2022 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Rotation (No. 1-15)

© Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, we looked at the teams in the bottom half of the league’s rotations. Now to close out the positional power rankings, we look at the game’s best.

Finally, you’ve reached the last positional power rankings entry of the year. It’s also the most powerful power ranking of the bunch — all the others have had to settle for five or so absolute superstars, but through the magic of counting entire rotations together, we’re looking at an embarrassment of riches here. Twenty-four pitchers in this writeup are projected for three or more WAR this season — good luck matching that at shortstop. And that doesn’t even count the bottom half of rotations (sorry, Shane Bieber, you’re still cool, though). Considering a group of eight-ish starters instead of one-ish starter and his backups for each team means that there are going to be more good players by default.

If you’ll allow me to indulge in a bit of inside baseball, starting pitching rankings are different in one other major way: the attrition on this list has been strikingly high. If you could go back in time a month and look at the second base power rankings, they’d look basically the same as they do now. Marcus Semien? Good then, good now. Maybe the occasional signing or trade shook things up, but for the most part, nothing has changed. When it comes to pitchers, nothing is constant. Seemingly every day, someone goes down with injury. Take a snapshot a week ago, and White Sox would have graced the top five. The Padres added Sean Manaea, then saw Mike Clevinger’s projected innings total take a hit. There’s no more volatile position in the game. That’s modern baseball in a nutshell — starters are hugely important, and they’re also quite breakable. Your team’s fortunes depend in large part on these units, and they in turn depend in large part on extremely breakable ligaments and tendons.

2022 Positional Power Rankings – SP 1-15
1. Yankees
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Gerrit Cole 199 12.1 2.3 1.1 .287 78.2% 3.04 2.96 5.7
Jordan Montgomery 158 9.2 2.7 1.3 .296 74.3% 3.94 3.96 2.7
Jameson Taillon 146 8.6 2.6 1.5 .289 71.6% 4.44 4.41 2.0
Luis Severino 137 9.4 2.6 1.2 .294 73.8% 3.83 3.83 2.4
Nestor Cortes 109 9.5 2.9 1.7 .287 74.1% 4.48 4.61 1.2
Domingo Germán 71 9.6 2.6 1.6 .288 72.6% 4.34 4.32 1.0
Luis Gil 48 10.6 4.7 1.4 .287 73.3% 4.46 4.55 0.6
Michael King 19 9.0 2.9 1.3 .293 73.0% 4.12 4.18 0.3
Deivi García 8 8.4 4.9 1.7 .289 70.7% 5.45 5.62 0.0
Clarke Schmidt 8 8.0 3.8 1.3 .298 71.8% 4.64 4.74 0.1
Total 903 9.9 2.7 1.4 .290 74.2% 3.95 3.96 16.0

Last year, the Yankees rotation felt top-heavy and injury prone, and it was: only three of the team’s starters made even 20 starts. They still finished sixth in WAR from starting pitchers. It’s good to have Gerrit Cole, it turns out. This year should be more of the same. Montgomery and Taillon were both effective last year, and adding Severino to the mix boosts the ceiling meaningfully. Prior to missing most of the last three years with injury, he was an ace in his own right, and while projections are understandably conservative about his recovery, it’s easy to imagine articles with “Which New York Team Has the Better Top Two?” headlines if he returns to his previous level.

After that solid top four, the Yankees are into the territory that sustained them last year: a healthy mix of nearly-ready prospects and competent veterans who can all chip in five starts here and there as necessary. Germán and Cortes stepped up and provided a combined 32 starts in 2021, and if they’re equally effective this season, the Yankees will be able to weather an injury or two while still fielding five solid starters.

The youth movement behind them is equally intriguing. Gil was pushed last year and still needs to develop some command, but he held his own in the majors. I’d be in favor of a season in the minors to work on both his walk rate and another secondary pitch, but he’s a nice emergency option. García had an abysmal 2021 – that’s how you end up projected for a mid-5.00’s ERA – but if he can harness his secondaries and command his fastball better, he could improve on that in a hurry. He’s a high-variance option, albeit one the Yankees would prefer not to use until necessary. King will mostly serve as a reliever. Schmidt might be in need of an expanded role soon, if his health holds up; he looked tremendous in limited reps last year.

2. Brewers
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Brandon Woodruff 183 10.4 2.4 1.1 .290 74.4% 3.44 3.37 4.2
Corbin Burnes 174 11.6 2.7 0.9 .291 76.3% 3.04 2.93 4.9
Freddy Peralta 159 11.7 3.8 1.3 .280 74.1% 3.90 3.87 3.1
Adrian Houser 145 6.9 3.7 1.1 .297 70.4% 4.60 4.67 1.2
Eric Lauer 131 8.8 3.4 1.5 .292 72.2% 4.60 4.64 1.2
Ethan Small 47 8.4 4.4 1.4 .293 71.6% 4.79 4.91 0.3
Aaron Ashby 34 10.7 4.2 0.9 .299 75.4% 3.58 3.67 0.7
Alec Bettinger 18 7.4 2.8 1.6 .296 70.2% 4.92 4.90 0.2
Dylan File 8 7.0 2.6 1.7 .295 69.4% 5.08 5.10 0.0
Total 899 9.9 3.3 1.2 .291 73.3% 3.92 3.91 15.8

The Brewers boast the best healthy duo in the game (sorry, Mets — the health part matters). Burnes won a Cy Young throwing 167 innings last year; he’s unlikely to do that again, and his stamina limits his upside, but when he’s on the mound, he’s one of the best five pitchers in the game. Woodruff is in that tier as well; he just finished his first full 162-game season, which makes me worry a bit about his innings this year, but there’s no doubting the results. Add Peralta to that mix, and they may have the best trio in baseball as well. Sure, he walks too many batters and might not give you seven innings, but when he’s out there, runs mostly don’t score. His explosive fastball is one of my favorite pitches in the majors; it comes in at 92-94 mph but the swings against it make it look 10 ticks faster.

Houser and Lauer are a step down from the top trio, for different reasons: Houser needs more strikeouts and fewer walks, while Lauer allows too many homers. A step forward from either of them would make this rotation terrifying in the playoffs. But if neither makes the leap, the arms behind them might. Small scuffled with his command last year, but like Peralta, he has a fastball that leaves batters shaking their heads ruefully. If he regains the command he’s previously shown, he could absolutely be the fourth arm in a playoff rotation.

The same is true of Ashby, though he’s likely ticketed for a relief role most of the time. When two of your top three pitchers are Burnes and Peralta, a deep and effective bullpen gains importance; you’re more likely to be ahead in the games they start, and so have both more innings and higher-leverage ones to hand to your relievers. But if Ashby needs to start, he can – he might be a five-inning type as well, but he’ll do it with sterling run-prevention numbers, similar to Peralta. This staff might not be long on innings, but their talent is top notch.

3. Phillies
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Aaron Nola 191 10.3 2.5 1.3 .289 74.3% 3.71 3.69 4.0
Kyle Gibson 189 7.8 3.4 1.3 .296 71.0% 4.64 4.65 1.8
Zack Wheeler 195 9.3 2.2 1.0 .295 73.6% 3.46 3.37 4.7
Ranger Suárez 164 8.3 3.2 1.0 .293 72.2% 3.96 4.01 2.6
Zach Eflin 156 7.9 2.2 1.5 .299 72.4% 4.38 4.38 2.0
Hans Crouse 31 7.5 4.0 1.9 .287 69.2% 5.62 5.69 0.0
Cristopher Sánchez 16 8.9 4.6 1.1 .300 72.7% 4.34 4.44 0.2
Bailey Falter 9 8.8 2.5 1.5 .292 73.2% 4.26 4.34 0.1
Total 950 8.7 2.8 1.2 .294 72.5% 4.07 4.07 15.5

Nola and Wheeler are both at the top of their game, and anchor a Phillies rotation with some questions to answer despite their lofty ranking. The main one? Can Gibson, Eflin, and Suárez survive with middling strikeout rates in front of this Philadelphia defense? This isn’t a good situation for pitchers who let the opposing team put the ball in play; four of the team’s starters are meaningfully below average defensively, and J.T. Realmuto can only make up for so much. We still think they’re the fourth-best rotation in baseball – starting with Nola and Wheeler provides a huge tailwind – but there’s plenty of risk here.

Why feature Gibson, who works by inducing grounders and letting the defense work? He was available at last year’s trade deadline and better than the alternatives, and he’s still better than the alternatives this year. The same is true of fellow sinker-baller Eflin. Suárez is a cut above those two, but he gets a lot of outs on the ground. That’s a lot of grounders for an Alec Bohm/Didi Gregorius pairing to handle.

After their top five starters, the depth chart thins out quickly. Falter is intriguing, my favorite of their remaining options, but he’ll surely be on an innings limit. Crouse and Sánchez both look like relievers long-term, but in the event of a meaningful injury, the Phillies will have no choice but to press them into service. It might work – pitchers we project as relievers sometimes surprise – but the bullpen could really use help as well, so both will be in demand regardless of their eventual role.

4. Mets
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Max Scherzer 188 11.9 2.3 1.3 .280 77.6% 3.26 3.29 4.4
Chris Bassitt 176 8.7 2.7 1.2 .286 72.9% 3.95 4.11 2.3
Taijuan Walker 140 8.4 3.2 1.5 .287 71.6% 4.55 4.63 1.1
Carlos Carrasco 139 9.3 2.7 1.4 .296 73.3% 4.06 4.05 2.0
Jacob deGrom 114 12.8 2.0 0.9 .278 80.0% 2.43 2.34 4.2
Tylor Megill 92 9.6 3.1 1.4 .294 73.6% 4.22 4.26 1.0
David Peterson 33 8.3 3.7 1.2 .290 72.6% 4.21 4.39 0.3
Trevor Williams 17 8.1 2.6 1.4 .293 72.5% 4.35 4.45 0.1
Jordan Yamamoto 8 7.8 3.7 1.7 .285 70.0% 5.18 5.29 0.0
Total 907 10.0 2.7 1.3 .287 74.3% 3.78 3.83 15.5

The Mets have two transcendent pitchers, and they were comfortably atop this list before a stress reaction in his right scapula cost deGrom more than a month and a tweaked hamstring put Scherzer’s availability in doubt. Bassitt, Carrasco, and Walker are a capable group, and excellent for your No. 3-5 starters, but the more load they have to carry, the tougher things get for the Mets. I like Megill quite a bit, particularly if he’s a swingman or fifth starter, but he may begin the year as a fourth starter, which leaves precious little room for maneuvering.

The biggest issue for this rotation? How often their seventh and eighth guys will have to pitch. That’s tough for every team, but it’s especially rough when you start the year with the Mets’ injury concerns. deGrom is developing a habit of missing time, Carrasco missed most of last year, and Scherzer famously had a dead arm in the playoffs. Building a pitching staff given modern injury risks is always challenging, and particularly so when you have a top end like Scherzer and deGrom; regardless of who you sign, the drop-off from them to your seventh or eighth starter will be precipitous.

That’s no slight to Peterson and Williams; I think that they’re solid options considering where they stand on the depth chart. It’s just a fact of life: when you have the best rotation in baseball due in large part to two transcendent aces, the depth won’t measure up. But of course, if deGrom and Scherzer are healthy, there’s no better group. Pitching is fickle that way.

5. Padres
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Joe Musgrove 179 9.6 2.6 1.2 .289 73.6% 3.78 3.87 3.0
Sean Manaea 175 9.0 2.2 1.3 .296 74.6% 3.76 3.86 3.0
Yu Darvish 165 10.1 2.7 1.4 .288 73.0% 4.03 3.98 2.6
Blake Snell 131 11.1 4.0 1.2 .287 75.2% 3.77 3.83 2.2
Mike Clevinger 113 9.9 3.0 1.2 .283 75.2% 3.62 3.74 2.1
Nick Martínez 76 8.7 3.1 1.2 .293 72.0% 4.12 4.04 1.1
MacKenzie Gore 40 8.2 4.3 1.3 .293 71.7% 4.71 4.81 0.3
Chris Paddack 17 9.0 2.0 1.4 .290 73.2% 4.01 4.02 0.2
Ryan Weathers 8 7.2 3.2 1.4 .293 70.9% 4.75 4.84 0.1
Total 904 9.6 2.9 1.3 .290 73.8% 3.88 3.93 14.5

A year ago, Musgrove projected as the fifth-best starter in San Diego, and that doesn’t count Clevinger, who missed last season with injury. He’s now their ace, after harnessing his knife-sharp slider and featuring his excellent curveball more often. In the meantime, everything else went sideways for the Friars. Darvish looked ordinary in the second half last season, though he still amassed 3 WAR overall. Snell started to show his old form in the second half, but then got hurt and missed the end of the season. Paddack had decent peripherals, but horrible sequencing and BABIP led to a 5.07 ERA and a lost rotation spot. Somehow, San Diego ended up starting Jake Arrieta in meaningful games – oof.

This year, reinforcements have theoretically arrived. Manaea arrived in a trade over the weekend and gives them mid-rotation quantity and quality. Clevinger should provide quality when available, though he’s likely to start the year on the IL. Martínez excelled in an extended stint in NPB, and can likely provide more innings than we have penciled in if the team needs more starters. Gore, once a top five prospect, rebuilt his delivery last season and didn’t show much command, but no one doubts the raw stuff. A full rebound would likely land him a permanent spot in the rotation.

Could this unit be one of the best in baseball? I guess so, sure. But for now, they’re a cautionary tale about projecting rotations with too much certainty. There’s more to a pitching staff than acquiring five good starters – though how much of that is skill and how much luck is hard to parse from the outside.

6. Giants
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Logan Webb 175 8.9 2.6 0.8 .306 73.3% 3.41 3.29 3.7
Anthony DeSclafani 168 8.0 2.6 1.3 .294 70.6% 4.35 4.22 1.9
Carlos Rodón 160 11.1 3.0 1.0 .294 74.3% 3.49 3.36 3.6
Alex Wood 139 9.1 2.7 1.1 .302 73.0% 3.84 3.85 2.0
Alex Cobb 140 8.1 2.9 1.0 .303 71.2% 4.11 3.95 1.8
Matthew Boyd 63 9.8 2.5 1.4 .296 73.0% 4.07 4.00 1.0
Carlos Martínez 27 7.2 3.6 1.2 .305 70.0% 4.70 4.65 0.2
Sammy Long 9 8.5 3.5 1.3 .295 71.8% 4.42 4.46 0.1
Jakob Junis 8 8.7 2.6 1.4 .302 71.5% 4.39 4.29 0.1
Total 889 9.0 2.8 1.1 .300 72.4% 3.89 3.78 14.4

Everyone raves about last year’s Giants from a hitting perspective, but I’m more into their pitching work. Webb is a delight to watch, and he might just be great: he was Cy Young-caliber in the second half of 2021, and his long-striding, low-release sinker is a marvel. He’s the headliner here, but Rodón isn’t far behind, at least if he can replicate his form from early last year. Only a year removed from irrelevance, he started throwing 99 mph again and was dominant until he fatigued in the second half. With a little load management, something San Francisco excels at, he looks like a top-of-the-rotation arm.

The rest of the staff is a mix of already-successful re-imaginings of decent pitchers and new attempts at the same. DeSclafani and Wood have both blossomed in the Bay; they’ve always been talented pitchers, and both showed increased consistency last year. The Giants are hoping they can do the same with Cobb, who fits the Giants’ type to a T. He’s unquestionably capable of pitching at a high level – he has a career ERA below 4.00 in 1,000 innings – but he’s struggled with injuries and inconsistency. The same is true of Martínez, right down to his 3.74 ERA in 967 innings, though he’s been hurt quite a lot in the past three years. Boyd, who will start the season on the 60-day IL, doesn’t have the big league track record of those two, but he’s certainly talented, and once he’s healthy himself, he’ll likely get the first crack at a rotation job if someone gets hurt.

I don’t know which of these pitchers will work out, but I appreciate the thinking behind them. The Giants know what works for them, and they’re doing it again this year. The results will likely follow – and oh yeah, Cobb apparently throws 97 mph now.

7. White Sox
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Lucas Giolito 192 10.7 2.9 1.3 .280 75.2% 3.70 3.75 4.1
Dylan Cease 164 11.1 3.9 1.2 .292 74.3% 3.97 3.95 3.1
Dallas Keuchel 154 6.1 3.1 1.3 .298 71.7% 4.58 4.80 1.2
Lance Lynn 130 9.6 2.9 1.4 .289 74.4% 4.00 4.11 2.2
Michael Kopech 109 11.7 3.7 1.3 .292 75.5% 3.78 3.77 2.3
Johnny Cueto 88 7.2 2.7 1.6 .294 70.9% 4.82 4.86 0.8
Vince Velasquez 38 9.7 3.8 1.8 .289 72.4% 4.91 5.00 0.3
Reynaldo López 17 8.9 3.1 1.5 .284 72.3% 4.47 4.57 0.2
Jimmy Lambert 8 9.1 4.1 1.6 .291 72.3% 4.84 4.97 0.1
Total 901 9.5 3.2 1.4 .290 73.6% 4.14 4.21 14.1

If this rotation stays healthy, this should be a really good group, but that’s already in question. Lynn’s projection bakes in quite a bit of regression, but he sports a 3.26 ERA and 3.39 FIP in the last three years. Even if he drops off somewhat, he’ll still provide quality and length when he’s available. That clause at the end is doing a lot of work, though, because he’s likely to miss the first two months of the season after tearing a tendon in his knee. Giolito had a “down” 2021 if you stopped paying attention in the first half, but he finished with a 3.53 ERA in 178 innings, a third straight durable and effective season. His high changeup might also be my favorite “wait, that works?” pitch in all of baseball.

After that, it’s all smoke and mirrors, but not in the way you probably think of that phrase. Cease and Kopech both sit 96-98 mph, some of the hardest-throwing starters in the majors. While they provide the smoke, Keuchel will add the mirrors; he was terrible last year, but great in 2020, and Chicago would love to get 150 innings of competence out of his upper-80s fastball and unmatched guile. All three of these projections come with question marks, though. Cease succeeded in 2021 by turning his fastball from a flat under-performer to a rising menace, something he’d never done before in his career. Kopech threw 69 innings last year in his first game action since 2018, so his stamina is definitely in question. Keuchel – well, he might just be cooked.

Luckily for the Sox, they have some decent backup plans. Velasquez isn’t a star, but he can provide bulk relief innings and step in to start on short notice if someone needs a day. Signing Cueto gives them another bulk arm if Velasquez can’t hack it. Lambert looks like a future fifth starter, but the future can be now if the team needs him. López switched over to relief last year, but has made 90 starts for the team since 2017, and could do so again if he isn’t needed in the bullpen. Stiever will miss time with a lat injury, but was an effective starter in the minors. Even with question marks at the No. 3-5 spots, I really like this pitching staff.

8. Astros
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Framber Valdez 187 8.4 3.8 0.8 .298 73.2% 3.77 3.96 2.9
Luis Garcia 160 9.6 3.2 1.3 .290 73.7% 4.10 4.14 2.4
Justin Verlander 180 11.0 2.0 1.6 .267 77.5% 3.52 3.75 3.4
José Urquidy 137 8.1 2.2 1.6 .283 71.4% 4.48 4.53 1.7
Cristian Javier 108 11.4 4.3 1.4 .274 73.4% 4.20 4.29 1.4
Lance McCullers Jr. 82 9.9 3.8 0.9 .292 74.1% 3.62 3.74 1.5
Jake Odorizzi 56 8.8 2.8 1.5 .286 73.2% 4.30 4.44 0.6
Forrest Whitley 16 9.7 5.8 1.7 .291 71.4% 5.43 5.57 -0.0
J.P. France 9 8.6 4.4 1.6 .286 71.7% 5.03 5.24 0.0
Total 935 9.6 3.1 1.3 .285 73.7% 3.99 4.12 13.9

If I were making these rankings, I’d have Houston higher, though the group is not without some injury risks. I’m a big fan of Valdez, and if he hits this innings projection, I think he’ll get Cy Young votes. The combination of striking guys out and allowing no home runs is wildly valuable in today’s game. Verlander has health question marks, but looked good in his spring work, and well, he’s Justin Verlander. Perhaps it’s not deGrom and Scherzer, but that’s a nice combination.

The next chunk of starters is a choose-your-own-adventure mix of risk and reward. Urquidy should deliver league-average innings if healthy. Garcia might ascend to the Valdez tier – or his control might backslide, or hitters might figure out his cutter, which was devastating last year. Javier gets my vote for most talented pitcher on the staff, but he might pitch his way into a permanent bullpen role if he can’t cut down on the walks. He’s starting the season in relief, in fact, though he’ll likely contribute in the rotation as well.

The Astros don’t need to hit on all three of those arms, because they’ll get McCullers back at midseason, and Odorizzi can chip in some average innings of his own. That gives them an enviable floor; having a competent major leaguer like Odorizzi around to sponge up innings is just smart roster building. The Astros are eighth in our rankings, but a top five rotation in my heart.

9. Blue Jays
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
José Berríos 196 9.2 2.5 1.3 .288 72.8% 3.90 3.95 3.2
Kevin Gausman 187 9.7 2.4 1.3 .288 73.8% 3.78 3.75 3.4
Hyun Jin Ryu 166 7.7 2.0 1.2 .293 73.6% 3.88 3.99 2.5
Yusei Kikuchi 148 8.5 3.1 1.3 .300 71.6% 4.41 4.32 1.7
Alek Manoah 141 10.2 3.3 1.2 .284 73.7% 3.84 4.03 2.2
Nate Pearson 39 10.1 4.1 1.4 .287 73.8% 4.32 4.44 0.5
Ross Stripling 16 8.5 2.5 1.6 .293 71.9% 4.48 4.47 0.2
Bowden Francis 9 8.0 3.6 1.7 .287 70.7% 5.07 5.18 0.0
Anthony Kay 8 8.9 4.2 1.4 .294 71.9% 4.74 4.87 0.0
Total 910 9.1 2.7 1.3 .291 73.1% 3.99 4.04 13.8

A few recipes for starting rotation success: invest in free agent starters, sign reclamation projects, trade valuable prospects for a rotation topper, draft well. The Jays have done all of these, and most of the paths have borne fruit. Berríos put together his best major league season last year and is locked in atop the Jays rotation for years to come. Gausman might push him for that top spot; his fastball/splitter combination has kicked into overdrive in the last two years, vaulting him into the top 20 or so starters in baseball. That’s an admirable starting point, and the Jays don’t stop there.

Kikuchi is a bet that what the Jays did with Robbie Ray can work again. Ryu signed before the 2020 season as a Gausman-esque shot, and he’s been as advertised when healthy, posting 4.4 WAR in 236 innings over the past two years. It’s reasonable to bet on league-average performance out of those two when they’re available. Manoah burst onto the scene last season, and is my bet for the pitcher most likely to break out this year. That’s an impressive top five, though of course there’s a good bit of injury risk, as is the case for all rotations.

If the backups come into play, the variance goes way up. Pearson looks reliever-ish but could be dominant there if not needed in the rotation. Stripling has struggled in Toronto, though he can still chip in if necessary. The bigger issue is just depth – after those guys, there’s a lot of hoping relievers can switch back to starting or hoping Francis pans out quickly. There’s talent here, and risk too.

10. Dodgers
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Walker Buehler 196 9.5 2.4 1.2 .283 74.0% 3.72 3.77 3.7
Julio Urías 177 9.1 2.3 1.3 .284 74.4% 3.78 3.89 3.1
Clayton Kershaw 149 9.7 2.0 1.4 .287 76.2% 3.63 3.76 2.8
Andrew Heaney 126 9.9 2.5 1.7 .293 73.9% 4.38 4.43 1.4
Tony Gonsolin 98 9.3 3.9 1.7 .284 72.9% 4.72 4.89 0.6
Tyler Anderson 97 7.5 2.4 1.9 .287 71.5% 5.00 5.12 0.5
Trevor Bauer 30 10.7 3.0 1.3 .280 75.2% 3.73 3.87 0.5
David Price 25 8.8 2.8 1.4 .294 74.3% 4.11 4.32 0.3
Andre Jackson 8 7.8 4.1 1.6 .290 70.4% 5.17 5.26 0.0
Total 905 9.3 2.5 1.5 .286 74.0% 4.08 4.18 13.1

Wait, this is the Dodgers’ weak point? With Buehler, and Urías, and Clayton Freaking Kershaw? Well… yeah. Things get thin in a hurry after that; I’m a pretty big Heaney-head, and even I wouldn’t want to put him in my rotation without a backup place in plan. But he’s not even their fifth starter; that would be Gonsolin, a good-or-hurt type who has done nothing but produce at the major league level while also missing huge swaths of time.

Could it all work out? Sure. But there’s a lot of health risk here, and a lot of “hey, Tyler Anderson is probably fine” as a backup plan. Bauer’s administrative leave has been extended until April 16 as the league investigates allegations of sexual assault; his future in the organization (and potentially in baseball) is murky. Price is more reliever than starter at this point in his career. Jackson doesn’t look ready for prime time just yet.

If those do work out, the ceiling is high. Buehler or Urías might win the Cy Young this year. They both have the talent to do so, and both put together impressive seasons in 2021. Kershaw might continue to challenge our understanding of “decline”; his 3.55 ERA last year was the highest since his rookie season, and was also a 3.55 ERA. But the innings risk is massive, and the drop-off from the top of the rotation to the bottom is scary. Depth matters in modern baseball – even for the team that seems to have everything.

11. Braves
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Max Fried 183 8.6 2.4 1.0 .296 73.7% 3.58 3.63 3.4
Charlie Morton 165 10.0 3.0 1.0 .295 73.6% 3.60 3.59 3.2
Ian Anderson 156 9.3 3.9 1.1 .293 72.9% 4.12 4.13 2.2
Huascar Ynoa 111 9.5 3.3 1.3 .299 72.5% 4.21 4.13 1.4
Mike Soroka 91 7.1 2.6 1.2 .303 70.8% 4.37 4.30 1.1
Kyle Wright 52 8.0 3.5 1.3 .301 70.2% 4.65 4.54 0.4
Tucker Davidson 50 8.8 4.2 1.1 .300 72.0% 4.43 4.42 0.5
Kyle Muller 40 9.2 4.8 1.3 .293 72.1% 4.61 4.67 0.3
Touki Toussaint 16 9.1 4.6 1.4 .299 70.6% 4.94 4.95 0.1
Spencer Strider 16 10.1 3.8 1.3 .293 73.2% 4.25 4.24 0.2
Alan Rangel 8 7.6 3.3 1.4 .300 70.1% 4.88 4.81 0.1
Total 888 9.0 3.3 1.1 .297 72.6% 4.05 4.03 12.9

Atlanta made a lot of moves after winning the World Series, but they’re bringing back last year’s rotation without much alteration, and the odds of something going wrong are higher than they might first appear. A top two of Fried and Morton is an enviable starting point, but look higher in the rankings: they’re hardly the top duo in baseball. They’re somehow only the third-best top two in the NL East, in fact, and Morton probably can’t keep doing this forever.

But those two are still really great! The problems start with spot number three, with Anderson more boom/bust than sure thing. I believe in the stuff, particularly his discombobulating changeup, but I’m also skeptical of his command. If he harnesses his pitches, he’ll be a good third starter, but that still leaves four and five. Ynoa is a wild card; if he can keep the command gains he showed last year, he’ll make my skepticism look bad, but well… I’m skeptical nonetheless.

After that, we’re in full shrug emoji territory. Soroka has barely pitched since 2019. Wright has never had a major league season with positive WAR, though to be fair the Braves haven’t given him much rope. There are several names who might work out here, but an anchoring veteran would have made this bunch look much better. As it is, they’ll need their aces to produce and their role players to meet expectations to keep Atlanta afloat in a competitive division.

12. Red Sox
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Nathan Eovaldi 178 9.3 2.2 1.1 .306 72.8% 3.82 3.58 3.7
Nick Pivetta 157 9.3 3.6 1.4 .296 70.2% 4.73 4.48 1.8
Tanner Houck 122 9.6 3.4 1.2 .301 70.3% 4.34 4.09 1.7
Michael Wacha 106 8.1 2.7 1.5 .310 69.5% 4.91 4.57 1.1
Chris Sale 104 11.2 2.6 1.1 .302 73.9% 3.54 3.36 2.3
Rich Hill 91 7.9 3.2 1.5 .292 69.0% 4.94 4.89 0.6
James Paxton 51 9.6 3.1 1.3 .305 72.1% 4.30 4.04 0.7
Connor Seabold 25 7.1 3.3 1.6 .298 67.4% 5.35 5.09 0.1
Garrett Whitlock 19 9.1 2.9 1.0 .303 72.5% 3.86 3.70 0.4
Kutter Crawford 8 9.2 3.5 1.3 .303 70.8% 4.55 4.31 0.1
Total 862 9.2 2.9 1.3 .302 71.0% 4.36 4.13 12.4

What a motley crew the Sox have assembled. They have Eovaldi at the top of the rotation after a mid-career breakthrough in both durability and effectiveness. Sale might be incredible – he usually is – but how many innings he’ll throw is an open question. He’s starting the season on the 60-day IL with a fractured rib. And those two are the safe options!

Can Pivetta and Houck pitch to their talent level, giving the Sox two innings-eating mid-rotation arms? Can Hill spin curveballs past batters yet again? Is Wacha better than the 5-ERA, 5-FIP pitcher he’s looked like for the past three years? Is Paxton’s elbow intact? I couldn’t tell you the answers to any of those questions, and I doubt Boston’s coaching staff could either.

I can talk myself into this group cobbling together a good performance in aggregate, particularly if Whitlock chips in a few starts when he’s not excelling in relief. But that assumes health and effectiveness from five of the seven pitchers I just named, and the reason that the Sox were able to acquire many of them is that either their health or effectiveness is in doubt. It could be another long season of early pitching changes in Boston, but if they spike some injury luck, it could also be an excellent year.

13. Marlins
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Sandy Alcantara 200 8.8 2.7 1.0 .291 72.6% 3.69 3.67 3.4
Pablo López 155 9.0 2.4 1.1 .295 72.9% 3.75 3.74 2.6
Trevor Rogers 146 10.2 3.2 1.1 .293 74.8% 3.58 3.62 2.6
Elieser Hernandez 128 9.1 2.7 1.7 .288 71.6% 4.64 4.67 0.9
Jesús Luzardo 107 9.0 3.7 1.4 .299 72.9% 4.42 4.51 0.8
Sixto Sánchez 63 7.9 2.5 1.0 .295 72.0% 3.81 3.81 1.1
Edward Cabrera 39 9.9 4.2 1.2 .294 73.2% 4.19 4.28 0.4
Max Meyer 17 8.1 3.8 1.1 .299 71.8% 4.28 4.31 0.2
Braxton Garrett 16 7.9 3.8 1.2 .298 72.0% 4.52 4.61 0.1
Total 871 9.1 3.0 1.2 .293 72.9% 3.97 3.99 12.1

Now that I think about it, maybe the Braves only have the fourth-best starter duo in the NL East! The Marlins have been downright excellent at developing starters the past few years, with López and Alcantara the best examples. They get to their results differently – López does it by mixing five solid pitches while Alcantara sports a nasty sinker/slider combination that he supplements with two other decent pitches. But you can’t argue with results, and well, look at those projections!

That doesn’t give Rogers enough credit – there’s a decent chance he’s the best pitcher in this group. And Luzardo might be one adjustment away from recapturing the form that made him one of the top prospects in baseball. Hernandez has the worst projection among the top five, but even then he just put together solid strikeout and walk numbers in the majors at age 26. The combination of youth and depth here is impressive, and allowed the Marlins to trade Zach Thompson as part of a package that fetched Jacob Stallings, a catcher who should elevate the young starters’ results with excellent blocking and receiving.

That doesn’t even consider Sánchez, who won’t return until the second half of the year but might have the best stuff in the organization, despite a fastball that plays down due to its shape. Or maybe Meyer boasts the best stuff – his fastball touches 100 mph and he overpowered Double-A hitters last year. Cabrera, another top 100 prospect, also throws hard and misses bats. The Marlins won’t be the best rotation in baseball this year, but they’ll almost certainly boast the most exciting young arms, because the entire depth chart fits that billing.

14. Angels
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Shohei Ohtani 156 10.6 3.3 1.1 .290 74.4% 3.70 3.74 3.0
Noah Syndergaard 161 8.0 2.4 1.3 .300 71.4% 4.29 4.17 2.8
Patrick Sandoval 143 9.7 3.7 1.3 .294 74.3% 4.06 4.19 2.1
José Suarez 133 8.1 3.5 1.4 .293 71.6% 4.58 4.69 1.3
Michael Lorenzen 123 8.0 3.8 1.2 .294 71.4% 4.46 4.52 1.3
Reid Detmers 94 9.8 3.5 1.5 .297 73.3% 4.40 4.44 1.1
Jaime Barría 42 6.6 2.6 1.9 .294 69.3% 5.39 5.41 0.1
Griffin Canning 17 9.4 3.4 1.5 .290 72.8% 4.48 4.55 0.2
Janson Junk 17 6.9 3.7 1.7 .297 69.4% 5.48 5.49 0.0
Cooper Criswell 9 6.7 2.5 1.6 .300 69.0% 5.07 5.01 0.0
Total 895 8.9 3.3 1.3 .295 72.4% 4.31 4.35 12.1

You know Ohtani as the best two-way player since Babe Ruth, but that’s selling him short. This year, we think he’ll be an MVP candidate hitter and his team’s best pitcher at the same time, which is just silly. I’m going to talk about the other Angels in a bit, but to some extent, who cares? Ohtani is amazing, and we’re all lucky to be watching him. He even has room to improve; we think he’ll still walk too many batters, but he ran a 3.6% walk rate in the second half last season. If he does that again, watch out – he might challenge for a Cy Young to add to his MVP trophy.

Right, other Angels! Syndergaard’s innings projection looks optimistic to me, but I’d take the under on a 4.29 ERA. Split the difference, and his overall projection makes sense. Sandoval has a dazzling array of pitches, though his command leaves something to be desired. Suarez and Lorenzen also struggle with control; this staff will give out a lot of free passes even if their top starters remain healthy all season.

With Ohtani in the fold, the Angels will use a six-man rotation a decent chunk of the time. That means opportunities for the bottom end of the roster, starting with Detmers, who was dominant in the minors and is easily the team’s top prospect. Even if he delivers more starts than we project, depth arms will have a lot to say about the Angels’ aggregate pitching line. Barría is available but uninspiring. Canning is recovering from a back injury but should perform well upon his return. Junk – well, he has a fabulous name, and I couldn’t avoid including him here.

15. Rays
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Shane McClanahan 148 10.0 3.1 1.2 .296 74.9% 3.75 3.81 2.2
Corey Kluber 142 8.7 2.9 1.3 .292 73.0% 4.09 4.18 1.7
Ryan Yarbrough 161 6.7 2.1 1.3 .289 70.0% 4.39 4.46 1.7
Drew Rasmussen 124 9.6 3.6 1.1 .290 73.5% 3.94 3.96 1.6
Shane Baz 88 10.3 3.0 1.2 .288 74.8% 3.65 3.70 1.7
Luis Patiño 88 9.5 3.7 1.4 .286 72.5% 4.36 4.45 0.9
Yonny Chirinos 79 7.6 2.4 1.3 .286 71.1% 4.20 4.26 0.9
Josh Fleming 53 6.2 2.5 1.2 .298 71.2% 4.34 4.47 0.4
Tommy Romero 8 8.8 3.2 1.5 .284 72.8% 4.35 4.49 0.1
Brendan McKay 8 9.9 3.2 1.3 .287 75.0% 3.85 3.97 0.1
Total 900 8.7 2.9 1.2 .290 72.7% 4.08 4.14 11.3

The Rays are pushing the boundaries of the three things they’re best at: developing pitchers, trading Chris Archer, and finding veterans on good deals who they can get valuable innings out of. Think Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton. This year, they have players in all those roles, but they’re all understudies: McClanahan is the homegrown piece, Baz is the third piece of the Archer return, and Kluber is the veteran with good stuff. I don’t love any of these pitchers individually, but I’m in general agreement with our projections: plenty of above-average lines without any transcendent performances.

That said, in typical Tampa fashion, I think the whole is more than the sum of the parts. There’s so much depth here that injuries are unlikely to crush them; they have a whole stable of guys who could give them 100 innings of a 4.30 ERA. If one of Baz, McClanahan, or Patiño breaks out – and all three have the talent to do so – that will vault the rotation into the top 10. Baz will have to do it in limited time, as he’s starting the season on the IL after surgery to remove loose bodies in his elbow, but his upside is sky-high, as you can see from his ERA projection.

Am I worried that they’ll need a lot of innings out of Kluber and Yarbrough? A little bit; there’s both injury and underperformance risk there. But I think they’d finesse their way through any shortfall with duct tape, openers, and Fleming. Eventually, the Rays won’t find a breakout pitcher, and the staff will look ordinary, but for the last 10 or so years, it’s been smart to bet on them making it work.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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jbgocubsmember
5 months ago

Ben can you make it so when i sort by FIP and other statistics it sorts to the best fips first instead of having to look at all the bad pitchers witha fip in the 6’s? Thanks!