Let’s take a burn around the National League East position groups while waiting for baseball to return.
The earliest a pitch could be thrown is mid-May. So, we’ll be going around the division group by group. Today we finish with the starting rotations, where a lot of the money and hope in the division lives.
For consistency, we’ll use Baseball Reference’s WAR computation when looking at the players. And keep crossing fingers baseball will be back as soon as possible.
Max Scherzer, 5.7
Stephen Strasburg, 6.4
Patrick Corbin, 5.4
Aníbal Sánchez, 3.3
Overview: The front four are set, and they may be the best group in the game.
Scherzer remains the “ace” as much as that term applies here or anywhere. He would have started Opening Day. He will start first should the season begin at some point. It’s the way it is until he is done.
Strasburg is the best No. 2 pitcher in baseball. Corbin is the best No. 3 starter. Sánchez has an argument as the best fourth starter. It’s either him or Cole Hamels in the National League East.
Which leaves the fifth spot. When spring training stopped, Joe Ross appeared set to take the role. Austin Voth was probably going to the bullpen. Both are out options, so the Nationals need to keep them in the major leagues unless they overwhelmingly showed they did not belong. Plus, Voth in the bullpen as a long man would be a help early in the season when Washington expected to curtail pitch counts for many of its weary starters.
Ross and Voth being out of options is bad news for Erick Fedde’s chances of sticking on the initial 26-man roster. He can be sent back to the minor leagues without fear he will be snapped up by another team. That would undoubtedly be the case for Ross or Voth.
Mike Soroka, 5.5
Mike Foltynewicz, 0.5
Max Fried, 3.0
Cole Hamels, 3.2
Overview: Like the Nationals, the Braves are front-loaded with their rotation. Unlike the Nationals, they have two intriguing young pitchers anchoring the staff.
Soroka is 22 years old. Fried is 26. They have combined for 73 major-league starts. Scherzer has started 356 games.
The two questions in this rotation are whether Foltynewicz is the guy from 2018 and late 2019, or the one with a 6.37 ERA through 11 starts last season. He’s probably in between. Folynewicz’s production in 2018 sits as the outlier in his career: a 2.85 ERA and All-Star Game selection. He compiled a 4.87 ERA across four prior seasons leading up to 2018.
Also like the Nationals, the Braves have a solid veteran fourth starter and a question about their fifth starter. Could it be Felix Hernandez? Or left-hander Sean Newcomb? Hernandez is trying to counter six consecutive seasons of ERA rise. Perhaps departing Seattle, where he and the team he once was the central figure for had fallen out of good graces, will help. The Mariners put a ton of mileage on Hernandez’s arm while continually assembling bad teams around him. Atlanta hopes a chance to win rejuvenates his spirit and stuff.
Jacob deGrom, 8.2
Noah Syndergaard, 2.5
Marcus Stroman, 4.3
Michael Wacha, 0.1
Rick Porcello, 1.1
Overview: The game’s best pitcher heads this staff. New York wonders if the two men behind him can graduate from solid to elite, and if the two veterans at the back end can be solid.
Syndergaard and Stroman fluctuate between dominant and meh. Syndergaard led the National League in earned runs allowed last season. Stroman pitched well in Toronto before being traded to the Mets. He did not pitch as well in New York. His 4.15 FIP shows that.
Wacha, never a strikeout pitcher, finished last season in St. Louis with a 5.61 FIP. Porcello, also not a strikeout pitcher, finished last season in Boston with a 4.76 FIP. Both have been markedly better. However, those times are likely behind them.
Sandy Alcantara, 2.8
Pablo López, 1.7
Jose Urena, -0.3
Jordan Yamamoto, 0.7
Overview: Alcantara is just 23 years old and on a path to getting better. Smith is 28 years old. He is what he is.
López is 23 years old. Urena is erratic. Yamamoto, also 23, may have the most upside of any of them.
Here’s the thing: it’s going to be another long year in Miami no matter how short the season is. The stripped-down Marlins have made no investment in starting pitching. They are waiting for Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera to show up and hope one of the current 23-year-old crop pops.
Aaron Nola, 4.2
Zack Wheeler, 4.4
Jake Arrieta, 0.9
Zach Eflin, 1.8
Vince Velasquez, 0.7
Overview: Not much worked last year in Philadelphia. That included Nola a year after being among the NL Cy Young finalists. He drove his ERA down to 3.87 thanks to excellent work in July and August. However, he was a full run-and-a-half behind his 2018 ERA.
The rest of the Phillies’ staff was equally in arrears last season. So, Philadelphia spent $118 million on Wheeler in the offseason. Wheeler’s ERA-plus in five seasons? 100. That means he’s a league average pitcher. Philadelphia paid him to be a No. 2 starter in a division with Strasburg, Syndergaard and Fried or Foltynewicz in the spot elsewhere.
Arrieta was hurt in spring training. His future is unclear. Equally muddled is the back end of Philadelphia’s rotation. Eflin and Velasquez will again be provided chances to pitch. History suggests that’s not ideal.
In order for this group to have any effectiveness, Nola needs to go back to his 2018 self.
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