Leandre: Top 10 Starting Pitchers Right Now

Baseball is all about rankings. Sometimes it’s how players fare in awards races, how many fans voted for them for the All-Star Game, or where each team ended up on the latest MLB Power Rankings.

The fact of the matter is, everyone wants to be considered great. Those who go the extra mile can become elite, but usually, if you round into the top 10 you’ve done something right. And since baseball starts and ends with pitching, I figured the best place to start my “Top 10 Right Now” series would be with starting pitchers.

Starting with No. 10, and we will work our way down to the MLB’s best.

10. Walker Buehler – RHP – Los Angeles Dodgers

Buehler is coming off of a season of downright dominance, despite the start not looking too promising. After his first six starts, his ERA was north of 5.00 and he was striking out batters at a 20 percent clip. After that, Buehler posted an ERA of 2.88, with a FIP of 2.91 and a strikeout rate of 31 percent over his final 24 starts.

All in all, Buehler finished the 2019 season 14th among qualifiers in ERA (3.26), fifth in FIP (3.01), and seventh in SIERA (3.50).

He also dazzled in his two postseason starts against the Nationals, allowing just one earned run over 12.2 innings while striking out 15. While not exactly relevant for this argument, it’s certainly worth noting.

9. Shane Bieber – RHP – Cleveland Indians

Shane Bieber proved why scouts were so high on him ahead of the 2019 season. Coming off a season in which his ERA plus came in at 95 (five runs worse than league average), there were a lot of question marks about whether Bieber could be a productive pitcher at the MLB level.

Not only did he achieve that, but he also excelled. His ERA-plus jumped to 144, and he saw his strikeout rate climb 5.9 percent.

At just 24 years old, there’s still plenty of room for him to grow, and I think he has a great shot at doing so in 2020.

8. Justin Verlander – RHP – Houston Astros

No disrespect to Verlander, even though I firmly believe Gerrit Cole should’ve won the Cy Young in 2019. The one thing with Verlander is the number of innings under his belt. He’s going to be 37 before he throws another pitch in an MLB game, and he seemed to be running out of gas towards the end of the postseason as he’s fast-approaching 3,000 innings pitched for his career.

All of that adds up.

Plus, there’s a bit of projecting involved. While his ERA stayed relatively the same, his peripherals jumped from a 2.78 FIP and a 3.03 xFIP to 3.27 and 3.18 respectively. While not drastic increases, it’s enough for me to say there’s a chance he regresses in his age-37 season.

7. Mike Clevinger – RHP – Cleveland Indians

This one might be a bit controversial, but that’s only because Clevinger doesn’t have the volume. He might not have pitched enough to qualify for any of the league leaders, he still put out a phenomenal season.

In 126.0 innings pitched Clevinger posted a 2.49 FIP (would’ve ranked second in baseball), an fWAR of 4.5 (5.8/162.0 IP), and a SIERA of 3.31 (would’ve ranked fifth). All of those numbers are fantastic, but this is a guy who possesses some of the best stuff in the entire MLB.

Quite frankly, the only thing keeping me from putting Clevinger higher on this list is the fact that he didn’t have the volume in 2019 to qualify. Who knows how those numbers would’ve shaken up had he pitched 36 more innings?

6. Luis Severino – RHP – New York Yankees

Did you know the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole? Yeah? Well, you may or may not have forgotten about this guy over the course of 2019 but Luis Severino is another bonafide ace in that Yankees rotation.

Much like with Verlander, a lot of projecting is going into this selection.

Severino missed most of the season due to rotator cuff inflammation, but came back and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat during his 20.1 inning sample size between September and October.

Severino was coming off back-to-back top 10 finishes in the Cy Young voting, including a third-place finish in 2017. He has some of the most electric stuff in the game, and a 1-2 punch of he and Gerrit Cole is going to be scary for opposing offenses.

5. Stephen Strasburg – RHP – Washington Nationals

Stephen Strasburg secured the bag this offseason, and rightfully so. The 2019 World Series MVP is coming off of a season in which he flat out dominated. His 3.25 FIP ranked ninth in the MLB, and his 2.13 DRA (deserved run average) was best in the league by a decent margin over second-place Jacob deGrom.

Strasburg will always have those concerns with arm injuries, but the fact of the matter is that talent is something special, and we need to recognize that.

4. Chris Sale – LHP – Boston Red Sox

Listen, I know Chris Sale had a season that he isn’t proud of. That 4.40 ERA and 147.1 innings pitched are both career-worsts for the Red Sox left-hander.

However, it wasn’t all bad for Sale. His strikeout rate, while it dropped, still remained in the mid-30s, his FIP was a very respectable 3.39, and his ERA-plus was still nine runs better than league average (109).

On top of that, Sale’s 2.93 DRA ranked 10th among starting pitchers who pitched at least 100 innings last season.

2019 was an off-year for the future Hall of Famer, but to think he’s not one of the top four pitchers in the league because of that would just be a poor use of judgment.

3. Gerrit Cole – RHP – New York Yankees

Cole was undoubtedly the best pitcher in baseball in 2019, but it’s hard for me to completely jump on the bandwagon for a guy who’s only been an elite pitcher for two seasons.

Cole led the American League in ERA, strikeouts, FIP, and ERA+ a season ago, but I’m not fully sold that he’s the league’s best pitcher. I need to see it for one more season.

2. Jacob deGrom – RHP – New York Mets

Longevity helps deGrom in this case. While he has the knock of pitching in the National League, and has only been on this tier for a couple of seasons as well, he has a much more deserving case than Cole.

deGrom has never posted an ERA+ below 117 in his career, nor has he ever had a FIP above 3.50. Cole was an average pitcher as recent as 2017, while deGrom was significantly better despite performing at his lowest capabilities.

1. Max Scherzer – RHP – Washington Nationals

Scherzer is just a bulldog. There’s nothing about him that you shouldn’t like. From the cortisone shot he had so he could pitch Game 7 of the World Series, to pitching with a broken nose in the regular season, this man is going do everything in his power to be out there for his team.

Oh, and his numbers are consistently great too, as he led the MLB in FIP with a 2.45 in 2019. On top of that, he posted a FIP-minus of 54 (career-best), and he struck out over 35 percent of batters for the first time in his career.

It’s kind of hard to justify giving Scherzer the nod over the man who has beaten him in the Cy Young race each of the past two seasons, but there’s something about Max Scherzer that screams “That doesn’t matter.”


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0 Responses

  1. Jordan, a real solid list…well thought out! Where would you put Jack Flaherty and Zack Greinke? IMHO they are top 10 SP’s. Flaherty’s K rate and velo are terrific. And Greinke doesn’t walk anyone. Your reaction?

    1. Pitching dominates today’s game. I had a mix of projecting and track record. Flaherty and Greinke are just on the outside.

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