Once the near-hundred-day Major League Baseball lockout finally ended last week, the Mets were quick to grab headlines once again, executing a trade for Oakland Athletics ace Chris Bassitt. With this move, the Mets safely solidified a previously top-heavy rotation and propelled themselves into the upper tier of MLB clubs. The pre-lockout signing of Max Scherzer already established the best 1-2 punch in baseball, and Bassitt may well give them the best top three in the sport as well.
With the remaining two spots set to be occupied by some combination of Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Tylor Megill, and David Peterson, can the Mets starting staff actually be the best in the league? Here is this author’s ranking of MLB’s best rotations.
Honorable Mention: Dodgers
The Dodgers have certainly boasted some of the best rotations over the last several years, as they continue to combine excellent player development and massive payroll to field elite teams. As it currently stands, their rotation is led by Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, and Clayton Kershaw, followed by Andrew Heaney and Tony Gonsolin. This group is, in my opinion, marginally worse than the top five listed here; however, knowing the Dodgers, they may continue to add to this group before opening day. In addition, there remains the possibility that Trevor Bauer returns in 2022, depending on a potential suspension for sexual assault allegations.
The Padres have perhaps the highest ceiling of any team on this list, headlined by Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and a returning Mike Clevinger. Plus, significant depth provided by Nick Martinez, Ryan Weathers, and Chris Paddack. While any of the first four are capable of ace-level production at their best, they each also come with serious reasons for doubt. Musgrove may be the most reliable but was mediocre before a breakout 2021. Darvish will be entering his age 35 season and has been declining outside of the COVID-altered 2020 season. Snell has just one elite season in his career and posted a concerning 4.8 BB/9 last year. Clevinger, meanwhile, will be making his return from Tommy John surgery. If everything breaks right, the Padres are in for a successful year; but they will most likely see a mix of bad and good luck amongst a deep mix of pitchers.
With the emergence of lefty Ranger Suarez last year, the Phillies suddenly have a very impressive 1-5, with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Kyle Gibson, Zach Eflin, and Suarez. Each is capable of throwing quality innings, and their ability to pitch deep into games should ease the burden on their questionable bullpen. Wheeler was particularly impressive in 2021, accumulating 7.7 WAR via a 150 ERA+ across a league-leading 213.1 innings. Their 1-5 can hang with the best of them, but there is a serious lack of depth beyond that point. Any injury will lead to meaningful innings being pitched by sub-replacement-level talent. This quickly became a problem for the team last year, with Matt Moore and Chase Anderon starting games.
3. Blue Jays
Following a multi-season rebuild, the Blue Jays have shown a serious willingness to spend both money and prospect capital to build an elite team. A key part of this has been assembling a powerful rotation, now led by Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah, and Yusei Kikuchi, They also boast additional depth in Nate Pearson, Ross Stripling, and Anthony Kay. The only shortcoming of this group is that their top-end arms don’t stack up well next to the others on this list. Gausman and Berrios are certainly quality arms but just are not the same caliber as a Jacob deGrom or Corbin Burnes. Their exceptional depth should help them excel in a competitive AL East, but the questionable front-end could hurt their odds in the playoffs.
Despite their major additions, the Mets rotation is likely still just second-best in the league. For my money, DeGrom/Scherzer/Bassitt is better than any other 1-3 in the league. This will certainly play to the Mets’ benefit should they make it into the postseason. However, the options behind them carry enough question marks to hold them back from the number one spot. While the remaining starters should steady the rotation enough, they lack an elite upside. Walker and Carrasco can hopefully post an ERA around 4.00 for 100+ innings, but can’t quite be counted on for much more after their 2021 performances.
Top to bottom, the Brewers are set up to have a fantastic rotation in 2022. Burnes and Brandon Woodruff are perennial Cy Young contenders at this point, and Freddy Peralta posted a sparkling 152 ERA+ last year, compensating for a high walk rate with an elite strikeout rate. The remaining two spots can be filled by a combination of reliable workhorse Adrian Houser, emerging lefty Eric Lauer, or young upstart Aaron Ashby. Simply put, with these three on the backend, their ceiling is a cut above that of the Mets staff. While the Brewers’ offense may hold them back in the playoffs, their rotation is likely the best in the league and will be crucial to their success in 2022.
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