BBE 2019 Positional Rankings: MLB’s Top 15 Starting Pitchers

Over the Major League Baseball offseason, the team of contributors here at Baseball Essential voted upon the top 15 players at every position in the game. Up until baseball’s annual Opening Day, we will be revealing the results of our voting process and unveiling the top 15 players at each position for the upcoming 2019 MLB season.

As for the positions, we will unveil the top 15 starting pitchers, relievers, catchers, 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. The, we’ll cap everything off with a rundown of the best overall players, regardless of position, in the sport.

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. 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 player, their position among the list, and at which spot they found themselves in from last year’s power rankings. Now, you’re ready. Here are MLB’s Top 15 starting pitchers for the 2019 season.

15. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians (Last year: 11th)

As consistent as he is reliable, Carrasco has been a workhorse in a deep Indians starting rotation for years and had another solid season in 2018, posting a 17-10 record, 3.38 ERA, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 10:8. The 2018 season was the fourth year in a row during which the big right-hander made at least 25 starts, compiling 192 innings of work at a 129 ERA+ clip.

Though the presence of All-Stars like Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, as well as the emerging Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger means Carrasco is a relatively unsung star, the Venezuelan finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting in 2017, exhibiting a ceiling of dominance that will hopefully be touched again in 2019.

The @BB_Essential team have compiled their countdowns of the top 15 players at every position, and first up, is the list of @MLB's best starting pitchers, via @bytomdorsa.Click To Tweet

14. Luis Severino, New York Yankees (Last year: 9th)

Due to a shoulder injury sustained this spring, the Yankees won’t have their homegrown ace on the hill until at least May. But when he comes back, Severino will return as one of the most fearsome starters in the sport.

The 24-year-old enjoyed his second-straight All-Star worthy campaign in 2018, going 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA and 220 strikeouts on his way to providing New York with 4.7 Baseball-Reference WAR. The former AL Cy Young finalist led Yankees starters in innings pitched (191.1), fielding independent pitching (2.95), and home runs per nine innings (0.4), helping the team win 100 games in a stacked American League East with three teams winning at least 90 contests.

New York sports media has long talked about what the right-hander can be, rather than appreciate what he is: a top-tier starter in the major leagues. Though he will start the season on the injured list, this could be the year he truly explodes onto the scene.

13. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (Last year: 8th)

There is little keeping the Giants from jumping into a full rebuild mode. Every team in the National League West has overtaken them in terms of World Series contention and talent, and from a roster-construction standpoint the Giants are now a completely different team from the one that won three world titles in five years.

(If you’re a Giants fan and you’re reading this, I promise, I’m not gonna spend the whole paragraph just bashing your team). Bumgarner is one of the few remaining reasons to go for it all, even though S.F. has flirted with trade offers in the past. The powerful and deceiving left-hander had a decent 2018 when his health cooperated (it was a season impeded by a hand injury suffered in spring training), posting a 3.26 ERA, 119 ERA+, and 109 strikeouts in 129.2 innings of work.

With how long Bumgarner has been around and how important he has been to multiple championship runs, sometimes you’ll forget that he’s only 29 which is younger than Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw. He still has some miles in him.

12. James Paxton, New York Yankees (Last year: not ranked)

The ace of the crumbling Seattle Mariners last season, Paxton moving to the Yankees and their solid rotation was one of many transactions executed by Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto to shed salary to engage in full rebuild move this offseason. New York is fine with acquiring the fireballing left-hander, I’m sure.

Paxton was downright dominant in a Mariners uniform last season, going 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA, 1.098 WHIP, 208 strikeouts, and a filthy no-hitter in his home country of Canada in 2018. At least for now, with the aforementioned Severino on the shelf, Paxton immediately jumps into the ace role for the Yankees — who are a team with World Series aspirations.

11. Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals (Last year: not ranked)

PHOENIX, AZ – SEPTEMBER 17: Patrick Corbin #46 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs at Chase Field on September 17, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

One of the prizes of baseball’s offseason, former Arizona Diamondbacks starter Patrick Corbin signed a massive six-year, $140 million deal with the Washington Nationals. Corbin gets stability with finances and with a team determined to compete, while the Nats receive the services of an All-Star lefty whose mix of fastballs, sliders, and changeups fooled hitters nightly in 2018.

Corbin, the Opening Day starter for the D-Backs in 2018, went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, 246 strikeouts, and a 1.050 WHIP in 2018, while working at least 200 innings for the first time since 2013. Finishing fifth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, he joins Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and the resurgent Anibal Sanchez in a deep Nats starting rotation in 2019.

10. Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies (Last year: not ranked)

If hitters are discredited for playing at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, then pitchers should be given extra credit, right? Keep that in mind when you read the stat line that follows: 17-7, 2.85 ERA, 1.245 WHIP, 173 strikeouts, 0.8 home runs allowed per nine innings, a 164 ERA+, and 8.2 bWAR.

Freeland posted those numbers in 2018 as the ace of the NL Wild Card Game-winning Rockies and finished fourth in the league’s Cy Young Award voting.

About Coors Field, by the way… Freeland held opposing hitters to a .228/.298/.393 slash line in 385 plate appearances in Denver. That was also the second full season of the big left-hander’s career. He is just getting starting.

9. Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians (Last year: not ranked)

Until a late-season injury put a damper on his breakout 2018 season, Bauer was being talked about in Cy Young Award circles, and for good reason. The elusive right-hander, as part of a loaded Indians starting rotation, put up a 12-6 record, a 2.21 ERA, an insane 198 ERA+, and an AL-best 2.44 FIP in 175.1 innings on the hill.

As a guy who throws as many as seven different pitches out of his unorthodox short-arm/over-the-top delivery, Bauer’s “mad scientist” approach to the game has paid off. Though the Indians have fielded trade offers involving the 28-year-old right-hander, none have come to fruition, with Cleveland indicating that Bauer is somewhat off limits, and rightfully so.

8. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (Last year: 1st) 

When you have an ERA of 2.73 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.34 and you had a “down year,” your name is probably Clayton Kershaw. The future Baseball Hall of Famer had another year impacted by nagging injuries, but remained a reliable starter for the NL pennant winners in Los Angeles.

Kershaw went 9-5 in 26 starts from which he compiled 161.1 innings, recording a 142 ERA+, 1.041 WHIP, and 155 strikeouts. Though this was his first year since 2010 to not be named an All-Star or receive Cy Young votes, the left-hander had a couple of vintage Kershaw starts (including an eight-inning, two-hit performance against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS) in the postseason, indicating that the legend is ready for another shot at his first ring.

His deep repertoire of borderline untouchable off-speed pitches allow him to remain a high-tier starter in spite of declining fastball velocity. On account of that, the Dodgers and Kershaw’s mutual extension, three years and $93 million, is a solid deal for both parties.

7. Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays (Last year: not ranked)

In playing for a small-market club that hasn’t had much recent success, not many baseball fans can seriously appreciate just how good Blake Snell is — unless they take a look at the Cy Young Award that reads his name.

Snell won the award fair and square in 2018, ironically as a dominant starter for the team that has popularized “the opener.” Going 21-5 with a league-best 1.89 ERA, 219 ERA+, and 5.6 hits per nine innings, Snell dominated in the 180.2 innings he accumulated, winning the AL Cy Young Award and finishing ninth in the AL Most Valuable Player Award voting.

On a Rays team that surprised everyone and won 90 games last year, Snell is taking the hill every five days and burning opposing batters with his four-seamer, curveball, slider, and changeup. Take a look at the guy in 2019, you owe it to yourself.

6. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians (Last year: 3rd)

CLEVELAND, OH – AUGUST 31: Starting pitcher Corey Kluber pitches during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field on August 31, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

For the fourth time in his career, Kluber won at least 18 games in 2018, going 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA on the AL Central-winning Indians. Also for the fourth time, Kluber was a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award, an honor with which he has been presented with twice.

And yet it feels like we didn’t fully absorb how great he was last season. He threw an AL-high 215 innings while striking out 222 batters and walking just 34 over that stretch and posting a 0.991 WHIP. Maybe it was the fact that Cleveland laid an egg in the postseason, being swept in the ALDS by the Houston Astros, that made us all forget just how incredible Kluber’s 2018 was — and his entire body of work to this point in his career.

The 32-year-old right-hander accumulated a 5.8 WAR and lead all Indians pitchers in that category, coming behind only the superstar tandem of Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor (7.9) in that count.

5. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros (Last year: 5th)

Verlander, at 36, is the oldest pitcher on the list and yet frequently throws 99 mph late into games to pair up with a wipeout 12-6 curveball, a slider that can get even the most disciplined of hitters to chase, and a changeup that’s deadly to righties and lefties alike.

That mark has defined Verlander’s Hall of Fame career and allowed him to continue being the elite pitcher he is this late into his major-league career. The Astros ace and probable Opening Day starter finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting last year with a 16-9 record, 2.52 ERA, an insane 290 strikeouts, and an MLB-best 0.902 WHIP and 7.84 strikeouts-per-walk.

For a Houston team that is well into their competitive window, Verlander’s ageless presence on the mound is invaluable.

4. Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies (Last year: not ranked)

With his 2018 stat line, Nola probably would have won the Cy Young Award in any other season. The right-hander recorded a 10 bWAR in a 17-6 season that saw him put up a 2.37 ERA, a 0.975 WHIP, 175 ERA+, and 224 strikeouts over a career high 212.1 innings of work.

With the Phillies having perhaps the best offseason in all of baseball, in signing Bryce Harper, acquiring J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura, and more, the pressure is on for Nola, who received a four-year, $45-million contract extension to be their ace of the present and future. I would not bet against the former first-round pick and his four-seamer-power sinker combo.

3. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox (Last year: 4th)

BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 26: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning at Fenway Park on September 26, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The most important thing Sale accomplished last season was striking Manny Machado out and clinching his first World Series championship for the Red Sox. But it isn’t the only incredible achievement in an exceptional 2018 season. Another notable one is the suffocating left-hander, for the sixth year in a row, finishing in the top five in AL Cy Young voting.

Sale went 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA, 1.98 FIP, and 237 strikeouts in 158 innings, while fighting a shoulder injury during the later part of an All-Star campaign, which is the seventh such season of his career. Sale is only 29, and rate stats are always tricky, but he is the all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings (10.9) and strikeouts per walk (5.31). If the Red Sox are to repeat as world champs, it will be on the back — and left arm — of their deceptive ace.

2. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets (Last year: 12th)

What deGrom did last year was equal parts saddening and unbelievable. A lack of run support made him one of the least lucky pitchers ever, finishing 10-9 with 13 no-decisions, and in those 13 no-decisions, he went at least six innings in 12 of them. The Mets averaged just 3.45 runs per game when deGrom started and 15 times scored three or fewer runs in his 32 starts.

That was the sad part. The Mets’ ace also had a 1.70 ERA (the lowest ERA by a Met since Dwight Gooden‘s 1.53 mark in 1985), a 216 ERA+, a 1.99 FIP, and just 0.4 home runs per nine innings, all four marks leading the major leagues. deGrom won the Cy Young with 29 out of the 30 first-place votes.

With fastball gas that can hit 100 mph and four capable off-speed pitches, the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year has a lot left in him, including a potential run back to the postseason with a revamped Mets roster.

1. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (Last year: 2nd)

Not only is Scherzer the best pitcher in baseball, he is by far the most valuable player on the Nationals. And regardless of the decision made to let the face of their franchise, Harper, walk in free agency, Scherzer’s flat-out brilliance is the biggest reason for the Nats to keep running for the postseason.

Scherzer infectious swagger and work ethic have no stats by which to measure, but his stat line is pretty good too. In 2018, the 34-year-old right-hander led the NL in strikeouts for the third season in a row (300), posting an 18-7 record, 2.53 ERA, 2.65 FIP, and 0.911 WHIP in 220.2 innings of work. He finished second to deGrom in the Cy Young voting, with 2018 being the sixth-consecutive season during which he placed top-five in the award voting.

When the Nationals signed Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million deal in January of 2015, there’s no way they could have seen this kind of value coming out of “Mad Max.” The six-time All-Star is 68-32 with a 2.71 ERA, 1,128 strikeouts, a 0.926 WHIP, and a 156 ERA+ in his four years with the Nationals. Maybe he wears a Washington hat when his plaque goes up at the Hall of Fame.

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