Every MLB team used at least eight starters last season. All but two (the Astros and Rockies) used at least 10. Eight used 15 or more. The Rays used 18 -- a level of inconsistency that at one time would have communicated chaos but, in that particular case, was merely a modern playoff team just cycling through dudes.
In other words, most teams rotate through ... rotations. There’s no telling who will stick and stay healthy. But because we were not blessed with predictive powers, all we can do is assess what’s in front of us with our ranking of the Top 10 rotations in MLB (following our rankings of the top lineups and top bullpens).
Because the notion of a true, lasting “starting five” is long since dead, we’re going to list six pitchers who figure to impact each team this season, eventually if not immediately. And obviously, most teams will likely need quite a few more than that.
A rotation that begins with Scherzer and Verlander deserves to lead this list. Just like a rotation that began with Scherzer and Jacob deGrom deserved to lead last year’s list.
We saw last year, however, what can happen to even the most dynamic of one-two punches: Stuff happens. That stuff manifested in deGrom/Scherzer combining for only 34 starts. Hopefully, the same fate will not befall the Verlander/Scherzer pairing this year. Overall, the risk baked into this terrific rotation is obvious. In addition to the age of Verlander and Scherzer, the 30-year-old Senga only pitched north of 150 innings twice in his career in Japan. Carrasco is entering his age-36 season and offseason acquisition Quintana is expected to be out until at least July following rib surgery. So while the Mets belong at No. 1 for now, hopefully this great group can avoid more setbacks.
The Brewers’ roster is going to look a bit different on Opening Day 2023 than it did a year earlier, but its greatest strength -- Burnes and Woodruff atop the rotation -- remains intact. Both are under wraps through 2024, and trade rumors will persist if the Brewers get off to a slow start. But the interest only speaks to how terrific these two have been. Woodruff has an ERA+ of 139 over the past four seasons. Burnes, the 2021 NL Cy Young winner, has a 156 mark over the past three.
That dynamic duo is followed by three arms in Lauer, Peralta and Miley, who are all capable of better-than-average, if not well-above-average output, so long as health permits. Peralta and Miley were both limited by injury last year, but each has an ERA+ greater than 130 (30% better than league average) over the past two seasons.
Though the Braves don’t have a one-two punch of Cy Young pedigree up top that the NL East rival Mets have, that might not matter if they hold up better, health-wise.
Fried finished second in the NL Cy Young voting last year and has established himself as an ace with a 2.68 ERA and 159 ERA+ over the past three seasons. Strider and Wright both broke out in a big way last year, with Wright becoming the Braves’ first 20-game winner in 19 years and Strider finishing second to teammate Michael Harris II in NL Rookie of the Year voting. The 39-year-old Morton will have to prove he can fend off Father Time after a down 2022, and it will be interesting to see if Ian Anderson (optioned to Triple-A) can bounce back from his struggles and Soroka (also optioned) can bounce back from his injuries.
No team upgraded a segment of its squad more than the Rangers in the rotation. Last year, Texas ranked 25th in MLB in starters’ ERA (4.63). If health permits -- and that’s as big an “if” here as anywhere -- the Rangers will rise up that list substantially.
When deGrom is able to take the mound, he is as good as they come. Over the past two seasons, it’s impressive how much he has resembled ... himself ... when pitching, despite all the fits and starts (or, rather, lack of starts). He’s combined for a 1.90 ERA and 208 ERA+ in 26 outings. But a Spring Training injury scare, while brief, was a reminder that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to deGrom, and the same can of course be said about Eovaldi, who was limited to 20 starts last year. But if those two are healthy, if Pérez can approximate his career year from 2022, and if the Rangers can tap into the upside that still might exist with Gray and Heaney, this will go from one of the worst rotations in MLB to one of the absolute best.
The Phillies boast one of the best one-two combos in the game in Wheeler and Nola, as either of whom is capable of a Cy Young season. Nola’s entering a contract year and coming off a 2022 in which he posted a career-best 0.96 WHIP in 205 innings. Wheeler’s 149 ERA+ over the past three seasons is the fifth-best in MLB among those with at least 400 innings.
Of course, it remains to be seen if either of the Philadelphiaaces will feel any hangover effects from a deep October run. Already, Suárez -- a viable No. 3 option -- is dealing with left elbow inflammation. The Phillies shored up their depth in this department with the offseason addition of Walker, and they are hoping that 19-year-old pitching prospect Painter, despite an elbow scare early in spring, can make an impact on this group before long. These injury concerns affect the Phils’ specific rank, but they’re obviously still Top 10.
As it stands, the Yanks will begin the new season as they left the old one, relying heavily on Cole and Cortes and counting on their internal options --an area of depth weakened by last year’s trades for Montas and Scott Effross, both of whom are now unavailable -- to come through. Ultimately, a lot hinges here on the spring setbacks for Rodón and Severino, both of whom will open the year on the IL, proving to be much ado about nothing. For now, their absence knocks the Yanks down the list a little bit. And if those issues linger, you can take them down further.
Musgrove is making a quick recovery, and he and Darvish were both more than 20% better than league average last season. Snell’s a pending free agent coming off a solid 2022. And in re-signing Martinez and adding Wacha and swingman Lugo, the Padres have really strong depth and might even use a six-man rotation eventually.
To make this list after losing the reigning Cy Young winner is quite a trick. But with Valdez clearly capable of stepping into the shoes of a No. 1 starter after finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting, Javier coming off a 2.54 ERA in 30 appearances and a star turn in the World Series, and Garcia and Urquidy both having proven to be solid and, at times, excellent mid-rotation options, the Astros should be just fine in the post-Verlander era.
There is concern, however, about McCullers being absent yet again, as he’s been dealing with a strained right forearm. The Astros’ X-factor is the rookie Brown. He has great potential to impact the rotation, though he dealt with a back issue late in camp. If McCullers were healthy, the Astros would be a lot higher on this list. They might still deserve to be.
Manoah (third) and Gausman (ninth) both got some love on the Cy Young ballot last year. Among all MLB qualifiers, Manoah’s 174 ERA+ ranked fifth, and Gausman’s 116 mark ranked 24th. To that, the Jays added Bassitt, who was 27th on the list with a 113 mark.
If Kikuchi’s terrific spring, in which he has pitched with clear conviction, is an indication of what he can bring to the table, Toronto will be all the better. But the person who will ultimately determine whether they should be higher on this list is Berríos, who struggled mightily last year but was comfortably 20% better than league average in each of the three seasons prior.
(Yeah, we chickened out and listed 11 teams in our Top 10. Deal with it. There are still a few fan bases who are going to be upset we left off their squad. It’s crowded around here.)
Much was written and said about the suspect nature of the Angels’ rotation beyond Ohtani going into last year, but it was actually the offense -- not the starters -- that let them down. With Ohtani continuing to progress as an ace and getting Cy Young votes for the first time, the Angels ranked sixth in MLB in starters’ ERA (3.67). Sandoval had a 2.91 ERA and 138 ERA+, while Detmers and Suarez were both a bit better than league average.
To that group, the Halos have added Anderson, who is coming off a 2.57 ERA in a career-high 178 2/3 innings with the Dodgers. Ohtani is the clear headliner and attracts all the attention, but this legitimately shapes up to be one of the more effective rotations in MLB yet again.
A full season from mid-2022 trade acquisition Castillo has the potential to lift the Mariners’ group from good to great. For the rotation to reach its ceiling, the Mariners will need Ray to more closely approximate his 2021 Cy Young year with the Blue Jays, as he graded out at league average in his first season in Seattle. But the potential is there for this team to have a terrific twosome up top, followed by the burgeoning talents of Gilbert and Kirby, both of whom delivered as youngsters in the Mariners’ first playoff push in a generation.
Gilbert turned in 185 2/3 innings and a 3.20 ERA as a 25-year-old, while Kirby’s rookie year saw him walk just 22 batters in 130 innings while pitching to a 3.39 ERA. The veteran Gonzales, a workhorse capable of league-average output, rounds out the opening rotation, but the Mariners could also get impact from Flexen and, eventually, top pitching prospect Bryce Miller.
Honorable mentions: Even with Walker Buehler on the shelf, the Julio Urías-fronted Dodgers have a strong argument to be on the list, but Clayton Kershaw’s innings have been limited in recent years, Noah Syndergaard has to prove he can reach his old level, and Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May must be healthy.
If you could promise us Tyler Glasnow takes on a large workload this year, we’d include the Rays, but he’s already dealing with an oblique injury.