Most Major League teams still use a five-man starting rotation, but it takes a lot more pitchers than that to make it through a 162-game season. All 30 clubs used at least seven starters in 2018, with an average of about 12.Despite that need for depth, it certainly helps to
Most Major League teams still use a five-man starting rotation, but it takes a lot more pitchers than that to make it through a 162-game season. All 30 clubs used at least seven starters in 2018, with an average of about 12.
Despite that need for depth, it certainly helps to have a potent one-two punch at the top of the rotation -- even before reaching the postseason.
Yesterday, MLB.com looked at the top position player duos in the Majors based on 2019 projections. Now it's time to do the same for pitchers.
Once again, the list was based on each team's highest-ranked pair in wins above replacement (WAR), according to Steamer (Using a version of FanGraphs WAR based simply on runs allowed, rather than FIP). Below are the top 10, but keep in mind this could change once free agent Dallas Keuchel signs.
1. Chris Sale and David Price, Red Sox
Total projected WAR: 10.2
Shoulder inflammation was the only thing that could slow down Sale last year, when he threw 158 innings. Based on a projection of 202 innings for 2019, his 6.7 WAR is by far the most for any pitcher, according to Steamer, and perhaps this is the year the lefty finally captures that elusive Cy Young Award. Meanwhile, Price will try to ride the wave from his tremendous postseason success. With all five starters projected for more than 2.0 WAR, Boston is set up well to defend its championship.
2. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, Indians
Total projected WAR: 9.8
Cleveland's Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez tied for first among position player duos, and Kluber and Carrasco come close -- further evidence of the club's star power. But it's not just about these two righties. Trevor Bauer gives the Tribe three of the 10 pitchers with at least 4.0 projected WAR, and the entire rotation ranks in the top 35 in that category.
3. Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, Nationals
Total projected WAR: 9.1
Corbin is one of three pitchers on this list to change teams this offseason, having parlayed a well-timed breakout into a six-year, $140 million deal with Washington. The slider-flinging lefty bumps Stephen Strasburg out of the No. 2 position behind Scherzer, who will try for his fourth Cy Young Award in 2019 after coming in second in National League balloting last season.
4. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, Astros
Total projected WAR: 8.3
Verlander and Cole finished second and fifth in last year's American League Cy Young Award voting, with Verlander a close runner-up for the second time in three seasons. Both seem to have benefited greatly from coming to Houston, with Cole in particular making huge gains in 2018 after an offseason trade from Pittsburgh. If the 28-year-old maintains that improvement, this projection could prove quite low.
5. Luis Severino and James Paxton, Yankees
Total projected WAR: 8.2
The hard-throwing Severino has put together two strong seasons in a row, with a 3.18 ERA and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. He doesn't turn 25 until later this month. Not satisfied with their rotation, the Yankees swung a trade with the Mariners for Paxton, one of the game's nastiest left-handers. The key is that the often-injured southpaw is projected here for 172 innings -- about 12 more than he's ever thrown in a big league season.
6. Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, Mets
Total projected WAR: 7.8
Yes, deGrom exceeded this total by himself in 2018 while putting together one of the most impressive pitching seasons in recent memory. But that's the nature of projection systems, and deGrom still is tied for third among all pitchers in projected WAR. While deGrom tries to keep that up in '19, Syndergaard will be looking for the healthy full season that has eluded him of late.
7. Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, Rays
Total projected WAR: 7.3
This duo also is part of MLB's hardest-throwing rotation, with the important caveat that the Rays only have three projected full-time starters at the moment as they prepare to extend their use of the opener into 2019. Still, Snell and Morton make for a strong top two, with Snell coming off a breakout run to AL Cy Young Award honors and Morton arriving through free agency following a career renaissance in Houston.
8. Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, Dodgers
Total projected WAR: 7.0
Kershaw, with the much longer track record, is projected slightly ahead of Buehler here. But it's worth asking whether perhaps the young right-hander actually is the Dodgers' best starter at this point. After all, the 24-year-old is coming off a highly impressive rookie season that featured a 2.62 ERA. At the same time, Kershaw's numbers have slipped a bit as he has dealt with persistent back issues. Still, the three-time Cy Young Award winner remains effective, and this offseason worked out a new deal with the Dodgers that runs through 2021.
9. German Márquez and Jon Gray, Rockies
Total projected WAR: 6.7
Marquez has a case as a sleeper Cy Young pick after a terrific 2018, and Gray is far better than his results last year (5.12 ERA) indicated. But the thing that probably stands out most here is the absence of Kyle Freeland, who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young race at the end of a breakout '18. While there is virtually no difference between the projections for Gray and Freeland, Rockies fans could make a good case that Steamer is too low on the lefty.
10. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, D-backs
Total projected WAR: 6.3
Greinke is still getting the job done as he enters his age-35 season after posting back-to-back ERAs of 3.20 and 3.21. On the opposite end of the consistency spectrum is Ray, whose ERA has bounced from 4.90 to 2.89 to 3.93 since 2016. Steamer sees a rebound for the lefty, who misses bats at an elite level but also has shown a tendency for walks and hard contact.
Three more to watch:
Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon (5.6 WAR): A new slider could be helping Taillon reach a new level, and Archer will get a chance to rebound in his first full season with the Pirates.
Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta (5.5 WAR): The Phillies signed Jake Arrieta to pair with Nola, but it could be Pivetta who steps forward as the No. 2 starter.
José Berríos and Kyle Gibson (5.1 WAR): After two solid seasons for the Twins, will Berrios find another level at age 25?
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.