Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

MLB Rotation Ranks heading into 2020


Scherzer: the #1 on the #1 rotation. photo via

Scherzer: the #1 on the #1 rotation. photo via

Every off-season I find myself meticulously tracking Starting pitching movement, with a working XLS that attempts to quantify the rank of every rotation in the majors.

Before we get too further into the pre-season, and these ranks start to get obsoleted as we find out that some starters are going to head into surgery or to the DL, i wanted to get this out there.

Previous years of doing this

  • 2019 Cubs #1, Nats #4.  Probably overvalued Cubs, undervalued the Dodgers, Rays and Astros.
  • 2018: did not do the analysis, but Houston led the league in ERA, FIP, fWAR
  • 2017: Cubs #1, Mets #2.  Cleveland and LA Dodgers really the best.
  • 2016: Mets #1, Cardinals #2.  Mets and Nats ended up being the best on the season.
  • 2015: did not do the post.  Cubs, Nats, Dodgers the best.
  • 2014: Cards #1.  Nats ended up being the best rotation by most measures.
  • 2013: Nats #1, Tigers #2.  In the end, Detroit really was the best rotation.

Here’s my rankings of the Starting Rotations of every team in the majors.

Raw data, which includes a ton more detail including movement, starters still out there, and color coding indicating whether i think a pitcher is a #1, a #2, a #3 or lower is here:

Notes: i have these roughly grouped for discussion.  Each of these groups of rotations are in the correct order, but are relatively close enough that if you wanted to argue within the grouping I wouldn’t probably push back too much, but i’d put any of the teams in one group ahead of any team in the next group.

1. Washington:  Max Scherzer Stephen Strasburg Patrick Corbin Anibal Sanchez Joe Ross
2. Texas:  Corey Kluber Lance Lynn Mike Minor Kyle Gibson Jordan Lyles
3. Los Angeles Dodgers:  Clayton Kershaw Walker Buehler David Price Julio Urias Alex Wood
4. New York Mets;  Jacob deGrom Noah Syndergaard Marcus Stroman Steven Matz Rick Porcello

Yes, i’ve got our home team #1.  I think the top 3 are all three Aces (meaning, they’re all among the top 15-20 arms in the league), and the Nats are the only team that can make that claim.  Texas has completely remade their rotation, adding an ace in Kluber, adding the back-end of their rotation via FA this off-season and I really think they’re in a position to make some noise.  LA comes in third, and yes I still have Kershaw as an “Ace” for now, but Buehler is probably the best arm of the bunch.  the Mets are a speculative #4; is Snydergaard really an Ace?  What happened to him last year?  If he returns to form, the NL East becomes that much more difficult to navigate for all the teams involved.

5. Tampa Bay:  Blake Snell Charlie Morton Tyler Glasnow Yonny Chirinos Ryan Yarbrough
6. Houston:  Justin Verlander Zack Greinke Lance McCullers Jose Urquidy Rogelio Armentos
7. Philadelphia:  Zack Wheeler Aaron Nola Jake Arrieta Zach Eflin Vincent Velasquez
8. Cincinnati:  Sonny Grey Luis Castillo Anthony DeSclafani Trevor Bauer Wade Miley
9. Atlanta: Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Cole  Hamels, Max Fried, Kyle Wright

Tampa is a hard one to rate, b/c of their use of the “Opener” so much.  Houston takes a hit by letting Cole go and replacing him with someone who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup.  I think Cincinnati’s rotation may prove to look quite mediocre if Grey and Bauer in particular don’t produce.  Atlanta has five talented guys who all could step up and make them really tough to beat, so watch out.



10. Oakland:  Sean Manaea Frankie Montas Mike Fiers Jesus Luzardo Chris Bassitt
11. St. Louis:  Jack Flaherty Dakota Hudson Miles Mikolas Adam Wainwright Kwang-Hyun Kim
12. New York Yankees:  Gerritt Cole Luis Severino Masahiro Tanaka J.A. Happ Domingo German
13. Toronto:  Hyung-Jin Ryu Chase Anderson Matt Shoemaker Tanner Roark Shun Yamaguchi
14. Minnesota:  Jake Odorizzi Jose Berrios Kenta Maeda Homer Bailey Randy Dobnak
15. San Diego:  Chris Paddock Garrett Richards Drew Pomeranz Zach Davies Dinelson Lamet
16. Cleveland:  Mike Clevinger Shane Bieber Carlos Carrasco Aaron Civale Adam Plutko

Oakland could look a lot better fast if Luzardo lives up to his #2 starter hype.  Its also noteworthy that no matter where you rank Oakland’s rotation pre-season, they produce.  I think i had them in the bottom five last year and they won 97 games with a bunch of #4 starters.  So who knows.  The Yankees are #12, which also seems amazing for a 103 win team that ADDED perhaps the best right hander in the game … but they fall off fast AND they seem to have lost Severino for the season (which is not accounted for here), so they may be actually worse.  Toronto’s got 3 new starters and some unknowns: is Ryu going to be an Ace or a 4th?  Cleveland is the lowest team with an “Ace” in the rotation


17. Arizona:  Robbie Ray Luke Weaver Mike Leake Merrill Kelly Alex Young
18. Milwaukee:  Brandon Woodruff Adrian Houser Brett Anderson Freddy Peralta Eric Lauer
19. Chicago Cubs:  Kyle Hendricks Yu Darvish Jon Lester Jose Quintana Alec Mills
20. Boston:  Chris Sale Eduardo Rodriguez Nathan Eovaldi Martin Perez Matt Hall
21. Chicago White Sox:  Lucas Giolito Dallas Keuchel Reynaldo Lopez Carson Fulmer Gio Gonzalez
22. Colorado:  Jon Grey German Marquez Kyle Freeland Antonio Senzelata Jeff Hoffman
23. San Francisco:  Jeff Samardzija Johnny Cueto Tyler Beede Kevin Gausmann Drew Smyly
24. Los Angeles Angels:  Shohei Ohtani Julio Teheran Jamie Barria Andrew Heaney Dylan Bundy

this is a logical stopping point (the #24 ranked Angels) because this is clearly the end of teams that are “trying” in 2020.  And you might push back on the notion that some of these teams are even trying (Boston, SF, etc).  Its still kind of amazing to me that the White Sox are ranked this low, given the pedigree of their prospect-laden rotation and the fact that they added a recent cy Young winner in Keuchel this past off-season.  Boston takes a hit as we hear that Sale may start the season on the DL.  Lastly what to make of LAA?  Is Ohtani goign to compete and be an ace?  If not they need production from a bunch of #5 starters or else they waste even more of Trout (and now Rendon‘s) careers.


25. Seattle: Marco GonzalesYusei Kikuchi Justus SheffieldKendall GravemanJustin Dunn
26. Pittsburgh:  Chris Archer Joe Musgrove Steven Brault Trevor Williams Mitch Keller
27. Kansas City: Danny DuffyBrad KellerJake JunisMike MontgomeryJesse Hahn
28. Detroit:  Matt Boyd Jordan Zimmermann Daniel Norris Spencer Turnbull Ivan Nova
29. Baltimore:  John Means Alex Cobb Asher Wojciechowski Dean Kremer David Hess
30. Miami:  Sandy Alcantara Caleb Smith Jose Urena Jordan Yamamoto Pablo Lopez

All 6 of these teams i have as actively “tanking” in 2020, so not surprisingly they’re the bottom 6 rotations.  A couple of these rotations don’t even have what i would consider even a #3 starter, and among all 6 of these teams I only see two acquisitions this off-season that project into their rotations.  Miami, the lowest ranked rotation, made its sole starting pitching acquisition of the off-season a rule-5 drafting of our own former prospect Sterling Sharp, which is pretty telling.  Baltimore has added a bunch of depth but it all projects as just that; depth.  4-A or minor league starter depth.


That’s it.  What do you think?


12 Responses to 'MLB Rotation Ranks heading into 2020'

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  1. Todd, looks like you forgot about MadBum now in Arizona


    28 Feb 20 at 2:04 pm

  2. FanGraphs has a ranking of the best starting pitchers.
    3. Scherzer

    5. Strasburg

    12. Corbin

    I think that sums it up nicely.

    Mark L

    29 Feb 20 at 8:28 am

  3. I look at nearly all of these rotations and wonder why no one made the Nats a substantive offer for Ross, Voth, or Fedde. The back ends of nearly all of these groupings suck. In fact, a lot of good teams are questionable by #3 or #4.

    Kinda daunting to see four of the top nine rotations in the NL East. It’s going to be a tough division. You’ve got more faith in the back ends for the Mets and particularly the Phils than I do, though. Wheeler wasn’t particularly great last season, Arrieta is declining, and several of their youngsters hit a wall. The Braves should be pretty good if their quintet stays healthy, and if Hamels has anything left, neither of which is a given.

    If Kluber bounces back completely — which isn’t a given at all — you may be right about the Rangers, but their lineup is terrible. Meanwhile, in the same division, the Angels have built a HOF lineup with only one good starting pitcher, a half-timer coming back from injury. In the same division, does Houston have enough starting pitching after letting Cole walk? Steamer in particular has Greinke showing his age in 2020.


    29 Feb 20 at 8:09 pm

  4. In other news, I love the reports from Nats’ camp that Cabrera has basically adopted Kieboom and is spending tons of extra time helping him with his footwork and positioning at 3B. I’ll admit that I sorta had Cabrera pegged as a jerk when he was with the Mets and Phils. Seems like he’s any but. More reasons to love this team, even if they collectively don’t quite recapture last year’s magic.


    29 Feb 20 at 8:12 pm

  5. Cabby is good people. I think the Mets would drive anyone with a modicum of self-respect completely crazy.

    I still think we trade one of Ross/Voth before Opening Day…


    29 Feb 20 at 9:06 pm

  6. Sao — Never say never, but I think Rizzo would have to be blown away by an offer to trade Ross or Voth at this point. Now, Fedde should be floated early and often, even with the option. With such an older starting rotation, though, I’m predicting that Ross and Voth both get double-digit starts for the the Nats in 2020. I hope I’m wrong, but at least some IL time from the top four is almost inevitable. Maybe they trust Fedde, McGowin, and/or Crowe enough to back-fill if they trade Ross or Voth, but I don’t.


    29 Feb 20 at 9:25 pm

  7. And they didn’t even trust Mario Sanchez enough to give him an NRI, which is perplexing to me. I do understand that they have a truckload of pitchers on the 40-man who have to get innings, though.


    29 Feb 20 at 9:27 pm

  8. I think all things said about Cabrera are true. Yes, he Was a bad clubhouse guy for a long time, but he’s now at the back end of his career and he’s seen what a good clubhouse should look like.
    We all hopefully mature and become better people with time.

    Mark L

    1 Mar 20 at 7:21 am

  9. Mark L’s points are well taken. The changing economics of baseball are not lost on players. Other than the elite players and the higher end starters, there is genuine competition for jobs among the other players, and people who play for year to year contracts know they are not so far removed from a minor league contract the next year (eg Dozier).

    The Nationals had a lot in their clubhouse to reflect a maturity and an atmosphere to which everyone contributes. Good for Cabrera. As for Kieboom, his defense may need work right now, but he sure is getting on base. Nice to see him patient at the plate at a time when his defense is not yet clicking.

    I’ve thought about it a lot and I cannot see a trade happening for Ross/Voth this spring. The Nationals are an injury away from need, and the return won’t possibly be equitable for a young and controllable starting pitcher, especially Voth.

    Has anyone seen McGowin? How many options does he have remaining? Has anyone seen Hernandez’ defense in the outfield? He sure is getting chances so far.


    1 Mar 20 at 7:35 am

  10. McGowin actually still has two options remaining, even though he’s already 28. He went 7-2 at Fresno last year with an ERA under 4, a fairly amazing accomplishment in that pinball league.


    2 Mar 20 at 7:36 am

  11. I’ve always liked McGowin as a late bloomer who took off two years ago. He’ll never excite the velocity obsessed, but he knows how to use what he has. He has nothing more to prove in the minors, really, and I’d love to see him find a chance in the organization. His numbers are good this year, but in the bullpen. I wonder how he has performed, and hope he gets a start as the roster starts to thin a bit.

    With the Yankees reportedly sniffing around Matz, I have to think they’ve called Rizzo.


    2 Mar 20 at 4:50 pm

  12. Catching up here on this ranking post.
    – bumgarner to Arizona; yeah missed that one. Its hard to keep track of the movement sometimes. And now that ST started i wanted to publish the work so it didn’t go to waste. I’d say signing Bumgerner jumps Arizona’s rotation from 17 in this analysis to 11 or 12, perhaps higher if he can get back his ace status (i’ve got him as a #2 right now due to performance slide)
    – NY losing Severino is a huge hit: it takes them from #12 to #22. replacing a #2 starter with a 5th starter is a big blow.

    Other comments here:
    – Mario Sanchez: great in AA, got shelled in AAA. It seems to me that he should go back to AAA and see if he can get top pros out.
    – McGowin; yeah he was great in AAA; he was god-awful for MLB. What do you do with him? Is he the 8th starter out of 9 on the 40-man? i guess that’s it; he’ll get work but lord wear a batting helmet.

    Todd Boss

    3 Mar 20 at 12:04 pm

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