Ranking MLB's Top 25 Starting Pitchers Since 2000

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2020

Ranking MLB's Top 25 Starting Pitchers Since 2000

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    In the upcoming weeks, while we continue to wait on the start of the 2020 MLB season, we will be taking a look back at the best and brightest of the past 20 years.

    Up first are the 25 best starting pitchers since the 2000 season.

    The premise is simple, but we do need to clarify a few things before going any further.

    A lot of statistics will be thrown around in the following slides, but these rankings were ultimately subjective. A player's peak performance, his full statistical body of work since 2000 and his postseason production were all taken into account when determining the final rankings.

    While no single stat was the end-all, be-all in this conversation, ERA+ and WAR/100 are two important ones to know.

    ERA+ is simply a pitcher's ERA adjusted to take into account the ballparks in which he is pitching. An ERA+ of 100 is league-average, while each number above 100 represents one percentage point better than the league average.

    WAR/100 is a stat I cooked up for a project I did last March selecting each team's GOAT pitcher. It's simply a pitcher's WAR total divided by his total innings pitched then multiplied by 100, thus giving us his WAR per 100 innings pitched. The idea is to make it easier to contextualize WAR totals across different sample sizes.

    Let's kick things off with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

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    Jake Peavy
    Jake PeavyStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    These 15 players received serious consideration for the final list but ultimately came up short:

    • Chris Carpenter
    • Gerrit Cole
    • Bartolo Colon
    • Johnny Cueto
    • Jose Fernandez
    • Tim Hudson
    • Dallas Keuchel
    • John Lackey
    • Mike Mussina
    • Jake Peavy
    • Andy Pettitte
    • David Price
    • Ben Sheets
    • Brandon Webb
    • Carlos Zambrano

25. LHP Mark Buehrle

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    Jacob de Golish/Getty Images

    Stats: 214-160, 3.81 ERA (117 ERA+), 1.28 WHIP, 1,870 K, 3,283.1 IP, 60.0 WAR

    Postseason: 2-1, 4.11 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 16 K, 30.2 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 1.83

    There's a good chance we will never again see a pitcher match the 14 straight seasons of at least 200 innings that Mark Buehrle tossed during his 16-year career.

    The left-hander did not miss many bats with 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but he took the ball every fifth day for more than a decade and almost always gave his team a chance to win.

    That's not to say he didn't have quality stuff, as his 10 career shutouts can attest, and that includes a no-hitter in 2007 and a perfect game in 2009.

    Still going strong at age 36 in his final season, he went 15-8 with a 108 ERA+ and four complete games in 198.2 innings of work for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015.

24. RHP Adam Wainwright

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    Stats: 162-95, 3.39 ERA (118 ERA+), 1.23 WHIP, 1,776 K, 2,103.2 IP, 36.3 WAR

    Postseason: 4-5, 4 SV, 2.81 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 115 K, 105.2 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 1.73

    Adam Wainwright was acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 2004 season in the blockbuster deal that sent J.D. Drew to the Atlanta Braves. That will go down as one of the best trades in franchise history.

    The 6'7" right-hander began his MLB career pitching out of the bullpen, posting a 3.12 ERA with three saves and 17 holds in 2006 before serving as the team's closer and saving four games during its run to a World Series title.

    He moved into the rotation after that and quickly became one of the best starters in baseball. In a five-season stretch sandwiched around Tommy John surgery in 2011, he went 92-50 with a 2.83 ERA (135 ERA+) and 1.12 WHIP while racking up 1,007 strikeouts in 1,130.2 innings. 

    He finished in the top three in National League Cy Young voting four times during those five seasons and earned the starting nod for the NL in the 2014 All-Star Game.

    The 38-year-old is no longer the same top-of-the-rotation ace he was in his prime, but he was still effective in 2019 with a 4.19 ERA (102 ERA+) in 171.2 innings.

23. LHP Cliff Lee

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    Stats: 143-91, 3.52 ERA (118 ERA+), 1.20 WHIP, 1,824 K, 2,156.2 IP, 42.5 WAR

    Postseason: 7-3, 2.52 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 89 K, 82.0 IP

    WAR/100: 1.97

    Cliff Lee won 18 games and posted a 3.79 ERA (111 ERA+) to finish fourth in American League Cy Young voting in 2005, but he failed to build off that performance in subsequent seasons and struggled to a 6.29 ERA over 97.1 innings in 2007.

    The following year, he went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 170 strikeouts in 223.1 innings to win AL Cy Young honors, and from there he quickly emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball. From 2008 through his final fully healthy season in 2013, he went 85-50 with a 2.89 ERA (140 ERA+) in 1,333.2 innings, and he shined in October for the Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers.

    Unfortunately, a sore elbow sidelined him midway through the fourth season of a five-year, $120 million deal with the Phillies, and a flexor tendon tear wound up ending his career.

22. RHP Roy Oswalt

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    Stats: 163-102, 3.36 ERA (127 ERA+), 1.21 WHIP, 1,852 K, 2,245.1 IP, 49.9 WAR

    Postseason: 5-2, 3.73 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 56 K, 72.1 IP

    WAR/100: 2.22

    Roy Oswalt debuted in 2001 and immediately became the ace of the Houston Astros staff, going 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 144 strikeouts in 141.2 innings to finish second in NL Rookie of the Year and fifth in NL Cy Young voting.

    Over the next seven seasons, he went 115-61 with a 3.17 ERA (137 ERA+) and 1,191 strikeouts in 1,480.1 innings. He won the NL ERA title in 2006 (2.98) and finished in the top five in Cy Young voting four times during that seven-year stretch.

    He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies at the deadline in 2010 and spent the 2011 season pitching alongside Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in one of the best rotations ever assembled.

    While his career forgettably ended in a Colorado Rockies uniform when he posted an 8.63 ERA over 32.1 innings in 2013, Oswalt was one of the true aces of the last 20 years.

21. RHP Josh Beckett

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    Stats: 138-106, 3.88 ERA (111 ERA+), 1.23 WHIP, 1,901 K, 2,051 IP, 35.3 WAR

    Postseason: 7-3, 3.07 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 99 K, 93.2 IP, Two-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 1.72

    The No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 draft and one of the most hyped pitching prospects in recent memory, Josh Beckett began his MLB career with lofty expectations.

    His 111 ERA+ over more than 2,000 regular-season innings is solid. He was also a three-time All-Star and the AL Cy Young runner-up in 2007 when he went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 194 strikeouts in 200.2 innings.

    However, it's his performance during the 2003 and 2007 playoffs that earns him a spot on this list:

    • 2003: 2-2, 2 SHO, 2.11 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 47 K, 42.2 IP
    • 2007: 4-0, 1 SHO, 1.20 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 35 K, 30 IP

    His five-hit shutout of a stacked New York Yankees lineup in the title-clinching Game 6 of the 2003 World Series stands as one of the best postseason pitching performances of all time. He was just 23 years old.

20. LHP Jon Lester

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    Stats: 190-108, 3.56 ERA (120 ERA+), 1.26 WHIP, 2,355 K, 2,537.2 IP, 45.2 WAR

    Postseason: 9-7, 2.51 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 133 K, 154 IP, Three-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 1.78

    Every once in a while, a free-agent signing completely changes the complexion of an organization.

    The six-year, $155 million contract Jon Lester signed with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2015 season is a perfect example.

    In 2016, the Cubs broke a 108-year World Series drought with Lester serving in the role of staff ace, going 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 197 strikeouts in 202.2 innings to finish second in NL Cy Young voting.

    The left-hander was already an established postseason standout when he joined the Cubs, having posted a 2.57 ERA in 84 playoff innings during his time with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics.

    All told, he's 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA and 0.93 WHIP over 35.2 innings in the World Series, including three innings of relief on two days rest in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

19. LHP Cole Hamels

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    Stats: 163-121, 3.42 ERA (123 ERA+), 1.18 WHIP, 2,558 K, 2,694.2 IP, 58.5 WAR

    Postseason: 7-6, 3.41 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 93 K, 100.1 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 2.17

    Cole Hamels made a name for himself as the 24-year-old ace of the Philadelphia Phillies staff during their run to a World Series title in 2008. He went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 35 innings over five starts that October, winning NLCS and World Series MVP honors in the process.

    After a middling 2009 season, he emerged as a bona fide ace, going 60-49 with a 3.00 ERA (129 ERA+), 1.12 WHIP and 1,021 strikeouts in 1,064.2 innings over the next five years.

    He was traded to the Texas Rangers midway through the 2015 season and traded again to the Chicago Cubs at the 2018 deadline, and he still had enough left in the tank last year to earn a one-year, $18 million deal from the Atlanta Braves during the offseason.

    His changeup is one of the best pitches of the past 20 years, and his combination of regular-season reliability and postseason success earns him a top-20 spot.

18. RHP Roger Clemens

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    LENNY IGNELZI/Associated Press

    Stats: 107-50, 3.34 ERA (134 ERA+), 1.20 WHIP, 1,356 K, 1,454.1 IP, 35.0 WAR

    Postseason: 9-5, 3.77 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 120 K, 126.2 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 2.41

    Roger Clemens was 37 years old when the 2000 season arrived, with 247 wins, 3,316 strikeouts and 103.6 WAR on his resume over 16 MLB seasons.

    He won his second World Series title in as many years with the New York Yankees in 2000, then he won his sixth Cy Young Award the following year when he went 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 220.1 innings.

    When his five-year run with the Yankees came to an end, he signed with the hometown Houston Astros for his age-41 season and continued to dominate. He went 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 218 strikeouts in 214.1 innings to win his seventh and final Cy Young Award in 2004, then he won the AL ERA title in 2005 when he was 13-8 with a 1.87 ERA (226 ERA+) while helping the Astros to an NL pennant.

    Steroid allegations hang over his career and have thus far prevented his induction into the Hall of Fame. But on numbers alone, his performance from the 2000 season on is enough to land him at No. 18 in these rankings.

17. RHP Tim Lincecum

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    Brad Mangin/Getty Images

    Stats: 110-89, 3.74 ERA (104 ERA+), 1.29 WHIP, 1,736 K, 1,682 IP, 19.9 WAR

    Postseason: 5-2, 2.40 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 65 K, 56.1 IP, Three-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 1.18

    At his best, Tim Lincecum was arguably the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball.

    Ultimately, that peak proved to be extremely short, and his career numbers do not reflect the kind of pitcher he was in his prime. For four years, he was elite:

    • 2008: 18-5, 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 265 K, 227 IP
    • 2009: 15-7, 2.48 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 261 K, 225.1 IP
    • 2010: 16-10, 3.43 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 231 K, 212.1 IP
    • 2011: 13-14, 2.74 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 220 K, 217 IP

    He won NL Cy Young honors in 2008 and 2009 while leading the NL in strikeouts three times during that four-year stretch. He also threw a two-hit shutout in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS to set the tone for the San Francisco Giants' unlikely run to a World Series title.

    His ERA spiked to 5.18 in 2012, and he never returned to form, making him perhaps the toughest player to place in these rankings.

16. RHP Stephen Strasburg

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    Stats: 112-58, 3.17 ERA (130 ERA+), 1.09 WHIP, 1,695 K, 1,438.2 IP, 32.3 WAR

    Postseason: 6-2, 1.46 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 71 K, 55.1 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 2.25

    When healthy, Stephen Strasburg has been every bit the frontline starter he was expected to be when the Washington Nationals took him No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft.

    However, he's made 30 starts just three times in his 10-year career.

    The 31-year-old was healthy last year and pitched like an ace, going 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 251 strikeouts in an NL-high 209 innings. He followed that up with a brilliant postseason that saw him go 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 36.1 innings, capped off with World Series MVP honors.

    That earned him a seven-year, $175 million contract after he opted out of the final four years and $100 million of his previous deal with the Nationals, and he will be counted on to stay healthy going forward.

15. RHP Felix Hernandez

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    Stats: 169-136, 3.42 ERA (117 ERA+), 1.21 WHIP, 2,524 K, 2,729.2 IP, 50.3 WAR

    Postseason: N/A

    WAR/100: 1.84

    It's a crime that Felix Hernandez has never pitched in the postseason.

    King Felix burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old phenom in 2005, and the following year, he began a string of 10 straight seasons in which he worked at least 190 innings.

    His peak ran from 2009 to 2014 when he went 86-56 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 1,358 strikeouts in 1,394.1 innings. He won the AL ERA title in 2010 (2.27) and 2014 (2.14), and he took home AL Cy Young honors in 2010 despite a 13-12 record.

    It's now been four years since he turned in a full season of frontline production, and 2019 marked the end of a seven-year, $175 million contract that briefly made him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball.

    However, he turned in a strong spring (13.2 IP, 1.98 ERA, 14 K) as a non-roster invitee with the Atlanta Braves, and the 33-year-old may yet get his chance to pitch in the playoffs.

14. LHP CC Sabathia

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    Stats: 251-161, 3.74 ERA (116 ERA+), 1.26 WHIP, 3,093 K, 3,577.1 IP, 62.0 WAR

    Postseason: 10-7, 4.28 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 121 K, 130.1 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 1.73

    Built like an NFL lineman with a 6'6", 300-pound frame, CC Sabathia tossed 180.1 innings as a 20-year-old rookie, and he continued on as a workhorse throughout his 19-year career.

    The left-hander won AL Cy Young in 2007 when he went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 209 strikeouts in an AL-high 241 innings.

    The following season, he was traded to Milwaukee at the deadline, and he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, including seven complete games and three shutouts, to help the Brewers claim a wild-card spot.

    From there, he spent the final 11 seasons of his career in pinstripes, going 134-88 with a 3.81 ERA (112 ERA+) during his time with the New York Yankees.

    Sabathia wrapped up his career with 251 wins and six All-Star appearances, and he was the ace of the Yankees staff when they won the World Series in 2009. He should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when his time comes.

13. LHP Chris Sale

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    Stats: 109-73, 3.03 ERA (140 ERA+), 1.04 WHIP, 2,007 K, 1,629.2 IP, 45.4 WAR

    Postseason: 1-2, 5.76 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 36 K, 25 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 2.79

    The future is uncertain for Chris Sale after he underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this month. But his past is already written, and it's awfully impressive.

    The No. 13 pick in the 2010 draft by the Chicago White Sox, Sale pitched just 10.1 innings in the minors before making his MLB debut later that same season.

    After pitching out of the bullpen in 2010 and 2011, he finally moved into the starting rotation in 2012, and he immediately became one of the best pitchers in baseball.

    Over the seven-year span from 2012 to 2018, he went 99-59 with a 2.91 ERA (143 ERA+), 1.02 WHIP and 1,678 strikeouts in 1,388 innings. He was an All-Star every year and finished in the top six in Cy Young voting each season during that stretch.

    His 2019 season was a rocky one, and he's now on the road to recovery. But he's still just 31 years old and not far removed from a 308-strikeout season in 2017.

12. RHP Corey Kluber

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    Stats: 98-58, 3.16 ERA (134 ERA+), 1.09 WHIP, 1,461 K, 1,341.2 IP, 32.2 WAR

    Postseason: 4-3, 3.97 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 47 K, 45.1 IP

    WAR/100: 2.40

    A late-bloomer who didn't log his first 150-inning season until the age of 28, Corey Kluber quickly developed into a perennial Cy Young contender with the Cleveland Indians.

    During the five-year window from 2014 to 2018, he went 83-45 with a 2.85 ERA (151 ERA+), 1.02 WHIP and 1,228 strikeouts in 1,091.1 innings. His 31.7 WAR during that stretch trailed only Max Scherzer (34.5) among all pitchers.

    He took home the Cy Young hardware in 2014 (18-9, 2.44 ERA, 269 K, 235.2 IP) and 2017 (18-4, 2.25 ERA, 265 K, 203.2 IP) while finishing third in the voting two other times.

    His 2019 was cut short by a fractured forearm, and he struggled to a 5.80 ERA in seven starts prior to the injury, so he'll be one of the leading contenders for AL Comeback Player of the Year honors in his first season with the Texas Rangers.

11. RHP Zack Greinke

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    Stats: 205-123, 3.35 ERA (125 ERA+), 1.16 WHIP, 2,622 K, 2,872 IP, 65.9 WAR

    Postseason: 3-6, 4.21 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 84 K, 92 IP

    WAR/100: 2.29

    After some early struggles, Zack Greinke broke out in a big way during the 2009 season, going 16-8 while leading the AL in ERA (2.16), ERA+ (205) and WHIP (1.07) for a 97-loss Kansas City Royals team to win AL Cy Young.

    He's since spent time with the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros, and he's pitched at a top-of-the-rotation level everywhere he's gone.

    The 36-year-old went 18-5 with a 2.93 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 187 strikeouts in 208.2 innings last season, and he's done an excellent job developing an arsenal that relies less on velocity over the years.

    A six-time All-Star, a six-time Gold Glove winner and a .225 career hitter with nine home runs and two Silver Slugger Awards to his credit, Greinke is a ballplayer in every sense of the word.

    He's owed $70 million over the next two seasons, and there's no reason to believe he won't live up to that lofty salary.

10. RHP Curt Schilling

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    Stats: 117-63, 3.54 ERA (132 ERA+), 1.13 WHIP, 1,545 K, 1,569.1 IP, 46.2 WAR

    Postseason: 10-1, 2.12 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 92 K, 102 IP, Three-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 2.94

    Curt Schilling was 33 years old when he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks midway through the 2000 season.

    The 99 wins, 1,571 strikeouts and 34.4 WAR he posted prior to that season are not part of the conversation here, but his late-career performance on its own is still enough to land him a spot inside the top 10.

    He finished second in Cy Young voting in 2001 and 2002 while pitching for the D-backs, and then again in 2004 as a member of the Boston Red Sox:

    • 2001: 22-6, 2.98 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 293 K, 256.2 IP
    • 2002: 23-7, 3.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 316 K, 259.1 IP
    • 2004: 21-6, 3.26 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 203 K, 226.2 IP

    His brilliant postseason track record vaults him ahead of others with similarly short peaks in these rankings.

    He was 4-0 with a 1.12 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 48.1 innings over six starts for the D-backs in 2001, and his infamous "bloody sock" start in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS is the stuff of legend.

9. LHP Madison Bumgarner

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Stats: 119-92, 3.13 ERA (120 ERA+), 1.11 WHIP, 1,794 K, 1,846 IP, 32.2 WAR

    Postseason: 8-3, 1 SV, 2.11 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 87 K, 102.1 IP, Three-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 1.74

    The 2014 postseason alone might have been enough to land Madison Bumgarner on this list.

    He kicked off the San Francisco Giants' postseason run with a four-hit shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game, and he didn't take his foot off the gas the rest of the way.

    He finished that postseason 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA in 52.2 innings, capping things off with a four-hit shutout in Game 5 of the World Series and then an epic five-inning save three days later in Game 7. He won NLCS and World Series MVP honors and cemented his place as one of the greatest postseason pitchers in MLB history.

    Turns out, he's not too shabby during the regular season, either.

    He rattled off four straight seasons of at least 200 innings and an ERA below 3.00 from 2013 to 2017, finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young voting each year. Aside from a pair of freak injuries, he's been one of the most reliable starters in the game.

    After 11 seasons with the Giants, he signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks during the offseason.

8. LHP Johan Santana

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    Stats: 139-78, 3.20 ERA (136 ERA+), 1.13 WHIP, 1,988 K, 2,025.2 IP, 51.1 WAR

    Postseason: 1-3, 3.97 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 32 K, 34 IP

    WAR/100: 2.52

    One of the best examples of why the Rule 5 draft exists, Johan Santana was plucked from the Houston Astros system by the Florida Marlins in the 1999 draft then promptly sold to the Minnesota Twins.

    After an inauspicious first two seasons in the majors (45 G, 9 GS, 5.90 ERA, 0.5 WAR), Santana shined in a swingman role during the next two seasons (72 G, 32 GS, 3.04 ERA, 6.8 WAR). The left-hander finally joined the starting rotation full-time in 2004 and immediately won the AL Cy Young, going 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 265 strikeouts in 228 innings.

    From 2004 to 2008, he went 86-39 with a 2.82 ERA (157 ERA+), 1.02 WHIP and 1,189 strikeouts in 1,146.2 innings, and he added a second Cy Young Award in 2006 when he led the AL in wins (19), ERA (2.77), WHIP (1.00), strikeouts (245) and innings pitched (233.2).

    Injuries cut his career short following his age-31 season, and he only ended up pitching 2,025.2 innings in the majors. But that was still enough to secure a top-10 spot.

7. RHP Jacob deGrom

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    Stats: 66-49, 2.62 ERA (148 ERA+), 1.05 WHIP, 1,255 K, 1,101.2 IP, 33.3 WAR

    Postseason: 3-1, 2.88 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 29 K, 25 IP

    WAR/100: 3.02

    Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball right now, but where does that land him on a list of the best pitchers of the past 20 years?

    The 31-year-old has won back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards, and he's been absolutely electric since coming out of nowhere to win NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2014 as a 26-year-old.

    He's limited opposing hitters to a .201 batting average over the past two seasons while posting a 2.05 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 524 strikeouts in 421 innings.

    His 2.62 career ERA ranks second among active players and 60th on the all-time list, and that's enough to earn him the No. 7 spot despite a sample size of just over 1,000 innings.

6. LHP Randy Johnson

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    Stats: 143-78, 3.34 ERA (137 ERA+), 1.11 WHIP, 2,182 K, 1,885.1 IP, 51.3 WAR

    Postseason: 5-3, 3.28 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 59 K, 60.1 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 2.72

    Randy Johnson won the final three of his four straight NL Cy Young Awards from 2000-02, going 64-18 with a 2.48 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 1,053 strikeouts in 758.1 innings while piling up 29.0 WAR.

    He had one more strong season at age 40 in 2004, going 16-14 with a 2.60 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 290 strikeouts in 245.2 innings to finish second in Cy Young voting before a rather pedestrian final five seasons.

    The 6'10" southpaw was 57-38 with a 4.28 ERA (104 ERA+) in two seasons with the New York Yankees, two back with the Arizona Diamondbacks and one with the San Francisco Giants. He won his 300th game as a member of the Giants in 2009.

    So how high do three of the best single-season performances in recent MLB history push Johnson up these rankings? In the end, the answer was to the No. 6 spot.

5. RHP Pedro Martinez

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    Stats: 112-50, 3.01 ERA (152 ERA+), 1.04 WHIP, 1,620 K, 1,468 IP, 45.6 WAR

    Postseason: 3-4, 4.23 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 65 K, 72.1 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 3.11

    In 2000, at the height of the Steroid Era, Pedro Martinez authored one of the best seasons in MLB history.

    He was 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA and 284 strikeouts in 217 innings for an 11.7 WAR season, and some of his advanced numbers rank among the best of all-time.

    • ERA+: 291 (No. 2 on all-time list)
    • WHIP: 0.74 (No. 1 on all-time list)
    • BAA: .167 (No. 1 on all-time list)

    To some, it's the best single-season pitching performance in the history of the game.

    He continued to pitch at a high level for the next five seasons, going 72-28 with a 2.78 ERA (163 ERA+) and 1,043 strikeouts in 936.2 innings, winning two more ERA titles along the way.

    Injuries started to pile up after that, and he limped along over his final four seasons. But his brilliant 2000 season makes it impossible not to include him on any list of the greatest pitchers of the last 20 years.

4. RHP Roy Halladay

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    Stats: 194-98, 3.36 ERA (131 ERA+), 1.16 WHIP, 2,022 K, 2,586 IP, 62.4 WAR

    Postseason: 3-2, 2.37 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 35 K, 38 IP

    WAR/100: 2.41

    Roy Halladay posted a brutal 10.64 ERA and 2.20 WHIP in 67.2 innings during the 2000 season.

    Two years later, he went 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA while leading the AL in innings pitched (239.1). The following season, he won AL Cy Young honors by going 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 204 strikeouts in an absurd 266 innings with nine complete games and three shutouts.

    At his peak during his final two seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and first two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, he went 77-37 with a 2.59 ERA (160 ERA+) while averaging 213 strikeouts and 242 innings. He won NL Cy Young in 2010, becoming just the fifth pitcher to win the award in both leagues, though Max Scherzer has since joined that list.

    In many ways, Halladay was the last of an old-school breed of true workhorse starters, wrapping up his career with 67 complete games and 20 shutouts.

    He died at 40 years old in a plane crash on Nov. 7, 2017, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously in 2019.

3. RHP Max Scherzer

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    Stats: 170-89, 3.20 ERA (132 ERA+), 1.09 WHIP, 2,692 K, 2,290 IP, 58.4 WAR

    Postseason: 7-5, 3.38 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 137 K, 112 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 2.55

    After showing swing-and-miss stuff but shaky command during his first five seasons in the majors, everything clicked for Max Scherzer in 2013. He went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 240 strikeouts in 214.1 innings to win AL Cy Young honors that year, and he's been lights out ever since.

    Over the past seven seasons, he's been an All-Star every year, going 118-47 with a 2.82 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 1,863 strikeouts in 1,485.1 innings.

    He's finished in the top five in Cy Young voting each year during that stretch, winning the award two more times in 2016 (20-7, 2.96 ERA, 284 K, 228.1 IP) and 2017 (16-6, 2.51 ERA, 268 K, 200.2 IP).

    After getting knocked around a bit in the NL Wild Card Game last year, he put together a brilliant rest of the postseason, going 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 31 strikeouts in 25 innings for the World Series winners.

    At 35 years old, he hasn't lost a step.

2. RHP Justin Verlander

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Stats: 225-129, 3.33 ERA (129 ERA+), 1.14 WHIP, 3,006 K, 2,982 IP, 72.1 WAR

    Postseason: 14-11, 3.40 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 205 K, 187.2 IP, One-time WS winner

    WAR/100: 2.42

    Aside from a shaky 2014 and an injury-shortened 2015, Justin Verlander has been a bona fide ace for more than a decade.

    The No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting during his first full season in the Detroit Tigers rotation, and he has been one of the best in the business ever since.

    As a 28-year-old in 2011, he won Cy Young and MVP honors, leading the AL in wins (24), ERA (2.40), WHIP (0.92), strikeouts (250) and innings pitched (251) for a team that won 95 games. Nearly a decade later, he won his second Cy Young, outdueling teammate Gerrit Cole last year by going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 300 strikeouts in 223 innings.

    All told, he's an eight-time All-Star who has finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting nine times, and his 72.1 career WAR ranks 30th on the all-time list among pitchers.

1. LHP Clayton Kershaw

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    Stats: 169-74, 2.44 ERA (157 ERA+), 1.01 WHIP, 2,464 K, 2,274.2 IP, 65.3 WAR

    Postseason: 9-11, 4.43 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 170 K, 158.1 IP

    WAR/100: 2.87

    Clayton Kershaw made his MLB debut as a 20-year-old in 2008.

    Since that time, he's won one MVP, three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles, four WHIP titles and three strikeout titles, and he's been named to eight All-Star teams.

    His 157 ERA+ trails only Mariano Rivera (205) among all pitchers in MLB history who have worked at least 1,000 innings, and his 2.44 ERA is tops among all active pitchers.

    Injuries have limited him to an average of 26 starts and 166 innings over the past four seasons, but he's still been elite when healthy, posting a 2.47 ERA (164 ERA+) during that span.

    The only blemish on his resume is his lack of postseason success, but it's not enough to bridge the gap to the rest of the field in the search for the best pitcher of the past 20 years. 

    Kershaw is an all-time great and the clear choice for the No. 1 spot in these rankings.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.