Yesterday, we ranked baseball’s bullpens. Today, we turn our attention to the starters, beginning with the rotations that project in the bottom half of the league.
The last few years have seen a discernible split between the rotation haves and have-nots, as several teams were at the beginning of clear rebuilds. Several of those clubs are taking their next step, shrinking the gap and creating more of a middle class, especially in the American League. The National League has the three worst projected rotations, with a representative from each division, and it’s not like the bullpens or lineups of those teams offer much hope, either. Rotations 10 through 19 are split by fewer than three wins; focusing specifically on our group here, rotations 16 to 24 are split by just over two wins. The middle class returns as playoffs expand, meaning some of these teams might be just a breakout or two away from finding themselves in unexpected contention. Which rotation do you have exceeding expectations from this list?
The Mariners knew they couldn’t sit on their hands if they wanted to build on the upstart season they had last year, and signing the reigning American League Cy Young winner to lead their rotation is a great way to stay busy. Ray amped up his velocity to a career-best 94.8 mph and tried a new attack approach by trusting his stuff. He might not post another sub-3.00 ERA if his 1.5 HR/9 doesn’t come down, but there is a lot of wiggle room for him to regress and still be the team’s ace.
Gonzales and Flexen are lefty-righty finesse arms who outperformed their base skills in 2021. Gonzales has leveraged plus command of his four-pitch arsenal into above-average work since arriving in Seattle. He has a 3.97 ERA and 4.13 FIP in 619.1 innings. He has slowly shifted into a fly ball pitcher over the last couple seasons; hopefully he can pull the 1.8 HR/9 from last year back toward his career mark of 1.2. Flexen honed his control in Korea and everything held up well upon returning to MLB. If he could just find a bit more swing-and-miss, there would be more stability to his production; as-is, he is heavily dependent on his batted balls being turned into outs at a high clip. They’ll both likely meander back to the mid-4.00s or higher barring outlier performances in BABIP and/or LOB rates.
Don’t get fooled by the 4.68 ERA, Gilbert had an excellent rookie season, and there is plenty to build on, as the 25-year-old righty had a 3.87 SIERA, 20% K-BB rate, and 1.17 WHIP in 119.1 innings. He seemed to hit a wall in mid-August, when a three-start run saw him allow 19 earned runs in 12.2 innings, but he rebounded in September and closed with a 2.70 ERA in his final six starts. He could shave a full run off his 2021 ERA and be a great No. 2 behind Ray.
A lot of premium prospects are breaking camp this year, including Seattle’s own Julio Rodríguez, who ranked fourth on our Top 100. Guys like Brash might get a bit lost in the bevy of top names, but don’t sleep on the 24-year-old righty. He is making the leap directly from Double-A after putting together a 2.31 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 97.3 innings with an incredible 35% strikeout rate. Kirby is an even better prospect (No. 28 in the Top 100) and had a similarly excellent two-level season spent at High- and Double-A with a 2.53 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 29% K rate in 67.2 innings. Brash outperformed Kirby in spring, earning him the nod, but Kirby will no doubt be a candidate to come up during the season.
Let me put my bias on the table: I’m a diehard Tigers fan. And while that often makes me a harsher critic than casual observers because I follow them so closely, I think Detroit nailed this offseason. The team kicked off a string of high impact moves by adding Tucker Barnhart, a premium framer who can help guide their young arms, then signed Rodriguez and Javier Báez ahead of the lockout. Rodriguez comes bearing gifts as a veteran presence who can take some pressure off Mize, Skubal, and Manning, all of whom will be instrumental in determining the success of this rebuild. At worst, E-Rod should get back to the high-3.00s ERA we regularly saw prior to 2021; at best, the change of venue and team will drive a new career low in ERA, something like his SIERA (3.65) or FIP (3.32) from last year.
Manning (No. 12), Skubal (No. 22), and Mize (No. 30) all graduated as top 30 prospects while helping to prove the old adage that prospect growth isn’t linear. Mize leaned on a control-focused profile to get through 30 starts with a capable 3.71 ERA/1.14 WHIP combo. Skubal, meanwhile, showed flashes of excellence, but an ugly 2.1 HR/9 limited him to a 4.34 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Manning was the top rated prospect of the bunch, but struggled with command all year and never found his footing during 85.1 major league innings that saw him post a 5.80 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. All three are 25 or younger and still boast tremendous ceilings, which could make Detroit’s rotation one of the better ones in baseball as soon as this season.
Peralta outran a hideous 5.27 SIERA last year and somehow managed a 3.07 ERA in 93.2 innings, but the Tigers knew they couldn’t rely on him repeating that, so they signed Pineda, who offers useful depth. Alexander’s transition to the rotation went well, as he managed 3.38 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 15 starts last year, though he profiles as a backend guy even at peak. Wentz and Alex Faedo still have some prospect sheen, as both enter their age-24 season.
It looked like the Reds were going to do a full teardown, but neither Mahle nor Castillo has been traded, though both likely could’ve used the venue change. Well, I am certain Mahle could have based on his 5.09 home ERA. This one isn’t complicated. A 2.1 HR/9 at home and a 0.8 on the road easily explains the substantial split. The question is whether he can maintain his star-level performance on the road as seen in 2021 (2.30 ERA, 1.04 WHIP).
Castillo might have been involved in trade talks, but a shoulder issue that will sideline him to start the season no doubt diminished his potential value. I wonder if he’d see the greatest benefit if he were traded to a warm weather team. Among the 51 pitchers with at least 400 batters faced in sub-60 degree weather since 2018, Castillo’s 5.37 ERA is the second highest behind Derek Holland’s 5.57 mark. (As someone who also hates cold weather, I don’t hold those ERAs against them; I’ll take 80-plus year-round!) The difference in fastball performance for Castillo in his cold vs. warm weather splits suggests this isn’t just about having chilly arms. His walk rate with the heater jumps five points to 15%, the home run rate doubles to 6%, and his strikeout rate dips four points to 11%.
The Minor acquisition makes zero sense in light of waiving Wade Miley, who makes the exact same amount ($10 million). But sure, bring in the guy with a 1.4 HR/9 since 2018 instead of just keeping the guy who had a 3.37 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 163 innings with the team last year. That ERA likely would’ve regressed given the WHIP, but as you will see in the Cubs rundown, Miley has a better projection than Minor. Minor has joined Castillo in already battling through shoulder issues in spring, too.
Greene and Lodolo have made the team out of camp. The two top prospects (Greene was 32nd overall, Lodolo 52nd) could make the Reds look accidentally competent if they both prove ready to be major league contributors. Greene was a two-way guy drafted second overall in 2017, but he gave up hitting after Tommy John surgery in 2019. A triple-digit fastball and filthy slider will carry him as he develops his changeup; he’s being called up after 179 minor league innings. Lodolo has just 69 pro innings under his belt, though the 24-year-old lefty also threw nearly 260 college frames. The team is willing to trust his sinker-slider combo to sustain him in the majors while he, too, hones his changeup.
Dunn and Williamson came over in the Jesse Winker deal. Dunn will miss the first couple months of the season with a shoulder strain and even upon his return, he has heavy relief risk and could wind up in the bullpen as early as this year. Williamson, who ranked 61st on the preseason Top 100, is the prize of the trade, though he likely won’t be a candidate for a call-up until the summer. Gutierrez showed glimpses in his 114-inning debut, but likely projects to a No. 4/5 at most.
I wanted to make a joke about how Quantrill, Plesac, and Civale are essentially the same guy – finesse innings-eaters, a profile the Guardians have shown they can maximize – but the projections beat me to the punch. Last season, they also showed the range of outcomes this profile can deliver, with Quantrill posting a 2.89 ERA, Civale at 3.84, and Plesac at 4.67. Defensive support and home run suppression are their paths to sub-4.00 ERAs, which makes it hard to project since so much of it is out of their hands.
Bieber still has ace upside when healthy. He was excellent in 96.2 innings last year, but a right shoulder issue ate up half the year. McKenzie might be the most talented prospect Cleveland has had since becoming a pitching factory (dating back to the emergence of Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco). The Guardians have done so well maximizing mid-tier prospects, but McKenzie was a multi-year Top 100 prospect, graduating at No. 58 last year. Health has been the biggest issue for the wiry righty, who stands at 6-foot-5, 165 pounds.
McKenzie flashed premium upside in an 11-start last summer, posting a 2.96 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, and 23% K-BB rate over 67 innings. The key was trusting his stuff in the zone. During his first 11 outings, he had an ugly 21% walk rate as he tried to be too fine with his pitches. After taking more of a here-it-is-hit-it approach, his walk rate shrank to just 4% during that electric run, with no corresponding dip in strikeouts (27%). This was just his second pro season eclipsing 100 innings (141.1), so it remains an open question if he can withstand the grind of 30-plus starts.
There was some sleeper intrigue for Morris after a huge 2021 (1.62 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in 61 IP across the complex, Double- and Triple-A), but it’s temporarily on hold after a shoulder injury landed him on the 60-day IL in spring training. The Guardians have two left-handed Logan Allens, which isn’t confusing at all! The one not listed was drafted in 2020 and debuted with a great two-level season at High- and Double-A, posting a 27% K-BB rate in 111.1 innings. It’s not out of the question that he makes the majors in 2022, especially if he keeps up that kind of work in the high minors this year.
Cleveland’s consistent success developing pitching has kept the likes of Morgan and Hentges on my radar, as both have some elements that could make them viable back of the rotation starters.
After posting the sixth highest starter ERA in baseball in 2021 — and with their ace, Kenta Maeda, shelved all year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery — the Twins knew they had to improve the rotation. If Archer, their most recent signing, finds some health, they have a quality quintet who can support their deep lineup.
The move from Cincinnati to Minnesota should help Gray, as he goes from one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the game to a neutral one. He had a 4.89 ERA in 14 home starts last year due in large part to a 1.7 HR/9. Ryan and Ober look like control artists who can miss plenty of bats but will need to reign in the home runs to deliver the breakout seasons many see for them. Ryan’s ultra-deceptive fastball has confounded both the opposition and analysts, as he managed a 37% strikeout rate in the minors despite not having the premium velocity we see across much of the league. Ober was nearly untouchable throughout the minors (2.41 ERA, 0.96 WHIP), but ran into a home run issue during his major league debut. He allowed two-plus long balls in five of his 20 starts, resulting in a 4.19 ERA in 92.1 innings, this after allowing just 0.5 HR/9 in the minors. It would be shocking to see him post that mark in the majors, but even just getting to something in the 1.3-1.5 range could bring his ERA under 4.00.
Speaking of home run issues, Bundy joins the team in hopes of improving upon a disastrous 2021. He posted a 0.7 HR/9 in the shortened 2020 season and it seemed like the mercurial righty had figured some things out, but he immediately regressed back to a 2.0 HR/9 last year, which is much more in line with his 1.6 career mark. He will go as far as his home run suppression will take him. Winder is a pop-up prospect who checks in at No. 88 on our Top 100 after flashing premium skills (24% K-BB) in 72 innings at Double- and Triple-A. His season was cut short by shoulder trouble that shelved him in July. The skills are there and the 25-year-old righty could be a key arm for the Twins if he proves to be healthy.
Greinke back to the Royals is a fun story. Not only does the 38-year-old still have something in the tank after a 4.16 ERA and 1.17 WHIP last year, but the Royals are also an interesting upstart. They will likely go as far as the rotation takes them. Keller is likely capped as a mid-4.00s ERA innings-eater and Greinke will live in his 2020-21 range (4.12 ERA, 1.16 WHIP), leaving the growth to Hernández, Singer, and Bubic.
Hernández has premium heat and swing-and-miss breaking pitches that make him an appealing breakout candidate, though his ability to command it can be spotty. He has to show he can miss bats as a starter, too. His strikeout rate went from 31% in 27.1 relief innings to just 16% in 58.1 starter innings. This kind of arm could be a tweak or two from big things, but at age-25 the growth could take some time.
Singer and Bubic acquitted themselves well in their first full seasons last year. A .350 BABIP limited Singer to just a 4.91 ERA, but his 4.30 SIERA wasn’t bad. The development of a third pitch could take him to another level. He can reach a sub-4.00 ERA season as-is, especially if the defense supports the sinkerballer. Bubic has three pitches, but spotty command of all three and inconsistency with the changeup has fueled a home run issue against righties and nearly a 100-point platoon split. He will look to build on a strong finish, as the fastball and changeup clicked to deliver a 2.20 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 32.2 innings during September/October.
Lynch and Kowar labored through rough debuts, but still hold substantial upside. Lynch missed a key development year in 2020, and instead had to leap from High-A in 2019 to Triple-A last year. He proved far too hittable (11.7 H/9, 1.6 HR/9) despite some decent core skills (17% K-BB). If he gets back on track during a second tour of Triple-A, he could make a leap this year. Fastball command will be the key. Kowar hasn’t reached the same prospect heights as Lynch (a two-time Top 100 entrant), but the former first rounder was overpowering in Triple-A. He had a 34% K rate and 14% swinging strike rate in 80.2 innings there before a rude awakening in the majors where everything went wrong, as his 40 command was on full display. He can be a capable No. 4/5 with a slight command improvement and more of a mid-rotation arm if he jumps to a 50+ command.
Márquez had one of the more confounding seasons for a Rockies starter in recent memory, posting a 3.67 ERA/1.18 WHIP combo at home and a 5.38 ERA/1.40 WHIP on the road. Aside from driving fantasy managers up the wall, it was tough to figure how he was legitimately good at home but quite rough outside of Coors. The .265 home/.338 road BABIP was no doubt a substantial factor, but even achieving those two numbers is bizarre. While it is fun to dream about what Márquez could be on another team, it is completely understandable why the Rockies have zero interest in trading him and his team-friendly deal, which still has three years on it.
Senzatela, Freeland, and Gomber all have FIPs under 5.00, but their collective penchant for allowing contact coupled with their home park makes it tough to project their ERAs to match. Despite the recent history that says they can pull it off, it makes sense that the models would play things more cautiously. Freeland in particular seems to have cracked the code to some degree, even as a low-strikeout arm. He has a career 4.20 ERA in 654 innings, including a 4.44 mark in 326.3 home innings.
Lambert (ranked 44th overall in 2015) and Rolison (No. 22 in 2018) are former early picks who are still young enough to turn into useful arms, though age (25 and 24, respectively) and pedigree are really the only aspects working in their favor, as their numbers have left plenty to be desired. There is no calvary coming, either, as just one of the Rockies top 11 prospects from this year’s list is a pitcher.
With team ace Flaherty already shelved to start the season, the Cards are fully embracing the groundball-heavy approach. Wainwright showed the best of what his defense can do when grounders are converted to outs (3.05 ERA, 1.06 WHIP), though the projections are rightly unsure if he can repeat the feat at age-40. Matz has seen his BABIP under .300 just once in his career, so it would make sense if he and his agent scouted infield defenses when deciding where to sign. He has a decent 22% K rate for his career while maintaining a 1.4 GB/FB rate.
Hudson and Mikolas are more extreme than Waino and Matz, as they both have career strikeout rates of 18% while generating a ton of grounders. Hudson’s 2.6 GB/FB rate is third to just Framber Valdez‘s (4.0!) and Logan Webb’s (2.8) among starters with at least 240 innings since 2018, which is a major reason why he has a 3.14 ERA despite an ugly 4.96 SIERA. If he can bring that walk rate under 10%, the WHIP will land in the low-1.20s.
We have seen Mikolas be great. He returned to the states in 2018 and posted a 2.83 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 200.2 innings. But his 3.93 SIERA made it clear that it was a career year, and his 4.17 ERA in 228.2 innings since says it was wise to follow those ERA indicators. If two of these four substantially beat their projections and the Cardinals get at least the 121 projected innings from Flaherty, the Red Birds could find themselves back in the playoffs without needing a late-season 17-game win streak to get there.
Liberatore is the obvious X-factor, as the No. 66 overall prospect will be waiting his turn after a strong Triple-A season last year. Oviedo, meanwhile, is my off-the-radar X-factor. He has budding swing-and-miss stuff and adheres to the team’s theme of keeping the ball down (1.5 GB/FB), but he needs a major step forward in terms of his command to unlock the best of his talent.
Montas is carrying this ranking and could be on another team by the time this piece is posted, if not shortly thereafter; his 3.1 WAR accounts for 37% of the projected total in just 20% of the innings. Sean Manaea was dealt this past weekend, prompting many to believe Montas should start packing his bags, though there isn’t as much urgency to trading the 29-year-old righty, as he doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2023 season while Manaea is in his final team-control year.
Irvin is hoping to build on a breakout 2021 campaign by way of a swing-and-miss offering or two. He has added a cutter and worked on different grips for his slider, as he surely realizes his 16% K rate won’t cut it and likely can’t sustain another 4.24 ERA over a full season. If these changes do bear fruit, he could be the latest Oakland starter traded for prospects.
Kaprielian was drafted in the first round all the way back in 2015 and has battled injuries throughout his long road to the majors. He impressed upon his arrival, with a 4.07 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 119.1 innings, but has once again been felled by injury; a shoulder issue will delay the start of his 2022 season. Jefferies is a quality prospect who debuted last year, though he too has fallen prey to poor health, with just 176.1 minor league innings since being drafted in 2016. His big league debut was cut short by a late-September flexor strain, this after not starting his season until late-May due to a biceps issue.
Honeywell was acquired in the offseason but will fit right in as a once-heralded prospect in desperate need of sustained health to get his career back on track. It’s hard not to root for the 27-year-old righty to find just a modicum of health so he can stay on the field and see where his talent takes him. His search will continue from the sidelines, as he suffered a olecranon stress reaction in late March and has been shut down indefinitely; he has had four surgeries on his elbow.
Oller, Logue, and Martinez came via the Bassitt, Chapman, and Manaea trades, respectively, and should all garner major league innings in 2022. They are all young enough to develop beyond their current expectations, though they all carry a 40 Future Value, suggesting they have limited upside.
The infield defense will be tested on a nightly basis in Wrigley, as just one of the Cubs’ expected starters projects for a strikeout rate north of 20%, with their best swing-and-miss arm – Alzolay – sidelined with a severe shoulder strain.
Stroman’s groundball-focused approach has paid dividends throughout his career, leading many to hope the early rumors of him signing with the Cardinals would prove true just to see what that Gold Glove-studded defense could do with his career 57% groundball rate. Hendricks doesn’t generate nearly as many grounders but felt the vagaries of a contact-heavy approach last year with a career-worst 4.77 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. His already-low strikeout rate sank further, dipping to just 17% and exposing the painfully thin margins he has been living on for years now.
Chicago’s veteran-laden staff will ask a pair of mid-30s lefties to deliver around 250 innings. Miley was a waiver pickup from the Reds and while elbow inflammation will sideline him to start the season, he shouldn’t struggle too much to earn his $10 million dollar paycheck. He has been worth 4.9 WAR in the last two full seasons (he was limited to just 14.1 IP in the shortened 2020). Smyly’s health has proven a bit more fickle, with the southpaw averaging just 120 IP/season in 2019 and ’21 after missing all of ’16 and ’17. He has shown a consistent ability to miss bats (24% K, 12% SwStr in 2019-21), but a 2.1 HR/9 has been a big reason for the split between his 5.12 ERA and 4.43 SIERA.
Mills is a lesser version of 2021 Hendricks and has virtually no chance to generate an ERA under 4.50 without a killer defensive performance behind him. He allowed a .324 BABIP last season, a mark that surged his hit rate to 10.4 per nine en route to a 5.07 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 119 innings. Usually command-and-control groundballers at least keep the ball in the park, but Mills has been at a 1.4 HR/9 since 2019. Steele’s 24% K rate was built on his relief work (20% as SP; 38% as RP), and with inconsistent command on all of his four offerings, it is likely to remain that way.
And you thought the “John Means Business” meme was a tired bit of word play. Means showed just how serious he is by singlehandedly moving the left field wall back 26 feet and stretching it seven. Ok fine, he doesn’t moonlight as a contractor, but when you realize 86% of his 66 career homers (1.7 HR/9) have been hit by righties, it doesn’t seem out of line to think he had a hand in the park changes! That he has a career 3.82 ERA and 1.08 WHIP despite the long-ball flaw speaks to how good he is and how even a small improvement could yield a low-3.00s ERA.
Wells entered the offseason as a candidate to close out games for the O’s only to shift back to the rotation as spring training started. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019, grinded through the pandemic in ’20, and found himself in Baltimore via the Rule 5 draft, meaning he had to stay in the majors if the Orioles wanted to keep him. They thought it best to let him relieve and he excelled in 57 innings with a 24% K-BB rate and 0.91 WHIP. He could prove to be a real find for the O’s.
From there, well, it’s not great. Despite knowing how little stock we can put in 25.2 innings, I still found some positives in Akin’s 2020 debut because his standout strikeout stuff (30% K, 14% SwStr) was in line with his minor league track record. So naturally, he was a below-average strikeout arm in 95 innings last year (19% K, 10% SwStr). Barring an unexpected skill change, it is hard to generate any tangible excitement about Zimmermann, Lowther, Kremer, or Bradish. They will be asked to eat up innings and hold down the fort while Baltimore’s prospects develop.
Hall (No. 27) and Grayson Rodriguez (No. 3) made the Top 100 and should be major contributors to the next great Orioles team, but the 2022 dividends could be scant as Rodriguez isn’t even projected to debut this year. That could just be a cautious outlook, though, as the 22-year-old dominated Double-A for 18 starts and likely won’t need the entire season at Triple-A before getting the call. Hall is just a year older but has also peaked at Double-A, with only seven starts there thus far. A stress reaction in his elbow limited him to just 31.2 innings last year and he has yet to rack up 100-plus innings in a single season.
Texas doled out big bucks to remake their lineup while also adding a new No. 1 to their rotation, but they might struggle to even reach .500 without several starters outperforming their projections. Gray was the rare starter who had a better ERA at Coors Field, posting a 4.54 home ERA and a 4.65 on the road. That doesn’t mean he can’t improve by getting out of Colorado altogether. He has consistently missed bats (24% K, 11% SwStr) while keeping walks in check (8%), netting a career 4.00 SIERA. A 9.0 H/9 and .317 BABIP have capped his upside and yielded a 1.34 WHIP. The change in home park alone should aid a drop in that WHIP, as Coors has the highest hit park factor in the game while the new Globe Life has been 16th since opening in 2020.
How is Pérez only 31 years old? I’m fairly certain he has been in the league for 38 years, so I’m thoroughly confused. The lefty veteran returns to where it all began as the fabled “veteran presence,” though a host of prospects and recently-graduated young arms could land him in the bullpen by summer. Dunning likely caps out as a No. 3, but the groundball righty has been plenty capable in 151.2 major league innings thus far. If the revamped infield defense can turn that 52% groundball rate into more outs – his .338 BABIP was fifth-highest among 109 pitchers with at least 110 IP – then a sub-4.00 ERA could be on the way.
Howard and Hearn leveraged strong spring outings into starting roles out of camp and will be pivotal arms if this club hopes to shock the AL West. Howard’s deep arsenal of average-or-better pitches made him the 33rd prospect on last year’s Top 100, but only his fastball has found any success in his 74 innings at the big league level. Hearn got his first taste of starting in the majors at the end of last season and did well enough to hold the role coming into this year. In 10 starts and a pair of four-inning piggyback outings, he posted a 4.63 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 58.3 innings. It’s not impossible to envision the two combining for 250 innings of mid-4.00s ERA ball, and that’s not even the full upside.
Keep an eye on Otto and Winn as potential summer impact arms. Even acknowledging the tiny sample, Otto’s 18% K-BB rate in 23.3 innings would’ve gotten more attention if not for a comical .423 BABIP and 46% LOB rate that netted a 9.26 ERA. The 6.09 difference between his ERA and FIP was the largest split in baseball among 567 pitchers with at least 20 IP. Winn slotted in 52nd in this year’s Top 100, and the 22-year-old could spend half the season in the majors with a fast start in Triple-A.
Washington’s success will likely hinge on a trio of vets trying to rebound and a pair of quality prospects with just 40.3 combined innings at Triple-A. A National League-high 37 home runs allowed fueled Corbin’s league-worst 111 earned runs in 2021. Despite the brutal 5.82 ERA, he had a career-best 92.5 mph average fastball velocity and his 4.61 SIERA points to some palatable skills. His path back to a sub-4.00 ERA comes via home run suppression, though the Nats would no doubt take 170-plus innings of a mid-4.00s starter just to get through what is likely to be a rough season. Strasburg has pitched just 26.2 innings since a dream 2019 season that saw him eclipse 200 innings for just the second time in his career (NL-high 209, plus another 36.1 playoff frames). He is hoping to return from thoracic outlet syndrome this year, and it would be great to see the superstar return to form, though his best days are almost certainly behind him.
Sánchez, a non-roster invitee, is hoping to bounce back at age-38 after an ugly 53 innings in 2020 and a year off in 2021, but he has allowed 17 base runners in 6.1 spring innings and might not make the club. Ross had elbow surgery to remove a bone spur and likely won’t return until Memorial Day at the earliest. He pitched very well over 108 innings last year, but health issues have plagued him throughout his six-year career. None of Rogers, Espino, Fedde, or Sánchez carry much upside and will likely mostly be asked to fill innings at various points throughout the season.
The game-changing upside resides in the arms of Gray and Cavalli (and even Adon a bit if you are looking for a sleeper, though there is still heavy relief risk with him). Gray was a key piece in the Trea Turner/Max Scherzer trade and acquitted himself well in a 70.2-inning sample despite an extreme home run issue (2.4 HR/9). He had just a 0.3 HR/9 in 198 minor league innings with a great 23% K-BB rate, hinting at substantial upside. Cavalli ripped through the minors in a three-level pro debut across High-, Double- and Triple-A, though it was clear even in a small sample (24.2 IP) that he met his match in Triple-A. He will start 2022 there and could make a summer debut if he develops a legitimate third pitch and sharpens the command on his entire arsenal.
The Pirates will almost certainly remain one of the worst teams in the league, but outside of Quintana, they have a host of arms who can develop into useful pieces for the future. A brutal start to 2021 landed Quintana in the bullpen and he never recovered, resulting in a lost season where his 6.43 ERA completely obscured an otherwise solid 3.94 SIERA.
Keller hasn’t lived up to his significant prospect hype in 170.1 major league innings, but he once again has folks buzzing after reworking himself this offseason at Tread Athletics and carrying the improvement into spring training. His velo is way up, the walks are way down, and there is major breakout potential if these changes hold for the 26-year-old righty.
Brubaker and Thompson are both entering their age-28 season, but they have just 274 combined major league innings, so there is still some untapped potential in their arms. Brubaker’s 17% K-BB rate was the best among the seven Pirates with at least 70 IP last year, but a massive 2.0 HR/9 decimated his ERA. Thompson looked solid in 13 starts with the Marlins last season; Miami’s near-endless list of quality arms made him expendable and netted Jacob Stallings in trade. At 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, Thompson cuts the figure of an innings eater and the Pirates will likely test that idea.
Wilson has a tenuous hold on a rotation spot unless the skills take a significant leap. He has just a 7% K-BB rate in 116.2 major league innings, as he allows too much contact, a lot of which is substantial (10.6 H/9 and 1.7 HR/9). Crowe and Peters will be on deck out of the bullpen while Contreras is the one to watch. He is the No. 3 prospect for the Pirates and No. 41 overall thanks to mid-90s heat, swing-and-miss secondary offerings, and a good control profile.
The Diamondbacks continue to slog through their rebuild and the state of their starters says that it’s still going to take some time. If Gallen remains healthy, he is a budding ace and can definitely front the rotation of their next contending team. He labored through a trio of injuries (forearm, elbow, hamstring) en route to just 121.1 innings last year, but closed strong with a 3.19 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 19% K-BB rate in 48 innings. He won’t be ready to start the second game of the season, but he should be ready the first time Arizona needs a fifth starter.
Kelly could be Gallen’s deputy atop the rotation, as he returned from a 2020 shoulder injury with a solid campaign in ’21 (4.44 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 13% K-BB). Repeating that performance over 180-plus innings would be great for the Diamondbacks. A strong spring doesn’t guarantee anything in terms of regular season results, but if Kelly can maintain some of the swing-and-miss he’s shown in the Cactus League, there could be a sub-4.00 ERA season ahead.
Bumgarner had a volatile season. An ugly 5.73 ERA through his first 12 starts was interrupted by a month-plus shoulder injury, and while he did post a 2.39 ERA in the eight starts after returning, the performance was not backed by his underlying stats. In fact, his 13% K-BB rate was markedly worse than the 17% mark we saw his first 12 starts. It all came to a head over his final six starts, with a 9% K-BB rate instrumental in his 6.35 ERA during that time. If there is a positive to take from the season, it’s the 1.18 WHIP, but the home runs seem to be here to stay (1.5 in 2021, 1.4 since ’17) and he is living on a thin velocity margin (90.4 mph) that could send his ERA north of 5.00 if his strikeout rate dips below 20%.
Weaver missed most of 2021 as health continues to elude him. He did make it back to finish the season with a decent September, but the next time he eclipses 100 innings will be just the second of his career. Above-average strikeout and walk rates since 2019 give him a foundation to build upon and there could be a sub-4.00 ERA season if he can stay healthy and trim the 1.3 HR/9.
Davies is perfect to eat up some innings on a second division team, though Arizona will likely give innings to younger guys like Gilbert, Martin, Castellanos, and Taylor Widener if Davies can’t get his ERA back under 5.00 this year. Straily returns to MLB after a pair of seasons in Korea, though a rough spring has landed him in the minors to start the year.
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? Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, we covered the game’s position players as part of our positional power rankings. Now we move to the pitching side, starting with the bottom half (16-30) of the starting rotation rankings.
The latter half of the starter rankings are almost evenly split between the leagues, leaning 8-7 toward the National League. But five of the last seven are from the American League with each division represented at least once, furthering the notion that the AL is a league of haves and have-nots for at least another season. (Of those five, only the Toronto Blue Jays are seen as having an outside chance to compete and that’s due more to their offense than anything else.)
Keep in mind that the short season tightens things up quite a bit, too. Consider last year’s rankings, where the 16th-ranked Reds were projected for 10.6 WAR, three wins clear of the 24th ranked Brewers. This year the Cardinals slot 16th with a 4.7 mark, just 0.7 wins better than the 24th ranked Red Sox. A single over- or underachiever could sway things substantially for their team. Prospects might be the biggest needle-movers if they can secure roles; Mitch Keller (58) and Brady Singer (31) are the only Top 100 arms projected for 30-plus innings, while Matt Manning (28), Spencer Howard (24), Nate Pearson (21), Tarik Skubal (17), Casey Mize (14), and Sixto Sanchez (7) will battle for starts once the season gets underway.
The Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies, and Diamondbacks are seen as playoff dark horses (or frontrunners in some cases) based on their rosters as a whole, but if you had to select a rotation in the 21-30 range that could lead its team into a postseason berth, which one would you pick? Focus solely on the staff, avoid citing Trout & Co. or the Baby Blue Jays overcoming their rotation deficiencies, and let me know your favorite in the comments! Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, we covered most of the position players as part of our positional power rankings. Earlier today, Meg Rowley covered right fielders, before Kiley McDaniel took you through the 16th-through-30th ranked rotations. Now, we get to the good stuff.
The American League comes out firing on the top 15 list with the first three entrants made up of the reigning kings of the West and Central, as well as this year’s projected East champion. The Senior Circuit takes over from there, with seven of the next nine rotations, including two from the East and three from the Central divisions. Those staffs have been the talk of the offseason, as the top four in the NL East are all contenders to win the division while all five NL Central clubs could carve out a realistic scenario that finds them atop the group and headed to the playoffs.
The ever-dwindling workloads of starters are made clear as just six pitchers are projected for 200-plus innings; meanwhile, six clubs have just one (or fewer) arms tabbed for even 180 frames. The No. 2 ranked team doesn’t get anyone to 175, yet their depth is on display with six guys who could capably put up 100-plus innings. On the other end, some teams made this list purely on the strength of their top five, so any injuries could be catastrophic to their season outlook.
It’s probably a safe bet that at least one of the arms on here with a sub-70 inning projection ends up delivering 130-plus in a breakout campaign, but without a crystal ball to identify which injuries will create such a path, it’s hard to know exactly who that will be right now. My guesses would include Domingo German, Seth Lugo, Jordan Lyles, and Jerad Eickhoff. Last year’s were Walker Buehler, Jack Flaherty, and Zach Eflin, which perhaps means that I should include prospects Forrest Whitley and Alex Reyes, but they almost feel too easy.
Who is your favorite breakout pitcher on these 15 teams, and which is your favorite team in the 11-15 range to break the top 5?
After Craig Edwards and Rian Watt surveyed the current state of second and third basemen yesterday, our positional power rankings continue today with catcher.
The catching position hit an 11-year low in wRC+ (84) and also dipped below 50 WAR for the first time in that same span (49.9). Just two guys topped 4.0 WAR, and neither Yasmani Grandal (4.9) nor J.T. Realmuto (4.8) reached a full 5.0 wins. Compare that to just five years ago, when five guys had at least 5.0 WAR and two of them rounded to eight wins: Yan Gomes (5.3), Rene Rivera (5.3), Russell Martin (6.5), Buster Posey (7.8), and Jonathan Lucroy (8.1). Part of the issue is that teams are much more open to splitting the duties among multiple players, which makes it tougher for even the top end to generate big numbers. In 2014, there were 23 catchers with at least 400 plate appearances, but that figure dipped to just 15 a year ago.
The 2019 pool has already lost a stalwart with Salvador Perez needing Tommy John surgery, although he hasn’t topped 1.0 WAR since 2014 and has surpassed an 89 wRC+ just once in that same time frame (103 in 2017). The position is aging and hasn’t backfilled with prospects quickly enough to replace the old guard. Looking at those top performers from 2014, we see that they are all still playing but managed just a combined 6.9 (nice) WAR despite four of the five logging at least 350 plate appearances.
Do not fret, though, the backfill is on the way! Danny Jansen debuted last year but will play out his rookie season in 2019. Francisco Mejia has essentially had sips of coffee each of the last two years and still holds rookie eligibility. Meanwhile, 10 other catchers made it into our Top 100 Prospects list, including three in the Top 50: Keibert Ruiz for the Dodgers (15), Sean Murphy for the Athletics (35), and Joey Bart for the Giants (41). Read the rest of this entry »
Starting pitching might be the most interesting aspect of this positional power rankings series, given how much impact it has on a team’s season. Jay got you warmed up with 16th- through 30th-ranked rotations this morning. Now here is a graphical look at the top 15:
The mainstays atop the list aren’t going to shock you. It’s the cream of the crop, including both of last season’s World Series entrants, within the top three. Two American League teams open up the list then the National League has four of the top six; of the American League’s top five, three come from the East division. Perhaps most shocking of all is the Rockies landing in the top 15, as they’ve developed a nice group of arms. The two Pennsylvania-based teams could have enough pitching to make some noise this year, and a fourth AL East team sneaks in right near the end.
Read the rest of this entry »
We continue our positional power rankings today. Dave Cameron’s introduction plus all the batting-related installments of the series can be accessed using the navigation bar above. Now, it’s time for pitchers. Specifically, I’ll cover the 16th- to 30th-ranked rotations. (Travis Sawchik will have Nos. 1-15 later today.)
First, the obligatory graph:
What we have here is a little bit of the leftover wheat from the top group and then a whole lot of chaff. I’m not even sure what chaff is and yet I’m certain that it accurately describes Jered Weaver at this point. Fear not, Padres fans, he was simply suffering through some dead arm (for what, the last two-plus years?!) when he posted that 2.44 ERA in the Cactus League. Wait nevermind, that 2.44 was his WHIP.
There is some fun in knowing that one or two teams within this set of rotations will emerge as top-10 rotations, just as the Blue Jays and Phillies did a year ago. Now the Phillies are already in the top 15 and the Blue Jays vacillated between 14 and 16 as the updates rolled through while I wrote this. My predictions to rise up are the Diamondbacks and Braves.
December 17, 2012: Noah Syndergaard traded by the Toronto Blue Jays with Wuilmer Becerra (minors), John Buck and Travis d’Arnaud to the New York Mets for R.A. Dickey, Mike Nickeas and Josh Thole.
Sorry, Jays fans. That’s mean, but just imagine a Thor-Sanchez-Stroman top three in Toronto. Aaron Sanchez converted to the rotation full time, packed on some muscle, and simply led the AL in ERA over 192 innings. Originally facing an innings limit, the Jays relented and kept Sanchez in the rotation all year. He leans heavily on an elite power sinker that befuddles lefties and righties with aplomb.
Chat will start around 12 PM central!!
Chat transcript below!!