Over the offseason, the team of contributors at Baseball Essential voted upon every position on the diamond, compiling our comprehensive Top 15 countdowns for the 2018 season.
Major League Baseball is overflowing with youth and skill, but don’t forget about the rugged veterans we all know and love. These Top 15 rundowns will feature a splendid mix of young, exuberant athletes, and the aged, mature individuals who mentor them.
As for the positions, we will unveil the top 15 starting pitchers, relievers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, left fielders, center fielders, and right fielders, as well as the foremost designated hitters, utilitymen, and managers, over the next few weeks.
Our voting format is simple. The team of writers and analysts at BBE were given ballots a few weeks back for their top 10 individuals at each spot. A first-place vote is worth 10 points, second-place is good for nine, and so on.
As the spring training season starts to get underway, you will see these countdowns published prior to the beginning of another exciting MLB season. To keep track of the Top 15 lists you might have missed, stay posted to the Top 15 tag on the site.
In the rundown, we list the pitcher, their position among the list, and how many points they have received in the voting. Now, you’re ready. Here are MLB’s Top 15 starting pitchers for the 2018 season.
Also receiving votes were Philadelphia Phillies ace Aaron Nola, Tampa Bay Rays righty Chris Archer, and Chicago Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana. Nola garnered two points, while Archer and Quintana netted a single tenth-place vote each and came in with one.
Dallas Keuchel – 15th (2)
After a poor 2016 season, some baseball fans probably forgot that Dallas Keuchel won the American League Cy Young Award in 2015.
But the 30-year-old Houston Astros left-hander reminded people how good he is in 2017. The addition of Justin Verlander helped propel the Astros to a World Series title, but Keuchel was consistent all season, finishing 2017 with a 2.90 ERA and a 3.9 WAR, despite making only 23 starts and logging 145.2 innings.
Verlander and Keuchel are a great one-two punch at the top of Houston’s rotation.
Yu Darvish – 14th (3)
Yu Darvish had a rough go of it in the World Series against the Astros. He may have been tipping his pitches in Game 7 and pitched even worse in Game 3.
But for the most part, he was a nice complement to Clayton Kershaw in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation. Darvish signed with the Chicago Cubs this past offseason, and he should have a chance to at least redeem himself in the playoffs and possibly the World Series, but do not expect a bad performance on the biggest stage to affect his performance on the mound this season.
Last season, with both the Texas Rangers and the Dodgers, was not his best season, but Darvish has been one of the most consistent players at his position since he debuted in 2012.
Marcus Stroman – 13th (4)
Marcus Stroman had a really good rookie year in 2014 at the age of 23. He only made 20 starts and only threw 130.2 innings, but his FIP (2.84) and ERA+ (104) were both excellent.
The Toronto Blue Jays ace was limited due to injuries the next season, but has come back with a vengeance the next two seasons, developing into a premier starter. Both in 2016 and last year, he reached the 200-inning plateau and pitched his best in the biggest moments, both in the World Baseball Classic and in the 2016 playoffs.
Last season was a rough year for the Blue Jays as a team, but Stroman still did his best at the top of the rotation. He logged a lot of innings and while his FIP (3.90) was high, he still was steady.
Jacob deGrom – 12th (6)
Jacob deGrom was the ace of the Mets staff in 2017, and without him New York’s season would have been even worse.
With all the injuries to the starting rotation, deGrom was a steady, consistent force on the bump. DeGrom logged 200 innings and struck out 239 batters. Home runs (28) were an issue and his FIP (3.50) and WHIP (1.18) were a bit high, but he normally got the job done.
The Mets need health first and foremost, but deGrom will still be relied upon.
Carlos Carrasco – 11th (9)
“Cookie” hit the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career in 2017 and struck out 226. He won 18 games in 32 starts, finishing with a 3.10 FIP and a 5.4 bWAR.
Carrasco has three quality secondary pitches — a slider, curveball, and changeup — to complement his fastball and that should enable him to be dominant for a long time to come.
Noah Syndergaard – 10th (10)
Noah Syndergaard is arguably the most entertaining pitcher to watch in baseball. All of his starts are must-see TV for baseball fans.
Nicknamed “Thor,” the New York Mets ace throws all of his pitches hard, but he was limited to seven starts and 30.1 innings pitched in 2017, a season defined by injuries for most of the Mets rotation.
When he is healthy, the right-hander is virtually unhittable. His fastball averages 98.2 mph and nobody throws a harder slider (93-94 mph). He is the definition of a power pitcher. Hopefully, that does not hurt his longterm health because the Mets need him if they want to get back to the World Series, as they did in 2015.
Luis Severino – 9th (20)
Luis Severino was not even guaranteed a spot in the New York Yankees rotation when spring training began last year, but he turned in one of the best seasons of any AL starter last season.
The 24-year-old right-hander finished fourth among all starting pitchers in FanGraphs WAR in 2017. He struck out 230 batters in 193.1 innings and finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting. His 97.3 mph average fastball is the hardest among all qualified major league starters, which helped him blow away hitters at an alarming rate.
If the Yankees are going to return to the World Series, after losing in the ALCS to the Astros last season, Severino will have to build on a stellar 2017 campaign. There is no doubt where he belonged when spring training got underway this year.
Madison Bumgarner – 8th (24)
The 2017 season for the San Francisco Giants went off the rails when their ace, left-hander Madison Bumgarner, injured his shoulder in a dirt bike accident.
The former World Series MVP was limited to 17 starts and 111 innings last season, and the Giants missed him dearly. San Francisco finished 64-98, tied with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in the majors. If the Giants are going to rediscover their winning ways, there is no doubt that Bumgarner will have to lead by example on the bump.
Zack Greinke – 7th (29)
Zack Greinke did not have the debut season he was looking for after singing a $200-plus million dollar contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016, but came roaring back last year.
The 34-year-old right-hander finished third in FanGraphs WAR in the NL, behind only Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, made the All-Star Game, and finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting.
Greinke logged 202 innings and anchored a D-Backs rotation that finished second in baseball in FIP and WAR, behind only the Cleveland Indians, and third in ERA. He helped lead the D-Backs to their first postseason berth since 2011.
Stephen Strasburg – 6th (31)
The Washington Nationals have built quite the starting rotation, which includes Stephen Strasburg.
The 29-year-old had a breakout season in 2017. He led all NL starters in FIP (2.72) and all starters in home runs per nine innings (0.67). Strasburg struck out 204 batters over 175.2 innings pitched and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.
Strasburg, who is under team control until the end of the 2023 season, wants to start at least 30 games this season. An elbow injury limited his innings, but he finished with a 0.67 ERA over his final 10 outings, including the postseason.
Justin Verlander – 5th (32)
Justin Verlander showed last season that he still is one of the best starting pitchers in the game.
Following a trade from the Detroit Tigers, the right-hander helped the Houston Astros win the first World Series title in franchise history.
Only Clayton Kershaw, Scherzer, and Chris Sale have a higher WAR than Verlander (33.4) since 2011, and nobody has thrown more innings in that span than him. The 35-year-old Verlander, who finished with 2017 with a 6.1 bWAR, has won Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young Award, and an AL MVP Award in his illustrious career.
Chris Sale – 4th (60)
Despite a late-season fade, Boston Red Sox southpaw Chris Sale was one of the best starting pitchers in baseball for most of last season.
Sale led the AL in strikeouts (308) and innings pitched (214.1), was second in ERA (2.90), first in FIP (2.45), third in WAR for pitchers (6.0), and first in strikeouts per nine innings (12.9).
His resume was impressive, but Sale’s late-season slide likely cost him the Cy Young, as he finished second.
Corey Kluber – 3rd (63)
After the top two, the number of votes received did drop off, but Kluber is no slouch. The Cleveland Indians right-hander won the AL Cy Young Award, the second of his career, after a great 2017 season.
Kluber finished first in ERA (2.25), complete games (five), ERA+ (202), WHIP (0.870), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.36) among qualified starters last year. He also threw over 200 innings, despite missing time due to injury.
Since 2011, Kluber leads the AL in fielding independent pitching (2.93) and ranks sixth overall.
Max Scherzer – 2nd (80)
Something special really got away from the Arizona Diamondbacks. In fairness, the D-backs did not know what they had at the time, but Max Scherzer has turned into a dominant ace.
The Washington Nationals right-hander finished third in WAR among qualified starters last season (6.0), third in ERA (2.51), and fourth in FIP (2.90). He led the National League in strikeouts (268), WHIP (0.90), and hits allowed per nine innings (5.7). His rate of 12 strikeouts per nine innings, along with his strikeout total, WHIP, and hits per nine rate, were career bests.
Scherzer, the 2017 NL Cy Young Award winner, also won the Cy Young Award in 2016 and since 2011, only Kershaw (47.4) has had a higher WAR total than him (35.9).
Clayton Kershaw – 1st (90)
Clayton Kershaw was chosen unanimously as baseball’s number one pitcher entering the 2018 season. And for good reason.
The Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander has been dominant for a long time. His spot on top of the starting pitching world can be traced as far back as 2009. But since 2011, he ranks first in ERA (2.10), FIP (2.36), ERA+ (179), opponents OPS (.543) and RA9-WAR (52.0) among pitchers with a minimum of 1,000 innings.
His devastating curveball, changeup, and slider have been fooling batters for a long time and going into his age-32 season, despite only pitching 175 innings last year due to injury, he should continue to dominate on the mound and keep the Dodgers in position to get back to the World Series.