MLB rotation rankings: 10 best starting rotations entering 2021 season

By Matt Johnson
Mar 1, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (27) throws against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning during a spring training game at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

MLB rotation rankings: Major League Baseball is back and with a 162-game season tentatively scheduled in 2021, pitching will once again hold the key in determining who plays in the postseason and which team wins the World Series in October. With Opening Day approaching, we’ve got a new set of MLB rotation rankings for the 2021 season.

Things will be different this season. After playing a significantly shorter schedule in 2020, teams and pitchers will be adjusting to a bit of whiplash this season. While many are used to logging 150-plus innings and throwing 90-plus pitches in a start, organizations will be more cautious than ever this year with the health of their pitching staff.

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It will make rotational depth crucial in 2021. That’s why the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves dedicated significant resources this offseason to strengthen both the quantity and quality of their pitching staffs. As a result, we’ll see unique strategies, six-man rotations and some pure dominance this year from some of the game’s best pitchers.

Bookmark this page throughout the season for regular updates. Now, let’s dive into our MLB rotation rankings in 2021.

Stats via FanGraphs.

Updated: March 6, 5:38 PM EST

MLB rotation rankings: Top-10 starting rotations in MLB

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10. Toronto Blue Jays

MLB rotation rankings
Jul 30, 2020; Washington, DC, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu (99) pitches against the Washington Nationals in the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
  • Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, Nate Pearson, Tanner Roark, Ross Stripling

The Toronto Blue Jays made efforts to sign one of the top free-agent starters available this offseason, but couldn’t close the deal. It’s an unfortunate outcome, especially after the success Hyun-Jin Ryu (2.69 ERA, 3.32 xFIP, 26.2% K-rate) had in his first year as the team’s ace. There are durability concerns with the 33-year-old, which makes the rest of this rotation so crucial.

On pure stuff, Nate Pearson can be an ace. His fastball is out of this world and the secondary repertoire will come along, but he is still young and carries his own injury concerns. Robbie Ray isn’t the pitcher we saw in 2017 (2.89 ERA, 12.11 K/99), but he should at least be respectable with a mid-4 ERA. Steven Matz is a solid back-end starter and Tanner Roark can eat innings. There’s solid depth and some upside (Pearson, Ray) with Toronto’s rotation. Unfortunately, the Jays weren’t willing to match the Houston Astros’ offer to Jake Odorizzi, which would have pushed the Blue Jays even further up our MLB rotation rankings.

9. Cleveland Indians

MLB rotation rankings
Sep 23, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Shane Bieber (57) walks off the field in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cleveland Indians starting rotation: Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie, Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill

Shane Bieber is ridiculous, without a doubt the best Bieber on the planet. The 25-year-old led MLB in K/9 (14.20), allowed the third-lowest batting average allowed (.167) and struck out 41.1% of the batters he faced in 2020. He is one of the best pitchers in MLB and will prove it once again in 2021, with a great shot to win consecutive AL Cy Young awards.

Don’t sleep on Zach Plesac and Triston McKenzie in Cleveland’s rotation, especially if you’re one of the batters facing them. Plesac tore through opponents last season, using pinpoint command to work the strike zones. He posted a stellar 0.98 BB/9 and his 2.9% walk rate would have ranked third among starting pitchers if he qualified. McKenzie is no slouch, either. A former top prospect, who got sidelined in 2019 by injuries, the 23-year-old righty made his MLB debut in 2020 and thrived, posting a 3.24 ERA and 42/9 K/BB ratio in 33.1 innings. Behind the trio, Aaron Civale (5.1% walk rate, .280 BAA), Logan Allen and Cal Quantrill make for steady back-end starters.

8. Miami Marlins

MLB rotation rankings
Sep 23, 2020; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sixto Sanchez (73) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
  • Miami Marlins starting rotation: Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, Sixto Sanchez, Elieser Hernandez, Trevor Rogers, Gio González

One of the most underrated rotations in MLB. Miami doesn’t get tons of attention, but this pitching staff offers tons of reason for excitement. If you’re a baseball fan looking for a team with young players, wanting to get on the bandwagon early, watch Miami’s starters in 2021.

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Sandy Alcantara did some impressive things last season, especially for a 25-year-old ace. Despite being seen as a two-pitcher starter, Alcantara registered a 3.00 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 42 innings last season. Those numbers aren’t a fluke, he’s got a 3.71 ERA in 281.2 career innings. Behind him, 25-year-old Pablo López works with a fastball, sinker, cutter and changeup. The repertoire helped him posted a 3.09 FIP this past season, registering a 59/18 K/BB ratio and allowing just four home runs after facing 240 batters. If he’s Miami’s No. 3 long-term starter, that speaks volumes about this rotation.

We also can’t forget Sixto Sànchez and Trevor Rogers. Modeling his game after idol Pedro Martinez, this 6-foot righty recorded a 3.46 ERA in his first 39 major-league innings and impressed in his first postseason start (five shutout innings). He’s got the stuff to be the Marlins’ ace by 2022. Rogers, a southpaw, made his MLB debut last season and profiles as a stellar back-end starter. Miami will also have depth behind them with Gio González in a swing role, along with Max Meyer (No. 3 pick in 2020 MLB Draft) and Edward Cabrera (No. 3 prospect) in the minors. The Marlins would be even higher if we projected our MLB rotation rankings over multiple seasons.

7. Atlanta Braves

MLB rotation rankings
Oct 17, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning in game six of the 2020 NLCS at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
  • Atlanta Braves starting rotation: Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Drew Smyly, Kyle Wright

Health is everything. When Atlanta’s pitching staff is healthy, there’s a great argument to put this team in the top-five of our MLB rotation rankings. With that said, this early in the year, no one should be ready to project great durability and readiness from these hurlers.

Adding Charlie Morton was a great move, but the 37-year-old also carries red flags. He combined for a 3.24 ERA and 3.26 FIP in 508.1 innings from 2017-’19, but trips to the injured list are a regular occurrence for him. He’ll need to be monitored throughout the year and he isn’t the only one. Mike Soroka can be an ace, but he is recovering from a torn Achilles. Drew Smyly, who Atlanta overpaid for early in free agency, isn’t a great bet to stay healthy. With that said, Max Fried (2.25 ERA), Ian Anderson (2.54 FIP, 11.41 K/9) and Soroka showed special stuff in 2020. If everyone is healthy in October, watch out.

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6. Chicago White Sox

MLB rotation rankings
Mar 2, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito against the Texas Rangers during a Spring Training game at Camelback Ranch Glendale. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
  • Chicago White Sox starting rotation: Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo López

Chicago had an impressive rotation this past season, even with Reynaldo López regressing horrifically. The acquisition of Dallas Keuchel immediately paid off, with the veteran recording a 1.99 ERA and even his 3.98 xFIP and 1.09 WHIP indicating he is still a front-line starter. Lucas Giolito is phenomenal, as we saw in his no-hitter, and will be this team’s No.1. starter for a long time.

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We’re excited about the addition of Lance Lynn. The 33-year-old proved that his 2019 season (3.67 ERA, 10.63 K/9) was no fluke with another impressive year (3.32 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) in a shortened 2020 season. Giolito-Keuchel-Lynn is a playoff rotation fans can count on. Behind them, Dylan Cease has shown flashes of being a dependable No. 4 starter and there’s at least some hope López or Carlos Rodon can do enough as the No. 5 starter.

5. New York Yankees

MLB rotation rankings
Mar 1, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) throws a pitch against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
  • New York Yankees starting rotation: Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, Luis Severino

Some will argue the New York Yankees should be higher in our MLB rotation rankings. There’s certainly an argument for it, one based on the assumption that Corey Kluber will stay healthy and Jameson Taillon can rediscover his old form. We’re not quite ready to bet on either of those things happening.

Kluber has logged just 36.2 innings since the 2019 season started, with injuries the culprit in sidelining him. The brief tenure in Texas lasted just one inning and his 35.2-inning sample in 2019 with the Indians (5.80 ERA) didn’t go well. We need to see the 34-year-old prove he can hold up over a full season. As for Taillon, the history of pitchers coming off a second Tommy John surgery should be concerning. New York will also need him to eat innings early in the season, since Luis Severino won’t return from his first TJS until the summer.

Jordan Montgomery could be solid or the pitcher who combined for a 5.25 ERA and 10.3 H/9 in 48 innings dating back to 2019. As for the top prospects, Clarke Schmidt is battling arm issues and Deivi Garcia is a 5-foot-9 pitcher with spotty command. The upside is through the roof, but it’s impossible not to ignore the red flags.

4. Washington Nationals

MLB rotation rankings
Sep 2, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) delivers a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
  • Washington Nationals starting rotation: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, Erick Fedde, Joe Ross

The Washington Nationals got knocked down in our MLB rotation rankings last year due to the nature of regression after pitchers carry a team on a World Series run. Sure enough, even in a shortened season, the wheels came off a bit for the Nationals. Stephen Strasburg missed most of the 2020 campaign due to carpal tunnel surgery, Max Scherzer dealt with injuries and Patrick Corbin (4.66 ERA, 1.37 HR/9) ran into major trouble.

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Fans should feel better about the upcoming season. The numbness in Strasburg’s pitching hand is gone, leading to confidence he can return to his 2019 form (3.32 ERA). While Corbin’s numbers were ugly, his .362 BABIP, 4.12 xFIP and 15.2% home run rate indicate there should be positive regression this time around. As for Scherzer, he remains one of MLB’s most dominant hurlers. The back of Washington’s rotation leaves plenty to be desired, but the team could do worse than rotating Ross and Fedde as their No. 5 starter. Don’t sleep on the Nationals in 2021.

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3. New York Mets

MLB rotation rankings
Feb 23, 2021; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) participates in workouts during spring training at Clover Park. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports
  • New York Mets starting rotation: Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, Taijuan Walker, David Peterson, Noah Syndergaard

In a perfect world, the New York Mets would have loved to land Trevor Bauer. Putting him with Jacob deGrom and the rest of this pitching staff, we’d put them in the top spot of our MLB rotation rankings. There is some disappointment for this organization, but they also deserve credit for doing even more to strengthen both the quantity and quality of this staff.

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New York seemingly got Carlos Carrasco as a throw-in with Francisco Lindor. A righty with a 2.91 ERA in 2020 and a 3.77 career ERA and a 19.2% K-BB rate, any contender would welcome that from a front-line starter. Getting Marcus Stroman back is also huge, especially since he’ll line up as the team’s third starter and a 3.6 ERA from that spot is phenomenal. Taijuan Walker is also the perfect No. 4 pitcher in a rotation. We’re not forgetting about Noah Syndergaard, but he won’t be back until midseason. Until then, David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi will do just fine at the back of this rotation.

2. San Diego Padres

MLB rotation rankings
Mar 3, 2021; Peoria, Arizona, USA; San Diego Padres pitcher Blake Snell against the Milwaukee Brewers during a Spring Training game at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
  • San Diego Padres starting rotation: Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, MacKenzie Gore

Quite an aggressive offseason in San Diego. Adding Blake Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award recipient wasn’t enough. Not only that, general manager A.J. Preller didn’t stop after acquiring 2020 NL Cy Young finalist Yu Darvish. The Padres kept pushing, making this rotation even deeper with Joe Musgrove.

Darvish and Snell are co-aces, both capable of throwing a gem against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the regular season or during a postseason series. Musgrove is also an intriguing arm, with the repertoire and raw stuff (12.48 K/9, 3.86 ERA in 2020) to be a great mid-rotation starter.

Let’s not forget about Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack. Lamet carries TJS risk, but the Padres are covering for that with a six-man rotation. With a conservative approach, we could see the same version of Lamet that dominated this past season (2.09 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 93 strikeouts). Oh, that 25-year-old with a great fastball and phenomenal changeup could be good, too. Lastly, you’ve got Gore waiting in the wings and he just so happens to be the best pitching prospect in MLB.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

MLB rotation rankings
Oct 27, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) celebrates after the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series in game six of the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
  • Los Angeles Dodgers starting rotation: Trevor Bauer, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, David Price, Dustin May

The rich get richer. Los Angeles didn’t need Trevor Bauer, adding him was just a luxury. Even before signing the reigning Cy Young Award winner, many considered this team to be the best in baseball and the rotation was a big reason for that. But, that wasn’t enough for Andrew Friedman.

Clayton Kershaw showed last season (2.16 ERA, 24.4% K-BB rate) that he still has an elite season or two left in the tank. Plus, he’ll no longer be pitching with the weight of a shaky postseason track record on his resume. Walker Buehler is also ridiculous and his .178 BAA, .95 WHIP and 28.6% strikeout rate last season show he can become an ace. Julio Urias, a No. 2 starter on some teams, is competing for a spot in the rotation this season. As for Bauer, even when he inevitably regresses, he is still a force.

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We haven’t even touched on David Price, who is returning after sitting out the 2020 season. Don’t forget about him, his 3.24 ERA and .235 BAA allowed in the first half of the 2019 season shows what he could still be capable of. There’s also Dusti May (2.57 ERA) and Tony Gonsolin (1.94 ERA, 27.9% strikeout rate) who can pitch out of the bullpen or be quality starters. The Dodgers are the best team in MLB and deserve the No. 1 spot in our MLB rotation rankings.