A new young crop of aces are starting to emerge in the majors, headed by Mike Soroka, Jack Flaherty and Walker Buehler, but none have quite hit the hights of these five veteran $25 million per year plus starters who continue to set the starting pitching standards.
Many would argue that Gerrit Cole is already better than Jacob deGrom, but it is difficult to argue with successive Cy Young awards, and the likelihood is that in the future he will take top spot in this list as deGrom moves deeper into his 30s.
Here are the five best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball (in order) ahead of the 2020 regular season…
Jacob deGrom is the winner of the last two National League Cy Young awards, including a 2018 in which he pitched to a 1.70 ERA, one of only 11 starters in the last 100 years to do so. He did not quite reach his historic 2018 levels in 2019, but his 2.43 ERA and 7.0 WAR was enough to win the top prize again.
All of this whilst getting comically low levels of run support from the Mets line-up (21 wins between 2018 and 19), leading to more high-pressure innings and making his numbers even more incredible.
The two best pitchers in the game now reside in the Big Apple, after the Yankees finally broke out the chequebook to smash the record for a free agent starting pitchers’ contract.
That the notoriously sensible Brian Cashman was willing to give Gerrit Cole $36 million per year for nine years shows how confident the industry is that the transformation Cole underwent in Houston is permanent.
He struck out 13.1 batters per 9 innings in two years in Houston, including a league leading 326 in 2019. All this with a 2.68 era and pitching over 200 innings in both seasons.
Justin Verlander is a future Hall of Famer who looked finished after multiple down seasons in the middle of the decade, before a late career resurgence and a trade to the Astros that has cemented his legacy as one of the best pitchers of his generation, and secured the elusive World Series win.
The winner of the AL Cy Young in 2019 over Cole, he takes over as the Astros undisputed ace as a 37-year-old who has pitched to a 2.54 ERA over the last two years.
The main concern for Verlander as he moves into his late 30s is health, and he had a lat problem at the end of the original Spring Training that would have ruled him out of the original MLB Opening Day.
After enduring a difficult and injury plagued start in 2019, he recovered to join a pitching staff that carried the Nationals to their first World Series title. Much like Verlander, he is still an elite starter despite turning 36 years old this season.
He managed to accrue 6.5 WAR in just 27 starts last year, whilst being a leader on the champions as they made their incredible run.
His 2.45 FIP suggests he may have been slightly unlucky to have an ERA approaching 3, and he will be the main challenger for DeGrom’s award in the shortened season.
It was a very close battle for fifth on this list, but I gave the edge to World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg.
He was 7th in pitching WAR in 2019, just behind Charlie Morton, who is unlucky not to make it.
In only his second 200 inning season, Strasburg proved the Nats were correct in awarding him a new 7-year $245 million deal in the offseason. He pitched to a 3.32 ERA, before his brilliant postseason when he pitched 36 innings at a 1,.98 ERA on the biggest stage in baseball.
The extended break will help Strasburg after his extensive postseason usage, and he will look to push on and pitch like he did in October.