For a moment, it looked as though the New York Mets would improve their team with a signing of starting pitcher Trevor Bauer. But after some incorrect reports and speculation, the 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner ultimately went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, keeping him out of the NL East.
Even though Bauer is outside of the NL East, the division has become increasingly stacked with impressive starting pitching.
The Washington Nationals have a three-headed monster that helped them win a World Series just two seasons ago.
The Atlanta Braves may be better known for a powerful lineup and deep bullpen, though they’ve made multiple additions to their starting rotation this offseason.
And the Miami Marlins have multiple young, talented starters, one of whom is very familiar to Phillies fans.
In other words, the NL East is full of teams that are stocked with rotation talent. So, how do the top pitchers in the division rank?
1 — Jacob deGrom
While the Mets have struggled as a team over the last few seasons, they have gotten tremendous contributions from deGrom, who has had a rather remarkable three-year stretch. In 2018, he pitched to a 1.79 ERA and won the NL Cy Young Award, and he followed that up by winning the award again in 2019.
While deGrom didn’t win it in 2020, he finished with a career best 13.8 K/9 and has showed no signs of slowing down. He is not only the top pitcher in the NL East, but likely the best currently in the game.
2 — Max Scherzer
If this article was written two years ago, Scherzer might have the top spot. He has won three Cy Young Awards, and 2020 was the first season since 2012 in which he did not finish top five for the honor. In 2020, Scherzer pitched to a 3.74 ERA, and while it appears his best days are behind him, he still struck out an otherworldly 12.3 hitters per nine innings.
Perhaps Scherzer’s decline is imminent, given he that he’s now 36 years old. But he has shown no decline in velocity over the last several seasons, and 2021 will be a contract year for Scherzer.
3 — Aaron Nola
After finishing third in NL Cy Young Voting in 2018, Nola had a tough 2019 campaign, in a disappointing season for the Phillies. But he bounced back in 2020, pitching to a 3.28 ERA and finishing with a career high 12.11 K/9.
The biggest knocks on Nola have been his late-season struggles, which have plagued him throughout his career. This continued in 2020 — Nola had multiple poor starts down the stretch — but over the last three seasons, he has proven himself to be a starting pitcher in the game, ranking eighth among all starting pitchers in fWAR during that span.
The debate between Scherzer and Nola for the second spot is difficult, and the former has undoubtedly had much more success in his career which helps to give him the edge. But given their opposite trajectories, Nola could certainly prove himself better in the 2021 season.
4 — Zack Wheeler
The Phillies signed Wheeler to a rather big contract in hopes that he could take a step forward with them. He pitched very well in his first season, with a 2.92 ERA in 12 starts. While he struck out a career low 6.7 hitters per nine innings, Wheeler allowed just three home runs on the season and flashed the ability to pitch to contact effectively.
Since 2018, Wheeler ranks ninth among all starters in fWAR. He may not be the strikeout pitcher some may have hoped considering his high fastball velocity, but he has established his place as one of the better pitchers in baseball.
5 — Stephen Strasburg
The former first overall pick had arguably the best season of his career in 2019, when he pitched to a 3.32 ERA over 33 starts and helped carry the Nationals in the postseason, winning World Series MVP honors along the way.
While Strasburg was rewarded the following offseason with a seven-year, $245 million contract, he only made two starts before getting season-ending surgery for carper tunnel neuritis on his right hand. Injuries have plagued Strasburg throughout his career, and 2021 will be a key season for him to prove the that he still is a top-of-the-rotation starter.
6 — Charlie Morton
The former Phillie signed with the Braves this offseason after a two-year stint in Tampa Bay with the Rays.
In 2019, Morton finished third in AL Cy Young voting, pitching to a 3.13 ERA to go along with a career-high 11.10 K/9 after breaking out with the Houston Astros in the seasons prior.
But he took a step back in the shortened 2020 season with a 4.74 ERA, although his peripheral numbers suggested he was a better pitcher than that. Perhaps Morton, now 37, will never replicate the success he had in Houston and Tampa Bay. But he did pitch very well during the Rays’ playoff run outside of a disastrous World Series start, and could certainly have something left in the tank.
7 — Patrick Corbin
Alongside Scherzer and Strasburg, Corbin helped to form an elite big three atop the Nationals rotation in 2019. Things fell apart a little bit in 2020, however, with Strasburg’s injury and Corbin’s struggles. The 31-year-old was excellent in 2018 and 2019, pitching to a combined 3.20 ERA and striking out 10.8 hitters per nine innings.
Corbin saw some of the worst numbers of his career during the shortened season, pitching to an ERA of 4.66 and WHIP of 1.569. While it was a relatively small sample size, there are some real concerns, as Corbin lost velocity on his fastball.
It may be hard to believe, but Corbin ranks fifth among all starters in fWAR since the beginning of the 2018 season. His struggles in 2020 are worrisome, but they do not mean he could not be the same pitcher he was two years ago.
8 — Carlos Carrasco
It has been quite a sequence of events for Carrasco over the last two seasons. In 2019, he struggled out of the gate before being diagnosed with Leukemia. The 33-year-old remarkably beat his cancer in the span of a few months, and returned at the end of the 2019 season out of the bullpen.
Carrasco excelled in 2020, pitching to a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts. He has been one of the better starters in the majors over the last several seasons, and despite ultimately representing a salary dump in the trade that sent him to the Mets, will play a big role in their rotation in 2021.
9 — Marcus Stroman
The Mets acquired Stroman during the 2019 trade deadline, a season in which he finished with a 3.22 ERA and gave the team hopes for a dynamic rotation in 2020. But Stroman dealt with a calf injury and ultimately decided to opt-out for the season.
Stroman accepted the $18.9 million qualifying offer from the Mets this offseason, which means 2020 will be a prove it year for him heading into free agency.
10 — Max Fried
After a solid first full season in 2019, Fried broke out in a 2020 campaign that saw him finish fifth in NL Cy Young Voting. In 11 starts, the 27-year-old pitched to just a 2.25 ERA, allowing just two home runs in 56 innings pitched.
There are several starting pitchers not yet mentioned who could easily make their way onto it during the course of the 2021 season. Noah Syndergaard has flashed elite stuff throughout his career, but is currently making his way back from Tommy John surgery.
Mike Soroka pitched very well in 2019, when he pitched to a 2.68 ERA and finished sixth in NL Cy Young voting. But he tore his achilles in 2020, causing him to miss a majority of the season. Ian Anderson and Sixto Sanchez were both excellent in their rookie seasons, but do not yet have the track record of the other pitchers on this list.
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