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Opening Day Pitching Staff Power Rankings

Photo courtesy of Wally Skalij

The most wonderful time of the year is here! Now that the 2021 MLB season is underway, I’ll take this as an opportunity to go over my pitching staff power rankings. I’m sure you’ve all read one of these at some point, but this one differs in how I’m taking bullpen into consideration for the rankings. I’d also like to mention the projected rotations are as of Opening Day. There will likely be changes throughout the year and guys will come back from injuries. Enough said. Here are my 7 favorite staffs for this coming season.

Honorable Mentions

Cleveland Indians

Projected Rotation:

  1. Shane Bieber
  2. Zach Plesac
  3. Aaron Civale
  4. Triston McKenzie
  5. Logan Allen

Top 5 Bullpen Arms: James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase, Nick Wittgren, Oliver Perez, Phil Maton

Any rotation with reigning Cy Young Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac at the top deserves to be mentioned. 2021 is a big year for Zach Plesac, after off the field issues plagued his 2020 campaign. I’m excited to see what he brings to the table this year, as he’s one of my favorite young guys to watch. Another exciting young arm is Triston Mckenzie. A 2020 season that featured a 3.24 ERA and 42 K’s in 33.1 IP has me excited to see what this year will bring.

Now to the bullpen. The guys to watch here are Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase. Karinchak will be the replacement for Brad Hand in the closer role, and I expect him to pick up right where Hand left off. Clase came over to Cleveland in the Corey Kluber trade, but a season long suspension due to PED’s delayed his Indians debut to 2021. This guy is a prototypical flamethrower, with his fastball reaching 102 MPH this spring. I expect him to have a big season and make this a formidable staff in Cleveland.

Chicago White Sox

Projected Rotation:

  1. Lucas Giolito
  2. Dallas Keuchel
  3. Lance Lynn
  4. Dylan Cease
  5. Carlos Rodon

Top 5 Bullpen Arms: Liam Hendriks, Aaron Bummer, Garrett Crochet, Michael Kopech, Evan Marshall

The White Sox made several impactful additions this offseason, including the acquisitions of Lynn and Hendriks. With them on the roster, they’re in the argument to be included amongst the top 5 staffs in the game. The top 3 of this rotation is elite, but the 4 and 5 spot are what’s holding me back from saying the entire staff is elite. Dylan Cease can absolutely break out in 2021, but I need to see him overcome his control issues before I’m sold on him. As far as Rodon goes, he’s been painfully mediocre his entire career, especially as the #3 overall pick in 2014. His career is trending sharply in the wrong direction. If I’m Tony LaRussa, I want to see Kopech take over the final rotation spot and finally become a regular starter after injuries have derailed his career thus far.

Liam Hendriks was a huge add for the White Sox. He’s a bona fide top 5 closer in the game and his talents will be crucial come Postseason time. Outside Hendriks, I and the majority of baseball fans are pumped to see Garrett Crochet in a 162 game season. He’s a candidate to potentially join the rotation in the future, but right now I’d like to see his 100+ MPH fastball and filthy slider in the bullpen until he proves he can be consistent at the big league level. Nonetheless, this is going to be a very solid staff in 2021.

5. Atlanta Braves

Projected Rotation:

  1. Max Fried
  2. Charlie Morton
  3. Ian Anderson
  4. Drew Smyly
  5. Kyle Wright

Top 5 Bullpen Arms: Will Smith, Chris Martin, A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek

The Braves have some of the best young arms in the game. Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka will all be rotation mainstays for years to come. The reason Soroka isn’t mentioned in the rotation is because there is uncertainty surrounding his availability to start the year due to his Achilles tear suffered in 2020. If he was ready to go Opening Day, I’d have the Braves ranked higher. I loved the Charlie Morton acquisition. He’ll bring a much needed veteran presence to offset the young bucks. As far as Smyly and Wright go, one of them will be replaced by Soroka when he returns. Kyle Wright has the potential to be a rotation mainstay as well, but he’s been very inconsistent over the course of his young career. He absolutely can be effective in 2021, but I wouldn’t bank on it.

This bullpen is one of the most underrated in the game. Will Smith isn’t necessarily a top 5 closer, as he had a bit of a rocky 2020, but he has been and will be effective in 2021. Minter, Martin and Matzek don’t get nearly enough love for how good they’ve been. Minter posted a 0.83 ERA in 2020, Martin posted a 1.00 ERA, and Matzek posted a 2.79 ER, all appearing in 18 or more games. If Luke Jackson can improve his performance from past years, this bullpen will be a major headache for the NL East.

4. Washington Nationals

Projected Rotation:

  1. Max Scherzer
  2. Stephen Strasburg
  3. Patrick Corbin
  4. Jon Lester
  5. Joe Ross

Top 5 Bullpen Arms: Brad Hand, Tanner Rainey, Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Eric Fedde

The top of the Nats’ rotation features 3 very solid veteran arms, with Scherzer being a perennial Cy Young candidate and Strasburg in the yearly All Star conversation if he can stay healthy. Outside the top 3, I start to get a little concerned. Jon Lester is in his age 37 season, and his ERA has begun to climb the past two seasons. He will be a very good veteran presence on the team, but I question if he’ll be able to be effective over a 162 game season. In the 5 spot, there is uncertainty about who will fill the role, but it looks as if Joe Ross is getting tapped as that guy for now. I expect to see Eric Fedde and Austin Voth to be thrown into the mix at some point in the year, but this is how I see it as of Opening Day.

This is another very solid bullpen. The Brad Hand signing was huge, which ultimately gives them the narrow edge over the Braves in my opinion. Outside of Hand, Rainey, Hudson and Harris are all solid pieces that will be dependable inning eaters. This is an aging staff as a whole, so there is possible regression to be seen, but nonetheless I expect them to be very effective in 2021.

3. New York Yankees

Projected Rotation:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Corey Kluber
  3. Domingo German
  4. Jordan Montgomery
  5. Jameson Taillon

Top 5 Bullpen Arms: Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green, Darren O’Day, Justin Wilson

This rotation has the potential to be the best in the game, given I’m skeptical they can all remain healthy and actually reach that potential over the full season. If Luis Severino can return mid-season and perform to his capabilities, the Yanks might be unbeatable in a Postseason series. Kluber and Taillon are the main question marks in terms of health, as both of them are coming off season-ending injuries last year. Montgomery has looked excellent in Spring Training, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be effective in the regular season. I’m not really sure what to expect out of German yet either. I’m curious to see if either Deivi Garcia, Michael King or Clarke Schmidt will crack the rotation at some point in the year. Nonetheless, enough of these guys will perform in some combination to win a lot of games for the Yanks.

This bullpen isn’t quite as good as it has been in past years, with an aging Chapman and Britton leading the way. I don’t expect either of them to be as good as they’ve been in previous years, but they will both still be effective. Outside those two, Chad Green is a good bullpen option, although he has struggled at times over the past few years. The additions of O’Day and Wilson will be very impactful and give the pen much needed depth after the departures of Kahnle and Ottavino.

2. San Diego Padres

Projected Rotation:

  1. Yu Darvish
  2. Blake Snell
  3. Joe Musgrove
  4. Chris Paddack
  5. Adrian Morejon

Top 5 Bullpen Arms: Emilio Pagan, Mark Melancon, Keone Kela, Drew Pomeranz, Pierce Johnson

This is another starting rotation that could take the #1 spot in the power rankings if they can all be healthy and at full throttle. The Darvish-Snell 1-2 punch at the top is arguably the best in the game. Joe Musgrove is a solid middle rotation guy, and Chris Paddack absolutely can be as well if he can overcome his recent struggles. The current #5 guy is Adrian Morejon. After a very solid Spring, he was awarded that spot over Mackenzie Gore and Ryan Weathers. The key absence here is Dinelson Lamet. At full health, he is yet another Cy Young award contender, but he isn’t likely to be part of the rotation until late April or early May. As previously mentioned, Gore and Weathers are two young top prospects that could potentially be part of this deadly staff down the stretch.

This bullpen headlined by Pagan and Melancon is very solid. The departures of Rosenthal and Yates will hurt, but I believe Pagan is primed to fill in the closer role without issue. If he isn’t able to Melancon is a serviceable option there. The other three are good go-to guys at any part of a game, and when you throw Gore and Weathers into the mix, there are very few teams who will be able to beat the Pads.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Projected Rotation:

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Trevor Bauer
  3. Walker Buehler
  4. Julio Urias
  5. Dustin May

Top 5 Bullpen Arms: Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Corey Knebel, Tony Gonsolin

Any of the top 3 guys here would be the ace of the majority of teams in the MLB. Yes, Clayton Kershaw is aging and yes, I’m skeptical Bauer can repeat his 2020 campaign, but with the padding they give each other along with Buehler, They’re almost unstoppable. I’m honestly highest on Buehler of the three, but nonetheless it doesn’t really matter where in the rotation they are. An improving Julio Urias and Dustin May round out this stacked rotation. May with the flaming red hair is another one of my favorite young talents in the game today. When you have an 102 mph sinker that moves like a wiggle ball along with a dirty cutter and curveball, there is going to be a lot of excitement and expectations surrounding your performance.

I’m a little nervous seeing Jansen in the closer role for another year, but if he were to struggle, Blake Treinen could easily take over that role. Knebel and Gonsolin round out the solid pen for the reigning World Series champs. The Dodgers are the most balanced in terms of starting and bullpen talent overall, which is ultimately why they currently hold the #1 spot in my rankings.

These rankings easily have the potential to change over the course of the year. I won’t get too caught up in the rankings though. I’m just glad to have baseball back. 2021 is going to be a good one. Buckle up!

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