Ace Rankings for Every MLB Team's Best Starting Pitcher

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVAugust 24, 2022

Ace Rankings for Every MLB Team's Best Starting Pitcher

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    Houston's Justin Verlander (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Which MLB team's ace is the best ace of all the aces?

    We've ranked each ace from No. 30 to No. 1 in an exercise that will both start and finish in the NL East.

    We did these same ace rankings a little over two months ago, and, well, things have changed. An update was needed.

    For starters, 10 percent of those late-June aces were traded, so we needed to find new aces for Cincinnati, Oakland and Pittsburgh. We also made changes to Arizona, Kansas City and Washington, as either the previously designated ace has been dreadful, the new one has been excellent or a combination of both.

    In addition to the six changes, some aces have fared much better than others as of late. In particular, Justin Verlander and Dylan Cease have been awesome, while Joe Musgrove, Gerrit Cole and Nathan Eovaldi have taken steps backward.

    Once the 30 aces were chosen, their ranking was based on a combination of dominance in 2022 and past track record, with current-season success taking precedence over previous accolades.

Nos. 30-28: Josiah Gray, Hunter Greene and Kyle Freeland

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    Hunter Greene (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

    30. Josiah Gray, Washington Nationals
    7-8, 4.67 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, 2.6 K/BB

    Gray desperately needs to get the home runs under control. He has already allowed an MLB-worst 32 four-baggers and is on pace for the worst such season since Bronson Arroyo gave up 46 in 2011. The sad thing is his home run rate (2.34 per 9 IP) is actually a little better than it was last year (2.42). And if it weren't for Dylan Cease's walk rate (3.91 per 9 IP), Gray (3.87) would also rank dead last among qualified pitchers in that category.

    But he does have an impressive strikeout rate, has made eight quality starts this season and is not pitching anywhere near as horribly as Patrick Corbin. That's good enough for this 24-year-old to be labeled as Washington's ace.

    29. Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds
    4-12, 5.26 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 3.1 K/BB

    Give Gray a 4.5 mph boost to the average velocity on his fastball and you've got Hunter Greene. And with Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle now pitching elsewhere, this flamethrowing, too-many-home-run-allowing 23-year-old is the brightest star in Cincinnati's rotation.

    It's worth noting, however, that Greene's full-season stats are bloated by a rough first month in the majors. Over his last 15 starts, he has a 4.39 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and has allowed a total of 13 home runs. And in his most recent start before landing on the IL, he went six innings, allowed one hit and struck out eight. Sure feels like he could be a top-15 ace by next season.

    28. Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies
    7-8, 4.93 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 2.3 K/BB

    Freeland was a few spots higher on this list two months ago, but he has a 5.96 ERA since the end of June.

    Granted, the schedule has been less than forgiving. Three of his last 10 starts were against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also had to navigate two starts against the St. Louis Cardinals and two against the San Diego Padres. And his walk rate and home run rate are lower than they had been in each of the past three seasons.

    Still, "good for Colorado" doesn't necessarily mean good.

Nos. 27-25: JT Brubaker, Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin

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    Cole Irvin (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

    27. JT Brubaker, Pittsburgh Pirates
    3-10, 4.19 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2.7 K/BB

    With Jose Quintana now in St. Louis, Pittsburgh's pitching rotation has gone from not great to downright bleak. All five remaining starters entered play Monday with both an ERA north of 4.00 and a WHIP north of 1.40.

    At least Brubaker gets strikeouts, though. And at least his ERA is 3.78 since the end of April (compared to 6.20 in his first five appearances). In five of his last 15 starts, he went at least five innings without allowing an earned run. That includes a seven-inning gem against the Boston Red Sox this past Thursday.

    26. Tyler Wells, Baltimore Orioles
    7-6, 3.90 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.0 K/BB

    From mid-April through mid-July, Wells had a streak of 17 consecutive starts in which he allowed three runs or fewer.

    That impressive run has since come to an end, he has been on the IL for a few weeks with an oblique strain, and it's worth noting he did not pitch into the seventh inning in any of those 17 starts. Still, hard to argue with a guy who gives you a 3.01 ERA while starting pretty much every fifth game for three full months. Wells should be a staple in this ace-less rotation for the next few years.

    25. Cole Irvin, Oakland A's
    6-11, 3.33 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 3.4 K/BB

    When Frankie Montas was traded to New York, it became a tossup between Irvin and 2022 All-Star Paul Blackburn for ace of this staff. But Blackburn has a 7.94 ERA in his last eight starts and is out for the rest of the year with a finger injury, so it sure looks like Irvin is the guy.

    The lefty doesn't strike out many opposing hitters, but he is durable (10 straight starts with at least 6.0 IP) and has solid marks in the ERA and WHIP departments. Irvin is more or less quietly matching the production of Jordan Montgomery, who has been a plus middle-of-the-rotation starter for the New York Yankees and Cardinals this season.

Nos. 24-22: Nathan Eovaldi, Marcus Stroman and Tarik Skubal

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    Marcus Stroman (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

    24. Nathan Eovaldi, Boston Red Sox
    5-3, 4.15 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 5.3 K/BB

    Is Eovaldi even Boston's ace at this point? Got to believe the Red Sox would want Michael Wacha (2.28 ERA) on the mound for Game 1 if they happen to claw back and make the playoffs. Eovaldi was also scratched from his most recent start with neck and shoulder soreness. But he nearly won the AL Cy Young last year, while Wacha had a 5.39 ERA between 2020 and 2021, so let's keep the status quo for now.

    Besides, Eovaldi has been more than fine with the exception of two nightmare starts against Houston and Toronto, in which he allowed a combined 15 earned runs in 4.1 innings. Take out those two duds and you're looking at 16 starts with a 2.93 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and just a shade under one strikeout per inning. But, you know, those two duds still count, so he barely cracks the top 25.

    23. Marcus Stroman, Chicago Cubs
    3-5, 3.83 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 3.3 K/BB

    Speaking of former Cy Young candidates who have looked pretty good if you throw away two starts, Stroman has been a stud aside from giving up seven earned runs to Tampa Bay in mid-April and nine earned runs to St. Louis in early June. Remove those poor outings from the ledger, and he's got a 2.48 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.

    Since that disaster against the Cardinals (and the subsequent month on the IL with shoulder inflammation), Stroman has made eight starts with a 2.23 ERA. And on Saturday, he pitched into the eighth inning for the first time since last July.

    It has been a rough season for the Cubs, but at least the guy who is being paid to be their ace both this season and next has turned a corner.

    22. Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers
    7-8, 3.52 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.7 K/BB

    Skubal is out for the rest of the year following surgery to repair a flexor tendon in his pitching elbow, but at least he gave the Tigers some cause for excitement before he hit the shelf. In nine of his 21 starts, Skubal went at least five innings without allowing an earned run, including ending his season with a streak of 18.2 scoreless innings.

    In 2021, Skubal allowed 35 home runs and had a 4.34 ERA—with a 5.09 FIP that suggested things should have been even worse. But now that his long balls allowed rate has been slashed by two-thirds, he had a 2.96 FIP in 2022.

Nos. 21-19: Sonny Gray, Brady Singer and Adam Wainwright

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    Adam Wainwright (Icon Sportswire)

    21. Sonny Gray, Minnesota Twins
    7-4, 3.10 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.4 K/BB

    Minnesota had a two-game lead over Cleveland at the All-Star break but is now looking up at the Guardians in the AL Central standings.

    But don't blame Gray, who has a 1.93 ERA and a K/9 rate north of 10 in his six starts thus far in the second half of the season. He went five scoreless innings with one hit allowed against the Blue Jays on August 4...and then the bullpen imploded for a 9-3 loss. He's doing all he can to carry this team across the finish line and into the postseason.

    20. Brady Singer, Kansas City Royals
    6-4, 3.27 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 3.9 K/BB

    Last time through this exercise, Singer and Brad Keller had very similar marks, but we went with the latter as Kansas City's ace. Since then, though, Singer has a 2.52 ERA in 10 starts, while Keller has posted a horrific 11.42 ERA in August. Not much of a debate anymore.

    Better yet, Singer made two starts against the Yankees and Dodgers during that time, putting together a combined line of 13.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 BB and 17 K. Seven of his last eight starts have been of the "quality" variety. Had he done better than a 4.91 ERA and 1.55 WHIP last season—or were he playing for a team on pace for better than 65 wins—Singer would be getting a lot more attention for what has been a strong individual campaign.

    19. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
    9-8, 3.11 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 3.2 K/BB

    "Waino" turns 41 later this month, but he just refuses to show his age.

    He has made 14 quality starts this season, including a pair of nine-inning performances in the past seven weeks—both of which the Cardinals offense completely squandered in losing efforts. Only four pitchers (Sandy Alcantara, Logan Webb, Aaron Nola and teammate Miles Mikolas) have logged more innings in 2022 than Wainwright's 150.1. He's now over 2,500 for his career with a 3.34 ERA, which puts him on par with the likes of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Félix Hernández in recent pitching lore.

    Wainwright started the Cards' wild-card game against the Dodgers last season and figures to be on the bump for Game 1 against the NL's No. 6 seed, assuming they hang on to win the NL Central.

Nos. 18-16: Merrill Kelly, Martín Pérez and Joe Musgrove

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    Martin Perez (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

    18. Merrill Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks
    10-5, 2.87 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.7 K/BB

    Not many pitchers have been better than Kelly since the beginning of July. He has a 1.90 ERA and 0.95 WHIP over the course of his past 10 starts and has arguably pulled ahead of Zac Gallen for the title of D-backs ace. (Had we gone with Gallen instead, he still would have landed here, so don't fret too much over that judgment call.)

    At any rate, the San Francisco Giants sure are tired of facing this righty. Kelly was on the mound against them on July 6, July 11, July 25 and Aug. 16 with a combined line of 28.1 IP, 14 H, 4 ER, 7 BB and 24 K.

    17. Martín Pérez, Texas Rangers
    9-4, 2.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.7 K/BB

    For some strange reason, the second start of each month has been an adventure for Perez, as he's allowed a combined 28 runs (23 earned) in those five outings.

    In his other 19 starts, though, he has looked like a Cy Young front-runner, posting a 1.70 ERA while making 16 quality starts.

    The Rangers opted to hang on to their ace instead of moving him at the trade deadline, hopeful that they can re-sign the impending free agent this offseason. It will be interesting to see what type of salary he commands following this out-of-nowhere season of dominance.

    16. Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres
    8-6, 2.91 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 4.9 K/BB

    Musgrove ranked in our top 10 two months ago. At the time, he was 12-for-12 in quality starts with a 1.59 ERA.

    Since then, he has been much less consistent, posting a 4.65 ERA in his last 10 starts. And while pitching wins might be the dumbest stat in baseball, it's somewhat telling that Musgrove was 8-0 through his first 12 starts but 0-6 since.

    Overall, however, his numbers are solid—especially that K/BB ratio. He'll be worth every penny of the five-year, $100 million extension he signed earlier this month if he keeps giving San Diego something in the vicinity of a 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 5.0 K/9.

Nos. 15-13: Shane Bieber, Luis Castillo and Tony Gonsolin

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    Shane Bieber (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

    15. Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians
    8-7, 3.10 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 4.5 K/BB

    Bieber's strikeout rate has plummeted from 14.2 K/9 when he won the 2020 AL Cy Young to 12.5 last year to 8.9 this season. The average velocity on his four-seam fastball has also dipped substantially, from 94.3 mph two years ago to 91.4 mph now.

    And yet, he's still a strong season with 17 quality starts.

    His 24-year-old teammate Triston McKenzie (3.11 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.8 K/9) is champing at the bit to take the throne as Cleveland's ace, but Bieber is still the king of this rotation.

    14. Luis Castillo, Seattle Mariners
    5-5, 2.93 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.4 K/BB

    Castillo missed the first month of the season with a shoulder injury and was just OK through his first nine starts with a 3.71 ERA. Prior to a mediocre outing against Oakland on Sunday, though, Castillo had made eight consecutive quality starts—five for Cincinnati, three for Seattle—with a 1.81 ERA and a 10.7 K/9.

    The Yankees haven't been the same team over the past two months that they were early in the year, but it's still impressive that he mowed them down three times in less than a month.

    13. Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers
    15-1, 2.12 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 3.4 K/BB

    Even with Walker Buehler out for the year and Clayton Kershaw currently on the IL, the Dodgers still have four pitchers with at least eight games started, a sub-2.75 ERA and a sub-1.05 WHIP. They also just got Dustin May back from Tommy John surgery.

    Choosing an ace from this staff is like trying to pick the best candy bar from the Reese's, Snickers, Kit Kat, Twix and Milky Way row of the vending machine.

    We're going with Gonsolin, who is leading the majors with an 0.86 WHIP and who now has a 2.51 ERA in his four-year career. It's kind of funny that he's 15-1 with that lone loss coming at home against the woeful Nationals, but he just keeps putting this great Dodgers offense in a position to win games, allowing two or fewer runs in 18 of his 22 starts.

Nos. 12-10: Carlos Rodon, Gerrit Cole and Shohei Ohtani

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    Shohei Ohtani (Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    12. Carlos Rodon, San Francisco Giants
    11-6, 2.89 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 11.5 K/9, 4.4 K/BB

    Rodon hit a speed bump coming out of the All-Star Break, allowing five earned runs in back-to-back starts against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. But he has gotten back on track with four total runs allowed in his last four appearances.

    The most impressive part of that recent stretch? He threw 31 strikeouts against only two walks. It's hard to believe this is the same guy who averaged 3.9 walks per 9 IP through the first six seasons of his MLB career, as he has gotten stingy with the free passes over the past two years.

    It still seems likely that Rodon will decline his $22.5 million player option for next season. Unless he crashes and burns (or gets injured) over these final six weeks of the regular season, he's likely headed for a nine-figure contract.

    11. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
    10-8, 2.83 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 12.4 K/9, 5.2 K/BB

    Because of the Angels' six-man rotation and because he rarely pitches into the seventh inning of games, it's still unclear whether Ohtani will qualify for end-of-season leaderboards.

    If he does, Ohtani is on track for one of the best single-season K/9 rates in MLB history. But even if he falls short of that innings threshold, he's having a sensational season on the mound.

    From June 9 through August 15, he made 11 starts with a 1.81 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and a 12.9 K/9. Of the 14 earned runs allowed during that stretch, six came in one disastrous seventh inning of a start against Atlanta. Had the Angels pulled him before that meltdown, his ERA for those 11 starts would have been 1.04.

    10. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
    9-6, 3.41 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 5.1 K/BB

    Cole has gone at least six innings in 21 of his last 22 starts, which has allowed him to hang onto the top spot in the majors in total strikeouts (189). Corbin Burnes, Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon aren't far behind him in that category, though.

    Cole almost dropped out of our top 10 because of his 3.41 ERA, which ranks worst among the aces in our top 20. Cole had it down under 3.00 in early July, but he has allowed at least four earned runs in four of his last nine starts and has now gone more than a month since his last win.

    The Yankees need him to shape up as they try to fend off both the Blue Jays and the Rays in the AL East.

Nos. 9-7: Dylan Cease, Kevin Gausman and Max Fried

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    Dylan Cease (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    9. Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox
    12-5, 2.09 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 12.0 K/9, 3.1 K/BB

    Cease's outrageous streak of consecutive starts with either zero or one earned run allowed came to an end at 14 last week against the Astros. During that run of two-and-a-half months, he had a 0.66 ERA, striking out 103 batters in 82 innings of work.

    The only thing holding Cease back from vaulting into the top five is his walks. To his credit, he has now gone 13 consecutive starts without walking four or more batters, but he's still leading the majors with 58 walks.

    Then again, Nolan Ryan led the majors in walks seven times in his career, and he turned out just fine.

    8. Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays
    9-9, 2.99 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 6.8 K/BB

    There's still some question as to whether Gausman or Alek Manoah (2.66 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) is Toronto's ace. But Gausman is the one on the five-year, $110 million deal, and he has gone at least six scoreless innings in three of his last four starts—each of them on the road against a playoff contender (Rays, Twins and Yankees)—to get his ERA back below 3.00 for the year.

    Gausman also leads the AL in K/BB after he threw 41 strikeouts against zero walks in his first five starts of this season. Even if you remove those five starts, he has a 4.9 K/BB ratio since then. He rarely allowing free passes or home runs (seven in 23 starts).

    Manoah has been excellent, but that's good enough for Gausman to maintain his ace status.

    7. Max Fried, Atlanta Braves
    11-4, 2.60 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 5.3 K/BB

    Since posting a 5.73 ERA in his first two starts of the season—against Cincinnati and Washington, no less—Fried has a 2.34 ERA and has recorded a quality start in 18 of his last 21 appearances.

    The two-time reigning Gold Glove winner has been like a metronome over the past three seasons. In each of 2020, 2021 and 2022, he had an ERA in the 2.25-3.04 range, a WHIP in the 1.05-1.09 range and a K/9 in the 8.0-8.6 range.

    He's much less of a "Did you see how dominant Fried was last night?" pitcher and more of a "Have you noticed how great Fried has been all year long?" pitcher. If Sandy Alcantara weren't running away with it, Fried would be a top candidate for NL Cy Young.

Nos. 6-4: Zack Wheeler, Corbin Burnes and Shane McClanahan

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    Shane McClanahan (Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    6. Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies
    11-7, 3.07 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 4.5 K/BB

    Even after getting roughed up a bit in back-to-back starts against the Mets (10 ER in 11.1 IP), Wheeler is still having an excellent season. In the 18 starts prior to those two, he had a 1.97 ERA and went at least seven innings on eight separate occasions.

    But what else is new? Wheeler almost won the Cy Young last year with a 2.78 ERA while leading the NL in both innings pitched and strikeouts. He also had a 2.92 ERA in 2020 and has been one of the most valuable pitchers in all of MLB over the past three years.

    5. Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers
    9-5, 2.48 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 4.7 K/BB

    When Burnes won the NL Cy Young in 2021, hes had a 2.43 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. Those are virtually identical to the numbers he has put up through 24 starts this season.

    His strikeout rate (12.6 per 9 IP) was a little bit higher last year, but he is putting forth one heck of a defense of his title despite already allowing more than twice as many home runs (16) as he did last year (seven).

    If the Brewers end up facing the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card Round, having Burnes at their disposal will be quite the advantage. In three starts this season against St. Louis, he has gone 21 innings with 27 strikeouts and only one run allowed. He pitches well against everyone, but especially the Cardinals.

    4. Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays
    11-5, 2.29 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 6.0 K/BB

    From May 11 through July 26, McClanahan put together a streak of 13 consecutive quality starts. He allowed four or fewer hits in 11 of them, and he had at least six strikeouts in all 13. All told, he had a 1.27 ERA, a 0.69 WHIP, an 11.3 K/9 and a 9.7 K/BB over the course of nearly half the season.

    McClanahan has since come back to earth a bit with a 4.94 ERA and barely a 2.0 K/BB ratio over his last four starts. Still, this economical lefty (he has yet to eclipse 100 pitches in a start) is having an outstanding sophomore campaign.

    If Justin Verlander ever gives an inch, McClanahan could join David Price and Blake Snell on the list of Rays to win the AL Cy Young.

Nos. 3-1: Sandy Alcantara, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer

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    Max Scherzer (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    3. Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins
    11-6, 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 3.6 K/BB

    Had Alcantara mowed down the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon, we probably would have put him at No. 1. After all, he's almost certainly going to win the NL Cy Young award, as he entered that game with a 1.92 ERA and is still more than a full win above replacement ahead of the field, according to Baseball Reference.

    He instead had his worst outing of the season by far. After averaging an astounding 7.2 IP over his previous 18 starts, he lasted only 3.2 innings in Los Angeles while allowing 10 hits and six earned runs.

    Even after that dud, though, look at those numbers. Alcantara is well on his way to joining Greg Maddux (three times), Pedro Martinez (three times), Clayton Kershaw (twice), Jacob deGrom, Félix Hernández, Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta and Kevin Brown as the only players in the past three decades to log at least 200 innings with an ERA of 2.20 or lower and a WHIP of 1.00 or lower.

    2. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
    15-3, 1.95 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 5.5 K/BB

    In a June 18 loss to the White Sox, Verlander got lit up for nine hits and seven runs (four earned). It was his second disappointing outing in the span of five starts, causing his ERA to climb to 2.30.

    Since then, Verlander has reeled off nine consecutive quality starts with a 1.48 ERA.

    As of Tuesday morning, Verlander was leading all qualified pitchers in both wins and ERA and was trailing only Tony Gonsolin and Shane McClanahan in WHIP. So long as he continues to pitch respectably the rest of the way, he's going to win his third AL Cy Young Award.

    1. Max Scherzer, New York Mets
    9-3, 2.33 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 6.5 K/BB

    For as great as Alcantara has been this season, let's be real: The only reason why Scherzer isn't running away with the NL Cy Young is because he missed nearly seven weeks with an oblique strain.

    In nearly 40 percent of his starts this season, Mad Max has gone at least seven innings while allowing either zero or one run. While some guys might puff up their stats against basement dwellers, those seven high-quality starts by Scherzer came against Atlanta (twice), Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and the Yankees.

    In his first eight starts back from the injury, he made eight consecutive quality starts with a 1.36 ERA. There's a reason why the Mets are paying him more than $43 million per year.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics are current through the start of play Tuesday, August 23.


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