The 5th Wheel: Ranking Baseball's End-of-the-Rotation Starters

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The 5th Wheel: Ranking Baseball's End-of-the-Rotation Starters
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

If you're a fifth starter on a Major League Baseball team, you are easy to forget. You pitch every fifth game, just like your four counterparts. You give your team as much chance to win as they do, so why do fans cringe as they take their seats when realizing it's your day to start?

"Who the heck is Nelson Figueroa?" you scornfully whine to the fan in the next seat as an unfamiliar name flashes on the scoreboard, then disappears before you could investigate further.

“He must be the opera singer who sang the anthem,” the guy replies, nonchalant yet confident with his answer. “It was lovely,” he continues sarcastically. "Voice of an angel, too bad you missed it.”

Moments later, baffled, the two of you watch Figueroa take the mound. 

As a kid I used to watch the A’s at the Oakland Coliseum. In 1989, the year they won the World Series, their spectacular pitching rotation was comprised of Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, Bob Welch and Storm Davis. Each had at least 17 wins that season. 

The fifth starter was Curt Young, a far-from-dazzling southpaw who won just five games that year. Showing up at the stadium to see Young pitch was like going to the zoo and finding out the lion exhibit was closed for remodeling and in the great beast’s place was a disheveled warthog.

I was always so disappointed when he pitched the games I attended, and, therefore, I ended up hating the poor guy.

Ultimately, a fifth starter’s job is to simply keep the train rolling and make it a smooth transition to the top of the rotation. Curt Young did just that, and he certainly didn’t deserve besmirching from me.

Fans pay the same price to watch the ace as they do to watch the anti-ace, and as much of a let down as it is, both have the same opportunity to win the game.  

So who are today’s top hurlers rounding out Major League Baseball pitching rotations?

Here's a list of some who have either shown consistency (close to a .500 winning percentage), which is ideal for a fifth starter, or are on the rise, perhaps just temporarily grazing in the fifth spot as they move up the chart.

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