MLB Network Top 10 Right Now Recap & Analysis: Starting Pitcher

Throughout January and February, MLB Network will rank the top 10 players right now ahead of the 2019 season. Here at M-SABR, we are specifically interested in MLB Network’s most statistically-influenced list, compiled by “the Shredder.” In this series, we will react to the Shredder’s list and offer our own, based on our own statistical analysis. Check back every Monday and Wednesday for our recaps of the lists, which release at 9:00 PM Eastern every Saturday on MLB Network. Today, we are looking at the Shredder’s top 10 starting pitchers.

MLB Network’s Top 10 Starting Pitchers Right Now

  1. Max Scherzer [2018:4]
  2. Chris Sale [2018:3]
  3. Jacob deGrom [2018:NR]
  4. Corey Kluber [2018:2]
  5. Justin Verlander [2018:9]
  6. Aaron Nola [2018:NR]
  7. Clayton Kershaw [2018:1]
  8. Luis Severino [2018:NR]
  9. Carlos Carrasco [2018:8]
  10. Blake Snell [2018:NR]

Reaction to The Shredder

After yet another dominating year, Max Scherzer has moved to the top of the Shredder’s list as the best starting pitcher in baseball. He posted a 2.53 ERA in 220 innings of work and posted his third straight top two finish in Cy Young voting. His 7.2 fWAR was second to only Jacob deGrom, and he has the highest cumulative fWAR over the last four seasons of 25.5.

Even after an injury-shortened year, Chris Sale rises to number two on the Shredder’s list. His minute 2.11 ERA and MLB-leading 1.98 FIP led to a 6.5 fWAR, to go along with recording the last out of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox. With 2017’s nearly-eight win season, Sale leads all pitchers in baseball with an fWAR of 14.2 over the past two years.

There is no denying Jacob deGrom was the best pitcher in baseball in 2018 (unless you’re a certain San Diego writer, but we won’t name names here). He had a dazzling 1.70 ERA in 217 innings and was worth over a win and a half more than Scherzer with an 8.8 fWAR, the highest mark since Randy Johnson’s 9.6 mark in 2004. The only reason he sits at third place is that 2018 was deGrom’s first elite year. There is no doubt he was really good before, but it is yet to be seen if he can sustain this type of performance after cutting his ERA by more than half last year. If he comes even close to replicating his 2018 campaign, there is a good chance you see him at the top of this list come 2020.

Kluber and Verlander come in at 4 and 5 as two of the most consistent pitchers in the game the last 5+ years. Both have finished top five in Cy Young voting each of the last three years and are almost guaranteed 200+ innings with a sub-3.50 ERA. Verlander had the better 2018 season with a 2.52 ERA and an MLB-leading 30.4 K%-BB%, but Kluber’s recent success, including a 2.25 ERA and the 2017 AL Cy Young, gives him the higher nod on the list.

The best pitcher of last year (and many years before that), Clayton Kershaw, falls to seven on the Shredder’s 2018 list after his third straight injury-shortened year. Even in what might be considered his worst season ever excluding his rookie year, Kershaw still managed a sub-3.00 ERA for the tenth straight year and continues to be among the best if not the best, in the game when healthy.

Carlos Carrasco remains MLB’s most underrated pitcher, as he slots in at nine on this list. He now has back-to-back years of 5+ fWAR and those combined 10.9 wins put him sixth over the last two years in baseball. He stands somewhat in Corey Kluber’s shadow in Cleveland’s rotation but his 3.38 ERA and sub-3.00 FIP this year prove he is easily an ace-level pitcher.

Aaron Nola, Luis Severino, and Blake Snell are the new wave of the list, all under the age of 27. Although Snell won the AL Cy Young with a miniscule 1.89 ERA, he was behind both Nola and Severino in fWAR by a win, most likely due to the fewer innings thrown by the Rays’ lefty. Even in what some might consider a down year from Luis Severino because of his inconsistency, he nearly matched his 2017 fWAR total and his 11.5 wins over the last two years rank fifth in baseball. Nola had himself a breakout year, even after a four win 2017, posting a 2.37 ERA in 212 innings with the Phillies and is now a bonafide ace and a clear top 10 pitcher in baseball.

Some notable omissions from the list include Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, and Patrick Corbin. All three doubled their fWAR marks from 2017 to 2018, but it was not enough to get them on the list. There is a good chance that all of them were very close to Snell for that 10-spot, but on such a deep list it is impossible to include everybody.

M-SABR’s Top 10 Starting Pitchers Right Now

  1. Chris Sale
  2. Max Scherzer
  3. Jacob deGrom
  4. Corey Kluber
  5. Justin Verlander
  6. Luis Severino
  7. Aaron Nola
  8. Clayton Kershaw
  9. Carlos Carrasco
  10. Trevor Bauer

The Shredder did a fantastic job with this list, plain and simple. There are a few minor differences with our list, but overall this is one of the best lists I’ve seen the Shredder put out. The top five is virtually identical, with Scherzer and Sale switched, but those were the two we found most difficult to decide one over the other. Both have been so dominant for such a long period of time that there is no wrong choice at the top spot. The reason we have Sale over Scherzer are the rate stats. Sale had a 2.11 ERA this season compared to Scherzer’s 2.53 ERA, and a 1.98 FIP compared to 2.65. The only question for Sale is his durability–he pitched just 158 innings this season and when he does pitch a full season, he tends to decline down the stretch. We just have hope Sale is healthy this season because when he is, there is no doubt that he is the best pitcher in baseball.

Our 3-5 are the exact same and it comes as no surprise to us. Jacob deGrom had the best 2018 season–and if he repeats that he will be in the top two–but it is hard to put him there after just one exceptional season because Sale and Scherzer have done it so many times. Corey Kluber stepped back a bit in 2018, but he still had a 5 1/2 win season. Verlander, meanwhile, continued his dominance with the Astros en route to a near seven-win campaign.

We have Luis Severino bumped up from eight to six, but besides that our 6-9 with Aaron Nola, Clayton Kershaw, and Carlos Carrasco are also the same. Severino saw his ERA jump almost half a run this season, but much of that was due to an out-of-character stretch from July into August. He had a 2.31 ERA in 20 first half starts and he actually lowered his FIP from 2017 to 2018. The signs are showing that Severino will get back to his dominant self, and he lands at six on our list.

Trevor Bauer lands in our last spot over the reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. Although he barely managed 20 innings in August and September combined, he still threw just five fewer innings than Snell at 175. In those innings, he had a 2.21 ERA and although it was not as good as Snell’s 1.89 ERA, Bauer’s FIP of 2.44 was over 0.50 better than Snell and third-best in the majors. This, along with the fact that Bauer has somewhat of a track record, gives him the nod over Snell. That being said, if Snell can pitch similar to this past season, there is no doubt that he will find a spot on this list.

Along with Gerrit Cole and Patrick Corbin, Snell is a guy who can work his way into the top 10 list next season, but the one guy we are looking at to retake his spot is Noah Syndergaard, a.k.a. Thor. A healthy Syndergaard is one of the scariest pitchers in baseball and if he can come close to replicating his phenomenal 2016, he will definitely be on this list come 2020.

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