25) San Francisco Giants
2020 Stats: W/L 11-17, 4.99 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 4.3 fWAR
While the National League West is top-heavy with the other California teams, the Giants have quietly put a few pieces together to challenge. The pitching staff is veteran heavy, led by Kevin Gausman and Johnny Cueto. Both are in walk years and could be moved at the trading deadline to help the Giants with their rebuild. Players have a tendency to pitch better when free agency is nearing.
Aaron Sanchez and Alex Wood are both reclamation projects looking to rebound after disappointing seasons. Sanchez was injured and sat out all of 2020, while Wood was moved out of the rotation and spent time in the bullpen for the Dodgers. If he can come anywhere near his All-Star self of 2017, the Giants will have another trade chip come July.
2020 Stats: W/L 25-20, 3.77 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 5.8 fWAR
We are going to call this subtraction through subtraction. Jettisoned are the likes of Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood. The Cubs decided to cut salaries at all costs and succeeded at that, but was it worth it? We had the Cubs as the 13th best rotation a year ago, and they have dropped a few rungs with the new faces in town.
While Kyle Hendricks has been rumored to be on the move, he is tabbed to be the Opening Day starter in the Friendly Confines. Hendricks pitched well a year ago, finishing with a 2.88 ERA and league-best 0.9 walks per nine innings. Old friend Jake Arrieta is back after a three-year hiatus in Philadelphia. He is no longer the pitcher he was when he won the Cy Young in 2015 for the Cubs, though he can still provide quality innings.
Zach Davies was the lone major leaguer acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Darvish trade and will look to build on his 7-4, 2.73 ERA, season that he had a year ago. Alzolay struck out 29 in 21 innings in 2020 and is a power arm who may be better suited for the bullpen.
23)Kansas City Royals
2020 Stats: W/L 14-26, 4.70 ERA, 4.91 FIP, 2.3 fWAR
The Royals ranked 13th in the American League in runs scored a year ago and sixth in earned run average. The pitching is there is on the rise and they brought in bounce-back candidate Mike Minor. Kansas City is banking on another former first-round pick for quality production, investing $18M over two years on Minor. An All-Star in 2019, Minor spent time with two organizations a year ago. After being acquired by the A’s he had a WHIP of 1.03 and a career-best 11.4 K/9. The potential is still there.
Brad Keller had a stellar season in 2020, with an ERA of 2.47. He doesn’t miss many bats (6.3 K/9 for his career), though he keeps the ball in the ballpark (2 HR allowed in 54.2 innings in 2020). Former first-round pick, Brady Singer, got a taste of the majors a year ago and held his own (4.06 ERA/1.17 WHIP). He doesn’t have much time at the game’s highest level, yet will get the on-the-job training this year.
2020 Stats: W/L 21-20, 4.41 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 5.1 fWAR
He may be boring to watch, though if he continues to put up the numbers, American League hitters will be wary to face him. Why a member of his own organization would say this about Marco Gonzales we are unsure? What we do know is Gonzales doesn’t put people on base and has staff ace stuff. The Mariners would be higher on this list if he had a little more help.
Old friend James Paxton is coming off an injury-plagued season with the New York Yankees which saw his velocity drop and his ERA rise. He’s a bit of a gamble, but the hopes are returning to his old stomping ground will allow him to garner better results. The jury is still out on Yusei Kikuchi as well as Justus Sheffield, while showing glimpses of expertise, the latter walks too many hitters. Four per nine innings for his career.
Chris Flexen carries an ERA over eight in 27 career games with the New York Mets. He may win the fifth starter job in camp, more than likely he’s a fit for the bullpen.
2020 Stats: W/L 9-22, 6.37 ERA, 5.53 FIP, 0.9 fWAR
Spencer Turnbull lost a major league-leading 17 games in 2019. Though he wasn’t that bad, the Tigers were. His FIP was 3.99. Yes, Turnbull does walk too many, and hit too many (league-high 16 HPB in ’19 as well), though he has decent stuff and is ready to take charge of this pitching staff.
The home run ball has hurt Matthew Boyd the past two years. Both seasons he has surrendered the most in the league. In 2019 Boyd struck out a career-best 11.6 per nine innings, then followed that up by producing his worst FIP in five years. His inconsistency is alarming.
Casey Mize made his much anticipated big league debut a year ago and while his stats don’t reflect the pitcher he’ll be, he earned valuable experience which will help this season. The number one overall pick in the 2018 draft has a lot of upside.
Jose Urena fractured his right forearm when he was hit by a comebacker the last game of the regular season a year ago. To that point, he had had an uninspiring season where he walked nearly as many as he struck out. While he has seen better years, if he can regain his 2017 form he’ll be a steal for the Tigers.