MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Final Top 80 Starting Pitchers of 2017

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 18, 2017

MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Final Top 80 Starting Pitchers of 2017

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    After completing its tour around the infield at third base, Bleacher Report's final positional power rankings for the 2017 Major League Baseball season now heads to the mound to check in with the top starting pitchers.

    It was something of a lean year for starters, as they were hit hard by the home run surge and finished with their worst ERA since 2009. But while only half got full write-ups, there are still 80 hurlers worth discussing.

    Here are the ground rules:

    • It took a minimum of 15 starts to qualify for inclusion.
    • Pitchers were ranked on the quantity and quality of their work.
    • Talents like control and command, bat-missing ability and contact management fell under the "quality" umbrella.
    • With starter innings in shorter supply than ever in the 30-team era (since 1998), "quantity" was of no small importance.

    The rankings were a simple judgment call. Baseball Reference's version of wins above replacement was useful in this respect but was treated more as a guideline than the word of the baseball gods. 

    Lastly, this was neither a far-reaching retrospective nor a gaze into the future. Only what happened in 2017 counted.

A Few Statistics to Know

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    In the year 2017, it's ill-advised and arguably irresponsible to talk about players in detail without using statistics to contextualize their talents and shortcomings.

    So, be warned: There are indeed statistics in these rankings.

    Many stats will simply be alluded to via links that go to relevant data at Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball SavantBrooks Baseball and Baseball Prospectus. But a few to know are...


    Wins Above Replacement (WAR): Baseball Reference's WAR for pitchers is centered around innings pitched and runs allowed. It's a simple yet practical starting point for assessing pitchers' quality.

    Adjusted Earned Run Average (ERA+): This stat adjusts a pitcher's ERA for league and ballpark factors and puts it on a scale where 100 is average. The further over 100 a pitcher goes, the better.

    On-Base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+): This does the same thing for OPS allowed that ERA+ does for ERA. In the case of pitchers, it shows how well they suppressed hitting relative to their peers. The further below 100 their number is, the better.

    Plate Discipline: Things like Zone% (percentage of pitches in the strike zone), Contact% (percentage of swings that made contact) and assorted swing rates allow for a snapshot of how pitchers attacked hitters and bent them to their will. These figures are available at FanGraphs.

    Batted Ball Types: FanGraphs has rates for ground balls (GB%), line drives (LD%), fly balls (FB%) and pop-ups (IFFB%). Generally speaking, high GB% and IFFB% rates are good, while high FB% rates are bad.

    Contact Quality: FanGraphs also breaks the quality of contact off pitchers into three categories: Soft%, Medium% and Hard%. High Soft% and low Hard% rates are best.

    Exit Velocity (EV): A Statcast specialty that measures the speed of the ball off hitters' bats. It's another way to gauge how well pitchers suppress loud contact. The MLB average in 2017 was 86.6 miles per hour.

80-71: Boyd-Garcia

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    80. Matt Boyd, Detroit Tigers

    26 G, 135 IP, 7.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 116 OPS+, 5.27 ERA, 87 ERA+, 1.3 WAR

    Matt Boyd's ERA looks ugly, but he got no help from teammates who were terrible at securing strikes and fielding balls in play. Boyd himself showed a talent for living on the edges and at inducing soft contact. He deserved a kinder fate.


    79. Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates

    25 G, 133.2 IP, 8.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 111 OPS+, 4.44 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.4 WAR

    The fact that Jameson Taillon is even listed here following a year in which he lost time to testicular cancer is a feat unto itself. When on the mound, he only had one bad stretch in July and August. Otherwise, his blazing fastball and sharp curveball were good for collecting strikeouts and suppressing hard contact.


    78. Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants

    25 G, 147.1 IP, 8.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 120 OPS+, 4.52 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.8 WAR

    Johnny Cueto's season was marred by injuries and the downfall of his changeup, which got knocked around at a rate not seen since his rookie year in 2008. He was generally good for six innings when he did pitch, however, and the San Francisco Giants' awful defense does share some blame for his struggles.


    77. Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox

    33 G, 203.1 IP, 8.0 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.7 HR/9, 113 OPS+, 4.65 ERA, 98 ERA+, -0.2 WAR

    All the bad breaks that Rick Porcello avoided in his American League Cy Young-winning 2016 found him in 2017, as both his HR/9 and average on balls in play skyrocketed. But he at least kept his exit velocity static and was one of just 15 pitchers to top 200 innings.


    76. Lance McCullers, Houston Astros

    22 G, 118.2 IP, 10.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9, 95 OPS+, 4.25 ERA, 93 ERA+, 0.9 WAR

    Health and consistency once again got between Lance McCullers and stardom, but he continued to tease how big a star he could be. With elite spin and velocity (especially on his curveball) working for him, he was tough to make contact against and to square up for good contact.

    75. Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles Dodgers

    29 G, 134.1 IP, 9.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9, 91 OPS+, 4.22 ERA, 99 ERA+0.5 WAR

    Between an efficient defense, great catching and a manager in Dave Roberts who generally only asked for five innings, Kenta Maeda lived a charmed life in 2017. But despite the homers he gave up, his strikeout and walk rates and 85.0 mph exit velocity are evidence of how much he baffled hitters with command and movement.

    74. Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox

    25 G, 137.1 IP, 9.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 91 OPS+, 4.19 ERA, 109 ERA+, 1.8 WAR

    Eduardo Rodriguez had trouble lasting longer than five or six innings, but his high strikeout rate is one reason why they were mostly good frames. His fastball-changeup-slider combo has always had promise. He was simply better at making those pitches work together for the sake of evading contact.


    73. Sean Manaea, Oakland Athletics

    29 G, 158.2 IP, 7.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 107 OPS+, 4.37 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.7 WAR

    Not many of Sean Manaea's numbers jump off the page, and there's an argument that he was fortunate throughout 2017. Hitters did well when they made contact off him, averaging 88.9 mph in exit velocity. But since making contact was the hard part, he didn't come by his innings by accident.


    72. Chad Kuhl, Pittsburgh Pirates

    31 G, 157.1 IP, 8.1 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 112 OPS+, 4.35 ERA, 99 ERA+, 1.6 WAR

    Chad Kuhl didn't do himself any favors with all those free passes, but his wildness is also one of several things that made him an uncomfortable at-bat. His fastball and slider were among the hardest in the game. Hitters had a tough time hitting them to their pull side, where power is most prevalent.


    71. Jaime Garcia, New York Yankees

    27 G, 157 IP, 7.4 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 103 OPS+, 4.41 ERA, 99 ERA+, 1.4 WAR

    By his standards, any year in which Jaime Garcia can stay healthy is a good year. While he was hardly a model of consistency in 2017, he once again featured a movement-rich arsenal headlined by his sinker. That earned him an elite 54.8 GB% that helped keep him mostly effective.

70-61: Hamels-Gausman

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    70. Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers

    24 G, 148 IP, 6.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 80 OPS+, 4.20 ERA, 112 ERA+, 2.8 WAR

    That's a good lookin' WAR, but it masks how Cole Hamels had to dodge a low strikeout rate and high hard-hit rate in 2017. His stuff is no longer what it once was. His trusty changeup isn't totally diminished, however, as it continued to help him get through life with whiffs and ground balls.

    69. German Marquez, Colorado Rockies

    29 G, 162 IP, 8.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 101 OPS+, 4.39 ERA, 114 ERA+, 3.1 WAR

    German Marquez spent more time in the strike zone than any qualified pitcher in 2017. He only used a fastball and a curveball to do it, but that's plenty when said fastball is a mid-90s thunderbolt and said curveball is a hammer. Now all he needs to do is learn how to suppress hard contact.

    68. Clayton Richard, San Diego Padres

    32 G, 197.1 IP, 6.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 130 OPS+, 4.79 ERA, 86 ERA+, 0.4 WAR

    Clayton Richard's first full season since 2012 was a chance for him to showcase his revamped arm slot. It's lower than it used to be, and a big benefit is even more sink on a sinker that already had plenty. He posted an elite 59.2 GB% and was a reliable, if somewhat volatile, workhorse.


    67. Martin Perez, Texas Rangers

    32 G, 185 IP, 5.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 110 OPS+, 4.82 ERA, 97 ERA+, 2.0 WAR

    Martin Perez is a five-pitch pitcher whose arsenal features plenty of movement but no real out pitch, so he pulls off the tough task of doing neither strikeouts nor walks well. But even though it's past its peak, he maintained a high enough GB% in 2017 to largely bypass the homer barrage and eat innings.


    66. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees

    30 G, 178.1 IP, 9.8 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.8 HR/9, 99 OPS+, 4.74 ERA, 96 ERA+, 1.1 WAR

    Homers went from a small nuisance to a full-blown crisis for Masahiro Tanaka in 2017. But by maintaining his strong control despite throwing more sliders and splitters than fastballs, he drew more swings outside the zone than anyone. That kept his K/9 and BB/9 rates strong while also keeping hard contact at bay.


    65. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves

    32 G, 188.1 IP, 7.2 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9, 107 OPS+, 4.49 ERA, 95 ERA+, 1.6 WAR

    Julio Teheran lost it in 2015, found it in 2016 and lost it again in 2017. That had something to do with his being a fly-ball pitcher at a bad time and place for fly-ball pitchers. But he at least kept the innings coming, and the quality of contact against him was actually worse than it had been in 2016.


    64. Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs

    32 G, 180.2 IP, 9.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 98 OPS+, 4.33 ERA, 100 ERA+, 0.8 WAR

    One way to tell that Jon Lester was missing David Ross in 2017 is his rate of called strikes on the edges, which declined from 53.9 percent to 47.7 percent. It also didn't help that he lost velocity. But in collecting strikeouts and soft contact, he wasn't as meager as his results would suggest.


    63. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

    17 G, 111 IP, 8.2 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 89 OPS+, 3.32 ERA, 127 ERA+, 3.0 WAR

    Madison Bumgarner's ill-gotten shoulder injury nixed half his season and ultimately hurt his velocity. Unsurprisingly, a K/9 rate that had been riding high cratered. But by keeping his superb command and introducing more movement via his cutter, the half of the year in which he did pitch was quite good.


    62. Tanner Roark, Washington Nationals

    32 G, 181.1 IP, 8.2 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 92 OPS+, 4.67 ERA, 94 ERA+, 1.2 WAR

    Tanner Roark has been on a weird roller coaster over the last four seasons, but he didn't take as much of a nosedive in 2017 as his numbers suggest. Although he grooved a few too many fastballs, he spent a lot of time on the edges and continued to avoid hard contact.


    61. Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles

    34 G, 186.2 IP, 8.6 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 116 OPS+, 4.68 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.9 WAR

    After getting off to a terrible start, Kevin Gausman recovered with a 3.39 ERA over his final 19 outings. Shifting his position on the rubber and featuring his excellent splitter more often were the driving forces, boosting his strikeout rate and inviting more soft contact. Not a bad way to save face.

60-51: Montgomery-Peacock

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    60. Jordan Montgomery, New York Yankees

    29 G, 155.1 IP, 8.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 79 OPS+, 3.88 ERA, 117 ERA+, 3.0 WAR

    Jordan Montgomery might not have a plus pitch, but 2017 was his chance to show how he makes the most of what he has. His 6'6" frame and over-the-top delivery allow for an extreme release point, and he disguises his pitches well to boot. He earned strikeouts and suppressed hard contact.


    59. Trevor Williams, Pittsburgh Pirates

    31 G, 150.1 IP, 7.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 92 OPS+, 4.07 ERA, 106 ERA+, 1.9 WAR

    Trevor Williams got lit up for eight runs in his first start of 2017 but then put up a 3.65 ERA in 24 starts the rest of the way. His goal was to keep the ball low and away to lefties and righties. That earned him plenty of ground balls and soft contact and, on balance, a better season than his results indicate.


    58. Dan Straily, Miami Marlins

    33 G, 181.2 IP, 8.4 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9, 113 OPS+, 4.26 ERA, 96 ERA+, 1.6 WAR

    Home runs are a fact of life for Dan Straily, but he's figured how to survive despite that. The rising action on his fastball combined with the action on his slider and changeup are handy tools for changing eye levels. In 2017, this allowed for enough strikeouts and pop-ups to get by.


    57. Ivan Nova, Pittsburgh Pirates

    31 G, 187 IP, 6.3 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 107 OPS+, 4.14 ERA, 104 ERA+, 2.2 WAR

    Ivan Nova took up residence in the strike zone after joining the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016, and that continued in 2017. His reward was one of MLB's lowest BB/9 rates. But via a .520 in-zone slugging percentage, Nova paid the price for not having the stuff to beat hitters in the zone.


    56. Jhoulys Chacin, San Diego Padres

    32 G, 180.1 IP, 7.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 91 OPS+, 3.89 ERA, 106 ERA+, 2.4 WAR

    Jhoulys Chacin had the kind of season that's hard to fawn over but is worth appreciating. By basing his attack off a trusty sinker and low-key nasty slider, he pushed his exit velocity to 85.4 mph and brought his soft-hit and hard-hit rates into close contact. That's a season for the "Better Than You Think" file.


    55. R.A. Dickey, Atlanta Braves

    31 G, 190 IP, 6.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 110 OPS+, 4.26 ERA, 100 ERA+, 2.1 WAR

    R.A. Dickey enjoyed a return to form this year and not just because of his move back to the National League. His knuckleball regained some long-lost velocity and was harder to square up. He limited hitters to an average 85.3 mph exit velocity and racked up soft contact at a higher rate than any NL hurler.


    54. Marco Estrada, Toronto Blue Jays

    33 G, 186 IP, 8.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9, 103 OPS+, 4.98 ERA, 92 ERA+, 2.2 WAR

    This season wasn't smooth sailing for Marco Estrada, but his ERA exaggerates how bad it was. He still had his rising fastball, slow changeup and ability to work the edges. His K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 rates didn't budge, and his contact quality got better. 


    53. Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies

    20 G, 110.1 IP, 9.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 80 OPS+, 3.67 ERA, 136 ERA+, 3.2 WAR

    Jon Gray may have missed a chunk of the season with a broken foot, but he was overpowering when healthy. He's armed with a power fastball, slider and curveball, and working down with all three pitches allowed for a lot more ground balls to go with his strikeouts.


    52. Mike Clevinger, Cleveland Indians

    27 G, 121.2 IP, 10.1 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 74 OPS+, 3.11 ERA, 147 ERA+, 3.1 WAR

    Finding the strike zone is something Mike Clevinger needs to work on, but 2017 proved he can blow away hitters with the best of 'em. The key was burying his slider and changeup down where hitters couldn't hurt them. He ultimately avoided contact with the best of 'em.


    51. Brad Peacock, Houston Astros

    34 G, 132.0 IP, 11.0 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 73 OPS+, 3.00 ERA, 132 ERA+, 3.0 WAR

    Brad Peacock didn't grab a starting role until late May, but put up a 3.25 ERA in 21 appearances after he got it. A slider that's gained glove-side run as his arm slot has gotten lower became the top pitch in his arsenal and was the main reason for his huge K/9.

50-41: Wacha-Lynn

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    50. Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals

    30 G, 165.2 IP, 8.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 98 OPS+, 4.13 ERA, 103 ERA+, 1.5 WAR

    Michael Wacha's results are just OK, but it's hard to downplay his strikeout spike and his contact-quality improvement. He continued to pound away at the strike zone but this year did so with more high-octane stuff. Behold, the benefits of good health and relatively light workload demands.


    49. Andrew Cashner, Texas Rangers

    28 G, 166.2 IP, 4.6 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 80 OPS+, 3.40 ERA, 138 ERA+, 4.6 WAR

    Andrew Cashner's K/9 and BB/9 rates mean he left a lot to chance, but he did well to minimize risk. By scrapping his slider, he based his attack off a wider array of movements and solved his hard-contact problem with a steady stream of out-of-zone contact.

    48. Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies

    33 G, 156 IP, 6.2 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 98 OPS+, 4.10 ERA, 122 ERA+, 3.3 WAR

    It may not look like much, but a 4.10 ERA in an offense-happy era and as a member of the Colorado Rockies is no small feat. Kyle Freeland achieved that by mixing and matching three different fastballs and jamming hitters to the tune of an average 84.5 mph exit velocity and an elite soft-contact rate.


    47. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

    27 G, 148.2 IP, 7.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 87 OPS+, 3.69 ERA, 124 ERA+, 2.9 WAR

    When healthy, CC Sabathia stuck with what worked in 2016. His once-mighty four-seam fastball stayed a thing of history, and he used movement and precise locations to rack up ground balls and soft contact. To wit, his 83.9 mph exit velocity was about as good as it got.

    46. Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins

    26 G, 145.2 IP, 8.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 86 OPS+, 3.89 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.8 WAR

    Between a 93.5 mph fastball and a curveball made for GIFs, Jose Berrios entered 2017 with the weapons to succeed. With a new position on the rubber, he gained the control. Although he didn't get ace results, his K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 improvements and huge exit velocity drop suggest he deserved them.


    45. Rich Hill, Los Angeles Dodgers

    25 G, 135.2 IP, 11.0 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 73 OPS+, 3.32 ERA, 126 ERA+, 2.2 WAR

    Nobody did spin or late movement better than Rich Hill this year. Beyond his excellent K/9, his 84.3 mph exit velocity is proof of how effective his deception was. The only gripes are that he couldn't stay off the disabled list and only went deep into games if something special (e.g. a perfect game) was happening.


    44. J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays

    25 G, 145.1 IP, 8.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 82 OPS+, 3.53 ERA, 130 ERA+, 3.5 WAR

    An elbow problem greeted J.A. Happ in April, but he returned to provide his usual brand of solid innings. He works up, down and side to side with a diverse arsenal of pitches that he disguises well, making him tough to pick up and even tougher to square up.


    43. Taijuan Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks

    28 G, 157.1 IP, 8.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 87 OPS+, 3.49 ERA, 137 ERA+, 2.8 WAR

    Taijuan Walker has always had a big arm, but this is the year he finally settled on the right pitch selection. Adding a slider was key, as it allowed for a different look and gave him a third go-to pitch for ground balls. Throw in his solid K/9 and low pull rate, and he was genuinely tough to do damage against.


    42. Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs

    24 G, 139.2 IP, 7.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 77 OPS+, 3.03 ERA, 144 ERA+, 3.5 WAR

    Despite diminished velocity and a lengthy stint on the DL, Kyle Hendricks' 2017 ended up being a worthy follow-up to his Cy Young-caliber 2016. When you can disguise your pitches and work the edges with different movements and speeds, you can post an 83.9 mph exit velocity and get by just fine.


    41. Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals

    33 G, 186.1 IP, 7.4 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 90 OPS+, 3.43 ERA, 124 ERA+, 3.1 WAR

    Lance Lynn returned from Tommy John surgery to do Lance Lynn things: Attack hitters with a mix of four-seamers, sinkers and cutters and generally go fishing for soft contact. Another trick was to suppress pulled batted balls, thereby cutting off the easy avenue to serious damage.

40. Mike Leake, Seattle Mariners

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    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 31 G, 186 IP, 6.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 99 OPS+, 3.92 ERA, 109 ERA+

    WAR: 1.8

    2017 Player Report

    Although things got a little rough in August, 2017 was otherwise a return to form for Mike Leake.

    By shifting to the first base side of the rubber, he was able to introduce a different look to a repertoire of pitches that already featured a diverse array of movements and speeds. And after favoring the glove-side corner of the zone in 2016, he also became less predictable with his locations.

    These changes ultimately helped him produce typical results. Although he didn't blow anyone away, his walk rate ensured he didn't beat himself, and his tendency for ground balls kept easy outs coming while also allowing him to avoid the home run barrage.

    Contrary to what his 3.1 WAR at FanGraphs suggests, Leake wasn't a top-25 qualified pitcher. But he was indeed better than what his rWAR suggests.

39. Jason Vargas, Kansas City Royals

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    Key Stats: 32 G, 179.2 IP, 6.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 101 OPS+, 4.16 ERA, 108 ERA+

    WAR: 3.8

    2017 Player Report

    Jason Vargas entered July as a leading Cy Young candidate. But then came a slump that downgraded his season from "great" to merely "good."

    Still, it's worth a tip of the ol' cap that 2017 was his first fully healthy season since 2014. And it was mostly an effective display for a different style of pitching. Instead of relying too heavily on his mid-80s fastball, Vargas based his attack off his changeup and curveball and lived on the edges of the zone.

    Hitters didn't have an easy time making contact against him. They often got under the ball when they did, but his high fly-ball rate didn't doom him because many of said fly balls died with a whimper in the outfield.

    It was inevitable that Vargas' hot start wouldn't last, but it's no small feat that his ERA didn't get and stay over 4.00 until September.

38. Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 24 G, 146.1 IP, 8.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 86 OPS+, 3.81 ERA, 117 ERA+

    WAR: 3.2

    2017 Player Report

    This was yet another year in which Danny Duffy couldn't quite become a top-of-the-rotation workhorse. He also had to make do without his trademark velocity.

    Obviously, that wasn't too tall a task. Although it meant sacrificing strikeouts, he forged ahead and was one of the most aggressive zone-attackers in MLB. The elite rise he maintained on his fastball allowed it to continue being a tough customer, but he also used it less in lieu of extra sliders and changeups.

    Although he carried on as a fly-ball pitcher, Duffy did the nigh unfathomable of avoiding a home run spike because fly balls off him tended to be weak. They averaged 88.9 mph exit velocity and didn't go very far.

    Of course, it didn't hurt to pitch at Kauffman Stadium. Or in front of one of MLB's best outfield defenses. But keep that under your hat.

37. Charlie Morton, Houston Astros

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Age: 33

    Key Stats: 25 G, 146.2 IP, 10.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 93 OPS+, 3.62 ERA, 109 ERA+

    WAR: 1.8

    2017 Player Report

    Had Charlie Morton not been injured for a good chunk of 2017, his season would offer little to gripe about.

    The enhanced velocity that he merely teased in 2016 got a full reveal. He sat at 95.0 mph and reached as high as 98.5 mph. Factor in a curveball that featured excellent glove-side action, and he was showing some truly overpowering stuff.

    The big benefit was the ability to overwhelm hitters even within the strike zone. Yet he didn't quit his previous life as a ground-ball pitcher, posting a 51.9 GB%. He also allowed just 85.0 mph exit velocity and finished with strong soft and hard contact rates. 

    In all, this is another case of a guy's rWAR not doing him enough justice.

36. Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles

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    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 28 G, 169.2 IP, 8.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 93 OPS+, 4.24 ERA, 102 ERA+

    WAR: 2.7

    2017 Player Report

    Three things made a difference for Dylan Bundy in 2017: health, a long leash and a slider.

    It's a pitch that can make hitters look silly, so it's no surprise that it was one of the hardest sliders in the league to make contact against. Him being more aggressive with it in August and September led to a hot streak that salvaged his second half.

    Not to be overlooked is how Bundy didn't allow his ultra-low GB% to be his doom. Neither righty batters nor lefty batters had an easy time pulling the ball in the air against him. What also helped was that he was above average at inducing infield flies.

    Bundy needs to become more of a workhorse and find ways to altogether avoid hard contact. But on balance, his 2017 season was a good first step toward acehood.

35. Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Age: 31

    Key Stats: 30 G, 168.1 IP, 8.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 89 OPS+, 3.53 ERA, 123 ERA+

    WAR: 1.9

    2017 Player Report

    It was hard not to notice Jake Arrieta's missing velocity at the beginning of the year, and it loomed large as he put up a 5.44 ERA through eight starts.

    After that came a 2.84 ERA over 22 starts. Part of this was him putting more trust in his sinker, as well as in a changeup that had always been in his back pocket. The effect was a wider variety of movements, which Arrieta forced batters to confront by attacking the zone.

    Between his good-not-great three true outcome rates (8.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9) and his 88.0 mph exit velocity, there is a question about how good Arrieta actually was in this span. He surely got a boost from the Chicago Cubs' excellent defense.

    Still, results are results. And when it comes down to it, not many starters were more dominant than Arrieta after he took off.

34. Sonny Gray, New York Yankees

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Key Stats: 27 G, 162.1 IP, 8.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 78 OPS+, 3.55 ERA, 123 ERA+

    WAR: 2.6

    2017 Player Report

    Sonny Gray missed the first month of 2017 and then got off to a rough start. But after that, it was smooth sailing with a 3.23 ERA over his last 21 starts.

    It would be hard to tell from looking at his BB/9, but Gray's big maneuver in 2017 was to stop being so aggressive in the strike zone. Although hitters were generally obliged to chase, they typically couldn't hit what they swung at when they did. His K/9 spiked accordingly.

    Gray also stayed in touch with his roots. When he's right, he's working down with a sinker-led arsenal that gets ground balls. So it went in 2017. He finished with an elite 52.8 GB% and corrected the hard contact problem that had emerged in 2016.

    This was nothing like the No. 1 form that Gray had in 2015, to be sure. But in lieu of No. 1 form, the form of a solid No. 2/3 starter will do.

33. Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians

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    Ron Schwane/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Key Stats: 32 G, 176.1 IP, 10.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 100 OPS+, 4.19 ERA, 109 ERA+

    WAR: 3.1

    2017 Player Report

    Although he'll never be confused for Cliff Lee, Trevor Bauer finally settled on a release point he liked in 2016 and pushed his walk rate lower than ever.

    That continued in 2017 and permitted Bauer to pursue his next trick: an arsenal simplified to mostly fastballs and curveballs. A good idea based on his curveball's nastiness, if nothing else. It also forced hitters to guard against two drastically different challenges: fast high and slow low.

    Hitters found ways to continue making hard contact against Bauer, but his K/9 reflects how tough even making contact was for the opposition. Besides, he balanced his hard contact problem with solutions in the form of pop-ups and ground balls.

    Bauer's ERA peaked at an ugly 7.67 after his fifth start on May 1. After that, he had a 3.56 ERA in 27 appearances that covered 149.1 innings.

32. Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    Key Stats: 29 G, 179.1 IP, 6.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 93 OPS+, 3.66 ERA, 114 ERA+

    WAR: 2.4

    2017 Player Report

    Alex Cobb didn't rack up many strikeouts in 2017, nor did he avoid getting hit hard. As such, some of the credit for his season must be deflected onto the Tampa Bay Rays' strong defense.

    However, the man himself wouldn't be here if he didn't also deserve credit.

    Cobb was a standout for stats like "Release:Tunnel" and "Post-tunnel Break." In English: He was really good at disguising his pitches and produced more late movement than the average pitcher. Beyond a 2.2 BB/9, one of the primary benefits was frequent contact outside the zone, on which he held hitters to a .189 average.

    There's no mistaking Cobb for an ace, but he was in 2017 what he'd been back before injuries in 2013 and 2014: a hidden gem.

31. Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 33 G, 189.2 IP, 8.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 102 OPS+, 4.03 ERA, 119 ERA+

    WAR: 2.9

    2017 Player Report

    It's never been any secret that Patrick Corbin's slider is his best pitch. Thus, the revelation of his 2017 season: Why not throw it more often?

    He did just that, making his slider the central pitch in his repertoire. He also established a new location pattern that saw him throw slider after slider on the glove-side corner of the zone. Hitters had no answer, batting .184 with a .318 slugging percentage against it.

    Corbin's other pitches were quite hittable, mind you, but not enough to stop the progress that his slider usage allowed for. His three true outcome rates all improved, and his hard-hit rate plummeted.

    An ace? Not quite. But a very good pitcher over a sizable chunk of innings.

30. Zach Davies, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 33 G, 191.1 IP, 5.8 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 101 OPS+, 3.90 ERA, 112 ERA+

    WAR: 2.9

    2017 Player Report

    As a slight 6'0", 155-pounder who pitches to contact, Zach Davies is an exception to the rule that standout starters must be tall drinks of water with swing-and-miss stuff.

    Movement and unpredictability are his keys for living with his 89.7 mph heat. His sinker, cutter, changeup and curveball allow for different looks and speeds. His deployment of his secondaries would vary from game to game, particularly toward the end of the year.

    While Davies did venture into the strike zone more often, he still mostly avoided it in an attempt to get hitters to swing at his pitches. The combination of these elements allowed him to manage batted balls to the tune of a 50.2 GB% and little hard contact.

    No appreciation of Davies is complete without an appreciation for the Milwaukee Brewers' infield defense. It allowed the sixth-lowest average on ground balls, which was of use to him.

29. Jose Quintana, Chicago Cubs

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    Darren Hauck/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 32 G, 188.2 IP, 9.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 87 OPS+, 4.15 ERA, 104 ERA+

    WAR: 2.4

    2017 Player Report

    The normally reliable Jose Quintana was reeling with a 5.60 ERA after 11 starts, with a big problem being the loss of his trademark homer suppression. He allowed 10 long balls in only 64.1 innings.

    Then came a 3.40 ERA in his final 21 starts, which was a dandy of a course correction both on the surface and under the hood.

    Already armed with a knack for disguising his pitches, Quintana ramped up his deceptive act by shifting his position on the rubber and downplaying his four-seamer. Normally one to go right at hitters, he stuck mostly to the arm-side edge of the zone. That helped his K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 rates recover and invited more soft contact.

    All told, Quintana authored one third of a bad season and two-thirds of a typical Quintana season.

28. Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco Giants

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    Key Stats: 32 G, 207.2 IP, 8.9 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 97 OPS+, 4.42 ERA, 95 ERA+

    WAR: 2.4

    2017 Player Report

    Jeff Samardzija walked 10 batters in April. He walked just 22 the rest of the year and finished with a lower BB/9 than any qualified pitcher.

    Such things can happen when a pitcher says "screw it" and takes up residence in the strike zone. What makes Samardzija's move to do so more impressive is the reality that he continued to feature a diverse arsenal. Name a pitch, and odds are he was throwing it.

    His K/9 spike happened because extra strikes invariably lead to strikeouts. He was less fortunate on balls in play, but there's no ignoring the role of the Giants' defense in that. It was just plain bad, and especially bad in the outfield. That was no help to Samardzija, who isn't a ground-ball pitcher.

    So despite what his ERA+ suggests, Samardzija pitched 207.2 above-average innings.

27. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Key Stats: 33 G, 203.0 IP, 8.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 97 OPS+, 4.26 ERA, 101 ERA+

    WAR: 2.8

    2017 Player Report

    Gerrit Cole's career HR/9 stood at a microscopic 0.6 before this season. But clearly, his homer suppression was no match for 2017.

    That was largely his own doing. With a sizzling 96.0 mph fastball and three good secondaries, Cole's M.O. is to go right at hitters in the strike zone. Sure enough, that's where opponents teed off.

    But that's not to say Cole was easy to hit. His rate of contact within the zone actually went down, and his rate of soft contact followed an upward trend to a place among the elites. It is with these skills that he authored 20 quality starts, only three fewer than co-leaders Chris Sale and Justin Verlander.

    There's no mistaking Cole's 2017 for an ace-caliber season along the lines of his Cy Young-caliber 2015. However, there's also no downplaying 203.0 mostly above-average innings.

26. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 23 G, 145.2 IP, 7.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 73 OPS+, 2.90 ERA, 136 ERA+

    WAR: 3.9

    2017 Player Report

    There's no point ignoring that Dallas Keuchel missed nearly two months with an injury and was up and down after he returned. 

    But for the most part, he pitched like Dallas Keuchel. He stuck to the edges of the strike zone, collecting ground balls off his bowling-ball sinker and whiffs off a slider that still doesn't get as much credit as it deserves.

    Making contact against him was tougher than his K/9 lets on, and what contact did happen was mostly harmless. He finished with an MLB-high 66.8 GB%, and batted balls off him averaged just 84.5 mph. That was up there among the elites, and it translated into him excelling with both soft and hard contact.

    Over a larger sample, this would be ace-level stuff. As it is, it's great stuff for a 23-start sample.

25. James Paxton, Seattle Mariners

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    Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 24 G, 136.0 IP, 10.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9, 63 OPS+, 2.98 ERA, 143 ERA+

    WAR: 3.9

    2017 Player Report

    James Paxton's 2017 breakout was really a carryover of a smaller, more overlooked breakout in 2016.

    He dropped his arm slot that year, which had the effect of turning a hard fastball into an even harder fastball. So it went in 2017, as his 95.4 mph heat was the hardest featured by a lefty starter.

    Hitters also had to contend with one of the sharpest, most devastating curveballs in the sport. And Paxton didn't mess around, throwing pitches in the zone at a higher rate than ever before. Free passes were hard to come by, and all the extra strikes didn't make contact any easier either.

    But for all this dominance, there's the unfortunate "Yeah, but." Paxton achieved career highs in starts and innings, but he was once again unable to escape the clutches of the injury bug.

24. Chase Anderson, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 25 G, 141.1 IP, 8.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 73 OPS+, 2.74 ERA, 160 ERA+

    WAR: 4.1


    2017 Player Report

    Against all odds, Chase Anderson went from having a massive home run problem to being one of the better long ball suppressors in MLB. Not only that, but his 84.4 mph exit velocity was elite.

    Behold, the results of his becoming a whole new pitcher. He threw harder, threw more cutters and mixed up his position on the rubber. The latter mainly helped him solve lefty batters, but his improvements as a whole had even larger effects.

    Anderson just plain baffled batters, avoiding their bats inside the zone and coaxing them into expanding the zone more often. He thus helped himself to more strikeouts and better contact management.

    It's a shame he had to miss nearly two months with an oblique injury. Otherwise, he'd be under ace consideration.

23. Alex Wood, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Key Stats: 27 G, 152.1 IP, 8.9 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 68 OPS+, 2.72 ERA, 154 ERA+

    WAR: 3.3


    2017 Player Report

    Alex Wood's 2017 comes with caveats. Namely: He was largely limited to five or six innings per outing and tailed off with a 3.89 ERA in the second half.

    Still, it was quite a comeback. The most noticeable differences were in Wood's velocity, which was up, and in his pitch selection, which was lighter on sinkers and heavy on curveballs and changeups.

    That much movement coming from Wood's funky delivery added up to quite a bit of deception, and his talent for working the edges of the zone didn't make things any easier for hitters. His chase rate skyrocketed, and he benefited with 84.9 mph exit velocity in addition to his solid K/9 and BB/9 rates.

    If not for the workload asterisk, all this would constitute an ace-caliber performance.

22. Zack Godley, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Key Stats: 26 G, 155 IP, 9.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 68 OPS+, 3.37 ERA, 142 ERA+

    WAR: 4.4


    2017 Player Report

    They don't make 'em much more unheralded than Zack Godley. And he's very much worth heralding.

    Following a rough 2016, he conquered 2017 with a new position on the rubber and a pitch mix that featured more of his high-velocity curveball alongside heaping helpings of sinkers and cutters.

    Godley still preferred not to attack the zone and got away with it because he was elite at drawing swings outside the zone and even better at avoiding contact outside the zone. That fed his K/9, and whatever contact hitters did make was mostly on the ground to the tune of a 55.3 GB%.

    So, don't be fooled by the fact that Godley didn't make it into the Arizona Diamondbacks' postseason rotation. By all rights, he should have.

21. Drew Pomeranz, Boston Red Sox

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 32 G, 173.2 IP, 9.0 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 86 OPS+, 3.32 ERA, 137 ERA+

    WAR: 4.0


    2017 Player Report

    The reality that Drew Pomeranz logged only 173.2 innings in 32 starts is a window into not only how inefficient he was, but also how often he found himself in trouble.

    His BB/9 is the residue of his recent penchant for not living in the strike zone. Making contact wasn't too difficult for hitters, and they made a decent amount of hard contact, as well. He threw 41.6 percent of his pitches with men on base, one of the higher rates among starters.

    However, there are reasons that stranding runners tends to be a skill of his. His high-rise fastball and diving curveball were good for changing both speeds and eye levels in 2017. It's a deceptive act that netted him strikeouts and soft contact.

    In all, he's a good example of how to get away with living dangerously.

20. Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 27 G, 168 IP, 9.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 85 OPS+, 3.54 ERA, 119 ERA+

    WAR: 4.5

    2017 Player Report

    Watch Aaron Nola pitch, and you'd swear that he keeps a string on every ball he throws.

    Led by a curveball that's overtaken Adam Wainwright's hook as the most sideways-bending curve in MLB, everything in Nola's repertoire moves. As if that wasn't enough for hitters to contend with, he can also locate. He filled up the zone this year and would work up, down and side to side with his assorted movements.

    This made contact tough to come by, and what contact hitters did make typically wasn't good. Batted balls off him averaged 85.5 mph, and he collected plenty of ground balls.

    The only gripe is that Nola couldn't stay healthy enough for 30-plus starts. Otherwise, he was a virtual lock for six strong innings when he took the ball.

19. Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 25 G, 164.2 IP, 6.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 70 OPS+, 3.83 ERA, 119 ERA+

    WAR: 3.6


    2017 Player Report

    Michael Fulmer's elbow surgery ended his season early, but not before he could author a worthy follow-up to his Rookie of the Year-winning 2016.

    After relying mainly on his four-seamer in '16, he made his blazing-fast sinker his primary fastball in 2017. He also challenged hitters in the zone more, notably up above the belt. These proved to be a good counterpunches against a league full of hitters trying to swing up at the ball.

    Batted balls against him averaged a modest 85.7 mph, and his hard-hit rate declined. Thus did he end up with an AL-low HR/9 rate and the lowest rate of extra base hits per batted balls of any starter.

    Worth noting is he didn't get a lot of help from his teammates, as the Detroit Tigers had the least efficient defense and struggled to secure strikes. Fulmer's excellence was all him.

18. Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 29 G, 175.1 IP, 10.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 85 OPS+, 3.49 ERA, 126 ERA+

    WAR: 3.3


    2017 Player Report

    A shoulder injury courtesy of the National League's outdated insistence that pitchers fend for themselves on offense ended Jimmy Nelson's season early. But at least it was fun while it lasted.

    He has always had talents for ground balls and soft contact. His new trick showed in the strikeout and walk departments, as he went from a career 2.0 K/BB ratio to a 4.2 K/BB ratio in 2017.

    Subtle mechanical changes equipped Nelson with more velocity that made it easier to avoid contact even within the strike zone. Given that he had already established in 2016 that he would spend a lot more time in the zone, that was all he needed to take off.

    Whether he'll be the same following shoulder surgery is an uncomfortable question. But if he can be, the Brewers will welcome back an ace.

17. Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Key Stats: 28 G, 162 IP, 12.1 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 66 OPS+, 2.89 ERA, 166 ERA+

    WAR: 5.0


    2017 Player Report

    If Robbie Ray could only cut his walk rate, he'd join the ranks of MLB's most dominant aces.

    That may be asking for too much, however. Ray worked a 3.7 BB/9 in 2016 despite throwing plenty of pitches in the zone, so it's no surprising that even more walks came with fewer in-zone pitches in 2017. Without a simple, low-effort delivery, consistently throwing strikes may never be his thing.

    But who needs strikes when you've got strikeouts? Ray's delivery doesn't make it easy to track the ball, and then come high-velocity fastballs (94.1 mph) and two excellent breaking pitches: a hard slider that gets whiffs, and a hard curveball that also gets whiffs.

    It wasn't impossible to hit Ray hard on contact. Actually hitting him, however, was more difficult than any other pitcher. That's all he needed to author a dominant campaign.

16. Yu Darvish, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Key Stats: 31 G, 186.2 IP, 10.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 80 OPS+, 3.86 ERA, 118 ERA+

    WAR: 3.9


    2017 Player Report

    Yu Darvish enjoyed his first fully healthy season since 2013 and was thus back to striking out batters on a full-time basis.

    Two key factors were his maintaining the higher arm slot and extra velocity he gained following 2015 Tommy John surgery. The former helped him find the strike zone more frequently, and the latter was part of an overwhelming attack.

    His four-seamer, sinker, cutter and slider combination forced hitters to guard against four high-velocity pitches with different movements. His contact and soft-hit rates prove how much this arrangement favored Darvish.

    The only shame is that he couldn't escape the home run revolution. But to be as dominant as he was over nearly 190 innings is a good consolation.

15. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 34 G, 201 IP, 11.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 93 OPS+, 4.07 ERA, 102 ERA+

    WAR: 1.2


    2017 Player Report

    Ignore Chris Archer's low Baseball Reference WAR. FanGraphs WAR comes closer to the truth in rating him as a top-11 pitcher.

    Their version of WAR favors pitchers who rack up strikeouts and limit walks, which Archer obviously did extremely well. It wasn't a complicated process. Hitters were either going to get a fastball or a slider. But he was quite good at disguising them, and the extreme velocity of both pitches left little time to react.

    When hitters did react in time and get good swings off, they did quite a bit of damage. He allowed his highest hard-hit rate. But one reason his HR/9 didn't spike is he made it difficult for hitters to pull the ball. There was no taking the easy way to the fence against him.

    The end result wasn't his best season, but it was one that was better than his surface stats let on.

14. Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Key Stats: 32 G, 205 IP, 9.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 87 OPS+, 3.64 ERA, 117 ERA+

    WAR: 2.9


    2017 Player Report

    Carlos Martinez didn't have his best slider this year. Its movement flattened out, and the league's power-hungry hitters were all too eager to use that as an excuse to take it for a ride.

    Otherwise, it's hard to find nits to pick.

    Martinez isn't a big guy at 6'0", 190 pounds, but he's only getting more durable. Nor is he losing his gas, as his 95.6 mph fastball was one of the best featured by any starter. Throw in his aforementioned slider and electric changeup, as well as his ever-improving ability to throw strikes, and you get a complete threat.

    Between his 9.5 K/9 and 51.3 GB%, at-bats against Martinez ended in many more whimpers than bangs. Given that he was stricken with his largest ever difference between his wOBA and xwOBA, his results undersell his dominance.

13. Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Key Stats: 33 G, 201 IP, 7.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 87 OPS+, 3.09 ERA, 149 ERA+

    WAR: 5.8


    2017 Player Report

    Following a 4.37 ERA in 2016, Marcus Stroman changed in subtle ways that made a huge difference.

    He didn't abandon any of his pitches, but did simplify his pitch mix to be about his sinker and slider and then everything else. It was a different slider, too, with more horizontal run that made it more electric. Just ask Carlos Correa.

    Stroman also simplified his location patterns to be low-and-away against both righties and lefties. He didn't lose his status as an elite ground-ball artist, but did make it that much harder for hitters to pull the ball. He thus attracted easy outs and shunned easy power.

    Since he didn't blow anyone away and relied a lot on his defense, "dominance" is a tough word to ascribe to Stroman's 2017. But his pitching was darn good, and there was plenty of it.

12. Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins

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    Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    Key Stats: 33 G, 211.1 IP, 7.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 80 OPS+, 3.28 ERA, 134 ERA+

    WAR: 4.6


    2017 Player Report

    Ervin Santana got by with a well-below-average K/9 in 2017 by being one of MLB's better contact managers.

    His exit velocity went from 88.0 mph in 2016 down to 85.3 mph, his soft-hit rate increased over the league average, and he went back to inducing pop-ups. His .286 average allowed on batted balls was right there with the best of the best.

    Some of this was due to his coaxing hitters into going fishing by living outside the zone, but it also had to do with how he employed his arsenal of pitches. His hard stuff was up on the arm side, while his slow stuff was down on the glove side. With four different pitches at work, this was no easy guessing game.

    It's temping to assume Santana's success is too good to be true. But according to the minuscule difference between his wOBA and xwOBA, it wasn't.

11. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 31 G, 201.1 IP, 10.7 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 84 OPS+, 3.53 ERA, 119 ERA+

    WAR: 4.4


    2017 Player Report

    Jacob deGrom was healthy and effective despite being on a cursed New York Mets team that had one of the worst defenses in MLB.

    Bypassing that defense via strikeouts was the right play, and he earned those with one of the lowest contact rates in the league. And he at least made things easy for his fielders. Balls off him averaged just 85.5 mph, including an MLB-best 76.3 mph on the many swings he drew outside the zone.

    Everything worked off a four-seam fastball that had rejuvenated velocity. He also threw his high-velocity slider more often but without abandoning his curveball, changeup and sinker. The fact that four of these five pitches had double-digit whiff rates says it all about how nasty his arsenal was.

    The end result was a great season that, by all rights, should have been even greater. 

10. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    Key Stats: 33 G, 206 IP, 9.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 75 OPS+, 3.36 ERA, 133 ERA+

    WAR: 6.3

    2017 Player Report

    Justin Verlander's ERA stood at 4.96 after a seven-run dud on July 2. Then came a whole new pitcher who looked like the old Justin Verlander.

    He maintained a high-spin arsenal fronted by a high-velocity fastball, but there was a change in how he paired his fastball with his slider. He started throwing the latter more often, and at lower speeds and to lower locations. It was a crafty ploy to increase his deception, and there's no arguing with the results.

    His contact rate plummeted, as did his rate of hard contact. It led to a 1.92 ERA over his final 16 starts, a span in which he struck out 102 more batters than he walked in 108 innings.

    Of course, this doesn't mean Verlander's bad first half didn't happen. But given that he didn't get much help from Tigers fielders or catchers, he doesn't deserve all the blame.

9. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    Key Stats: 32 G, 201 IP, 8.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 70 OPS+, 2.96 ERA, 150 ERA+

    WAR: 6.5


    2017 Player Report

    Gio Gonzalez's NL-high 79 walks are a flaw that sticks out like a sore thumb. He also finished with a curiously high strand rate that makes it easy to wonder if he spent 2017 in Lady Luck's graces.

    But if nothing else, there's no denying his curveball's ongoing excellence. It continued to look the part of an unhittable pitch and limited hitters to just a .161 average and five extra-base hits. 

    There were also more subtle changes working in Gonzalez's favor in 2017. He got his arm slot back down to 2012 levels and threw more pitches on the edges of the strike zone. One benefit was more hitters reached for contact, which helped drive his exit velocity south to 84.9 mph.

    Granted, all this doesn't quite add up to a complete renovation that would turn Gonzalez into an ace. But it goes to show his excellent 2017 isn't without explanation.

8. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians

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    Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Key Stats: 32 G, 200 IP, 10.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 74 OPS+, 3.29 ERA, 139 ERA+

    WAR: 5.4


    2017 Player Report

    When healthy, Carlos Carrasco was one of the best pitchers in the American League between 2014 and 2016. And in 2017, he was healthy all season.

    The more detailed explanation for his success starts with what comes out of his hand. He worked off a 94.3 mph fastball and complemented it with three above-average secondaries: a biting slider, a diving changeup and a bendy curveball. Batters hit under .200 against all three.

    One notable difference is how much more aggressive Carrasco was in the strike zone. The Cleveland Indians' excellent receivers enabled the move by leading the majors in percentage of pitches called strikes. His stuff also ensured that his rate of in-zone contact didn't budge. Even his exit velocity got better.

    Basically, this was a case of an overpowering pitcher who decided not to mess around.

7. Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Age: 33

    Key Stats: 32 G, 202.1 IP, 9.6 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 68 OPS+, 3.20 ERA, 149 ERA+

    WAR: 6.1


    2017 Player Report

    How did Zack Greinke put a rough 2016 behind him? Partially because of his catchers.

    Arizona Diamondbacks backstops went from being among the worst at securing strike calls outside the zone in 2016 to being much better at it in 2017. This was of use to Greinke, who doesn't like to pitch inside the zone. He benefited accordingly from called strikes on an increased percentage of his pitches.

    Of course, he's also responsible for his own success. Like clockwork, he continued to feed lefty and righty batters a steady diet of low-and-away offerings. Having to guard against that made bad swings inevitable, resulting in his turning more pitches outside the zone into outs than any other pitcher.

    In so many words: Greinke succeeded better than anyone at beating batters on his pitches. 

6. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 27 G, 175 IP, 10.4 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 62 OPS+, 2.31 ERA, 180 ERA+

    WAR: 4.6


    2017 Player Report

    The back injury that landed Clayton Kershaw on the DL for a few weeks is the big black mark on his 2017 season. His career-high HR/9 is a lesser, yet still significant, black mark.

    Otherwise, there's not much to complain about.

    He continued to assault the strike zone with his hard (and rising) fastball and finish hitters off with his disappearing slider and optical-illusion curveball. The latter two pitches made him a late-movement wizard who avoided contact and suppressed good contact. Balls off him averaged just 84.6 mph.

    Kershaw's succumbing to the injury and home run bugs lends credence to the question of whether he's still the best pitcher in baseball. There's still an excellent argument in favor of "Yes," however.

5. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 28 G, 175.1 IP, 10.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 54 OPS+, 2.52 ERA, 176 ERA+

    WAR: 6.4


    2017 Player Report

    This is the Stephen Strasburg that was promised.

    His stuff and ability to control it have been there from day one and remained there throughout 2017. He was second in strike zone rate, tied for the fourth-hardest fastball and continued to make hitters look silly with both his curveball and changeup en route to an elite contact rate.

    The problem for Strasburg in the past had been the inability to avoid hard contact when hitters did put the bat on the ball. The trends of his soft-hit and hard-hit rates reflect how he'd already been mending that problem. His new trick in 2017 was making it extraordinarily difficult for batters to pull the ball.

    All told, the only bad part of Strasburg's season is the right elbow impingement that put him on the DL in July. Otherwise, his 2017 would have a spotless record.

4. Luis Severino, New York Yankees

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    Key Stats: 31 G, 193.1 IP, 10.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 58 OPS+, 2.98 ERA, 152 ERA+

    WAR: 5.4


    2017 Player Report

    No starter had a speedier offering than Luis Severino's 97.6 mph fastball. Moreover, he was somehow throwing harder at the end of the year than he was at the start.

    A fastball like that comes with a wide margin for error, so it's no wonder that—courtesy of a more consistent release point—he was more aggressive in the strike zone than any AL starter. Beyond having to protect against his extreme velocity, hitters also had to watch out for his electric slider and changeup.

    It all added up to an overpowering experience. Severino finished the year with an elite contact rate, as well as above-average batted ball rates pretty much across the board: ground balls, pop-ups and hard-hit.

    In any other year, his breakout season would be good enough for a Cy Young. Good thing for him it's just the beginning.

3. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 32 G, 214.1 IP, 12.9 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 56 OPS+, 2.90 ERA, 157 ERA+

    WAR: 6.0


    2017 Player Report

    After experimenting with a pitch-to-contact approach in 2016, Chris Sale got back to business in 2017.

    He returned to attacking hitters with a downright filthy array of pitches: heat with mid-90s velocity and electric action both on said heat and on his slider and changeup. Since he could throw all three pitches for strikes, it's no surprise he missed bats within the strike zone better than anyone.

    One big difference was his love for the high fastball. And it worked, as hitters could neither lay off it nor hit it. That was a big factor in his limiting hitters to an MLB-low .083 average on pitches outside the zone.

    Alas, Sale did run out of gas with a 4.09 ERA in his last 11 starts. But despite that, it's hard to frown on a dominant season that produced 308 strikeouts.

2. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Age: 33

    Key Stats: 31 G, 200.2 IP, 12.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 49 OPS+, 2.51 ERA, 177 ERA+

    WAR: 7.2


    2017 Player Report

    Between an achy neck and hamstring injury in his final start, Max Scherzer endured a rough finish to 2017. Yet there's a good chance he'll win his third Cy Young award anyway.

    He remained an aggressive strike thrower with a repertoire fronted by an explosive fastball and a slider and changeup that both disappear on hitters. These enabled the third-lowest contact rate among qualified starters.

    While his low ground-ball rate was a recipe for trouble with so many balls flying over fences, Scherzer survived because hitters couldn't square him up. An average batted ball off him was just 85.7 mph, and he once again had little trouble inducing pop-ups.

    See that 49 OPS+ allowed? That was the lowest of any National League starter. That plus 200 innings is a good mix.

1. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

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    Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Key Stats: 29 G, 203.2 IP, 11.7 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 44 OPS+, 2.25 ERA, 202 ERA+

    WAR: 8.0


    2017 Player Report

    There was a time when Corey Kluber's 2017 season was looking like a lost cause. He had a 5.06 ERA through six starts and then missed a month with a bad back.

    Then came 23 starts in which he put up a 1.62 ERA and struck out 201 more batters than he walked in 166.1 innings.

    Kluber featured his slider more often as the year went along, which was a big boost. With elite glove-side run, it's a dandy of a pitch that worked well in tandem with his filthy sinker-cutter combination. Hitters were doomed if they chased outside the zone, which paved the way for his AL-low contact rate.

    Hitters weren't liable to do much even if they did make contact. With 85.0 mph exit velocity and an MLB-best 24.4 soft-hit rate, loud contact is something Kluber didn't suffer gladly.

    In the end, he permitted the lowest OPS+ and led in ERA+ and WAR. Only the best pitcher in baseball can do that.