Top 10 Right-Handed Starting Pitchers For 2016

by Frank Pimentel | Posted on Saturday, February 13th, 2016
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We are less than a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting for many teams in Major League Baseball. It’s that time of year, the smell of optimism is in the air for club’s and their fans. With that comes the continuation of Baseball Hot Corner’s Top 10 series. For which, I will rank right-handed starting pitchers across the majors.

There is an art to pitching, truly, and being able to consistently frustrate opposing hitters takes years to master. Each member of my top 10 has mastered the art of pitching and are the respective horse of their staff. Of course the success of each pitcher in 2015 has a huge weight on their rankings heading into 2016, but it doesn’t hold all the weight. I take a look at what they have done over their last few years, as well as their career as a whole.

After tough deliberation I was able to come up with a Top 10, but it was really close for me as each member on this list is extremely talented in their own way, and each carry themselves with a mantra to be the best in the world at what they do.

Honorable Mentions:

15. Garrett RichardsLos Angeles Angels: 15-12, 3.65 ERA (39-29, 3.65 career)

14. Justin VerlanderDetroit Tigers: 5-8, 3.38 ERA (157-97, 3.52 career)

13. Adam WainwrightSt. Louis Cardinals: 2-1, 1.61 ERA (121-67, 2.98 career)

12. Stephen StrasburgWashington Nationals: 11-7, 3.46 ERA (54-37, 3.09 career)

11. Chris ArcherTampa Bay Rays: 12-13, 3.23 ERA (32-32, 3.33 career)

10. Sonny GrayOakland Athletics

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2015: 14-7, 2.73 ERA, 208 IP, 169 K’s, 1.082 WHIP.

Sonny Gray is one of the most promising young right-handed starters in all of baseball. In just two full seasons with the A’s he’s proven to be baseball’s next great starting pitching commodity. He finished third in the American League in Cy Young votes in 2015 and one assumes he’s well on his way to earning one for himself.

At just 26-years-old, Gray has an amazing fastball for such a small-framed guy. To go along with his fastball, Gray throws one of the best sliders in all of baseball. Gray has come to rely on his slider to get outs in key situations and deservedly so, he also throws a sinker to get ground ball outs, a curve which if minimized is very effective. Gray has a full arsenal of pitches at his disposal, he’s also known to mix in a changeup or cutter from time-to-time to go with his great four-seam fastball, sinker, curve and outstanding slider.

Sonny Gray is knocking on the door of a Cy Young Award. Oakland has a true horse on their hands, and they should reap the rewards while they can before he cashes in elsewhere. 

9. Felix HernandezSeattle Mariners

Felix Hernadez

2015: 18-9, 3.53 ERA, 201.2 IP, 191 K’s, 1.180 WHIP.

King Felix at #9, really? Yes, my friends it’s unfortunate that guys such as Hernandez and Justin Verlander have dropped from their places atop lists such as these, but father time is still very much undefeated. Hernadez was just one win shy of his career-high in 2015, but his innings pitched, strikeouts and ERA were each the worst over his last seven-years.

Don’t get me wrong, the King’s Court is still going to be very much in full swing at Safeco, but he’s not a lock for Cy Young contention any longer. Felix will be 30-years-old in early April and it’s worth noting he has had a dip in velocity over the last few years. I’m not saying he’s still not King Felix, nobody is going to take that away from him, but temper your expectations.

8. Jose Fernandez Miami Marlins

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2015: 6-1, 2.92 ERA, 64.2 IP, 79 K’s, 1.160 WHIP.

There was a lot of speculation revolving Fernandez this off-season and his possible departure from Miami, but it was much ado about nothing at the end of the day as it would’ve taken a King’s ransom to land him from the fish. Fernandez, coming off Tommy John, made only 11 starts in 2015 and his first did not come until July, but each time he took the hill he looked like he was picking up right where he left off. For a 23-year-old who missed a year of his career, he looked as if he didn’t skip a beat with his pin-point control and utter dominance.

Fernandez still had his velocity after the major surgery, and his breaking ball was still just as amazing as it was when he was forced to go under the knife. The questions surrounding Fernandez still remain heading into 2016, he’s an amazing talent, but can he stay healthy? He had a DL stint after his first 8 starts in 2015 due to a right biceps strain. Also, there is his question of commitment to the team. It was well documented this winter about his lack of respect for his bosses and the way in which he treats his teammates. For him to reach the next level in this league, he needs to drop the act and stay healthy. If he does that, his skill set on the mound will carry him to be one of the game’s best starting pitchers. 

7. Jacob deGromNew York Mets

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2015: 14-8, 2.54 ERA, 191 IP, 205 K’s, 0.979 WHIP.

One could say 2015 was the year of Jacob deGrom. Coming off rookie of the year honors in 2014, he picked up right where he left off. He displayed his brilliant strikeout stuff on the national stage where he took over the All-Star Game whiffing all three batters he faced on just ten pitches.

deGrom relies on his fourseam fastball to generate swing and misses, but will mix in his hard sinker, slider and throws a very good changeup to keep the hitters on guard. deGrom, along with the rest of the Mets astute starting rotatation, carried the boys from Queens to the Fall Classic, where they fell shy of a ring to the Kansas City Royals. He was 3-1 in 4 postseason starts with a 2.88 ERA and 29 whiffs over 25 innings. Entering his third full season, I expect him to be right in the race for the Cy Young with a very good Mets team looking to get back to the World Series. 

6. Gerrit Cole Pittsburgh Pirates 

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2015: 19-8, 2.60 ERA, 208 IP, 202 K’s, 1.091 WHIP.

Gerrit Cole has lived up to all of the hype for a former number one overall pick, and has been the ace the Pittsburgh Pirates have so desperately craved for. Oh and by the way, Cole is only 25-years old. The hard throwing righty, has one of the best fastballs in the game that can clock 100 mph on the radar gun. What set Cole apart in 2015 was his ability to develop his slider as a solid secondary pitch.

Cole will come into 2016 as a potential Cy Young candidate, but in the tough NL Central, he’ll have his work cut out for him. For him to build off 2015, he will have to continue the development of his slider to counter his fantastic fastball, while maybe even mixing in the change and curve more than usual. He has all the makeup of the game’s next elite starting pitcher, 2016 will be crucial in establishing himself as such.

5. Corey KluberCleveland Indians

2015: 9-16, 3.49 ERA, 222 IP, 245 K’s, 1.054 WHIP.

Klubot definitely saw a serious regression in 2015 coming off American League Cy Young honors in 2014 where he posted a 18-9 record with a 2.45 ERA and a whopping 269 strikeouts. Kluber was much better than his 2015 record would indicate, paired with a woeful team and defense behind him, it’s hard to imagine how he could’ve matched those numbers.

Kluber is 29-years-old and has one of the best breaking balls in all of baseball. In fact, many around the game consider his breaking ball to be the best pitch in baseball. Kluber has an incredibly sharp mind and has always made adjustments throughout his career which are paramount for his success. Look for him to bounce back in 2016 and many knees to buckle when that breaking ball comes in on a two-strike count.

4. Matt HarveyNew York Mets

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2015: 13-8, 2.71 ERA, 189.1 IP, 188 K’s, 1.019 WHIP.

The Dark Knight returned in 2015 after missing an entire season with Tommy John, and his velocity and control came right back with him. Despite the emergence of young stars in the rotation, Harvey remains the ace the Mets count on in big spots and logged a total of 216 innings last year including the postseason. He is past the surgery and any possible innings limits and will continue to build off a strong return season.

Mets fans love their caped crusader, and 2016 will be his chance to go out there without any lingering questions and just pitch. Harvey already possesses some of the best stuff in the majors and if his numbers in the World Series (3.23 ERA over 14 innings) mean anything to you, then you’ll know Harvey wants to get the Mets back there, but this time win the whole damn thing. 

3. Jake Arrieta – Chicago Cubs

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 07: Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after a double play to end the sixth inning with the bases loaded during the National League Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on October 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

2015: 22-6, 1.77 ERA, 229 IP, 236 K’s, 0.865 WHIP.

What can I say about Jake Arrieta that hasn’t already been said a thousand times before? He won the National League Cy Young Award in a historic fashion, posting the eight best ERA in the 100-plus year history of the game. As if he could not get any better, he dazzled in the postseason and felt completely unhitable at times. The complete game shutout in the play-in game takes the cake when talking about his 2015 campaign.

So why is he only third on my list? There is no denying what an amazing season he and his Cubs had, but why at 30 is this man just doing this now? Where has this guy been? Injuries, adjustments, and perhaps just finding his niche in Chicago have contributed to his breakout season. A far and away career-high of 229 innings pitched (249 including postseason) should raise some eyebrows, because no one knows how he will respond after that kind of workload. Nevertheless, Arrieta turned in a historic 2015, but it’s going to take another great season to ascend from his place on my rankings. 

2. Zack GreinkeArizona Diamondbacks

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2015: 19-3, 1.66 ERA, 222.2 IP, 200 K’s, 0.844 WHIP.

Zack Greinke was fantastic in 2015, and was consistently among the league’s best as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. After one of the best season’s of his career, at 32-years-old, Greinke took the money and went to Arizona. $206.5 million later, he’s still an elite pitcher and will be the difference-maker the Diamondbacks have craved for since the Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling days at the turn of the century.

Greinke should regress some, but paired with the potent Arizona lineup, he’s once again a lock for double-digit wins and should emerge as a Cy Young candidate as the season goes along. He’s been able to just to his new surroundings rather quickly and make his presence felt, with that kind of annual salary, he has no choice but to continue his outstanding success in Arizona. 

1. Max Scherzer Washington Nationals

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2015: 14-12, 2.79 ERA, 228.2 IP, 276 K’s, 0.918 WHIP.

Max Scherzer is the best right-handed starting pitcher in all of baseball. There is no question in my mind about it. He overpowers hitters consistently and is a total stud. He toyed with perfection on multiple occasions last seasons, and fell just shy, but he did toss two no-hitters in one season. He was the horse of a stacked rotation and the move to the National League was almost unfair.

Scherzer posted a 14-12 record thanks to an under-performing Nationals roster around him, but he’s hoping they can get their act together this season and prove why they are still one of the favorites to win the World Series. Hes truck out double-digit opposing hitters in 11 of his 33 starts, and had five starts where he allowed three or fewer hits. It’s almost cruel how renowned his fastball is, and that may not even be his best pitch. For my money, the best pitch in his arsenal, and the best pitch in all of baseball is Mad Max’s slider. He throws is with the same low arm slot as his overpowering fastball, but then the bottom just falls out on his slider.

Let’s not forget how Max Scherzer just completely occupies real estate in opposing hitters minds. Not only do you have to worry about his world-class fastball and devastating slider, but you have to deal with the raving lunatic on the mound. I mean that in the best way as possible. Here’s Scherzer who pounces around the mound after each hitter and is often seen screaming at himself and hyping himself up. That’s intensity right there, that’s Max Scherzer, the best right-handed pitcher in baseball.

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Frank Pimentel
About the Author

Frank is a passionate baseball fan and writer. Aspiring baseball front office executive. Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankBostonTank.

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