We are only a couple of weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training and while there are still several big-name free agents on the board the offseason is almost over. That means it’s time for teams to evaluate themselves and how they stack up compared to the rest of the league. The starting rotation is one of the most important components of any championship team. Every team to lead their league in starting pitcher fWAR in the last five seasons has made the postseason and almost all of them made deep runs.
Even with impact players like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery still on the market now is a good time to evaluate where each rotation ranks as we move toward the spring. Here are the top 10 starting rotations heading into 2024.
Top 10 Starting Rotations In MLB
10. Minnesota Twins
Last season the Minnesota Twins had one of the best rotations in the game. Finishing second in fWAR, fourth in innings, and second in FIP. Despite losing ace Sonny Gray and veteran Kenta Maeda to free agency this winter, the Twins still rank among the best staffs in the game. Lopez has established himself as one of the best starters in the game and Ryan seems poised to take steps forward. While his 4.51 ERA and 4.13 FIP last season is much worse than his 2022 numbers his expected stats improved. His xERA of 3.53 and xFIP of 3.76 were both improvements over 2022.
The rest of the rotation looks pretty solid as well, Ober was very good in his first full season and has the tools to break out, Paddack is looking to bounce back after several injury-riddled seasons and Varland will look to prove himself in his first full season. If the Twins repeat as AL Central champs, this rotation will be the reason why.
9. Philadelphia Phillies
While the big names in the Philadelphia Phillies‘ lineup get much of the attention, the rotation has been one of the biggest reasons they’ve made two consecutive deep playoff runs. Wheeler has established himself as one of the best pitchers of his era and along with Nola is part of one of the best one-two punches in the game. The question marks lie in the back end of the rotation. Suarez will look to build on a solid foundation in just his third season while Walker looks to recapture the form that earned him his long-term contract. Sanchez has never played a full season but there is a lot to be excited about there, he is just 27 years old but finished in the 95th percentile or better in groundball rate, chase rate, and walk rate. The Phillies will look to continue their run of success on the back of their excellent rotation.
8. Cincinnati Reds
This ranking might be a little premature but the Cincinnati Reds have one of the deepest and most exciting rotations in the league. They have six players who could easily be above-average pitchers in the MLB this season and very few teams can say that. This rotation lives and dies with the kids, Greene, Ashcraft, Abbott, and Lodolo are all 26 or younger but all have the potential to be very good major-league pitchers. While it often seemed like the rotation would rely heavily on top prospects Greene and Lodolo, it now looks like this will be one of the game’s deepest rotations for years to come.
Those four young stars are not alone though, the recent additions of Montas and Martinez in free agency lengthen the rotation even further, leaving room for guys to get an extra day of rest or make up for injuries. While Montas missed almost the entire 2023 season he was very good in the previous two years and he is still 30 years old and could easily recapture that form. If that happens and the young core starts to take shape, the Reds will be tough to stop in the NL Central.
7. Arizona Diamondbacks
This rotation carried the Arizona Diamondbacks to the World Series in 2023 and has only gotten better since. The top three in this rotation are truly elite even if Kelly declines as he enters his mid-30s. Gallen is going to be one of the favorites for NL Cy Young and was the frontrunner for much of 2023 and Rodriguez put together a massive comeback season last year with a 3.30 ERA in 152.2 innings.
Pfaadt is a top prospect who despite struggling during the regular season made a name for himself with a memorable postseason performance. He has an elite breaking ball and a five-pitch mix that looks like it will be effective against MLB lineups. Lastly, while Nelson struggled in his rookie season he is still young and will look to turn it around in 2024. The D-backs are going to be around in the NL West for a long time and this rotation is going to drive them to success.
6. Baltimore Orioles
With the recent acquisition of ace Corbin Burnes, the Baltimore Orioles vaulted up these rankings. The rotation was fine last year but felt like it was missing the ace it needed, now with that ace in place this rotation is truly among the best in the league. He joins one of the most underrated players in the sport in Kyle Bradish and top prospect Grayson Rodriguez at the top of the rotation.
While many don’t know Bradish he finished fourth in Cy Young voting last season and is only 27 years old, he was in the 99th percentile in Statcast pitching runs and 100th percentile in breaking ball run value. Rodriguez was one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball and has ace-level potential. That trio is joined by Means, who is a reliable mid-rotation arm, and Kremer who is younger but projects to be very solid. The Orioles are finally turning things around and the rotation is a big reason why.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays offense was seriously lacking in 2023 and the only reason they were able to sneak into the postseason was their rotation. Led by Cy Young finalist Kevin Gausman, the rotation wasn’t without turmoil in 2023. Projected ace Alek Manoah experienced a staggering fall from grace as he went from Cy Young contender to minor leaguer in less than a calendar year, leaving him fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring. As well, even with an excellent starting five the rotation is just one injury away from a disaster.
That loss was balanced by dramatic improvements from Berrios and Kikuchi, the former returning to a top of the rotation arm after a confusing 2022. Kikuchi was one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2022, but after working hard in the offseason and putting together a fantastic spring training he had by far his best season since coming over from Japan. That group was joined by free agent signing Chris Bassitt, one of the game’s most consistent arms who put together a typical well-above-average season. This rotation is the backbone of the team and will need to stay elite for this team to get anywhere in the playoff race.
4. Houston Astros
The Houston Astros have had one of MLB’s top rotations for what seems like a decade and even with a ton of turnover, they remain near the top of the list. Future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander struggled at the start of the season with the New York Mets but he turned his season around after being re-acquired by the Astros at the deadline. It should be noted though that he isn’t a reliable ace considering he is entering his age 41 season.
Valdez is one of the most reliable young arms in the game, stringing together three consecutive good seasons and throwing around 200 innings two years in a row. Javier on the other hand has been inconsistent, at times looking like a future ace and at times struggling to make it through five innings. Brown started strong in his rookie season but after struggling down the stretch finished with a 5.09 ERA. Despite that, he throws hard, strikes out nearly 27% of batters, and walks very few, a good combination for future success.
With long-term injuries to young star Luis Garcia and rotation stalwart Lance McCullers Jr, the fifth spot in the rotation is left to Urquidy, who despite struggling in 2023 is still a solid option in the back end of the rotation. When Garcia and McCullers return around the all-star break this will become possibly the deepest staff in the big leagues.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
The LA Dodgers have been one of the best teams in baseball for more than a decade and starting pitching has always been a key to that success but after injuries riddled this staff for much of the last two seasons the rotation saw several changes. The most significant of which is signing Yamamoto, the 25-year-old Japanese superstar, to the largest contract ever for a pitcher. This was followed by acquiring ace Tyler Glasnow in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays and signing the 35-year-old Paxton to a one-year deal. Include the return of two-time all-star Walker Buehler and the sophomore season for Miller and you have an extremely good rotation.
The problem is this is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward rotation. Glasnow, Buehler, and Paxton are three notoriously injury-prone pitchers who have combined for one qualified season since 2020. As well, it is unknown how well Yamamoto will adapt to a major league workload. In 2023 the rotation relied heavily on rookies like Miller and Sheehan to carry the freight and they may have to again if this rotation doesn’t work out the way the Dodgers hope. Despite that, this still has the potential to be one of the most effective rotations we’ve seen in years.
2. Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners possess what all major league teams wish they had, an elite, young, and reliable pitching staff. Led by superstar Luis Castillo who has cemented himself as one of the most dominant starters in the league, this Mariners staff finished third in the majors in FIP in 2023 and looks like it’s only getting better.
Kirby is only 26 years old and is already one of the best pitchers in the game, his command is second to none and he walks batters less than anyone in the league. Gilbert is the same age and has also put together two very solid seasons. He has elite stuff and is only getting better. Miller and Woo were both rookies in 2023 and looks like they will add to this young group of pitchers. Miller started his big league career with a dominant run but was inconsistent the rest of the way. Woo didn’t have impressive results but his expected stats tell a different story. His 3.45 xERA is much better than his actual 4.21 mark and his underlying metrics showed he excelled at limiting hard contact. Overall, this Mariners staff is second-best in the league but they are still just getting started.
1. Atlanta Braves
The team with the best offense in baseball now also has the best starting rotation in baseball. With the offseason acquisition of Chris Sale the Atlanta Braves solidified their position as the best starting staff in the majors. Sale has had injury problems over the last several years but when he has played he’s still been effective and now that he finally seems to be 100%, he could have a big bounce-back year and be very good next season.
He doesn’t need to be the ace however because the Braves already have two of them. Sensation Spencer Strider has established himself as one of baseball’s best pitchers in just two seasons and a healthy Fried has legitimate Cy Young potential. This star-studded staff also includes veteran Charlie Morton who at the age of 40 represents a risk but is still able to get outs with his high whiff rate and elite curveball. Lastly, Elder had a very impressive rookie season with a 3.81 ERA in 174.2 innings, and while he doesn’t throw very hard, his impressive slider and changeup will help him get success at the big league level.
What makes this rotation so impressive is that all five of these guys can be all-stars this season and would be top three starters on almost any other staff in the league. While the league-best lineup gets all the attention, when this staff is firing on all cylinders it is going to be unstoppable.
A good starting rotation is often considered the most important part of a championship team and these ten teams are set up to have very promising seasons. While several impact arms still on the free agent market could shake up this list when they sign, these are the ten best-starting rotations heading into 2024.
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