MLB Pitcher Power Rankings: How Every Team's Ace Stacks Up Around the League

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVJune 21, 2022

MLB Pitcher Power Rankings: How Every Team's Ace Stacks Up Around the League

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 15: Corbin Burnes #39 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws a pitch during the second inning of the game against the New York Mets at Citi Field on June 15, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
    Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

    Who is the current ace of aces in Major League Baseball? And which "aces" wouldn't even sniff the starting rotation for the likes of the Astros, Dodgers, Padres and Yankees?

    The tricky first step in this process was deciding on the ace of each staff. For 23 of the 30 franchises, it wasn't a tough call. However, a fair amount of hemming and hawing and emailing with colleagues took place regarding the other seven.

    Those decisions didn't impact the ranking, though, considering how little separation exists between the candidates for that ace spot. For instance, whether you deem Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, Clayton Kershaw or Julio Urias to be the ace of the Dodgers staff, he'll land somewhere in the Nos. 10-15 range. (Spoiler alert: We went with Kershaw and also defaulted to the "old guard"—Adam Wainwright, Justin Verlander, etc.—anywhere that it made sense to do so.)

    One important criterion: The pitcher must have made at least seven starts this season in order to qualify. With apologies to Jacob deGrom, Stephen Strasburg, Lance Lynn, John Means, Tyler Glasnow, Lance McCullers Jr. and others who fall short of that threshold, you at least temporarily lose your ace status when you can't manage to pitch in 10 percent of your team's games.

    Once the 30 aces were chosen, the ranking is based on a combination of dominance in the current season and past track record, with current season success generally taking preference over previous accolades.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics are current through the start of play Sunday, June 19.

Nos. 30-28: Patrick Corbin, Jose Quintana and Tyler Wells

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    CINCINNATI, OHIO - JUNE 05: Patrick Corbin #46 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on June 05, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    30. Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals
    3-9, 6.59 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 2.1 K/BB

    From 2017 to 2019, Corbin was easily a top-10 pitcher in the majors. He had a 3.47 ERA, averaging just over 220 strikeouts per year, and he was an indispensable asset for a World Series champion in the final season of that three-year arc.

    But he has gone from indispensable to darn near unusable. His 3.25 ERA in 2019 steadily ballooned to 4.66 in 2020 to 5.82 last season and now to 6.59. His slider was once one of the most unhittable pitches in baseball, but opponents have been teeing off on it as of late. As if Stephen Strasburg's gargantuan contract and all the deferred payments to Max Scherzer aren't bad enough, the Nationals are paying Corbin $23.4 million this season, $24.4 million next year and $35.4 million in 2024 for his rapidly deteriorating services.

    29. Jose Quintana, Pittsburgh Pirates
    1-4, 3.66 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.5 K/BB

    Quintana used to be one of the most durable starters in the game. From 2013 to 2019, he was tied with Jon Lester for the most games started (224) and did so with a FanGraphs WAR (26.6) that ranked 11th among pitchers.

    However, after 2020 and 2021 campaigns that were both injury-riddled and ineffective, the offseason market for Quintana was nonexistent. The 2016 All-Star ended up on a one-year, $2 million deal with the Pirates, where the primary goal seemed to be that he provide some veteran leadership in what is otherwise a young rotation.

    He has been better than expected, though, and might be a hot commodity ahead of the trade deadline. Quintana has cooled off over the past month, but he had a 2.19 ERA after seven starts and has yet to allow more than four earned runs in a game.

    28. Tyler Wells, Baltimore Orioles
    4-4, 3.62 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 3.0 K/BB

    Wells missed all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery and all of 2020 because there was no minor league baseball that year. He then spent the 2021 campaign in the bullpen for the O's, even making four saves in September. But no one knew what to expect from Wells as he transitioned back into a starting role for the first time in nearly four years.

    After a rocky start, he has been pretty darn good. In nine starts since the beginning of May, Wells has a 3.09 ERA with four quality starts. He went six scoreless innings against the Red Sox on Memorial Day and relinquished just a solo home run to Teoscar Hernandez in six innings of work against the Blue Jays last week.

    It's a small sample size, but Wells might be a key piece in this rotation for years to come.

Nos. 27-25: Brad Keller, Kyle Freeland and Marcus Stroman

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 29: Starting pitcher Marcus Stroman #0 delivers the baseball in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 29, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
    Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    27. Brad Keller, Kansas City Royals
    2-8, 4.30 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 2.0 K/BB

    Keller deserves better than a 2-8 record, as he has made nine starts of at least six innings with four or fewer runs allowed. However, run support has been tough to come by in Kansas City.

    Deserving a better W-L record doesn't mean he deserves a better ranking, though. Even after tossing seven innings of one-hit, shutout ball against the A's on Saturday, Keller's overall numbers are just OK. And he had a 5.39 ERA and 1.66 WHIP last year, doing so with a much better strikeout rate (8.1 per 9 IP) than he has this season.

    26. Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies
    3-5, 4.46 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 2.1 K/BB

    Freeland has settled nicely into the "Not Too Shabby for the Rockies" role that Jon Gray had inhabited in recent years. Freeland had identical marks of 4.33 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in each of 2020 and 2021 before a similar production level this year.

    In Colorado, an ERA in the mid-4s is good enough to be the Opening Day starter.

    Freeland's strikeout rate has been lower than usual, but he has done a fine job of keeping the ball in the yard for a change. He had a 1.64 HR/9 ratio in nearly 300 innings from 2019 to 2021, but he has yet to allow multiple homers in a start this season, slashing that rate to 0.87.

    25. Marcus Stroman, Chicago Cubs
    2-5, 5.32 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.8 K/BB

    Most of the damage done against Stroman has been contained to two starts. He gave up seven earned runs in an April loss to Tampa Bay and allowed nine to the Cardinals earlier this month. He has a 2.77 ERA in his other seven starts.

    But we can't very well disregard 22 percent of his appearances. It doesn't help his case that he has been on the injured list for the past couple of weeks.

    The good news for the Cubs is history tells us Stroman will be better in 2023. He has a career ERA of 4.52 in even-numbered years and 3.04 in odd-numbered years.

Nos. 24-22: Sonny Gray, Zac Gallen and Tarik Skubal

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    DETROIT, MI - JUNE 12: Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tarik Skubal (29) delivers a pitch during an MLB game against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 12, 2022 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    24. Sonny Gray, Minnesota Twins
    3-1, 2.09 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 4.2 K/BB

    Gray's numbers look great, but there are two flies in the ointment.

    No. 1 is that he has only made eight starts, missing time from April into May with a hamstring strain and again from May into June with a pectoral strain. But the bigger asterisk is that six of those eight starts came against four of 2022's most hapless offenses: Oakland (twice), Seattle (twice), Detroit and Kansas City. In two starts against Boston and Cleveland, he had a 6.00 ERA.

    Until Gray faces more legitimate competition, ranking him based more on his 4.05 ERA and 1.22 WHIP from 2020 and 2021 feels like the way to go. But I've got some crow ready for consumption if he takes care of business in two straight starts against the Guardians in the next eight days.

    23. Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks
    4-2, 2.91 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.8 K/BB

    Though Madison Bumgarner is the Diamondback getting paid to be the ace, Gallen has been the better pitcher.

    The big key heading into this season in Gallen's quest to become a star pitcher was getting the walks under control, which he has done. His walk rate was 3.6 per 9 IP from 2019 to 2021, but he has that down to a more manageable 2.2 this season. Unfortunately, the trade-off has been a 25 percent decrease in strikeout rate and, strangely, a drastic uptick in hit batters—nine HBP in 65.0 innings compared to 11 in his first 273.1 innings.

    Overall, though, Gallen's star appears to be on the rise. He made a nice early statement this season, allowing one run in 15 innings against the Mets and Dodgers in April.

    22. Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers
    5-4, 3.13 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 5.6 K/BB

    This might be a few spots too low for Skubal, but figuring out where to put him was one of the most difficult parts of this process.

    The 25-year-old lefty has been thriving for the lowly Tigers. He didn't allow an earned run in six of his first 10 starts and had a 2.15 ERA in early June. That ERA has since crept up above 3.00 after recent tough outings against the Blue Jays and Rangers, but he still registers as one of the most valuable pitchers of this season.

    It was a tough ranking decision because Skubal was nothing special in 2020 and 2021 and we don't want to overreact to a 10-start sample size, but the Tigers also had to rush him to the big leagues if they wanted one of their top prospects to pitch anywhere in 2020. Since the "learning curve" of his first 18 MLB appearances, he has been rock solid.

    Let's see if he can continue to keep both home runs (0.6 per 9 IP) and walks (1.7 per 9 IP) to a minimum because that's what got him into trouble the past two years (2.2 and 2.9, respectively).

Nos. 21-19: Martin Perez, Adam Wainwright and Nathan Eovaldi

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    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 17: Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 17, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Rutherford/Getty Images)
    Paul Rutherford/Getty Images

    21. Martin Perez, Texas Rangers
    4-2, 2.10 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 3.6 K/BB

    Based solely on this season, this ranking is way too low for Perez. He led the majors in ERA just a few weeks ago, thanks in large part to a complete-game shutout of the Astros and seven scoreless innings against both the Phillies and the Rays. Ten of his last 11 starts have been of the "quality" variety, and contenders in need of an arm are waiting with bated breath to find out if the 31-35 Rangers will fall far enough off the postseason pace to trade this impending free agent before the Aug. 2 deadline.

    But let's keep in mind that Perez entered 2022 with a 4.71 ERA in his 10-year career, as well as a 5.15 ERA from 2018 to 2021. He had just four quality starts last season with Boston and was relegated to the bullpen for the final two months of that campaign—and that was one of his better recent seasons.

    20. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
    5-5, 3.06 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 2.5 K/BB

    From 2016 to 2019, it seemed like Wainwright's days as a pitcher were numbered. A staple in the NL Cy Young discussion from 2009 to 2014, he had four consecutive seasons with an ERA north of 4.00, the latter of which came on a one-year, $2 million "let me prove I can still do this thing" deal.

    But what a late-career renaissance the 40-year-old has had, registering a 3.15 ERA in 2020, 3.05 in 2021 and a similar mark this year. He's allowing more hits and walks this season than he had in the previous two, but he has given up just five home runs in 79.1 innings.

    Wainwright has made eight quality starts, including five in which he went seven innings. If the Cardinals win the NL Central, got to believe Uncle Charlie will toe the rubber for their postseason opener.

    19. Nathan Eovaldi, Boston Red Sox
    4-2, 3.16 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 7.2 K/BB

    One year removed from leading the majors with a walk rate of 1.73 per 9 IP—which played a big part in his fourth-place finish in the AL Cy Young vote—Eovaldi has been even stingier in that department at a rate of 1.32. He has walked 10 batters in 68.1 innings and has walked multiple batters in a game just once this season.

    Thank goodness, because the limited number of free passes has mitigated the damage done on his darn near MLB-worst rate of 2.11 HR per 9 IP. Eovaldi has already allowed more home runs (16) than he did in his 32 starts in 2021 (15), but he has only given up 28 runs (24 earned) in spite of all those blasts.

    If he can get those long balls under control, Eovaldi could skyrocket comfortably into the top 10.

Nos. 18-16: Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo and Shohei Ohtani

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    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JUNE 16: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels pitches during the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on June 16, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    18. Robbie Ray, Seattle Mariners
    6-6, 4.25 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.1 K/BB

    Before the season began, the reigning AL Cy Young winner would have landed in the top five. Two weeks ago—with a 4.97 ERA and one quality start in his previous eight appearances—Ray might have landed in the bottom five. But after back-to-back gems against the Red Sox and Angels, Seattle's expensive offseason acquisition is making a charge back up the rankings.

    Ray has long been a prolific strikeout artist, finishing each of the past six seasons above 11 K/9. Of the 126 pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched dating back to 2016, only Max Scherzer (11.95) and Chris Sale (11.93) have a better K rate than Ray (11.60). Even though his rate is lower than usual this year, he has three outings with 10 strikeouts.

    Walks have been the major variable in his career. When he keeps those (and, concurrently, his pitch count) under control, he has the stuff to be special. Compared to his 5.1 BB per 9 IP ratio from 2018 to 2020, his 2.8 mark since the beginning of May has been solid.

    17. Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
    2-4, 3.33 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.9 K/BB

    Castillo missed the first month of the season with a shoulder injury and sputtered in his first two games back. But he has put together a 2.72 ERA over his last six starts, looking every bit as good as he did en route to the 2019 All-Star Game.

    Much like Robbie Ray, whether Castillo can maintain this level of success hinges primarily on whether he can keep walks to a minimum. He "led" the NL with 75 walks last season and had 79 (none of which were intentional) in 2019. But 11 walks in his last 36.1 innings pitched is a great pace for him, and it has paved the way to five quality starts. We'll see how he fares in that department in this week's start against the potent Dodgers.

    16. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
    5-4, 3.28 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.5 K/9, 5.1 K/BB

    Keeping with the theme of walks in this tier, that's one area where Ohtani has improved substantially over the past 13 months. He was all sorts of wild early in his MLB career, but he had a 1.7 BB/9 IP ratio over his final 16 starts of last season and has yet to hand out three or more free passes in a start in 2022.

    He has made six quality starts, able to work deep into games even though he rarely approaches 100 pitches.

    In two starts against Boston, Ohtani went 14 innings, allowing one run with 17 strikeouts. And in two starts against Houston, he went 10.2 innings with one run and 21 strikeouts. He did have a three-inning, four-run dud at Yankee Stadium earlier this month, but who hasn't struggled with the 2022 Yankees?

Nos. 15-13: Dylan Cease, Frankie Montas and Clayton Kershaw

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    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws against the Cleveland Guardians in the second inning at Dodger Stadium on June 17, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    15. Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox
    5-3, 2.91 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 2.85 K/BB

    Playing defense behind Cease must be boring. The White Sox hurler has both the highest K rate and the highest BB rate (4.5 per 9 IP) among qualified pitchers this season. He threw over 100 pitches in each of his last three starts and didn't make it out of the fifth inning in any of them.

    While it's possible he'll never pitch into the eighth inning of a start in his career, he strikes out a ton of hitters and has drastically cut down his home run rate from where it was in 2019 and 2020. Because of those details, his propensity for walking opponents isn't as painful as it could be.

    14. Frankie Montas, Oakland A's
    3-7, 3.53 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 4.2 K/BB

    Paul Blackburn has Oakland's best pitching metrics in 2022, but he also entered this season with a 5.74 career ERA while Montas finished sixth in last year's AL Cy Young vote. Though the A's are hopelessly irrelevant right now, it hasn't been Montas' fault. His pitching has been on par with, if not better than, what he did in 2021.

    Montas has made eight starts this season in which he went at least six innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs. However, the A's went 2-6, giving their ace a combined total of 14 runs of support in those games.

    Even 2010 Felix Hernandez (3.07) and 2018 Jacob deGrom (3.49) got more run support from their woeful offenses than Montas is getting from the A's this season (2.95). That isn't to say he's as good as those Cy Young winners, but similar "routinely wasted gems" vibes are coming out of Oakland.

    13. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
    4-1, 2.08 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 6.7 K/BB

    One could make the case that Walker Buehler, Julio Urias or Tony Gonsolin is the Dodgers ace these days. But similar to Adam Wainwright in St. Louis, let's stick with the longtime ace in Kershaw until he definitively no longer holds that crown.

    Because when Kershaw is healthy, he's still damn good. The three-time Cy Young winner has only made seven starts, but he has yet to allow more than six baserunners in any of them. Even if you take out his incredible season debut (seven perfect innings with 13 strikeouts), he has a 2.53 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and respectable 7.6 K/9 and 4.5 K/BB ratios.

    Durability issues cost him in these rankings, as he hasn't logged 180 innings in a season since 2015. But if you could guarantee that he'll be healthy for the postseason, there are not five current pitchers I'd rather have than Kershaw.

Nos. 12-10: Carlos Rodon, Shane Bieber and Justin Verlander

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    HOUSTON, TEXAS - JUNE 18: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park on June 18, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    12. Carlos Rodon, San Francisco Giants
    6-4, 2.84 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 3.4 K/BB

    Last offseason posed a two-year, $44 million question: Is the real Carlos Rodon the one who almost won the 2021 AL Cy Young or the one who entered that season with career marks of 4.14 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 8.8 K/9?

    Fortunately for the Giants, he appears to be the former. Aside from an elevated walk rate (2.4 per 9 IP to 3.3 per 9 IP), his 2022 numbers are similar to what he did in 2021.

    Most of the damage done against him came in one hideous start against the Cardinals. Take out that eight-run debacle and he's got a 1.95 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. And in each of his three starts against the Dodgers and Padres, he went six innings and allowed two or fewer runs. Not too shabby.

    11. Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians
    3-3, 3.00 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 4.4 K/BB

    Father's Day provided a great reminder of what the 2020 AL Cy Young winner can do when he is dialed in. On the road against the mighty Dodgers, Bieber went 6.1 innings, allowed two earned runs and struck out nine. He didn't get the win, but he kept the Guardians in the game well enough for them to get the W in the ninth inning.

    His record doesn't reflect it, but it was Bieber's ninth quality start of the season, lowering his ERA to a nice, round 3.00. Included in that 3.00 was one awful start back in early May against Toronto in which he allowed seven runs with no strikeouts. Take that dud out of the equation and Bieber would be in the thick of the Cy Young mix with a 2.29 ERA and a K/9 north of 10.0.

    Up next for Bieber will be home starts against Boston and Minnesota in which he could bolster the Guardians' postseason dreams.

    10. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
    8-3, 2.30 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 5.4 K/BB

    Like both Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw, we could go a different direction and say Framber Valdez is Houston's ace. He started on Opening Day and has reeled off 10 consecutive quality starts dating back to late April.

    But when a two-time Cy Young winner is still mowing down the competition at 39 years of age, he gets the nod.

    Verlander missed 2021 and all but one start in 2020 because of Tommy John surgery, but the Astros were confident enough in his ability to bounce back that they gave him a two-year, $50 million contract days before the lockout began. The return on that investment has been solid. Even with recent hiccups against the Mariners and White Sox (combined 10 ER in 9.2 IP), Verlander has what would be the lowest ERA of his career.

    His strikeout rate is a far cry from what it was in 2018-19 (12.1 K/9), but everything else is on par with where he was before the surgery.

Nos. 9-7: Max Fried, Joe Musgrove and Kevin Gausman

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    CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 16:  Joe Musgrove #44 of the San Diego Padres pitches in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 16, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    9. Max Fried, Atlanta Braves
    7-2, 2.90 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 5.8 K/BB

    For as great as he has been over the past two-plus seasons, Fried doesn't get near the attention he deserves.

    He won a Gold Glove in each of the past two years and has a 2.86 ERA in 52 regular-season starts dating back to the start of 2020. He went six scoreless innings in the World Series-winning shutout against the Astros last November. And he's putting up numbers plenty good enough for Cy Young consideration this season.

    But because he's not the type of guy to punch out 10-plus batters in an eight-inning gem every month or so—he hasn't had a 10-K game since 2019—his ho-hum consistent success tends to fly below the radar. Make no mistake about it, though: This 28-year-old will get paid a ton of money soon.

    8. Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres
    8-0, 1.59 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 4.8 K/BB

    Who would have guessed 10 weeks ago that Musgrove would be the ace of the Padres rotation, let alone one of the best pitchers in the majors?

    He made 15 quality starts in 2021, including a no-hitter in April. But both Yu Darvish and Sean Manaea took the mound in 2022 before Musgrove did, and he likely would have been fourth in the rotation behind Blake Snell if Snell had been healthy to start the season. Lo and behold, Musgrove has become the king of quality starts, going at least six innings and allowing two or fewer earned runs in each of his 12 starts.

    For devil's advocate purposes, we'll note that he made two starts each against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Atlanta (early in the season when the Braves were struggling) and also had favorable matchups with Arizona, Colorado, Miami and the Cubs. But he also went a combined 15 scoreless innings with five hits allowed in road games against the Brewers and Giants, so he can blank good offenses too.

    7. Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays
    5-6, 3.21 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 7.3 K/BB

    For a guy with a 3.21 ERA, Gausman has had unfathomably bad luck this season.

    Both his walk rate (1.36 per 9 IP) and his home run rate (0.25 per 9 IP) are the best of his career by a country mile. Couple that with striking out 26 percent of batters faced and Gausman has a fielding independent pitching mark—more or less what his ERA should be with a normal amount of luck on balls in play—of 1.76. The next-closest qualified pitcher is Zack Wheeler at 2.33. But Gausman's opponents have a .369 batting average on balls in play, which is the highest mark in the majors and which leaves him with both an ERA and a record nowhere near indicative of how well he's pitching.

    Which will regress to the mean first/most: his walk and home run rates to his career norms or his BABIP to the league norm? If it's the latter, you're probably looking at the 2022 AL Cy Young winner.

Nos. 6-4: Gerrit Cole, Shane McClanahan and Sandy Alcantara

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 14: Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on June 14, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
    Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

    6. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
    6-1, 3.33 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 5.1 K/BB

    Three starts into this season, Cole had a 6.35 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP, including a five-walk disaster in 1.2 innings against the lowly Tigers. Sure seemed like something wasn't right.

    And yet, Cole is on pace for full-season numbers nearly identical to those that got him a second-place finish in last year's AL Cy Young vote.

    Even though he got shelled for five home runs in a recent start against the Twins, he has a 2.77 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP over his last 10 appearances, averaging 7.9 strikeouts per start and 11.5 per 9 IP during that stretch. He even got revenge on the Tigers, going seven scoreless innings with no walks.

    Were it not for those first three outings, Cole might be running away with the Cy Young.

    5. Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays
    7-3, 1.84 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 12.1 K/9, 7.0 K/BB

    This 25-year-old lefty isn't a household name, but he should be.

    McClanahan finished seventh in last year's AL ROY vote, making 25 starts with a 3.43 ERA and a 10.3 K/9—this despite being tasked with making three starts each against the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays.

    Turns out he was just getting warmed up, as McClanahan leads the majors in WHIP.

    In each of his last seven starts, he has gone at least six innings, struck out at least seven batters and allowed two or fewer earned runs. During that stretch—which includes two starts against the seemingly unbeatable Yankees—he has a 0.98 ERA, a 0.76 WHIP and an 11.3 K/9.

    And arguably the best part? He's so efficient that he has yet to eclipse 100 pitches in a start. Buy stock while you can.

    4. Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins
    6-2, 1.68 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 3.0 K/BB

    Alcantara feels like an ace from a bygone era, back before everyone started worrying so much about pitch counts.

    He led the majors in innings pitched prior to an eight-inning gem against the Mets on Sunday, and the 26-year-old Marlin has gone at least seven innings in eight consecutive starts, averaging 107.1 pitches per game. All told during that stretch, he has gone 63.2 innings and allowed seven earned runs for an ERA of 0.99.

    Factor in his three quality starts from back in April and he has made 11 appearances of at least six innings with two or fewer earned runs allowed—something he also accomplished 20 times in 2021.

Nos. 3-1: Zack Wheeler, Corbin Burnes and Max Scherzer

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 18:  Max Scherzer #21 of the New York Mets in action against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field on May 18, 2022 in New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 11-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    3. Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies
    6-3, 2.69 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 5.2 K/BB

    Much like Gerrit Cole, Wheeler got out to a brutal start to the season. His opener against the Mets was fine, but then he get shelled by both the Marlins and the Brewers and entered his final start of April with an 8.53 ERA.

    And much like Cole, he has been mostly masterful since then. Over his last nine starts, Wheeler has a 1.40 ERA and better than six strikeouts per walk, despite needing to navigate five straight games against the Dodgers, Padres, Braves, Mets and Angels.

    Business as usual for last year's Cy Young runner-up, who is aiming for a third consecutive season with a sub-3.00 ERA.

    2. Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers
    4-4, 2.52 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 5.9 K/BB

    By his absurd standards, Burnes is having a down year. Between 2020 and 2021, he had a 2.34 ERA with a 12.8 K/9 rate, allowing 0.36 home runs per 9 IP.

    But he's still having a ridiculously good season and is in the running to repeat as NL Cy Young winner.

    Burnes' 11.4 K/9 rate is down for him, but it's the best mark in the National League, as he has racked up 100 punchouts. Even though he has already allowed more home runs (10) than in the previous two seasons combined (nine), they have mostly been solo shots, keeping his ERA in great shape.

    In his only start against St. Louis, he went seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts to get the W. If he can repeat that feat Monday, it will put the Brewers back in sole possession of first place in the NL Central.

    1. Max Scherzer, New York Mets
    5-1, 2.54 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 5.4 K/BB

    He's on the IL with an oblique strain, but Scherzer isn't one of those "If he can stay healthy" types of pitchers who can't seem to fulfill his contractual duties. He has rarely missed any turns through the rotation over the previous decade, including the time in 2019 when he pitched seven scoreless innings with a broken nose and black eye.

    When he comes back from the IL in the next couple of weeks, we fully expect Mad Max to harness his dominant form again.

    Prior to the oblique injury, Scherzer made three solid starts against Philadelphia and was ruthless in his stifling of San Francisco, St. Louis and Seattle. It's a shame he missed the early June series against the Dodgers, but a showdown between MLB's highest-paid pitcher and MLB's top payroll has a good chance to transpire in the postseason.