By In Baseball

No. 1 Starters

At any given time, there are probably no more than a dozen pitchers that are widely considered No. 1 starters. But, of course, that’s not right. There are 30 No. 1 starters in baseball.

So here are my 30.

The most glaring one missing, I will admit, is Matt Harvey. I wanted to put Matt Harvey in there but the formula I used simply would not allow it. In the formula, I calculated all sorts of statistics from the start of the 2014 season, with a heavier emphasis on this year. Well, Harvey obviously missed last season. And this year, while he has been good, he has not been great. I would take Harvey over several of the pitchers on this list. But I can’t list him as a No. 1 right now.

We’re No. 1s!

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28 Responses to No. 1 Starters

  1. David says:

    Some numbers:

    Two teams have three #1s – the White Sox and the Cardinals.

    The NL has seventeen #1s, the AL thirteen.

    Each division has exactly five #1s except the AL East, which has only three (and two of those on the Jays) while the NL Central has the most, with seven #1s (spread among only three teams, each having two or more #1s).

    The Yankees are the only 1st-place team without a #1.

    Every team in the AL West has a #1 except the Angels; every team in the NL East has a #1 except the Phillies.

    I am thoroughly unsurprised to find that my Brewers do not have a #1.

  2. AaronB says:

    Hey Joe, great write up as always. You mention some of the young guys, so I’ve got to mention two potentials: Carlos Martinez & Michael Wacha. I figured if you threw Lackey out there, I should mention these two as their #’s are nearly as good, if not better.

    1. Both are 23 & 11-4 this season.
    2. ERA+ is 142 for Carlos & 113 for Wacha
    3. WHIP is 1.115 for Wacha & 1.263 for Martinez
    4. FIP: 3.31 for Wacha, 3.44 for Marinez & Lackey
    5. Martinez K’s over 1/IP (9.2/9) Wacha is a more Wainwright 7.5/9
    6. Marinez’s control, literally & emotionally isn’t there yet – see last night, but Wacha has done fantastic on both accounts.

    Throw those two in with Lynn, Waino, & Lackey, and it’s pretty easy to see why the Cards win – SP. Not to mention Jamie Garcia – if he can ever stay healthy.

  3. Typo over there at NBC, Joe – Buehrle is written as Bueherle for the bolded line towards the end.

  4. nevyn49 says:

    I disagree with the logic.

    I think the list should be the top 15 starters in baseball, not the top 30.

    30 pitchers are the best starters on their team, but 30 second basemen are the best second basemen on their team.

    But half of them are below average starting second basemen. Likewise half the top 30 starting pitchers are a “below average #1”.

    Which probably explains why so few names come up. People think of a number 1, they think of a guy that ought to be the other team’s best starter. Not a guy that ought to beat the other team’s second best.

    • Scott Kliesen says:

      The big difference between SP and 2B is each team has 5 SP’s in their rotation at any given time, whereas each team has only one starting 2B. Thus the top 30 SP’s is equivalent to top 6 2B.

      • nevyn49 says:

        Not really, because one game is played at a time and one player is evaluated at a time.

        Thus whether you look at SP or 2B, when building a list, it is “who do I want to have there so I can win a game?”. Also, I mentioned, best tends to match on best, for much of may, and again in the playoffs.

        If you have the 26th best guy and want to say you have a number 1, go ahead, but you are probably not going to like your game 1 playoff matchup (assuming you even make the playoffs).

        Now, if you want to run it in terms of numbers and say “we’re looking at a top 20%” player, then sure.

        But that’s not how people talk about a #1 starter.

        If you have the 20th best 2nd baseman in the game, media and fans are liable to think your team has a NEED at 2nd base. If you have the 20th best starting pitcher, they are liable to think you NEED a #1 starter. #1 starter is viewed like its own position.

        I mean, teams often carry as many as 8 relievers. Do you 48 is a good number for ranking the elite relievers?

  5. That's Amazing says:

    Joe, the Rangers trade was not primarily about 2015, right? They have Hamels for 3 more years (4 if they exercise their team option). I think this was mostly about competing over the next four years.

  6. dasein says:

    Joe once said that everyone has their own personal Hall of Fame. Duane Kuiper is in his. Mark Buehrle is in mine.

    Buehrle is never going to make the real Hall of Fame — his numbers aren’t particularly noteworthy, and he’s made it clear that he’s not going to keep himself away from his family by dragging his career out.

    But he’s such a singular collection of traits that he deserves to be celebrated. In addition to the aforementioned stellar defense and ridiculous pickoff move:

    – Charter member of the “Why Does He Always Outperform His FIP?” Club (along with Matt Cain)
    – Always pitched quickly. His games are always watchable for that alone
    – 1 run complete game in the 2005 ALCS and a save(!) in the World Series
    – People remember the perfect game, but forget that in his next start he retired the first 17 batters.
    – He’s one of three pitchers to throw a no-hitter, a perfect game, and win a World Series with the same franchise. The other two are Cy Young and Sandy Koufax. Yes, I know this is a completely meaningless comparison, and with a little creativity you could probably find a collection of stats whose only members would be Babe Ruth and Nick Punto. But it still warms my heart.

  7. jalabar says:

    Funny how timing is everything: Prior to this season, you’d have found last year’s NL strikeout leader on this list. One injury plagued season later, there are a bunch of pitchers that have hopped over Stephen Strasburg. I do not believe most of them are better starters than him, but as I said, timing is everything.

  8. Scott Kliesen says:

    Nice list, but it’s just one man’s opinion based on how he weights certain statistical measures. I’d be more interested in seeing a list of who GM’s consider the top 30 are right now. I have a feeling that list would have DeGrom, Cole and Fernandez all much higher than Joe has them.

    • Artie says:

      Mmm, good point, Scott. Perhaps you can direct us to that more interesting website where baseball GMs freely post their superior-to-Joe’s thoughts on the relative merits of baseball players?

  9. Joe- I love you, your analysis and your writing.


    You leave off Matt Harvey (I know you addressed this) but include Jose Fernandez???? They are pretty much in the same boat.

    The Mark Buehrle love is out of control. Not to be Mets-centric on this comment, but everyone would rather have Harvey &, Syndegaard instead of MB just for this season.

    yours is an odd, odd list

    • Evan says:

      Next year, the Mets rotation could be DeGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard, Matz, Wheeler. Depending upon Wheeler’s recovery and Matz’s continued development, that could be 5 “number ones” on one squad. Of course, a lot has to happen between now and then, and young pitching is always a volatile business, but the fact that this even *could* happen is pretty jaw-dropping.

    • dlf9 says:

      Man, I can’t wait for this dominant young Mets staff. It’ll be just like when Wilson, Pulsipher, and Isrinhausen led the Mets to back-to-back-to-back-to-back world series championships in the late 90s early 00s.

      • mnaftolin says:

        You seem nice.

      • Paul Zummo says:

        One of the great things about snark is that enables someone to pat themselves on the back for making a really witty comment without having to think through whether their comment makes any sense.

        Other than Isringhausen in 1995, none of the big three in Generation K achieved any significant Major League success with the Mets, other than the occasional start or two. We have now seen two+ seasons of Matt Harvey dominance, a ROY campaign by deGrom followed up by an even better season, and Noah Syndergaard getting better with each start. The sample size is too small to make a meaningful determination on Matz, and the jury’s out on Wheeler.

        Things can happen in baseball, but bringing up Generation K to diminish the current staff is silly.

      • lars says:

        Ha! And they’ll once again “own the City”. #letsgoyankees

    • Chris M says:

      Yea, including Fernandez but not Harvey is insane to me. I get that Fernandez has looked great so far this year, but consider that in his first 8 starts of this season back from TJ surgery, Harvey had a 1.98 ERA and a 56-8 K/BB rate in 54 innings before he just lost his command for a few weeks. He seems to be getting back to his old self his last two starts. Let’s give Fernandez the rest of the year to see if he’s gonna hit a similar setback before ranking him over Harvey.

      And in what world can you wieght 2015’s stats higher than 2014 and only have DeGrom as the 18th best starter when he ranks top 5 in MLB in almost every important pitching category?

      Also, by this time next year Syndergaard may be better than both of them (hell, he might ALREADY be better than them.) I hope the Nationals enjoyed their little run as the best team in the NL East the past few years.

  10. Aside from the fact that Clayton Kershaw has been one of the worst post-season pitchers in baseball history, he’s the best pitcher in the game. It’s like saying that aside from the fact that Oscar de la Hoya lost 6 title fights, he was the best boxer of his era. I think we have different definitions of what constitutes greatness.

    If you’re wondering whether Kershaw will continue turning into a pumpkin should the Dodgers reach the post-season this year, consider what happened when Kershaw pitched an inning on the big stage of this year’s All-Star game: 3 hits, a walk, two runs and a loss for the National League. Kershaw has already blown two Game 7s in the post-season. If he happens to pitch in a World Series Game 7 at an opponent’s ballpark, he will have only himself to blame.

    • That’s a pretty small sample size to hold against someone as dominant as Kershaw has been in the regular season.

      • Kershaw already has as many post-season starts as Sandy Koufax, and only 1 fewer than Bob Gibson, neither of whom had to rely on the lame excuse of small sample size to establish their greatness.

        • Patrick Bohn says:

          Clayton Kershaw’s postseason represents 3.2% of the innings he has pitched in his career. Sandy Koufax’s postseason represented 2.3% of the innings he pitched. Bob Gibson’s postseason represented 2% of the innings he pitched in his career. Calling those a small sample is a fact.

          Billy Williams went 0-for-7 in the postseason. Ted Williams hit .200. Meanwhile, Billy Hatcher hit .404. Great players can have lousy postseasons, just like lousy players have great ones. Your inability to understand that concept or refusal to acknowledge it does not negate its truthfulness.

          • It depends on what you value. Isn’t the point of sports to win championships? Those post-season innings have exponentially more value than regular season innings precisely because the situation is do-or-die. Sandy Koufax won 3 World Championships with his post-season innings. Bob Gibson won 2 with his. Kershaw has been to the post-season 4 times, and the Dodgers have never even made it to the World Series, due in large part to his lousy pitching. Meanwhile, Madison Bumgarner has 3 World Series rings for some strange reason. Ask yourself, if it was Game 7 of the World Series, and you could start either Bumgarner or Kershaw, who would you pick?

  11. Marco says:

    No Carlos Carrasco?

    I suspect he’s better than half of your group 3. How many spots did he miss by?

    Wouldn’t 30 out of 30 GMs prefer him to either Lackey or Buehrle if given the choice?

  12. Roberto says:

    I may be writing to myself, since it’s nearly 2 weeks since this was posted, but ….

    Cole is WAY too low on this list, 8-to-10 pitchers too low.
    I mean, it’s so crazy to me to have him as low as 20, that it kind of ruins the entire exercise. To have guys like Zimmerman, Lester and Hamels ahead of him, just to name a few, seems ridiculous.

  13. Roberto says:

    But, then, I guess I can’t agree on EVERY list you do, Joe!
    Keep up the great work!

  14. Chris says:

    If I came up with a formula for ranking pitchers and the top 30 results didn’t include Matt Harvey, I’d come up with a new formula.

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