There is nothing I like more in baseball than watching a good starting pitcher. I even spent hours making a giant spreadsheet to rank who the most fun pitchers in baseball are. That segues nicely into my second point here; I love ranking things. So, this leads to something I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while, which is using a formula to power rank the game’s top starters. What the formula is I won’t divulge, but I will say it revolves around simple run prevention and innings pitched, as well as ERA estimators. I’ll be doing this periodically, hopefully once every two weeks until the end of the season (in the in between weeks I’ll power rank the relievers). Biweekly (or however often it is) I’ll discuss the top 10 power ranked starters and include the rest of the top 30 at the article’s conclusion.
Author’s Note: All stats are before play starts on 20 July
#1 Jacob deGrom (Score: 73.2)
Who else could be #1? deGrom leads all qualified starters in ERA-, FIP-, xFIP-, xERA, K/9, K-BB%, AVG, WHIP, SIERA, fWAR, and pretty much any other stat I could name. The future Hall of Famer is putting together a historic season. He’s the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, and quite possibly the best player in baseball (though two guys in Anaheim would dispute that). deGrom reigns supreme on these power rankings.
#2 Zack Wheeler (68.9)
Surprised? Me too, but we shouldn’t be. Wheeler leads MLB in innings pitched while being top 5 in xERA, FIP, and xFIP. He’s “merely” tenth in ERA, but that’s largely attributable to the Phillies’ atrocious defense. Increased fastball velocity and slider usage have allowed Wheeler to set career bests in pretty much everything. Wheeler checks in comfortably at #2.
#3 Corbin Burnes (66.9)
I’ll say it outright: Burnes is the second best pitcher in baseball. It’s almost August and he has a 1.32 FIP. If a reliever did that it’d be incredible; if a starter does it, it’s impossible. Yes, Burnes is buoyed by his ludicrous walk-free start to the season, but even since his first walk the numbers are great. A 2.48 ERA with 82K/15BB in 61.2 IP being the lesser part of your season puts that pitcher firmly among the best.
#4 Brandon Woodruff (62.0)
With how great Burnes has been, it can be easy to forget that Woodruff was the Opening Day starter. The big righty has been durable, with the seventh most innings pitched in MLB, and he combines this volume with elite production. His ERA is a very small 2.04, and all of his estimators are sub-3 as well. Combine Woodruff and Burnes, and the Brewers have the best 1-2 punch in baseball.
#5 Gerrit Cole (59.3)
An awful lot has been made of Cole’s struggles since the sticky stuff ban, but he appears to be fixed. In his last two starts, Cole has struck out 23 in 15 innings while allowing just a single earned run. And these starts were against the Astros and Red Sox. On the whole, Cole has still been Cole, with all of his run prevention metrics between 2.5 and 3. He might not be deGrom-lite anymore, but he might still be the AL Cy Young.
#6 Kevin Gausman (56.0)
With a retooled arsenal focusing on his devastating splitter, Gausman is winning the bet he made on himself. He took a qualifying offer this past off-season, and now looks to be the prized pitcher on the market this year. That’s what a second-best in MLB 1.84 ERA does for someone, especially when paired with a top-ten (eighth) innings total.
#7 Carlos Rodón (55.7)
Speaking of a pitcher winning a huge bet on himself, Rodón was non-tendered prior to 2021. He returned throwing harder than ever before, and showing why his slider once made him the third overall pick in the draft. Now he’s a Cy Young candidate, with a 2.14 ERA, 2.21 FIP, and 13.03 K/9. When the Postseason arrives, Rodón is going to be a huge part of why the White Sox rotation is exceptionally daunting to opponents.
#8 Walker Buehler (46.8)
After the seventh spot is something of a tier change. Buehler starts this new tier. Regarded for several years now as one of the game’s most talented pitchers, Buehler is actually having something of a down season by his standards. Why this is, is actually a mystery. His walk numbers are still great and he isn’t being hit hard but the K’s, however, are down. Still, with the third most innings pitched in baseball and above-average performance, he slots in to this top 10.
#9 Trevor Rogers (45.3)
Rogers has been maybe the biggest breakout player of 2021. He’s easily the NL Rookie of the Year favorite, and will likely garner down-ballot votes in a very crowded NL Cy Young race. This is in large part due to a dramatic decrease in his walks, but also fortunate home run luck. Rogers won’t stay as a 2.31 ERA, 2.50 FIP guy, but he’ll remain quite good (he’s 10th in MLB in CSW%), and he’ll anchor what should be an excellent Marlins rotation for years to come.
#10 Lance Lynn (43.4)
The newly re-upped fastballer is different than the other arms on this list. He consistently posts a very large workload and a very good ERA, while also over-performing his FIP. This season is no different. Lynn’s 1.94 ERA leads the American League, but his FIP is a much more reasonable 3.28. That’s not to say Lynn isn’t an ace worthy of his top 10 spot; I actually expected him to rank higher. But it is saying that I’m not confident I understand him as much as the other pitchers.