When we discuss pitching in MLB we often limit ourselves to the aces that baseball has to offer. While being the ace of a team is special, there are some great number-five starting pitchers as well.
We all love the aces of MLB: the Clayton Kershaw‘s, Max Scherzer‘s and Noah Syndergaard‘s of the world. However, we often don’t give enough credit to the guys at the back-end of the rotation. Heck, there are even #2 guys that are regarded as aces, but there will never be a #5 pitcher that is regarded as special. The second a #5 pitcher starts outperforming the guys ahead of him, the second he will move up in the rotation. It’s that simple.
However, there are good and great fifth-slot pitchers in MLB today. Whether it is because of their youth or a stacked pitching rotation, these guys could find themselves being number-three starters on other teams. Some of these guys may progress into something special, potentially an ace one day. Others are just consistent performers, who give their teams exactly what they need in a back-end guy.
To compile this list, we are going to use the current depth charts listed on each team’s respective website. Whether or not they are a #5 pitcher on opening day all depends on their spring training performances. Granted, I assume that most of these guys will be #5 starters on opening day, but there is always the opportunity as the season goes on to move up in the rotation. So with all of that being said, who are the three best #5 starting pitchers in MLB today?
Robert Gsellman is a name not many fans outside of New York may know, but he is a name that many people will know in the future. Gsellman joins an already young Mets rotation at the back end at only 23 years old. He was drafted in the 13th round in 2011 by the New York Mets and has pitched his way up through the organization. Gsellman has put together fairly impressive numbers in the minor leagues, and put up great numbers in his short time in the big leagues last year.
Of course it is hard to justify a pitcher’s worth on such a small sample size, but his time in the big leagues had to have been a very promising sign. In eight games, seven of which were starts, Gsellman threw 44.2 innings with a 2.42 ERA. His strikeout rate was great, averaging 8.5 every nine innings, accounting for 42 strikeouts. His walk rate was a bit high at 3.0 per nine, and his 8.5 hits per nine could be a concern. However, Gsellman showed the ability to get batters out, an extremely good sign at such a young age.
Backing up his short dominance at the big league level are his solid numbers throughout his minor league career. In six seasons in the minors, starting at 17 years old, Gsellman racked up a 3.11 ERA. His hits per nine rate was about the same, his strikeout rate slightly lower and his walk rate also lower. Gsellman is a young talented arm who seems to only get better and has a massive ceiling, potentially as high as a #2 starter for the future.
Mike Montgomery was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Chicago Cubs in July of last season. Montgomery spent the majority of his time on both teams coming out of the bullpen, totaling 49 appearances with only seven starts. Five of these starts came as a Chicago Cub, and heading into 2017 Montgomery looks primed for a starting role. With the loss of Jason Hammel, the fifth spot is open, and despite signing Brett Anderson that spot currently belongs to Mike Montgomery.
Montgomery absolutely thrived last season, and that was to no surprise as he was once one of the highest touted prospects in baseball. Montgomery was ranked as high as the 19th best prospect by Baseball America (2011) and 31st best by MLB.com (2012). That hype around Montgomery lived up to standards as last season he compiled a 2.52 ERA in 100 innings pitched. Montgomery rang up 92 batters in that time, only walking 38.
With an extended sample size in his second MLB season, Montgomery has shown he is ready to brace the starting rotation. The 27-year-old, six-foot-five left-hander will thrive in MLB as he develops. I am certain that in only a few years we will see Montgomery soar past a five-slot in the rotation.
There is a justifiable concern with Drew Pomeranz due to his health last season. Also, Red Sox fans likely aren’t very impressed with his performance in Boston. However, Pomeranz is hands down the best #5 pitcher in baseball, especially considering that last season he was an All-Star and the ace of the San Diego Padres. Pomeranz is likely listed at the back-end due to his health, but also because the Red Sox pitching staff is so deep. Heck, the Red Sox can mix their rotation in any way and it will still outperform any other rotation. Now that’s special.
Pomeranz did struggle with the Boston Red Sox last year, posting a 4.59 ERA in 68.2 innings pitched. However, a lot of that is because of his arm issues, as in the offseason he underwent the same stem cell treatment as Garrett Richards. Pomeranz just recently stated that he felt 100 percent, and could see himself return to great numbers. Even if he doesn’t match his 2.52 ERA as a Padre, Pomeranz has the ability to be a consistent 3.00 ERA pitcher.
Having the fifth man in the rotation consistently pitch to a 3.00 ERA is truly a special testament to the Red Sox. Although young, Pomeranz is not coming up onto MLB scene like Gsellman and Montgomery – Boston is simply THAT good. A healthy Pomeranz could be the ace of several teams: the Padres, Twins, White Sox, Reds and Orioles come to mind. That’s to name a few, and although most of those are at the bottom of the MLB barrel, Pomeranz remains the best #5 pitcher in baseball.