Pitchers are ranked according to their estimated value in 2020. Figuring out the future worth of any player isn’t an exact science, but we can use WARcels, a simple forecasting system created by baseball analyst Tom Tango, to get a projection for 2020 performance and beyond.
1. Gerrit Cole, RHP, 29 years old on Opening Day
Estimated to be worth 5.4 wins above replacement in 2020
Cole led the majors in strikeouts (326) and the AL in ERA (2.50) during the regular season and then struck out 47 more batters over 36⅔ postseason innings as the Houston Astros made their second World Series appearance in three seasons.
His four-seam fastball is his bread and butter, and it held opponents to a .166 average with 178 strikeouts in 362 at-bats ending on the pitch in 2019. Cole will also mix in a slider, curveball, change-up and sinker.
2. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, 31
Estimated to be worth 3.7 wins above replacement in 2020
Strasburg led the National League in wins (18) and innings pitched (209), then led the Nationals through the playoffs, becoming the first pitcher to go 5-0 in a single postseason. Two of those wins came in the World Series, earning him MVP honors.
Strasburg’s change-up is one of the best pitches in baseball. He threw it 827 times in 2019, giving up just 30 hits in 209 at-bats ending on the pitch (.144 average against) with 98 strikeouts.
3. Zack Wheeler, RHP, 29
Estimated to be worth 3.4 wins above replacement in 2020
Elite velocity on his four-seam fastball (96.7 mph on average, fourth fastest in the majors) coupled with an above-average spin rate (2,341 rpm, 59th percentile) made this pitch tough to get a hold of (27 percent whiff rate).
It’s also worth noting his Fielding Independent Pitching (3.48), which measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league-average results on balls in play and league-average timing, was better than his actual ERA (3.96) last year, indicating there is some upside in 2020.
4. Jake Odorizzi, RHP, 29
Estimated to be worth 2.8 wins above replacement in 2020
Odorizzi, who will turn 30 on the second day of the season, had an underwhelming first season with the Minnesota Twins (7-10, 4.49 ERA) but bounced back strong in 2019. The first-time all-star helped Minnesota capture its first division title since 2010 by setting career bests in strikeout rate (27 percent), OPS against (.671) and extra-base hits allowed (7.1 percent).
5. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, 33
Estimated to be worth 2.5 wins above replacement in 2020
During the first half of the season, Ryu went 10-2 and allowed just 21 earned runs over 109 innings for a major league-leading 1.73 ERA, nearly half a run better than Luis Castillo, who was second. His second half performance (4-3 with a 3.18 ERA) likely cost him the Cy Young, but you still have to respect the work he did throughout the season, especially with his change-up, a pitch that saved the Los Angeles Dodgers 3.3 runs per 100 times thrown in 2019. Only Jeff Samardzija’s change-up was considered a better pitch (5.8 runs saved per 100 times thrown).
6. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, 30
Estimated to be worth 2.0 wins above replacement in 2020
A decline in his fastball velocity over the years pushed him to rely more on his curveball, a pitch that has a slight break with glove-side movement. Bumgarner would feature the pitch more often to right-handed batters than lefties, primarily using it against the latter when ahead in the count. Still, it was effective: He allowed just one home run and nine extra-base hits against it over 159 at-bats ending on the pitch in 2019.
7. Cole Hamels, LHP, 36
Estimated to be worth 1.3 wins above replacement in 2020
Hamels will turn 36 in December, making him one of the older free agent pitchers available this offseason. As with most older players, durability is a concern. Before suffering a left oblique strain June 28, Hamels had a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts with a 2.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 10 starts after he returned, Hamels posted a 5.79 ERA with a 2.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
8. Dallas Keuchel, LHP, 32
Estimated to be worth 1.2 wins above replacement in 2020
The Atlanta Braves signed Keuchel after the MLB draft to avoid giving up draft pick compensation for the veteran, and he went 8-8 with a 3.75 ERA in 19 starts. While he is no longer the Cy Young contender he once was, Keuchel’s sinker is still an above-average pitch.
Keuchel’s sinker dropped 30.6 inches in 2019. That was 5.5 inches more drop — or 22 percent more drop — than similar MLB sinkers at his velocity, giving it the fourth-most added drop of any pitcher who threw 500 sinkers last year.
9. Will Smith, LHP, 30
Estimated to be worth 1.1 wins above replacement in 2020
Smith had 34 saves in 38 opportunities and stranded a career-high 89 percent of runners on base in 2019, causing his opponents to score 13 fewer runs than expected after accounting for the men on base and outs left in the inning of each at-bat. Only five other National League relievers were more effective in that regard last year.
10. Michael Pineda, RHP, 31
Estimated to be worth 1.0 wins above replacement in 2020
His pitching repertoire isn’t extensive (four-seam fastball, slider and change-up), but it is effective and helped him set a career best in OPS against (.721) in 2019. Pineda will have to miss the first 39 games of the 2020 season for use of a diuretic often consumed to mask performance-enhancing drugs, lowering his overall value in 2020.
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