Ranking the Top 25 Starting Pitchers of the 2022 MLB Season

Joel ReuterNovember 29, 2022

Ranking the Top 25 Starting Pitchers of the 2022 MLB Season

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    Justin Verlander
    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    It's time to put a bow on the 2022 MLB season with Bleacher Report's final positional rankings, and narrowing the league's crop of starting pitching talent down to just 25 names was no easy task.

    How much elite talent did we see on the mound this year? Enough that MLB strikeout leader Gerrit Cole had to settle for an honorable mention since his ERA (3.50) was higher and his WAR (2.4) was lower than anyone who did make our top 25.

    Just like the regular-season rankings, past production and future expectations played no part in deciding the order. This is simply a rundown of the best and brightest of 2022.

    To qualify for inclusion, a pitcher had to pitch at least 100 innings, and he had to have made more starts than relief appearances. That notably excluded Jacob deGrom (64.1 IP), Walker Buehler (65 IP) and Edward Cabrera (71.2 IP).

    Let's dive into the top 25 starting pitchers of the 2022 season.

    Catch up on the Top 25 in 2022 series: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops, Third Basemen, Outfielders

Honorable Mentions: Next 25

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    Luis Castillo
    Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

    Since there are far more starting pitchers than any other position in this rankings series, it made sense to add an honorable mention list of 25 guys to our Top 25 list. These players just missed the cut, listed alphabetically:

    Chris Bassitt, NYM
    Luis Castillo, CIN/SEA
    Gerrit Cole, NYY
    Johnny Cueto, CWS
    Kevin Gausman, TOR
    Logan Gilbert, SEA
    Merrill Kelly, ARI
    Clayton Kershaw, LAD
    George Kirby, SEA
    Miles Mikolas, STL
    Jordan Montgomery, NYY/STL
    José Quintana, PIT/STL
    Martín Pérez, TEX
    Drew Rasmussen, TB
    Robbie Ray, SEA
    Joe Ryan, MIN
    Patrick Sandoval, LAA
    Brady Singer, KC
    Blake Snell, SD
    Jeffrey Springs, TB
    Ross Stripling, TOR
    Adam Wainwright, STL
    Taijuan Walker, NYM
    Zack Wheeler, PHI
    Brandon Woodruff, MIL

Nos. 25-21

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    Kyle Wright
    David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    25. RHP Yu Darvish, San Diego Padres

    Darvish used his six-pitch repertoire to go 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 197 strikeouts in 194.2 innings. The 36-year-old made at least 30 starts for the fourth time in five years, and he helped the Padres punch their playoff ticket by going 5-1 with a 1.85 ERA in his final six outings.

    24. RHP Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves

    If MLB had a "Most Improved Player" award, there's a good chance it would have gone to Wright, who had a 6.56 ERA in 70 career innings in the majors entering the 2022 season. The 27-year-old finished 21-5 with a 3.19 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 174 strikeouts in 180.1 innings, stepping up alongside Max Fried and rookie Spencer Strider in the Atlanta rotation.

    23. RHP Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Guardians

    With a wiry 6'5", 165-pound frame, there were some legitimate questions about whether McKenzie could hold up under a full season's workload, but he answered them in decisive fashion this year. The 25-year-old logged a 2.96 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 190 strikeouts in 191.1 innings while finishing seventh in the majors with a .201 opponents' batting average.

    22. RHP Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres

    Musgrove followed up a terrific debut season in San Diego in 2021 with an equally impressive 2022 campaign, posting a 2.93 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with 184 strikeouts in 181 innings. Poised to be one of the top starting pitchers on this winter's free-agent market, he was instead locked up with a five-year, $100 million extension in late July.

    21. RHP Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Gonsolin went 16-1 with a 2.14 ERA and 0.88 WHIP to earn his first career All-Star selection, but he pitched just two innings after Aug. 23 and was knocked around in his lone postseason appearance. The 28-year-old ended up pitching just 130.1 innings—the lowest total of any pitcher who cracked our Top 25—and that's the biggest reason he doesn't rank higher.

Nos. 20-16

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    Nestor Cortes
    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    20. RHP Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians

    Bieber was once again a reliable front-of-the-rotation arm for a young Cleveland squad. The 2020 AL Cy Young winner reached 200 innings for the second time in his career, finishing 13-8 with a 2.88 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 198 strikeouts in an even 200 innings, and he threw a gem against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card Series.

    19. LHP Nestor Cortes, New York Yankees

    "Nasty Nestor" didn't exactly come out of nowhere considering he had a 3.61 ERA in 67.1 innings during the second half of the 2021 season, but his emergence as the best starter on the Yankees' staff was still a pleasant surprise. The crafty left-hander went 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 163 strikeouts in 158.1 innings and finished eighth in AL Cy Young balloting.

    18. RHP Max Scherzer, New York Mets

    A left oblique strain sidelined Scherzer for nearly two months during the first half of the season, and that's the only reason he doesn't rank higher on this list. When healthy, he was every bit the elite ace he's been in years past, going 11-5 with a 2.29 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 173 strikeouts in 145.1 innings in his first season with the Mets.

    17. RHP Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants

    The Giants' best homegrown starter since Madison Bumgarner, Webb built off his 2021 breakout with an even better 2022 season. The 26-year-old finished 15-9 with a 2.90 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 163 strikeouts in 192.1 innings, and his 56.7 percent ground-ball rate led all qualified NL starters.

    16. LHP Tyler Anderson, Los Angeles Dodgers

    One of the best bargain signings of last winter, Anderson joined the Dodgers on a one-year, $8 million deal to serve as back-of-the-rotation depth. The 32-year-old went 15-5 with a 2.57 ERA that ranked fifth among qualified NL starters and a 1.00 WHIP in 178.2 innings. He parlayed that performance into a three-year, $39 million deal from the Los Angeles Angels in free agency.

Nos. 15-11

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    Corbin Burnes
    John Fisher/Getty Images

    15. RHP Cristian Javier, Houston Astros

    Javier closed out the regular season riding a 25.1 scoreless inning streak, then threw gems against the Yankees (5.1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER) and Phillies (6.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER) in the playoffs, combining with three relievers on a no-hitter in Game 4 of the World Series. All told, the 25-year-old piled up 194 strikeouts in 148.2 innings with a 2.54 ERA and 0.95 WHIP during the regular season.

    14. RHP Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

    The reigning NL Cy Young winner didn't quite match his 2021 success, but he was still one of the most overpowering pitchers in baseball. Burnes led the NL with 243 strikeouts in 202 innings, posting a 2.94 ERA and 0.97 WHIP along the way to finish seventh in NL Cy Young voting. Will he be on the move this offseason?

    13. LHP Carlos Rodón, San Francisco Giants

    Rodón took another significant step toward alleviating concerns about his lengthy injury history in 2022 by tossing a career-high 178 innings. The left-hander finished 14-8 with a 2.88 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 237 strikeouts while leading the NL with a 2.25 FIP and 12.0 K/9 in 31 starts. He opted out of the final season of his two-year contract with the Giants and is poised to cash in with a long-term deal.

    12. RHP Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

    Nola was his usual workhorse self in 2022, chewing through 205 innings with a pair of complete games and a shutout in 32 starts. The 29-year-old had a 3.25 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and a terrific 235-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 6.0 WAR ranked fourth among all pitchers and was second only to Sandy Alcántara on the NL side of things.

    11. LHP Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays

    The AL starter in the All-Star Game, McClanahan went 10-3 with a 1.71 ERA in 18 starts during the first half of the season. The 25-year-old seemed to run out of gas a bit down the stretch, but he still finished 12-8 with a 2.54 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and a .194 opponents' batting average while tallying 194 strikeouts in 166.1 innings to finish sixth in AL Cy Young voting.

10. RHP Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves

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    PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 14: Spencer Strider #65 of the Atlanta Braves throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning in game three of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 14, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
    Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

    One of the most dominant rookie pitchers in MLB history, Spencer Strider is more than deserving of a place in the top 10 even with far fewer innings pitched than anyone else in that group.

    The 24-year-old flame-thrower finished 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 202 strikeouts in 131.2 innings spanning 20 starts and 11 relief appearances, as he didn't join the starting rotation until late May.

    He allowed just 86 hits for a .180 opponents' batting average, and his 131.2 innings were the fewest ever for a pitcher who had 200-plus strikeouts. The Braves wisely locked him up with a seven-year extension in October.

9. LHP Framber Valdez, Houston Astros

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    HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 29: Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros throws a pitch in the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Two of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 29, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
    Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

    Left-hander Framber Valdez led the majors with 29 quality starts in 2022, including 25 in a row at one point to break the previous MLB record of 24 set by Jacob deGrom during the 2018 season.

    It was easy to be overshadowed pitching behind AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander in the Houston Astros rotation, but Valdez was an elite starter in his own right, finishing 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 194 strikeouts while leading the AL in innings pitched (201.1), complete games (3) and shutouts (1).

    The 29-year-old added a 1.44 ERA in four postseason starts, including wins in Game 2 (6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 9 K) and Game 6 (6.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 9 K) of the World Series.

8. RHP Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 28: Zac Gallen #23 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on September 28, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
    Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

    Arguably the most underrated pitcher in baseball, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Zac Gallen went 8-2 with a 1.49 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 90.1 innings after the All-Star break to climb to fifth in NL Cy Young voting.

    All told, he went 12-4 with a 2.54 ERA in 184 innings, leading all qualified starters with a .186 opponents' batting average and pacing NL starters with a 0.91 WHIP and just 5.9 hits allowed per nine innings.

    The deal to acquire him from the Miami Marlins at the 2019 trade deadline in exchange for Jazz Chisholm Jr. has a chance to go down as a rare win-win that provided both sides with a franchise cornerstone.

7. LHP Max Fried, Atlanta Braves

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    ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 11: Max Fried #54 of the Atlanta Braves delivers a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning in game one of the National League Division Series at Truist Park on October 11, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Adam Hagy/Getty Images)
    Adam Hagy/Getty Images

    After a brilliant second half in 2021, Max Fried took another step forward this year to emerge as one of the game's true top-tier starters.

    The 28-year-old finished runner-up in NL Cy Young voting while anchoring the Atlanta Braves rotation, going 14-7 with a 2.48 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 170 strikeouts in a career-high 185.1 innings.

    Following an ugly Opening Day start (5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER), he allowed more than three earned runs just twice in his next 29 starts, and he joins Julio Urías and Framber Valdez as the only lefties to crack the top 10 in these rankings.

6. RHP Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

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    OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 05: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels pitches against the Oakland Athletics in the bottom of the fifth inning at RingCentral Coliseum on October 05, 2022 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    In terms of his work on the mound, the 2022 season was the best of two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani's MLB career by a landslide.

    The 2021 AL MVP went 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 219 strikeouts in 166 innings, tallying double-digit strikeouts 10 times in 28 starts. Over his final seven outings, he had a 1.00 ERA and .151 opponents' batting average in 45 innings as he steadily climbed the AL Cy Young rankings.

    He ultimately checked in fourth in the Cy Young balloting en route to a runner-up finish in AL MVP voting, and with free agency looming next offseason, it will be interesting to see what the next calendar year holds for the game's most unique star.

5. RHP Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays

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    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 30: Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher Alek Manoah (6) pitches during the regular season MLB game between the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays on September 30, 2022 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON. (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Alek Manoah pitched just 35 innings in the minors before making his MLB debut on May 27, 2021, and it hasn't taken him long to climb to the top of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation.

    The burly 6'6", 260-pound right-hander built off a strong rookie season by going 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 180 strikeouts in 196.2 innings, good for a third-place finish in AL Cy Young voting.

    He does a great job limiting hard contact, ranking in the 92nd percentile with a hard-hit rate of 31.5 percent, and he also quietly trimmed his walk rate from 8.7 to 6.5 percent. Those are the types of adjustments good pitchers make to become great.

4. RHP Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 16: Dylan Cease #84 of the Chicago White Sox delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 16, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Right-hander Dylan Cease was one of the few bright spots in a wildly disappointing season for the Chicago White Sox. He built off his strong 2021 season to emerge as a bona fide ace and one of the best young pitchers in the game.

    After posting a 3.91 ERA with 226 strikeouts in 165.2 innings for an AL-leading 12.3 K/9 in 2021, Cease found more consistency this season, finishing 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 227 strikeouts in 184 innings to finish second to Justin Verlander in AL Cy Young voting.

    His command can still be spotty at times, and he led the majors with 78 walks, but his ability to miss bats and his stingy .190 opponents' batting average more than offset those free passes.

3. LHP Julio Urías, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Los Angeles, CA - October 11: Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urias (7) delivers a pitch during the first inning of game one of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
    Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

    There's a strong case to be made that Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías was the best pitcher in baseball after the All-Star break, going 9-1 with an MLB-best 1.26 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 13 starts.

    That strong finish propelled him to the NL ERA title (2.16), and he finished 17-7 with a 0.96 WHIP and 166 strikeouts in 175 innings over 31 starts, marking the second year in a row he's started at least 30 games.

    With Clayton Kershaw (22 GS) and Walker Buehler (12 GS) both missing significant time, he was as important to his team's success as any pitcher on this list, and extending him figures to be a top priority for the Dodgers with free agency fast approaching after the 2023 season.

2. RHP Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

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    HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 28: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park on August 28, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Already a sure-fire Hall of Famer whenever he decides to hang up his spikes, Justin Verlander further added to his legacy by returning from a missed 2021 season with perhaps the greatest post-Tommy John surgery season we've ever seen.

    The 39-year-old shook off the rust of pitching six total innings in 2020 and 2021 combined to finish 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 175 innings, winning his third career AL Cy Young award unanimously.

    He declined his end of a $25 million mutual option for the 2023 season, and now he's poised to sign a short-term, high-AAV deal similar to the one that Max Scherzer signed with the New York Mets last offseason.

1. RHP Sandy Alcántara, Miami Marlins

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    PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JUNE 13: Sandy Alcantara #22 of the Miami Marlins pitches during the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 13, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
    Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

    Sandy Alcántara was something of an old-school workhorse for the Miami Marlins in 2022, leading the majors in innings pitched (228.2) and complete games (6) while going 14-9 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 207 strikeouts.

    While he has a higher ERA than Justin Verlander, the fact that he pitched 53.2 more innings and still had elite numbers across the board is enough for him to claim the No. 1 spot in these rankings.

    The unanimous NL Cy Young winner also led all pitchers with 8.0 WAR, a mark surpassed by only Aaron Judge (10.6) and Shohei Ohtani (9.6) among all players. The Marlins were 19-13 (.594) in games that he started, compared to 50-80 (.385) when anyone else took the ball, further proving his value to the team.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.