Between 2017 and 2018, FanGraphs says that New York Yankees right-hander Luis Severino was the fifth most valuable pitcher in all of baseball, ahead of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, among others.
After making his second All-Star team in his age-24 season, Severino signed a four-year/$40 million deal with the Yankees to buy out his arbitration years. At the time, the deal seemed as though it would prove to be one of the most team-friendly contracts in the sport.
Instead, as SNY's Andy Martino noted, Severino has turned into a reminder for all pitchers to get paid while they can, knowing how volatile a profession they are undertaking.
In 2019, rotator cuff inflammation and an injury to his latissimus dorsi limited Severino to just three starts during the regular season. There was quite a bit of excitement in the Bronx about the prospects of him potentially pitching a full season in 2020 as the No. 2 to offseason signee Gerrit Cole. Instead, Severino will undergo Tommy John surgery after an MRI showed damage to his UCL. Rather than being part of a team that has World Series aspirations, Severino will miss the entirety of the 2020 season.
Just a few years ago, Severino would have been a lock for the top 10 in this type of list, if not higher. That's the nature of being a pitcher, though. Easy come, easy go. Perhaps it will come back for Severino, who will only be 27 next season.
With Severino no longer an option, here is a look at RADIO.COM Sports projections of who will be the best starting pitchers in baseball in 2020:
No. 20: Hyun-jin Ryu - Toronto Blue Jays
When Ryu has been healthy during his career he's been an excellent pitcher. Never was that more true than in 2019, when he went 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA, 3.10 FIP and 4.8 fWAR in 182.2 innings on his way to finishing runner-up in the National League Cy Young Award.
After winning the National League ERA title, Ryu left the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency to sign a four-year/$80 million deal with the Blue Jays. Toronto is probably a year or two from being ready to compete for the postseason, but the 32-year-old unquestionably improves their rotation, which will compliment a lineup filled with exciting young players.
Ryu is never going to be a workhorse, but he has posted an incredibly low 2.21 ERA over his last 44 starts. If he's able to carry that sort of success to the American League East, he's likely to be an All-Star for the second consecutive season, at a minimum.
No. 19: Corey Kluber - Texas Rangers
If you're upset that Kluber is on this list over his new teammate, Lance Lynn, you may be justified. However, we're just two seasons removed from Kluber going 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA in 33 starts, so it would feel wrong not to include the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner on this list.
The pitching-rich Indians elected to part with Kluber's $17.5 million salary in a December trade that could prove to be pretty lopsided in the favor of the Rangers if Kluber stays healthy. A year ago, the soon-to-be 34-year-old was limited to just seven starts because of a fractured forearm and an abdominal injury.
If healthy, Kluber could help the Rangers build a pretty impressive trio at the top of their rotation with the aforementioned Lynn and Mike Minor. When you consider that his contract also includes an $18 million club option for 2020, Kluber could be an intriguing trade candidate this summer if the Rangers aren't able to keep pace with the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics in the American League West.
No. 18: Mike Clevinger - Cleveland Indians
Quietly, FanGraphs says that Clevinger has been the 11th best starter in baseball over the past two seasons, only narrowly trailing Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.
Since the start of the 2018 season, Clevinger has gone 26-12 with a 2.90 ERA, 3.12 FIP and 8.7 fWAR across 326.0 innings. He's part of an Indians' rotation that even after trading two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber has a chance to be one of baseball's best.
The 29-year-old would be higher on this list if not for concerns about his ability to stay on the field. A season ago, he had stints on the injured list with back and ankle injuries. He's expected to miss the beginning of the 2019 season after undergoing surgery in mid-February on his left knee to fix a partially torn meniscus.
No. 17: Zack Wheeler - Philadelphia Phillies
As is, Wheeler is an excellent pitcher and will probably prove to be worth the five-year/$118 million deal that the Phillies inked him to in free agency this winter. After all, the 29-year-old had a 3.65 ERA and 3.37 FIP over the last two seasons.
There was a feeling during his time with the New York Mets, though, that Wheeler hadn't fully tapped into his potential. If the Phillies are able to help him do that, the contract he signed this winter could prove to be a bargain, especially when you consider what Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg ultimately signed for.
The Phillies didn't have much in the way of stability in their starting rotation over the last two years outside of Aaron Nola. Wheeler should help address that. If he reaches another level, the Phillies could return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
No. 16: Patrick Corbin - Washington Nationals
Though he's somewhat of an afterthought in his own rotation, Corbin had an excellent first season with the Nationals, posting a 3.25 ERA, 3.49 FIP and a 4.8 fWAR over 202.0 total regular season innings.
Over the past two seasons - which he split with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Nationals - Corbin has been the fifth most valuable starter in all of baseball, per FanGraphs.
After losing Anthony Rendon in free agency, the Nationals will become even more reliant on their front-line starters. As you'll see later in this article, there's reason to be concerned about how durable both Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer will be moving forward. Even if both turn in another elite season in 2020, the Nationals will need Corbin - in year two of a six-year/$140 million deal - to continue to pitch at the level he has over the past two seasons if they hope to defend their World Series title.
No. 15: Tyler Glasnow - Tampa Bay Rays
Glasnow only made 12 regular season starts in 2019, but what he showed in those 12 starts makes you think he could be a contender for the American League Cy Young Award if he stays healthy in 2020.
In 12 starts a season ago, Glasnow went 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA, 2.26 FIP and 2.3 fWAR. His season was shortened by a forearm strain, but he went 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA in April. In September, he posted a 1.46 ERA over 12.1 innings. If he's healthy enough to pitch a full season, there's evidence that the 26-year-old could prove to be one of the sport's elite starters.
If Glasnow has the type of season we're projecting, the Rays will unquestionably have the best pitching staff in the American League East. And the more that the New York Yankees struggle with injuries, the more you begin to wonder if the Rays won't simply be the best overall team in their division.
No. 14: Aaron Nola - Philadelphia Phillies
Nola had a relatively disappointing 2019 season, but was still an effective starter, posting a 3.87 ERA, 4.03 FIP and 3.4 fWAR. If that's the baseline for the 26-year-old, there's a good chance he'll be on these type of lists for quite some time.
Of course, he certainly would have been in the top 10 on this list a year ago. Nola finished third in a crowded National League Cy Young Award race in 2018, going 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA, 3.01 FIP and 5.4 fWAR. Perhaps that will prove to be his best overall season, but the feeling here is his 2020 will fall somewhere in between his last two seasons, and probably more closely resemble his 2018 campaign.
For the Phillies to snap an eight-year postseason drought, they'll need Nola to be better down the stretch than he has traditionally been. In 122.1 career innings in September and October, Nola, who is from warm weather Louisiana, has a 4.49 ERA.
No. 13: Chris Sale - Boston Red Sox
It was hard to figure out what to do with Sale on this list. His 2019 season was a disaster and he's not expected to be ready to start the 2020 season. However, in 2018, he closed out the World Series and completed a seven-season stretch that had him on a path to Cooperstown. There has to be more, right?
In 2019, Sale did go 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA. However, he still had a very respectable 3.39 FIP and a 3.6 fWAR. It's also fair to assume he wasn't healthy for at least part of his 25-start season, as elbow inflammation prematurely ended his season in August.
It's hard to tell if the seven-time All-Star, who will turn 31 in the first week of the season, will return to his peak level. FanGraphs says he was the third best starter in baseball between 2012 and 2018, trailing only Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. Considering he's in year one of a five-year/$145 million deal, the Red Sox better hope there's a second act for Sale.
No. 12: Lucas Giolito - Chicago White Sox
The Washington Nationals may have won the World Series with former White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton in 2019, but it became clear last season that Chicago won the December 2016 trade that sent him to the nation's capital.
After a frustrating start to his major league career, Giolito was an All-Star in 2019, his age-24 season. Across 29 starts last season, Giolito went 14-9 with a 3.41 ERA, 3.43 FIP and 5.1 fWAR.
The White Sox added a slew of accomplished veterans this offseason to a budding young core. At the forefront of their playoff hopes in 2019 and beyond is Giolito, who they hope is their staff ace for the better part of the next decade.
No. 11: Blake Snell - Tampa Bay Rays
Between having breaking a toe on his right foot and needing arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow, 2019 proved to be a disappointing season for Snell.
Even when Snell was healthy in 2019, he wasn't nearly as effective as he had been the prior season, posting a 4.29 ERA in 23 starts. However, advanced numbers like FIP suggest that Snell was actually better than his back-of-the-baseball-card numbers indicated. He's also healthy entering the 2020 season.
We're not saying Snell is going to top his 2018 season, when he went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA, 2.95 FIP and 4.8 fWAR en route to winning the American League Cy Young Award. But the guess here is he'll be a lot closer to being a No. 1 starter in 2020 than he was last year.
No. 10: Shane Bieber - Cleveland Indians
Bieber broke out in a big way in 2019, as he was a first-time All-Star and ultimately won the All-Star Game MVP in front of his hometown fans in Cleveland.
If your only glimpse into the type of season Bieber had in 2019 was the midsummer classic, you missed out. Bieber went 15-8 in 214.1 innings a season ago, posting a 3.28 ERA, 3.32 FIP and a 5.6 fWAR.
A year ago, the Indians won 93 games and still missed the playoffs. With the Minnesota Twins adding Josh Donaldson and the Chicago Cubs expecting to take a major step forward in 2020, Cleveland's path to the postseason won't get easier. However, Bieber headlines one of baseball's deepest rotations, one that could help Terry Francona's club to return to the playoffs.
No. 9: Charlie Morton - Tampa Bay Rays
Morton has had one of the stranger career arcs any of us have ever seen, but here he is, at age 36, coming off of a career year.
In the first year of a very team-friendly two-year/$30 million deal, Morton went 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA, 2.81 FIP and 6.1 fWAR in a career-high 194.2 innings. He finished third in American League Cy Young voting, behind his former Houston Astros teammates, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
To a degree, it feels like Morton is playing with house money. After all, this is someone that struggled to stay healthy for the first nine seasons of his career and wasn't a front-line starter when he was healthy. Over the last three seasons, though, Morton has emerged as one of the better arms in the game. Some things in sports are better not to question.
No. 8: Stephen Strasburg - Washington Nationals
Strasburg, the reigning World Series MVP, re-signed with the Nationals this offseason for seven years and $245 million. The question isn't whether he'll be an extremely effective pitcher when he's on the mound during that new deal. It is fair to wonder, though, if he'll ever be able to replicate the workload that he had in 2019 again.
Between 2012 and 2018, Strasburg only topped 200 innings in a regular season once, in 2014. He only threw 175 or more regular season innings three times during that seven-season stretch. In 2019, he threw 209.0 regular season innings and 36.1 more on the road to the Nationals' first World Series title. So, a year after being limited to just 130.0 innings, Strasburg threw 245.1 total innings in 2019.
We're not saying he's destined for a major injury, that's impossible to predict with 100 percent accuracy. There certainly has been a correlation throughout history with pitchers who have arm problems the year after seeing a major innings jump, though. And at a minimum, Strasburg's career has shown us that he's probably going to struggle to stay as healthy as he did in 2019.
No. 7: Zack Greinke - Houston Astros
For most of Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, it appeared that the final game of the season would serve as the defining moment of Greinke's career. Instead, A.J. Hinch pulled Greinke after 6.1 innngs and the Washington Nationals ultimately came back and defeated the Astros to clinch the World Series.
That feels like a lifetime ago. Gone is Gerrit Cole. Ditto for Hinch and former general manager Jeff Luhnow. By now, you know the story. But whether you're rooting for the Astors in 2020 or not, they still have a roster capable of competing for the World Series, and Greinke is at the forefront of that.
In 208.2 regular season innings between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Houston Astros a season ago, Greinke posted a 2.93 ERA and 5.4 fWAR. He is 36, but he's pitched at a front-line level without much in the way of velocity for three seasons now. Don't expect that to change in 2020.
No. 6: Jack Flaherty - St. Louis Cardinals
In the second half of the 2019 season, Flaherty emerged as one of the game's best starters. There's no reason to think that the 24-year-old won't put together another All-Star caliber season in 2020.
In 33 starts that spanned 196.1 innings in 2019, Flaherty went 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA, 3.46 FIP and 4.7 fWAR. Behind a disgustingly impressive arsenal of pitches, Flaherty posted a 0.91 ERA in 99.1 innings after the All-Star Break.
The Cardinals aren't often mentioned as a preseason World Series contender, but they did reach the NLCS a season ago. Flaherty is the type of pitcher that could carry a team to the World Series if he gets hot in October.
No. 5: Walker Buehler - Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox in February for one reason - to win their first World Series title since 1988. To do so, they'll need Buehler to take another step forward and compete for the National League Cy Young Award in 2020.
Hyun-jin Ryu, the team's best pitcher a season ago, left in free agency. Clayton Kershaw is still an effective starter when he pitches, but hasn't made 30 starts in a season since 2015. The Dodgers acquired David Price in the Betts trade, and have a slew of young arms with frontline potential. Make no mistake, though, Buehler is Dave Roberts' ace now.
In 2019, Buehler went 14-4 with a 3.26 ERA, 3.01 FIP and 5.0 fWAR in 182.1 innings. Expect the 25-year-old to take another step forward in 2020 on a Dodgers team that has a legitimate shot to win 110 regular season games.
No. 4: Justin Verlander - Houston Astros
After losing Gerrit Cole in free agency, there will be even more pressure on Justin Verlander in his age-37 season. Nothing we've seen suggests he won't rise to that challenge.
In 2019, Verlander made his eighth All-Star team and won his second American League Cy Young Award, going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 3.27 FIP and 6.4 fWAR. At age 36, Verlander lead the American League in innings pitched, topping the 200 innings mark for the 12th time in his illustrious career. He also tossed the third no-hitter of his career in early September, making him just the sixth player in MLB history to do so.
Eventually, Verlander will prove to be mortal. Sports talk radio couldn't exist without the saying that "father time is undefeated." For the time being, though, Verlander seems to have found the fountain of youth.
No. 3: Max Scherzer - Washington Nationals
Scherzer was somewhat of a late bloomer, but since 2013, he's won three Cy Young Awards (one in the American League, two in the National League) and graded out as the most valuable overall pitcher in baseball. His peak has been so dominant that he's probably cemented himself as a Hall of Famer.
If Scherzer had pitched a full season in 2019, he probably would have won his fourth overall Cy Young Award. Even as is, he finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting after a regular season where he went 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA, 2.45 FIP and 6.5 fWAR in 172.1 innings.
Scherzer did spend two stints on the injured list with a back injury after the All-Star Break in 2019, and had to be scratched from his scheduled start in Game 5 of the World Series because of trap spasms. As he approaches his 36th birthday, Scherzer's health is something to monitor. But until he proves that he's no longer one of the game's elite starters, it would be disrespectful not to have him in the top five.
No. 2: Jacob deGrom - New York Mets
Over the past two seasons, deGrom has been the best pitcher in baseball.
He had one of the most incredible seasons in modern baseball history in 2018, posting a minuscule 1.70 ERA and 1.99 FIP across 217.0 innings, allowing him to win his first National League Cy Young Award. Last season, he "regressed" to a 2.43 ERA, 2.67 FIP and 7.0 fWAR in 223.0 innings, enough for him to edge out Hyun-jin Ryu and win the Cy Young Award in the senior circuit for the the second consecutive season.
With the addition of Dellin Betances and the hope that at least one of Edwin Diaz or Jeurys Familia bounces back in 2020, there's hope in New York that the Mets could be a playoff team in the first season of the Luis Rojas era. After all, they won 86 games in 2019 with a disastrous bullpen. However the bullpen ultimately shakes out, though, you can be sure that deGrom, still only 31, will be one of the best pitchers in the sport.
No. 1: Gerrit Cole - New York Yankees
Cole didn't win the American League Cy Young Award in 2019, but from here, he probably should have.
After the All-Star Break, Cole turned in one of the most dominant stretches in MLB history, going 11-0 with a 1.79 ERA in 14 starts. In total, Cole went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA, 2.64 ERA and 7.4 fWAR across 212.1 innings for the Houston Astros. His former teammate Justin Verlander edged him out in the American League Cy Young Award race, though that was hardly a unanimous decision.
In any event, Cole left Houston this offseason to sign the largest deal a pitcher has ever signed in baseball history - nine years and $324 million - with the New York Yankees. Outside of Mike Trout, Cole may be the best player in the sport. The Yankees will need for him to continue his dominance in his first season in pinstripes, especially when you consider that their rotation has already been hit hard by the injury bug.