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Building the Perfect Starting Rotation

Who would be in your dream rotation? SI's MLB staff constructs their own 2020 version.

As we wait patiently for the day that baseball will return, SI's MLB staff put on its fantasy hat to assemble the best starting rotation possible right now. Only active pitchers were allowed to be a part of this exercise, and many of the same names are present in the six rotations below. There are a few surprises, however. Dig in.

Tom Verducci

1. Jacob deGrom
2. Gerrit Cole
3. Justin Verlander
4. Max Scherzer
5. Walker Buehler

Jacob deGrom is a fierce competitor with impeccable command and nasty stuff. The forward release of his fastball makes it so difficult to hit. Gerrit Cole holds many of the same traits as deGrom. The premier high fastball in MLB is the foundation to what he does. With stuff and smarts, Verlander navigates lineups and individual at-bats as well as anyone. Max Scherzer's competitiveness is off the charts. He's constantly finding new ways to dominate hitters. As for Walker Buehler, with his electric stuff, he is just now hitting his prime.

Stephanie Apstein

1. Gerrit Cole
2. Jacob deGrom
3. Justin Verlander
4. Max Scherzer
5. Stephen Strasburg

If I were assembling a rotation for this bizarre truncated season, I might adjust this slightly to favor younger guys who haven't shown workhorse durability but can probably give you 70 or 100 lights-out innings. But since this is a fantasy roster, I'm placing it in a fantasy season, and that fantasy season takes place in a world in which the worst thing that happens when you don't wear a mask is that people can see the food in your teeth. So: I have here the two best pitchers (Cole and deGrom), the best pitcher of the past 10 years, including postseason (Verlander), the best pitcher of the past five years, including postseason (Scherzer) and perhaps the best pitcher in postseason history (Strasburg). They also all cleared 200 innings last year except for Scherzer, who got there if you include the playoffs.

jadob-degrom

Speaking of which ... this list reminds me of what several Yankees pointed out to me in the clubhouse shortly after their season-ending loss to the Astros in Game 6 of the ALCS: Four of these guys made the World Series. Starting pitching is still the most valuable commodity out there. (Poor deGrom.)

Emma Baccellieri

1. Gerrit Cole
2. Jacob deGrom
3. Max Scherzer
4. Patrick Corbin
5. Shane Bieber

The ace was easy—there's a reason, after all, that Cole got the record payday that he did back in December. deGrom's consistency made him a natural pick for No. 2, and Scherzer-Corbin should be just as effective a pairing in my fictional rotation as they are for the Nationals. The last pick was the trickiest: I liked the idea of putting in a younger guy there, but it could have just as easily been someone like Walker Buehler or Jack Flaherty. Ultimately, Bieber's control and durability earned him the spot.

Connor Grossman

1. Gerrit Cole
2. Jacob deGrom
3. Max Scherzer
4. Justin Verlander
5. Stephen Strasburg

My first thought? This is an old rotation. Four of the five pitchers above are in their 30s, and Gerrit Cole will get there in September. My second thought? No lefties! With the somewhat murky futures of Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale, is MLB devoid of a top-shelf, bona fide lefthanded ace?

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I do believe this is the best rotation you could assemble right now, though. You have the all-around best pitcher on the planet in Cole, and another pitcher gunning for his third straight Cy Young in Jacob deGrom. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander have aged into their mid- to late-30s as well as any pitchers in history, cementing their futures in Cooperstown. Then there's Stephen Strasburg, fresh off an epic October run and $245 million richer, holding down a spot that could go to any number of other arms. I'll take him in hopes he can reach 200 innings again with the same quality he's demonstrated for a decade.

max-scherzer

Matt Martell

1. Gerrit Cole
2. Jacob deGrom
3. Jack Flaherty
4. Walker Buehler
5. Clayton Kershaw

The first three pitchers here are no-brainers to me. Cole is the most dominant pitcher in the game, and deGrom is the winner of consecutive Cy Young awards despite winning no more than 11 games in either season (kill the win?). Flaherty is baseball's best young pitcher, and his dominant second half in 2019 is one of the main reasons for the Cardinals' first-place finish. In his final 15 starts, he went 7-2 with a 0.91 ERA, a 0.71 WHIP and 124 strikeouts in 99 1/3 innings.

In addition to Buehler and Kershaw, those contending for the last two rotation spots include Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Blake Snell and Patrick Corbin. Buehler has the most upside of this group if I'm building a rotation for the next 3-5 years, which is why age, not talent, eliminated both Verlander (37) and Scherzer (35). Strasburg was the hardest person to cut here, after his magnificent postseason performance and overlooked excellence since his arrival in the majors. With Strasburg, it came down to durability. Before last season, he hadn't started 30 or more games in a year since 2014.

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So why Kershaw, then, if durability is an issue? I needed a lefty, so it wasn't me picking Kershaw over Strasburg. Instead, it was Kershaw over Snell and Corbin, a much easier decision. Snell won the AL Cy Young in 2018, but the season before and after he was barely above a league average pitcher (104 ERA+ both years). Over the last three seasons, Kershaw (151 ERA+) still has been better than both Snell (133 ERA+) and Corbin (129 ERA+). Plus, Kershaw's veteran presence (yes, I can hear your collective groans) would be a positive influence on each of the younger pitchers ahead of him in the rotation.

Michael Shapiro

1. Gerrit Cole
2. Jacob deGrom
3. Max Scherzer
4. Luis Castillo
5. Tyler Glasnow

New York's new ace led all pitchers in WAR last season, struck out 326 batters and won the ERA title. Who else would you want to lead your staff other than Gerrit Cole? Perhaps deGrom isn't crossing triple digits, but he can certainly dial it up when asked. The Mets' top pitcher has now logged dominant in back-to-back seasons. 2020 will be no different. As for Scherzer, he's simply tough, durable and dominant. Trotting out the veteran righty in the first road game of a playoff series is all you could ask for. 

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Let's deviate from the chalk a bit. Luis Castillo's changeup is the true headliner, but don't discount the heater. Castillo's average fastball clocked in at 96.4 MPH last season, and he continues to grow into the game's top arms. Speaking of young arms, Tyler Glasnow is a serious Cy Young candidate if we have a shortened season. Glasnow has durability concerns, but he was absolutely electric in 12 starts last season. He struck out 76 batters in 60 2/3 innings, boasting a 1.78 ERA. Glasnow can dial it up to 100 with minimal effort. The 6'8" hurler is an absolute stud.