Keeping with my current top-10 trend, I’ll present them all at once instead of breaking it up.
To be eligible, the pitcher must have thrown at least 150 innings in the last two seasons. Evaluations will also be based upon the 2016 and 2017 season.
#10- James Paxton, Mariners
Paxton had the displeasure of having to pitch for one of the 10 worst defenses in baseball (20th in DRS, 19th in UZR). Being a ground ball pitcher for a defense like that results in a high BABIP (.324) and an inflated ERA of 3.36. FIP tells us it should have been something closer to 2.70. Paxton also has great control; 5.7% walk rate. A healthy infield should skew Paxton’s ERA back to a sub-3 and we should get to see how good he can be.
#9- Carlos Carrasco, Indians
Carrasco is entering his ninth MLB season and is who we see he is. League average BABIP and WHIP with a -0.06 FIP/ERA difference. He strikes out a lot of batters for a guy who draws lots of contact. His 8 WAR the last two years is a taste of what he can be capable of when healthy. The last two times he’s thrown 175+ innings, his WAR has been 4.8 in 2015 and 5.5 last season. If the innings return is high, Carrasco could be a top-5 pitcher when all is said and done.
#8- Rick Porcello, Red Sox
Like Carrasco, Porcello is entering his ninth season. After a strong 2016, Procello fell off a bit of a cliff in 2017. More balls found gaps and holes, yet he wasn’t giving up any more contact than normal.
This could be a case of plain bad luck, or a guy who got really lucky the year before with a top five defense behind them; I’m going with the former. Porcello should bounce back in 2018 or, at worse, be in the top 20.
#7- Justin Verlander, Astros
Verlander has found new life on the mound after a few down years in Detroit. 2016 was a major bounce back year seeing his WAR match the combined total WAR of 2014/2015. A 1.08 WHIP and 473 Ks offset the slightly disconcerting increase walk rake combined with a decreased strikeout rate in 2017. Verlander should be good for at least one more year and playing with a championship-caliber team is what drives him on the mound; the better the Tigers were, the better his overall pitching output.
#6- Steven Strasburg, Nationals
Over the last two seasons, Strasburg has been top five in ERA, FIP, WAR, WHIP, K% and overall strikeouts. His career year in 2017 showed what kind of pitcher the Nationals expected him to be. Of that top 5 ERA and FIP, his difference is a -0.20 FIP/ERA. He’s also one of the best on this list in terms of win probability in high-leverage situations. 2018 might be the last big run for the Nationals and they’ll need all the Strasburg help they can get.
#5- Noah Syndergaard, Mets
Syndergaard had pitched two full seasons for the Mets until his 2017 season came to a screeching halt; Tommy John surgery came calling and he was lost for the year. While his 7.8 total WAR is high for a pitcher who basically didn’t pitch at all last season, its attributed to his incredible breakout year in 2016. Syndergaard is one of the most feared pitchers in the league, and rightly so. One of the hardest throwers in the game, he can approach 300 strikeouts the next several years (elbow health notwithstanding).
#4- Chris Sale, Red Sox
Yes, Chris Sale is fourth. Yes, he leads all pitchers on this list in total WAR (12.7) and has the second most strikeouts. There isn’t much else to say, we all know how great a pitcher Sale is but it’s as simple as there are three guys better than him. ’nuff said.
#3- Corey Kluber, Indians
Four the last four seasons, Kluber has been a terrific pitcher for Cleveland. He’s got health on his side as well; 200+ innings pitched every year since 2014. He’s also the best on this list when comes to win probability and high leverage. He’s also second in overall WAR, third overall in strikeouts and WHIP. Kluber gives us no reason to think he’ll be anything other than a top-10 pitcher in 2018.
#2- Max Scherzer, Nationals
Scherzer has produced a 5+ WAR and, like Kluber, Scherzer hasn’t succumbed to any major health issues and has pitched 170+ innings the past NINE seasons. You’d think he’s going to break down at some point, but lets hope it’s not anytime soon. He’s a lot of fun to watch and can make some of the best hitters in the game look foolish.
Scherzer is not only tops in strikeouts but in K% as well. He follows with second in WHIP, WAR, and WPA/LI.
#1- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Kershaw is still the best pitcher in baseball. Yes, its true. He’s had a few nagging injuries starting in 2015, but despite those, he’s still at the top of his game. Entering his 11th MLB season, it’ll be interesting to see if he can stay at a high level. If fully healthy, he’s projected to have a 6+ WAR in 2018. The only caveat to his spot at the top of the list is his struggles in October, yet his regular season WPA/LI is good for second best. Regardless, Kershaw is still the best and will continue to be so as the 2018 season draws to a close. No one in this group had a better ERA, WHIP, and BB%; the latter a very important stat for pitchers.
There you have it. Enjoy. Let the vitriol ensue!