As the baseball season is upon us, the superstars of the MLB are returning and preparing for a full campaign after the 2020 abbreviated season. With everybody getting back into the baseball mood, let’s take a look at the 10 best starting pitchers in MLB as 2021’s regular season approaches and consider who has a shot at being the best SP in 2021.
10. Yu Darvish, Padres
Yu Darvish represents that. The veteran starter was traded for early in this offseason, thrusting him into an already-stacked pitching rotation. The likes of Chris Paddack, Blake Snell and young star Dinelson Lamet – who almost made this list after his breakout season, as well as Darvish, the Padres will be terrifying every day of the week. For my money, Darvish is the pitcher starting 2021 with the hottest form on the staff.
Since he made his cutter his primary pitch back in 2019, he has been absolutely unbelievable. Last season, he won 8 games (tied for best in the league). He had a phenomenal ERA of just 2.01 and a WHIP of 0.86.
One thing that has never been an issue is the strikeouts, which is somewhere Darvish absolutely thrives, with a career K/9 of 11.1. The Padres are set to dominate and so is their new ace (as if they only have one ace, at this point.) Darvish has looked like a new man as of late, and is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.
9. Lucas Giolito, White Sox
A starter who is a fan favourite on the other side of Chicago, Lucas Giolito is one of the best young pitchers in baseball.
The White Sox ace has had two great seasons in a row now with an ERA of 3.41 and 3.48 respectively and a WHIP of 1.064 and 1.037. He also threw 97 strikeouts, which gave him a career-high 12.1 K/9.
People may look down on his 2020 because he only went 4-3 in his 12 starts, but he is fantastic. In both of those seasons, he has finished top-10 in Cy Young voting and that won’t change anytime soon. The White Sox are one of the dark horse teams people need to watch out for this season. Their offense is underrated and their ace is one of the best starting pitchers out there.
8. Aaron Nola, Phillies
One of the premier young pitchers in baseball in the 2020s, Aaron Nola of the Philadelphia Phillies has been a star for six seasons now. He has only pitched one season above an ERA of 4 and has a career figure of 3.47. His consistency has been fantastic and yet he still has the ability to go above and beyond.
Nola was a Cy Young and MVP candidate back in 2018 and then after a year pitching like a human for once, he was back at his best in 2020. He set a career-high with 12.1 K/9 and his 3.28 ERA was his lowest outside of the unbelievable 2018 campaign.
If Nola can maintain form and perform at the standard we have seen through his 2018 and 2020 domination, he will be legitimately up there right at the top. An Aaron Nola at the top of his game would be in the conversation as being one of the best SP in 2021.
7. Hyun Jin Ryu, Blue Jays
One of the most consistent pitchers in baseball for the last few years, Hyun Jin Ryu – first of the Dodgers and now the Blue Jays – is an under-the-radar stud.
The Korean starter has been legitimately ridiculous since 2018. His ERA and WHIP through the three seasons – 1.97/1.008, 2.32/1.007 and 2.69/1.149 – show just how reliable he is.
He joined Toronto ahead of 2020 and continued exactly where he left off in LA. He has been right in the mix for Cy Young voting the last two years and even came 13th in MVP voting after the 2020 season. The more we see of Ryu, the more he will assert himself as a model of consistency.
6. Trevor Bauer, Dodgers
If there’s a player in Major League Baseball with more eyes on him than Trevor Bauer, I would like to know who it is.
Interestingly enough, there’s probably nobody who wants the eyes on him more, either. The Dodgers’ latest addition to the rotation is a certified strikeout king, who has some of the best stuff of any starter. He’s also famously in tune and intelligent about pitching and improving said stuff.
The ERA and WHIP have never been as low as you might hope, but he has always been a difficult pitcher to hit. Then 2020 happened. And, wow. Trevor Bauer had one of the most dominant pitching campaigns you’ll ever see, winning the NL Cy Young in the process.
When Bauer entered 2020 with the Reds his career ERA was 4.04 and he had a WHIP of 1.295. Last year, abbreviated or not, he went absolutely nuclear.
He had an ERA of 1.73 and a WHIP of 0.795. These were both huge jumps above his career-best and he also set another personal best in K/9 with 12.3, H/9 with 5.1. Last year, Bauer was one of the two best starting pitchers on the planet and he was unhittable. While it’s difficult to project how he will play in 2021 and where that ERA will end up in the full-length season, he’s in the form of his life and he is undoubtedly one of the best in Major League Baseball.
5. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
A list of the best starting pitchers which was written within the last decade will have one name on it without any negotiation. That name is Clayton Kershaw – one of the greatest pitchers of all time and a truly dominant force since he joined the league 13 seasons ago.
The Dodgers superstar has a career ERA of 2.43 (yeah, his whole career) and a career WHIP of 1.003, making him legendary – even more legendary now that he finally won a World Series. However, don’t be under the impression that Kershaw is on this list because of the past. He still has it. In the 2020 campaign, he won 6 games in 10 starts and had an ERA of 2.16 (his best since 2016) and a WHIP of 0.840 (literally his career-best, at age 32).
Kershaw will never be able to return to his ridiculous prime, but he continues to be a dominant force for LA. He’s one of the best starting pitchers to ever do it, and he will continue to be one of the best SP in 2021.
4. Shane Bieber, Indians
Very similarly to Bauer – and I mentioned him when saying there were two pitchers who separated themselves above the rest – Shane Bieber was absolutely transcendent in 2020.
In just his third season, the Cleveland ace exploded. His ERA was even more absurd than Bauer, with 1.63 and he also had a stunning WHIP of 0.866. He also had an astronomical K/9 of 14.2, which is frankly ridiculous.
Bieber won 8 games (tied for best in all of baseball) in just nine decisions and 12 starts. While Bauer’s 2020 came completely out of nowhere, Bieber has been fantastic for the Indians in his three seasons, winning 70% of his games and not moving quite as far from his normal to reach the truly elite production of last year. You could easily put him in the top 3, as last season he was the best starting pitcher in baseball.
3. Max Scherzer, Nationals
Despite having what people considered a ‘down’ year in 2020, Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals is still inarguably one of the best starting pitchers on the planet. Scherzer is essentially Clayton Kershaw’s consistency over the same 13 seasons, but the insane upside that he has is directed towards strikeouts and WHIP instead of ERA.
While Scherzer doesn’t have years like Kershaw with sub-2 ERA’s, from 2013 through 2019, he was at a 2.74 and didn’t exceed 3 a single time. I have no doubt that Scherzer will be looking to bounce back to his usual sub-3 ERA and sub-1 WHIP as he dominates.
Now, let’s look at those strikeouts. Some of the people on this list have huge outlier years where they reach Scherzer’s level temporarily, but not for long. The Nationals ace has a career K/9 of 10.6 and an even better 11.3 since 2012. In 2016, 17 and 18 he led the national league in strikeouts with 284, 268 and 300 respectively. He is one of the premium strikeout guys we have in baseball today. Yes, he had a bit of a weaker season in 2020, but Max Scherzer is still one of the best starting pitchers in the league.
2. Gerrit Cole, Yankees
Another absolute strikeout machine, Gerrit Cole has been one of the truly elite pitchers in baseball over the last few years. He was a good young pitcher in Pittsburgh and he won a lot of games very early in his career, but it was when he went to Houston that he ascended.
In his two years with the Astros, he was absolutely dominant. He had an ERA of 2.68, a WHIP of 0.962 and threw 602 strikeouts, for an incredible 13.1 K/9. He also won 35 games in 45 decisions. This production landed him a spot as the ace of the New York Yankees, heading into 2020.
He didn’t disappoint, continuing without issue. In 2020 he went 7-3 and had an ERA of 2.84 and WHIP of 0.959 as well as 94 strikeouts in 73 innings. Cole is an elite pitcher who shows no sign of slowing down and not only is he one of the best starting pitchers, every given year he is fighting to prove himself as the best SP.
1. Jacob deGrom, Mets
JDG is truly an insane pitcher and he has been dominating since day one. When he entered the league in 2014 and became the rookie of the year, he started as he meant to go on. He pitches with an incredibly low ERA, you can’t hit his stuff, he doesn’t walk people often and he throws a load of strikeouts. He is a true superstar. Let’s put some numbers in here. He has a 162-game average of 252 K’s with a K/9 of 11.3 since 2017 (Scherzer-level strikeouts). He has a career ERA of 2.61 and it has been 2.10 over the last three years (Kershaw-level ERA) and a WHIP of 0.943 over that same span.
Jacob deGrom has everything and I hope that is clear from the numbers. There has been one thing that should be better, though – wins. Despite pitching like an absolute beast and being both productive and difficult to produce against, he has still only won 58% of his decisions. He is seriously one of the best starting pitchers we’ve seen for years and yet he isn’t winning as much as the guys behind him? Well, that’s thanks to the New York Mets. Or, at least, the Mets of old.
Going into 2021, the New York Mets look like a different animal. Pete Alonso exploded onto the scene as a rookie, they added Francisco Lindor this year and they have some fantastic underrated players in the likes of Dominic Smith and Brandon Nimmo. This team could be about to turn up in a big way and I think it’s time for deGrom to earn the wins he deserves. And he deserves a lot, because he is the absolute frontrunner to be the best SP in 2021.