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5 Best Regular Season Starting Pitchers of the Past Decade

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

On September 1st, Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros pitched the third no-hitter of his career. By doing so, Verlander became one of just six pitchers in history to throw three no-hitters, and cemented his legacy as one of the best pitchers of this era.

However, exactly where Verlander ranks has become the subject of many discussions in the past week.

On the heels of this historic accomplishment, I decided to rank the top five pitchers of the 2010s. Please note that only regular season statistics are taken into account in this article. In the near future, I will come out with another article ranking the top postseason pitchers of the decade.

5. Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner
MadBum has been the model of top-level consistency in this decade.

While Madison Bumgarner’s postseason dominance has overshadowed his regular season success, he has actually been the model of consistency over the last 10 years.

Throughout the decade, Bumgarner has had a range of only 1.03 in his ERA, never having an ERA higher than 3.77 (this year), while his lowest was 2.74, in the 2016 season. If this year’s spike in ERA is taken out, his highest ERA was 3.37 (in 2012), making his range in ERA for the first 9 years of the decade a ridiculously low .63. Bumgarner’s success has earned him plenty of accolades, as he is a four-time All-Star and won World Series MVP in 2014.

Bumgarner’s consistency as a top of the line starting pitcher, along with a 3.12 ERA and 8.7 strikeouts per 9 innings, are the reasons why he is a top five pitcher of this decade. However, as consistent as Bumgarner has performed, he has never truly been incredible during the regular season, as his WAR of 32.3 during the past 10 years is miles behind everyone else in the top five.

4. Chris Sale

During Chris Sale’s first two years in the big leagues, he pitched under 100 innings total, and in 2019 (prior to going down with a season-ending injury) he was mediocre at best. However, his dominance during the seven years in between is enough to earn him a spot on this list.

Chris Sale has been able to mow down batters with ease; he holds the MLB record of strikeouts per 9 innings for a career, with an average of 11.1 SO/9. Despite the fact that he has never won a Cy Young Award, he has consistently been one of the best pitchers in the game. During the years 2012 through 2018, Sale was named an All-Star every season, never finished lower than sixth in Cy Young voting, and had a combined ERA of 2.91. Even when factoring in 2010, ‘11, and ‘19, his ERA for the decade is still a spectacular 3.03.

As commanding as Chris Sale was between 2012 and 2018, it is hard to put him higher than fourth on this list, as he was not a quality pitcher this year, and has at least 170 fewer innings pitched during the decade than everyone else in the top five.

3. Justin Verlander

With his third career no-no, and second in this decade, Justin Verlander cemented his legacy as one of the top starters of the last 10 years. However, he was mediocre at other points, holding him back from being higher on this list.

From 2010 to 2012, Verlander had 59 wins and an ERA of 2.79, and from 2016-2019 he has won 65 games, with an ERA of 2.87 and 10.9 SO/9. This year, Verlander has been virtually unhittable; JV is giving up a miniscule 5.31 hits per 9 innings, which would be the fifth best finish of all time, and his mind-numbing .770 WHIP puts him on track for the third best single-season total in history. With all of this success, Verlander has earned himself some accolades, becoming a five-time All-Star, an MVP and Cy Young Award winner in those seven seasons. However, from 2013 to 2015, Verlander struggled, posting a 3.84 ERA and only striking out 7.9 batters per nine innings. He was named to just one All-Star Game during this span. Despite this three year stretch of mediocrity, Verlander’s overall WAR in this decade of 55.4 is third best for a starting pitcher in that time span.

Verlander was one of the best starters in the league throughout most of the 2010s, but there are two other pitchers who were even more dominant than him.

2. Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer’s ascendance to stardom took place in the early 2010s. While Scherzer was an average starter at the beginning of his career, for the majority of the decade he was consistently a top five pitcher in baseball.

During the decade, Scherzer has won three Cy Young Awards (he has finished in the top five three other times), was selected to the All-Star game seven times, and has struck out 10.7 batters per 9 innings. However, all of those awards came during the seasons between 2013 and 2019. Between 2010 and 2012, Mad Max’s ERA was 3.89, while from 2013-2019 it was 2.79 (for the decade it is 3.10, which is amazing). As Scherzer got older, his ERA trended down and his strikeouts per 9 trended up, to the point where this season Scherzer is averaging 12.6 SO/9, which is leading the league. In fact, this will be his third year in a row having 12 or more strikeouts per 9 innings.

Scherzer has become one of the most consistent starters in baseball; not only has he been one of the best pitchers every year, but he also hasn’t pitched in less than 30 starts in any season of the decade (except for this year, where he will fall short). However, his subpar first few seasons and overall lesser ERA to this next pitcher is why he is not #1 on the list.

1. Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for about a decade now. The control of his pitches has made him unhittable, which is why he is second-lowest all-time in hits per 9 innings, with 6.79.

Kershaw’s highest ERA throughout the 2010s is 3.06, which is this year, so he still has time to lower it. Kershaw has been so dominant, that he has won an MVP and three Cy Young Awards throughout the decade (and finished in the top five in voting four other times). He has been an eight-time All-Star and has led the league in ERA five times, strikeouts three times, WHIP four times and SO/9 twice. Kershaw’s excellence has been unmatched by anyone in the league over the past ten years, due to his consistency and effectiveness. For a pitcher to have a season with an ERA under 2.75 is an incredible feat. Kershaw has done it for eight straight seasons; in three of those years his ERA was under 2.00.

While other pitchers (like Bumgarner) have had more consistent ERAs throughout the 2010s, none have had an ERA in this decade even close to Kershaw’s 2.31. The only pitchers with ERA’s somewhat close to Kershaw have been Jose Fernandez (2.58 ERA) and Jacob deGrom (2.67 ERA), but they have a combined career total of 244 starts, while in this decade Kershaw has started 290 games.

Kershaw has been the most dominant pitcher of the decade by far, and has led the league at least twice in almost every major pitching metric over the past 10 years. Players are scared when they have to face Kershaw, and even more scary is the fact that he is only 31. If he continues to be effective, he has a good chance to be a top five pitcher for the next five years as well.

Honorable Mentions

Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke was an outstanding pitcher throughout much of the 2010s, but in many years he was just an average starter.

From 2013-2015 Greinke was one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball with an ERA of 2.30, and in 2015 he led the league with a 1.66 ERA. Greinke finished in the top 8 of Cy Young voting all three of those seasons, was a Silver Slugger one year and won a Gold Glove the other two years. However, in the three years before that, Zack’s ERA was 3.83, with a high of 4.17, and the four seasons since 2015 has seen his ERA go back up to 3.40, with a high of 4.37.

Overall, his ERA since 2010 of 3.19 is solid, but the fluctuation in Greinke’s performance does not scream “top five pitchers of the decade”.

Jacob deGrom

Jacob deGrom has been one of the best pitchers in the league for the past 5 seasons. However, since he has only played for six years, he hasn’t had the opportunity that the other pitchers on this list have had.

deGrom has the second-lowest career ERA of any active starting pitcher at 2.67, and led the league last year with a 1.70 ERA. In just six years, Jacob has earned himself a Rookie of the Year Award, Cy Young Award, and has been selected to three All-Star games. His worst season was in 2017, when he had a 3.53 ERA, but still finished 8th in Cy Young voting. deGrom is fifth in MLB active pitchers in HR/9 innings, giving up just .79 home runs per 9. The only starter on this list that has a better number is Kershaw, who is the active leader with .67 home runs per 9 innings.

Over his time in the league, Jacob has been nothing short of “deGrominant”, and the only thing keeping him out of the top five is that he has not been in the league nearly as long as the other dominant aces of this decade.

Corey Kluber

One of the best pitchers of the past six years, Corey Kluber is a two-time Cy Young Award winner and a three-time All-Star.

Kluber had a spectacular five-year stretch from 2014 to 2018 with an ERA of 2.85, 83 wins, and 10.1 SO/9. However, from 2011—when he made his MLB debut—through 2013, Kluber did not show tremendous promise. As the 2014 season was set to begin, he had a career ERA of 4.32. Another factor which hampers his argument to be a top five pitcher in this decade is that, in the 2019 season, his ERA is 5.80 (he has only pitched in 7 games due to injury).

Kluber had an amazing five year stretch with the Cleveland Indians, but his 2019 injury, coupled with his ineffectiveness for a few years, cost him a spot in the top 5.

Consistent, But Not Good Enough: David Price, Cole Hamels

If Only the Decade Ended in 2015: Felix Hernandez

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Good analysis, very good points -- goes to show how difficult it is to maintain consistent dominance over a 10-year period!

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