It’s an old cliche that the best pitching always wins out in baseball. Of course, it’s a cliche because it’s usually true. Just look at last year’s World Series, for example, when the Washington Nationals trio of Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin carried the team to its first championship.
Most years, it’s a simple formula: elite pitching will give any MLB team a chance to contend for a title. With the 2020 season in doubt due to the coronavirus pandemic, that could be true this year more than ever.
So, what teams have the kind of elite pitching that can help them win a championship in 2020? Let’s take a look at the top 10 MLB pitchers today.
10. Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers
Believe it or not, this could be the year that Buehler surpasses Clayton Kershaw as the ace in Los Angeles. Kershaw is starting to see his numbers decline while Buehler is really coming into his own.
After winning 14 games and pitching two complete games during the 2019 regular season, Buehler dominated during his two postseason starts. At 25, Buehler is about to enter his prime years and should continue his ascent in 2020.
9. Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays
Granted, Morton isn’t the exact mold of a pitcher you’d expect to see among the league’s best. However, you can’t argue with the results. Over the last three seasons, Morton is 45-16 and has posted an ERA no higher than 3.62 in any of those seasons.
The 36-year-old is seemingly getting better with age and has reached a point where he is mentally ahead of hitters and his stuff hasn't diminished quite yet. Again, he’s not the typical flamethrower who blows hitters away, but the last three years indicate that he’s at the top of his game right now and shouldn’t experience a significant drop-off in 2020.
8. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Toronto Blue Jays
If you take the injuries away, Ryu might be the best pitcher in baseball over the last two seasons. In his 15 starts in 2018, Ryu posted a 1.97 ERA. He followed that up boy going 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA last season.
Only a brilliant second half by Jacob deGrom prevented Ryu from winning the Cy Young award. Like Morton, Ryu isn’t in the mold of a dominant pitcher, as he doesn’t blow hitters away or rack up a ton of strikeouts. Nevertheless, Ryu finds a way to be effective every time out.
As long as he stays healthy, he should continue to be among the best in baseball this season.
7. Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
Flaherty is the textbook definition of a star on the rise. In two seasons, he’s become the ace of the Cardinals' rotation. He was just 23 last season when he posted a 2.75 ERA over 33 starts. That includes a 0.91 ERA after the All-Star break, which is one of the best ever.
Flaherty won National League Pitcher of the Month in both August and September, helping him finish fourth in the Cy Young voting. If he’s anywhere near as good as he was during the second half of 2019, Flaherty will give the pitchers ahead of him on our ranking a run for their money.
6. Mike Clevinger, Indians
Injuries have held Clevinger back a little over the last few seasons, but his performance during that time has left little doubt that he’s among the best pitchers in baseball right now. The guy throws some serious heat and has developed top-notch secondary pitches as well.
One of the reasons why the Indians traded Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber is because they know they still have an ace in Clevinger. After recovering from a back injury last April, Clevinger ended up winning 13 games in just 21 starts while posting a 2.71 ERA. If he can stay healthy for a full season, there should be no doubt that he’s one of the best starters in the league.
5. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Strasburg’s performance in the postseason last year helped bump him up at least a few spots on our list. The Nationals starter went above and beyond the meaning of the word “clutch" as he carried Washington to a World Series title.
That being said, Strasburg's injury history is still a concern. Keep in mind he's set to turn 32 this year, so he’s no spring chicken. He also doesn’t have the same track record during the regular season that the four pitchers ahead of him have on their resumes.
Nevertheless, Strasburg is no doubt at the top of the second-tier of pitchers in baseball heading into 2020.
4. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Scherzer started to show signs of aging last year when he made multiple trips to the IL because of back trouble. But when he was on the mound, there was nothing wrong with his performance.
Scherzer has been an All-Star in seven straight seasons while posting an ERA under 3.00 in five straight seasons. He’s also won three Cy Young awards along the way while leading the National League in strikeouts three times in the last four years.
Those back issues aside, Scherzer is still something special, and he proved that while going 3-0 with a 2.40 ERA during the last year's postseason. As long as he can avoid more trips to the IL, Scherzer will still be among the elite pitchers this year.
3. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
At 37, we’re all waiting for Verlander to show signs of slowing down, but that just hasn't happened yet. In fact, 2019 was one of the future Hall of Famer's best seasons. Verlander made 34 starts, going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA. Just for good measure, he also hit 300 strikeouts in a season for the first time in his career.
After winning the second Cy Young of his career last season, there’s no reason to think that Verlander won’t be among the best of the best in 2020.
2. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Less than a dozen pitchers in baseball history have accomplished what deGrom did last season when he won his second consecutive Cy Young Award. Even after a somewhat sluggish first half of the season, deGrom turned things up a notch during the second half of the 2019 campaign, finishing with a 2.43 ERA and nearly winning the Cy Young unanimously.
The only knock on deGrom is that he’ll turn 32 in June, but so far, he's shown no signs of slowing down. During his six seasons in the majors, his ERA is 2.62. He’s also not far removed from an MLB record of 30 consecutive starts of allowing three runs or less.
All things considered, deGrom is about as close to No. 1 on our list without quite being there.
1. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
It was a close call between Cole and deGrom, but the new Yankees ace gets the slightest of edges over the other premier pitcher in New York. It’s impossible to deny how dominant Cole has been during his two seasons with the Astros. Winning 20 games as he did last season is a milestone few pitchers reach in today’s game.
Cole’s 326 strikeouts over 212 innings during the regular season also help him stand out. Then there’s his 1.72 ERA over five postseason starts last year.
Finally, Cole is a couple of years younger than deGrom, making him the better choice to maintain his dominance in 2020. That's probably why the Yankees made Cole the highest-paid pitcher in the MLB.
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