Pitcher Power Rankings: How Every MLB Team's Ace Stacks Up

Abbey MastraccoContributor IIJune 16, 2021

Pitcher Power Rankings: How Every MLB Team's Ace Stacks Up

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    It's the year of the pitcher, so every team should have a dominant ace right? 

    Well, not necessarily. But mostly, yes. There are a lot of quality pitchers leading staffs around the league. Some teams have more than one. The Los Angeles Angels can't even get one. 

    With that said, let's rank the aces for all 30 teams. 

    These rankings were put together using Fangraphs WAR, which is only reflective of this season. Don't like the rankings? Take it up with the metrics. If you want to have a debate about what constitutes an ace? That's another story. 

    Since we're nearing the midway point of the season, it doesn't make sense to use Opening Day starters for these rankings. We'll use the best pitchers who have pitched a minimum of 60 innings. If the playoffs started today, these would probably be the pitchers teams want on the mound to start a series. So, while these rankings are mostly an exercise in objectivity, there is some subjectivity involved as well. Teams are in different places than they were on Opening Day—some pitchers have been injured and some have emerged as unlikely aces. 

    So, here are 30 aces, ranked according to their fWAR, counting down from 30-1.


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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    30. Chicago Cubs: Kyle Hendricks (2021 fWAR: -0.4)

    Hendricks hasn't been bad this season, but home runs continue to vex him. He's allowed 19 this season—the most in the league—and 22 percent of fly balls are going for home runs against him. It's a big jump up from last year when only 13 percent of fly balls he gave up went out of the park.


    29. Seattle Mariners: Marco Gonzales (2021 fWAR: -0.1)

    Gonzales went 7-2 with a career-best 3.10 ERA last season, but so far he hasn't followed up that campaign. He's currently 1-4 with a 5.44 ERA; he's struggling to go deep into games, his strikeout numbers are down, he's walking 2.37 more batters per nine innings than last season and surrendering one more home run for each nine innings.


    28. Los Angeles Angels: Dylan Bundy (2021 fWAR: 0.0)

    The best pitcher on the Angels staff is Shohei Ohtani, which shouldn’t be surprising considering he's good at just about everything. But Ohtani has been held off the mound a few times because of injury concerns and Bundy is the one the Angels are counting on to set the tone every five days. Yet, he's been inconsistent at best, much like he was with the Baltimore Orioles.


    27. Pittsburgh Pirates: Tyler Anderson (2021 fWAR: 0.6)

    You could make the case to say JT Brubaker is the Pirates' ace right now. He has a better record (4-5) than Anderson (3-6) and a better ERA (3.88 vs. 4.52). But Anderson is the more established pitcher. He was brought in to be the ace during the rebuild, which can't exactly be a fun position to be in, but someone has to play that role.


    26. Arizona Diamondbacks: Madison Bumgarner (2021 fWAR: 0.7)

    What a strange year this has been for Bumgarner. One of the game's greats just a few years ago, he struggled to start the season, then pitched a seven-inning no-hitter in the midst of a stretch of four wins in five starts. But his past four starts haven't been great, and he was chased from his last one against the Mets after just two innings with a shoulder injury. Bumgarner is one of three D-backs starters on the injured list, so their depth has been significantly thinned.  


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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    25. St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright (2021 fWAR: 0.8)

    Wainwright recently admitted to using a sticky concoction made by former Angels clubhouse manager Brian "Bubba" Hawkins in 2019 but said he didn't like how it changed the release point of some of his pitches, so he stopped using it. Now 39, Wainwright remains a steady presence in the Cardinals rotation, with a 4-5 record and 3.95 ERA.


    24. Toronto Blue Jays: Hyun-Jin Ryu (2021 fWAR: 1.1)

    It's a good season, but maybe not a great one for Ryu. That's in line with how the Blue Jays have pitched as a team this year—good, but not great (4.19 starting pitching ERA, 17th in the league). He won four of five decisions in May and lost his past two in June. The Blue Jays are trying to keep pace in a crowded AL East race, so they'll need every win they can get from their ace this summer.


    23. Minnesota Twins: Jose Berrios (2021 fWAR: 1.3)

    It's been a tough season for the Twins, who are still without star outfielder Byron Buxton and remain last in the AL Central, even behind the rebuilding Tigers. But Berrios remains a bright spot. The 27-year-old has been remarkably consistent over the last three seasons, but he is using his curveball more often this year (32.6 percent of the time) and his changeup less (11.2 percent, down from 18.8).


    22. Atlanta Braves: Ian Anderson (2021 fWAR: 1.3)

    Is Max Fried the Braves' ace or has he handed over that title to Anderson? As inconsistent as the rookie has been this season, he's been better than Fried, who has an expected ERA of 4.36. Anderson has a 3.26 ERA and a 134 ERA+. Mike Soroka could become the ace if he returns in August, as general manager Alex Anthopoulos hopes.


    21. Houston Astros: Zack Greinke (2021 fWAR: 1.4)

    Greinke's velocity has diminished in recent seasons and his strikeout numbers are down, but that doesn't mean he's any less effective. The veteran right-hander somehow always finds a way to get it done, as is evidenced by his 6-2 record. He might be 37, but he's relying more on his loopy curveball than ever before, throwing it nearly 20 percent of the time, and his changeup can still get outs as well.  


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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    20. Texas Rangers: Kyle Gibson (2021 fWAR: 1.4)

    Gibson is doing a good job of limiting the long ball for the rebuilding Rangers this season. He’s allowing less than one home run for each nine innings pitched (0.63) and only 8.2 percent of fly balls are leaving the park.


    19. Baltimore Orioles: John Means (2021 fWAR: 1.4)

    What a fantastic season Means is having. He tossed his first no-hitter in early May, and he has continued to cruise all season. His 2.28 ERA is 10th in baseball. A notable difference this year: He's not using his slider nearly as much as in years past. The southpaw is only throwing his slider 7.2 percent of the time, down from over 10 percent. Instead, he's relying more on his changeup, increasing the usage of that pitch almost four percent over last season.


    18. Miami Marlins: Sandy Alcantara (2021 fWAR: 1.5)

    The lanky right-hander has refined his changeup and added it to his arsenal. He's increased the usage by over 17 percent. Alcantara and Trevor Rodgers have quietly become a dependable front-end duo for the Fish, and you could probably call them co-aces at this point.


    17. Detroit Tigers: Matthew Boyd (2021 fWAR: 1.5)

    Boyd recently hit the injured list after exiting his start Monday with some sort of discomfort "more toward the elbow," according to manager A.J. Hinch. Boyd is 3-6 with a 3.44 ERA in 13 starts and he's under team control through 2022, so he could be a trade candidate if he's able to return soon. But right now, both of the Tigers' aces are out, as he joined Spencer Turnbull on the IL.


    16. Kansas City Royals: Danny Duffy (2021 fWAR: 1.6)

    Duffy helped the Royals finish the first month of the season in first place, allowing only a single earned run in 23 innings (0.39 ERA) in four starts and going 3-1. But the Royals have regressed, falling below the White Sox and Cleveland in the AL Central. Duffy has been great, but he's currently on the IL. Better luck next year, Kansas City. There's always the Chiefs.  


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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    15. Colorado Rockies: German Marquez (2021 fWAR: 1.6)

    The Rockies are a mess and Marquez is right in the middle of it. He's walking nearly twice as many batters as he has in the past, which could be his biggest issue beyond the 4.60 ERA. Adjusting for ballpark, it's a 100 ERA+, which is below his career mark of 115. However, you'd have to think teams are checking in on him ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. He has two more seasons plus a club option for 2024—and he's only 26—so there is value.


    14. Cincinnati Reds: Tyler Mahle (2021 fWAR: 1.6)

    Fun fact: Shane Bieber was a walk-on at UC Santa Barbara because Mahle chose to go pro after being drafted by the Reds in the 2013 draft. Mahle really missed out since Santa Barbara might be one of the most beautiful places in the country, but it worked out well for him. He's 6-2 with a 3.56 ERA and has become the surprising ace for Cincinnati.


    13. Oakland Athletics: Sean Manaea (2021 fWAR: 1.7)

    Who is the real A's ace? Is it Frankie Montas, who was slated to be the ace ahead of the season? Is it Chris Bassitt, who has seven wins? Leave it to the A's to just buck convention and go without an ace. But whatever, it's probably Manaea, who hasn't lost a decision in a month and has been remarkably consistent all season. Manaea hasn't given up more than one earned run in a start since May 18.


    12. San Diego Padres: Yu Darvish (2021 fWAR: 2.0)

    The Padres are in the same category as the A's, boasting multiple aces on a talented pitching staff. Darvish was their star offseason acquisition as the club loaded up to compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West crown, and he's delivered: Darvish is 6-2 with a 2.28 ERA over 13 starts. He's always had one of the deepest arsenals in baseball, and his postseason experience should help the upstart Padres this fall.


    11. Washington Nationals: Max Scherzer (2021 fWAR: 2.1)

    The Nationals are 7.5 games behind the New York Mets in the NL East standings, and they're without both aces, as Max Scherzer joined Stephen Strasburg on the IL this week. Scherzer's been his usual self this year, putting up a 2.21 ERA and striking out 36 percent of the hitters he's faced.


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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    10. Cleveland: Shane Bieber (2021 fWAR: 2.2)

    Bieber isn't quite having the same Cy Young season he had in 2020, possibly because he's been dealing with a shoulder injury that recently landed him on the IL. The official diagnosis is a strain. But Bieber is still one of the more dominant pitchers in the American League and leads all of baseball in strikeouts with 130.


    9. Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw (2021 fWAR: 2.4)

    While everyone has been talking about the Dodgers' other ace, Trevor Bauer, and his diminished spin rate, Kershaw has been putting together another strong season at age 33. He's striking out more hitters per nine innings than he has since 2017, and he's giving up fewer home runs than he did the past two seasons.


    8. Boston Red Sox: Nathan Eovaldi (2021 fWAR: 2.4)

    Chris Sale has a chance to reclaim his spot as the Red Sox ace when he returns, but until then Boston's best pitcher is Eovaldi. They need him to keep pitching at ace level because the rotation has been a mess as of late. Eovaldi has regularly been going deep into games and pitched 6.2 shutout innings in his last start against the Toronto Blue Jays.


    7. Chicago White Sox: Carlos Rodon (2021 fWAR: 2.5)

    Rodon is striking out hitters at a higher rate than ever in his career, he's decreased his walk rate, his BABIP is the lowest it's ever been and he tossed a no-hitter this season. His story is well-told: He improved his diet and fitness in the offseason after the White Sox non-tendered him. He's 6-2 with a 1.89 ERA for the AL Central-leading White Sox, so the work has clearly paid off.


    6. Tampa Bay Rays: Tyler Glasnow (2021 fWAR: 2.5)

    Glasnow is behind Bieber with 123 strikeouts, the second-most in the league. However, he's one of many injured aces right now, being placed on the IL Tuesday with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and a flexor strain. Glasnow blames MLB's crackdown on pitch-doctoring for his injuries, saying he decided not to use sunscreen in his last two starts and needed to adjust his grip. It left his arm sore after the first start, but he left his second one after feeling a pop. He's opted against surgery and could return in the fall. It doesn't affect his ranking on this list, but it will greatly affect his chance at winning a Cy Young.


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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    5. Milwaukee Brewers: Brandon Woodruff (2021 fWAR: 2.5)

    The Brewers now have elite starting pitching to go along with their elite relief corps. That could be dangerous come October. Woodruff's .200 BAPIB means hitters aren’t hitting him exceptionally hard, and only 10.7 percent of his fly balls are turning into home runs.


    4. San Francisco Giants: Kevin Gausman (2021 fWAR: 2.5)

    Prior to the season, you probably didn't predict Gausman would be in the conversation for the NL Cy Young Award. But then again, you probably didn't predict the Giants would be one of the best teams in the National League. Like Woodruff, Gausman keeps the ball on the ground. This is not going to be popular with a certain crowd, but Gausman credits advanced analytics and being able to use the information to make necessary adjustments.


    3. New York Yankees: Gerrit Cole (2021 fWAR: 3.1)

    Cole is under a microscope right now after being accused of using Spider Tack and other substances to increase the spin rate on his pitches. He gave an awkward interview in which he didn't exactly deny the use of sticky stuff, but he did go out the next day and limit the Twins to two earned runs on five hits over six innings. Cole and many others might have to prove that they can pitch without grip enhancements, be them of the legal or illegal variety. But unless he does a complete 180 on the mound, he belongs at No. 3 on this list.


    2. Philadelphia Phillies: Zack Wheeler (2021 fWAR: 3.2)

    This is the pitcher the Mets always thought he could be. It just took leaving New York for Wheeler to be able to put everything together. Wheeler was the key piece involved in the Carlos Beltran trade with the San Francisco Giants in 2011. Injuries plagued him throughout much of the early part of his MLB career, but now fully healthy, he's showing off an array of devastating breaking balls and throwing with an easy, wispy motion that makes him exceptionally difficult to pick up. He's throwing more sliders than at any point in his career (25.5 percent) and they seem to be working.


    1. New York Mets: Jacob deGrom (2021 fWAR: 3.7)

    How has he not pitched a no-hitter? DeGrom is doing things with a baseball we have never seen, yet somehow he hasn't tossed a no-hitter in a year when it seems like everyone else is doing it. He's definitely due for one, maybe even for a perfect game. He'll be 33 this week, and yet he's defying the odds and throwing harder and more efficiently than ever in his career. The Mets, of course, had trouble giving him run support early in the season, but his 6-2 record could be worse. It has been worse in previous seasons, but somehow the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner never lets anything deter him from dominating on the mound. 

    It's pretty safe to say he's the best ace in baseball.


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