By Mark Simon
The role of the starting pitcher in 2019 is a little different than it was 20, 10, or even five years ago. Pitchers are rarely asked to go long into games as deep bullpens allow managers to pursue the most favorable matchups at the end of games.
But the role of starting pitcher is still important. Aces are still a notable part of the game. But who are the best of the best?
The Bill James World’s No. 1 Starting Pitcher Rankings attempt to answer that question. The rankings are based on the Game Score metric and a pitcher’s sustained excellence over a lengthy body of work. You can read more about the methodology here and here.
There is a tight race for the No. 1 spot with Nationals ace Max Scherzer trying to hold off former teammate Justin Verlander of the Astros. Scherzer has slipped with a couple of bad starts. His average Game Score is 57 this season. It was 66 in each of the previous two seasons. Verlander’s average Game Score is 63 thanks to a run of four straight starts in which he allowed one run.
Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale, and Trevor Bauer round out the top five, with Gerrit Cole just behind Bauer in the No. 6 spot. Zack Greinke may find his way into the top five soon. He’s currently No. 7, supported by a recent streak of three straight starts allowing one run or fewer.
The intrigue in this list is in pitchers who have made big jumps early in the season. These may be your future aces. The most notable of those is Reds starter Luis Castillo, who ended the 2018 regular season ranked No. 53, but now ranks 28th. Castillo has a 1.97 ERA in his first eight starts, including two starts with a Game Score of 75 or higher.
Castillo’s success has come because his changeup has been elite. His 52 percent miss rate (79 misses on 151 swings) is the highest of any starting pitcher who has thrown at least 100 changeups this season. Opponents are 8-for-79 (.101 batting average) in at-bats ending with a Castillo changeup.
Another big mover is Tigers starter Matthew Boyd, who ranked 58th at the end of the 2018 season but has jumped to 33rd. Six of his eight starts have had a Game Score of 60 or higher. He’s also the AL leader with a 2.30 FIP.
Boyd has two pitches that rate elite so far in 2019 – his fastball (.198 opponents’ batting average) and his slider (.176). That he can throw both for strikes has allowed him to maintain a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 6-to-1.
One last big mover is Rangers starter Mike Minor who has gone from 102nd at the end of the 2018 regular season to 53rd. Another good start on Thursday night might vault Minor into the top 50. Minor has had three highly-impressive starts this season – a three-hit shutout of the Angels, a 13-strikeout game against the Mariners, and eight scoreless innings versus the Blue Jays.
Minor is one out away from averaging seven innings in his first seven starts. His winning combination has been fastball-changeup. Opponents are hitting .185 against the former and .140 versus the latter.
It’s pitchers like Minor who show that having someone who can go deep into games is a major benefit.
|1. Max Scherzer||Nationals||525.9|
|2. Justin Verlander||Astros||525.2|
|3. Chris Sale||Red Sox||513.0|
|4. Jacob deGrom||Mets||512.0|
|5. Trevor Bauer||Indians||481.7|
|6. Gerrit Cole||Astros||480.3|
|7. Zack Greinke||Diamondbacks||478.1|
|8. Stephen Strasburg||Nationals||476.4|
|9. Clayton Kershaw||Dodgers||472.7|
|10. Corey Kluber||Indians||471.5|
The Bill James World’s No. 1 Starting Pitcher rankings are updated daily here