Pitching wins champions. We saw the Washington Nationals ride their trio of aces to a World Series title this past season. As we now prepare for the 2020 MLB season, pitching will once again help decide who makes it to October.
Trades and free-agent signings over the past year have shaken up the rotation rankings significantly. From the New York Yankees signing Gerrit Cole to the Cincinnati Reds overhauling their pitching. We’ll see the rewards for their big moves throughout the year,
Many of MLB’s best pitching staffs don’t have just one Cy Young-caliber arm, either. In fact, there are a few teams with a trio of starters who will compete for the coveted award. While other teams might not have an incredible ace, they make up for it with depth.
It’s a near certainty that a team with a top pitching staff will win the World Series in 2020. Now let’s look at the 10 best rotations in baseball as we approach the 2020 MLB season.
1. Washington Nationals
It would be wrong not to give the No. 1 spot to the rotation that carried Washington to a title. When healthy, Max Scherzer is capable of tossing a no-hitter each time he takes the mound. Behind him, Strasburg is coming off a historically dominant stretch in October with a 1.98 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and five wins in 36.1 innings. Of course, Washington boasts another No. 1 starter in Patrick Corbin.
Aníbal Sánchez is more than capable as the No. 4 starter for the Nationals and he proved it in the postseason. Washington needs its pitching staff to keep the excellence going this year with Anthony Rendon’s bat leaving the lineup. If there is one concern with this group, it’s concerns regarding their ability to stay healthy in 2020 after an extended 2019 season.
2. New York Yankees
The Yankees didn’t just sign a great pitcher, they signed a player who achieved something no starter in MLB history has done. Cole set MLB’s single-season record in strikeout rate (39.9%) and K/9 (13.82) in 2019. Even if his numbers regress, he will almost certainly be the best pitcher in baseball.
New York will also have a healthy Luis Severino, who recorded a 3.18 ERA and posted a 450/97 K/BB rate in 63 starts from 2017-’18. If James Paxton can return in May without limitations from back surgery and Masahiro Tanaka plays to his pre-ASB form (3.86 ERA), this will be the best rotation in the league. Even if everything doesn’t go right, New York’s rotation will be in great shape.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers would have benefitted from landing Gerrit Cole, but the recent blockbuster deal made up for it. Beyond the addition of Betts and Brusdar Graterol, David Price could be an excellent piece in this rotation. He recorded a 3.36 ERA with a 10.2 K/9 and a 12.7% swinging-strike rate in his first 14 starts last year. Los Angeles boasts the depth to rest him; in return, it could get an All-Star version of Price.
The duo of Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler will be outstanding and gives them an advantage over nearly every MLB team. What really stands out about the Dodgers’ staff is their rotation depth. Ross Stripling, Alex Wood, Julio Urias, Dustin May and Jimmy Nelson give them a plethora of options. Another front-line starter would give them MLB’s best rotation, but the current group is already great.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay’s trio of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow is incredible. Snell won the Cy Young Award in 2018, Morton finished third in the voting this past season and Glasnow could have won it if he stayed healthy. Health is the most critical factor. There’s no escaping the durability questions with each of these arms, but they’re all aces when healthy.
The Rays will deploy Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough behind them. Chirinos posted a 3.85 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 133.1 innings this past season with a .659 OPS allowed as a starter. Yarbrough held opponents to a .229/.271/.382 slash line with a 4.31 ERA in 85.2 innings as a starter. If either option falters, the Rays turn to Trevor Richards or promising rookie Brendan McKay, It’s a great group to have and is one of the main reasons why the Rays could surprise to win the pennant this season.
5. New York Mets
While the Mets will certainly miss Zack Wheeler, the acquisitions of Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha can easily make up for it. Stroman will provide excellent stability as New York’s No. 3 starter and should settle in for 180 innings and a sub-3.9 ERA. In a back-end role, Porcello will help eat innings and can be relied upon to stay healthy.
The best story is deGrom’s attempt to win his third consecutive Cy Young Award. While it seem unlikely to happen, the 31-year-old has proven his unique excellence the past two seasons. If Noah Syndergaard can tap into his elite abilities, then the Mets will easily have a playoff-caliber rotation and one they can ride in October with an improved bullpen.
6. Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati is just a few seasons removed from relying on one of the worst rotations in baseball. A few trades later and a team in a hitter-friendly ballpark now wins with its pitching staff. Pitching coach Derek Johnson helped turn Sonny Gray from a Yankees’ castoff back into a front-line starter. Cincinnati also acquired Trevor Bauer during the ’19 season, a move that will pay off huge in 2020.
Luis Castillo is the player to be most excited about. He made tremendous strides in 2019 and Bauer has a reputation for helping his teammates develop their repertoire. If this trio of arms can step up next season, they can rival the Rays. Cincinnati’s rotation will be even stronger if Wade Miley plays to his pre-ASB numbers (3.28 ERA) rather than his second-half performance (5.07 ERA).
7. Cleveland Indians
Fortunately for Cleveland, Mike Clevinger’s knee surgery isn’t expected to keep him out for more than a few starts. It’s a need stroke of luck for a team that traded away Corey Kluber for proverbial pennies on the dollar this offseason.
Clevinger and Shane Bieber give this team a pair of aces that can throw seven-plus innings with ease. Behind them, Carlos Carrasco will likely return to his All-Star level after winning his battle with cancer in 2019. It’s a strong group to lead the rotation. While the back of this pitching staff isn’t as strong as it used to be, it’s enough to compete for a wild-card spot in the upcoming season.
8. Houston Astros
From a historically dominant rotation to a group with some questions. We don’t doubt Justin Verlander, who continues to defy age like Tom Brady. The same can essentially be said for Zack Greinke, who is the perfect complement to Verlander.
It’s the starters behind the future Hall of Famers that are concerning. Lance McCullers Jr. will be on an innings limit this season in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, José Urquidy showed great promise in September (1.50 ERA) but struggled in July (5.87 ERA). Houston needs these two to stay healthy and consistently perform, especially with the question mark at the No. 5 spot. The Astros still have a good rotation, but it has fallen a great deal since the offseason.
9. Texas Rangers
Similar to Cincinnati, Texas’ rotation has experienced significant shakeup over the past year. Lance Lynn’s career was revitalized in Texas and he paired with Mike Minor to bring desperately needed stability to the rotation. Even if Minor and Lynn experience some regression this year, the Rangers have taken care of that.
While Corey Kluber’s days as an elite arm are behind him, he can still throw some gems at the front of the rotation. By stepping in as the No. 1 guy, it eases the pressure on Minor and Lynn. Texas also strengthened the back of its rotation with Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. While neither would ever be mistaken for even mid-rotation arms, they will hold their own as starters and give their lineup plenty of chances to win games.
10. Arizona Diamondbacks
Quite a few rotations make a claim for the No. 10 spot, but Arizona’s combination of reliability and potential gives it the edge. Madison Bumgarner is a lock for 200 quality innings at the front of this rotation and Mike Leake is a safe option in the No. 5 spot. It’s the arms between them that could completely swing Arizona’s pitching staff.
Robbie Ray is a pitcher of two extremes, from his 2.89 ERA in 2017 to his 4.34 ERA this past year. Luke Weaver posted a 3.03 ERA in his first 62.1 innings during the ’19 season before being sidelined for most of the season with a UCL sprain in his pitching elbow. Combined with all of the risk-reward options, rookie Zac Gallen is coming off a season with a 2.81 ERA in his first 80 MLB innings. If everything clicks for Arizona’s arms, it will be a scary rotation.