Ranking the Top Starting Rotations for the 2020 MLB Season
1. Washington Nationals
The Nationals are the clear No. 1 rotation in the MLB heading into the 2020 season after leading the franchise to its first ever World Series title last season. Max Scherzer has finished in the top-five for the Cy Young Award seven seasons in a row and may have won his fourth last year if not for an upper back injury that caused him to start only 27 games, his fewest since his rookie year in 2008.
The Nationals also re-signed 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $245 million deal in free agency. Strasburg struck out a career-high 251 batters with a 3.32 ERA in the regular season, and then a 1.98 ERA throughout the postseason.
Then there’s Patrick Corbin, who would probably be the No. 1 starter in most rotations around the league. Over the last two seasons, he’s posted a 3.20 ERA and 484 strikeouts in 402 innings.
Anibal Sanchez is an excellent fourth starter and has revived his career with a 3.34 ERA over the last two seasons and a 2.50 ERA in the 2019 postseason.
Joe Ross will likely be the fifth starter to open the season. His 5.21 ERA since 2017 is concerning, but after needing Tommy John surgery in 2018, his velocity has improved and he posted a 3.02 ERA in nine starts last season.
Also, keep an eye on Austin Voth as a potential breakout performer in 2020. The 27-year old had a 3.30 ERA in eight starts last year and has solid command. He’ll have a good shot to crack the Nationals’ rotation at some point in 2020.
The biggest concern here is if the heavy workload from this group in 2019 will catch up to them this season. The 102 1/3 innings Washington got from its rotation in the postseason was the most by a World Series champion in a single playoff run since the Diamondbacks’ 120 1/3 innings in 2001. However, the Nats’ rotation will get a couple extra months of rest with the season being delayed because of the coronavirus, so those concerns may be alleviated a bit.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Charlie Morton’s first season with the Rays last year was the best of his career. He made his second consecutive All-Star game, finished in the top-three in the AL Cy Young vote and tallied career-bests in nearly every category.
Blake Snell had a disappointing 2019 season but won the Cy Young in 2018 with a 1.89 ERA and 221 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Tyler Glasnow looked like a legitimate Cy Young contender last season through 12 starts before missing four months with a right forearm injury. Before the injury, Glasnow had a 1.78 ERA, a 250 ERA+ and a 0.89 WHIP.
Yonny Chirinos is a quality No. 4 starter, having recorded a 3.68 ERA through 223 innings in his first two seasons. Ryan Yarbrough will likely open the season as the No. 5 starter after being used in the opener role the last two seasons.
Chirinos and Yarbrough could both be used in the bullpen at times too in order to give Trevor Richards and top prospects Brendan McKay and Brent Honeywell a look.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
Even though the Dodgers lost Hyun-jin Ryu in free agency, the Dodgers still have a plethora of talented arms to deploy. Walker Buehler, a first-time All-Star in 2019, should compete for the NL Cy Young this season. Clayton Kershaw’s best days are behind him, but he was still an All-Star last year and should still be one of the best pitchers in the game in his age 32 season.
Julio Urias has elite raw stuff and the Dodgers have been waiting for the 23-year old southpaw to pop for a few years. In 37 appearances (eight starts) last year, he had a 167 ERA+. 2020 could be the year he finally puts it all together and develops into a formidable starter.
In the deal with the Red Sox to acquire Mookie Betts, the Dodgers also added David Price, who registered a 3.36 ERA with a 10.2 K/9 rate in his first 14 starts last year. The Dodgers rotation has more depth than any staff in baseball. With more leeway to rest Price than the Red Sox had the past couple years, Price should be more consistent in Los Angeles.
Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, Tony Gonsolin and top prospect Dustin May will all contribute in 2020. Don’t be surprised if May breaks out this year the way Buehler did last year.
4. Cincinnati Reds
Luis Castillo was one of baseball’s biggest breakout stars in 2019, posting a 3.40 ERA on his way to his first All-Star game. If he takes another step forward, he will be in the conversation for the NL Cy Young in 2020.
Sonny Gray emerged into a frontline starter last season after disappointing with the Yankees in 2018, striking out a career-high 205 batters.
Acquiring Trevor Bauer at last year’s trade deadline from the Indians was a blockbuster move, but he’ll have to be more consistent in 2020. Bauer is an All-Star caliber pitcher at his best, but in 10 starts with the Reds last season, his ERA was a dismal 6.39.
Anthony DeSclafani was a pleasant surprise in 2019 with a 3.89 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 31 starts. Adding Wade Miley should also fortify the back of the rotation if he can return to his early 2019 season form. Before a September collapse, Miley had a rock solid 3.26 ERA through the first six months of the season.
Tyler Mahle will be another option in the back of the rotation. Despite a 5.14 ERA last season, his Command+ ranked second among all starters in 2019. He allowed 25 home runs in 25 starts last season, so if he can cut down that total, he could take a step forward in 2020.
5. Cleveland Indians
The fact that the Indians traded both Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber away and still project to have one of the best rotations in 2020 speak to the organization’s ability to develop its pitchers. Shane Bieber became one of the best pitchers in baseball in his second season after recording 259 strikeouts to just 40 walks in 2019.
Mike Clevinger is also one of the most underrated starters in the league, having averaged a 2.96 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings over the last three years. Carlos Carrasco started just 12 games last season before being diagnosed with leukemia, but he returns in 2020. From 2015 to 2018, he averaged a 3.41 ERA and 205 strikeouts per season.
Aaron Civale is a potential breakout star in 2020 after logging a 2.34 ERA through 57 2/3 innings in his first 10 starts as a big leaguer last season. Zach Plesac also had a promising first season with a 3.81 ERA in 115 2/3 innings in 2019.
6. Houston Astros
Even after losing Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley in free agency, the Astros rotation will be one of the best in baseball, but there are some concerns here. Justin Verlander won his second Cy Young Award last year after having a 2.58 ERA and a career-high 300 strikeouts. However, Verlander is 37 now and is coming off groin surgery and a lat strain.
Zack Greinke, a six-time All-Star and former Cy Young winner, is also 36 years old but has averaged a 3.11 ERA, 205 innings and 200 strikeouts over the last three seasons. It is the starters behind Verlander and Greinke that have a lot more question marks.
Lance McCullers Jr. was an All-Star in 2017 but is coming off Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss all of 2019. He will likely be on an innings restriction.
Jose Urquidy will be the x-factor. The 24-year old flashed as a rookie in 2019 with a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings last September and a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings last postseason. The Astros will need him to take the next step in 2020.
Brad Peacock will likely be the fifth starter to open the season, but that slot will likely be an open competition all season. The Astros could use Josh James or Framber Valdez in that spot, and there is a chance top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley could be in the rotation by the end of the season. However, Whitley had some shoulder fatigue and along with a 7.99 ERA in the Minors last year, so he may be farther away from contributing than the Astros would like.
7. New York Yankees
The Yankees would absolutely be higher on the list if they had their full set of arms available. However, Luis Severino will miss all of 2020 after needing Tommy John surgery and Domingo Germán was suspended 81 games for violating the MLB’s domestic violence policy.
Adding Gerrit Cole solves a lot of problems though. He's coming off an absurd 2019 season with the Astros, leading the AL with a 2.50 ERA and setting a new record of 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings. His reward: a record-setting nine-year, $324 million contract.
James Paxton was solid last season with a 3.82 ERA and 186 strikeouts in 29 starts. The Yankees will need more consistency from Mashiro Tanaka in 2020, especially with Severino out. Tanaka has All-Star upside when he’s on, but he has to improve on a 6.05 ERA away from Yankee Stadium last year.
J.A. Happ struggled in 2019 with a 4.91 ERA in 30 starts, but after modifying his mechanics in the offseason, he’ll look to bounce back in his age 37 season. Jordan Montgomery also returns from Tommy John surgery after making just one start in 2019. The two seasons before though, he averaged a 3.75 ERA in 35 starts.
Top prospects Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt both figure to contribute at some point in 2020 too.
8. Texas Rangers
Mike Minor and Lance Lynn were two of the best starters in the league last year, ranking second and third in the MLB in WAR last year, respectively. Even if both take a slight step back in 2020, adding two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber will take a lot of pressure off them.
Kluber started only seven games in 2019 due to a broken arm and strained oblique, but from 2014 to 2018, he averaged 218 innings, a 2.85 ERA and 245 strikeouts per season.
The Rangers also added Kyle Gibson, who spent his first seven seasons with the Twins. Gibson regressed in 2019 after a stellar 2018 campaign but has averaged 172 innings pitched over the last six seasons.
Jordan Lyles could also be one of the best backline rotation starters in the league. He had a strong finish to last season after being traded from the Pirates to the Brewers with an ERA of 2.45 in 11 starts in Milwaukee.
9. New York Mets
With a healthy Noah Syndergaard, the Mets would have a case to be the best rotation in baseball. However, Syndergaard will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
However, the Mets are still in great hands knowing they can use Jacob deGrom every fifth day. He’s been arguably the best pitcher in baseball the last two seasons, winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards behind a 2.05 ERA, 524 strikeouts and only 90 walks in 421 innings during that span.
Acquiring Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays at last year’s trade deadline will also help soften the blow of not having Syndergaard. Stroman’s strength though is his ability to produce ground balls at a high rate, but the Mets infield defense ranked towards the bottom of the league in 2019.
Beyond those two, the Mets’ depth is concerning. Steven Matz will likely produce around league-average after recording a 4.21 ERA in 160 1/3 innings in 2019. Rick Porcello was the AL Cy Young winner in 2016, but in three seasons since then, he’s compiled a 4.82 ERA.
Michael Wacha will likely be the No. 5 starter after spending his first seven seasons with the Cardinals. The Mets will need him to produce more like the 2018 version of himself (3.20 ERA) rather than the 2019 version (4.76 ERA).
10. Arizona Diamondbacks
Several teams could be put in this slot, but Arizona’s pitching staff has a chance to be dangerous. The Diamondbacks added longtime San Francisco Giant, Madison Bumgarner, who declined a bit in 2019 but still had a solid 3.90 ERA with 203 strikeouts in 207 2/3 innings.
Zac Gallen is still largely unknown, but he could develop into one of the best starters in the NL in 2020 after a promising rookie campaign where he had just a 2.81 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 15 starts.
The Diamondbacks have several other quality veteran arms to round out their rotation with Robbie Ray, Luke Waever, Merrill Kelly and Mike Leake.
Ray is an All-Star caliber pitcher at his best after finishing third in the MLB last year with 12.13 strikeouts per nine innings. On the other hand, his 4.34 walks per nine innings was also second worst among MLB starters, so he’ll need to improve in that area.
Weaver was excellent in his first season with Arizona, posting a 2.94 ERA in 12 starts but a UCL sprain in his throwing arm caused him to miss most of the season.
Top prospect Corbin Martin, who was acquired in the deal that sent Greinke to the Astros, could also contribute in 2020.
Will Desautelle is a senior majoring in journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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