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Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
After last season’s offensive explosion, having reliable starting pitching has become even more vital in the hunt for a World Series title.
With that in mind, we have set out to identify the top 30 starting pitchers in the league heading into the 2018 season.
For fantasy baseball fans, think of this as a big board of the position if the entire league were doing a redraft for one all-or-nothing season in 2018.
Someone like Jon Gray has more upside than Zack Greinke going forward, but is he going to be better this coming year?
Let’s find out.
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Jim Mone/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 14-8, 3.89 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 48 BB, 139 K, 145.2 IP
Jose Berrios arrived in the majors with a thud in 2016.
One of the top pitching prospects in baseball, the former first-round pick struggled to an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts and an unsightly 49-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58.1 innings.
However, his first full season in the majors was an entirely different story, and by season’s end, he was pushing for the role of staff ace on the Minnesota Twins.
Armed with a mid-90s fastball, solid changeup and a filthy breaking ball, Berrios has electric stuff, and he has the upside to emerge as one of the league’s elite starters in the near future.
Honorable Mentions: Dylan Bundy (BAL), Luis Castillo (CIN), Johnny Cueto (SF), Danny Duffy (KC), Michael Fulmer (DET), Zack Godley (ARI), Gio Gonzalez (WAS), Cole Hamels (TEX), J.A. Happ (TOR), Felix Hernandez (SEA), Rich Hill (LAD), Dinelson Lamet (SD), Jon Lester (CHC), Kenta Maeda (LAD), Lance McCullers Jr. (HOU), Shohei Ohtani (LAA), Drew Pomeranz (BOS), David Price (BOS), Garrett Richards (LAA), Tanner Roark (WAS), CC Sabathia (NYY), Danny Salazar (CLE), Jeff Samardzija (SF), Jameson Taillon (PIT), Michael Wacha (STL), Taijuan Walker (ARI), Luke Weaver (STL) and Alex Wood (LAD).
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Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 31 GS, 17-9, 4.19 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 196 K, 176.1 IP
The No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft, Trevor Bauer moved quickly to reach the majors, but it wasn’t until last season that he established himself as a standout starter at the MLB level.
A major spike in his strikeout rate (8.0 to 10.0 K/9) took his game to another level, and he’s also steadily improved his overall command since leading the AL with 79 walks in 2015.
Bauer has one of the game’s best curveballs, and he upped his usage of it last season from 19.9 to 29.4 percent. His vast repertoire of pitches keeps hitters off balance when he’s mixing them well.
With Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco fronting the staff, Bauer doesn’t need to be anything more than a solid No. 3 starter for the Indians.
He’s capable of being a lot more.
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Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
2017 Standard: 33 GS, 12-12, 4.26 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 196 K, 203.0 IP
Will a change of scenery allow Gerrit Cole to regain his elite form?
The burly right-hander went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 202 strikeouts in 208 innings to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting in 2015.
Since then, he battled through an injury-plagued 2016 season and an inconsistent 2017 campaign, posting a combined 4.12 ERA and 1.32 WHIP during that two-year span.
Despite those less-than-stellar results, the stuff is still there for him to be a front-line workhorse.
With team control through 2019, it cost the Houston Astros the four-player package of Colin Moran, Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin to acquire him from the Pittsburgh Pirates in January.
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Bill Kostroun/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 27 GS, 10-12, 3.55 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 153 K, 162.1 IP
After a trying 2016 season and a shaky start last year, Sonny Gray finally started to look like the standout pitcher of old.
- First 10 GS: 2-3, 4.84 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 57.2 IP, .269 BAA
- Next 17 GS: 8-9, 2.84 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 104.2 IP, .201 BAA
The Yankees gave up the highly regarded prospect trio of Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian and Dustin Fowler to acquire him in July, and now he has a chance to be an X-factor for a team with title aspirations during his first full season in New York.
It’s easy to forget just how good Gray was as recently as 2015.
That season, he went 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 169 strikeouts in 208 innings to finish third in AL Cy Young voting.
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 25 GS, 14-7, 3.62 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 163 K, 146.2 IP
The idea that Charlie Morton would be one of baseball’s 30 best starting pitchers going into 2018 would have seemed ludicrous at this time last year.
Now he’s an entirely different pitcher.
The 34-year-old ramped up his fastball to the mid-90s, added a cutter and started working up in the zone more in an effort to generate swings and misses instead of groundballs.
And the results were staggering.
The two-year, $14 million deal the Houston Astros gave him last offseason looks like one of the best bargains in baseball.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 30 GS, 14-10, 3.53 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 163 K, 168.1 IP
There’s no question Jake Arrieta has regressed since winning NL Cy Young honors in 2015.
That said, he’s still a good pitcher.
In the two years since, he still ranked among the MLB leaders in wins (32, t-fifth), ERA (3.30, t-eighth), ERA+ (129, 12th), WHIP (1.15, ninth) and strikeouts (353, 20th).
That was enough to earn him a three-year, $75 million deal from the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason.
With peak conditioning and just 1,161 career innings under his belt, Arrieta has a chance to age better than most power pitchers.
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Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 24 GS, 12-5, 2.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 156 K, 136.0 IP
Good health is all that’s keeping James Paxton from joining the ranks of the game’s elite.
The 29-year-old made two separate disabled list stints last season, first with a left forearm strain and then for a strained left pectoral muscle.
When he did manage to take the field, he was as good as any starter in baseball.
He didn’t qualify for the ERA title, but here’s a look at where he ranked among pitchers who threw at least 130 innings:
- ERA: 2.98—11th
- FIP: 2.61—third
- WHIP: 1.10—12th
- K/9: 10.3—12th
With a mid-90s fastball, a lethal curveball and a terrific cutter, his stuff is elite.
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Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 30 GS, 13-12, 4.74 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 194 K, 178.1 IP
It was a tale of two seasons for Masahiro Tanaka in 2017:
- First 14 GS: 5-7, 6.34 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, .293 BAA
- Next 16 GS: 8-5, 3.54 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, .227 BAA
He closed out the regular season in impressive fashion, with 15 strikeouts in seven scoreless innings. He then posted a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings of work in his three playoff starts.
Still pitching with a partially torn UCL, Tanaka decided to opt in to the final three years and $67 million of his New York Yankees contract this offseason, and he will look to build off that strong finish in 2018.
Luis Severino’s emergence takes some of the pressure off him to anchor the staff.
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Paul Beaty/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 32 GS, 11-11, 4.15 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 207 K, 188.2 IP
Part of Quintana’s value comes from his incredibly team-friendly contract, as he’s owed just $30.85 million over the next three years.
Those still clinging to old-school stats will look at his 57-57 career record and call him a mediocre pitcher.
And they would be wrong.
He’s topped 180 innings in each of the past five seasons and posted a 3.50 ERA and 1.22 WHIP along the way with 20.3 WAR—ninth among all starters during that span.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 27 GS, 12-11, 3.54 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 184 K, 168.0 IP
Aaron Nola ended the 2016 season on the disabled list with a right elbow strain, and there was some concern he could be headed for Tommy John surgery.
Instead, he stayed healthy last year and turned in a breakout campaign.
The No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 draft reached the majors roughly a year later, and while he was viewed more as a solid bet to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter, he looks like a legitimate front-line option.
Nola ranked among the NL leaders in ERA (3.54, 11th), WHIP (1.21, ninth) and strikeouts (184, 12th) last season, and he did it after missing time early with a lower back strain.
Another step forward could be coming in 2018.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 34 GS, 10-12, 4.07 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 249 K, 201.0 IP
There’s no question Chris Archer has elite strikeout stuff.
His 734 punchouts over the past three seasons trail only Max Scherzer (828), Chris Sale (815) and Corey Kluber (737), and his 10.8 K/9 rate is nothing short of elite.
However, he’s been susceptible to the home run ball (1.1 HR/9) during that time and has a 3.77 ERA (107 ERA+) to show for it as a result.
Archer might have the best slider in baseball, as he struck out a whopping 182 batters with it last season. And he did a good job limiting damage with his still-improving changeup.
How long before his team-friendly contract makes him too tantalizing a trade chip for the Tampa Bay Rays?
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Alex Gallardo/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 32 GS, 12-11, 3.64 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 217 K, 205.0 IP
Carlos Martinez has been a model of consistency in his three seasons as a starting pitcher.
During that span, he’s gone 42-27 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 575 strikeouts in 580 innings while taking Adam Wainwright’s mantle as the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals staff.
He upped his slider usage last season from 22.8 to 26.9 percent, and that pitch continues to be one of the best in baseball, as he held opposing hitters to a .145 average and racked up 138 strikeouts with it.
Martinez has gotten better at pitching deeper into games, and he threw a personal-best 205 innings last season, tossing the first two shutouts of his career along the way.
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Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
2017 Standard: 31 GS, 10-12, 3.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 209 K, 186.2 IP
When the free-agent market failed to develop as expected, the Chicago Cubs swooped in and signed Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal to replace Jake Arrieta.
No pitcher in baseball has a wider array of pitches at his disposal.
According to Brooks Baseball, Darvish threw a four-seam fastball, slider, sinker, cutter, curveball, changeup and splitter last season.
The 31-year-old has piled up 11.0 K/9 during his time in the majors, and his hiccup in the postseason last year has been accredited to him tipping his pitches. As long as he can rectify that issue, he remains one of the game’s elite starting pitchers.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 20 GS, 10-4, 3.67 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 112 K, 110.1 IP
After an injury-plagued start to the 2017 season, Jon Gray showed some promising signs of emerging as the staff ace the Colorado Rockies had in mind when they selected him No. 3 overall in the 2013 draft.
Over his final 14 starts, he went 8-3 with a 2.88 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 87 strikeouts in 84.1 innings to help propel the Rockies to a wild-card berth.
He was 5-1 with a 3.13 ERA in eight starts at Coors Field last season, so he’s proved he can handle pitching in a ballpark where few others have found consistent success.
As long as he stays healthy, he looks ready to join the game’s elite.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 28 GS, 15-5, 2.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 218 K, 162.0 IP
Robbie Ray was a popular breakout candidate heading into last year after he racked up 218 strikeouts in 174.1 innings during the 2016 season.
- 2016: 32 GS, 8-15, 4.90 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 11.3 K/9
- 2017: 28 GS, 15-5, 2.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 12.0 K/9
Interestingly enough, his FIP was nearly identical (3.76 and 3.72) during those two seasons, so it remains to be seen exactly where he will fall between those two ends of the spectrum.
The strikeout rate is legit, but he also walked batters at a 3.9 BB/9 clip last year.
Even with some regression, he’s still capable of being one of the most overpowering starters in the NL.
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John Minchillo/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 31 GS, 15-10, 3.53 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 239 K, 201.1 IP
Jacob deGrom was the only pitcher to exceed 120 innings for the New York Mets last season.
On a 92-loss team, he was one of the few constants.
In fact, in 20 starts following a loss, he went 12-5 with a 3.31 ERA. He at least managed to stop the bleeding more times than not.
A late bloomer who won NL Rookie of the Year in his age-26 season, deGrom is one of the more interesting extension candidates around the majors.
He’ll be a free agent after the 2020 season, and he’s been the one reliable arm in an otherwise wildly disappointing Mets rotation.
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Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 24 GS, 7-5, 3.03 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 123 K, 139.2 IP
Kyle Hendricks will never light up the radar gun—he averaged just 86.6 mph with his fastball last season.
However, a strong case can be made that he’s the best pitcher on a terrific Chicago Cubs starting staff.
Acquired from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Ryan Dempster in 2012, Hendricks was never viewed as a top prospect while he climbed the minor league ranks.
That hasn’t stopped him from pitching to a 2.94 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 590 career innings, and his 3.43 FIP speaks to the legitimacy of that performance.
He backs his pinpoint fastball command with one of the best changeups in the game and sprinkles in a curveball to keep hitters off balance.
Right-hand tendinitis cost him some time last season, but there’s no reason to think it will be a lingering issue.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 32 GS, 17-7, 3.20 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 215 K, 202.1 IP
Zack Greinke fared considerably better in the second year of his massive six-year, $206.5 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
- 2016: 102 ERA+, 13-7, 4.37 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.3 WAR
- 2017: 149 ERA+, 17-7, 3.20 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 6.1 WAR
That was good enough to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting, as he helped lead the D-backs to a playoff appearance just one year after a 93-loss season.
The 34-year-old relies on plus command of his four-pitch repertoire to keep hitters off balance as opposed to overpowering guys, so he should age well.
Pitching in Chase Field doesn’t do him any favors, but he’s still one of the best around.
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Phil Long/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 32 GS, 18-6, 3.29 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 226 K, 200.0 IP
Carlos Carrasco is the most underrated pitcher in baseball.
Since joining the rotation full time in 2015, he’s gone 43-26 with a 3.41 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and a 10.1 K/9 rate against just 2.1 BB/9.
He reached the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career last season and ranked among the AL leaders in wins (18, t-first), ERA (3.29, sixth), WHIP (1.10, fourth), strikeouts (226, fifth) and pitcher WAR (5.5, fifth).
Despite pitching behind Corey Kluber in the Cleveland rotation, he’s a front-line starter in his own right.
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Thomas B. Shea/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 23 GS, 14-5, 2.90 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 125 K, 145.2 IP
Dallas Keuchel would have been squarely in the AL Cy Young conversation if not for a pinched nerve in his neck that cost him nearly two months in the first half of the 2017 season.
He was 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 11 starts at the time of the injury.
It took him some time to round back into form once he returned, but he finished the regular season with a 2.87 ERA in September and then went 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA in five postseason starts.
A down season following his 2015 AL Cy Young performance gives some reason for pause, especially considering his relatively short track record of success.
That said, his ability to locate his pitches and keep the ball on the ground serves him well, and he will be a co-ace alongside Justin Verlander as the Astros look to defend their title.
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Bill Kostroun/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 33 GS, 13-9, 3.09 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 164 K, 201.0 IP
Marcus Stroman was a trendy breakout pick heading into the 2016 season.
That breakout happened—just a year later than expected.
- 2016: 97 ERA+, 9-10, 4.37 ERA, 166 K, 204.0 IP, 1.5 WAR
- 2017: 149 ERA+, 13-9, 3.09 ERA, 164 K, 201.0 IP, 5.7 WAR
His back-to-back 200-inning seasons have effectively put to rest any lingering concerns about whether his 5’8″ frame could hold up over a starter’s workload.
A fairly low strikeout rate is a result of one of the game’s best sinkers, and his 62.1 percent groundball rate led all qualified starters last season.
That makes him a bit more defense-reliant than some of the other pitchers near the top of these rankings, but he’s earned his spot among the best in the game.
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Eric Risberg/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 17 GS, 4-9, 3.32 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 101 K, 111.0 IP
Freak dirt-bike accident aside, Madison Bumgarner is still one baseball’s aces.
A sprained left shoulder suffered in that accident led to roughly three months off the mound, but he picked up right where he left off once he returned to action.
Still just 28, Bumgarner has quite the resume, with three World Series rings and a postseason track record that stacks up to anyone in baseball history.
He has two years remaining on his contract, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the big left-hander.
If the Giants have accepted the inevitable and have begun rebuilding two years from now, he could hit the open market as one of the most coveted free-agent pitchers of all time.
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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 28 GS, 15-4, 2.52 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 204 K, 175.1 IP
Health will always be a question with Stephen Strasburg, and he missed time again last season when a nerve impingement in his right elbow cost him nearly a month at the end of July.
To say he returned strong from that injury would be a massive understatement.
In eight starts the rest of the way, he went 5-1 with a 0.84 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 53.2 innings to push his way into the NL Cy Young conversation.
It remains to be seen how the final six years and $156 million of his contract will play out given his track record.
But heading into the 2018 season, he looks like the best No. 2 starter in baseball and a candidate to push teammate Max Scherzer for NL Cy Young honors.
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 7 GS, 1-2, 2.97 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 34 K, 30.1 IP
Regardless of whether you are a New York Mets fan, a season without Noah Syndergaard was bad for the game of baseball.
Simply put, the 6’6″ flamethrower is one of the most exciting players in the game.
A partial tear in his right lat muscle ended his 2017 campaign after just seven starts, and he’s looking to reclaim his place as the game’s most promising young starter.
A fellow by the name of Luis Severino assumed that mantle in his absence.
That said, Syndergaard has all the tools to be No. 1 on this list some day, armed with a fastball that regularly touches triple-digits, a low 90s slider and a solid curveball/changeup combination to round out the repertoire, he also has uncanny command for a tall power pitcher.
Spring stats don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s promising to see him pitching well upon his return from injury. He’s posted a 1.35 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 20 innings of work.
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Kathy Willens/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 31 GS, 14-6, 2.98 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 230 K, 193.1 IP
Luis Severino has officially arrived.
After bursting on to the scene with a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts as a rookie in 2015, he struggled to find his footing the following season, spending time in the bullpen and back in Triple-A on his way to a 5.83 ERA over 71 innings.
That made him one of the biggest X-factors in baseball heading into 2017, and he delivered with a breakout season that saw him ascend to the role of staff ace.
An improved changeup and better overall command helped the precocious right-hander take a huge step forward, and there’s nothing in his peripheral numbers to suggest his 2017 performance was anything but legit.
For all that’s made of the slugging duo of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, it’s Severino who is the most important young player on the Yankees roster.
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Matt Slocum/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 33 GS, 15-8, 3.36 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 219 K, 206.0 IP
It was a bittersweet goodbye for Justin Verlander when the Detroit Tigers traded him to the Houston Astros in August.
The Tigers drafted him No. 2 overall in 2004, and he spent 12-and-a-half seasons with the team, making six All-Star appearances and winning both Cy Young and MVP during the 2011 season.
It didn’t take long for him to make a mark on his new team.
In five starts following the trade, Verlander went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 0.65 WHIP, and he followed that up by going 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA in 36.2 postseason innings.
It’s scary to think what a full season of Verlander could mean for the champs.
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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 32 GS, 17-8, 2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 308 K, 214.1 IP
Chris Sale became the first left-handed pitcher since Randy Johnson to record 300 strikeouts last season, making himself right at home in his first season with the Boston Red Sox.
Time will tell who won the blockbuster trade that sent a prospect package headlined by Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to the Chicago White Sox to acquire him, but there’s little question Sale is one of the game’s elite starters.
He’s finished in the top six in AL Cy Young voting in each of his six seasons as a starter, and he also led the AL in innings pitched (214.1), FIP (2.45) and K/9 (12.9 K/9) last season to go along with his second strikeout title in three years.
It’s borderline criminal he will earn just $26 million over the next two seasons, and it will be interesting to see whether the Red Sox can lock him up beyond 2019.
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Mark Tenally/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 31 GS, 16-6, 2.51 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 268 K, 200.2 IP
Max Scherzer has won three Cy Young Awards in the past five seasons, and even though he’s not No. 1 in these rankings, it would be unwise to bet against him adding to that collection.
The 33-year-old has come a long way since his days as a young starter with electric stuff and sketchy control.
He’s tallied at least 200 innings and 200 strikeouts each of the past five seasons, and his 5.7 H/9 and .178 BAA last year speak to just how overpowering he can be.
His back-loaded contract sees his salary jump from $22.1 million to $42.1 million in 2019, and it will be interesting to see whether he can maintain his level performance into his age-36 season, when his deal ends.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 29 GS, 18-4, 2.25 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 265 K, 203.2 IP
Corey Kluber is the most unlikely superstar of the top-tier group.
He’s a former fourth-round pick who was traded before he made his MLB debut and who didn’t carve out a full-time spot in the starting rotation until his age-28 season.
That said, he’s done a lot of making up for lost time.
The decision to put Kluber ahead of Scherzer will no doubt ruffle a few feathers, so let’s take a look at how the two stack up since the former became a full-time starter in 2014:
- Kluber: 152 ERA+, 63-38, 2.83 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 1,006 K, 876.1 IP, 26.6 WAR
- Scherzer: 144 ERA+, 68-30, 2.86 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 1,080 K, 878.0 IP, 26.0 WAR
Scherzer is a fantastic pitcher, but Kluber has earned the No. 2 spot.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
2017 Standard: 30 GS, 18-4, 2.31 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 202 K, 175.0 IP
While there may have been better pitchers last season, the No. 1 spot still belongs to Clayton Kershaw.
If he retired today, he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
He lost out on his fourth NL Cy Young Award to Max Scherzer last season, but he still led the NL in ERA (2.31) and ERA+ (180) while posting a sub-1.00 WHIP for the fifth year in a row.
A lower-back strain cost him time down the stretch last season, and that’s the type of injury that could turn into a nagging issue during the second half of a player’s career.
But until that proves to be the case, Kershaw is still the gold standard among MLB starters.