Ranking MLB's 10 Best Starting Rotations Entering 2019
While saying that pitching wins championships might discount the value of a high-powered offense in today's MLB, it's difficult to reach the World Series without a quality starting staff.
Case in point, look where the 10 playoff teams ranked in starting pitching ERA last season:
- 1. Astros (3.16)
- 2. Dodgers (3.19)
- 3. Indians (3.39)
- 4. Braves (3.50)
- 8. Red Sox (3.77)
- 10. Cubs (3.84)
- 11. Brewers (3.92)
- 14. Yankees (4.05)
- 17. Athletics (4.17)
- 18. Rockies (4.17)
A good starting rotation doesn't guarantee a postseason berth, as the St. Louis Cardinals (3.52, fifth), New York Mets (3.54, sixth) and Tampa Bay Rays (3.68, seventh) can attest. However, it's tough to reach the Fall Classic without at least an above-average rotation.
Ahead is a look at the 10 best starting rotations for 2019, beginning with a few honorable mentions.
With an emerging ace in 2018 All-Star Mike Foltynewicz and a full season of deadline-pickup Kevin Gausman, the Braves have two quality starters fronting their rotation.
Veteran Julio Teheran and lefty Sean Newcomb are poised to fill the next two spots on the staff, leaving the No. 5 starter job to be filled by one of the team's many young arms.
Touki Toussaint might be the leading candidate after an impressive final month. He's far from the only option, though, with Kolby Allard, Max Fried, Luis Gohara, Mike Soroka, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright all members of the 40-man roster. The depth here makes Atlanta a safe bet to crack the top 10 in the near future.
The Rockies secured a wild-card spot thanks in large part to a marked improvement in their starters' ERA from 4.59 to 4.17—good for 18th in the majors. That's an especially impressive feat considering they play half of their games at Coors Field.
Kyle Freeland finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting, and German Marquez arguably had an even better all-around season with stronger peripherals and an impressive 230 strikeouts in 196 innings.
Those two should again form an excellent one-two punch, so it will be up to Jon Gray, Antonio Senzatela and Tyler Anderson to determine just how good the Colorado staff can be. Health will be the key for Gray and Anderson, while Senzatela searches for consistency.
The August trade for Chris Archer gives the Pirates another frontline arm to pair with emerging ace Jameson Taillon at the top of the rotation.
Trading Ivan Nova saved the team some money, and it should also open the door for an early promotion of top prospect Mitch Keller. The 22-year-old went 12-4 with a 3.48 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 142.1 innings in the upper levels of the minors last year, and MLB.com recently ranked him as the No. 4 right-handed pitching prospect in baseball.
The underrated Trevor Williams and promising young right-handers Joe Musgrove and Nick Kingham are poised to round out the staff, while free-agent signing Jordan Lyles could also be a factor.
Tampa Bay Rays
It was tough to decide where to place the Rays in these rankings.
They finished seventh in the majors with a 3.68 starters' ERA and were led by AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. They also added a promising young arm in Tyler Glasnow at the trade deadline and signed Charlie Morton to a two-year deal in free agency.
However, those three might be the only set starters on the staff, as the Rays will again use an "opener" or two to round out the rotation. The eventual arrival of top prospect Brent Honeywell could push them toward a more traditional approach, but for now, it's tough to compare them to other rotations.
10. New York Yankees
- RHP Luis Severino (Age: 24)
32 GS, 19-8, 3.39 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 46 BB, 220 K, 191.1 IP
- LHP James Paxton (Age: 30)
28 GS, 11-6, 3.76 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 42 BB, 208 K, 160.1 IP
- RHP Masahiro Tanaka (Age: 30)
27 GS, 12-6, 3.75 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 35 BB, 159 K, 156.0 IP
- LHP J.A. Happ (Age: 36)
31 GS, 17-6, 3.65 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 51 BB, 193 K, 177.2 IP
- LHP CC Sabathia (Age: 38)
29 GS, 9-7, 3.65 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 51 BB, 140 K, 153.0 IP
Other Rotation Options: RHP Luis Cessa, RHP Domingo German, RHP Sonny Gray, RHP Jonathan Loaisiga, LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Drew Hutchison (non-roster invitee)
The Yankees moved quickly this offseason to shore up a rotation that finished 14th in the majors with a 4.05 ERA—the lowest of any team to advance beyond the Wild Card Games.
The Yanks acquired James Paxton from the Mariners for a package including top prospect Justus Sheffield, and they re-signed veteran lefties J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia after they each had successful seasons in 2018. It's a solid group top to bottom, provided everyone stays healthy and pitches to their potential.
Paxton worked a career-high 160.1 innings last season and has dealt with injuries throughout his career, while the 36-year-old Happ and 38-year-old Sabathia may run out of gas at any point. Questions also linger regarding ace Luis Severino, who scuffled to a 5.57 ERA after the All-Star break.
Still, this group offers enough upside if everything goes right to claim the No. 10 spot in these rankings.
9. Philadelphia Phillies
- RHP Aaron Nola (Age: 25)
33 GS, 17-6, 2.37 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 58 BB, 224 K, 212.1 IP
- RHP Jake Arrieta (Age: 32)
31 GS, 10-11, 3.96 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 57 BB, 138 K, 172.2 IP
- RHP Nick Pivetta (Age: 25)
32 GS, 7-14, 4.77 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 51 BB, 188 K, 164.0 IP
- RHP Vince Velasquez (Age: 26)
30 GS, 9-12, 4.85 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 59 BB, 161 K, 146.2 IP
- RHP Zach Eflin (Age: 24)
24 GS, 11-8, 4.36 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 37 BB, 123 K, 128.0 IP
Other Rotation Options: RHP Drew Anderson, RHP Enyel De Los Santos, RHP Jerad Eickhoff, LHP Ranger Suarez
The Phillies would have climbed at least a few spots had they been able to sign Patrick Corbin or fallback plan J.A. Happ. However, there's still time to address the lack of a left-handed presence in the rotation in the form of free agents Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley.
As it stands, this is a group with a bonafide ace in Aaron Nola, a former Cy Young winner who is still in his prime in Jake Arrieta and three young pitchers who have not yet delivered on their full potential.
Nick Pivetta looks like the X-factor after he quietly finished among the NL leaders in strikeouts (188, eighth) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.3, fifth). He also had a 3.80 FIP to go along with his 4.77 ERA, so there could be some positive regression to come.
Depending on how quickly top prospect Sixto Sanchez makes an impact, or whether the Phillies add another arm before the offseason is over, there's potential for this group to climb.
8. Chicago Cubs
- LHP Jon Lester (Age: 35)
32 GS, 18-6, 3.32 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 64 BB, 149 K, 181.2 IP
- RHP Kyle Hendricks (Age: 29)
33 GS, 14-11, 3.44 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 44 BB, 161 K, 199.0 IP
- LHP Jose Quintana (Age: 29)
32 GS, 13-11, 4.03 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 68 BB, 158 K, 174.1 IP
- LHP Cole Hamels (Age: 35)
32 GS, 9-12, 3.78 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 65 BB, 188 K, 190.2 IP
- RHP Yu Darvish (Age: 32)
8 GS, 1-3, 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 21 BB, 49 K, 40.0 IP
Other Rotation Options: RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Alec Mills, LHP Mike Montgomery, RHP Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP Duane Underwood Jr.
On paper, the Cubs rotation is undoubtedly top-10 caliber.
Jon Lester outpitched his peripherals with a 4.39 FIP that was more than a run higher than his ERA. He did the same thing in 2016 when his 2.44 ERA was backed by a 3.41 FIP, so there's no reason to expect major regression.
Kyle Hendricks remains one of the most underrated frontline starters in the game, Jose Quintana is a quality middle-of-the-rotation option, and Cole Hamels found new life when he joined the Cubs last summer. The money the Cubs used on his $20 million option might have been better spent elsewhere, but that doesn't take away from his ability to serve as a quality member of the rotation.
Yu Darvish was supposed to be a huge addition last season, but a stress reaction in his right elbow derailed his Cubs debut. Provided he's back to 100 percent, he's still capable of being the game-changing addition the team thought it was getting a year ago.
7. New York Mets
- RHP Jacob deGrom (Age: 30)
32 GS, 10-9, 1.70 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 46 BB, 269 K, 217.0 IP
- RHP Noah Syndergaard (Age: 26)
25 GS, 13-4, 3.03 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 39 BB, 155 K, 154.1 IP
- RHP Zack Wheeler (Age: 28)
29 GS, 12-7, 3.31 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 55 BB, 179 K, 182.1 IP
- LHP Steven Matz (Age: 27)
30 GS, 5-11, 3.97 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 58 BB, 152 K, 154.0 IP
- LHP Jason Vargas (Age: 35)
20 GS, 7-9, 5.77 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 30 BB, 84 K, 92.0 IP
Other Rotation Options: RHP Chris Flexen, RHP Drew Gagnon, RHP Corey Oswalt, RHP Seth Lugo, LHP Hector Santiago (NRI)
Once again, the Mets rotation has a chance to be among the best in baseball if they can stay healthy.
NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom is fresh off one of the most dominant single-season pitching performances in MLB history. If Noah Syndergaard is back to 100 percent, the Mets will have two of the most overpowering pitchers in baseball fronting the staff.
Not to be outdone, Zack Wheeler also put together the best stretch of his injury-plagued career during the second half of last season. The 28-year-old posted a 1.68 ERA in 11 starts after the All-Star break, and with free agency awaiting next offseason, he'll be plenty motivated to dominate in 2019.
Steven Matz pitched a career-high 154 innings last year after working only 66.2 frames in 2017, while fellow lefty Jason Vargas was hit hard early before settling in to post a 2.62 ERA over his final eight starts.
6. Boston Red Sox
- LHP Chris Sale (Age: 29)
27 GS, 12-4, 2.11 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 34 BB, 237 K, 158.0 IP
- LHP David Price (Age: 33)
30 GS, 16-7, 3.58 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 50 BB, 177 K, 176.0 IP
- RHP Rick Porcello (Age: 30)
33 GS, 17-7, 4.28 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 48 BB, 190 K, 191.1 IP
- RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Age: 28)
21 GS, 6-7, 3.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 20 BB, 101 K, 111.0 IP
- LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (Age: 25)
23 GS, 13-5, 3.82 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 45 BB, 146 K, 129.2 IP
Other Rotation Options: LHP Brian Johnson, RHP Hector Velazquez, RHP Steven Wright, RHP Erasmo Ramirez (NRI)
The Red Sox won 108 games and the World Series title on the strength of a high-powered offense that led the majors in runs, batting average and OPS. With that said, the starting rotation was far from a weakness, led by perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale and a rejuvenated David Price.
A full season of Nathan Eovaldi will be a welcome upgrade to the middle of the rotation after he made 11 regular-season starts following his trade from the Rays. He dazzled with a 1.61 ERA in 22.1 postseason innings, which helped earn him a four-year, $68 million deal in free agency.
Rick Porcello is a perfectly respectable No. 3/4 starter who has never made fewer than 27 starts or pitched fewer than 162.2 innings in any of his 10 MLB seasons. The 2016 AL Cy Young winner will be a free agent next offseason, so he'll be looking to secure another lucrative payday.
A full season from Eduardo Rodriguez could lead to a breakout, although he's plenty valuable even if he can only make 20 or so starts. Left-hander Brian Johnson is solid "next man up" who posted a 4.17 ERA in 13 starts and 25 relief appearances as a rookie.
5. Houston Astros
- RHP Justin Verlander (Age: 35)
34 GS, 16-9, 2.52 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 37 BB, 290 K, 214.0 IP
- RHP Gerrit Cole (Age: 28)
32 GS, 15-5, 2.88 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 64 BB, 276 K, 200.1 IP
- RHP Collin McHugh (Age: 31)
0 GS, 6-2, 1.99 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 21 BB, 94 K, 72.1 IP
- RHP Brad Peacock (Age: 30)
1 GS, 3-5, 3.46 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 20 BB, 96 K, 65.0 IP
- RHP Josh James (Age: 25)
3 GS, 2-0, 2.35 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 7 BB, 29 K, 23.0 IP
Other Rotation Options: RHP Rogelio Armenteros, RHP Brady Rodgers, LHP Framber Valdez, RHP Forrest Whitley
With Charlie Morton departing in free agency, Dallas Keuchel expected to do the same and Lance McCullers Jr. out for the season following Tommy John surgery, it would be easy to overlook an Astros rotation that led the majors with a 3.16 starters' ERA last year.
However, they have the in-house pieces to again boast one of the best starting staffs in baseball.
That starts with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who finished second and fifth in AL Cy Young voting, respectively. Meanwhile, Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock worked primarily as relievers last season, but both have enjoyed considerable success in starting roles in the past and could be asked to return to the rotation.
That leaves one spot to fill between hard-throwing Josh James and crafty lefty Framber Valdez, at least until uber-prospect Forrest Whitley is ready. The towering 6'7" right-hander has an electric four-pitch repertoire, and he could give the team a third ace-caliber option by midseason after closing out 2018 at Double-A.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
- RHP Carlos Martinez (Age: 27)
18 GS, 8-6, 3.11 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 60 BB, 117 K, 118.2 IP
- RHP Miles Mikolas (Age: 30)
32 GS, 18-4, 2.83 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 29 BB, 146 K, 200.2 IP
- RHP Jack Flaherty (Age: 23)
28 GS, 8-9, 3.34 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 59 BB, 182 K, 151.0 IP
- RHP Michael Wacha (Age: 27)
15 GS, 8-2, 3.20 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 36 BB, 71 K, 84.1 IP
- RHP Adam Wainwright (Age: 37)
8 GS, 2-4, 4.46 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 18 BB, 40 K, 40.1 IP
Other Rotation Options: LHP John Gant, LHP Austin Gomber, RHP Daniel Poncedeleon, RHP Alex Reyes
The Cardinals struck gold last offseason with the two-year, $15.5 million deal they gave Miles Mikolas. The hope was he could hold down a spot at the back of the rotation after a successful three-year stint in Japan. He wound up making the All-Star team and finishing sixth in NL Cy Young voting.
Coupled with the emergence of rookie Jack Flaherty, his surprise performance kept the rotation afloat for much of the season while Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha all spent time on the disabled list.
Martinez is still the ace of the staff, despite a stint in the closer's role in the second half. He'll need to return to frontline form for the Cardinals to live up to mounting expectations.
Austin Gomber and John Gant both pitched well as injury replacements, and they provided solid depth. The X-factor is a healthy Alex Reyes, who will likely be a strict innings limit as he returns from a torn lat tendon. He could wind up working out of the bullpen in 2019.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
- LHP Clayton Kershaw (Age: 30)
26 GS, 9-5, 2.73 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 29 BB, 155 K, 161.1 IP
- RHP Walker Buehler (Age: 24)
23 GS, 8-5, 2.62 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 37 BB, 151 K, 137.1 IP
- LHP Rich Hill (Age: 38)
24 GS, 11-5, 3.66 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 41 BB, 150 K, 132.2 IP
- LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (Age: 31)
15 GS, 7-3, 1.97 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 15 BB, 89 K, 82.1 IP
- RHP Kenta Maeda (Age: 30)
20 GS, 8-10, 3.81 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 43 BB, 153 K, 125.1 IP
Other Rotation Options: RHP Dennis Santana, RHP Brock Stewart, RHP Ross Stripling, LHP Julio Urias
Even after trading Alex Wood to the Reds, the Dodgers still have a wealth of starting pitching talent.
Clayton Kershaw stayed put despite his opt-out clause, and he'll team with arguably the best under-25 pitcher in the game in Walker Buehler atop the rotation. The former Vanderbilt product is just scratching the surface of his vast potential, and he could develop into one of the game's elite starters.
Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched his way into a qualifying offer with a brilliant 1.97 ERA in 15 starts, despite missing significant time with a groin injury. He's pitched a total of 213.2 innings over the past four seasons, so staying healthy will be the key for him in 2019.
Rich Hill will likely need some rest as the season progresses, which could be where former top prospect Julio Urias enters the fray. Otherwise, guys like 2018 All-Star Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda have had success serving in something of a swingman role, so they could move to the bullpen to open a spot for him in the rotation.
2. Washington Nationals
- RHP Max Scherzer (Age: 34)
33 GS, 18-7, 2.53 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 51 BB, 300 K, 220.2 IP
- LHP Patrick Corbin (Age: 29)
33 GS, 11-7, 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 48 BB, 246 K, 200.0 IP
- RHP Stephen Strasburg (Age: 30)
22 GS, 10-7, 3.74 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 38 BB, 156 K, 130.0 IP
- RHP Anibal Sanchez (Age: 34)
24 GS, 7-6, 2.83 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 42 BB, 135 K, 136.2 IP
- RHP Joe Ross (Age: 25)
3 GS, 0-2, 5.06 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 4 BB, 7 K, 16.0 IP
Other Rotation Options: RHP Austin Voth, RHP Erick Fedde, RHP Kyle McGowin, RHP Henderson Alvarez (NRI)
The Nationals have essentially made the following changes to their staff:
- Patrick Corbin (137 ERA+, 200.0 IP) for Gio Gonzalez (100 ERA+, 171.0 IP)
- Anibal Sanchez (143 ERA+, 136.2 IP) for Tanner Roark (98 ERA+, 180.1 IP)
- Joe Ross (*125 ERA+, 105.0 IP) for Jeremy Hellickson (123 ERA+, 91.1 IP)
*2016 stats—last healthy season
Washington signed Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez in free agency, while Joe Ross is expected to finally be back to full strength after he spent much of 2017 and 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
That trio joins Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg—arguably the best one-two punch in baseball when Strasburg is healthy and pitching at full capacity.
The Nats are once again thin behind their projected five-man rotation, with prospect Erick Fedde and non-roster invitee Henderson Alvarez among the potential depth options.
1. Cleveland Indians
- RHP Corey Kluber (Age: 32)
33 GS, 20-7, 2.89 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 34 BB, 222 K, 215.0 IP
- RHP Carlos Carrasco (Age: 31)
30 GS, 17-10, 3.38 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 43 BB, 231 K, 192.0 IP
- RHP Trevor Bauer (Age: 28)
27 GS, 12-6, 2.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 57 BB, 221 K, 175.1 IP
- RHP Mike Clevinger (Age: 28)
32 GS, 13-8, 3.02 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 67 BB, 207 K, 200.0 IP
- RHP Shane Bieber (Age: 23)
19 GS, 11-5, 4.55 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 23 BB, 118 K, 114.2 IP
Other Rotation Options: RHP Cody Anderson, RHP Adam Plutko, RHP Jefry Rodriguez, RHP Danny Salazar
Last season, the Indians became the first team in baseball history to have four different pitchers eclipse the 200-strikeout mark in the same season.
All four of those starters will return in 2019, along with one of the most promising young starters in the game.
Corey Kluber is a perennial Cy Young candidate and one of the game's best pitchers. Carlos Carrasco might be the most underrated starter in baseball. In 2018, Trevor Bauer finally turned in a long-awaited breakout season and finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting. And Mike Clevinger followed up his surprising 2017 performance with an even better first full season in the rotation.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Shane Bieber replaced the oft-injured Danny Salazar, and his 3.23 FIP over 114.2 innings provides some hope for even better things to come.
Salazar is still around if a starter goes down with an injury; otherwise, he appears to be headed for a relief role. Also, don't count out a late-season debut from top prospect Triston McKenzie if necessary.