, 285 K to 79 BB, and a 1.283 WHIP in 377.1 IP in the regular season. Milone holds a post-season record of 0-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 6 K to 1 BB, and a 1.000 WHIP in 6.0 IP.
With two full MLB seasons under his belt and 27 years of age, Milone is revved to go entering the prime of his career.
#2 Starter Potential
3. Pirates RHP Edinson Volquez
The 2008 All-Star, Volquez anchors the staff as this year’s Pirates’ reclamation project.
Edinson has been through a very rough few years since being traded to the San Diego Padres in a four player trade for RHP Mat Latos in December of 2011.
In parts of 10 seasons in the majors, Volquez owns a 53-52 record with a 4.70 ERA, 805 K to 452 BB, and a 1.493 WHIP in 864.0 IP. Edinson was 11-11 with a 4.14 ERA, 174 K to 105 BB, and a 1.451 WHIP in his last full season as a starter in 2012.
Edinson Volquez may never regain his staff ace status he had as a rookie in 2008, but he still may have a shot to ascend a few spots up the rotation ladder.
#2 Starter Potential
2. Yankees RHP Michael Pineda
As an All-Star with the Seattle Mariners in his rookie season of 2011, Pineda was a finalist for American League Rookie of the Year award.
Michael finished the season with the third-highest strikeout percentage in MLB striking out 24.9% of batters faced, or one of every four batters faced. Pineda was traded to the New York Yankees in January of 2012 where he subsequently suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in spring training while rehabbing tendinitis in the same shoulder. Michael also missed the entire 2013 MLB season, pitching in only six games for the Yankees AAA minor league affiliate.
Pineda had an outstanding spring training in 2014 with a 2-1 record, 1.20 ERA, 16 K to 1 BB, and a 1.000 WHIP in 15.0 IP, winning the 5th starter job for the 2014 regular season. Pineda owns a career record of 10-11 with a 3.59 ERA, 185 K to 57 BB, and a 1.087 WHIP in 183.0 IP.
Loaded with tons of talent and potential, the former top prospect has ace stuff to go with his dominant size.
#1 Starter Potential
1. Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz
Throwing a no-hitter in only his second career start vs. the Baltimore Orioles in 2007, Buchholz became the first rookie in the franchise’s 100+ year history to pitch a no-hitter.
Clay experienced shoulder fatigue later in the 2007 season, a pulled hamstring in 2010, a gastritis episode and esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus) in 2012, and a neck strain and re-aggravated shoulder injury in 2013. Buchholz has a career record of 58-34 with a 3.65 ERA, 576 K to 285 BB, and a 1.302 WHIP in 755.0 IP.
In the post-season, Clay has a 0-0 record with a 4.21 ERA, 20 K to 9 BB, and a 1.442 WHIP in 25.2 IP. If not for his long list of sundry injuries, Buchholz would be the Red Sox #2 starter and top candidate to replace current #1 starter LHP Jon Lester if he were to leave as a free agent in 2015.
Still falling shy of being 30 years old by months, Buchholz has plenty left in the tank should he be able to leave the injuries and concerns in the past. Clay Buchholz is…….