2023 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Rotation (No. 16-30)
Yesterday, we ranked baseball’s bullpens. Today, we turn our attention to the starters, beginning with the rotations that project in the bottom half of the league.
The starting pitching pool is tightening once again. This year’s bottom half features four teams with a 40% or better chance at making the playoffs, including a pair of projected division winners. That isn’t because those teams are overrated and have bad staffs, either, but rather that there is a tight middle class of rotations in the league right now. The teams ranked ninth through 20th are separated by just 3 WAR, with the American League having eight of those clubs. The National League has an intriguing group of teams at 21st-24th that are all a breakout or two away from joining that middle class. Even the very bottom got a boost this year, as last year’s 30th-ranked club (Arizona) checked in with just 5.8 projected WAR while this year’s 30th-ranked Nationals are more than a win clear of that mark at 7.1 WAR. Both leagues have their bottom feeders, with the National League getting the 29th and 30th ranked squads and the American League checking in with the next four.
2023 Positional Power Rankings – SP 16-30
|Simeon Woods Richardson||16||8.3||3.8||1.2||.291||71.8%||4.42||4.41||0.1|
The Marlins had an embarrassment of riches on the mound and that made them a prime candidate to trade a starter. Enter the Twins. They secured López to headline their rotation and if he can repeat his 180 innings from 2022, the team will be ecstatic. Ryan was the team’s best pitcher last year, riding an elite fastball to a 3.55 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in 147 innings. He realized he will need a second reliable pitch to sustain his success, so he has worked in a newly refined slider and brand new splitter to deepen his arsenal. The early results are strong, with a 25% K-BB rate in spring training compared to a 17% last year.
Mahle came over via trade late last season but fell injured after just 16 innings, so it remains to be seen if he will excel with Great American Ballpark in his rearview mirror. Gray excelled in his Twins debut but managed just 120 innings, meaning he has qualified for the ERA title (162-plus IP) just twice in the last six full seasons. Maeda is working his way back from a late 2021 Tommy John surgery. The biggest question will be where the 35-year-old’s command come Opening Day; he’s walked 10 in 14.2 spring innings for a 6.1 BB/9. Should he not be ready to deliver a full-ish workload, having Ober as a sixth starter gives Minnesota a strong option to call up.
Varland, Woods Richardson, and Winder could all be viable replacements throughout the season, too. Varland and Winder were solid in their debuts last season (though Winder will miss the start of the season with a shoulder injury), while Woods Richardson was a key piece in the José Berríos return. Jordan Balazovic, Brent Headrick, and Randy Dobnak further deepen the ranks, though that trio is definitely a cut below the first one.
If they are blessed with health, this could be one of the best rotations in the American League. Castillo is going to get his first full season out of Cincinnati, Kirby and Gilbert are premium control artists who the team is hoping to get 350-plus innings out of, and Ray is a former Cy Young winner. Castillo is my pick to win this year, as his command jumped a level with the M’s late last year and he already had the premium strikeout stuff. If either Kirby or Gilbert can find a consistent strikeout pitch, they will put themselves in contention for at least down ballot Cy consideration. Their 10% and 11% swinging strike rates, respectively, cap the upside a bit right now. Ray held some of his control gains from his 2021 Cy Young season, but home runs remained a problem with a 1.5 HR/9, shooting his ERA up nearly a full run to 3.71.
Gonzales doesn’t really need to be more than a capable fifth starter. With his lack of dominance and penchant for the longball, that role suits him well. There isn’t a ton of depth here, leaving Seattle exposed if injuries strike. Flexen can do a good Gonzales impression (he allows fewer homers), but after that, the Mariners are likely to turn to prospects. Hancock wasn’t great in his full season at Double-A and his command will need to improve if he expects to debut in 2023.
If they had anyyyy hitting, the Marlins could make some noise with this rotation. The reigning Cy Young winner will be looking to have a third straight great 200-inning season, as he has fully transitioned into being a front-line starter. While Alcantara doesn’t have the flashy strikeout rates of his peers at the top, I still see upside in that department given the nastiness of his raw stuff. His 13% swinging strike rate is 15th among starters since the start of 2021 (min. 300 IP). A Rogers rebound and continued development from Luzardo will be instrumental to the overall success of this staff. If the lefties combine for 300-plus innings of sub-4.00 ERA work, there is a good chance this group will over-perform their slot on this list.
Cabrera building on his quality 72 innings from last season would certainly soften the blow if either Rogers or Luzardo falter. The 25-year-old fireballer has struggled to stay healthy, eclipsing 100 innings in a season just once in his pro career (2018). Cueto doesn’t have to fully repeat his surprise 2022 (3.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) to be worthwhile; just working around his 4.49 SIERA makes him a viable fifth starter. The spacious outfield in Miami gives him a chance to avoid a sharp regression on his 0.9 HR/9 and 8% HR/FB rate.
Garrett impressed during an 88-inning run as he added a tick of velocity and cut his walk rate in half, helping him miss bats at a clip in line with his minor league work (a 12% swinging strike rate vs. just 9% in his first 42 innings). Pérez is so great that the 20-year-old might just spend half the season in Miami if he handles Triple-A like he did Double-A (26% K-BB in 75 IP). All this talent, and that doesn’t even include Max Meyer and Jake Eder, who are both recovering from Tommy John surgery. Eder’s procedure came in late 2021, so he might debut this year, but they won’t force too much on the 24-year-old lefty prospect.
Bieber showed he can live at a lower velocity level, significantly cutting his walk rate to counterbalance his strikeout dip. His 14% swinging strike rate was eighth among qualified starters, so while he might not return to his 33% strikeout rate of 2019-21, he could easily add a few points and push an upper-20s rate. McKenzie stayed healthy and had a remarkable breakout season, but questions about whether his slight frame can sustain multiple full seasons are being answered to the negative early on; he left his final spring start with arm soreness and will be sidelined for up to two months with a shoulder strain. Quantrill will look to outrun his base metrics for a third straight season, netting a 3.16 ERA despite his 4.50 SIERA.
Home run issues have undercut Civale since 2020, with a 1.5 H/9 mark pushing his ERA to 4.42 in 295 innings. If he can hold onto the strikeout gains that saw him put up a career-high 24% rate last year, he has a good chance to get his ERA back below 4.00, in line with his 2021 output. Plesac has made abundantly clear that his 2020 “season” was simply a hot two months as opposed to the groundwork for a transition to being a frontline starter; he has a 4.49 ERA and 4.60 SIERA in 274 innings since then. I’d love Morris to be the next great Guardians starter based on his skills, but health has consistently eluded him and a lat issue will delay the start of his 2023 season. Allen or Cantillo could be the next hidden gem to come through while Curry and Gaddis seem like bullpen fits right now.
If you are reading from 30 up, this is just our second group with an ERA projected to be lower than its FIP. The lack of dominance paired with the incredible supporting defense is how that happens. Mikolas is a high-floor innings-eater who thrives with excellent control. Since returning to the majors in 2018, his 4% walk rate leads baseball among the 112 starters with at least 400 innings pitched. Montgomery has a 6% walk rate in that same time (good for 29th out of those 112 pitchers) while possessing some real strikeout upside that we don’t see from Mikolas. He could easily repeat or improve upon his 3.48 ERA and 1.09 WHIP from last year. It’s been a while since we have seen Flaherty’s ace upside, but it’s certainly not gone at age 27. The Cardinals would gladly take those projected numbers, especially the volume, as he has just 114 innings since 2021.
Wainwright has been able to thoroughly outrun his 4.26 SIERA the last three seasons with a 3.34 ERA thanks to that aforementioned defense aiding him to a tremendous .275 BABIP, good for 18th in the league (min. 300 IP). A strained groin will land him on the IL to start the season and at 41-years-old, he is unlikely to get a fourth straight 30-plus start season (excluding 2020, of course). Woodford will fill in for Wainwright at the outset of the season and fits the team mold as a control artist who relies on the defense, if at a much lower level than the rest of the group. A pair of disaster starts greatly inflated Matz’s ERA last year, as severe shoulder and knee injuries limited him to just 48 innings. The Cardinals need him to stay healthy in year two of a four-year deal.
Liberatore couldn’t parlay a big spring into a role on the team, but if his improved stuff metrics hold, he could be the first man up. He will be looking to improve upon a rough debut (5.97 ERA, 6% K-BB in 35 IP) and has the potential to be a major X-factor for the Cards. Thomas will be hoping to continue the success he had at the Arizona Fall League, where he put up a 28% K-BB rate in 26 innings thanks to a major strikeout surge (33% compared to his 20% MiLB mark).
A pair of studs headline the Reds rotation in Greene and Lodolo. Both still have inconsistent command, but their upside is robust. Greene showed it during a six-start run in the second half, with a 34% K-BB rate and just one home run allowed across 29 innings; a shoulder injury was the only thing that could slow him down, as he lost a month and a half from early August to mid-September. Lodolo lost a little over two months to a back injury early in the season before returning with a 21% K-BB rate in 89 innings, during which he allowed more than three earned runs just three times. He also handled Great American Ballpark brilliantly, with just a 2.85 home ERA in 66 innings.
Ashcraft was blasting 100 mph sinkers last year, but couldn’t get much else going en route to a meager 9% K-BB rate in 105 innings. He’s altered his slider grip this spring, which has fueled a 32% K-BB rate and could be the missing ingredient for a breakout season. The rest of the rotation comes up a bit light, though. Overton and Cessa are penciled into the fourth and fifth starter roles to begin the season, but neither looks like a full season option, especially in that park. Weaver is going to start the season on the IL with a forearm issue and hasn’t reached 70 innings in the majors since 2018. The best prospects slated to be at Triple-A, namely Williamson, Stoudt, and Phillips, all have major control issues that make it difficult to bet on any of them being key contributors in 2023. With 60% of their rotation looking strong, there is a good chance the Reds can avoid another 100-loss season. It’s just hard to see a path to contention without something coming together for the remaining 40%.
I was a bit surprised to see the Cubs this low. I knew they would be in this part of the rankings, but I figured their mix of established veterans and up-and-coming gems would slot them in the teens. Taillon joins with Stroman to give them an experienced one-two punch while Hendricks recovers from shoulder surgery. Even if Hendricks remains a high-4.00s arm and pitches fewer than 100 innings, they have enough reinforcements to withstand that. Steele and Wesneski will be key to the success of this club. Steele had a wonderful second half last year and he’s a fair bet to top his projection, joining the 2-WAR crowd on this team. Wesneski is the sneaky play to do so. He was incredible in a 33-inning sample after coming over in the Scott Effross deal, and while I understand the projection, I think it sells his talent short even for a rookie. Wesneski is also part of the sweeper revolution that might push the 25% strikeout rate we saw last year even higher in a full scale breakout campaign.
They have some depth to cover the injury concerns, too. It’s hard to bet on Smyly for more than 120ish innings at age 34, but that’s where the likes of Assad, Sampson, and even Thompson come in. The trio combined for 43 starts last year with passable results and they could all be key bullpen pieces while they wait for their turn to get back into the rotation. That’s especially true of Thompson, who excelled in the role with a 1.47 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 37 innings as a reliever. Kilian and Ben Brown will be refining their command and control in the minors, and could eventually be relied upon for some starts as well.
The D-Backs could make a substantial jump this year if things break their way. Gallen is looking like a bona fide ace after rebounding from an ugly home run rate in 2021, shining brightly in his first full (162-plus IP) season. Kelly is a quality mid-rotation innings-eater with a relatively high floor. He likely reached his ceiling last year with a 3.37 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 200 innings. Bumgarner has been a shell of himself in Arizona, toting a 4.98 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 347 innings. Re-signing Davies was certainly a choice with Nelson, Jameson, and Pfaadt all looking ready.
Nelson will get the first crack in the rotation, winning the fifth starter role in the spring; Jameson also made the team as a reliever. Pfaadt will head back to Triple-A to stay on a starter schedule. That could make him the first one up if there is an opening; Jameson will probably be limited to 1-2 inning outings, meaning he would need to be stretched back out to rejoin the rotation. The best staff Arizona can run out includes all three, further underscoring the lack of need for that Davies signing. Jameson could stabilize the bullpen in the interim as a multi-inning fireman option. Cecconi and Walston both showed decent enough skills in Double-A but struggled with home runs in the remarkably hitter-friendly Amarillo park (165 HR Park Factor). They will be a call away in Triple-A, though the PCL isn’t the best place to improve a gaudy home run rate.
It was hard to drum up much excitement for the Pirates in this space last year. They ended up getting a great year out of 33-year-old José Quintana, who was eventually traded for Oviedo. It looks like they are trying to repeat the veteran magic with Hill, who just keeps on ticking at 43. Outside of him, you can start to see the makings of their future rotation. Keller added velo last year. This year, he is on the sweeper train that is taking over the league, and which helped him garner 20 strikeouts in 16 spring innings. He needs to improve his 9% swinging strike rate if he is going to reach another level.
Brubaker’s .334 BABIP kept his 4.69 ERA from getting closer to his solid 3.97 SIERA. The core skills are there to be a capable mid-rotation arm (16% K-BB, 12% SwStr) if he can get the BABIP and home run rate (2.0 back in 2021) pulling in the same direction. He’s expected to start the season on the IL. Velasquez was signed to be a starter, though there are no guarantees that he remains in the rotation all year. His ERA was a run lower coming out of the bullpen last season, with a 16% K-BB rate that was four points better than his mark as a starter.
Contreras battled some control issues (10% BB) last year but showed plenty of upside in 95 innings with a 3.79 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. The flame-throwing righty had a 13% swinging strike rate that says his 21% K rate will climb as he develops further. Ortiz is very raw with a ton of upside. He might eventually end up in the bullpen, but the team will try to hone his command enough to start because of his electric swing-and-miss stuff. Quinn Priester joins Ortiz as the only other starting pitcher in the Pirates’ top five prospects; he could make his major league debut this year if he excels at Triple-A.
The 2022 Tigers showed the downside of having a rebuild driven by pitching. Casey Mize had Tommy John surgery, Skubal had flexor tendon surgery, and Manning was solid but only threw a combined 85 innings between Triple-A and the majors. Mize will essentially miss the entire season, while Turnbull is returning from his 2021 TJ surgery and already regained his velocity in spring training. Boyd looked good for a half season the last time he was seen in Detroit before triceps tendinitis ended his season early. If he can keep the ball in the yard, the ERA can remain below 4.00 for the season.
Rodriguez had a tumultuous first year in Detroit, including a three month absence in the middle of the season. He showed flashes of himself throughout the 91 innings he did throw, but expectations are high for year two. Lorenzen will get another opportunity to start after shifting back to the rotation last season, though a strained groin will delay his Tigers debut. Brieske managed to grind out 15 starts despite a modest 9% K-BB rate, but he might have a tinge of upside if he can tap into skills he showed in the upper-minors (19% K-BB). Olson might be able to make a substantial impact in the bullpen if he handles himself during his first tour of Triple-A.
Singer had a great 2022 and looks like a major building block for the Royals. From there, it’s chaos. Grandpa Greinke is still ticking at age 39, throwing changeups harder than his fastball. He’s a decent bet to remain above average despite his age and a league-worst 13% strikeout rate (min. 130 IP). The Lyles and Yarbrough signings are somewhat perplexing. They are perfectly cromulent veterans who can soak up some innings, but why not stay committed to the younger arms? The Royals will likely have five Triple-A starters also residing on their 40-man roster. It just seems like those innings would be better utilized by the likes of Lynch, Castillo, Heasley, Marsh, Bowlan, and even Kowar. I say “even” because of Kowar’s rough major league sample thus far (10.76 ERA and 2.20 WHIP in 46 IP).
Keller’s extreme groundball rate hasn’t been enough to mitigate his paltry strikeout rate, as he now has back-to-back 5.00-plus ERA seasons. Interestingly, his 4.70 SIERA in that time is actually better than his 4.90 SIERA from 2018-20 when he posted a 3.50 ERA. The doubling of his home run rate (1.2 HR/9) has been the primary culprit in the ERA surge. Bubic is like Keller without the groundballs, which is a tough profile. He doesn’t miss bats, walks too many guys, and gives up a ton of home runs. The whole group mentioned earlier should be in the rotation ahead of him. Castillo struggled mightily in 19 innings after coming over in the Whit Merrifield deal and should get another look at some point in 2023. Outside of Singer, there just isn’t much to get excited about with this Royals crew.
I wanted to add the name of a random Congressman or some character actor to see if anyone would notice, but Meg wouldn’t let me! The A’s are in year two of what could be a lengthy rebuild unless they start uncovering several unexpected gems from this roster. Fujinami comes over from Japan on the heels of a solid season. He brings a history of control issues, with an 11% walk rate in 994 innings in NPB, and his rough 22% walk rate in 19 spring innings suggests he hasn’t made any progress under the direction of the A’s thus far. Muller, Sears, and Waldichuk will look to pay quick dividends on the Sean Murphy and Frankie Montas trades as the trio of lefties could be among the aforementioned gems needed to speed up Oakland’s return to relevance. Sears and Waldichuk both showed flashes of their upside after coming over from the Yankees last summer and could easily eclipse those projected inning totals.
Injuries derailed Blackburn’s breakout, but not before he could collect an All-Star bid. Problems with his middle finger limited him to just 14 second half innings, and now a torn fingernail on the same finger will delay the start of his 2023 season. Kaprielian failed to build upon his solid 2021, dropping nine points off his K-BB rate to just 7% in 134 innings. Without some improvement there, his 4.23 ERA will almost certainly hew much closer to his 5.04 SIERA. Rucinski returns to the majors after a four year run in the KBO, where he put together a 3.06 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 15% K-BB rate in 733 innings. The 34-year-old accumulated 54 modest major league innings with the Angels, Twins, and Marlins from 2014-18, making just one start in that time. He is expected to join the rotation upon returning from a strained hamstring that will land him on the IL to start the season.
The O’s were a surprise team in 2022 with some key breakout performances on the mound. The alterations made to the left field wall at Camden Yards played a role, but there was also development for some young arms. Veteran innings-eaters Gibson and Irvin were brought in to deepen the rotation and leverage those park changes. Irvin is coming from Oakland, so he’s used to his home park supporting him. Meanwhile, Gibson makes the move from Philadelphia, giving him a chance to improve his output in half his starts, though it is worth noting that he was markedly worse on the road last season with a 5.79 ERA in 65 innings.
Bradish and Rodriguez are the potential game-changers here. While Bradish did take major steps in 2022, his 7.38 ERA in the first half clouded a fantastic second half during which he had a 3.28 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 71 innings, making him a popular breakout pick for 2023. The projections are somewhat on board with that, as a 4.38 ERA would be over a half-run improvement on last season’s 4.90 mark. A lat injury likely postponed Rodriguez’s big league debut, as he was limited to just 76 innings across three levels (A+/AA/AAA). He was expected to break camp with the team, but then a 7.04 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 15 spring innings contributed to him being optioned back to Triple-A. His innings will be managed, but more so via in-game limits as opposed to a hard stop in the late summer. His massive upside could be instrumental in Baltimore building upon last year’s 83-win campaign even if he isn’t up until a month or so into the season.
Kremer loved the new setup in Camden Yards, allowing a modest 0.6 HR/9 in 63 home innings en route to a 3.23 ERA despite his tiny 17% strikeout rate. His fastball-heavy approach (72% fastballs and cutters) is less conducive to a strikeout spike, putting a heavy burden on continuing that kind of home run suppression and/or substantially shaving his .299 BABIP. Given the difficulty of betting on either, his 4.54 SIERA from 2022 might be telling us where he is headed in 2023. Wells and Voth give the team viable depth after having each enjoyed bouts of success throughout 2022. Voth had a case to make the rotation out of camp after putting together a 3.07 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 76 innings. Wells had a nice 1.14 WHIP in 104 innings fueled by a control-focused approach, but he was tightly managed (just 12 of his 23 starts reached five innings) and had trouble with the longball (1.4 HR/9). Means had Tommy John surgery in late April of last year and likely won’t be able to make an impact until the second half, if at all in 2023. There was some thought of converting Hall into a reliever full-time, but he will start the season back in Triple-A, where he will work out of the rotation.
While the Rockies are hardly known for pitching given their stadium, this is a big dip from last year’s rankings, when they came in at 22nd. Their three key holdovers – Márquez, Freeland, and Senzatela – are all projected to be worse than last year, and the backfills leave plenty to be desired. Senzatela is recovering from knee surgery after tearing his ACL late last season. Márquez is coming off his worst season ever, failing to reach at least 2.3 WAR for the first time. Unsurprisingly, it was Coors Field that ate him up, as he allowed a sky-high 6.70 ERA and 1.60 WHIP there in 87 innings. He is projected for a rebound, slated to be twice as good as Freeland and the only Rockies starter with a sub-5.00 ERA.
Freeland has a career 4.77 ERA in 413 innings at Coors Field and might be getting short shrift from the projections. The system isn’t buying his home run suppression from last year (0.98 HR/9), pushing him back toward the 1.49 he posted in 2021. Freeland’s long-term success in the remarkably difficult environment is probably Colorado’s best chance to spike another 2-plus WAR pitcher. Gomber could get there, too. He had an impressive debut for Colorado back in 2021, with a 4.53 ERA/1.24 WHIP combo thanks in large part to a .264 BABIP that kept his hit rate in check at 8.0 across 115 innings. His BABIP regressed significantly last year, bouncing up to .310 and tacking nearly 2.0 hits per nine innings onto his ledger at 9.9, saddling him with a 5.56 ERA in 125 innings. That’s a microcosm of just how impactful BABIP can be, especially at a place like Coors Field, because Gomber actually lowered his SIERA five points from 2021 to a respectable 4.24 mark.
Feltner’s decent 4.38 SIERA in 97 innings was undercut by a 1.5 HR/9. In a surprising twist, it was his 1.8 HR/9 on the road that inflicted major damage on his bottom line. Given how difficult it is to find consistent success at home, it is imperative that Rockies pitchers make up for it on the road, but Feltner managed just a 22-point ERA split with an ugly 5.95 mark at home. Former top prospects Rolison (shoulder) and Lambert (forearm) pitched a combined nine innings – all from Lambert – as they continued to battle injuries, which have plagued their pro careers. Rolison will remain sidelined through at least the first couple months of the season, and Lambert had a tough spring and will return to Triple-A to open the season.
The Nats will get a good look at their future this year with Gray entering his second season with the team and Gore ready to debut for them after coming over in the Juan Soto deal. Corbin hasn’t been right since 2019, with a 5.82 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in his last 390 innings. His 4.46 SIERA offers a modicum of hope, but he is just far too hittable (1.7 HR/9, 11.2 H/9) to maximize his 12% K-BB rate, which deserves better than a near-6.00 ERA. Kuhl and Williams reunite after their time together in Pittsburgh. They will look to hold down the fort as younger arms work through the system. There isn’t much on the horizon, especially with Cade Cavalli felled by a UCL tear this spring and out for the year with Tommy John surgery. Strasburg may have thrown his last big league pitch as he deals with complications returning from thoracic outlet syndrome.