How do the NL East rotations stack up?

February 5th, 2020

Nationals and Mets fans can get into a pretty fun debate this spring: Whose rotation is better?

An argument can be made for either team, but Steamer projects the Nats’ rotation to finish the 2020 season with a 17.7 WAR and the Mets' to finish with a 14.3 WAR. It is close and it will be fascinating to see where both rotations end up. It also will be interesting to see if anybody else in the National League East can compete with them down the stretch.

NL East position-by-position: Catcher | Middle INF | Corner INF | Outfield

Here is a look at the NL East rotations:

The best

The Nationals return their World Series-winning front four of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez after Strasburg inked a then-record seven-year, $245 million deal in December. As for the fifth spot, Erick Fedde, Joe Ross and Austin Voth, who each plugged into that role last season, are back. The 2019 rotation led all of Major League Baseball with a 23 bWAR, while the World Series MVP Strasburg’s 6.3 bWAR ranked second among NL pitchers. Strasburg (18, first) and Corbin (14, tied for sixth) ranked among the tops in NL wins, while Scherzer (2.92, sixth), Corbin (3.25, eighth) and Strasburg (3.32, 10th) all ranked in the top 10 in ERA. The Nats will have to be aware of the potential of arm fatigue after the rotation threw deep into October, and the players have a program to adjust to having pitched in the postseason.

The rest (in alphabetical order)

Mike Soroka will serve as the ace and veteran Cole Hamels will attempt to add stability to a Braves rotation that could prove strong if Max Fried continues to progress and Mike Foltynewicz extends last year’s late-season success. One year after vying for both the NL Cy Young Award and the NL Rookie of the Year Award, Soroka will attempt to maintain his front-line starter status. Foltynewicz proved unsuccessful with a similar attempt last season, but after stumbling through the first four months, he looked more like the Cy Young candidate he was in 2018. Along with attempting to prove he can be a dependable No. 3 starter, Hamels will try to influence Fried, a fellow lefty who impressed while experiencing his first full season as a big league starter last year. Sean Newcomb will be given a chance to win the No. 5 spot in Spring Training, but he could move back to the bullpen if he falters or if 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez proves he has something left to offer.

This will also be a big year for highly regarded prospects Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson. Wright has pitched at the big league level at various points during both of the past two seasons. But he has still only pitched 293 innings combined since leaving Vanderbilt University in 2017. At some point before the Trade Deadline, the Braves will likely attempt to add another front-line starter. But before doing so, they want to get a feel for what they already possess.

How quickly the Marlins shed the label of a rebuilding franchise to one that is seriously contending largely rests on shoulders of a young and promising rotation. Early in 2019, Miami’s rotation showed reason for optimism. In the first half, the Marlins’ rotation pitched to a 3.92 ERA, good for seventh best in the Majors. In the second half, there was some wear and tear and injuries, and the ERA ballooned to 5.42, 24th in the Majors. Even though there aren’t any real household names, Sandy Alcantara was an All-Star a year ago, logging 197 1/3 innings while making 32 starts. Alcantara is the front-runner to be the Opening Day starter. Lefty Caleb Smith was the lone pitcher on the staff to reach double digits in wins (10-11, 4.52 ERA), and he struck out 168 in 153 1/3 innings. Pablo López, Jordan Yamamoto, Elieser Hernandez and Robert Dugger are candidates to round out the rotation. And Miami fans are especially excited that the Marlins’ top two pitching prospects, Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera, could make their debuts in the first half. Nick Neidert is another prospect who is close to being ready.

The Mets may have lost Zack Wheeler to free agency, but they can still count their starting five among the best rotations in baseball, which speaks volumes about the arms that remain. Jacob deGrom is the National League’s two-time defending Cy Young Award winner, still very much in his prime. Noah Syndergaard remains one of the most talented -- albeit inconsistent -- starters in the league. Marcus Stroman should provide the Mets with plenty of value in his first full year in Flushing.

Those three are rotation locks. The rest of the Mets’ starting five is unclear, though Rick Porcello seems a strong bet to nail down one of the remaining spots. That leaves one for either Steven Matz, the only left-hander of the bunch, or Michael Wacha, a free-agent signing. The Mets have additional starting pitching depth in Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, both of whom could end up in the bullpen, as well as upper-Minors prospects Walker Lockett, David Peterson, Thomas Szapucki and others. It’s a deeper group than the Mets had a year ago, even if the loss of Wheeler hurts.

The Phillies are hoping a few things to break their way this season. First, they hope Aaron Nola and Wheeler form one of the top 1-2 punches in the division. It is possible. Nola (3.7 bWAR in 2019) finished third for the NL Cy Young Award in 2018 before stumbling at times last season. Wheeler (3.5 bWAR) profiles similarly to Gerrit Cole, and Philadelphia is hoping Wheeler can break out with the Phils like Cole broke out with the Astros. Second, they need Jake Arrieta (0.9 bWAR) to pitch effectively following surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow last summer. Lastly, they need the combination of Zach Eflin (1.5 bWAR), Vince Velasquez (0.1 bWAR) and Nick Pivetta (-0.5 bWAR) to take a significant step forward. The hope and belief is veteran pitching coach Bryan Price can connect with them and help where former pitching coach Chris Young could not.

The organization also is hoping that top pitching prospect Spencer Howard continues to progress and pushes for a job by the summer.