The recent MLB trade deadline has set off a cascade of moves that will reshape the league and its top 10 starting pitchers for 2022. The Cincinnati Reds traded their ace, Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for four players including two All-Star caliber outfielders, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. In addition to clearing nearly $30 million worth of payroll space by trading Chapman, who was out due to injury (which is not uncommon), they gained another big bat in Anthony Rizzo which should make them serious contenders this season. Meanwhile, other teams like Philadelphia Phillies have been busy as well playing at .500 baseball after acquiring Andrew McCutchen from the San Francisco Giants making him one of their first major free agent signings since 2012 when he signed his current contract with Pittsburgh Pirates..
The “brandon woodruff” is a starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. He will be a top 10 NL Central pitcher in 2022.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff excelled in 2021, and they’re poised to do it again in the upcoming 2022 MLB season. However, they aren’t the only Brewtown pitchers capable of striking out hitter after batter on way to a low ERA, as the National League Central boasts a plethora of talented pitchers.
In this list, there are some brilliant prospects with injury worries, ageless veterans, and up-and-coming potential aces, but they’re all pursuing the two Milwaukee standouts.
This ranking of the top ten starting pitchers in the National League Central is based on a combination of past performance and future projections, taking into account everything from ongoing injury concerns to potential progression/regression in order to forecast the expected level of play for the entire 2022 season.
That latter point cannot be overstated.
These rankings are not snapshots in time, beginning with the interesting collection of honorable mentions listed below, any of whom might advance significantly in the future. They also don’t forecast the ultimate level when the playoff field for 2022 is set. They account for predicted volume and output during the season, depending on anecdotal evidence as well as a lot of statistics, including the 2022 metrics from Fangraphs’ THE BAT predictions.
Adbert Alzolay of the Chicago Cubs, Kyle Hendricks of the Chicago Cubs, Eric Lauer of the Milwaukee Brewers, Mitch Keller of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Miles Mikolas of the St. Louis Cardinals are among the honorable mentions.
10. St. Louis Cardinals’ Steven Matz
Steven Matz of the St. Louis Cardinals, then of the Toronto Blue Jays | Getty Images/Cole Burston
2021 stats: 150.2 IP, 29 GS, 14-7, 144 K, 44 BB, 3.82 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 2.8 WAR, 150.2 IP, 29 GS, 14-7, 144 K, 44 BB, 3.82 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
154.0 IP, 28 GS, 9-10, 134 K, 54 BB, 4.37 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 2.0 WAR projected for 2022
Though Steven Matz’s repertoire isn’t especially flashy, he’s a pitcher who often keeps the ball on the ground, was already having success with the Toronto Blue Jays, and now gets to throw in front of the Cardinals’ always-stout defense. That may be a marriage made in heaven, especially if his ground-ball percentage returns to the levels he had with the New York Mets in his mid-20s.
Will it be successful? That’s more difficult to tell since Matz’s work isn’t overpowering in the least. His changeup and sinker are his strongest offerings, but neither is a real putaway pitch, and even on his best days, his slider and curveball are subpar.
Matz hasn’t thrown the two greatest pitches as much in prior seasons, but that should change now that the Cardinals’ infield is ready to perform its best vacuum imitation behind him. Even if he doesn’t, he doesn’t allow many home runs (1.08 per nine innings last year) and favors softer contact, which he can counter with great control over his pitches to keep baserunners to a minimum.
Aaron Ashby (Milwaukee Brewers) is No. 9 on the list.
Stats for 2021: 31.2 innings, 4 games, 3-2, 39 strikeouts, 12 walks, 4.55 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 0.4 WAR
86.0 IP, 8 GS, 5-4, 95 K, 35 BB, 3.50 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 1.5 WAR projected for 2022
Despite a 4.55 ERA across 31.2 innings, Aaron Ashby’s metrics are overwhelmingly good, positioning him as a chance to rocket up the rankings as the season goes.
Throughout his career, he’s improved his fastball velocity, which presently stands at 96.6 mph with enough vertical drop to be described as more of a sinker than anything else. His slider also glides across the plate, and his changeup is a good tertiary pitch that caused a.079 xBA in his rookie season. That trifecta accounted for 93.9 percent of his pitches, which he combined with a deceptive approach to achieve 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 61.3 ground-ball percentage of 61.3 percent.
Ashby’s.273 BABIP may seem to show that he was luckless, but he was so adept at avoiding hard contact that his projected BABIP, according to Pitcher LIst, was.249, per Pitcher LIst. That, along with his far-too-low 55.6 LOB percent, help explain why his xERA (3.03), FIP (3.58), xFIP (3.05), and SIERA (3.18) all point to him as a breakout candidate waiting to happen, as long as he can carve out a featured — and sustained — spot in an overburdened Milwaukee Brewers rotation that could expand to six arms.
St. Louis Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright (#8)
206.1 IP, 32 GS, 17-7, 174 K, 50 BB, 3.05 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 3.8 WAR, 2021 Stats
168.0 IP, 27 GS, 11-11, 130 K, 53 BB, 4.54 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 1.9 WAR projected for 2022
Who could have predicted this?
Adam Wainwright had a 4.58 ERA across 534 innings from 2016 to 2019, thus he had a great year to back up his unexpected success during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. During his age-39 season, he reduced it to 3.05 while leading the league in complete games (three) and placing second in the National League Cy Young votes behind only Kevin Gausman, Brandon Woodruff, Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer, Zack Wheeler, and Corbin Burnes.
And, although his 3.15 ERA across 65.2 innings in 2020 was heavily influenced by chance (4.52 xERA, 4.11 FIP, 4.23 xFIP), the underlying figures for 2021 are actually more consistent. He overperformed, although not quite to the same level, with a 3.87 xERA, 3.66 FIP, and 3.87 xFIP.
Will Wainwright be able to keep it up in his forties? Why not, with the St. Louis Cardinals’ stellar defense, a sinker that creates lots of called strikes on the outside of the zone, a sharp curveball that keeps hitters off balance, and three supporting pitches with which he may find long-term success?
Tyler Mahle of the Cincinnati Reds is ranked number seven.
Tyler Mahle, starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds | Justin Berl/Getty Images
2021 Stats: 180.0 IP, 33 GS, 13-6, 210 K, 64 BB, 3.75 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3.8 WAR, 180.0 IP, 33 GS, 13-6, 210 K, 64 BB, 3.75 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
171.0 IP, 30 GS, 10-11, 176 K, 64 BB, 4.53 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 2.0 WAR projected for 2022
Tyler Mahle’s arsenal is becoming more simple, which is a good thing.
In 2021, he used his four-seamer 53.1 percent of the time and restricted opponents to a.215 xBA and.365 xSLG, yielding a pitch with a 10 run value. His slider was somewhat below average, but that’s OK since he threw it 31.1 percent of the time and knew it would eventually recover to past whiff rates. He closes up the set with a splitter that has a 15.8% use rate and another excellent grade, with a.214 xBA and.287 xSLG.
Because Mahle pitches at home for the Cincinnati Reds and has questionable command, hitters are able to wait for heaters over the plate. However, if he keeps his fastballs high and his breaking pitches low, he may strike out a lot of batters and have a high season-long floor.
6. St. Louis Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty
Stats for 2021: 78.1 innings, 15 games, 9-2, 85 strikeouts, 26 walks, 3.22 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 0.9 WAR
118.0 IP, 20 GS, 8-7, 120 K, 43 BB, 3.95 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 1.9 WAR projected for 2022
I applaud your naïve optimism if you’re not concerned about Jack Flaherty’s shoulder. According to MLB.com’s Joe Trezza, the joint isn’t quite up to par:
After having a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection, Flaherty acknowledged he was diagnosed with bursitis, blaming the inflammation on mechanical concerns caused by a left oblique injury that kept him out for two months in 2021.
He also revealed the existence of a pre-existing SLAP tear in his right labrum, stating that it is unconnected to the present ailment and that he has thrown through it for “a handful of years.”
MLB.com’s Joe Trezza on Jack Flaherty’s shoulder issue
Flaherty is exceptionally gifted, which explains his increased status despite serious health difficulties. He’s just three years removed from posting a 3.46 ERA, leading the National League with a 0.97 WHIP, and finishing fourth in Cy Young votes in 2019. He’s just 26 years old, but his fastball should still be one of the greatest in the MLB.
However, he isn’t fit enough to begin the season in the rotation, and his success in 2022, however important it may be, is far from certain.
Marcus Stroman of the Chicago Cubs is ranked fifth.
2021 stats: 179.0 IP, 33 GS, 10-13, 158 K, 44 BB, 3.02 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 3.4 WAR, 179.0 IP, 33 GS, 10-13, 158 K, 44 BB, 3.02 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
172.0 IP, 30 GS, 10-12, 136 K, 57 BB, 4.39 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 2.4 WAR projected for 2022
Marcus Stroman is an intriguing pitcher, despite the fact that his outcomes are nearly fully predictable. It’s also predictable. Since opting out of the season at the height of the coronavirus epidemic in 2020, he’s produced FIPs ranging from 3.49 (2021) to 3.91 (2018) for six consecutive seasons.
Sure, he hasn’t been able to live up to the hoopla surrounding his outstanding debut season with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014, but it has made him a dependable commodity. It’s also intriguing.
Normally, pitchers with that kind of track record have one dominating pitch, but Stroman doesn’t have one until his slider returns to its former form. He threw sinkers, sliders, cutters, and splitters more than 10% of the time in 2021, with the odd four-seamer and curveball thrown in for good measure. The slider (six runs over average) was the most pronouncedly positive of the bunch, but it still didn’t register as a real flagship offering.
4. Cincinnati Reds’ Luis Castillo
Luis Castillo, starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds | Joe Sargent/Getty Images
Stats for 2021: 187.2 innings, 33 games, 8-16, 192 strikeouts, 75 walks, 3.98 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 3.7 WAR
179.0 IP, 30 GS, 12-11, 172 K, 71 BB, 4.13 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 2.5 WAR projected for 2022
Due to shoulder discomfort, Luis Castillo will miss his first turn (or two) in the Cincinnati Reds rotation, despite the fact that he seems to be developing well after his spring training setback. Despite the fact that it seems to be more of a speedbump than a brick wall, anything involving the throwing arm is scary.
Even yet, when Castillo is in good health, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
The 29-year-fastball, old’s despite his troubles with command, gets past hitter after batter owing to a great mix of velocity and spin. In 2021, he combined it with a superb slider, which had a 41.4 percent whiff rate and 32.7 percent strikeout rate while producing a.208 xBA and.315 xSLG. That one-two punch is already lethal, but it may be much more so if he can locate the zone more often.
Castillo had a tough start to the 2021 season before bouncing back in the second half, and his late-season success should continue over into 2022 as soon as he’s healthy enough to pitch.
3. Milwaukee Brewers’ Freddy Peralta
Stats for 2021: 144.1 innings, 27 games, 10-5, 195 strikeouts, 56 walks, 2.81 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 4.0 WAR
161.0 IP, 29 GS, 13-9, 198 K, 65 BB, 3.78 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 3.4 WAR projected for 2022
Despite the fact that Freddy Peralta is unlikely to post another sub-3.00 ERA (see: command concerns stemming from an inconsistent delivery and a.232 BABIP in 2021 that will inevitably rise closer to his.261 xBABIP, per Pitcher List), he excelled as a third ace in a ridiculous Milwaukee Brewers rotation. His 2.70 xERA, 3.12 FIP, 3.66 xFIP, and 3.40 SIERA all indicated that he was an outstanding pitcher who should continue to succeed in the near future.
Peralta made through with a slider that slowed down as it dropped vertically and instead veered horizontally, perplexing hitters to the tune of a.163 xBA and.240 xSLG. When you combine it with one of the top four-seamers in the game and a terrific curveball, you have a recipe for success, even if his changeup, which he threw 9.8% of the time, isn’t exactly spectacular.
And as for the fastball, it’s really exceptional. In 2021, only Charlie Morton’s curveball, Robbie Ray’s four-seamer, Kevin Gausman’s splitter, Adrian Houser’s sinker, and Carlos Rodon’s four-seamer were deemed more valuable.
2. Milwaukee Brewers’ Brandon Woodruff
Brandon Woodruff, starting pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers | Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images
2021 stats: 179.1 innings pitched, 30 games started, 9-10, 211 strikeouts, 43 walks, 2.56 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 4.7 WAR
183.0 IP, 31 GS, 14-9, 199 K, 53 BB, 3.55 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 4.4 WAR projected for 2022
Brandon Woodruff will make you look silly if his 96.5 mph four-seamer doesn’t mow you down, as he will with a sinker that slides out directly under the barrel of your bat, causing lots of weak contact that never crosses the infield if contact is made at all. Alternatively, he may throw a sweeping curveball or changeup that tunnels beautifully with the fastball before you realize it’s only going 86.5 mph.
He doesn’t have a genuine money pitch — the four-seamer comes closest with a 30.5 whiff rate, 43.5 strikeout rate,.212 xBA, and.349 xSLG — but his whole repertoire is packed of above-average offerings that keep batters guessing and hoping for the best.
Woodruff’s ERA won’t approach 2.50 again, but he’ll keep it around 3.00 while allowing little over a baserunner per inning. When he’s on a roll and all of his pitches are falling into place, he’s capable of appearing like the best mound-dweller in the game for lengthy periods of time.
1. Milwaukee Brewers’ Corbin Burnes
Stats for 2021: 167.0 innings, 28 games, 11-5, 234 strikeouts, 34 walks, 2.43 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 7.5 WAR
171.0 IP, 29 GS, 14-8, 217 K, 54 BB, 3.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 5.1 WAR projected for 2022
We won’t hold it against you if you name Corbin Burnes the greatest pitcher in baseball right now.
The 27-year-old just finished a year in which everything went well. He struck out 234 hitters in 167 innings while walking just 34, and his 2.43 ERA may have been overstated owing to his.309 BABIP. Surprisingly, his 2.00 xERA, 1.63 FIP, and 2.30 xFIP all pointed to some positive regression, and his 2.61 SIERA wasn’t far behind.
Burnes’ repertoire includes a mind-numbing cutter with a.199 xBA and.291 xSLG, a deadly curveball with a 50.3 whiff rate, and a slider with comparable figures (47.5 percent ). He throws decent sinkers, changeups, and four-seamers on occasion (and with the least regularity), and concentrating more on his three signature offerings should help him reach a — gasp — even higher level.
The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner should be a strong contender for a back-to-back victory.
Unless otherwise stated, all stats are courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant.
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