2023 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Rotation (No. 1-15)

Kim Klement-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.

Welcome to the last installment of our positional power rankings (well, other than tomorrow’s summary post). We’ve saved the best for last, whether you’re looking for total projected WAR or stars named. The best pitchers in baseball are increasingly pitching together, leading to two- and even three-star team-ups that dot the top of our rankings. It’s still an overall squad ranking, though, which means the teams that emerge on top combine stars with depth that can chip in either to the back of the rotation or higher up if injuries demand it.

Oh, yeah: injuries play a big part in this year’s list. Whether it’s the Yankees and their strange mix of depth and uncertainty, the Rangers signing a trio of talented but oft-injured starters, or the Brewers hoping to get enough innings from the top end of their rotation to buy time to figure out the bottom, how the depth chart shakes out and how many innings the top starters pitch will determine who ends up getting the most out of their starters this year. It’s not even just injuries to stars; health matters for depth options too, as teams invariably find out when they’re calling James Shields in August to see if he’s available.

As I’ll get into in the rankings, teams are increasingly leaning into the four-good-starters-and-some-contingency-plans model of rotation building. That means that the contingency plans will matter a lot. Will Jhony Brito and Deivi García outpitch Tylor Megill and Joey Lucchesi? I have no idea, but that’s how thin the margins separating the best rotations in the game are. Some of the top dogs will inevitably get hurt. Some team, or even teams, will probably have the good fortune of making it through the year with their planned rotation intact, and if they’re one of the top six teams here, they’ll have a good shot at ending the year with the most starter WAR. The rest of the unlucky masses will have to rely on their depth or timely midseason trades.

2023 Positional Power Rankings – SP 1-15
1. Yankees
Gerrit Cole 199 11.3 2.2 1.1 .285 76.6% 3.15 3.02 4.6
Nestor Cortes 169 9.3 2.5 1.2 .280 74.6% 3.69 3.74 2.7
Carlos Rodón 158 11.6 2.5 1.0 .282 75.6% 3.10 2.90 4.1
Luis Severino 131 9.6 2.7 1.1 .280 73.6% 3.57 3.58 2.0
Domingo Germán 119 7.8 2.4 1.4 .283 70.8% 4.28 4.28 1.3
Clarke Schmidt 77 9.0 3.3 1.2 .293 72.2% 4.15 4.11 0.8
Frankie Montas 27 9.2 2.6 1.2 .291 73.4% 3.84 3.82 0.4
Jhony Brito 17 6.6 2.5 1.2 .290 70.7% 4.29 4.38 0.1
Deivi García 8 8.6 4.3 1.4 .283 69.6% 4.88 4.90 0.0
Matt Krook 9 8.8 4.6 0.9 .292 72.8% 4.06 4.17 0.1
Total 915 9.9 2.6 1.2 .284 74.1% 3.60 3.55 16.2

Look, I get it. This rotation feels like it’s held together by tattered threads. Montas might not even pitch this year. Rodón has a scary injury history. Severino has a scary injury history and is starting the season on the IL. Cole had his worst season since 2017 last year. This is the best rotation in baseball? Come on.

But it is, at least according to our projections. While it’s easy to think of problems in the Yankees rotation, the strengths are fairly obvious too. There’s a truly fearsome amount of top-end talent here. Cole, Rodón, and Severino are all capable of dominance. Cortes just turned in a gem of a season. Germán is vastly overqualified as a fifth starter. Poor Clarke Schmidt could probably crack the rotation of every other team in baseball.

Cole will lead the rotation, and while he’s not quite at his peak anymore, he’s still projected for the third-most WAR among starters. He simply does a ton of things well, and you can add durability to that list too: The last time he made fewer than 30 starts was 2016 (excluding 2020, of course). For a rotation with questions due to injury, a workhorse at the top is invaluable.

I think Rodón is better inning for inning than Severino, but they’re both excellent. Either would be just fine atop the rotation, but having them as second and third options goes a long way towards explaining why the Yankees rate so highly despite the injury concerns. The real injury problems only start if the Yankees lose another few starters, and even then, I don’t hate García and Brito as stopgap options. You may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like.

2. Mets
Max Scherzer 186 10.8 1.9 1.2 .283 76.3% 3.19 3.17 4.3
Justin Verlander 179 9.9 1.8 1.2 .268 77.2% 3.10 3.31 4.0
Carlos Carrasco 146 8.5 2.6 1.3 .302 72.8% 4.14 4.06 1.4
Kodai Senga 166 9.6 3.0 1.0 .278 72.8% 3.60 3.57 2.7
David Peterson 82 9.8 3.6 1.0 .294 74.0% 3.71 3.75 1.1
José Quintana 76 8.3 3.0 1.0 .302 72.9% 3.92 3.83 1.0
Tylor Megill 50 9.9 2.6 1.2 .292 73.8% 3.72 3.61 0.8
Joey Lucchesi 26 8.3 3.0 1.2 .288 72.5% 4.05 4.06 0.3
Dylan Bundy 8 6.8 2.4 1.4 .284 69.4% 4.60 4.60 0.0
Total 919 9.6 2.5 1.1 .286 74.3% 3.57 3.58 15.5

The Mets lost most of last year’s rotation, but Uncle Steve simply reloaded. Scherzer was excellent last year, and while time will catch up to him sometime, thus far the only decline he’s experienced has been health related. His kitchen-sink pitch mix obscures the fact that he’s a four-seam/slider type; those two pitches are his best offerings by far, with the rest of his options merely feasting on batters who are forced to sell out to hit those two.

They don’t make them like Scherzer anymore – except for Verlander. He’s two years older and only a few years removed from major surgery, but he just posted a 1.75 ERA in Houston. He’s also fastball/slider, though unlike Scherzer, he mostly doesn’t bother with a bevy of other pitches. Both carry age-related health concerns, but until proven otherwise, they’re top 10 pitchers in baseball in my eyes (and also those of our projections).

Behind those two, the rotation is a mystery box. Senga was dominant in Japan, and his fastball/splitter combination has looked sharp in limited spring playing time. How that translates to the regular season remains to be seen, but a mid-3.00s ERA would suit the Mets quite nicely. Carrasco did just fine as a bulk starter last year and will likely reprise that role this year, but projections differ wildly and there’s always an injury risk there.

That leaves the fifth starter spot, which the team signed Quintana to cover. He’s out until at least July after surgery to remove a benign lesion that was revealed when he broke a rib, which means Peterson and Megill are the next men up. They might also be needed in the bullpen after Edwin Díaz’s injury, which could open the door for Lucchesi to get some run as well. Thankfully for the Mets, all three of those guys are acceptable fifth starters, so while the Quintana injury certainly isn’t ideal, it was the pitching injury they could most afford out of their top five.

3. Rangers
Martín Pérez 181 7.5 3.1 1.0 .298 71.7% 4.14 4.12 1.8
Jon Gray 172 9.1 2.9 1.1 .291 71.3% 3.95 3.78 2.5
Jacob deGrom 163 12.3 1.8 0.9 .285 77.7% 2.63 2.34 5.3
Nathan Eovaldi 152 8.4 2.0 1.2 .297 72.4% 3.87 3.72 2.5
Andrew Heaney 133 10.7 2.5 1.3 .292 72.8% 3.85 3.62 2.3
Dane Dunning 35 8.3 3.1 1.1 .303 70.4% 4.32 4.13 0.3
Jake Odorizzi 24 8.0 2.9 1.4 .291 71.5% 4.50 4.46 0.2
Cole Ragans 24 8.0 3.4 1.2 .290 71.6% 4.29 4.29 0.3
Glenn Otto 17 8.1 3.5 1.3 .292 69.1% 4.65 4.45 0.1
Total 902 9.4 2.6 1.1 .294 72.6% 3.77 3.61 15.3

The Rangers retained Pérez via the qualifying offer early in the offseason and that was only the beginning. They followed that up by getting spendy. deGrom has been the best pitcher of our generation when healthy, and Heaney and Eovaldi are no slouches. Just like that, a rotation that finished 26th in WAR last year is projected to be third-best this year.

As you might imagine, that improvement is heavily driven by the new guys they brought in. We’re only projecting 163 innings for deGrom, and yet we think he’ll lead baseball in pitching WAR. Since his ascension to otherworldly heights in 2018, he’s been almost comically good. He has a 52 ERA- (100 is average) to go with a 51 FIP-. Last year, he struck out 43% of opposing batters while walking only 3%. These aren’t even video game numbers; it’s hard to be that good at a video game.

The other two newcomers have similar playing time questions to deGrom, but with worse performance (like every pitcher in baseball). We’re projecting each to deliver above-average rate statistics in a less-than-full season, in keeping with both Heaney’s and Eovaldi’s recent form. If they deliver on that projection, it’ll be a massive upgrade for Texas. Last year, they got great work from Pérez and solid results from Gray – and the rest of the starters they used combined for 0.2 WAR. This was a staff that suffered greatly from depth issues, but the guys who slotted into the third through fifth slots in their rotation are now all depth pieces.

Those depth pieces will surely get called on. Dunning, Ragans, and Otto all seem fine in that role, particularly if they’re called on one at a time rather than all at once (Otto is hurt at the moment, though). Just in case that wasn’t enough, the team also traded for Odorizzi, who is himself returning from injury at the moment. I think their plan of having enough pitching to survive through injuries will work, but there will undoubtedly be some bumps in the road as the Rangers attempt to go from a poor rotation to the best one in the game.

4. Brewers
Corbin Burnes 196 11.0 2.4 0.9 .290 75.0% 3.07 2.90 5.2
Brandon Woodruff 169 10.4 2.4 1.0 .286 75.6% 3.22 3.19 3.8
Eric Lauer 154 8.7 3.2 1.4 .286 74.0% 4.16 4.34 1.4
Freddy Peralta 132 10.4 3.4 1.2 .279 73.0% 3.83 3.78 2.3
Wade Miley 119 6.3 3.2 1.1 .295 72.3% 4.21 4.41 1.2
Adrian Houser 75 6.6 3.8 1.0 .290 70.8% 4.41 4.56 0.6
Aaron Ashby 25 10.5 3.8 0.9 .299 74.5% 3.54 3.51 0.4
Jason Alexander 19 6.3 3.1 1.2 .300 69.9% 4.66 4.68 0.1
Bryse Wilson 9 6.9 2.3 1.4 .290 70.8% 4.41 4.42 0.1
Total 897 9.3 3.0 1.1 .288 73.6% 3.72 3.74 15.2

Once again, the Brewers have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, highlighted by Burnes and Woodruff. Burnes has taken the clear lead between the two in the past few years, adding durability and length to his prodigious stuff. With his arsenal, he’s always going to generate plenty of strikeouts, so it’s mostly about limiting walks and staying healthy. Our projections place him as the second-best pitcher in baseball, behind only deGrom, and that feels about right given his continued ability to shore up weak points in his game.

Woodruff is no slouch himself. He posted a career-high swinging strike rate in 2022, and did so without sacrificing his solid command of the strike zone. In a reversal of narrative, he’s the one I’m more worried about from an innings standpoint; he’s been intermittently banged up in recent years despite no major setbacks. When he’s on the mound, he won’t be far off of Burnes’ elite level. The only question I (and our Depth Charts) have is how often he’ll go.

Behind those two aces, there are a lot of exciting options but no slam dunks. Peralta alternates between being electric and being unavailable. Pitchers who start off on that path often end up being neither when injuries erode their athleticism. A healthy Peralta season would go a long way towards the Brewers making the playoffs and also towards changing his career trajectory for the better. Lauer also has innings concerns, though it’s more because he doesn’t last long into games. He was a five-and-dive guy last year and that might just be who he is at this point, a nice back-of-the-rotation arm who requires a bit of extra bullpen work behind him.

Past that, we get into dart throws and prospects. Miley didn’t pitch much last year and signed a prove-it deal to start the season as Milwaukee’s fifth starter. He’s somewhere between washed and cromulent, and I think the Brewers are one of the teams in baseball best suited to getting the most out of his cutter-based pitch mix. Houser might get one last shot to prove he can start and Ashby will pinball between the rotation and bullpen, though both are dealing with injuries already. Mainly, the Brewers will hope that the electric top of their rotation stays healthy all year.

5. Phillies
Aaron Nola 202 9.9 1.8 1.1 .291 71.7% 3.51 3.19 4.6
Zack Wheeler 190 9.1 2.2 0.9 .295 73.1% 3.41 3.24 4.3
Taijuan Walker 160 7.4 2.8 1.3 .290 70.5% 4.44 4.43 1.6
Ranger Suárez 153 7.6 3.2 0.9 .295 73.5% 3.72 3.88 2.2
Bailey Falter 102 8.3 2.2 1.5 .289 71.9% 4.25 4.22 1.2
Andrew Painter 32 8.5 3.0 1.4 .290 71.6% 4.41 4.37 0.3
Michael Plassmeyer 35 7.5 2.8 1.4 .290 70.5% 4.59 4.63 0.2
Matt Strahm 17 9.3 2.5 1.4 .294 72.5% 4.14 4.06 0.2
Griff McGarry 16 9.7 5.1 1.2 .291 72.1% 4.58 4.61 0.1
Cristopher Sánchez 8 8.2 3.9 1.0 .298 71.9% 4.17 4.18 0.1
Mick Abel 8 8.0 4.3 1.4 .290 69.7% 5.01 5.02 0.0
Total 923 8.6 2.5 1.1 .292 72.1% 3.89 3.80 14.9

There aren’t many teams in baseball where Wheeler would play second fiddle. Since joining the Phillies in free agency, he’s harnessed his always-prodigious talent and turned into a rare combination of innings-eater and dominant pitcher. A bout with forearm tendinitis late last year is certainly scary, but he’s a pitcher, which means there’s pretty much no way to avoid arm injury concerns. For roughly 26 teams, Wheeler would be the unquestioned ace.

The Phillies aren’t one of those teams because Nola is even better. He’s always been extremely durable, and he honed his already-formidable command to an impressive peak last year, walking almost no one without sacrificing any of his gaudy strikeout rate. That led to fewer baserunners and deeper starts, and in turn a career-best year. He’ll have his work cut out for him outdoing Wheeler, and Phillies opponents will have their work cut out for them scoring against this impressive top two.

That framing undersells Suárez, who feels roughly one adjustment away from stardom. He hasn’t figured out a breaking ball yet, but his sinker/changeup combination already gives batters fits. Add something sweeping that misses bats to that mix, or even cut down on walks somewhat, and he’ll ascend from complementary piece to co-star. He’ll also need to stay healthy; he tweaked his elbow this spring and won’t be ready for Opening Day. Walker is probably a cut below that, but he’s a reliable innings-eater, the kind of pitcher every team would love to plug into the middle of their rotation.

That leaves Falter and a variety of speculative options to fill out the rest of the rotation. There’s not a lot of injury protection here, particularly after Painter’s injury. He tore through the minors last year and looked ready to make a difference immediately, but that timeline went out the window; anything he contributes at the major league level this year is just a bonus now. If the sixth and seventh starters are pressed into extended service, Philadelphia’s rotation could go from dreamy to nightmarish in short order. That’s not enough to make me downgrade my estimation of how good they can be if things go right, but in the rarefied air of the best rotations in baseball, that lack of depth is enough to put them behind teams with equally delightful stars and slightly better backup plans.

6. Braves
Max Fried 186 8.2 2.1 0.9 .300 74.8% 3.31 3.35 3.5
Kyle Wright 172 8.5 2.9 1.0 .299 72.5% 3.88 3.86 2.1
Charlie Morton 164 9.9 3.0 1.0 .295 72.8% 3.74 3.67 2.5
Spencer Strider 151 12.2 3.2 1.0 .292 76.7% 3.13 3.00 3.5
Jared Shuster 104 7.5 2.9 1.3 .295 72.3% 4.36 4.37 0.8
Michael Soroka 64 7.1 2.5 1.1 .300 72.7% 3.97 4.06 0.7
Dylan Dodd 34 7.0 2.7 1.4 .293 72.0% 4.39 4.52 0.2
Ian Anderson 34 8.5 3.8 1.1 .298 73.1% 4.13 4.14 0.3
Bryce Elder 9 8.1 3.2 1.0 .299 72.7% 3.93 3.96 0.1
Total 919 9.0 2.8 1.0 .297 73.6% 3.71 3.69 13.8

Like their division rivals in New York, the Braves go four deep with excellent pitchers. But as I learned on Sesame Street, four is less than five, ah ha ha. Now, you can make that work, and if you’re going to, it probably looks something like the situation Atlanta has. Strider is projected for the fourth-most innings, but tied for the most WAR, because did you see him last year? He’s a deGrom starter kit, which is the highest compliment you can pay a young pitcher. I’m sure the Braves are worried about his durability, which seems wise given his career so far, but if he’s healthy, his stuff is too good to be denied.

Fried, the team’s nominal ace, doesn’t post the kind of alien strikeout numbers that Strider does, but he’s the epitome of a reliable top starter. He hardly walks anyone, keeps the ball on the ground, and gets his fair share of K’s anyway. That kind of overall excellence led to a five-win season last year, and I’d take the over on his projection here.

Morton and Wright are solid third/fourth options, but each has red flags. Wright hasn’t posted an above-replacement season before last year and Morton looked cooked down the stretch en route to his worst season since 2016 – but they each have workhorse upside. That’s roughly what these projections imply; if they pitch mostly full seasons (Wright is dealing with a shoulder issue that isn’t expected to sideline him for long), we think they’ll be slightly above average. Sounds right to me!

That leaves the fifth starter slot up for grabs to start the year, and there’s a ton of variance here. We’re projecting Shuster for the most innings, with Dodd not far behind. They’re Atlanta’s top two pitching prospects, and the Braves haven’t been shy about letting their best minor leaguers sink or swim in the majors. If they don’t work out, there’s always Anderson, though he’s been trending straight down since an impressive debut in 2020. There’s even whatever remains of Soroka. He looked like he might be the next Fried before missing most of 2020 and all of ‘21 and ‘22 with a litany of injuries. He’s been awesome when healthy, but uh… read the previous sentence. Probably something will work out here, but it might take throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall to figure out the right configuration, particularly if one of the top four misses time.

7. Padres
Yu Darvish 181 9.2 2.1 1.3 .277 71.3% 3.85 3.80 2.7
Blake Snell 157 11.2 3.5 1.0 .290 74.9% 3.50 3.35 3.3
Joe Musgrove 174 8.8 2.2 1.1 .281 74.0% 3.45 3.63 3.1
Michael Wacha 148 7.7 2.6 1.4 .283 72.2% 4.30 4.44 1.4
Nick Martinez 111 8.2 3.3 1.1 .284 72.2% 3.98 4.02 1.4
Seth Lugo 77 9.1 3.0 1.1 .287 72.8% 3.87 3.90 1.0
Jay Groome 44 7.6 3.8 1.2 .281 72.0% 4.27 4.54 0.3
Adrian Morejon 15 9.2 3.0 1.2 .286 72.9% 3.88 3.92 0.2
Cole Hamels 18 7.2 3.8 1.4 .292 72.3% 4.66 4.91 0.1
Julio Teheran 9 7.3 4.1 1.5 .276 70.5% 4.97 5.27 -0.0
Total 935 9.0 2.8 1.2 .283 72.9% 3.85 3.90 13.6

Darvish, Snell, and Musgrove make for a spectacular and spectacularly varied top three. Darvish didn’t miss as many bats as usual last year, but he made up for it by walking almost no one and getting a bit lucky on the BABIP side. As he heads into his age-36 season, he might need to revamp his pitch mix to keep posting his customary results, but good news: There might not be another pitcher in baseball with more room to adjust his pitch mix.

By contrast, Snell goes to a fastball or slider more than 80% of the time, only occasionally mixing in a big curve. He was up to his normal Snell tricks in 2022, throwing enough waste pitches that he walked too many batters and didn’t go particularly deep into his starts, but he also struck out the world and limited opposing contact quality. This is his last year before free agency, so I’m expecting him to push to go deeper into games and establish himself as a solid number two starter. Will that mean a more direct approach or simply higher pitch counts? I’m excited to find out.

Musgrove, meanwhile, was his usual steady self, and posted a career-best ERA while he was at it. He continued to emphasize the cutter he’s used more often in San Diego and it paid dividends, producing a ton of weak fly balls and giving him a handy platoon-neutralizing weapon. Like Darvish and Snell, he’s probably just short of being an ace, but an excellent second or third starter. He’ll start the season on the IL with a broken toe, but should be back mid-April.

That leaves Wacha, Martinez, and Lugo to handle the last two spots in the rotation, and possibly help out in the bullpen as well. Those three are another study in contrasts: Wacha is the steadiest, Lugo has the highest highs, and Martinez is somewhere in between. You’ll be hearing this a lot, but the Padres look well set up to handle the extended absence of a single starter from their rotation. If two go down, things start to get dicier. Models love Morejon, but he’s struggled with injuries for so long that I wouldn’t want to count on him, and what do you know, he’s dealing with elbow inflammation right now. Hamels is 39 and hasn’t pitched in years. Groome fits into that general fifth starter mold, and if he delivers on the promise he showed after coming over in the Eric Hosmer trade last year, the Padres might have a bit more cushion. If he instead looks like he did for most of his Red Sox tenure, well, better hope the top guys stay healthy.

8. Rays
Shane McClanahan 181 10.4 2.4 1.0 .286 76.5% 3.06 3.05 3.8
Drew Rasmussen 160 8.2 2.5 1.0 .287 72.9% 3.67 3.70 2.3
Jeffrey Springs 144 9.5 2.6 1.2 .289 75.7% 3.58 3.69 2.1
Zach Eflin 144 7.7 2.0 1.1 .291 72.6% 3.78 3.80 1.8
Tyler Glasnow 138 11.5 3.0 1.1 .281 76.3% 3.25 3.20 2.6
Josh Fleming 51 6.1 2.5 1.0 .300 70.4% 4.22 4.18 0.4
Yonny Chirinos 37 7.1 2.4 1.2 .282 71.7% 4.00 4.14 0.3
Luis Patiño 22 8.1 3.4 1.3 .281 71.7% 4.34 4.44 0.1
Taj Bradley 8 7.6 2.9 1.3 .282 71.4% 4.25 4.34 0.0
Michael Mercado 8 7.4 3.4 1.4 .285 70.4% 4.70 4.79 0.0
Total 895 9.1 2.5 1.1 .287 74.2% 3.56 3.58 13.3

Can I just post a shrug emoji? I don’t know, man. Eflin is throwing the nastiest curveball of his career this spring. Springs seems like he should be on the fringes of the majors, but he’s been great and just signed an extension. McClanahan went from untested to unhittable to out of gas in short order. Glasnow hasn’t even started throwing yet. Rasmussen gives me reliever-ish vibes. So of course, this is probably the best staff in baseball.

One thing that the Rays unquestionably has going for them is reinforcements. Patiño has dynamic stuff. Bradley has dynamic stuff and knows where the ball is going. Chirinos has been solid for Tampa Bay in the past. Fleming is crafty, which I’m obligated to mention since he’s left-handed, and will get the first crack at the fifth starter spot.

One big advantage here, and also part of the difficulty in projecting them, is that the Rays have a flexible concept of the starter role. They seem better than everyone else in the game at putting their pitchers in the best spot to succeed, whether that’s throwing three innings or six. I trust them to make the most out of this rotation, and it’s a good thing, because to me it looks like 2,000 pieces worth of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle strewn across the floor.

9. Dodgers
Julio Urías 190 8.7 2.2 1.2 .281 74.1% 3.62 3.73 3.4
Clayton Kershaw 166 9.5 1.9 1.2 .292 76.1% 3.40 3.45 3.2
Noah Syndergaard 158 6.9 2.2 1.3 .297 71.1% 4.27 4.19 1.8
Tony Gonsolin 133 8.6 3.0 1.2 .282 73.1% 3.98 4.10 1.5
Dustin May 108 9.7 2.8 1.0 .290 73.1% 3.61 3.62 1.9
Ryan Pepiot 50 9.5 4.1 1.4 .285 73.0% 4.42 4.59 0.4
Michael Grove 32 8.5 3.5 1.5 .297 72.1% 4.62 4.59 0.2
Gavin Stone 33 8.9 3.0 1.1 .295 72.7% 3.94 3.85 0.5
Bobby Miller 17 8.0 2.8 1.1 .289 70.9% 4.07 4.06 0.2
Total 887 8.7 2.5 1.2 .289 73.3% 3.85 3.89 13.0

Tampa Bay West isn’t exactly right, but it’s not far off. The Dodgers start their rotation strong, with Urías and Kershaw projected on the border between number one and number two starter. I think they’ll each outperform their rate projections, though I’m less confident in playing time. Urías isn’t much of a strikeout artist, but his amorphous, slurvy sweepy breaking ball absolutely torments hitters even when they make contact. Kershaw is – well, he’s Kershaw, and he doesn’t look done yet, though you can pencil him in for a scary back injury at least once a year.

Past that, there’s a lot of “oh yeah this could work” going on here. Syndergaard is everyone’s favorite reclamation project, but he fell out of Philadelphia’s playoff rotation last year, which wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Gonsolin had a career year last year, but a lot of it was his .207 BABIP, which we obviously don’t think he’ll repeat. He also gave up shockingly few home runs given that he doesn’t strike guys out or get grounders. May… okay, May is awesome, the only question is how many innings he’ll pitch. This trio could turn into the best no. 3-5 starters in baseball or it could implode with underperformance and injury – Gonsolin is already dealing with an ankle injury.

The replacements are pretty awesome, though, so I’m not too worried about the Dodgers rotation on the whole. Miller and Stone are Top 100 prospects, Pepiot isn’t far behind, and Grove made the bigs last year and touched 98 mph with his fastball, which we don’t even think is one of his two best pitches. The top five in this rotation might miss a lot of time, but the next line of defense is fearsome, to say the least.

10. Angels
Tyler Anderson 184 7.2 2.2 1.5 .289 72.0% 4.32 4.42 1.9
Shohei Ohtani 171 11.2 2.6 1.0 .288 76.7% 3.10 3.07 4.3
Patrick Sandoval 163 9.1 3.5 1.0 .298 74.8% 3.66 3.75 2.7
Reid Detmers 136 9.4 3.2 1.3 .288 72.1% 4.17 4.13 1.8
José Suarez 141 8.1 3.1 1.2 .292 71.4% 4.26 4.25 1.5
Tucker Davidson 51 8.1 3.8 1.3 .298 71.7% 4.52 4.54 0.3
Griffin Canning 34 8.9 3.4 1.3 .291 72.5% 4.30 4.36 0.3
Chase Silseth 17 9.1 3.3 1.2 .294 72.7% 4.06 4.03 0.2
Davis Daniel 9 6.8 2.9 1.5 .289 70.0% 4.83 4.90 0.0
Total 905 8.9 3.0 1.2 .292 73.2% 3.95 3.98 13.0

Even I, the biggest Anderson fan in the world, had to chuckle a little bit at the order of these rankings. They’re innings-based, but Ohtani is clearly the ace here, and what can I say? He’s the best player on the planet and just bent space and time with a slider that won the WBC for Japan and banished Mike Trout to the shadow realm. After that, the plan is to throw a bunch of lefties and presumably profit. Each of the Angels’ five next-best starters are lefties, though they bring different skills to the table.

Anderson’s best skills are that he doesn’t walk anyone and doesn’t let lefties put the ball in the air. Sandoval boasts more strikeouts and more walks, though he too does a good job keeping the ball on the ground when he’s not missing bats with his slider. Detmers is all fly balls all the way, though his four-seamer is worryingly hittable for a guy with that profile. Suarez looks a lot like a Detmers starter kit, though I’m optimistic that he leveled up his command last year.

The Angels will probably flirt with a six-man rotation to keep Ohtani rested, which should give Davidson a few cracks at starting. I’d prefer Canning in that role, but he’s starting the year in Triple-A, which shows you what the Halos are thinking. This might be the best rotation of the Ohtani era in Anaheim, but it’s still quite thin, and a lot is resting on the top five pitchers staying healthy all year. But Ohtani! He’s amazing! I just can’t stop saying it!

11. Blue Jays
Alek Manoah 199 8.8 2.6 1.1 .271 71.8% 3.75 3.94 2.9
Kevin Gausman 179 10.0 1.9 1.2 .298 74.1% 3.57 3.32 3.7
José Berríos 176 8.2 2.3 1.4 .290 70.5% 4.27 4.20 1.9
Chris Bassitt 182 8.1 2.4 1.1 .284 72.0% 3.82 3.91 2.5
Yusei Kikuchi 107 9.2 3.7 1.3 .293 73.8% 4.19 4.33 0.9
Mitch White 25 7.7 2.9 1.2 .294 69.9% 4.36 4.15 0.3
Nate Pearson 23 10.1 3.9 1.3 .283 73.4% 4.13 4.22 0.2
Ricky Tiedemann 16 9.0 3.7 1.2 .287 72.0% 4.17 4.24 0.2
Yosver Zulueta 8 8.4 4.0 1.4 .286 68.9% 4.81 4.88 0.0
Hyun Jin Ryu 9 7.4 1.8 1.2 .293 73.8% 3.79 3.90 0.1
Total 924 8.8 2.6 1.2 .286 72.2% 3.92 3.94 12.7

As we see yet another rotation with four solid options and a number of maybes, it’s worth considering why teams build this way. You only need four starters in a playoff rotation, so fifth starter is a convenient place to give a bunch of interesting prospects and reclamation projects a shot. It’s not particularly injury-sound, but hey, nothing is certain in baseball.

Those first four in Toronto are mostly solid, though there’s room for doubt. Not about Manoah – we project him to regress meaningfully this season and still be plenty valuable thanks to his durability. Not about Gausman, either. I don’t think he’s as good as his FIP last year, but I do think he’s as good as his mid-3.00’s ERA would indicate, and that’s a valuable starter, like Manoah right on the one/two borderline.

No, the doubts are about Berríos, who pitched his way out of the playoff rotation last year, and Bassitt. Berríos took a huge step back last year, striking out a career-low 19.8% of batters and giving up a ton of contact in the air despite featuring a sinker. The skill is there – he was great as recently as 2021 – but track record matters, and I’m sure the Jays are petrified that 2022 represents his new normal. Bassitt was solid last year, and I think he’ll be solid again, but as one of the slowest workers in the game, he might be affected more than most by the pitch clock. It’s a small concern, and most likely Bassitt will adjust smoothly enough, but I think it’s still worth noting.

After that top four, the Jays have a mixture of prospects, former prospects, and rehabbing vets. Tiedemann is a top 25 prospect and worth watching as he starts his second year in the minors. White is a solid swingman type when healthy, though he’ll start the season on the IL. Truly, though, the Jays are hoping Ryu returns in the second half and is close enough to his former level to replace one of the current top four. Our projections are skeptical on the innings pitched front, but still believe in the talent.

12. Giants
Logan Webb 195 8.1 2.4 0.8 .305 72.2% 3.55 3.37 3.4
Alex Cobb 161 8.7 2.8 0.7 .311 72.9% 3.53 3.27 3.0
Sean Manaea 154 8.7 2.6 1.2 .307 72.1% 4.11 3.86 1.9
Ross Stripling 124 7.7 2.2 1.2 .297 72.5% 4.06 4.01 1.4
Anthony DeSclafani 103 7.5 2.4 1.2 .297 72.3% 4.16 4.13 0.8
Alex Wood 86 9.0 2.2 0.9 .302 71.3% 3.66 3.44 1.4
Kyle Harrison 40 9.7 4.2 1.0 .297 72.6% 4.09 4.09 0.4
Jakob Junis 17 8.2 2.3 1.2 .305 71.7% 4.13 3.93 0.2
Sean Hjelle 9 6.8 3.2 0.9 .308 70.5% 4.27 4.15 0.1
Total 889 8.3 2.5 1.0 .304 72.3% 3.84 3.67 12.5

One silver lining to San Francisco’s disappointing 2022? They got a lot out of their starting rotation, even excluding the departed Carlos Rodón. Webb continued to diversify his pitch mix and if he can recapture his strikeout form from 2021, he might challenge for a Cy Young. Cobb was great and you probably missed it; he’s getting more grounders than ever, and his splitter might be the best it’s ever been. Wood had disastrous strand luck and put up a gross ERA, but looked mostly unchanged under the hood (his innings numbers are low here because we’re projecting him for a large bullpen role too).

Those three are joined by two offseason pickups and a veteran returning from injury. Manaea had a year to forget last year, but the Giants seem well-suited to getting him back to his grounders-and-command ways. Stripling, on the other hand, had a career year, and I’m optimistic that his expansive pitch mix will mesh with San Francisco’s intensive game planning and keep him one step ahead of the regression monster. DeSclafani was excellent in 2021 and then missed most of last year with injury; he’s another guy whose projections we’ve split between starting and relieving, partially due to overcrowding and partially to protect his arm.

And that already-crowded rotation could get even more snug depending on Harrison’s progression. He’s the team’s top prospect and laid waste to the minors with a low-slot fastball that ate hitters alive. If he picks up where he left off last year, someone’s feelings will have to get hurt because he’ll force his way into the big league rotation.

In sum, the Giants are built ruggedly, with room for injuries and underperformance. That’s smart given the injury history of their favored starters, but it also reflects their spot in the standings. Yeah, it’s nice to have a four-starter playoff rotation set, but you have to get to the playoffs first, and this group should do a good job of giving nothing away. You might put up a lot of runs on the Giants, but it won’t be because they couldn’t put a starting pitcher they trust on the mound. They’ll have one of those pretty much every day.

13. Red Sox
Corey Kluber 148 7.7 2.2 1.3 .309 69.1% 4.65 4.26 1.7
Nick Pivetta 152 8.7 3.5 1.4 .299 70.5% 4.65 4.40 1.3
Chris Sale 140 10.8 2.6 1.1 .306 72.8% 3.70 3.38 2.6
James Paxton 121 9.4 3.2 1.3 .302 72.9% 4.17 3.99 1.5
Garrett Whitlock 132 9.0 2.3 1.0 .299 72.2% 3.70 3.46 2.6
Brayan Bello 103 9.0 3.4 0.9 .313 72.0% 3.93 3.60 1.6
Tanner Houck 52 9.6 3.3 1.0 .303 71.7% 3.94 3.77 0.7
Kutter Crawford 26 8.9 3.0 1.4 .303 70.8% 4.50 4.22 0.3
Bryan Mata 8 9.0 4.2 1.1 .304 70.8% 4.46 4.30 0.1
Brandon Walter 9 8.2 2.5 1.1 .305 71.1% 4.07 3.89 0.1
Total 891 9.1 2.9 1.2 .304 71.4% 4.16 3.88 12.4

Huh? Wha? I like our projections and all, but this one seems optimistic to me. Kluber and Pivetta look like solid number three starters, but their presence at the top of this list should alarm you. Getting 140 innings from Sale? He only threw 195 total from 2019 to 2022. The innings he does throw should be solid – he’s Chris Sale, still – but 140 sounds like a big ask at this point in his career. The same goes for Paxton’s 121 IP – he’s made six starts in the past three years. With him, I’m also concerned about how his stuff will look, given that he’ll be 34 and only recently started throwing off a mound again. A return to form would be a pleasant surprise, with the emphasis on “surprise.”

The good news for Beantowners is that an exciting youth movement is brewing below Paxton on this depth chart. Whitlock has been nails as a reliever and acceptable as a starter, and the team wants him in the rotation if possible, though he’ll miss the start of the season as he rehabs from hip surgery. Bello lit the minors aflame before putting in solid work in his debut last year, and we think his stuff will lead to more strikeouts (and yes, lots of walks) this year. I think he’ll comfortably eclipse this innings total as an obvious replacement for the various injured Sox. That’s assuming he can stay healthy himself – he won’t debut until mid-April thanks to elbow soreness. Houck is ticketed for a bullpen role, but he can start in a pinch. Boston’s young hurlers might be able to rescue the rickety rotation.

Consider me unconvinced, though. There’s too much bust and injury risk here for my liking. I’m not saying it can’t work out well. I just think that a prudent weighing of variables says that the Sox are running a large risk of ruin. Every team is two lost starters away from disaster, but the Sox seem more likely to run afoul of that problem than anyone else in this area of the list.

14. Astros
Framber Valdez 195 8.4 3.1 0.7 .296 74.4% 3.25 3.44 3.4
Cristian Javier 166 11.1 3.7 1.4 .268 75.2% 3.87 4.03 2.2
Luis Garcia 156 8.9 2.8 1.3 .285 72.6% 4.10 4.07 1.8
José Urquidy 155 7.7 2.1 1.5 .281 71.7% 4.32 4.39 1.3
Lance McCullers Jr. 129 9.2 3.7 0.9 .291 74.1% 3.62 3.74 1.8
Hunter Brown 67 10.0 3.8 0.9 .295 73.9% 3.61 3.57 1.1
Forrest Whitley 24 8.6 4.7 1.5 .295 70.4% 5.01 4.99 0.0
Shawn Dubin 16 10.0 4.1 1.2 .292 73.0% 4.13 4.15 0.2
Brandon Bielak 19 7.9 3.8 1.1 .293 72.1% 4.28 4.35 0.1
Ronel Blanco 9 9.6 3.9 1.3 .291 73.7% 4.14 4.23 0.1
Total 935 9.1 3.2 1.1 .286 73.5% 3.85 3.94 12.0

Valdez has toiled in the shadow of various Houston teammates, but he’s the well-deserved headliner this year. His groundball rate looks unbelievable, but he does it consistently, and he did it for 200 innings last year, quieting durability concerns. He throws the best sinker in baseball and perhaps the best curveball in baseball, but little else. It works. There’s not much more to say.

The four pitchers behind him, on the other hand, are fascinating for different reasons. Javier is the anti-Valdez, all four-seamers and sliders. He’ll give up his fair share of home runs, but his fastball will also leave batters muttering and pacing; just look at that strikeout projection. Garcia’s best pitch is a cutter that alternately misses bats and generates pop ups, but he throws a menagerie’s worth of pitches to complement it. Urquidy’s thing is fly ball contact and command. McCullers has that nasty curveball you’ve all seen GIFs of, but throws his slider even more often, and fastballs only when necessary. He’s going to walk a ton of batters, but make a ton look foolish as well — when he’s able to pitch, that is.

The Astros won’t suffer much letdown if one of those five gets hurt, because Brown already looks big league ready. The depth gets sketchier behind that, but Whitley still has some prospect shine to him, Dubin looks like a nice multi-inning relief guy who could start in a pinch, and Bielak is a prototypical innings sponge who would be miscast in the middle of a rotation but looks just fine at the bottom. I really like the look of this staff; it combines certainty with upside in a way that should serve the Astros well throughout the year while they find their best playoff rotation.

15. White Sox
Dylan Cease 187 11.0 3.6 1.1 .283 75.6% 3.58 3.62 3.4
Lance Lynn 180 8.9 2.2 1.3 .292 72.7% 3.91 3.86 2.7
Lucas Giolito 178 9.5 2.9 1.3 .287 72.1% 4.05 3.90 2.4
Mike Clevinger 143 8.0 2.9 1.5 .286 70.8% 4.58 4.59 1.2
Michael Kopech 133 9.1 3.7 1.4 .282 72.1% 4.42 4.42 1.3
Davis Martin 42 7.9 3.0 1.4 .291 70.1% 4.59 4.51 0.4
Sean Burke 16 8.7 3.9 1.3 .289 71.7% 4.52 4.56 0.1
Jimmy Lambert 8 8.8 4.0 1.5 .288 71.8% 4.73 4.79 0.0
Jonathan Stiever 9 7.9 2.9 1.6 .288 70.9% 4.71 4.74 0.0
Total 895 9.3 3.1 1.3 .287 72.6% 4.11 4.08 11.7

Last year’s White Sox squad didn’t have a lot of contingency options at the bottom of the rotation, and it cost them. This year’s White Sox squad… well, they don’t have a lot of contingency plans at the bottom of the rotation, and it might cost them. The top of the rotation is solid enough, at least if Giolito bounces back to being an above-average starter. Cease broke out last year by leaning on his lethal slider, and while he’s a good bet to rack up an uncomfortable number of walks, he strikes out so many batters that the balance works out in his favor.

Behind him, Lynn is as solid as ever, at least if the World Baseball Classic was any indication. He’ll mix up his fastballs, throw deep into games, and hope that’s enough to take home the win. He missed time with a knee injury last year, which always makes me nervous, but he appears to be fully back so far this spring. Giolito, on the other hand, made 30 starts last year but simply regressed. He’s always been homer-prone thanks to his pitch mix, but extra walks and fewer strikeouts made those homers more costly. We think he’ll be better than that this year, but not as good as he was at his very best.

If those three all work out, Clevinger (who after signing with Chicago was investigated for domestic violence and child abuse but wasn’t suspended) and Kopech should provide acceptable coverage at the bottom of the rotation. They’re filler, more or less, a tad worse than league average thanks to homeritis (Clevinger) and control problems (Kopech), but that’s a perfectly acceptable skill level for the back of your rotation. It’s a lot better than the options behind them, too. Martin didn’t strike anyone out in his 2022 major league debut, Burke had a 4.81 ERA in Double-A last year, Lambert is trying to transition out of relief, and Stiever has barely pitched in the past two years thanks to a lat injury. If the top five starters here are healthy and effective, this could be a great rotation. If they aren’t, it could get dicey quickly.

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

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David Klein
1 year ago

The Mets have said numerous times that Peterson and Megill won’t be used in the bullpen and before Quintana went down they were gonna be stretched out in Syracuse. Considering all the age and injury concerns it makes sense to keep Megill stretched out and the Mets will be going to a six man rotation a few times this season per Buck. If Megill does end up in the pen it won’t be until very late in the season I’d bet.