The 2017 World Series was graced by a left-hander who ranks among the greatest pitchers of all time, a right-hander who is likely to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and another left-hander who recently won a Cy Young Award. But despite those résumés and the past successes of others, the starting pitchers accounted for just 65⅔ innings pitched over the seven games.
That’s an average of fewer than five innings per start. No starter threw a pitch beyond the seventh inning.
That’s where we are now, with analytics so embedded in the decision-making that managers are strongly discouraged from allowing some pitchers from even trying to get through an opposing lineup for a third time. The safer bet, statistically, is on the growing army of relievers who are assuming a greater share of innings -- and, as we’ve seen this winter, getting paid more for their work.
The ace pitchers who once lorded over the art of pitching aren’t nearing extinction yet, but there are fewer than ever before, adding even more value to those trusted to face the enemy lineup a third or even a fourth time.
Within that context, we start our top-10 series with this: the top 10 starting pitchers in major league baseball, based on input from evaluators and ESPN researchers Paul Hembekides and Sarah Langs.