2021 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Rotation (No. 16-30)

Earlier today, Meg Rowley closed out the position players with an examination of the game’s designated hitters. Now we turn our attention to pitching. First up? Paul Sporer on the bottom half the league’s rotations.

The American League is firmly projected to have worse starting pitching than the National League, with nine of the 15 lowest-ranked teams AL squads and a deficit of 20 projected WAR. This group contains four legitimate playoff contenders in the AL, including the 2020 pennant-winning Rays. In fact, the Rays are one of three 2020 division winners on this list. Two of my favorite breakout rotations are also in the bottom half; I think at least one of them will break into the top half by season’s end. For instance, the Tigers’ trio of mega prospects could push them well beyond their projections if things coalesce quickly for them. Which rotation do you have exceeding expectations from this list?

2021 Positional Power Rankings – SP 16-30
16. Red Sox
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Martín Pérez 155 6.9 3.6 1.3 .320 69.5% 5.09 4.91 1.3
Eduardo Rodriguez 163 9.3 3.4 1.3 .317 72.3% 4.31 4.19 2.6
Nathan Eovaldi 125 9.2 2.7 1.4 .319 71.4% 4.43 4.22 1.9
Garrett Richards 106 8.7 3.3 1.3 .314 70.9% 4.61 4.42 1.4
Nick Pivetta 71 8.2 3.6 1.5 .315 68.6% 5.18 4.89 0.7
Tanner Houck 79 7.7 4.5 1.4 .313 69.0% 5.28 5.19 0.5
Chris Sale 86 11.3 2.2 1.1 .313 74.7% 3.40 3.28 2.3
Connor Seabold 35 8.0 2.9 1.6 .315 68.9% 5.00 4.79 0.3
Daniel Gossett 9 7.1 3.4 1.6 .319 68.6% 5.43 5.21 0.0
Kyle Hart 9 6.8 4.0 1.6 .316 68.1% 5.66 5.49 0.0
Total 837 8.6 3.3 1.3 .316 70.7% 4.64 4.47 11.1

A full-scale rebuild in Boston is hard to do. There are several high-quality hitters in the lineup, and with an average age of 30 in the projected starting five, the Sox definitely have established pitchers, but not exactly the best possible pitchers.

Rodriguez is returning from a COVID-induced heart issue that cost him the entire season. After a big spring that earned him Opening Day starter honors, a bout of dead arm has him out for now. Health will dictate a lot about his season. Pérez is penciled in for the second-most innings on the team yet feels more like a placeholder. He also has a SIERA over 5.00 in each of the last five seasons. Houck could push him and be the closest thing the Sox have to a potential breakout, though Eric’s comp to Justin Masterson has burrowed into my brain. That doesn’t mean he can’t succeed — Masterson had some solid seasons — but it caps the upside a bit.

Eovaldi and Richards are two of my favorites over the last decade (I’m so old), so I’m familiar with their extreme volatility. Injuries are often the culprit, so the Red Sox will likely let them go as far as their arms will allow. If Boston somehow gets 300 total innings from them, it would be a big win. Pivetta is back on the breakout radar because we never learn. He did amplify his slider usage to some positive results, but until he cuts into his career 1.6 HR/9 rate, meaningful and sustainable success is unlikely.

Sale is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. This projection seems to snap him back to normal a little quicker than TJ recipients usually do… if they do. Speaking of Tommy John: He’s not on this list, but Bryan Mata, No. 3 on Eric Longenhagen’s 2021 Red Sox list, could deliver some quality innings this season — assuming a partially torn UCL discovered this spring doesn’t turn require surgery to fix.

17. Angels
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Dylan Bundy 171 9.1 2.8 1.6 .300 71.9% 4.52 4.57 2.3
Andrew Heaney 168 9.6 2.5 1.5 .302 73.1% 4.14 4.22 3.0
José Quintana 133 8.1 2.9 1.5 .306 71.7% 4.63 4.70 1.4
Alex Cobb 143 6.6 2.5 1.6 .307 69.9% 4.92 5.00 1.1
Griffin Canning 130 9.1 3.3 1.5 .301 72.4% 4.49 4.66 1.6
Shohei Ohtani 96 10.3 4.5 1.3 .308 73.1% 4.37 4.40 1.3
Patrick Sandoval 13 9.3 3.6 1.3 .304 73.5% 4.15 4.29 0.2
Jaime Barria 13 8.1 2.6 1.9 .300 70.7% 5.04 5.12 0.1
José Suarez 8 8.3 3.9 1.6 .306 71.5% 4.92 5.17 0.0
Total 873 8.8 3.0 1.5 .304 72.0% 4.51 4.60 11.1

Bundy’s breakout wasn’t just a small-sample-size–fueled surge. The one-time mega prospect underwent big changes in his arsenal, shaving down his fastball usage and turning more toward his curve and changeup en route to a fantastic 3.29 ERA and 2.95 FIP in 65.2 innings. He started pitching backwards more often (using his secondary offerings early in counts) and actually threw more first pitch curveballs (89) than fastballs (88). If the gains hold, he will easily beat his projections.

Heaney, Canning and Ohtani are ultra-talented arms who have struggled to stay healthy. If they can avoid the injured list, the Angels have a great shot at making the playoffs, though when you start stacking up the “ifs” on pitcher health, the volatility is amped up. Ohtani in particular dazzled during spring training, but to throw a smidge of cold water on it, he had little command of his secondary stuff. It broke like hell and looked sexy when batters swung and missed, but he couldn’t always get strikes when he needed them.

Los Angeles also brought in a pair of veterans for volume and stability with Quintana and Cobb. Okay, maybe “stability” is overstating it with Cobb given his health profile, but if he reaches that 143-inning projection, that would be a win for the Angels. Quintana missed most of 2020 (which was all of 10 innings) with an injury, but he had run off seven straight seasons of at least 170 innings before that.

Sandoval and Barria both have a little upside as 24-year-old reinforcements. The former has a 4.38 SIERA in his 76 innings as a major leaguer, and while his 22% career strikeout rate is just average, his 13% swinging-strike rate is intriguing. Barria is more of a control artist and multi-inning reliever, but he can handle making starts and has actually been better in that role: He has a 4.06 ERA in 212.2 innings as a starter to a 7.11 mark in 31.2 innings out of the bullpen (though it’s worth noting that he has an 11% K-BB rate in both roles).

18. Astros
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Zack Greinke 186 8.3 1.9 1.5 .300 74.0% 4.00 4.20 2.8
Jake Odorizzi 138 9.4 3.1 1.6 .298 73.4% 4.40 4.56 1.8
Lance McCullers Jr. 144 9.5 3.4 1.1 .310 73.7% 3.83 3.95 2.5
Jose Urquidy 117 8.2 2.6 1.7 .301 71.9% 4.69 4.84 1.1
Cristian Javier 93 10.2 4.8 1.8 .295 72.4% 5.09 5.34 0.5
Framber Valdez 79 9.3 3.9 0.9 .308 73.7% 3.75 3.92 1.4
Luis Garcia 47 9.2 5.1 1.4 .305 72.5% 4.82 5.04 0.3
Brandon Bielak 19 8.0 4.0 1.6 .305 71.5% 5.02 5.23 0.1
Tyler Ivey 16 8.7 3.6 1.5 .303 71.8% 4.65 4.77 0.2
Austin Pruitt 6 7.4 2.5 1.4 .311 71.5% 4.47 4.50 0.1
Total 846 9.0 3.2 1.4 .302 73.1% 4.32 4.49 10.7

Greinke is the boring-but-good foundation of Houston’s rotation and one of the best candidates to reach 200 innings in a year that might only see half a dozen pitchers get there. The injury to Valdez isn’t as bad as initially thought, but Odorizzi looks like a strong replacement even though it leaves the Astros without a lefty in the rotation. He sputtered through 13.2 innings in 2020 but was great in 2019 and could easily outperform his projection, especially if Houston helps him tamp down the home run issues (0.9 in ’19 and 1.2 career but 2.7 last year).

For McCullers, it comes down to health. The talent is there, and it is robust. His 3.61 SIERA is tied for 15th-best among the 116 pitchers with at least 500 innings since 2015. He misses bats at an above-average clip and can be remarkably difficult to square up, which helps counter his elevated walk rate. Urquidy, meanwhile, might be my favorite breakout pick for 2021. I’m a sucker for prospects with plus command and a plus changeup. A battle with COVID lingered over his 30-inning regular season, but he showed off his swing-and-miss capability in 16 playoff innings. Watch for him to overperform that 1.7 HR/9 and push his ERA way down, too.

Javier did allow 1.8 HR/9 in his 54-inning debut — a big change from his minor league record. He was saved by a .194 BABIP that turned most of those homers into solo shots. He didn’t bring his minor league whiff rate at all (seven straight minor league stops of at least 16% SwStr%); a 9% mark makes his 25% strikeout rate difficult to maintain. I don’t think we have a great handle of who he is yet, and that’s okay, given that he has fewer than 60 major league innings under his belt.

Valdez is an X-factor for the Astros, assuming he doesn’t miss much time from his finger injury. The Astros have a set five without him, but no team uses just five starters all year. Garcia might be a key part of the bullpen this year. Bielak wasn’t great in 32 innings last year, but he seems cut out for a backend innings-eater or swingman role.

19. Athletics
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Chris Bassitt 146 8.0 3.0 1.3 .299 72.0% 4.33 4.56 1.6
Sean Manaea 152 7.8 2.4 1.4 .297 72.5% 4.16 4.39 2.1
Jesús Luzardo 127 9.4 2.9 1.2 .304 74.8% 3.76 3.97 2.5
Frankie Montas 142 8.9 3.0 1.3 .308 73.5% 4.08 4.20 2.2
Mike Fiers 141 6.4 2.8 1.8 .293 69.9% 5.10 5.42 0.6
A.J. Puk 52 9.9 4.3 1.1 .306 73.8% 4.06 4.18 0.8
Daulton Jefferies 26 8.4 2.4 1.4 .304 72.8% 4.22 4.36 0.4
Cole Irvin 13 6.7 2.5 1.4 .300 70.5% 4.61 4.77 0.1
Grant Holmes 17 7.6 3.6 1.4 .303 71.5% 4.62 4.82 0.1
Parker Dunshee 8 7.7 3.4 1.8 .297 70.6% 5.14 5.38 0.0
Total 825 8.2 2.9 1.4 .300 72.5% 4.30 4.51 10.6

Don’t be fooled by Bassitt’s shiny 2.29 ERA in 2020. His SIERAs the last three seasons: 4.45, 4.47, and 4.46. He is a perfectly capable mid-rotation arm, but that’s it. Luzardo and Montas will be the ones instrumental to this team’s overall success.

Premium velocity, a ready-made changeup, and a swing-and-miss breaker give Luzardo all the tools to be a top-30 starter in the game. He was fine across 59 innings in 2020 but there’s another level or two in his game. Montas was sailing in 2020 before a back issue flared up and led to 29 runs allowed over his next six starts, which accounted for half of his season. He could have overcome a run like that in a regular campaign, but it was too much in this shortened year. He’s dealing with a ripped middle finger cuticle to start the season, but once healthy, he should be a steady presence as a frontline starter.

Manaea was hoping to put up another 150-plus innings after throwing just 30 in 2019, but obviously that wasn’t possible. He averaged 155 per season from 2016 to ’18, so his projection is certainly possible, which would be a big win for the A’s.

Hip inflammation will sideline Fiers at the outset of the season and opens the doors for Jefferies to take a rotation spot. He has turned heads in spring training with 24 strikeouts in 16.2 innings of work. Injuries have been his biggest issue as he enters his age-25 season, but he is healthy now, throwing some of the best baseball of his pro career, and one of several guys on this staff capable of an appreciable jump beyond their projection.

Puk and Luzardo came up together and were expected to be the dominant lefties atop the rotation, but injuries have stalled the former’s development. Tommy John and shoulder surgery cost him all of 2018 and ’20; he is now 26 years old with just 11 major league innings under his belt. The obvious physical comps to Josh Hader fuel bullpen predictions, but the A’s may soon see it as the right answer, too. A hybrid role is likely for him.

Holmes and Kaprielian are both one-time top-100 prospects who I am keeping a close eye on this year. As is the case with most prospects who fall off their track a bit, injuries have stifled both. They are 25 and 27 years old, respectively, but still have raw upside that could see them taking on meaningful roles with Oakland, be it starter or reliever… or both.

20. Rays
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Tyler Glasnow 155 12.1 3.6 1.2 .306 75.2% 3.59 3.51 3.5
Ryan Yarbrough 137 7.3 2.4 1.4 .300 71.4% 4.35 4.56 1.4
Chris Archer 135 9.8 3.3 1.4 .314 73.4% 4.27 4.23 2.0
Michael Wacha 114 8.1 3.5 1.5 .307 71.6% 4.70 4.77 0.9
Rich Hill 101 8.8 3.4 1.5 .293 72.4% 4.40 4.67 1.0
Josh Fleming 58 6.3 2.4 1.2 .306 71.3% 4.33 4.50 0.6
Luis Patiño 45 9.4 4.8 1.2 .302 72.7% 4.48 4.66 0.6
Brent Honeywell Jr. 33 7.0 3.1 1.3 .324 69.8% 4.83 4.73 0.3
Shane McClanahan 15 9.4 4.2 1.4 .303 73.1% 4.52 4.74 0.1
Collin McHugh 6 9.7 3.5 1.3 .302 73.7% 4.10 4.24 0.1
Joe Ryan 6 9.3 3.2 1.7 .293 71.9% 4.68 4.89 0.0
Total 807 9.1 3.3 1.3 .305 72.6% 4.27 4.36 10.6

I wonder how often the Rays beat their projection in rotation WAR. They aren’t always in the second half of the rankings, but I bet they have some strong surplus years. This season could be another such year, though the “ifs” on how they get there start to pile up quickly thanks to a group loaded with talent but short on consistent health.

With Blake Snell and Charlie Morton gone, the Rays are asking Glasnow and Yarbrough to lead the charge ahead of three veterans with a load of injury issues. The projections call for Glasnow to set a career-high in innings pitched. Yarbrough has become a consistent rotation piece, though it’s better when he is the third- or fourth-best starter and not your No. 2.

Looking to recapture his Tampa Bay form, Archer has said that he is ready for a hybrid role that could include following an opener. Wacha is also looking for a little Rays magic, but his core skills are there, especially when the changeup is working. His strikeout (23%) and walk (5%) rates were excellent in 34 innings last year, but a .366 BABIP, 12.2 hits per nine, and 2.4 homers per nine sank him.

Speaking of magic, is it still there for Hill? Now 41, he saw his peripherals plummet in 2020 with a 9% K-BB rate and a 7% swinging-strike rate. His velo was also down to 88 mph. He should almost certainly follow an opener and throw multi-inning stints. Patiño was the key return in the Snell deal, but while he debuted in 2020, the Rays will manage his innings carefully. Fleming did well in 32 innings last year but got markedly worse as the game went on (a .489 OPS the first time through the order, .927 the second and third). His best use might also be in a two-to-four inning stints as a bulk arm.

Arm injuries have plagued Honeywell’s career, so it will be a win if he can stay healthy all year and contribute in any way. McClanahan is an electric lefty who is part of the 2021 plan, but probably out of the bullpen. His triple-digit heat and power curve are made for the late innings, but his changeup lags behind, and he has a less-than-ideal frame for 150-plus innings. McHugh, who opted out of the 2020 season, feels like a perfect Rays fit: They will try to turn his one great pitch into a bunch of productive innings.

21. Giants
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Johnny Cueto 168 7.8 3.0 1.3 .309 70.5% 4.54 4.54 1.5
Kevin Gausman 170 9.7 2.6 1.1 .315 72.5% 3.83 3.64 3.4
Anthony DeSclafani 143 8.4 2.8 1.3 .311 71.6% 4.35 4.28 1.8
Logan Webb 114 8.0 3.4 0.9 .316 71.5% 4.12 4.11 1.5
Aaron Sanchez 87 7.8 4.5 1.0 .316 71.1% 4.65 4.65 0.7
Alex Wood 71 8.5 2.7 1.2 .310 73.0% 3.97 4.06 1.0
Tyler Beede 39 8.9 4.2 1.3 .315 70.9% 4.69 4.62 0.3
Sean Hjelle 26 7.0 3.1 1.0 .313 70.5% 4.26 4.24 0.3
Nick Tropeano 13 8.8 3.5 1.5 .311 72.5% 4.53 4.66 0.1
Total 831 8.4 3.1 1.2 .313 71.5% 4.26 4.22 10.6

With a veteran-laden rotation, the Giants will likely spend another year being too good to tank but not good enough to compete, especially in the NL West.

Gausman broke through in San Francisco and liked it there so much that he took a qualifying offer to stay another year. He followed the trend du jour by shifting some of his fastball usage into his best secondary offering to great effect: His splitter posted a 9.1 Pitch Value, tops in the league. We have seen short runs of success from him before similar to his 60 innings in 2020, but the raw skills are here for a full season’s worth of last year’s production.

Webb was a spring stud with 11 scoreless innings that included 17 strikeouts and just one walk. A sparkling new changeup is driving his success and earned him comparisons to Luis Castillo from ex-Reds catcher Curt Casali. Webb has consistently lagged a swing-and-miss pitch, so if this changeup is the answer, there is some breakout upside for the 24-year-old righty.

In DeScalfani, the Giants get another reclamation project with an even bigger home run issue than Gausman. Like Gausman, there’s something work with here: DeScalfani sits 95 mph with his fastball, has three seasons worth 2–3 WAR, and holds a career 14% K-BB rate. The hope is to get him back to his mid-tier form from 2015 to ’19, when he posted a 4.11 SIERA in 590 innings. Sanchez is another talented arm trying to turn back the clock. That’s a tougher task, as he has just one standout year (2016) and a 5.25 SIERA since then in 272 innings. He seems destined to return to the bullpen at this point.

Health has eluded Wood the last two years, but his 4.59 SIERA says the skills have been better than his 5.96 ERA suggests, though quite far from the 3.66 SIERA he had in 2013–18. He is already dealing with a back issue, so the Giants aren’t relying on him. Cueto is trying to rebound from a 4.80 SIERA in just 132 innings total over the last three years, and he only threw 142 the year before that. It would be a win if he reached that projection of 168 innings. Tropeano should stay in the bullpen, as he started to find something last year with a 23% K-BB and 15% swinging strike rate in 16 innings as a reliever. Beede is returning from Tommy John surgery and should be back in the summer.

22. Rangers
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Kyle Gibson 171 7.9 3.5 1.3 .317 70.8% 4.73 4.66 2.2
Kohei Arihara 104 8.9 2.9 1.3 .298 71.9% 4.13 4.22 1.9
Dane Dunning 120 8.3 3.6 1.3 .312 71.3% 4.53 4.53 2.0
Mike Foltynewicz 124 7.9 3.5 1.7 .305 70.2% 5.14 5.18 1.3
Jordan Lyles 84 7.8 3.4 1.8 .311 69.2% 5.40 5.26 0.7
Kyle Cody 80 7.8 4.5 1.3 .314 71.1% 4.96 5.03 1.0
Kolby Allard 29 7.9 3.6 1.5 .309 70.5% 4.92 4.92 0.3
Tyson Ross 31 6.9 4.2 1.5 .310 68.4% 5.51 5.43 0.2
Hyun-jong Yang 19 8.9 2.9 1.3 .298 71.9% 4.13 4.22 0.4
Taylor Hearn 19 10.2 4.8 1.6 .308 71.8% 4.94 4.95 0.2
Total 781 8.1 3.6 1.4 .310 70.7% 4.81 4.81 10.3

I’m stunned that the Rangers rank higher than the Marlins (even if it’s just by 0.1 WAR), or the Royals, or the Cubs, or even the Tigers. Sure, Texas has a big innings eater atop the rotation in Gibson, but he is barely projected over two wins. Dunning, acquired in the Lance Lynn trade, also reaches a 2.0 WAR projection, and I could see him exceeding that if he gets 150-plus innings (though his career high in that department is 118 back in 2017). Arihara arrives from Japan on the heels of 133 innings thrown in 2020, making him a good candidate to exceed his projected inning count. If he does that with a FIP in the low 4.00s, he could be the team’s WAR leader on the mound.

Foltynewicz is trying to come back from a lost 2020 in which he threw just three innings at 90–92 mph on average. His velocity was back this spring, but the results weren’t there, and he may not break camp with the Rangers. Lyles is now 30 years old and has exceeded 90 innings just once in the last six seasons (though I guess he has an excuse for 2020). Cody was returning from Tommy John last year, so it is hard to put too much stock into his 23-inning debut and 7.15 ERA. His three-pitch repertoire graded out well in 2020 (all carried a 60 Future Grade), giving him some upside, though he may be trying to deliver on it out of the bullpen.

Allard is multi-time top prospect who feels like he has been around forever but is entering just his age-23 season. The lefty hasn’t done too much to inspire confidence that he is about to fulfill his prospect hype, and if he suffers through an uninspiring 2021 he could find himself in the bullpen going forward. Hearn looks like a late-inning reliever; the injury to José Leclerc could make that a reality.

23. Marlins
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Sandy Alcantara 174 7.9 3.8 1.2 .300 71.2% 4.41 4.54 1.7
Pablo López 148 8.6 2.7 1.1 .306 72.0% 3.99 4.03 2.3
Elieser Hernandez 124 9.6 3.1 1.6 .301 71.7% 4.53 4.59 1.2
Sixto Sánchez 136 8.1 2.7 1.0 .307 72.7% 3.82 3.91 2.5
Trevor Rogers 120 8.9 3.5 1.2 .306 73.2% 4.12 4.28 1.5
Braxton Garrett 67 8.4 4.3 1.1 .309 72.7% 4.36 4.55 0.6
Nick Neidert 45 7.4 3.7 1.4 .304 69.9% 4.92 5.01 0.2
Edward Cabrera 21 9.0 4.5 1.2 .306 72.4% 4.42 4.61 0.2
Jorge Guzman 7 8.4 6.2 1.5 .299 70.3% 5.49 5.71 -0.0
Daniel Castano 6 6.5 3.1 1.2 .306 71.8% 4.41 4.67 0.0
Total 849 8.5 3.4 1.2 .305 72.0% 4.25 4.36 10.2

This is one of my two picks to click in the second half of these rankings. I have bounced between writing the top and bottom 15 sections over the last several years, but when I get 16–30, I always try to identify a team or two that could make a big leap and wind up in the upper half. The Marlins’ young and impressive arms make them a great candidate to do so this year.

Alcantara and López give Miami a strong 1–2 punch ready to take the next step. Alcantara made it to 32 starts back in 2019, so he could be an innings horse for this squad. There’s strikeout upside in his arm, too, especially if he leans more into his high-90s four-seamer instead of the sinker. Lopez’s 2019 season (a 5.09 ERA) was better than it looked, and he proved that he’s developing and sharpening his arsenal by posting a 3.61 mark in 57 innings of work last year (and a 3.98 SIERA to go with it).

Sánchez and Hernandez are a cut behind the other two but still highly regarded. The former will have his innings workload managed, though an exact number is unknown, and it could be more of a spread-out thing as opposed to a dead stop at some point in the summer. Hernandez outran continued issues with home runs en route to a 3.16 ERA in 26 innings thanks to a gaudy 27% K-BB rate. The projections feel right if he remains at or around his 1.9 HR/9, with any upside being tied to improvements on limiting the longball.

Given the bevy of young arms in Miami, Rogers understandably isn’t getting much attention. He deserves more. The 23-year-old lefty leans on a good fastball-changeup combo for a load of strikeouts and a decent walk rate. A .380 BABIP and 1.6 HR/9 ruined his debut last year, but the 3.86 SIERA has kept many interested. Bold prediction: Rogers is the second-best pitcher on the team this year.

Garrett and Neidert debuted in 2020, each notching eight unimpressive innings. The rise of prospects like Sánchez and Rogers likely puts both in swingman roles at best. Cabrera could be their next big arm to develop. Once seen as a late-inning reliever, his slider and changeup have improved significantly; he’s No. 62 in our 2021 Top 100 and has mid-rotation starter upside. He could be a fireman type this season, going multiple innings out of the bullpen.

24. Royals
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Mike Minor 176 8.0 2.8 1.4 .297 71.2% 4.40 4.48 2.6
Brad Keller 162 6.6 3.5 1.1 .303 69.8% 4.60 4.66 1.7
Danny Duffy 151 8.1 3.2 1.5 .306 70.3% 4.81 4.77 1.7
Brady Singer 132 7.5 3.2 1.2 .310 70.1% 4.54 4.50 1.6
Kris Bubic 102 8.2 3.9 1.2 .306 71.6% 4.53 4.61 1.3
Jakob Junis 71 8.0 2.6 1.5 .315 70.3% 4.68 4.61 0.8
Ervin Santana 66 6.1 3.0 1.7 .302 67.2% 5.47 5.40 0.2
Carlos Hernández 13 7.4 4.6 1.3 .309 69.3% 5.15 5.14 0.1
Jackson Kowar 18 6.8 3.5 1.4 .307 69.3% 5.02 5.03 0.1
Ronald Bolaños 6 7.9 4.6 1.2 .313 70.0% 5.00 4.95 0.0
Total 896 7.6 3.2 1.3 .305 70.2% 4.67 4.68 10.2

Like the Marlins, this Royals rotation is poised to shock. There are more veterans here than in Miami, but a combination of experience and youth has them on the cusp of something good. Minor’s peripherals last year were mostly in line with his big 2019; if you stared too hard at the 5.56 ERA, you might have missed the 4.20 SIERA. A velocity boost in spring training gives hope that he could pitch like he did his first time in Kansas City in 2017, though it is worth noting that his 2.55 ERA that year came entirely in relief.

Keller, a groundball artist with a 93–95 mph sinker, goes wherever his BABIP takes him. Thankfully for the Royals, he has shaved that figure down each year, hitting a .233 mark last season that led to a 2.47 ERA in 55 innings. His upside is tied to how many innings he can eat, as his skills are unlikely to make great leaps barring major arsenal changes. Duffy once carried frontline promise but has now settled into an an elder statesman role in the middle of the rotation.

Singer and Bubic were surprise call-ups in 2020, and both held their own. A quality fastball-slider combo helped Singer keep hitters at bay, but his changeup needs work if he is going to be more than a fifth starter. Bubic, meanwhile, leaned on his changeup and curveball to some solid results, but the fastball lacked any real bite and is already short on velocity (90–92 mph from the left side).

Even if the youngsters struggle, there are reinforcements. Junis is a veteran arm at this point who can string some decent starts together, but his success will always be capped by a huge career 1.6 HR/9 rate. Hernández and Kowar are another pair of notable prospects, both of whom should debut in 2021. A good fastball paired with a delivery that our Eric Longenhagen called “reliever-y” could push the former into the bullpen. The latter is powered by a premium changeup and little else, drawing Chris Paddack comps.

25. Diamondbacks
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Madison Bumgarner 170 7.9 2.5 1.8 .306 70.3% 4.99 5.04 1.4
Merrill Kelly 155 8.1 2.9 1.5 .313 70.6% 4.71 4.62 2.0
Luke Weaver 126 9.1 2.8 1.5 .316 71.8% 4.53 4.39 1.6
Caleb Smith 127 9.7 4.0 1.7 .301 71.7% 4.91 4.96 1.2
Zac Gallen 129 10.4 3.2 1.3 .311 74.4% 3.87 3.91 2.4
Corbin Martin 70 8.8 3.8 1.4 .312 71.7% 4.68 4.70 0.7
Taylor Widener 39 9.8 4.1 1.4 .308 71.3% 4.62 4.56 0.4
Taylor Clarke 19 8.1 3.5 1.5 .308 70.3% 4.88 4.88 0.1
Alex Young 13 8.4 3.3 1.4 .312 71.0% 4.65 4.63 0.1
Humberto Mejía 6 7.9 3.7 1.6 .303 69.6% 5.13 5.18 0.0
Jon Duplantier 6 9.3 4.6 1.1 .314 72.2% 4.44 4.50 0.1
Total 861 8.9 3.2 1.5 .310 71.5% 4.64 4.63 10.0

The Diamondbacks already faced an uphill battle by sharing the same division as the Dodgers and Padres. That climb got harder before the season even started with Gallen felled by a stress fracture in his right forearm. The worst part is that it happened while batting. Good thing the NL didn’t bring back the DH.

Bumgarner will likely go as his velo goes. If he trends at or above 90 mph, there is hope of a rebound — albeit not back to his peak years in San Francisco — and an above-average 180 innings. All three of Kelly, Weaver, and Smith offer a measure of non-prospect upside and have been good in the past. Kelly turned a solid 2-win debut in 2019 into a 2.59 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 2020, albeit in just 31 innings. His upside is probably closer to a low-4.00s ERA over 180-plus innings; more quantity over quality. Weaver couldn’t build on his good 2019 and wound up with a 6.58 ERA in 52 innings last year.. Despite similar peripherals between both years, a home run rate that surged to 1.7 per nine did him in. Smith has strikeout prowess (a career 26% K rate), but home run troubles have yielded inconsistent results and a career 4.55 ERA.

Martin is returning from 2019 Tommy John surgery and should be ready to take on some innings. Widener may fill in for Gallen after a strong spring earned him a roster spot. Duplantier and Mejía seem to be on track for bullpen roles, though they could sneak in some starts in what will likely be a down year for Arizona.

26. Rockies
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Germán Márquez 186 9.5 2.5 1.3 .335 71.4% 4.42 3.99 3.7
Antonio Senzatela 144 6.4 3.4 1.5 .330 67.4% 5.64 5.17 1.2
Jon Gray 153 8.4 3.1 1.5 .334 69.2% 5.19 4.70 2.2
Austin Gomber 116 8.8 4.0 1.6 .329 69.8% 5.30 4.98 1.2
Kyle Freeland 113 7.1 3.4 1.4 .330 69.2% 5.22 4.90 1.2
Ryan Rolison 59 7.0 4.3 1.7 .323 67.6% 6.04 5.74 0.2
Chi Chi González 26 7.1 4.4 1.7 .324 66.6% 6.13 5.70 0.1
Ryan Castellani 24 6.9 5.8 2.0 .323 65.5% 7.12 6.68 -0.1
Dereck Rodríguez 19 7.1 3.3 1.9 .331 66.3% 6.22 5.68 0.1
Antonio Santos 9 6.9 2.9 1.8 .326 67.0% 5.80 5.39 0.0
Total 849 7.9 3.4 1.5 .331 69.0% 5.29 4.88 9.8

Márquez will continue to make baseball fans wish he pitched anywhere but Colorado as he suffers the vagaries of that park while dominating on the road. After the Nolan Arenado trade, some Rockies fans may be wishing for the same thing to save him and Trevor Story from having to endure a long and hard rebuild. Senzatela, Gray, and Freeland have all had their runs — even in Coors — over the course of the last few years, but it is just impossible to expect any measure of consistency from pitchers when half their games are at altitude. Awful strikeout rates for all three don’t help.

Gomber was the biggest name in the return for Arenado, which says more about the trade than it does about him. The 27-year-old lefty has a career 4.62 SIERA in 104 innings, and his new home will likely push his 3.72 ERA much closer to that figure. Rolison and Castellani (to some degree) are pitching prospects, but at the risk of repeating myself, it is just hard to drum up a lot of excitement with Coors looming.

27. Tigers
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Matthew Boyd 166 9.5 2.8 1.6 .309 71.6% 4.52 4.44 2.5
Spencer Turnbull 124 8.5 3.7 1.3 .312 71.5% 4.50 4.60 1.6
Tarik Skubal 115 9.8 3.6 1.6 .305 72.4% 4.61 4.68 1.4
Casey Mize 112 7.4 2.9 1.5 .307 69.5% 4.93 4.94 1.3
Julio Teheran 108 7.3 4.1 1.8 .292 69.0% 5.57 5.78 0.3
José Ureña 65 6.9 3.4 1.4 .300 70.3% 4.87 5.05 0.6
Michael Fulmer 57 6.8 2.8 1.4 .307 69.6% 4.76 4.74 0.8
Matt Manning 43 8.3 3.6 1.4 .309 71.6% 4.64 4.70 0.5
Daniel Norris 19 8.5 2.9 1.4 .314 71.4% 4.49 4.38 0.3
Joey Wentz 8 7.7 4.3 1.7 .305 69.9% 5.44 5.53 0.0
Total 818 8.3 3.3 1.5 .305 70.8% 4.78 4.84 9.3

Boyd flashed some major upside in 2019 before chronic home run issues came roaring to the fore. It got worse in 2020, as he surrendered 2.2 homers per nine, resulting in a 6.71 ERA. His career mark is now an ugly 1.7, and until he shows any ability to rein in the longball, it is hard to see him maximizing the upside of a high-strikeout, low-walk profile.

Turnbull has the opposite issues. He has a nice 0.69 HR/9 rate in his career but has yet to unleash the full impact of his arsenal, with an average 22% strikeout rate and below-average 10% walk rate in 221 career innings. He is part of the brand-new seam shifted wake revolution which highlights the differences in his two- and four-seam fastballs. At his best, it’s easy to see a breakout bubbling under the surface, but we will see if he has made the necessary changes once he’s back from a COVID-related absence.

New manager A.J. Hinch told Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, and Matt Manning at the start of spring training that they likely weren’t making this team out of camp. As legendary balladeer told us long ago, two out of three ain’t bad! Skubal used a big spring to secure the fourth spot in the rotation. Mize’s surface results weren’t particularly good (8.36 ERA), but the team saw enough to give him a spot while Turnbull is out; a good start could keep him up even after the latter returns.

For his part, Manning also had a solid spring, but unlike Skubal and Mize, he didn’t debut last year, so he is a little behind the two, though he tops both of them on our 2021 prospect list (No. 18 versus Nos. 22 and 32, respectively). The 23-year-old will likely debut sometime this year.

Teheran’s value is as a 10-year vet who gobbles up innings (he’s averaged exactly 200 innings per 162 games) and as a former major prospect who could help Detroit’s Big Three develop. Fulmer returned from Tommy John surgery in 2020 and still isn’t fully back after a bumpy spring. The bullpen may be the future for both he and Norris, two of best prospects in Detroit’s last crop of arms. Wentz, the return in the Shane Greene deal, is returning from Tommy John surgery this year.

28. Cubs
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Kyle Hendricks 178 7.6 1.9 1.3 .307 72.0% 4.14 4.20 2.9
Zach Davies 152 6.7 2.9 1.3 .311 71.0% 4.64 4.69 1.6
Jake Arrieta 136 7.2 3.3 1.3 .311 70.6% 4.69 4.72 1.3
Trevor Williams 135 7.6 3.0 1.4 .309 69.8% 4.82 4.74 1.1
Adbert Alzolay 78 9.7 4.4 1.5 .308 71.8% 4.82 4.85 0.6
Alec Mills 71 7.7 3.1 1.5 .307 70.0% 4.91 4.92 0.6
Shelby Miller 32 7.9 4.6 1.5 .313 69.9% 5.31 5.23 0.1
Kohl Stewart 23 6.5 3.9 1.2 .315 69.0% 5.03 4.96 0.2
Tyson Miller 26 7.4 3.7 1.8 .306 69.1% 5.48 5.48 0.0
Brailyn Marquez 10 9.0 5.1 1.2 .310 71.9% 4.67 4.78 0.1
Total 841 7.6 3.1 1.4 .309 70.7% 4.67 4.69 8.5

Hendricks is a metronome of performance: His pinpoint command of his two changeups and slow curveball has helped him churn out six straight high-quality seasons. Davies is often compared to Hendricks as a soft-tossing command artist whose best pitch is a changeup, though he’s better described as Hendricks-lite. Hendricks has a 3.12 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 1,047 innings; Davies has a 3.79 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 684 innings. Due to the similarities in terms of stuff, I wonder if the Cubs will split them up in the rotation order.

Arrieta returns in a much different form and will mostly be a veteran innings-eater. Williams has clicked immediately with new pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, and the two have been working to refine and refocus him after a rough two seasons in 2019 and ’20. Alzolay beat out Mills for the fifth starter role and could be the standout star of this rotation. The 26-year-old righty needs to command his mid-90s heater better if he is going to make the leap, but the swing-and-miss stuff we have seen in his first 34 major league innings (a 29% K rate) offers hope.

Mills is another Hendricks-lite arm, relying on secondary stuff to mitigate his 88–90 mph fastball. He will get some starts over the course of the year, but it is hard to envision a positive impact if he doesn’t address a 1.7 HR/9 rate since 2019. Shelby Miller had a solid spring and just missed out on making the club. He sat 94 mph with a good slider, though he also walked six in 12 innings, and a lack of command and control have been instrumental in his struggles since 2016: 11% BB, 11.3 H/9, and 1.4 HR/9 in 183 innings.

Tyson Miller, Stewart, and Marquez have different pedigrees and future paths but would likely all return about the same production if thrust into duty for a month. Miller is a low-profile prospect who’s likely best in the bullpen. Stewart, the No. 4 pick in the 2013 draft, no longer has the hype that comes with such a pick but is young enough that he could still develop into a regular rotation member. Marquez is Chicago’s brightest pitching prospect; the team will take its time with him and likely send him to the high minors for at least a couple of months.

29. Pirates
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Tyler Anderson 144 7.6 3.3 1.6 .304 70.3% 4.93 4.98 1.3
Chad Kuhl 132 8.3 4.1 1.3 .312 71.1% 4.75 4.76 1.1
Mitch Keller 127 9.2 4.0 1.2 .317 72.0% 4.48 4.41 1.5
Steven Brault 106 8.1 4.7 1.2 .308 70.9% 4.71 4.82 0.8
JT Brubaker 96 8.0 3.4 1.1 .314 71.0% 4.32 4.26 1.3
Trevor Cahill 65 8.2 3.9 1.2 .307 70.2% 4.63 4.60 0.9
Wil Crowe 59 6.9 4.0 1.5 .313 69.1% 5.42 5.37 0.2
Cody Ponce 32 7.7 3.6 1.4 .311 70.7% 4.86 4.91 0.3
Miguel Yajure 19 7.4 3.2 1.3 .310 70.5% 4.61 4.66 0.2
Steven Wright 6 6.8 3.9 1.5 .309 69.2% 5.37 5.43 0.0
Total 787 8.1 3.9 1.3 .311 70.8% 4.73 4.73 7.6

A new regime has pulled the Pirates out of the groundball-focused mantra of former pitching coach Ray Searage, with the organization starting to cultivate more strikeout-oriented arms. Pittsburgh is still working primarily with guys who were around for the Searage era, but younger arms like Kuhl, Keller, and Brubaker are capable of being part of the next good Pirates team… assuming that isn’t decades away.

Kuhl has dialed back his fastball usage in favor of his slider and curveball in hopes of missing more bats. Keller was comically unlucky in his 2019 debut with a 7.13 ERA and 3.78 SIERA, then flipped that around in 2020 with a 2.91 ERA and 6.94 SIERA. While he has just 69.2 career innings under his belt, 2021 still has a bit of urgency to it; he needs to establish himself and back up the prospect hype. Brubaker was solid in his 47-inning debut, offering some hope for 2021.

Anderson, Brault, and Cahill will back up that young trio; no one in that group offers much in the way of upside or durability though. Crowe came over as part of the Josh Bell deal and will get a chance to start but seems destined for a bullpen role. Yajure, acquired from New York for Jameson Taillon, ranks seventh on our Pirates prospect list. A four-pitch mix of average-or-better offerings plus the ability to command all of them makes him interesting if the Pirates give him a chance to start.

30. Orioles
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
John Means 135 7.6 2.3 1.8 .296 71.1% 4.82 5.01 1.7
Dean Kremer 132 8.4 4.1 1.7 .306 71.3% 5.23 5.36 0.9
Keegan Akin 109 8.7 4.1 1.8 .301 73.0% 5.01 5.35 0.9
Bruce Zimmermann 106 7.2 4.0 1.7 .305 70.8% 5.29 5.51 0.6
Matt Harvey 65 6.8 3.2 2.0 .304 68.3% 5.73 5.76 0.2
Jorge López 58 7.3 3.4 1.5 .306 69.7% 5.07 5.11 0.7
Adam Plutko 45 6.9 2.7 2.0 .298 69.2% 5.50 5.64 0.3
Wade LeBlanc 39 6.4 2.8 1.9 .301 68.7% 5.51 5.56 0.3
Felix Hernandez 42 6.7 3.3 1.8 .303 68.4% 5.55 5.66 0.2
Michael Baumann 26 7.2 4.6 1.8 .299 69.0% 5.71 5.85 0.1
Zac Lowther 17 7.9 4.4 1.7 .299 70.9% 5.31 5.58 0.1
Mickey Jannis 8 5.9 3.3 1.7 .303 68.9% 5.47 5.65 0.0
Total 782 7.6 3.5 1.8 .302 70.5% 5.23 5.40 5.9

The rebuild is coming together in Baltimore, but the fruits of the work have not reached the majors just yet. Means has shown enough flashes to believe there is another level here that could make him a rotation staple over the next several years. Harvey as the No. 2 says a lot about how the O’s feel their 2021 will unfold. Kremer had a solid three-pitch mix, though he was a bit fortunate to allow zero homers despite a 47% flyball rate.

Akin was even more impressive with a 30% strikeout rate and 22% K-BB rate in 25.2 innings. He, Kremer and Means will draw most of the focus for O’s brass as they look forward, given that their best pitching prospects are years away from producing. Zimmermann could be a surprise after a big spring turned some heads (one earned run in nine innings with 10 strikeouts and zero walks) and earned him a rotation spot. He’s a command-first (only?) lefty who could eat up some innings, though I wouldn’t expect another Means-like rise here.

Given the group of journeyman vets and one-time studs like Harvey and Hernandez that the O’s will ask to pitch this year, we can’t be sure that Jim Palmer and Mike Boddicker won’t make an appearance at some point. The tough part about all these retreads is that none of them miss bats or throw particularly hard; it’s unlikely Baltimore uncovers an arm to lean on beyond 2021. Perhaps the Orioles will use their top-10 pick this summer and the one they are likely to get in ’22 on more pitching for their rebuild.





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Billsaints
Member
Billsaints

2 years ago if you’d told me the Rays and Astros would be in the bottom half of this list…

baseballenjoyer
Member
baseballenjoyer

I think that will change come November. Over on the Athletic today, Eno Sarris had the 5 rotations with the best overall command & stuff, with the Astros at 5.

With the organizational philosophies of Houston and TB being pretty similar, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tampa wasn’t far behind on that list.

Surprisingly, #2 on Eno’s list was the Cubs.