We’ve covered the five best defenders, the five best base runners, the five best power hitters, and the five best overall hitters of the 2010s. Now let’s jump into the five best starting pitchers of the 2010’s.
5. Zack Greinke, Royals/Brewers/Angels/Dodgers/D-Backs/Astros
Greinke finds his way onto our top-five having won 155 games with a 3.18 ERA and 1,872 strikeouts in nearly 2,000 innings over the past decade. While he didn’t win a Cy Young Award in that span of time – his only award came in 2009 – his best season came in 2015 when he put up a historically great 1.66 ERA for the Dodgers. It marked the lowest ERA for a pitcher since Greg Maddux’s 1.56 and 1.63 in 1994 and ’95, respectively. While Greinke was dominant during the regular season for much of the last decade, he was not as great in the postseason, holding a career 4.21 ERA. He finally reached the World Series in 2019 with the Astros but despite a strong effort, his team came up short in Game 7 against the Nationals. The next guy on our list has a slightly better pedigree in the postseason…
4. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Among qualified starters, Bumgarner’s 3.14 ERA for the past decade is 12th-best. That alone wouldn’t merit him consideration for our top-five list, but what he did in the postseason is unparalleled in this era. Bumgarner helped lead the Giants to three championships in 2010, ’12, and ’14. He owns three playoff shutouts and has overall tossed five-plus shutout innings in seven of his 16 career playoff starts. All told, the lefty holds a career 2.11 ERA in the postseason. Even though Bumgarner is coming off of the worst season of his career, you’d still think hard about starting him in Game 7 of the World Series.
3. Max Scherzer, Tigers/Nationals
Baseball Reference uses bold and italics to show when a player led his league or all of baseball in a particular category. Look at Scherzer’s page. It’s littered with bolded and intalicized stats. He has led the league four times in wins, three times in complete games and twice in shutouts, twice in innings pitched, three times in strikeouts, four times in WHIP, and four times in strikeout-to-walk ratio. For the decade, Scherzer won 161 games with a 3.12 ERA and 2,452 strikeouts. He reached the 300-strikeout club in 2018, which was at the time only the seventh 300-strikeout season of the millennium. Also in this decade, Scherzer made seven consecutive All-Star rosters, won three Cy Young Awards and has finished in the top-five every year since 2013, and he’s even been in the MVP conversation several times.
2. Justin Verlander, Tigers/Astros
What a decade for Verlander. He won a championship in 2017 with the Astros, won both the AL Cy Young Award and the MVP Award in 2011 with the Tigers, and won a second Cy Young Award this past season with the Astros. During the regular season, he posted a 3.10 ERA with 2,260 strikeouts, nearly matching Scherzer with 160 wins. Verlander and then-teammate Gerrit Cole both joined the 300-strikeout club in 2019, and Verlander joined an even more exclusive club for his career when he recorded his 3,000th strikeout. He turns 37 years old in February, but it seems like he’s getting better with age. His 2.52 ERA in ’18 and 2.58 in ’19 were both his best marks since 2012. Verlander is obviously not going to pitch the entirety of the 2020’s, but it will be interesting to see just how much more he can accomplish before he calls it quits.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Despite Kershaw’s famous postseason struggles, he is the clear No. 1 for this list. Since 2010, Kershaw, an eight-time All-Star, led the league in wins three times, in ERA five times, in complete games twice and shutouts three times, and in WHIP four times. He won three NL Cy Young Awards as well as the 2014 NL MVP Award. In total, Kershaw won 156 games with a 2.31 ERA and 2,179 strikeouts over the past decade. No one else is close. The late, great José Fernández is second with a 2.56 ERA but in 1,500 fewer innings. Jacob deGrom is third with a 2.62 ERA across more than 1,100 innings. Kershaw, already a first-ballot Hall of Famer, will go down as one of the greatest left-handers to ever pitch.