Cleveland's sneaky-good rotation

Projected to be among the AL's elite starters, Justin Masterson could break out in 2012. David Maxwell/Getty Images

Last year, the Cleveland Indians' starting pitchers gave up 540 runs -- the fourth-worst total in baseball. Their only notable rotation addition during the winter was Derek Lowe, whom the Atlanta Braves were desperate to get rid of after he posted a 5.05 ERA. And yet, despite the Indians' retaining most members who were part of the team's failure last year, advanced projection systems suggest that they could have one of the best rotations in the American League in 2012.

The fact that Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections like Justin Masterson (204 IP, 3.31 FIP) shouldn't be much of a surprise, given that Masterson had a breakthrough season last year and doesn't turn 27 for another 10 days. Masterson's improvement of his command while maintaining his ground ball and strikeout abilities make him one of the game's best starting pitchers. For reference, Masterson's projection ranks him as essentially the equal of CC Sabathia (3.30 FIP) and slightly ahead of Dan Haren (3.36 FIP). So, although Masterson might not be widely recognized as a legitimate front-end starter, ZiPS expects him to remain one of the elite starters in the American League.

However, Masterson was terrific in 2011 and the Indians' rotation still struggled, so the expected improvement has to come from the Nos. 2-5 spots in the rotation. And this is where ZiPS shows that Cleveland will see drastic improvement.