This last offseason had a great deal of free agent signings, among them some questionable ones. However, the important thing to note is that teams who rarely spend money are finally starting to open their checkbook, for example, the Padres and Blue Jays. The Padres jumped from $104 million in 2019 to just under $162 million in 2021. The Blue Jays had a smaller jump, from $111 million in 2019 to $132 million in 2021. Of course, the teams that have always spent, like the Yankees and the Dodgers, continue to spend. The Dodgers added $37 million from 2019 to 2021 in payroll, while the Yankees surprisingly shed $26 million.
Now… you might be thinking: What do all of these teams have in common? Pitching. Over the last few years, especially the last two, teams have realized the importance of paying up for good pitching. With all this talk about paying up for pitching, who has the best starting pitcher in each division?
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Walker Buehler is a young pitcher who has proven himself time and again in games that matter most. Since 2018, he has started all 11 playoff games he has appeared in, putting up a 2.35 ERA and a 0.995 WHIP, topped off with a stunning 12.2 K/9. Granted, this is compiled over only 61.1 innings, but they are all high-leverage playoff games. His career stats are also very promising despite only being three full years, with a WHIP of 1.02 and an ERA at 3.15. I really like Buehler because he has the new philosophy of pitching, with an emphasis on mechanics and velocity. Buehler’s fastball has an average velocity of 96.8 MPH, and has reached 100 MPH.
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Flaherty is another young pitcher who has a very promising future. He had a record season in 2019, posting an ERA of 0.91 over the last 15 regular season starts of 2019. While he has only played a few seasons in the majors, I expect him to continue the performance he has shown in 2019, albeit to a lesser degree. Flaherty has great control and pitch placement to make up for his lack of outlier velocity, as he taps out around 95 MPH. He also has very low batted ball stats on his pitches, indicating that he can continue these numbers for a long time.
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Jacob deGrom is a no-brainer for best pitcher in the NL East. He won the Cy Young award two years in a row, continues to top the league in multiple categories, and he is improving his velocity every year.
Jacob deGrom’s success comes from multiple areas, but the most important, in my opinion, is his mechanics. He has mastered the art of throwing pitches so that he has a low amount of stress put on his body, and as a result has very high pitch efficiency. Since his efficiency is so high, he is able to reach velocity thresholds that would not otherwise be possible due to his physical capabilities. deGrom has increased his velocity by almost two mph each year since 2018, with early spring training numbers showing that he is throwing at 102 mph now. That is insane for a pitcher to be adding velocity over 100 MPH when he is in his thirties! Additionally, he puts up impressive WAR numbers each season, with 9.9 in 2018 and 7.6 in 2019.
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Zack Greinke has always been at the forefront of the league for pitching, and he complements it with his unique personality. He continues to produce effectively even at the age of 37, and he doesn’t seem to be stopping soon. Greinke is unique because he has so many pitches; by most accounts he throws 8 of them. Because he has been losing his velocity the past few seasons, he has relied on his very nasty off-speed pitches. His changeup is sometimes clocked as being faster than his fastball. (yes, you read that right) Not only has Greinke continued to dominate the league both with pitching and with personality, he continues to mess with hitters by occasionally calling out his pitches that he will throw to the batter, and still strikes them out!
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Shane Bieber is yet another young pitcher who has excelled in his limited time in the majors. His first year in the majors he was around league average, but his 2019 performance was a massive improvement. Incredibly, his 2020 season blew his other two seasons out of the water. In 2020 he posted a 14.2 K/9, an ERA+ of 281, and won the Cy Young award. Shane Bieber’s strength is inducing swinging strikes, and getting a lot of strikeouts. In 2019 he led the majors by throwing three complete games (two were shutouts.) In 2020 he led the majors in ERA, strikeouts, and wins and looks to continue that same trend into 2021, as his pitching profile allows him to go deep into games and rack up a lot of strikeouts. I’m very excited to see how he evolves in the future, but I’m a little bit sad that he is in the same division as my favorite team, the Twins.
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Gerrit Cole seems like the obvious choice for the AL East, as he signed a monster contract and wowed everyone with his seasons on the Astros. There are a lot of pros to Gerrit Cole, like how he throws 100 MPH even on his 100th pitch of the game, how he places pitches perfectly in the zone to ring batters up looking, and the fact he threw 602 combined strikeouts in 2018 and 2019. However, my favorite aspects of Gerrit Cole are his ability to strikeout so many batters while going deep into games. Not only does Cole post a league-leading K/9 almost every year, he also throws over 200 innings per season. Cole has very high velocity, very high strikeouts, and a very high AAV to reflect that. I am interested to see if he can maintain his performance long-term now that he no longer has the coaching staff of the Astros.