MLB rotation rankings: Major League Baseball is back and with a 162-game season, we’ll get to see some of the best starting pitchers in baseball taking the hill to try and push their teams into October.
Updated: May 3, 11:30 AM EST
Many pitchers are used to logging 150-plus innings and throwing 90-plus pitches in a start, but organizations will be more cautious than ever this year with the health of their pitching staff.
It will make rotational depth crucial in 2021. That’s why the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves dedicated significant resources this offseason to strengthen both the quantity and quality of their pitching staffs.
Bookmark this page throughout the season for regular updates. Now, let’s dive into our MLB rotation rankings in 2021.
Stats via FanGraphs.
MLB rotation rankings: Top starting rotations in MLB
9. Houston Astros (Unranked)
The Houston Astros entered the season missing Justin Verlander and Forrest Whitley to Tommy John surgery. It caused legitimate concerns about how a rotation with Lance McCullers Jr. on an innings watch and multiple inexperienced starters behind him. But nearly a fifth of the way through the season, Houston’s starters have been sharp.
Cristian Javier, a 6-foot-1 righty, is leading the way. The 24-year-old is dominating through his first five starts, posting a 1.75 ERA, 2.56 FIP and 10.52 K/9 across 25.2 innings Behind him, McCullers Jr. (3.38 ERA, 27.3% K-rate) is holding his own as a front-line starter and Zack Greinke continues to defy Father Time. Pair that with Jose Urquidy starting to turn things around and it’s no longer a surprise that Houston boasts the ninth-best rotation ERA (3.54) in the majors.
8. New York Yankees (5)
Many believed New York belong in the top-three of MLB rotation rankings heading into Opening Day. Keep in mind, that was even with Luis Severino still months away from returning to the mound from TJS. Gerrit Cole is living up to his contract and has a strong case for the AL Cy Young award (.176 BAA, 1.43 ERA, 44.3% K-rate), but the arms behind him are a disappointment.
Corey Kluber isn’t the pitcher he used to be, which isn’t a surprise given he’s 35 and dealt with thoracic outlet syndrome. Kluber’s average fastball velocity (90.5 mph) is down this season, his command (10.9% walk rate) is worse and he’s not a safe bet to stay healthy. Behind him, Jameson Taillon (2.01 HR/9, 5.24 ERA) has been inconsistent and Domingo German can’t be trusted as a full-time starter. There’s enough talent to be a top-10 rotation, but not much higher right now.
7. Miami Marlins (8)
The Miami Marlins haven’t been very good this season, but the blame can’t fall on the shoulders of the starting rotation. Even without Sixto Sanchez, perhaps the most talented pitcher in the system, this pitching staff is fun to watch. Through 27 games, Miami’s rotation has the seventh-lowest ERA (3.36) and the third-best left on base rate (77.5%).
It’s largely a credit to Trevor Rogers, Pablo Lopez and Sandy Alcantra. The young starts each have a sub-4.0 ERA and are finding ways to stand out. Rogers boasts a 33.8% strikeout rate, a 1.06 WHIP and opponents are hitting just .191 against him. Meanwhile, Lopez carries a strong 17.5% K-BB rate and an impressive 3.73 SIERA. Meanwhile, Alcantara’s .189 batting average allowed and 0.98 WHIP are spectacular. If Sanchez gets healthy by June or Miami’s batting order wakes up, this team could surprise.
6. San Francisco Giants (Unranked)
Farhan Zaidi is one of the best talent evaluators and roster builders in MLB. Expectations weren’t exactly high for the San Francisco Giants this season, partially because they didn’t make any big moves in free agency. While San Francisco might not have added a marquee name, the additions of Anthony DeSclafani and Aaron Sanchez have paid off.
DeSclafani, who previously showed flashes of being a quality starter with the Cincinnati Reds, is thriving with the Giants. He carries a stellar 23.4% K-rate, .189 batting average allowed and 2.00 ERA with him onto the mound. He’s been a revelation for the Giants and a huge reason why they are near the top of MLB power rankings. Meanwhile, Sanchez boasts a .193 BAA, 1.07 WHIP and a 2.22 ERA. Both starters have been excellent, but Kevin Gausman (2.04 ERA, 18.7% K-BB rate) is the ace of San Francisco’s rotation, a staff with the lowest ERA (2.34) in MLB.
5. Chicago White Sox (6)
There’s always a nice boost for a team in the MLB rotation rankings when a pitcher throws a no-hitter. Lucas Giolito entered the season as Chicago’s ace, but he’s been one of its worst starters thus far. He holds a 4.99 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, but it’s a safe bet those numbers will come down before long.
There’s a lot to be positive about. Carlos Rodon, who returned to the team after being non-tendered this offseason, is pitching like the player drafted No. 3 overall in the 2014 MLB Draft. The 28-year-old southpaw boasts a stellar 0.72 ERA and opponents only have a .084 batting average against him. Lance Lynn is back from the injured list, returning to a 1.82 ERA and 25.8% K-BB rate and even Dylan Cease is pitching well. Chicago’s rotation will be very good in October.
4. Milwaukee Brewers (UR)
Milwaukee’s rotation always had potential. Brandon Woodruff proved he could be an ace in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Corbin Burnes has electric stuff, but command was always a problem and it’s a similar story for Freddy Peralta. Everything is coming together this season.
Woodruff is doing everything you’d come to expect from a Cy Young contender, striking out 30.1% of batters faced with a 0.80 WHIP, 1.80 ERA and an 11.4% swinging-strike rate. Burnes is the breakout star, with numbers that are historic. Before hitting the injured list, the 26-year-old struck out 49 batters without allowing a walk and owns an eye-popping 19.4% swinging-strike rate. As for Peralta, while he doesn’t work as deep into games, there is legitimacy to his 2.42 ERA. Milwaukee’s rotation can carry shit team very far, even capable of winning a series in October.
MLB rotation rankings: Who has the best rotation in MLB?
3. New York Mets (3)
The Mets’ rotation is as advertised this season. Jacob deGrom is doing his normal thing, completely shutting down opponents and proving why he is the best pitcher in baseball. The 32-year-old is striking out 48% of the batters he faced this season and surrendered just 16 hits to 123 batters faced.
Marcus Stroman’s decision to accept the qualifying offer is paying off. He looks better than ever, holding opponents to a .208 batting average, limiting the free passes and it’s all led to a sparkling .208 ERA. As for Taijuan Walker, who signed a two-year contract, his 3.00 ERA and 23.9% K-rate, is even more than New York hoped for. Once Noah Syndergaard returns, this rotation will be even better. If only the Mets could score runs.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (1)
Injuries are starting to hit Los Angeles. Rotation depth is great, especially at the level the Dodgers had coming into the year. But David Price will miss multiple weeks with a Grade 2 hamstring strain and Dustin May could be out indefinitely with an arm injury. Due to the injuries, Los Angeles had to slide down the MLB rotation rankings.
This is still a dominant pitching staff. Clayton Kershaw’s 2.09 ERA and 22.7% K-BB rate are close to his marks from Cy Young-caliber seasons and he’s doing this as a 33-year-old. When Trevor Bauer isn’t getting crushed by Fernando Tatís Jr, he’s shutting down opposing batting orders (0.68 WHIP, .138 BAA, 2.48 ERA). Julio Urias (28.8% K-rate, 2.87 ERA) has taken that next step in his young career and Walker Buehler has often been spectacular.
1. San Diego Padres (2)
The San Diego Padres finally have a no-hitter and it’s only fitting that the area kid Joe Musgrove threw it. After being traded away to the Pirates, many labeled Musgrove as a breakout candidate and he is exceeding those expectations with a 30.3% K-BB rate and 2.38 ERA. There’s also plenty of dominance behind him.
Since a rough Padres’ debut, Yu Darvish has been dominant (1.35 ERA, 11.61 K/9 across 33.1 innings) and might put himself back into consideration for NL Cy Young. Blake Snell (3.51 ERA) isn’t working deep into games, having failed to complete six innings. At this point, it’s fair to wonder if teams just believe he needs to be limited. Even on an innings count, he can dominate).
Ultimately, it’s a group effort in San Diego. The Padres have the fourth-lowest rotation ERA (2.87), the fifth-highest strikeout rate (30.2%) and the lowest batting average allowed (.190). Keep in mind, they haven’t even called up MacKenzie Gore.