After going over the best position players in baseball for the upcoming season, it’s time to go over MLB’s top pitchers for 2019. While there are some great relievers, this ranking focuses on starting pitchers.
10. Walker Buehler, Dodgers
Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, and Noah Syndergaard were among the starters closest to making the list, but a couple of Dodgers get the nod for the final two spots. First, Walker Buehler, who had and outstanding rookie year with a 2.62 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. The 24-year-old was at his best in the final game of the season, pitching seven innings shutout innings while allowing just two hits and no walks against an elite Boston offense (in a losing effort), giving a glimpse of what could be to come for the hard-throwing right-hander.
9. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
This list is based on projecting for the 2019 season, so some might argue Clayton Kershaw should be nowhere near the top ten given his injury concerns. However, if Kershaw can get over his arm issues and get close to his usual self, then No. 9 is too low for the future Hall of Famer. Kershaw just had a 2.73 ERA last season, and he obviously knows how to get guys out even if his fastball velocity never gets to where it was. This is a fair spot for him.
8. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Madison Bumgarner has also dealt with injuries, and his velocity has also dipped likely because of that. But after two straight injury-riddled losing seasons, he appears to be as healthy as he’s been since 2016, and his contract is set to expire after the season. The three-time World Series champion is still just 29—if he can stay off the injured list, a bounce-back season from a determined guy could be coming.
7. Corey Kluber, Indians
Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber followed up his second time winning the award in 2017 with the highest win total of his career last season (20). He also added another 222 strikeouts, which was actually his lowest total the last five seasons. Kluber will turn 33 years old early this season, but he’s simply a workhorse that eats innings for the Indians—he has 17 complete games and seven shutouts in his career, all coming since 2014.
6. Blake Snell, Rays
If this were a ranking of how pitcher’s fared last season, American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell would be squarely in the top two or three with a case for No. 1. During his 25-year-old campaign, Snell broke out with a 21-5 record, a 1.89 ERA, and 221 strikeouts while pitching in a division with the Red Sox and Yankees. Only Roger Clemens in 1990 and Ron Guidry in 1978 won 20 games with a sub-2.00 ERA in the American League before Snell did last season.
5. Aaron Nola, Phillies
Last year, Aaron Nola was in the thick of the NL Cy Young race up until his play took a dip in the final month of the season. Entering September, Nola was 15-3 with a 2.10 ERA, while opponents were hitting below .200 against him (.197 to be exact). Nola might’ve just run out of juice a bit, but the team around him wasn’t picking him up—this year, Philadelphia should be better all around, including defensively. Don’t be surprised if the former LSU star gets closer to the top of the discussion for the best pitcher in baseball.
4. Justin Verlander, Tigers
The oldest player on this list, 36-year-old Justin Verlander just racked up 290 strikeouts with a 2.52 ERA and a .90 WHIP in 2018. Verlander was extraordinary for the Astros the season before, helping them win a World Series (also his first), and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. The veteran pitcher somehow still pumps his fastball into the high 90s late in games, and he has an elite curveball to make guys whiff.
3. Chris Sale, Red Sox
The third player ever to start three All-Star games, Chris Sale is coming off a season with 237 strikeouts (in 27 games), a 2.11 ERA, an .86 WHIP—and he added a World Series to his resume. The 29-year-old’s 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio are both all-time records, as the lanky starter is a terror for opposing hitters, righty or lefty. Sale’s stuff is just flat-out nasty.
2. Jacob deGrom, Mets
A 1.70 ERA (the lowest in a single season since Greg Maddux in 1995) is eye-popping, and Jacob deGrom did it on a bad Mets team, barely getting to above .500 with not much help from his offense for a number of starts. deGrom is incredibly efficient, mixing up his pitches and velocity while rarely letting opposing batters get a feel for him on the mound. The Mets made the right move keeping their Cy Young winner on the team.
1. Max Scherzer, Nationals
After becoming the 17th pitcher in the Modern Era (since 1900) to record 300 strikeouts in a season, and the first right-hander to accomplish the feat since 2002, Max Scherzer showed that he’s only getting better by the year as he gets into his mid-to-late 30s. Scherzer has two no-hitters, two immaculate innings (when you retire the side with three consecutive strikeouts on nine pitches), and he brings an intensity and edge that helps make him great—as is the case for many guys on this list. The three-time Cy Young winner is remarkably consistent, and he’ll be among baseball’s best players again in 2019.