For starters, Angels are loaded in rotation
Wilson, Haren, Santana and Weaver form fearsome foursome
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Bunched up in a corner of the Angels' clubhouse -- amid non-roster invitees, teenage ballplayers and the usual close quarters of the early part of Spring Training -- sit four starting pitchers who could very well make up the best rotation in all of baseball.
Jered Weaver, furthest from the left, is the ace.
Dan Haren, the next one over, is arguably the most consistent starter in the game.
Ervin Santana comes next. He's the young, electric one.
And then there's C.J. Wilson - the new, adventurous guy.
Weaver, Haren and Santana will admit, with little shame, that they didn't really like Wilson before he joined the Angels.
"He was the enemy for so long," Haren said, "and naturally you don't like the enemy."
But now he's here, added to a staff that was good enough to rank fifth in the Majors in ERA last year and, if all pans out as expected, should be even better in 2012.
"We thought we had a pretty good rotation," Weaver said. "Now you add a guy like C.J., I think our rotation can match up with just about anybody out there."
Weaver, Haren, Wilson and Santana -- and that's probably how they'll line up this season -- all have things in common, even though Wilson certainly has a few more hobbies. They're all pretty laid back off the field and uber-competitive inside the white lines.
Most important, they're all good enough to be front-of-the-rotation starters and should still be entering their primes.
Haren turned 31 on Sept. 17, making him the senior member of the staff, though he's only two months older than Wilson. Over the last seven years, Haren ranks first in the Majors in starts (237), second in innings (1,581 1/3) and strikeouts (1,368), fifth in wins (101) and 15th in ERA (3.49).
Wilson, who signed a five-year, $77.5 million contract in December, has gone 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA in 427 1/3 innings while improving each of the last two years. The best part, the part that makes his contract a lot less risky: Those are his only two years as a big league starter.
Weaver, who turns 30 this season and is locked up through 2016, has finished in the top five in Cy Young Award voting each of the last two years. Last season, he posted 18 wins along with a 2.41 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. If not for some guy named Justin Verlander, he would've been the best pitcher in the American League.
And then there's Santana, who turned 29 in December and is coming off a season in which he posted a career-low ERA (3.38), a career-high in innings (228 1/3) and threw a no-hitter. Now he represents one of the best No. 4 starters in the game.
"It's always nice to have someone to turn to," said Haren, for whom, like Santana, the Angels hold a club option for 2013. "When your team loses a couple of games in a row, we have a bunch of stoppers that can go out and throw eight scoreless innings. If you have a bunch of those guys, you tend to not lose too many games in a row."
The amount of workload that starters take on -- and also the success they achieve -- has declined with the addition of pitch counts, innings limits, bullpen slotting and so many rules favoring hitters. That's why even the greatest of modern-day rotations can't even come close to establishing any sort of record. The incredible 2011 Phillies staff, for example, still ranked 28th all-time in ERA.
But the Angels' 2012 rotation has a chance to be one of the best of this millennium. Last year, Weaver, Haren, Wilson and Santana combined to win 61 games, post a 2.97 ERA, strike out 774 batters and notch 98 quality starts.
The most wins by a rotation since 2000: 83, by the'01 Mariners and '03 Yankees.
Lowest ERA: 2.86, by last year's Phillies.
Most innings: 1,074, by the '05 White Sox.
Most strikeouts: 992, by the '02 Diamondbacks.
Most quality starts: 108, by last year's Phils.
In other words, if the Angles' rotation is healthy and gets good production out of the No. 5 spot -- likely Jerome Williams to start the season, perhaps eventually Garrett Richards -- it can approach all five of those marks.
"I feel like every single guy in this rotation feels like they're capable of going out there and pitching better than they did last year," Wilson said.
"There's a lot of energy that feeds off each starter," manager Mike Scioscia added. "You get a good start, next start that guy wants to pass that baton and get another good start. I think the depth of our rotation will facilitate going around two, three, four times through a rotation with all good starts."
Scioscia has had some pretty good staffs since he became Angels manager 12 years ago. The 2011 version -- with Joel Pineiro and Tyler Chatwood, instead of Wilson and Williams -- compiled a 3.59 ERA. And each year from 2005-07 -- with the likes of Bartolo Colon, John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Joe Saunders and Jarrod Washburn on board -- his staff never ranked lower than fifth in that department.
But they all take a backseat now.
"I think this is the best, when you look at the top four and the depth," Scioscia said. "Especially Jered Weaver, who's a legitimate No. 1, Dan Haren is a legitimate No. 1, and then you follow with Santana and Wilson who are both front-end rotation guys, yeah, I do feel this rotation is the most talented and the deepest we've had."
That's a little tougher.
The lowest starting-pitcher ERA in franchise history comes from the 1964 staff of Dean Chance, Fred Newman, Bo Belinsky, Ken McBride and Barry Latman, which combined to post a 2.85 mark. In fact, each of the top nine rotation ERAs in club history are from that 1964-76 era.
As for where this group stacks up today? New catcher Chris Iannetta believes: "On paper, it's got to be the best in the game."
But that's really a matter of opinion.
The defending world champion Cardinals (Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright) and Diamondbacks (Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson) have a dynamic duo.
The Roy Oswalt-less Phillies (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels), Brewers (Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum) and injury-plagued Red Sox (Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz) sport fantastic trios.
The Yankees (CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda), Rays (David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore), Nationals (Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson) and Giants (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong) have at least comparable foursomes.
And the Rangers (Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando) and Braves (Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Tommy Hanson, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran) boast an incredible wealth of depth.
All we know for sure now is that the Angels are up there.
"Everybody says this rotation is very good, it's one of the best, and I say that all we need to do is stay healthy," Santana said. "If you stay healthy, the team stays healthy, then we can maybe do a good job this year, because every one of us in the rotation knows how to pitch and knows how to get guys out."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.