5 Best Pitchers In MLB 2024 – Strider, Cole, Burnes Vie For No. 1

Feb 24, 2024; Port Charlotte, Florida, USA; Atlanta Braves pitcher Spencer Strider (99) throws a pitch in the first inning of a spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park.
Image Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2024 MLB season approaches, every team is gearing up their pitching rotations for a long, daunting season that will hopefully end in a playoff run. There is only one Cy Young award for each league though, but that does not limit the excellence we’ll see on the mound from many others.

In this article, we’ll break down the five best pitchers in the MLB in 2024 that will rise above the rest when the regular season comes to a close.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks RHP Zac Gallen

Gallen is a case of redemption in 2022 and 2023. With very minimal expectations in 2022, Gallen set career bests in ERA (2.54), innings pitched (184.), WHIP (0.91) and batting average against (.186). These are the numbers of a bonafide ace who belongs in the conversation as one of the best pitchers in baseball heading into 2024.

The problem with setting the bar so high in 2022 is that baseball can be a streaky sport not just in the regular season, but from year to year as well. 2023 was a remarkable year for the Diamondbacks as an organization, but Gallen still had some work to do after a rough first couple of starts. He continued with an impressive scoreless innings streak (28), an All-Star Game start, and an eventual struggle against the long ball as the playoffs approached.

The season came full circle as Gallen had arguably his best start of the season against the red-hot Cubs who were on a war path behind the D-Backs for a playoff spot at the time.

Gallen threw a complete game shutout, allowing three hits and zero runs with 9 strikeouts in a 1-0 victory. That performance is a testament to what I believe his 2024 season could be.

Performing when it matters most is paramount when talking about the best pitchers in baseball. With an NL Pennant in his resume, we should count on Gallen.

4. Philadelphia Phillies RHP Zack Wheeler

As a New Yorker, it’s painful to remember Wheeler’s frequently injured days as a mediocre pitcher for the Mets. While New York didn’t do much to develop his potential, Wheeler has turned into an undeniable ace in his time with another NL East squad: the Philadelphia Phillies.

Since joining the Phillies (excluding the shortened 2020 season) Wheeler owns a 3.07 ERA, 2.88 FIP, and a 22.3% strikeout-minus-walk rate. Now if those numbers don’t stand out as impressive, consider that New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has a 3.17 career ERA over that span.

The scary part is that Wheeler could lower that ERA even further with the help of a changed arm angle — which he developed in the 2023 season.

There is a common theme among elite pitchers as they dial in their mechanics of multiple pitches. Every time a pitch is mastered, it opens the door for another pitch to be developed. It’s like an arsenal that can never be fully completed.

Wheeler found a ton of success with an arm angle change that allowed his fastball and sinker to become unhittable at times.

Now enter the sweeper. If you don’t believe me, watch the Wild Card matchup against the Marlins last year, and you’ll see the potential for even more dominance in 2024.

3. Baltimore Orioles RHP Corbin Burnes

Never have I been happier to see a pitcher (that I have no real connection with) get traded to another organization. But this move just seemed right for the up-and-coming Orioles to finally add the ace they’ve been looking for. It also comes at the perfect moment as their former workhorse, Kyle Gibson — who pitched 192.2 innings in 2023 — joined the Cardinals this offseason.

We’re now getting into the territory of tried and true aces. Burnes led the NL in strikeouts twice in the past three years and only sits under the man ranked one above him (Mr. Gerrit Cole) in total strikeouts since 2020 (765). The numbers are quite astounding when you look at his five-pitch mix that features one of the game’s best cutters we may ever see.

Burnes put in his time for the Brewers and seemingly improved every year. He has progressed over the years to a Cy Young Award winner, an ERA champion, and a three-time all-star. We may be seeing what could be the beginning of his new career as the ace of a World Series-contending Orioles squad.

2. New York Yankees RHP Gerrit Cole

First of all, it would probably shock even true baseball fans if you told them Gerrit Cole had never won a Cy Young award before 2023. It is greatness that was bound to be crowned. But if we take a look at why he continues to perform year after year, the case is strong for him to be number two on this list.

We have talked about the elusive sweeper and electric cutter so far, but where is baseball’s classic pitch? The four-seam fastball that Gerrit Cole has continuously refined has become devastating to every batter who steps in the box against him.

It wasn’t always like that though since it was Cole’s major blemish in earlier seasons, often attributed to his propensity to give up the deep ball.

Now what’s the classic saying for anyone who is facing a pitcher who throws shockingly hard? The harder it comes in, the faster it goes out.

Cole has learned from this saying as he has traded velocity for control in the latter half of his career. Not by much, but by just enough to where the slugging against his fastball went from .420 to .350 from 2022 to 2023. This eliminated what seemed to be his only weakness.

Last year’s stat line speaks for itself as Cole led the majors in ERA 2.63, innings pitched (209), games started (33), complete game shutouts (2), and WHIP (0.981). Now just imagine if the Yankees offense can live up to expectations.

1. Atlanta Braves RHP Spencer Strider

With all the accolades and talent we just went into for the top contenders on this list, we move to arguably the least-proven but highest-upside pitcher for the top spot. Strider is a phenom whose future nobody really can predict at this point. All we know is that he’s been elite on many levels so far in his career, and has shown no signs of slowing down.

The pitch mix comes up again here as Strider sits as an outlier with only a fastball and slider that carried him to an illustrious 20-5 record last season, which landed him fourth in the Cy Young voting. But when we look at dominance, Strider’s potential is almost uncapped because of his elite deception.

Strider has commented many times about mastering the arm slot of his accompanying slider to exit at the same location as his blistering fastball. This is a devastating combination and almost reinvents pitchers focusing on each of their pitches. It may just take one more season to solidify this elite approach as Strider led the majors in strikeouts last season.

There is synergy here, and contrary to Gerrit Cole, the Braves’ potent offense should provide many more starts with plenty of run support (and confidence) for Strider in 2024.