With MLB’s Opening Day on Sunday, we will see premiere matchups as teams roll out their aces to get their season off on the right foot. We know them all; Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber. But what of the unsung heroes? The pitchers unceremoniously skipping starts, or pitching on short rest. The number five starter is the most disrespected of all the hurlers, but there is definite talent there. As we continue our countdown to Opening Day, we highlight the five best number five starters per MLB.com’s depth charts.
Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays
Aaron Sanchez had the season typical of a young number five starter on the come up. Sanchez had a great season, but he bumped up against his innings cap and moved to a relief role. Still, he lead the American League in ERA last season and is one of the league’s rising stars. He won’t be the number five guy for long, as he is a shoo-in to leapfrog everyone in the rotation except World Baseball Classic hero Marcus Stroman. He has the stuff to be a star for years to come, and the Blue Jays put him in the five slot solely to protect his innings count. It wouldn’t be shocking if he is Toronto’s numebr one after the All-Star Break
Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
Nola started off last season strong, but faded down the stretch. Injuries derailed his 2016 campaign, but tallied an impressive 72 innings before the injuries kicked in. He has an amazing sinker and a great curveball, but isn’t going to blow people away. When he was on last year, he was inducing a ton of weak contact. This one is a cheat, as MLB.com lists Vince Velasquez as the #5 starter, but multiple reports out of Philly had Nola fighting for a rotation spot this year. He will be a key cog in the Phillies’ future.
Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks
If the Aarons are on the come up, Corbin is on the comeback. The Diamondbacks’ fifth starter is their former “future ace”. Tommy John Surgery cost him his entire 2014 campaign and most of his 2015 campaign. Corbin showed he wasn’t all the way back last season. He faltered, and MLB batters torched him to the tune of a 5.15 ERA. The Diamondbacks moved Corbin to the bullpen last year, but he snagged a rotation spot thanks to an impressive Spring Training. He has an elite slider, but his fastball betrayed him in 2016. If he gets that under control, he could return to pre-TJS form.
Hyun-jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers
The question with Ryu is health, not talent. Before losing all of 2015 and the vast majority of 2016 to injury, Ryu had two-straight seasons of sub-3.40 ERA. He’s returned to form this year, striking out 12 batters in 14 innings (walking one) in his Spring Training starts. He’s 30, so he may have lost his best years to injury, but he is still one of the best number five arms in baseball. The Dodgers hope Ryu will return to pre-injury form for the balance of 2017. If not, they have plenty of reserve pitchers.
Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
Rodon may lose the start to 2017 with a biceps injury, but seems to have evaded a major injury. He’s spent the last two seasons tweaking his delivery and pitch sequencing, leaving him ready to set the league on fire. His incredible K% and BB% are just off the elite level, and definitely does not deserve the last slot in the White Sox rotation. Like Sanchez and Nola, Rodon has a bright future. Unfortunately for Rodon, he will do this to relatively little fanfare as the ChiSox play second fiddle to the MLB World Champions in the AL Central.
So what do you think? Who are your top number five starters across the game? Tell us in the comments!