Which teams have the best rotation depth?

January 30th, 2023

You can never have too much starting pitching.

Teams may enter a season with an idea of who their top five starters are, but rotation depth is imperative during the course of a 162-game marathon. In 2022, 239 hurlers made at least five starts, an average of roughly eight pitchers per team, and there’s value in being able to hand the ball to someone who can give your team quality innings when you need to replace one of your regular starting pitchers.

Here are the clubs that have the best depth options backing up their top five starters.

The Mets’ rotation is loaded with big names, but it also carries plenty of risk considering Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco and José Quintana are all 34 or older and Kodai Senga has never pitched in the Majors. Fortunately, New York’s reserves are strong.

Peterson has started for the Mets in each of the past three years, but he had a different look to him in 2022, bumping his whiff rate (30.2%) and strikeout rate (27.8%) to career-best levels while throwing more four-seamers and sliders and fewer sinkers. Megill also had his moments last season, posting a 2.43 ERA and 2.45 FIP over his first six starts before running into some shoulder problems that limited his availability and effectiveness during the summer.

The Giants didn’t get the superstar they were looking for in free agency, but they did sign some solid veterans, including starters Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling. With Logan Webb, Alex Cobb and Alex Wood also part of its rotation, San Francisco can ease DeSclafani back in after he made just five starts and underwent season-ending right ankle surgery last year. 

The 32-year-old is an overqualified No. 6 starter, as he’s not far removed from posting a 3.17 ERA, a 130 ERA+ and a 1.09 WHIP over 31 starts in 2021. If DeSclafani doesn’t bounce back, the Giants could turn to Harrison, ranked 18th overall on MLB Pipeline’s newly released Top 100 prospects list. The 21-year-old reached Double-A in 2022 and led the Minors in K/9 (14.8).

The Brewers have shown a knack for pitching development, turning Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff into elite arms, Freddy Peralta into an All-Star and Eric Lauer into a quality mid-rotation starter. Their next success story could be Ashby, whose 4.47 ERA in the Majors likely belies his true skill level. In his brief Major League career, the left-hander has shown the ability to rack up strikeouts and ground balls, which is typically a recipe that leads to success. Steamer, one of baseball’s preeminent projection models, predicts a 3.29 ERA and 134 K’s over 119 innings for Ashby in 2023.

After Milwaukee signed Wade Miley to be its fifth starter, Ashby is expected to open this season in the bullpen, but he could get another chance to start if and when the team needs to dip into its reserves. The Brewers also have Houser, who has at times proven to be a serviceable No. 5 starter for the Crew.

Despite losing Sánchez for the past two seasons due to recurring shoulder issues and fellow prospect Max Meyer to Tommy John surgery in 2022, the Marlins felt comfortable enough with their starting pitching depth to trade 26-year-old righty Pablo López to the Twins in a deal for AL batting champion Luis Arraez and two prospects earlier this month. With López in Minnesota, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara, Jesús Luzardo, Edward Cabrera, Trevor Rogers and Johnny Cueto make up the Marlins’ projected rotation entering the upcoming season.

Miami’s rotation reserves are led by Garrett, who made significant strides in 2022, notching a 3.58 ERA, a 3.56 FIP and a 90-to-24 K/BB ratio over 88 innings. The lefty is still just 25 and has a first-round pedigree after being selected seventh overall in the 2016 Draft. The real gem here, though, is Pérez, MLB’s No. 13 overall prospect. Although he’s only 19 years old, the 6-foot-8 right-hander is on a fast track to the Majors, with an impressive combination of size, stuff and polish. The 24-year-old Sánchez is a wild card if he can make it back from his latest shoulder surgery.

Losing the reigning AL or NL Cy Young Award winner would be a huge deal for most teams, but not the Astros. The team’s internal depth has allowed it to withstand the losses of Gerrit Cole, George Springer and Carlos Correa in past offseasons, and we can expect more of the same after Justin Verlander departed to sign with the Mets. The Astros still have Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., José Urquidy and Luis Garcia in their rotation, and Brown (MLB's No. 43 prospect) is a high-upside No. 6 option who comes with the bonus of already having some MLB experience under his belt.

Brown burst onto the scene last September and flashed dominant stuff over seven appearances (two starts), recording a 0.89 ERA with 22 K’s and no home runs allowed in 20 1/3 innings. The Astros would rank higher if there weren’t major questions about their options after the young right-hander.

After missing more than two years due to multiple Achilles tendon tears and soreness in his pitching elbow, Mike Soroka is set to return in 2023 and will compete with Anderson for the No. 5 spot in the Braves’ rotation this spring. Anderson had a rough 2022 season, but he’s shown he can excel at baseball’s highest level, registering a 3.25 ERA, a 136 ERA+ and a 3.80 FIP in 30 starts across 2020-21. The 24-year-old also owns an eye-popping 1.26 ERA in eight postseason starts.

Elder posted a 3.17 ERA in 10 games (nine starts) for Atlanta as a rookie last season, though most of his success came in his final five starts (1.65 ERA), all of which were against the Marlins or the Nationals. The 23-year-old had a 4.46 ERA over 105 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett in 2022.

Five years after pioneering the use of the opener, the Rays are poised to enter 2023 with a traditional five-man starting rotation. Tampa Bay certainly could opt to revert to the opener strategy if it needs to replace any of its top five starters, but that’s not a given with Chirinos back and Bradley (MLB’s No. 20 prospect) waiting in the wings.

Chirinos basically missed the past three seasons, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2020 and another procedure to repair a fractured right elbow in 2021. When healthy, the right-hander has been a valuable swingman for the Rays, recording a lifetime 3.54 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP over 49 appearances (29 starts).

With Walker Buehler undergoing Tommy John surgery last year and Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney both departing as free agents, the Dodgers seemingly have less rotation depth than they usually do, but this is a franchise that has excelled at replenishing its big league roster with talent from the farm.

Los Angeles’ rotation reserves include three pitchers who made MLB Pipeline’s newest Top 100 prospects list -- No. 24 (Miller), No. 56 (Stone) and No. 70 (Pepiot) -- and are close to MLB readiness. All three spent time with Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, and Pepiot even had a stint with the big league club.

Cleveland’s pitching factory has proven adept at churning out quality big league arms, and the team has three more highly touted youngsters who are on the cusp of impacting the Major League roster. 

Espino (No. 16), Williams (No. 42) and Bibee (No. 65) all cracked MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list and are projected to reach MLB in 2023. Armed with an 80-grade fastball and plus-plus slider, Espino is the best of the bunch and a potential frontline starter. You can make a case for the Guardians being higher on this list, but given none of these three has pitched above Double-A yet, the No. 9 spot seems right.

The Rangers went all out in free agency to improve their rotation this offseason, adding Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney to a staff that already included Jon Gray and Martín Pérez, who accepted a one-year qualifying offer to re-sign with Texas.

But considering the recent injury histories of their big additions, the Rangers may need significant contributions from some of their depth options. That includes Odorizzi, who was acquired from the Braves via trade. The 32-year-old is a former All-Star, but his performance over the past three seasons (4.45 ERA, 4.48 FIP) prevents the Rangers from having a better ranking. He’s followed in the pecking order by Dunning, a 28-year-old with a career 94 ERA+ and 1.40 WHIP over 305 innings at the big league level. White (MLB’s No. 66 prospect) could get a look at some point, too, though the Rangers haven’t had much success with pitching prospects lately.

Just missed cut: Yankees -- Frankie Montas (inj.), Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia; Mariners -- Chris Flexen, Matt Brash, Emerson Hancock