MLB Position Power Rankings for Each Team's Projected Starting Pitching Rotation
There are several aces in new places, which should make the ranking of Major League Baseball's starting rotations for 2020 much different from where things ended last year.
Gerrit Cole was the biggest name on the move, heading from Houston to the New York Yankees on a lucrative nine-year, $324 million deal. Other big names changing jerseys include Corey Kluber (Indians to Rangers), Madison Bumgarner (Giants to Diamondbacks) and Zack Wheeler (Mets to Phillies).
And get ready to see the words "Tommy John surgery" quite often, as guys like Shohei Ohtani (Angels) and Lance McCullers Jr. (Astros) are coming back after not pitching in 2019, while others like Luis Severino (Yankees) and Noah Syndergaard (Mets) are going to miss all of 2020 because of it.
Unlike position rankings where the value of the primary projected starter is the main consideration, we're looking at all five projected starters in this ranking of the best starting rotations. How good is the ace? Are there multiple aces? And how much of a potential black hole are the No. 4 and No. 5 spots?
Certainly not all rotations are built equally, which made this ranking a challenge.
Several teams have two Cy Young candidates and a bunch of guys they're hoping won't hurt them too much (the "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" approach). Others seem to have an entire rotation made up of No. 3 starters—no potential All-Stars, but also no potential 6.50 ERA disasters.
That said, the Washington Nationals were an obvious choice for No. 1, and there's little question the Baltimore Orioles belong at No. 30.
One final note: Though we're primarily focused on the five projected starters, teams with top prospects ready for the call were occasionally bumped up a spot or two based on that additional potential.
30. Baltimore Orioles
John Means, Alex Cobb, Asher Wojciechowski, Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone
Means had a remarkable 2019 campaign, finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote and serving as Baltimore's lone representative in the All-Star Game. He had 10 quality starts and won 12 games for a team that went 54-108. If we were solely ranking teams based on best starter, Baltimore would maybe land in the top 25.
But we're talking full starting rotation here, and Baltimore's other four projected starters had a combined FanGraphs WAR of 0.0 last year (0.9 for Wojciechowski, 0.1 for Milone, negative-0.4 for LeBlanc and negative-0.6 for Cobb). Cobb gets a little bit of a pass because he missed most of the season with back/hip injuries. However, none of those four players has done much of anything in the past four years to suggest they'll help Means anchor this staff.
29. Miami Marlins
Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez, Jose Urena, Jordan Yamamoto
All five of these guys provided at least some positive value for the Marlins last season. Not much, but some. Lopez got shelled a few times, but he made nine quality starts. And Yamamoto has a lot of potential for a projected fifth starter. Between 2017 and 2018 in the minors, he had a 2.25 ERA in nearly 180 innings pitched.
But the most exciting thing for Miami is the guy not listed: Sixto Sanchez. The 21-year-old has dominated in the minors, posting a sub-2.70 FIP at each stop in which he pitched at least 30 innings. The Marlins were willing to deal J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies in order to get this possible future ace. However, it's unlikely he opens the season in the big leagues, and who knows if he makes his MLB debut at all in 2020.
28. San Francisco Giants
Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, Logan Webb
Cueto missed most of the past two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he was already starting to slip before that, posting a 4.52 ERA in 25 starts in 2017. Both he and Samardzija are now well into their mid-30s and appear to have passed their primes.
Gausman was nothing special last year, ending up with a career-worst 5.72 ERA. Smyly was even worse at 6.24. And Webb has a career ERA of 5.22 in just eight starts. Last year was rough for the Giants, but things figure to get even worse in their first season sans Madison Bumgarner.
27. Oakland A's
Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Mike Fiers, Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk
Montas had a breakout year in 2019, posting a 2.63 ERA in 16 starts. And in June, we may have found out why. He was suspended 80 games for testing positive for ostarine, a banned substance. Who knows what he'll look like in 2020 without it.
And then there's Manaea, who threw a no-hitter in April 2018 but then didn't make his 2019 debut until September because of shoulder surgery. If he's healthy, he should be Oakland's ace and one of the best pitchers in the AL West.
But the real unknown here is at the back of the rotation. Puk was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 draft, but he only has 11.1 innings of MLB experience. Luzardo (12.0 IP) is only slightly more experienced, though his numbers throughout his minor league career were extremely promising.
26. Seattle Mariners
Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Taijuan Walker, Justus Sheffield, Kendall Graveman
Hard to know where to rank the Mariners. Kikuchi and Sheffield both have a ton of potential, but they're still unproven. Walker and Graveman were both solid back-half-of-the-rotation starters in 2017, but they've combined to pitch one MLB inning since May 2018 thanks to Tommy John surgeries. Lot of uncertainty here.
But as least Gonzales has been considerably better over the past two seasons than anyone else in this tier. He wasn't an All-Star in either season, but his 7.1 FanGraphs WAR since the beginning of 2018 ranks 19th among all pitchers. That alone keeps Seattle at the top of the basement.
25. Kansas City Royals
Danny Duffy, Brad Keller, Mike Montgomery, Jakob Junis, Brady Singer
Singer likely won't be in the rotation on Opening Day—whenever that may be—but Kansas City's first-round pick in 2018 is a more intriguing candidate than anyone else in the running for the fifth spot. No harm in listing him here for the time being.
The bigger question mark is Montgomery, a guy who has bounced back and forth between starting gigs and the bullpen over the past four seasons, struggling in both roles in 2019. If he's mediocre again, the Royals don't have any other viable options. And it's not like Duffy or Junis have been delivering Grade-A performances over the past two years, either. Kansas City basically has an entire rotation made up of third and fourth starters.
24. Boston Red Sox
Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Collin McHugh, Ryan Weber
Can Eovaldi rebound from an atrocious 2019 season in which he could neither find the strike zone nor keep the ball in the yard? Is Perez good enough to be a third starter following four consecutive seasons with an xFIP of 4.69 or worse?
Can McHugh make the transition back to the starting rotation after spending the past two seasons primarily in the Astros bullpen? Is Weber finally going to deliver on the immense potential he has shown at Triple-A over the past five seasons, or will he continue to sputter with a career MLB ERA of 5.04?
Rodriguez is solid, but that's a lot of question marks for a team that had one of the best starting rotations in the majors as recently as 2017. But without Chris Sale (TJ surgery), David Price (Dodgers) and Rick Porcello (Mets), the ceiling for Boston's rotation is a lot lower than usual.
23. Los Angeles Angels
Shohei Ohtani, Andrew Heaney, Julio Teheran, Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning
If Ohtani is as filthy as he was while making 10 starts in 2018, the Angels should be in business. Both Heaney and Bundy have good strikeout stuff, and while Teheran rarely goes deep into games, he gave the Braves a solid 5-6 innings for 30-plus starts in each of the last seven seasons. You can do a whole lot worse in the middle of your rotation.
But if Ohtani struggles in his first pitching action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2018, that's another story. Because of the five projected starters, Bundy was the only one with a FanGraphs WAR north of 1.6 in 2019—and his 2.5 mark with a 4.79 ERA was hardly ace-level production. He's a fine second or third starter, but if he's your main guy, your rotation is in trouble.
22. Milwaukee Brewers
Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Josh Lindblom, Brett Anderson, Eric Lauer
While the Angels have one 2020 starter who was above 1.6 FanGraphs WAR in 2019, the Brewers have four guys who were at or above that mark last year. Anderson has been a huge question mark because of injury throughout his career, but he had a rare healthy campaign, making 31 starts for Oakland. And if Lauer does end up as Milwaukee's fifth starter, he might be the best fifth starter in the majors.
At the other end of the spectrum, though, Woodruff is probably bottom five as far as aces are concerned. Like the Royals, the Brewers seem to have an entire rotation made up of middle-of-the-rotation guys.
The wild card is Lindblom, who has spent the majority of the past five seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). He was outstanding in that league over the past two seasons, taking home the 2019 KBO MVP award. Whether that will translate to the MLB remains to be seen, though, and the Brewers don't have any other intriguing options if he struggles.
21. Pittsburgh Pirates
Joe Musgrove, Mitch Keller, Trevor Williams, Chris Archer, Steven Brault
Pittsburgh's rotation was a mess last season because both Archer and Williams woefully underperformed. The former was barely even a shell of what he was for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2014-17, both walking guys and serving up home runs at rates drastically worse than his career averages. The latter also had dreadful home run luck, posting a 5.38 ERA one year after an impressive 3.11 mark.
If those guys bounce back at all and if Keller has less atrocious luck in the BABIP department (.478 in 48 innings last year), Pittsburgh should be close to league average.
20. Colorado Rockies
German Marquez, Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, Chi Chi Gonzalez
Which versions of Freeland and Senzatela will the Rockies get?
Freeland finished fourth in the NL Cy Young vote in 2018, going 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA. But last year was a disaster. He went 3-11 with a 6.73 ERA. He went from 4.1 FanGraphs WAR to 0.1. And while Senzatela's transformation wasn't quite that drastic, he had a sub-4.70 ERA in both 2017 and 2018 before it ballooned to 6.71 last year.
Even though both Marquez and Gray have been top-30 starters since the beginning of 2017, it's hard to put the Rockies any higher than this when their other three starters amounted to next to nothing in 2019.
19. Toronto Blue Jays
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Matt Shoemaker, Trent Thornton
Toronto's rotation looks a whole lot different from last year, and that's probably a good thing.
They got Ryu on a four-year deal and Roark on a two-year deal during free agency, this after trading for Anderson. And while Shoemaker isn't new, he was only able to make five starts last season before suffering a torn ACL.
Not a bad situation there, especially if Ryu continues to pitch as well as he did over the past two seasons with the Dodgers. He was the first runner-up in last year's NL Cy Young vote with a 2.32 ERA, and he had an even better mark in 2018 (1.97), albeit in only 15 starts because of a groin injury. He could be a game-changer for the Blue Jays, who haven't had a single pitcher with a FanGraphs WAR greater than 3.7 in the past decade.
18. San Diego Padres
Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, Garrett Richards, Zach Davies, Joey Lucchesi
If we factor in potential impact from guys in the minors, there's a case to bump the Padres up into the top 15. MacKenzie Gore was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft and is the highest-rated pitching prospect, according to MLB.com. The Padres also have Luis Patino waiting in the wings with a career minor league ERA of 2.35 over the past three seasons.
Even without accounting for those guys, though, the Padres aren't too shabby. Paddack had a great rookie year that was somehow completely ignored by the NL ROY voters. Garrett Richards hasn't been able to stay healthy, but he was solid for the Angels back in 2014-15. And hard to complain about a back end of Davies and Lucchesi.
It's not an elite group, but it might be enough for the Padres to finally break through and reach the postseason for the first time since 2006.
17. Detroit Tigers
Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Ivan Nova, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris
Like San Diego, Detroit has some serious talent in its farm system. Casey Mize was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, and he should at least make a cameo appearance with the Tigers at some point in 2020. They also have 2016 first-round pick Matt Manning, who had a 2.56 ERA in 24 starts in Double-A ball last year. He, too, is a candidate to get the call before the end of the year.
The Tigers don't currently have much strength in their rotation, though.
Like previously discussed Kansas City and Milwaukee, Detroit basically has a quintet of third starters. Boyd is no ace, but both Zimmermann and Norris are better than your average back-of-the-rotation guys. For fantasy purposes, any of the five would be good for a spot start against the Marlins or the Giants, but you'd have to be out of your mind to roll with any of them against the Yankees or Twins.
But because of their promising minor league prospects, the Tigers land a full tier above both the Royals and the Brewers.
16. Atlanta Braves
Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Cole Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb
Soroka is still only 22 years old, but he had ace-of-the-staff stuff last year, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year race and sixth in the NL Cy Young vote. He went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA, averaging nearly 3.5 strikeouts per walk and making 18 quality starts.
Fried also had a solid season, but he's the wild card in this rotation. His numbers in the minors were never that good, particularly his walk rate. If that becomes an issue again and if Hamels has further age-related decline (36) after already tapering off the past three seasons, the Braves are going to have a rough time trying to repeat as NL East champions.
15. Arizona Diamondbacks
Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver
If you can't beat 'em, sign 'em. Bumgarner had a 2.63 ERA in 36 games against the Diamondbacks during his 11-year run with the Giants, but he signed a five-year, $85 million deal with Arizona this winter to become the ace of that staff instead.
The D-Backs still have Ray, too, who has been one of the top strikeout artists in the majors over the past four years. He spent the majority of that time as the second fiddle to Zack Greinke, but now he'll be the No. 2 to Bumgarner.
The rest of the staff is somewhat of a wait-and-see situation. Kelly had a 4.42 ERA last year as a rookie. Gallen had a much better 2.81 ERA in his only season at the MLB level, but he also only pitched 80 innings. And Weaver spent nearly four months of the 2019 season on the IL with forearm tightness. This might be a solid five-man group, but it doesn't have anywhere near the established experience that the rest of the teams in our top 15 have.
14. Chicago White Sox
Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Gio Gonzalez, Dylan Cease
It took a long time, but Giolito finally arrived last season. He had a woeful first three years in the majors, racking up a FanGraphs WAR of negative-0.2. But after a 1.39 K/BB ratio in 2018, he took an unfathomable leap forward in that department to 4.0 last year, averaging 11.6 K/9. As a result, he had a 5.1 WAR and placed sixth in the AL Cy Young race, even though the White Sox finished 17 games below .500.
Speaking of Cy Youngs, Chicago signed a former one this winter, snagging Keuchel after his less-than-one-year stint with the Braves. He has had a 3.75 ERA or better in five of the last six seasons, so the White Sox should have quite the one-two punch.
Lopez is much less of a sure thing, though, and Gonzalez has regressed considerably over the past two seasons. And Cease is just a placeholder until Michael Kopech—who had Tommy John surgery in September 2018—is ready to be a full-time major leaguer, which shouldn't take more than a few weeks.
13. Philadelphia Phillies
Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, Spencer Howard
Since winning the 2015 NL Cy Young award with a minuscule 1.77 ERA, Arrieta's earned run average has gone up in four consecutive seasons, reaching 4.64 in 2019. That's hardly ideal production from a guy making $25 million per year, but at least they have Nola and newly acquired Wheeler to anchor the staff in his stead.
Eflin could be one hell of a fourth starter, too. He eventually imploded in late June and lost his spot in the rotation for a bit, but after 14 starts last season he had a 2.83 ERA with nine quality starts, including a complete-game shutout. A full year of his first-half-of-last-season production would be impressive.
For the sake of Phillies fans, here's hoping top prospect Howard is ready for the fifth spot in the rotation. They've seen enough of Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta to know neither one is the answer, but that's where they'll need to turn if Howard isn't going to be ready until later in the season. If he delivers on his immense potential—and if Arrieta makes even a slight improvement over what he did last year—Philadelphia could have a borderline top-five starting five.
12. St. Louis Cardinals
Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson, Kwang Hyun Kim/Carlos Martinez
The good news for the Cardinals is that the delayed start to the season gives Mikolas more time to recover from the forearm soreness that was going to keep him out likely at least through the end of April. The bad news is they didn't get much of an opportunity to figure out whether Kim or Martinez is the best candidate to start the season as the fifth starter.
My complete guess is it'll go to Kim and Martinez will head back to the bullpen for a second straight year, but we shall see.
Either way, solid rotation throughout, provided you're drinking the Hudson Kool-Aid.
The now-25-year-old had a 3.35 ERA in 32 starts last season, though a poor walk rate and FIP and xFIP numbers in the 4.50-5.00 range suggest he was pretty lucky to pull that off. But he was quite solid as a starter in Double-A and Triple-A, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he gets those rates under control and has another year with a sub-3.5 ERA.
If he does, this is a rotation with top-10 potential, as Flaherty finished fourth in the 2019 NL Cy Young vote and Wainwright is apparently an ageless wonder, still providing value well into his late 30s.
11. Minnesota Twins
Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey, Randy Dobnak
After four consecutive awful seasons, Bailey had something of a late-career renaissance in 2019. Split between Kansas City and Oakland, he had a 4.57 ERA. Still not great, but drastic improvement compared to the 6.09, 6.43, 6.65 and 5.56 he put up in the previous four seasons.
If he can stay in that 4.50-4.60 range as Minnesota's fourth starter, the Twins could have something great brewing. Berrios and Odorizzi anchored last year's staff, but there was a sizable drop to the likes of Michael Pineda, Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez. So they went out and got Bailey and Maeda in hopes of sprucing things up.
Gibson and Perez are gone and Pineda still has to serve the rest of his suspension (39 more games) after testing positive for hydrochlorothiazide last September. Once he's eligible, though, he should take the spot currently projected to Dobnak. And at that point, they'll have one of the best top-to-bottom rotations.
Put Pineda's 2.6 FanGraphs WAR in there instead of Dobnak's 0.8 and the Twins have a starting five that was worth 16.7 wins above replacement in 2019. The Washington Nationals (20.2) are the only team with a higher mark.
10. Chicago Cubs
Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, Tyler Chatwood
Each of Chicago's top four starters ranks top 50 in FanGraphs WAR (among starting pitchers) since the start of the 2017 season, and all four had a mark of 2.6 or better last year. No other team can make the latter claim and the Yankees are the only other team that can say the former.
Yet, something seems to be lacking here.
Maybe it's a lack of faith in 36-year-old Lester after he has had three consecutive seasons below 3.0 WAR and two out of three with an ERA north of 4.30. Perhaps it's frustration with watching Darvish serve up a league-worst 33 home runs last season. Part of it, too, is that there's not much potential in a No. 5 spot that is likely to go to Tyler Chatwood.
But while we've previously mentioned several teams that seem to just have a buffet of No. 3 starters filling out their rotations, the Cubs are more like four No. 2s with a potential revolving door at the end of the rotation. That's a good place to be in, though. The lack of a strong 2020 Cy Young candidate makes it initially feel like this group isn't that strong, but the Cubs should be better off than most.
9. Tampa Bay Rays
Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos
Though the Rays weren't the first team in MLB history to experiment with using a reliever as an "opener," they were the first to really do it over the past two seasons. In fact, reliever Ryne Stanek has made more starts for Tampa Bay (56) than any other player since the start of 2018.
It's probably hard to believe a team could have a top-10 rotation with that strategy.
But Morton has somehow become a serious strikeout pitcher in his mid-30s over the past three years, finishing third in the 2019 AL Cy Young vote with a 6.1 FanGraphs WAR. And though Snell struggled a bit last year while battling injuries, he won the Cy Young in 2018.
That's a mighty fine combo at the head of the class, and Tampa Bay will be particularly good if Glasnow can continue last year's breakout campaign. He was excellent throughout his years in the minors, but that didn't translate to the majors until he had a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts in 2019. Even if his ERA doubles to 3.56 while making 25-plus starts, he'll be one heck of a No. 3 starter.
Yarbrough and Chirinos are at least serviceable five-inning guys at the back of the rotation, and it shouldn't be long before Brendan McKay gets re-promoted to take one of those spots. He struggled during his 49.0-inning stint with the Rays last year, but he had a 1.10 ERA in 73.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019. He's a top-20 overall prospect who should make a more positive impact sooner rather than later.
8. Cleveland Indians
Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko
Like Tampa Bay, Cleveland has fringe Cy Young potential in each of the top three spots in its rotation, and major unknowns at Nos. 4 and 5.
Carrasco was fourth in the Cy Young race in 2017, Bieber was fourth this past season and while Clevinger has yet to receive any votes for that honor, he has posted ERAs of 3.11, 3.02 and 2.71 over the last three years. Any time one of those three is on the mound, Cleveland has a great chance of winning.
But with Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber now serving as key pieces of rotations ranked in our top five, the Indians are in a "hope for the best" situation with some combination of Plutko, Plesac and Jefry Rodriguez holding down the final two spots with a combined career FanGraphs WAR of 1.5. And unlike Tampa Bay, Cleveland doesn't have an imminent star waiting in the minors in case that trio is unable to make it work.
At least Plesac was respectable while making 21 starts for the Indians last year. His xFIP (5.06) suggests the ERA (3.81) will increase, but 4.50 with a reasonably clean bill of health would be fine for a fourth starter.
7. Houston Astros
Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy, Josh James/Brad Peacock
Aside from Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, you're not going to find a better pair of aces than Houston's Verlander and Greinke.
Dating back to the start of the 2004 season, Verlander has the highest career FanGraphs WAR among all pitchers. Greinke is third on that list. They have combined for 14 All-Star Games, three Cy Young Awards, six Gold Gloves (all Greinke) and an MVP (Verlander). And even though they're both in the latter half of their 30s at this point, they have shown no signs of slowing down. Verlander had the fifth-highest WAR last year and won the Cy Young. Greinke was ninth.
But with both Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley gone, there are question marks throughout the rest of the rotation. McCullers missed all of last season becuase of Tommy John surgery performed in November 2018. Urquidy made an impressive spot start in the World Series, but he only has 41 innings of regular-season MLB experience and was just OK throughout 2019, regardless of what level he was pitching at. And the fifth spot still seems to be completely up for grabs—and not because there are too many quality options.
Top prospect Forrest Whitley could be a major factor in the quest to fill that final spot, however, only if he can get his control under...control. He didn't even pitch 60 innings last year in the minors, but he walked 44 batters.
6. Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, David Price, Julio Urias, Alex Wood
Kershaw is still an excellent pitcher. Last year was his worst ERA in over a decade, and it was still only 3.03. But bumps and bruises have plagued him recently, with him averaging just 25.5 starts over the past four seasons. He logged at least 198.1 IP each year from 2010-15, but he didn't eclipse 178.1 IP once in 2016-19. (Granted, there might not be anyone making 25 or more starts in 2020 since we still have no idea if or when the season will begin nor how many games it will include.)
Not only has Kershaw's durability come into question, but the Dodgers lost both Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda this winter, each of whom won at least 10 games and pitched more than 150 innings.
Good thing Buehler is a stud, they signed Price and Urias is a breakout star waiting to happen. Urias had a 3.39 ERA in limited innings as a 19-year-old in 2016, and he likely would have been one of the anchors of the Dodgers staff by now if not for a shoulder injury that cost him all but 70.1 IP between the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He had a 2.49 ERA last year, though, and he's probably going to be the best No. 4 pitcher in any rotation.
Wood is the wild card after an injured, ineffective 2019 season in Cincinnati. But he was solid for the Dodgers in 2017-18, and they still have Ross Stripling and Dustin May as viable candidates to take his spot if Wood is unable to regain that form.
5. Cincinnati Reds
Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, Wade Miley
All five of Cincinnati's projected starters had a 2019 FanGraphs WAR of at least 2.0. Their combined 2019 WAR was 16.2, which trails only the Washington Nationals.
Even though the Reds don't have an ace on par with any other team in our top nine, that type of quality depth is good enough for top five, right?
That depends on Castillo and Gray having repeats of last season, though.
In three MLB seasons, Castillo has a career ERA of 3.68 and a 9.79 K/9. 2019 was his best season—3.40 ERA; 10.67 K/9—but it wasn't an "I doubt he can repeat that" type of deviation from the norm. He was an All-Star last year and he should be a strong candidate for that honor again this year.
Gray is the much bigger unknown. He had Cy Young-level stuff in Oakland in 2015 and regained that form for the Reds last year, but he had a hard time getting guys out in 2016 and 2018. His xFIP has been consistently in the 3.65-4.15 range for half a decade, but there's no telling what sort of success he'll have.
And then there's Bauer, who was awesome in 2018 (2.21 ERA) and awful for his 10 starts in Cincinnati last year (6.39 ERA). The Reds are counting on him to be one of their anchors, and this rotation could fall apart if he continues to perform that poorly.
4. New York Mets
Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello, Steven Matz, Michael Wacha
One month ago when Noah Syndergaard was healthy, the Mets would've had a strong case for No. 1. But even with Thor now recovering from Tommy John surgery and certain to miss the entire 2020 season—and even after letting Zack Wheeler leave as a free agent this winter—the Mets are in surprisingly great shape.
That all starts with deGrom, of course. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young winner and 2014 Rookie of the Year has been sensational, despite often getting little to no run support. He has a 2.05 ERA in 421.0 innings of work since the beginning of 2018. He made 28 quality starts in 2018 and another 23 last year, but deGrom has just a 21-17 record to show for it. Kill the win, seriously.
Beyond that ace, Stroman has been rock solid in two of the past three seasons, Porcello won a Cy Young in 2016 (though has regressed considerably since), Matz has given the Mets 30 starts in each of the past two seasons with a cumulative ERA just north of 4.00 and Wacha had a sub-3.40 ERA in four of his seven seasons at the MLB level with the Cardinals. Wacha no longer looks like a potential ace, but that is one heck of a No. 5 starter.
3. Texas Rangers
Corey Kluber, Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles
"Texas" and "Great Pitching" have gone together about as well as oil and water lately. Since the start of the 2014 season, Rangers starting pitchers have had the worst strikeout rate, the third-worst ERA and a FanGraphs WAR that ranks 22nd out of 30 teams.
But Minor and Lynn both had career-best seasons in 2019, combining for 10.9 FanGraphs WAR atop the rotation. And while no other Rangers starter fared better than 1.1 last year, they've replaced those poor performers with a two-time Cy Young winner (Kluber) and a pair of guys who each averaged at least one strikeout per inning while making a combined 57 starts (Gibson and Lyles).
There's no guarantee it'll give the Rangers one of the best rotations in the majors, but you have to admire the approach.
How well it works will depend on Kluber's ability to bounce back from last season.
Between a broken forearm and subsequent abdominal tightness during his rehab assignment, Kluber only managed to make seven starts for the Indians last year with a terribly subpar 5.80 ERA. From 2014-18, he had a 2.85 ERA and was consistently one of the best in the majors. If he can give the Rangers at least 80 percent of that in his age-34 season, they should be back in the mix for an AL West title after a three-year hiatus nowhere close to that conversation.
2. New York Yankees
Gerrit Cole, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, Jordan Montgomery
Like the Rangers, the Yankees are looking to make a huge leap up the pitching rankings because of a stud they acquired this offseason.
Cole racked up 602 strikeouts with a 2.68 ERA in 412.2 IP over the past two seasons in Houston. His K/9 rate was the best in the majors both seasons, and it's hard to believe he didn't win the Cy Young in either season, let alone both of them. Per FanGraphs, only Jacob deGrom (16.0 WAR) and Max Scherzer (14.0) have been better than Cole (13.4) since the start of 2018, and they both pitch in the NL East.
(Cole also made seven postseason starts with Houston, posting a 2.17 ERA and an 11.6 K/9 rate. The Yankees are expecting some serious return on investment in the playoffs, too.)
They needed a guy like Cole, though, because Luis Severino missed almost all of the 2019 season with a shoulder injury and is going to miss all of 2020 following Tommy John surgery in February. Paxton, Tanaka and Happ are high quality options as the Nos. 2-4 starters, but the Yankees would've been down in the 12-15 range if those three guys were their top options.
Montgomery will be the key that either helps New York make a push for No. 1 or drops the Yankees out of the top five altogether.
He made 29 starts as a rookie in 2017 and was supposed to be a major factor in the rotation over the past two seasons. But after leaving a game with elbow tightness on May 1, 2018, he had to have Tommy John surgery, costing him the rest of that season and almost all of 2019. When he was healthy, he had the stuff to be a legitimate No. 2 or No. 3 starter. He could be a godsend at the back of the rotation if he has fully recovered.
1. Washington Nationals
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Joe Ross/Austin Voth
Without Anthony Rendon (34 HR), Brian Dozier (20 HR) and Matt Adams (20 HR) in the lineup—and with fan favorite Gerardo "Baby Shark" Parra now playing in Japan—the Nationals probably don't have the batting prowess to repeat as World Series champs.
This starting rotation might have something to say about that, though.
Scherzer and Strasburg are the aces everyone knows. Not only has Scherzer won three Cy Youngs, but he has finished top five for that honor in each of the last seven years. Hard to argue there's anyone in the game today who's better, though Strasburg is closer when he's healthy. He has posted a sub-3.75 ERA in each of his 10 seasons in the majors, as well as a K/9 rate north of 10.0 in each of the last six years. And he was sensational in the 2019 playoffs, going 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA and an 11.6 K/9.
Corbin is the less well-known ace who gives the Nats a three-of-a-kind in that department. The lefty has a 3.20 ERA with a 10.8 K/9 rate over the past two seasons, earning some Cy Young consideration in both years. He wasn't quite as valuable in 2019 as he was in 2018 due largely to an increased walk rate, but we're still talking about a guy who has been worth 10.6 FanGraphs WAR since the start of 2018—good for fifth-highest among pitchers.
Corbin is unarguably the best No. 3 pitcher on any staff, and Sanchez is at least in the conversation for best No. 4 starter, even though he's now 36 and took a sizable step backward in the strikeouts department last year.
Washington's No. 5 starter is the one potential weakness. Ross has struggled over the past three seasons, but he was a quality option in 2015-16. And Voth had a 3.30 ERA last year in 43.2 innings of work. Between the two, they should be able to figure something out and cement their spot atop the starting rotation rankings.