These days it's rare for a starting pitcher to go beyond seven innings, but the starting rotation is still key to the success or failure of a team in MLB. As we enter the 2021 season, here's a look at MLB starting rotations ranked 1-30.
The Dodgers sport seven starters who could pitch near the top of almost any rotation in baseball, led by three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Trevor Bauer and David Price also have Cy Youngs on their resumes, and Walker Buehler and Julio Urias show the potential to win one of their own someday. Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin should get their fair share of starts at some point this year, as well, and have been dominant in the majors over the last two years. This rotation has so much ability and depth that it's almost unfair.
The Padres rotation is loaded after adding former Cy Young winner Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove during the offseason. That trio each has a chance to compete for the Cy Young in 2021, and the team already had two young pitchers with similar aspirations in Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack. Adrian Morejon is a fine spot starter as a former elite prospect, and waiting in the wings is elite pitching prospect, MacKenzie Gore.
Atlanta's rotation improved in the offseason by replaced the injured Cole Hamels with former Astros and Rays ace Charlie Morton, adding to a rotation that includes blue-chip arms like Max Fried, Mike Soroka, and Ian Anderson. Fried, in particular, came into his own in 2020 with a 2.25 ERA over 11 starts. The team also signed high upside but oft-injured lefty Drew Smyly, and Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson are former top prospects that give Atlanta further depth.
The White Sox had a strong starting rotation before acquiring ace Lance Lynn in the offseason. He fits in nicely alongside Lucas Giolito and former AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel to make one of the best trios in baseball. The team is also hopeful that former top prospects Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon can take steps forward, both showing plus stuff. Michael Kopech is the great X-factor, set to serve as a long reliever at the start of the season following Tommy John surgery and serve up 100 mph heat.
Not only have the Mets revamped their lineup in 2021 but also their rotation with the additions of Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker. Carrasco will miss the start of the season with a hamstring injury but had a sub-4.00 ERA in six of the last seven seasons with Cleveland. Jacob deGrom might be the best active pitcher on Earth, and Marcus Stroman has had a strong career. Noah Syndergaard has pitched like an ace at times during his career with a triple-digit fastball and could return from Tommy John surgery by midseason. The organization is also high on David Peterson, a former first-round pick who posted a 3.44 ERA in 49.2 innings last season.
The Twins rotation saw significant turnover in the offseason, but their top three starters remain the same with Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda. It's hard to find any issues with that trio, and the bottom of the rotation also has plenty of ability of some combination of J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker, and Randy Dobnak. Since 2017, Berrios has thrown over 600 innings with a 3.82 ERA but shows the potential to take his game to the next level.
Over the last year-plus, Cleveland has lost aces Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, and Carlos Carrasco. Somehow they have more high upside talent where that came from, including 2020 AL Cy Young Shane Bieber. Zach Plesac also pitched like an ace last season, while former top prospect Triston McKenzie held a 3.24 ERA in 33.1 innings. Aaron Civale regressed after posted a 2.34 ERA in his rookie season but hopes to rebound. Likely fifth starter Logan Allen has impressed this spring and is a former top prospect in his own right.
The Yankees rotation has seen majors turnover during the last two years, adding Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, and Jameson Taillon. Cole is undoubtedly an ace, and Kluber and Taillon hope to regain that form as they return from injuries. Jordan Montgomery struggled in his return from injury last year, but his ERA indicators show imminent improvement. Domingo German had a breakout 2019 season before getting suspended and has pitched well this spring. The team has excellent depth with young pitchers Deivi Garcia, Mike King, and Clarke Schmidt behind the starting five.
The Astros rotation took a huge blow when ace Justin Verlander had to undergo Tommy John surgery last year. Whether they're able to bounce back will depend on the health of their remaining starters, led by long-time ace Zack Greinke. The team has four very capable starters in Lance McCullers Jr., Jake Odorizzi, Cristian Javier, and Jose Urquidy, and could get a bonus if 2020 breakout Framber Valdez is able to return from a fractured finger. Unfortunately, the depth took a huge hit when top prospect Forrest Whitley underwent Tommy John surgery this spring.
The Nats are still led by three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and three-time All-Star Stephen Strasburg. That duo is looking to regain their form after disappointing 2020 seasons. More concerning are lefties Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester, who have almost equally impressive track records but were bad last year due to velocity declines. Fifth starter Joe Ross opted out of 2020 but had shown impressive flashes before then.
Miami has done a great job acquiring and developing pitchers, with a favorable home ballpark helping along the way. Sandy Alcantara has the stats to match his elite stuff with a sub-4.00 ERA in three consecutive seasons, while Sixto Sanchez also showed that potential after arriving last year. Pablo Lopez and Elieser Hernandez have found great success with exemplary control, and former first-round pick Trevor Rogers has been the talk of camp with elite whiff capability. Depth will be important for a rotation that's so young, and the team also has that covered with promising arms at Triple-A.
The Cardinals consider starting pitching to be their strength, led by young ace Jack Flaherty. Long-time Cardinal Adam Wainwright has been able to find a second wind recently after some injuries, posting a 3.91 ERA over the last two seasons. The team loved what they saw from Korean Kwang-Hyun Kim last season, and Miles Mikolas has been an impressive control artist when healthy. It remains to be seen what the team will get from Carlos Martinez, who looked like an ace early in his career but has struggled or been hurt often in recent years.
Philly has a homegrown ace in Aaron Nola, and hope fellow starters Zach Eflin and Spencer Howard can take similar steps to realize their potential soon. In the meantime, the team has filled voids via free agency, giving big money and a big return from Zack Wheeler last year (2.92 ERA), as well as Matt Moore and Chase Anderson this offseason. The latter pair have had major league success in the past but not much recently.
The loss of reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer will be nearly impossible to replace, but Cincinnati still has one of the better rotations without him. Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray make for an elite 1-2 after Gray was able to regain his form with the Reds, and the team is hopeful that Tyler Mahle can also kick it up a notch after posting a 3.59 ERA and dominant 11.3 K/9 last season. The back of the rotation enters the year banged up between Wade Miley and Michael Lorenzen, but former top prospects Jeff Hoffman and Jose De Leon could turn out to be strong replacements.
The A's rotation is bursting with potential, as Jesus Luzardo, Sean Manaea, and Frankie Montas have each shown brief flashes of being aces early in their careers. The team hopes that former first-round pick A.J. Puk is similarly effective, and Chris Bassitt has quietly posted a 3.59 ERA over nearly 400 career innings. Oakland brought back innings-eater Mike Fiers, who has been sidelined with a hip injury this spring.
Tampa is going an unorthodox route after losing Blake Snell and Charlie Morton in the offseason. Tyler Glasnow is a legit No. 1 starter when healthy, and Yarbrough has used his elite control to become a strong middle of the rotation starter. From there, the arms are up in the arm, but there's a wide selection that includes Chris Archer, Rich Hill, Michael Wacha, Josh Fleming, Collin McHugh, along with prospects Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino, Shane Baz, and Brent Honeywell. It would take some patchwork from manager Kevin Cash, but he's shown success making lemonade from lemons before.
The Brewers showed off a pair of aces in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes last season, but the rotation was patchwork behind them. That could be the case again this year with Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson, and Josh Lindblom, though manager Craig Counsell can feel confident in his quick hook with a truly elite bullpen. Freddy Peralta has shown off an elite 12.1 K/9 for his career and hasn't given up on starting yet.
The Red Sox are waiting for ace Chris Sale to heal from Tommy John surgery. In the meantime, they do have high upside pitchers in their rotation like Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Nathan Eovaldi, and Nick Pivetta, who could return the team to competitiveness if all the stars align. The team also still sees something in lefty Martin Perez despite an ERA of 4.50 or worse in each of the last four seasons.
Injuries have been an issue for the Angels rotation over the last several years, with Andrew Heaney, Shohei Ohtani, and Griffin Canning struggling to keep their arms healthy. Some better luck would make a huge difference in the team's playoff chances. Dylan Bundy seemed to reach his potential after joining the team last year, posting a 3.29 ERA in 11 starts, and Jose Quintana has been a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter in the past. Injuries have ailed Alex Cobb for much of his career, but he was a league-average starter with Baltimore last season.
The Royals have the makings of a strong rotation after signing Mike Minor in the offseason, joining two excellent young pitchers in Brad Keller and Brady Singer. They also have a reason to be intrigued by Jakob Junis, who has shown more velocity and a new cutter this spring. Danny Duffy isn't what he was a few years ago, but is still a capable backend starter. The team also has a trio of top prospects who should help this year with Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, and Jackson Kowar.
Toronto has completely rebuilt its pitching staff, giving former Dodger Hyun-Jin Ryu big money last year and adding Tanner Roark, Robbie Ray, Ross Stripling, and Steven Matz on top of him. Those four pitchers are each trying to rebound from disappointing 2020 seasons, but all have track records of MLB success. The big wild card is top prospect Nate Pearson, who has struggled with injuries as a pro but has an elite arm.
The Giants have a home ballpark that pitchers like, so it wasn't a surprise that they were able to get reclamation projects like Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Aaron Sanchez this offseason on the cheap. They probably saw what Kevin Gausman did in rehabbing his career during 2020, posting a 3.62 ERA and 11.9 K/9. Former All-Star Johnny Cueto isn't the same pitcher that he was earlier in his career, but could still be a middle-of-the-rotation piece. Logan Webb looks on the cusp of a breakout after a great spring, as well.
Marco Gonzales became a true ace last season with seven wins in 11 starts, along with a 3.10 ERA and the lowest walk rate in the league. He's rejoined by James Paxton, who has shown ace ability when healthy. Seattle also loves the potential of Yusei Kikuchi and Justus Sheffield, who both have blue-chip arms but haven't put it all together in the majors. The team recruited Chris Flexen from Korea in the offseason, and sixth starter Justin Dunn has a great arm if he can ever find control. There is a high level of variance with most of these arms in 2021.
The Tigers have plenty of upside in their rotation with former No. 1 overall draft choice Casey Mize and top young lefty Tarik Skubal. Top prospects Matt Manning and Franklin Perez are right behind for what could be an elite rotation in a couple of years. In the meantime, Matthew Boyd continues his attempt to harness a nasty slider, and Julio Teheran is trying to regain his old Atlanta form after posting an ERA above 10.00 with the Angels last season. Spencer Turnbull could be another building block, posting a sub-4.00 ERA in 11 starts last season.
The Cubs' pitching situation is dire after trading ace Yu Darvish in the offseason and letting Jon Lester walk in free agency. Kyle Hendricks has been one of the most consistent and underrated pitchers in baseball over the last seven seasons with a cumulative 3.12 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, but it's all question marks behind him. Former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta has been on a steep decline over the last two years, and Zach Davies has found some success in the majors despite failing to miss bats at a high rate. The team is clearly counting on young right-handers Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay to prospect if they have any chance of staying in games.
Zac Gallen has quickly become one of the top young pitchers in the game, posting a 2.78 ERA and 10.5 K/9 over his first 27 MLB starts. Unfortunately, he suffered an arm injury this spring that will eat into his season. The Diamondbacks hoped Madison Bumgarner could also be an ace when they signed him to a five-year contract last year, but his first season was terrible by any measure. Arizona has a trio of wild cards behind them, with Luke Weaver underachieving last year, Caleb Smith struggling to stay healthy, and Merrill Kelly coming off major surgery. Former top prospect Corbin Martin's return from Tommy John surgery does give the team some depth.
Camden Yards is a rough place to pitch and develop young pitchers. The team could still have a future with the trio of John Means, Dan Kremer, and Kegan Akin. Means is a potential ace after finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote in 2019 and adding velocity last season. The team hopes to fill out the back of the rotation with placeholders like Jorge Lopez, Matt Harvey, and Felix Hernandez as top prospects Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall continue to develop.
The Rockies pitchers get an asterisk for pitching their home games at Coors Field. German Marquez would likely show off ace numbers in any other locale and has still posted a sub-4.00 ERA in two out of three seasons. Kyle Freeland finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting in 2018 before some regression the last two years followed by a shoulder injury this spring, and Jon Gray has also shown upside when healthy. Antonio Senzatela and Austin Gomber possess plus arms, but have lacked consistency to this point.
Part of the Rangers rebuild was trading ace Lance Lynn in the offseason. Their return was excellent young pitcher Dane Dunning, but those are big shoes to fill. Kyle Gibson was terrible in his first year with the team in 2020, and the rest of the rotation is a bunch of question marks with Kohei Arihara, Mike Foltynewicz, Jordan Lyles, and Kolby Allard. It could be a long year in Texas.
At times this spring it was unclear how the Pirates would put together a starting five, which says a lot for the current state of their team. Chad Kuhl did show some flashes prior to Tommy John surgery, while Steven Brault and J.T. Brubaker had a few good outings last year. Tyler Anderson has been effective for Colorado in the past between injuries. The X-factor will be Mitch Keller, a former top prospect who has been extremely erratic in 16 MLB starts.
Seth Trachtman is a fantasy sports expert and diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan still hoping for a Super Bowl win during his lifetime. He doesn't often Tweet, but when he does, you can find him on Twitter @sethroto.