When someone talks about starting pitching, usually the same individuals are brought up in the conversation. Those names usually include Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees. However, there are always underrated starting pitchers as well to keep an eye on.
Here are five names that fall into that category for the 2021 season.
1. Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee Brewers)
Every year, the Milwaukee Brewers head into the season as an underdog team in the National League Central. The same can be said this year given the landscape of the division and the quiet offseason overall by Milwaukee. After all, the St. Louis Cardinals landed Nolan Arenado via trade, the Chicago Cubs are in a reset but still looking to be competitive, and the Cincinnati Reds are focused on being a division contender as well. Needless to say, the NL Central should be competitive this year. With that being said, the Brewers don’t receive a lot of recognition as a contending team because many feel as though their starting rotation falls short of the other teams in the division.
However, this is where Brandon Woodruff enters the conversation. Woodruff, who is entering his age-28 season, was drafted in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB Draft by Milwaukee. Furthermore, since making his debut in 2017, he has made 47 starts among a sample of 62 total appearances. In that span, Woodruff has posted a 3.66 ERA with a 3.31 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP). In addition, the righty has a 10.0 K/9 rate over that period. More specifically last season, he posted a 3.05 ERA over 13 starts. If Woodruff is able to replicate that performance, then he could easily be an under-the-radar starting pitcher this year.
2. Marco Gonzales (Seattle Mariners)
Although the Seattle Mariners likely won’t end up with a postseason berth this year, their future core is starting to come together. General Manager Jerry Dipoto has done a very good job of rebuilding the organization’s farm system and stocking it full of talent that looks like it will have a significant impact at the big league level in the future. Seattle has a built up a strong position player group for the future, but the pitching still lacks some impact. Last season, the Mariners pitching staff posted a 5.03 ERA which put them in the bottom third of baseball. The starting rotation was more middle-of-the-pack with a 4.41 ERA over the 60-game sample.
One impactful member of the starting rotation last year was Marco Gonzales. Gonzales looks poised to play a big role in the success of the Mariners in 2021 as well. The 29-year-old signed a four-year extension with the team prior to the start of the regular season last year. That deal officially begins this season and includes a club option for 2025. Therefore, the Mariners know the potential Gonzales has and it should show once again on the big stage in 2021. In 2019, Gonzales made a total of 34 starts which led the major leagues. Furthermore, last season he posted a 3.10 ERA over 69 and two-thirds innings of work with 64 strikeouts and an AL leading 0.9 BB/9 rate.
3. Zac Gallen (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Looking ahead to the coming season, the Arizona Diamondbacks are going to have their work cut out for them. The National League West is going to be competitive with the aforementioned Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres likely making a lot of noise and racking up a lot of wins. Of course, the Dodgers are coming off the 2020 season which ended up in a World Series Championship for them. Additionally, the Padres made a lot of noise this offseason adding three impactful arms to their starting rotation in Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove along with other moves to bolster their roster.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have the ability of playing the role of spoiler for both clubs. The Dbacks won’t make it easy for either Los Angeles or San Diego and part of the reason is because of their effective starting rotation especially right-hander Zac Gallen. Gallen was acquired by the team from the Miami Marlins prior to the 2019 July 31st Trade Deadline. Since that time, he has a 2.80 ERA with the team over 20 starts. Furthermore, last season Gallen continued a streak of 23 consecutive games allowing three or fewer earned runs. While it ended before the end of the season, it was still a record and more reason to believe that Zac Gallen will be impactful once again this year despite how underrated he remains.
4. German Marquez (Colorado Rockies)
Staying in the NL West, the Colorado Rockies are poised to have an interesting season in 2021. After trading the aforementioned Nolan Arenado, Colorado will look to overcome his loss both at the plate and defensively in the field. Overall, the Rockies will likely have a hard time contending considering the landscape of the rest of the division, as outlined above, and the rest of the National League as a whole. However, that doesn’t mean that the Rockies roster lacks talent or doesn’t have any intriguing pieces. In fact, one of those intriguing pieces is starting pitcher German Marquez.
Marquez will enter his sixth major league season this year. While he has not finished in the Top 20 in National League Cy Young Award voting over that period, he did finish fifth overall in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 2017. Additionally, Marquez earned a Silver Slugger Award the following year. Last season alone, Marquez made 13 starts and led the National League with a total of 81 and two-third innings. Marquez concluded the year with a 5.10 ERA at Coors Field, but had a 3.51 ERA on the road. With his durability and ability to eat innings, the right-hander should be exciting to watch this coming season.
5. Hyun Jin Ryu (Toronto Blue Jays)
Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays surprised many and clinched one of the eight American League playoff spots. Toronto is in their window-to-win right now. The team added a significant piece to their offense this offseason in outfielder George Springer and made other moves to address their pitching staff as well. Toronto has a very talented and young group of position players and that was all the more reason for them to make the moves they did this offseason. While their starting rotation might be lackluster overall compared to other American League teams, there is one member of it that belongs on this list.
That would be Hyun Jin Ryu who signed with the team prior to the start of last year. Ryu inked a four-year, $80 million dollar contract with the team and got the Opening Day nod in 2020. Beyond that, he was the team’s ace and for good reason. Ryu was an All-Star in 2019 and finished with a major league leading 2.32 ERA. Last season with the Blue Jays, the 33-year-old pitched to the tune of a 2.69 ERA and had a 3.01 FIP. In addition, Ryu finished third overall in American League Cy Young Award voting. Given his track record and veteran experience at the big league level, it’s fair to bet that he will be effective once again this year.
In the end, baseball is a game played on the field, not on paper. Therefore, all of the predictions in the world can be made. However, more often than not a lot of predictions end up falling short of expectation. For the five aforementioned starting pitchers, nothing is a guarantee. The same can be said for the coming season.
Although, the one constant that remains is that there will always be players and pitchers alike who are always overlooked. The names on this list are the individuals who fall into that category.
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Players Mentioned: Jacob deGrom, Clayton Kershaw, Gerrit Cole, Nolan Arenado, Brandon Woodruff, Marco Gonzales, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Zac Gallen, German Marquez, George Springer, Hyun Jin Ryu.