6 Important Pitching Questions Entering the 2015 MLB Season
Like most seasons, 2014 was one where pitchers who either emerged from nowhere, became what they were expected to be or continued to have struggles. With Opening Day fast approaching, this year provides another one for guys on the bump to prove -- or improve -- themselves.
Can Strasburg Be the Ace He’s Expected to Be?
Stephen Strasburg was expected to be the one. Smooth, consistent mechanics, healthy, a power fastball and a plethora off good off-speed pitches. Unfortunately for the Nationals, the righty has yet to be the guy. Now the three on the Nationals' star-studded staff, Strasburg finds himself yet to earn the top billing, especially with Jordan Zimmermann having been consistent the past few years, along with Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer landing in D.C.
Last season was Strasburg’s first where he logged either 200-plus innings or strikeouts. He saw his ERA go up a bit from his 2013 average, but saw a respectable improvement in his FIP, going from 3.21 to 2.94.
The number to look at regarding Strasburg is his strikeout-to-walk ratio, which was his best (5.63) in 2014 of any in his three full seasons in the big leagues. He improved that mark significantly from 2013. That’s a great start for Strasburg’s step in the right direction, and it's getting around that time where the 2009 first-overall pick needs to show what he’s made of.
How Will Garrett Richards Bounce Back From Surgery?
One of the baseball's biggest surprises of last year was Garrett Richards' dominance on the mound. However, as quickly as he came onto the scene, he was gone even faster. The Angels lost Richards when he tore the patellar tendon in his left knee, but they managed to have a strong regular season before they were bounced out of the playoffs by the World Series-bound Royals..
In his third season where he threw 50 or more innings, Richards served his first as a full-time starter. Prior to 2014, Richards had yet to have a season where he had an ERA below 4.00, FIP under 3.50 or WHIP better than 1.35. Well, he went off for Anaheim last year, posting career bests in ERA (2.61), FIP (2.60) and WHIP (1.04), along with K/9 (8.8) and innings (168.2).
The number that may have been most overlooked in the flurry of Richards' success was his 0.27 home runs per nine. He let up five home runs in 168.2 innings, the best rate of his career.
The righty will have to prove last year wasn’t a fluke, and that he can recover from his tough injury as he continues to work at minor league spring training.
Will Jake Arrieta Be the Cubs' Rock-Solid Number Two?
The Cubs showed they're in “win now” mode by acquiring Jon Lester as the head of the rotation this offseason. Lester’s follow-up will most likely be Jake Arrieta, who had a breakout season in 2014. When Jeff Samardzija left town, Arrieta was the ace on a scuffling Chicago squad. While he wasn’t enough to be considered a legitimate top pitcher, he’s got the making of a good number two, and now the Cubs have Jason Hammel back, along with other guys vying for spots in the rejuvenated rotation.
The righty adapted well to the NL, with a 2.53 ERA, 2.26 FIP and 0.99 WHIP, all career bests. His numbers for Baltimore were pretty rough year-in and year-out, so it looks like the move worked well for him and Chicago. Interestingly enough, Arrieta had roughly the same home run per nine innings as Richards, letting up only five home runs (both career bests for Arrieta), too.
This one-two punch can compete with any in the NL as long as Arrieta performs similarly to 2014.
Is Sonny Gray Ready to Be the Man in Oakland?
There’s really no way to put this lightly: the A’s collapse last season was remarkable. It wasn’t as bad as the Red Sox fall in 2012, but it was pretty close. No more Lester and no more Samardzija leaves Oakland with the same "ace" they started 2014 with, the 24-year-old Sonny Gray. No one would have claimed he was ready for that title entering 2013, but Gray’s first full season was very impressive, and he didn’t get enough recognition.
After throwing well in his first 10 starts of his MLB career in 2013, Gray went out and logged 219 innings and had a 3.08 ERA in 2014, solid numbers for any American League starter, nevermind a guy in his first full year. Gray ranked 24th in ERA in the majors, 8th in the AL, and was one of 11 guys to throw multiple shutouts in the MLB (one of only three AL starters to do that).
The young gun will be heavily relied on, especially if the A’s offense goes through an offensive slump like they did when they dealt Yoenis Cespedes to Boston.
What Is Going on With Clay Buchholz?
Clay Buchholz was the only guy left behind when the rest of the Red Sox' starting rotation was shipped out of Boston, and now he has a totally new staff to work with.
Last season was a rough one for Buchholz. He had the worst ERA among qualifying starters, and was one of three to have an ERA over 5.00 (5.34).
Buchholz has had an up-and-down career, having a good year one season and a bad one the next, with injuries being a constant concern. This year won’t necessarily be the one where he proves he can still be good, but more importantly, that he can last the full season. The Red Sox lack of an ace has been the biggest topic of discussion for the Fenway faithful, but if Buchholz can stay in the rotation consistently, it will be a good start to help Boston survive without a stud (or until they deal for one midseason).
Can Julio Teheran Build of His Dominant Year?
The Braves are in a rebuilding year, and will need a consistent arm to anchor the starting rotation. After last season, it’s clear Julio Teheran can handle that responsibility. The righty churned out his first All-Star season in his second full year, making 33 starts and throwing over 200 innings at the age of 23.
Teheran improved in multiple categories last year, including ERA (2.89), FIP (3.49) and WHIP (1.08). If Atlanta has any hope of contending in the NL East, or a future, they will need Teheran to lean on consistently.