Ranking the Best Power Pitchers Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2021

Ranking the Best Power Pitchers Since 2000

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Pitching is a fascinating art. From local youth leagues to Major League Baseball, location and movement can flummox a lineup.

    But sometimes, throwing smoke is the best decision.

    Earlier in the 2000s, a few future Hall of Famers leaned on elite velocity and built a reputation as power pitchers. Since then, a couple of All-Star starters and relievers have helped usher in an era where fastballs just keep getting faster.

    The order is subjective, especially since a player's era must be considered. Many modern pitchers throw harder than Billy Wagner did, for example, but he overwhelmed batters at the time.

    Average fastball velocity over a sustained time period is a key factor in the selections.

Honorable Mentions

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    Jonathan Papelbon
    Jonathan PapelbonAssociated Press
    • Josh Beckett
    • Neftali Feliz
    • Jordan Hicks
    • Robb Nen
    • Jonathan Papelbon
    • Chris Sale
    • Stephen Strasburg
    • Noah Syndergaard
    • Kerry Wood
    • Joel Zumaya

8. Billy Wagner

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    BRETT COOMER/Associated Press

    Late in his career, Billy Wagner had fully recognized the tightrope a power pitcher must walk.

    "Velocity allows you to make more mistakes, but if you can't control it you're not going to be around very long," he said.

    Wagner, however, had a hugely successful career because he could locate a blistering fastball. During his 16 seasons, the left-handed closer notched 422 saveswhich ranks No. 6 in MLB historyand 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

    Even excluding 1995-99, Wagner made six All-Star teams while spending time on the Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves.

7. Roger Clemens

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    JEFF ZELEVANSKY/Associated Press

    It shouldn't come as a surprise that a seven-time Cy Young winner with the nickname "Rocket" was a power pitcher.

    Before we recap his accomplishments, yes, Roger Clemens is alleged to have used performance-enhancing drugs. No matter your feelings on the topic, however, his resume is undeniably impressiveand we're only able to consider eight seasons.

    The 2000 campaign marked Clemens' 17th year in the majors, yet he earned Cy Young Awards in 2001 with the Yankees and 2004 on the Astros. He struck out 185-plus batters each season from 2000 to 2005.

    Radar readings were less reliable in the early 2000s, but the consensus is Clemens consistently threw 96-98 mph.

6. Gerrit Cole

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    After a respectable half-decade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole reached "ace" status on the Houston Astros.

    Cole amassed 602 strikeouts in 2018 and 2019 combined, leading the majors in strikeouts per nine innings both years. He helped the Astros reach the World Series in 2019.

    During that season, per Baseball Savant, Cole led the majors with an average fastball velocity of 97.1 mph. Overall, he's ranked no lower than fourth in that category every year since 2014excluding his injury-affected 2016.

    Cole, a four-time top-five Cy Young finisher, turned his powerful arm into a $324 million payday with the New York Yankees.

5. Jacob deGrom

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Jacob deGrom is the single-best example of why wins are an overrated stat for starting pitchers.

    While winning back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019, he managed a 21-17 record. Yet during those seasons, he posted a 2.05 ERA, 2.32 FIP and 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings. 

    The 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom has steadilyand sharplyincreased his velocity in the last half-decade. According to Baseball Savant, he averaged 94 mph on his four-seamer in 2016. And by 2020, that had climbed to an MLB-high 98.6 mph.

    At this point, deGrom has already proved his value as a power pitcher. With more years of sustained high velocity, he'll rise even higher in this particular ranking.

4. Craig Kimbrel

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Craig Kimbrel dominated from the moment he entered the bigs.

    In 2010prior to meeting rookie minimumsKimbrel surrendered a single earned run in 20.2 innings for the Braves.  The next season, he earned an All-Star nod and won Rookie of the Year while leading the NL with 46 saves.

    And then, he made the All-Star roster and paced the NL in saves during each of the following three seasons.

    Often recognized for his arm-hanging pose, Kimbrel is a seven-time All-Star with 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings. He's averaged 97-plus mph through the majority of his 600-plus career appearances, per Baseball Savant.

3. Aroldis Chapman

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    Steve Nesius/Associated Press

    As soon as he debuted in 2010, Aroldis Chapman had people talking.

    The left-hander hit 105.1 mphthe fastest recorded pitch everduring his September call-up with the Cincinnati Reds. (Statcast recognizes the fastball as 105.8 mph.)

    Chapman has routinely whipped a fastball at 100-plus, helping him become one of the most prolific closers in MLB history. He's a six-time All-Star and, barring something awful, will become the 31st player to reach 300 career saves.

    For his career, Chapman has averaged 1.7 strikeouts per inning. He also played an integral role for the Chicago Cubs when the club snapped its 108-year drought with a World Series victory in 2016.

2. Justin Verlander

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    While he won AL Rookie of the Year in 2006 and made the 2007 All-Star team, Justin Verlander's true breakout year happened in 2009. And it coincided with a charge in his fastball.

    According to Baseball Savant, JV finished with a top-12 average fastball velocity each season from 2009 to 2012. He peaked at 96.3 mph in 2009 and stayed at 94.9 or higher through 2012. Verlander won the pitching Triple Crown in 2011 and paced the American League in strikeouts three times in that span.

    When his velocity dipped from 2013 to 2015, so did Verlander's performance.

    But he started to regain the speed in 2016 and returned to a Cy Young level. He was runner-up for the award in 2016 and 2018leading the AL in strikeouts both yearsand won it in 2019 with a career-high 300 punch-outs. Verlander only trailed Gerrit Cole in the category.

    Verlander is the greatest power pitcher of the late 2000s/early 2010s, but his late 2010s run was excellent, too.

1. Randy Johnson

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    GARY CASKEY/Associated Press

    Randy Johnson is best known for a devastating slider, but the bender had a heckuva complement: absolute gas.

    "I really pride myself on being disciplined with the strike zone, but I can't read the spin on his fastball," former San Diego Padres outfielder Brian Giles once said. "I can't tell if it's a fastball or slider."

    The left-handed legend unleashed high-90s fastballs from a 6'10" frame, infuriating hitters for more than two decades.

    From 2000 on, though, the Big Unit won three of his four straight NL Cy Young honors while racking up 334-plus strikeouts each year. Since 1900, only Nolan Ryan (383; 1973) and Sandy Koufax (382; 1965) had more than Johnson's 372 in 2001.

    Johnson, a longtime star for the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks, entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.