Braves 2020 Position Ranks: Starting rotation

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Now that rosters appear to be set across the league and we have a much better idea as to what each team in the NL East will look like come Opening Day, perhaps it’s time to examine just how well the Braves stack up versus its four counterparts among the division. In this series, we’ll look at each position group one at a time and rank all five NL East clubs according to their projected WAR total at each respective position for the 2020 season. We’ll be using 2020 ZiPS projections for all rankings, and all WAR figures will be compiled from FanGraphs. The order of these posts will correspond with each defensive position-number on the field (1: pitcher, 2: catcher, 3: first base… etc.). For “Pitcher”, we’ll look at the starting rotations today with the bullpen next.

Also, be sure to check out Andrew Cicco’s Braves by Position series here at the site, which provides an excellent overview of the team’s depth chart for this upcoming season.

2020 NL East Ranks

Starting rotation

We kick off the series with the starting rotation, a rather strong position group in the NL East for quite some time now, thanks to the top-heaviness of the Mets and Nationals over the last few years. Because there’s still a bit of uncertainty regarding who exactly will make up each team’s starting five, I went ahead and listed the top-six starters for each club, using MLB.com’s depth charts. Obviously, there are some caveats to consider here. For the Braves, Cole Hamels will be out until at least May as he recovers from his shoulder strain. And with Spring Training still in its infancy, there are more than likely a few job competitions taking place for at least some of the other team’s within the division, including the Braves. Taking all of that into account, here are the 2020 starting rotation rankings for the NL East:

 

1. NY Mets — 15.3 WAR

  • J. deGrom — 4.7
  • N. Syndergaard — 3.8
  • M. Stroman — 2.7
  • M. Wacha — 0.9
  • R. Porcello — 1.6
  • S. Matz — 1.6

The Mets winning 80+ games in 2019 — for the first time since 2016 — had a lot to do with an elite rotation, as they finished the year tied with the Dodgers for the second-most starting pitching WAR in the NL with 19.7 WAR (7.5 more than the Braves in 2019). It’s the same expectation each and every season… as long as the top-end of the Mets’ rotation remains healthy — like it did last season — they will be serious contenders in the NL East. The Mets will certainly miss Zack Wheeler (4.7 WAR in ’19), who left as a free agent this winter, but the addition of Michael Wacha (-0.2 WAR) and a full year of Marcus Stroman (3.9 WAR) should come pretty close to filling the void. 

 

2. Nationals — 15.0 WAR

  • M. Scherzer — 4.7
  • S. Strasburg — 4.6
  • P. Corbin — 3.4
  • A. Sanchez — 0.9
  • J. Ross — 0.6
  • A. Voth — 0.8

The team the Mets and Dodgers trailed in starting pitching WAR in 2019?… that’s right — the Nationals, who finished the season with 21.4 WAR collectively, thanks to Max Scherzer (6.6 WAR), Stephen Strasburg (5.7), and newbie Patrick Corbin (4.8). Those three alone easily produced more WAR than the Braves’ entire staff overall last year. However, there’s likely some regression coming for at least Corbin in 2020, considering it would be rather surprising for all three to again contribute almost 80% of the rotation’s total WAR… but still, this is one strong trio. The good thing is (at least for opponents), the Nats didn’t add anything to their rotation this offseason, and the Braves are plenty familiar with the likes of Scherzer and Strasburg by now. Also, despite his run of resurgence these last few seasons, Anibal Sanchez is now 36-years-old, meaning it’s a bit far fetched to expect too much from him, right…? His 4.44 FIP in 2019 was 54 points above his career norm.

 

 3. Braves — 12.7 WAR

  • M. Soroka — 4.0
  • M. Foltynewicz — 2.0
  • M. Fried —2.9
  • C. Hamels — 2.2
  • S. Newcomb — 1.4
  • F. Hernandez — 0.2

As they currently stand, the Braves are already behind the eight-ball, with two open spots in the rotation as opposed to the already-planned one, though so far it doesn’t look too concerning considering Cole Hamels’ shoulder ailment should only cost him the first month of the regular season. And it’s still incredibly early, but guys like Kyle Wright and Felix Hernandez have looked mighty sharp during their first couple of starts this spring, with both combining for 13 strikeouts in 9.2 innings while holding opposing batters to just a .147 AVG. Wright hasn’t walked a single batter yet, and King Felix has allowed just one free pass. Those guys’ strong performances have certainly been fun, but the Braves’ 2020 rotation will live and die on a bounce-back from Mike Foltynewicz and more ace-like pitching from Mike Soroka and Max Fried.

 

4. Phillies — 12.1 WAR

  • A. Nola — 4.0
  • Z. Wheeler — 2.8
  • J. Arrieta — 1.5
  • Z. Eflin — 1.4
  • V. Velasquez — 1.3
  • N. Pivetta — 1.1

During the offseason, I was almost positive that the Braves would go after then-free agent Zack Wheeler, but after seeing him sign for five years and $118 million with the Phillies, my interest quickly faded. Perhaps it would’ve been an overpay by the Braves, but Philadelphia got themselves the perfect no. 2 pitcher to supplement 2019’s league leader in starts — 26-year-old Aaron Nola, and now their rotation looks much more formidable. It appears Jake Arrieta has started his descent, as he lacks his strikeout stuff of the past, but no. 4 pitcher Zach Eflin is a heckuva innings eater and is coming off two of the best seasons of his career while wielding a dangerous slider that rates as a well-above-average offering. There’s not a lot of dominance in the Phillies’ 2020 rotation, but there are at worst six really decent arms. 

 

5. Marlins — 7.0 WAR

  • S. Alcantara — 1.9
  • C. Smith — 1.6
  • P. Lopez — 1.7
  • J. Urena — 0.3
  • J. Yamamoto — 0.9
  • E. Hernandez — 0.6

Despite a better overall outlook for the Marlins this coming season — after several signings, including outfielders Corey Dickerson and Matt Joyce — their starting rotation is projected to accrue less than the 8.1 WAR it posted in 2019. However, there are a few guys on Miami’s staff worth mentioning, like the hard-throwing 24-year-old Sandy Alcantara and 23-year-old lefty, Pablo Lopez (both led the Marlins’ staff last season). It was a down year in 2019 for Caleb Smith, but he’s a guy who not too long ago struck out 10.24 batters per nine across 77.1 innings back in 2018 (which was still considered his rookie season). Jose Urena will be fine as long as he avoids pitching to Ronald Acuna, but the Marlins’ no. 4 guy, Jordan Yamamoto, looks like a potential future star. In his first 78.2 major league innings in 2019, Yamamoto struck out 82 batters and flashed three above-average pitches according to FanGraphs’ Pitch Values (fastball: 8.6 / slider: 4.0 / cutter: 4.4). This could be a big season for the soon to be 24-year-old.

Next up: Bullpens

 

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