The 2020 season is running a bit late. Thanks, coronavirus.
The first pitch of the season was supposed to be hurled across the diamond on March 26, which just happens to be my birthday.
I was really looking forward to watching the Twins vs. Athletics and Astros vs. Angels whilst relentlessly shoving cake and other birthday-type foods down my gullet. The Angels-Astros I was particularly interested in watching because I wanted to see if pitchers around the league would start taking revenge against Astros batters from day one.
Now, sadly, there probably won’t be any self-policing as the Astros and their lying, dirty, cheating ways have been overshadowed by something that is truly a tragedy.
On the bright side, it now looks like we are going to get a baseball season, a 60-game affair that acts almost like three AL/NL-combined regional divisions. So, let’s look and reexamine who we think the top five pitchers in 2020 will be.
5. Clayton Kershaw
The Los Angeles Dodgers ace had a rough year last season. And by rough I mean 189 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.03, and 16 wins over 29 trips to the mound. And this was a big step up from a 2018 season where Kershaw saw his performance plagued by minor injuries … but still managed to have a 2.73 ERA and go 9 and 5.
Still, in 2019 Kershaw was tied for eighth in wins and way outside the top ten for most significant pitching stats, like strikeouts, strikeouts per 9, hits, home runs, adjusted ERA, and WAR. But there are high hopes for the Dodgers in 2020. When you check free MLB picks sites, they lead along with the Yankees to win it all this year.
So even — perhaps especially — with a shortened season, I think Kershaw will return to full form and be a league-leader once more. We won’t see 18 wins and 200+ strikeouts because there just aren’t enough games for that, but he should be in the Top 5 again.
4. Gerrit Cole
Gerrit Cole just signed a huge deal with the Yankees, and for some reason, this sort of pressure often makes pitchers have an off-year or two … or just completely ruins their career. That said, I don’t think Cole will fall off the map – though it wouldn’t surprise me to see him slip outside of the Top 10. Last year he had a 20-win season, finished with a whopping 326 strikeouts on an ERA of just 2.50 and a .895 WHIP. I mean … WOW.
That’s hard to repeat back to back. So, I don’t think he’ll be the top pitcher in the league during the short year. That said, he is still going to a top pitcher. He finished the season with a slightly better xFIP than ERA which is an indicator that he wasn’t beginning a regressive slide – though at this point with so much time off, it’s really tough to tell how any of these athletes will bounce back.
3. Max Scherzer
Max Scherzer had a pretty darn good season last year, but not so good that I think the gremlins will hop on his arm to pull him back down to earth for a dose of reality. Scherzer didn’t get all the wins, but ranked eighth in WAR, eighth in ERA, seventh in WHIP, eighth in walks per 9, and second in strikeouts per 9.
Max finished strong and had an overall ERA to xFIP ratio that showed he was still getting stronger. So, I believe that will carry over into 2020 and we’ll see another top performance out of the Natties’ Ace – as long as he doesn’t have a World Series champion hangover.
2. Charlie Morton
The Rays hurler is another that I feel had a Scherzer-like season … minus winning it all. I believe he’ll come up a bit and be a top pitcher once more. Whereas I think we’ll see some fall off with guys like Lance Lynn, and even Jacob deGrom – although deGrom will only fall off a bit, while I have a feeling that Lynn will move down quite a few positions.
Morton had 240 strikeouts despite only pitching 194 innings in his 33 starts. That says a lot about his effectiveness. Look for Morton to have a good year and help the Rays challenge the Yanks for the AL East.
1. Justin Verlander
Ok, Verlander had an amazing year. He had the most wins of any pitcher at 21 hung on to a 2.58 ERA and WHIP of .803. It doesn’t get much better than that. Although I would say he can’t repeat that season, he probably won’t but he’ll be in the top few pitchers once again. I mean at 37 he can’t have that many top years left but look for the shortened season to do his aging arm a favor and keep him at the top of the list.