Spring training is upon us, which means it’s time to look ahead to the 2019 MLB season. Last season saw a number of starting pitchers have tremendous seasons — including Jacob deGrom and Blake Snell, who won the Cy Young in the American and National leagues, respectively — but how does the list of top starters look heading into this season? The reigning Cy Young winners are obviously on the list, but who is going to join them?
2018 NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom
For much of the season, it appeared that Jacob deGrom might finish with a sub-.500 record, given that he was playing on a 77-85 Mets team. But deGrom won his last two starts to finish the season with a 10-9 record. The win-loss record was certainly not indicative of how deGrom pitched in his fifth season in the majors.
He led all of baseball with a 1.70 ERA and recorded 269 strikeouts in 217 innings — all of which were career highs. He is 30 years old and still close to the prime of his career, so will probably see a little regression in 2019 but should still be among the best starters in the majors this season.
2018 AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell
While deGrom struggled to get wins, the Rays’ Blake Snell led the majors with 21 victories in what was a breakout season for the third-year starter. Snell had a 1.89 ERA, which led the American League and trailed only deGrom. He struck out 221 batters, and the only strike against him in his stats was that he only threw 180.2 innings as the Rays sought to limit his innings.
At 26, Snell is in a similar situation as deGrom as he is coming off a career year that will be hard to repeat, but any regression to the mean should be minimal and should put up ace-type numbers again in 2019 and be one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.
Veteran pitcher Max Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals prior to the 2015 season, and seasons like 2018 is why the Nats were willing to invest so much money in him. The three-time Cy Young winner finished second to deGrom in the NL voting last season after posting a 2.53 ERA with an MLB-best 300 strikeouts in 200.2 innings. Scherzer will be 35 in late July and has a lot of wear-and-tear on his arm so he may take a bigger step backward than guys like deGrom and Snell, but even if he puts up an ERA in the 3.00-3.25 ERA range and has closer to 250 strikeouts, it would still put him near the top of the league among starting pitchers.
Like Scherzer, Justin Verlander is a former Cy Young recipient who continues to put up impressive numbers at an age when many MLB players are falling off from their primes. He’s been one of the best starters in baseball for years, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
In his first full season with the Astros, Verlander showed his durability by matching his career high of 34 starts, in which he had a 2.52 ERA and a career-high 290 strikeouts in 214 innings. He finished behind Snell in AL Cy Young voting.
Verlander will be 36 by the time the 2019 season opens, but being traded to the Astros in August 2017 seems to have rejuvenated him. And he’s entering the final season of his current contract and has the motivation to have another good season to get what will likely be one final big contract in free agency.
Prior to 2018, the Indians’ Trevor Bauer never had better than a 4.19 ERA in his six prior seasons in MLB. In 2018, though, he broke out and posted a 2.21 ERA, to go along with 221 strikeouts in 175.1 innings, which was aided in part by pitching in the worst division in the majors with four teams finishing under .500. The 28-year-old, who is known to stir up some controversy on social media, will look to repeat his 2018 performance in 2019 to help the Indians return to the playoffs again.
There are other starting pitchers who are bound to surprise with Cy Young-worthy seasons this year, but the five on this list are as close to sure things as you can get, barring injuries.