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Who are the movers and shakers among starting pitchers this season?

June 8, 2018
 From May 2013 through the end of the 2016 season, Clayton Kershaw almost always reigned supreme in The Bill James World’s Best Starting Pitcher Rankings, a measure based on the Game Score metric and a pitcher's sustained excellence over a lengthy body of work.

But Kershaw’s recent injury history has caused him to drop in the rankings to No. 5 now, with the possibility that he slips even further if he remains on the sidelines.

The race for the No. 1 spot has become a tight battle between former teammates Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, who currently occupy the top two positions. Scherzer has been outstanding the last six seasons, but he may never have been better than in the first 13 starts of 2018, in which he’s averaged 13.7 strikeouts per 9 and allowed six home runs in 87 2/3 innings pitched.

Verlander has a 1.24 ERA in 87 1/3 innings pitched this season, following up on a five-start run with the Astros in which he posted a 1.06 ERA en route to winning the World Series last season.

Verlander and Scherzer have been so good that they’ve dropped Indians ace Corey Kluber, who ended the 2017 season ranked No. 1, to No. 3 in the rankings, even though Kluber has a 1.96 ERA and is averaging seven innings per start this season.



On the Rise

Among those who have moved up the rankings is Gerrit Cole of the Astros, who climbed into the top 10 after a strong start to the season. He started 2018 ranked No. 38. The Astros have two pitchers (Verlander and Cole) in the top 10, as do the Nationals (Scherzer and Strasburg).

James Paxton of the Mariners was No. 45 at the start of May, then had a 16-strikeout game and no-hitter in back-to-back starts. That, along with his continued strong performance, has vaulted him to No. 23.

Aaron Nola of the Phillies allowed a combined three hits in 13 2/3 innings pitched in two outings at the end of May, is now No. 25 after ranking No. 62 prior to Opening Day.

On the decline

As some climb the ladder, others slip. The No. 8, 9 and 10 pitchers entering the season fell out of the top 10, though Carlos Carrasco (preseason No. 8) hangs in at No. 11 and Jake Arrieta dropped from No. 9 to No. 14. Madison Bumgarner was No. 10 entering the season, but now ranks No. 58 after an injury sidelined him the first two months.

Among those to drop the most based on performance was Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who averaged a 40 Game Score in seven starts (a 50 Game Score is average) after a successful season debut. He’s fallen from No. 25 entering the season to No. 52.

Red Sox pitcher Drew Pomeranz has plunged 25 spots from No. 35 to No. 60 (he has an 8.82 ERA in his last four starts). And formerly dominant Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman is now on the disabled list with a shoulder injury after recording a 7.71 ERA in seven starts. He fell from No. 30 at season’s start to his current No. 65.



World's No. 1 Starting Pitcher Rankings
 1. Max Scherzer  610.7
 2. Justin Verlander  605.9
 3. Corey Kluber  597.5
 4. Chris Sale  565.0
 5. Clayton Kershaw  550.9
 6. Stephen Strasburg  547.7
 7. Jacob deGrom  532.1
 8. Zack Greinke  527.6
 9. Luis Severino  520.3
 10. Gerrit Cole  515.4


The most updated rankings and an explanation of the methodology can be found at  Bill James Online.


COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

The Braves were near-certain to improve defensively from last year by dint of replacing very bad second defense (from Brandon Phillips, Jace Peterson, and others) with Ozzie Albies, and replacing very, very bad left field defense (from Matt Kemp) with nearly anybody (Ronald Acuna, reputedly an excellent defender in CF, would have been the best option in LF [he WAS +1 in 227 Innings Played in LF; oddly, he was +3 in only 22 Innings in RF.] Preston Tucker, at -2, is at the very least less-bad than Kemp.)
10:53 AM Jun 11th
The Braves Mike Foltynewicz has moved up 50 spots to #41 with a 2.31 ERA so far this year, down nearly 2.5 runs from last year.
3:25 AM Jun 10th
Aaron Nola, to my thinking, is the most impressive mover on the list, insofar as he's moved up the 34 spots from 59th to 25th despite being on the second-WORST defensive team in MLB by Team Runs Saved (the Phillies seem tied with the Orioles at -54, but each team's defensive stats at Pitcher should be ignored when evaluating each individual pitcher. So, take away PHI's -6 and BAL's -5 at those spots and Baltimore is at -49 to the Phillies' -48. Nola himself is breaking even with the glove so far this year.)

Actually, four of the Phillies starting five (Nola, Pivetta, Velasquez, and Eflin; every starter but Arrieta) have moved up, and all 5 have pitched pretty well despite their terrible defense. Given a merely league-average defense - taking away those extra 54 runs allowed - the Phillies team as a whole would be allowing exactly 3 runs a game (183 RA in 61 G.) Compare to the exalted Astros, who allow 3.015 runs per game with an AL-best defense of +32 - essentially the same. The ".015" comes to a difference of 1 run every 67 games or so.

It may be that Rhys Hoskins's stone glove in the OF becomes merely wooden at 1B, or even competent; it may be that Scott Kingery would put up a defensive positive somewhere in the infield if he was planted at a single spot; it's near-certain that Philly could find a plus-defender at shortstop who's able to hit as badly as J.P. Crawford. Unfortunately, 1B and 2B are blocked by Carlos Santana and Cesar Hernandez, and Kingery is a defensive stretch at shortstop. Oh well, guess the Phillies will have to find the answers without me.
2:46 AM Jun 9th
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