Ranking the top 5 pitchers in baseball has always been sticky — pun intended.
It’s difficult to leave off some great arms, and it’s also difficult to decide who should be where on the list, but through different stats and advanced analytics, it’s becoming a little bit easier to determine who should really be considered one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball.
It’s no secret that Major League Baseball is starting to finally crack down on pitchers using foreign substances to help increase their spin rates in an effort to make their breaking balls move more. On Tuesday, they officially sent the memo to teams and umpires.
So while batting averages have increased in the last 10 days by about 10 points for some hitters since threats of a crackdown on sticky substances being applied from the league offices came, there are still some incredibly dominant pitchers in the game today.
This list doesn’t factor in whether or not a pitcher is suspected of applying a foreign substance to the baseball in recent months or account for an expected increase in offense with pitchers not expected to be applying substances to baseballs. Here is the ranking of the five best pitchers in baseball through about the first 70 games of the 2021 season.
This should come as zero surprise. Jacob deGrom is putting together the best start to a season since Bob Gibson’s record-setting 1968 when the Cardinals ace pitched to a single-season ERA of 1.12.
The Mets ace has a 6-2 record in his 10 starts with a 0.56 ERA — yes, you read that right — with 103 strikeouts and a mind-boggling 0.53 WHIP. He has been so good this season that he has more runs batted in, five, than earned runs allowed, four. His 0.56 ERA is the lowest mark for any starting pitcher through 10 starts since Juan Marichal’s 0.59 ERA in 1966 with the Giants.
He is the first pitcher since Gibson in 1968 to go at least straight 10 starts without allowing more than one earned run in a start. Gibson did it with 11 straight complete games, including eight shut-outs starting on June 6. deGrom likely doesn’t have that kind of run of starts in him, considering the NL wide ERA in 1968 was a full run lower than it is in 2021.
DeGrom has thrown at least 128 pitches this season of at least 100 mph, which is already the third-most in a single season since 2008 when that kind of technology became available. Only Noah Syndergaard’s 196 in 2016 and the late Yordano Ventura’s 135 in 2014 are more.
Part of what has made him so unhittable this season is the command of deGrom’s fastball up in the zone. With more and more hitters focusing on their launch angle, pitches up in the zone have never been harder to hit. deGrom has attacked that with more effectiveness than any pitcher in the majors.
Yankees starter Gerrit Cole is one of the starting pitchers most believed to be using a foreign substance while pitching after his failure to respond to a question last week about using substances. Either way, Cole is still able to post some ridiculous numbers again in 2021.
In 13 starts this season, Cole has a 7-3 record with a 2.31 ERA with 113 strikeouts and just 11 walks. HIs 2.10 FIP this season is the best of any pitcher in Major League Baseball.
Cole has a repertoire that includes a fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. He uses his fastball about 46% of the time, while his slider and curve are both used less than 20% of the time. His change is his least used pitch at 14.8%.
Cole doesn’t throw nearly as hard as deGrom does, but his average fastball velocity is still 97.5 mph in 2021.
Similar to Cole, Trevor Bauer is one the most suspected starting pitchers in baseball of applying foreign substances to the ball. This belief comes largely because of how much Bauer’s spin rate has increased in the last two seasons with the Reds and Dodgers.
Bauer’s slider this season has 7.1 more inches of horizontal movement than the average slider in baseball this season, which is one of the best in baseball. Meanwhile, his curveball has about 9.9 more inches of vertical break than the average curve from MLB pitchers this season. The incredible amount of break combined with his average 94 mph fastball has helped Bauer post 111 strikeouts this season.
The 26-year-old Walker Buehler comes in at No. 4 on this list. Since making his debut in 2017, Beuhler has a 3.01 ERA in 83 games while contributing 30 wins to the Dodgers.
This season, in 13 starts, Buehler has a 2.38 ERA with 0.936 WHIP and six wins. In fact, the Dodgers have a 9-4 record in Buehler’s starts this season, one of the better records for any pitcher in baseball.
He brings a four-pitch arsenal to the mound that includes a fastball, slider, cutter, and curveball, with all three being good enough to get a punchout on. His average fastball velocity sits around 95.5 mph this season, while his slider has about 13.6 inches of horizontal break, about eight inches above average.
Yu Darvish is replicating his great 2020 season with an equally impressive 2021 in San Diego. The Padres ace has a 2.28 ERA with 13 starts this season. The four-time All-Star is primed for another appearance this summer in Colorado.
The Japanese native has one of the most expansive arsenals of any pitcher in baseball. He has an ability to quickly learn and master a pitch like no other starters in baseball. In fact, Darvish has thrown six pitches this season: a fastball, cutter, sinker, changeup, slider, and curveball. He throws his fastball the most, followed by a curve that has about 63 inches of drop. Good luck trying to hit that.