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Is Dylan Cease a Top 10 Pitcher in MLB?

Sean Anderson Avatar
February 3, 2023

Players and the commissioner’s office did not believe Dylan Cease deserved to be an All-Star in 2022.

And according to MLB Network, Dylan Cease, who finished second in the AL CY Young vote, is not a top 10 pitcher heading into the 2023 season.

Cease boasted a pitch mix in 2022 that featured a slider with the lowest run value of any pitch in baseball; a fastball with the seventh-highest average velocity among pitchers who threw at least 2,000 pitches; a curveball with top-20 average spin (RPM); and changeup that – as he told our Vinnie Duber – is his main focus this offseason. 

Since 2021, Cease is fifth in MLB in strikeouts, 11th in ERA, surrendered the 12th least home runs, 17th in total batters faced. Cease should have been featured on MLB Network’s top 10 list, but how high does he rank in my personal top-10?

As I described on the latest CHGO White Sox Podcast, I focused on which player I would select in a fantasy draft. This is my “big board” for starting pitchers heading into the 2023 season.

10. Zack Wheeler, Phillies

There were three pitchers to register Pitching+ of 110 or higher and to throw more than 2,000 pitches in 2022: Spencer Strider, Gerrit Cole and Wheeler. Over the past two years, Wheeler ranks eighth in innings pitched and walk percentage. His 2.80 ERA over the past two years would look better if he was not backed up by the third-worst defense in the major leagues, according to Statcast’s team Outs Above Average stat. Wheeler consistently locates a dominant arsenal now that his injury issues are in the rearview mirror. 

9. Shohei Ohtani, Angels

Shohei Ohtani had four pitches with a negative run value in 2022, specifically, his slider had a ridiculous minus-28 run value, which equated to the second-best pitch in the league. Per Eno Sarris’ Pitching+ metric, Ohtani’s slider had the highest Pitching+ (117.2) of any pitch thrown more than 1,000 times last season. The only problem – if you even want to call it that – with Ohtani? He hits. Only three pitchers on this list pitched fewer than 300 innings over the past two years: Justin Verlander, who missed all of 2021; Jacob deGrom, who didn’t pitch in more than 15 games in either season; and Ohtani. 

Ohtani had 5 strikeouts in 2022 ending on a pitch 100+ mph or faster.

8. Dylan Cease, White Sox

His rightful place. Not too high, but he’s on the list. From May 29 to the end of the 2022 season, Cease held the lowest ERA (1.51) by a .10 difference (Verlander, 1.61). Cease’s strikeout prowess is well known (453 K, 5th in MLB since 2021), but what makes him truly elite is his ability to induce poor swings. According to Fangraphs.com, Cease since 2021 ranks 1st in zone-contact % (79.1 percent), 2nd in contact % allowed (68.3%), 4th in MLB in swinging strike % (14.9%) and 10th in Hard Hit % (34.7%).

Now, for a moment, if you will, allow to me “cook” as I would like to make up my own stat. Fangraphs defines contact % as “pitches on which contact was made / # of swings taken”, but what about Balls-In-Play%? MLB.com’s glossary defines a Batted Ball Event as “any fair ball”. This includes outs, hits and errors.

NameIPEventsTotal Batters FacedBIP(Events/TBF)%
Dylan Cease349.2844145558%
Corbin Burnes369873145460%
Gerrit Cole382924151960.8%
Max Scherzer324.2768125861%
Charlie Morton357.2907148461.1%
Robbie Ray382.1963154862.2%
Brandon Woodruff332.2830132862.5%
Lucas Giolito340.1921141865%
Aaron Nola385.21012155665%
Luis Castillo338924141865.2%
Zack Wheeler366.1951145665.3%

Over the past two years as BIP% shows, Cease has allowed the lowest percentage of fair balls by 2%! Got milk?

Finally, since 2021 according to Statcast, on any pitch result involving a swing (foul ball, in-play, foul tip, swinging strike, or blocked swinging strike), Cease holds the lowest Run Value with -123.1. The difference between Cease and second-place Max Scherzer (-107) is a 16 Run Value difference, which is equivalent to the difference between second-place Scherzer and twelve-place Zack Wheeler (-91).

7. Max Fried, Braves

Since 2021, Fried has the fourth-lowest ERA-minus in MLB, the fourth-lowest home runs per nine innings and is one of only seven pitchers to have a Win Probability Added above 5.

6. Justin Verlander, Mets

After a unanimous AL CY Young Award win in 2022, Verlander signed a massive two-year deal to head to the NL for the first time in his career. Verlander led the AL in wins in each of the last two seasons he pitched, 2019 and 2022. He’s been fantastic in the regular season and last year was no different. Twenty-two of his 28 starts went more than six innings. He is only 56 wins away from 300 and perhaps he will be trying to give his best six innings a night to set up the Mets for a postseason run, rather than go for more personal hardware.

5. Gerrit Cole, Yankees

Which pitcher had the highest Pitching+ while throwing more than 3,000 pitches last year? Cole. From April 24 to September 7, Cole had a 2.98 ERA with 206 strikeouts and only 35 walks. Without the effects of a lockout this spring, with a sour taste in his mouth following a “down year” and with new competition in the Yankees’ rotation in the form of free-agent addition Carlos Rodón, I think Cole dominates in 2023.

4. Aaron Nola, Phillies

As mentioned above, the Phillies have had the worst defense over the past two years. No one has been affected more than Nola, who over that span posted an ERA of 3.90 and a FIP of 2.95. He is the only pitcher with a difference between those two stats higher than 0.40, and he is at 0.95, nearly a full point! Nola logged the third most innings in baseball over the past two seasons, and in 2022, he was the only pitcher to feature an arsenal of three pitches with a minus-7 Run Value or better (min. 500 pitches per pitch).

3. Carlos Rodón, Yankees

The former South Sider is today’s best left-hander in the major league. After Ethan Katz and the Core Velocity Belt saved his career in 2021, Rodón is ready to take over The Big Apple. Rodón said at his introductory press conference with the Yankees: “I’ve always wanted more. Winning has been at the top of my list as a player. As we know, it’s the Yankee way.”

Rodón is top three in fWAR over the past two years, behind only Corbin Burnes and Wheeler. Rodón has the highest K/9 of any pitcher since 2021 and is the only pitcher with a K/9 of at least 12. Rodón has had the best fastball/slider combo over the past two years, with a minus-68.1 Run Value, ahead of Max Scherzer (minus-61.5 Run Value) and Cease (minus-50.8 Run Value).

2. Corbin Burnes, Brewers

Burnes has had the lowest SIERA (Skill Independent ERA) over the past two years. He has the second-highest strikeout-to-walk percentage, behind only Scherzer. Only four pitchers in the past two years are above 25 percent, and Scherzer and Burnes are the only two above 27 percent. Burnes has the highest fWAR of any pitcher in baseball over the past two years.

1. Sandy Alcántara, Marlins

Unlike Bruce Springsteen, you don’t have to worry about Sandy showing up. Alcántara is the only pitcher with 400 innings pitched over the past two years. He has recorded 196 more outs than Burnes, or 65.1 innings, or roughly 11 starts of six innings. He eats innings better than anyone else while being elite at run prevention, with a 2.71 ERA over the past two years.

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