Ranking the 11 Most Dominant Pitchers in MLB Today
There are a lot of great pitchers in baseball who find a variety of ways to get outs.
Justin Masterson was able to secure a 3.45 ERA this season, which was mostly due to his knack for inducing groundballs (he did so at a 58.0 percent rate in 2013). And Cliff Lee continued to hone his skills as a control artist, boasting a microscopic 1.29 walks per nine innings.
But when it comes to dominating opposing hitters, it’s a whole other ballgame. Hurlers like Matt Harvey, Clayton Kershaw and Craig Kimbrel, for instance, simply know how notch a strikeout. Whether it’s through blazing fastballs or crumpling change-ups, some select pitchers can't help but rack-up punch-outs.
Read on to see the 11 most dominant pitchers in MLB today.
11. Aroldis Chapman, RP, Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds have often toyed with the idea of using Aroldis Chapman as a starter. But seeing as how the closer absolutely dominates in relief, it’s a prime case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Chapman is a two-pitch hurler, but considering that his fastball averages 98.3 miles per hour, the closer just needs one “off-speed” pitch to complement it. The 25-year-old does just that with his slider, which is, on average, 11.2 miles per hour slower. But at an average speed of 87.1 miles per hour, Chapman’s slider is hardly “slow.”
The most eye-popping statistic in Chapman’s array of impressive metrics is arguably his strikeouts per nine innings ratio. Chapman boasts a sport-best 15.8 strikeouts per nine innings ratio, which epitomizes the word “dominant.” That said, Chapman tends to walk a lot of batters (4.1 walks per nine innings) and witnessed that ratio spike 41.3 percent in 2013.
10. Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners
Felix Hernandez is living proof that “wins,” as a statistic, are not indicative of a pitcher’s true talents.
In 2013, Hernandez anchored the fourth-place Seattle Mariners’ rotation with a 3.04 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 121 ERA+), 1.13 WHIP and 4.70 K/BB. While his 2013 season was a far cry from 2009 and 2010—when he posted a 2.49 ERA and 2.27 ERA, respectively—his command (4.70 K/BB) this past season was a career best.
And despite losing two miles per hour off his career average fastball, Hernandez continued to keep hitters off balance with a devastating changeup (worth 17.5 runs above average in 2013).
If the Mariners ever decide to add some offense, King Felix might actually wield a more deserving win/loss record.
Tied-8. Craig Kimbrel (RP, Atlanta Braves) and Greg Holland (RP, Kansas City Royals)
It’s almost eerie how similar Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland were in 2013.
Kimbrel, in his third season as the Atlanta Braves closer, notched yet another dominant campaign in 2013. The 25-year-old tossed a 1.21 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 320 ERA+), 0.88 WHIP, 4.90 K/BB and compiled a league-leading 50 saves. With two plus (and almost unhittable) pitches in his fastball (worth 8.3 runs above average in 2013) and curveball (worth 10.7 runs above average in 2013), Kimbrel reigns as the top ninth-inning man in the National League (and perhaps all of baseball).
But like Kimbrel, Greg Holland, too, befuddled hitters in 2013. In his first full season as a closer, Holland locked down latter innings for the Kansas City Royals. The 27-year-old pitched to the tune of a 1.21 ERA (versus a 342 ERA+), 0.86 WHIP, 5.72 K/BB and 47 saves.
Even though Holland ditched his curveball in 2013, it apparently helped his cause. The closer boasted three plus pitches, highlighted by a stellar fastball (worth 5.2 runs above average in 2013) and electric slider (worth 11.8 runs above average in 2013).
Between Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland, you can’t really go wrong.
7. Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox were one of the worst teams in baseball this past season, but despite their dismal overall performance, ace Chris Sale persevered.
The 24-year-old pitched to the tune of a 3.07 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 140 ERA+), 1.07 WHIP and 4.91 K/BB. While perhaps best known for his devastating slider (worth 12.9 runs above average in 2013), Sale also boasted a plus fastball (worth 3.4 runs above average in 2013) and sterling changeup (worth 7.9 runs above average in 2013).
With excellent control (1.9 walks per nine innings), command (4.91 K/BB) and an unparalleled pitch arsenal, the left-handed hurler is one of the most feared starting pitchers in baseball.
6. Anibal Sanchez, SP, Detroit Tigers
When the Detroit Tigers signed Anibal Sanchez to a five-year, $80 million contract last offseason, it’s fair to assume that the Tigers didn’t know Sanchez would emerge as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
Prior to 2013, Sanchez owned a career 3.75 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 111 ERA+), 1.34 WHIP and 2.29 K/BB. Essentially, the right-hander was a stellar No. 3 starter. But apparently, something clicked for the 29-year-old in his first full season in the American League.
Sanchez pitched to the tune of a 2.57 ERA (versus a 163 ERA+), 1.15 WHIP and 3.74 K/BB. The Venezuelan native led the league in ERA (2.57), ERA+ (163) and home runs per nine innings (0.4).
The big difference in 2013, however, was how effective Sanchez’s slider and changeup were. The pitches were worth 10.3 and 12.3 runs above average, respectively. Perhaps realizing this, Sanchez used his changeup 7.9 percent more in 2013 than at any other point in his career.
Needless to say, the Tigers must be very pleased with their signing.
5. Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers
With perennial Cy Young Award contender Justin Verlander in the same rotation, it’s easy to get overlooked on the Detroit Tigers. But Max Scherzer turned some heads with his 2013 season.
Aside from winning 13 games (and 21 overall) before suffering his first loss, Scherzer tossed a 2.90 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 145 ERA+), 0.97 WHIP and 4.29 K/BB overall in 2013. The 29-year-old’s 2.74 FIP even suggested that perhaps Scherzer was that much better than his already sterling ERA illustrated.
Despite rumors, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, that the Tigers are willing to dangle Scherzer this offseason, it hardly bumps the ace from being a top-five starting pitcher in baseball.
4. Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets
Even though Matt Harvey will likely sit out all of 2014 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, that still doesn’t disqualify him from consideration.
Harvey blossomed in his first full season in the majors leagues, posting a 2.27 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 157 ERA+), 0.93 WHIP and 6.16 K/BB. Unlike some power-pitchers who serve up a lot of dingers, Harvey kept balls in the park at an immaculate rate of 0.4 home runs per nine innings.
Harvey’s average 95.8 mile-per-hour fastball gets a lot of attention, but the right-hander also possesses three other plus pitches, including a slider, changeup and curveball.
When the 24-year-old returns full time in 2015, expect him to challenge Clayton Kershaw for the Cy Young Award.
3. Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins
Until spring training hit, the Miami Marlins planned on letting Jose Fernandez learn a bit more in the minor leagues. After all, the 21-year-old had never pitched above the High-A level.
But given their lacking rotation, the Marlins decided to hand their 2011 first-round pick a starting gig in the big leagues.
And Fernandez did not disappoint.
The right-hander posted a 2.19 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 176 ERA+), 0.97 WHIP and 3.22 K/BB over 172.2 innings. Fernandez also limited opposing hitters to a league-leading 5.8 hits per nine innings ratio.
With four plus pitches, highlighted by a fastball (worth 13.9 runs above average) and slider (worth 18.0 runs above average), Fernandez not only emerged as an exciting rookie but also as a feared ace pitcher.
2. Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers took a large risk prior to the 2012 season by paying $51.7 million, the largest posting fee in history, just to negotiate with Japanese hurler Yu Darvish. After agreeing to a subsequent six-year, $60 million contract, Darvish was ready to take on the major leagues.
And take on he did.
Darvish enjoyed a particularly dominant sophomore season in 2013, posting a 2.83 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 145 ERA+), 1.07 WHIP and 3.46 K/BB. The 27-year-old’s stellar command was supported by a league-leading 11.9 strikeout per nine innings ratio—or 277 strikeouts in total.
But perhaps what makes Darvish so unhittable is the fact that opposing hitters have no idea which of the pitcher’s six pitches will be thrown. Darvish uses his fastball the most, at 38.2 percent of the time, but that’s hardly frequent enough for hitters to sit on it.
The right-hander also sports three plus pitches: a slider (worth 27.8 runs above average in 2013), cutter (worth 4.5 runs above average in 2013) and curveball (worth 6.5 runs above average in 2013).
If Darvish figures out a way to reduce his walks (3.4 walks per nine innings in 2013), the Japanese native would easily become the most dominant pitcher in baseball.
1. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Since the Los Angeles Dodgers picked Clayton Kershaw at No. 7 overall in the 2006 draft, the team had high hopes for the left-hander.
And much to the Dodgers pleasure, those high hopes have come to fruition. Kershaw has arguably been the best pitcher in baseball since 2011. Spanning three seasons, Kershaw owns a 2.21 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 166 ERA+), 0.97 WHIP and 4.20 K/BB.
The 2013 season was no different. Kershaw led the league in ERA (1.83), shutouts (two), ERA+ (194) and WHIP (0.91). He also led the National League in strikeouts with 232.
Combined with the top fastball (38.2 wFB) and fourth-best curveball (11.6 wCB) in the major leagues, it’s difficult to not tab Kershaw as the pitching king.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!