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John Dewan's Stat of the Week - Cincinnati Reds

Who is The World's No. 1 Starting Pitcher?

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The following is an excerpt from The 2021 Bill James Handbook. All stats are as of the end of the 2020 regular season. 

By Brian Reiff

In a world of ever-shortening attention spans, consistent performance at the highest level often gets overlooked. Everyone wants to know who the best player was today or this week or this month, or what the next new blockbuster is going to be, or, for the younger generation out there, what the latest TikTok craze is. No one wants to read 600 pointless words written by someone who's going to ramble on about movies and social media and how amazing his dog is—they just want to get the data they came here for (for the record, incredibly amazing).

Maintaining that elite level of performance is incredibly difficult, but that is exactly what Gerrit Cole has done. Cole took over the No. 1 spot in the Starting Pitcher Rankings during last year's playoffs, knocking off then-teammate Justin Verlander, meaning he started the 2020 season atop the leaderboard.

As you can see on the following pages, he also finished 2020 as the top pitcher by this metric. This made him the first pitcher to both start and end a regular season as the No. 1 starting pitcher since Clayton Kershaw in 2016. (Kershaw did it in 2014 and 2015 as well.) Before Kershaw, the last pitcher to experience such sustained dominance was Johan Santana in 2007.

What the charts won't tell you is that Cole actually wasn't the No. 1 pitcher for the entire season, despite holding that status at the start and end of the season. Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom temporarily took over the top spot after his seven-inning, 12-strikeout game against the Phillies on September 6, and he held onto it for 10 days before it was reclaimed by Cole. It may still change hands yet again before the World Series wraps up, although Cole looks to have built up a large enough cushion, especially with deGrom's Mets missing out on the playoffs.

A new name can be found one spot below those two. Shane Bieber of the Indians finished the regular season at No. 3 in the rankings, improving his score more than any other pitcher from 385 to 460 points and moving up from the No. 24 spot in which he began the season. The biggest rank jump, meanwhile, belonged to the Brewers' Corbin Burnes, who started from the literal bottom (T-201st) and ended up inside the top 50 at No. 49.

Unlike last season, when two different teams—the Astros and Nationals—each had three pitchers in the top 10, no team dominated the leaderboards in 2020. The Cubs led the way with two pitchers in the top 10—Yu Darvish, who climbed his way back there for the first time since 2014, and Kyle Hendricks—but had no one else higher than No. 75 (Jon Lester). The Yankees, Rays, and Padres, on the other hand, combined for just one pitcher in the top 10, but each had four pitchers in the top 60, which tied for the MLB lead.

Looking at the sum of the scores of each team's five highest-ranked pitchers, it was actually the Reds who narrowly came out on top. Featuring a top-five rotation of Trevor Bauer (No. 4), Luis Castillo (14), Sonny Gray (18), Tyler Mahle (76) and Anthony DeSclafani (126) that combined for a score of 2,023 points, the Reds edged out the Yankees, who finished second with a cumulative score of 2,021 points.

The full leaderboard as well as all the details behind the methodology of the rankings can be found at BillJamesOnline.com.

Stat of the Week: Luis Castillo Is Making A Name For Himself

By Mark SimonOn Thursday, Reds pitcher Luis Castillo will make his final start of what has been a terrific season.Castillo has 15 wins, a 3.25 ERA and 218 strikeouts for a team that is below .500 and didn’t live up to its preseason goal of a postseason spot. That’s no fault of Castillo, who has [...]

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