With just a couple of weeks to go towards the 2017 MLB season, we'll break down the five best pitching staffs in baseball. The pitching staff rankings including starters and bullpens and are relative to the league based on our strength-of-schedule-adjusted statistics, park factors, and current rosters.
The Giants gave up a lot of money and prospects to acquire their starting staff. It may pay off as they come in at fifth to start the season, and they'll need stellar pitching if they hope to knock off the Dodgers in the N.L. West. Last offseason, San Francisco was the biggest movers by signing Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. At the trade deadline, they also added Matt Moore who threw nearly 200 innings at 4.08 ERA last year. Not to mention, Madison Bumgarner will seemingly be in the mix for the top pitcher in baseball for a long time. Unfortunately, they are still on the hook with Matt Cain filling in the fifth spot, for now. Their top four, though, can deal with any staff in the majors.
There's no surprise the best pitching staff from last season has made the top four. The Cubs starters are nearly unchanged with a swap of Jason Hammel for Mike Montgomery or Brett Anderson not changing much for their status of the best team in baseball. Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester will obviously front the rotation. Kyle Hendricks will be the middle man of the rotation after having a career season where he induced a ton of weak contact leading to a 2.13 ERA and .250 BABIP. The bullpen has remained nearly the same as well, but they'll swap Aroldis Chapman for Wade Davis in the closer role. Davis is certainly a downgrade but not by much after showing a 1.87 ERA last year for the Royals.
The Nationals focused on the offense this offseason but their pitching shouldn't be dismissed. Max Scherzer has been a Cy Young candidate for years, Stephen Strasburg is an equal threat when healthy, and Tanner Roark may be the most underrated pitcher in baseball. Roark has consistently outperformed his advanced metrics by spinning a 3.01 career ERA over nearly 600 innings. Joe Ross and Gio Gonzalez will hold down the back end of the rotation. Ross spent a decent chunk of last season on the DL but has shown some promise in his brief MLB career. The stress will be on the starters as the Nats lost Mark Melancon in the offseason and the bullpen is very short.
The biggest surprise of the list is the Colorado Rockies at number two. Before turning your mind of to this, let's have a deeper look. The Rockies pitching staff will never get the credit it deserves for pitching in Coors field unless the general audience begins using advanced statistics that weigh the fact that they pitch on a field unlike any other. So let's do just that. We can use FIP- and ERA- to evaluate park-adjusted ERA and FIP. Tyler Chatwood, for example, had an ERA- of 79 last year (100 is average). Thus, Chatwood's park-adjusted ERA last season was 21% better than league average ERA when compensating for the altitude at Coors field. Two more starters, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson, both had FIP- of 81 (19% better than average). Just because the overall ERA of Rockies' pitchers may not translate due to their park, we shouldn't discount their abilities. In addition, they were able to add Greg Holland as their closer with Adam Ottavino and Jake McGee setting him up. The Rockies have three legitimate top-end starters with three legitimate bullpen arms in the back end.
The Red Sox hold down the top spot in our pitcher rankings. They own the reigning Cy Young winner, Rick Porcello, who may be the third best pitcher on their team with a (somewhat) healthy David Price and the best acquisition of the offseason, Chris Sale. Drew Pomeranz (3.32 ERA/3.80 FIP in 2016) and knuckleballer Steven Wright (3.33 ERA/3.77 FIP) will support the backend of the rotation as above average arms, as well. Craig Kimbrel will man the closer role with setup man Tyler Thornburg, who is the secret gem of the bullpen. Thornburg closed last season with a 34.2% strikeout rate and 2.15 ERA.