Skip to content

Who’s Your Ace? Active Leaders Revisited

A set of four reflective black casino ace cards with gold markings floating in the air on a dark classy background

It’s been a couple of years since my analysis of active strikeout leaders, so I decided to revisit the lists of active pitching leaders and see how the ranks have changed. Who has joined the list of leaders following the departures of CC Sabathia, Félix Hernández and Cole Hamels from MLB?

Let’s start with active players with over 2,000 career punchouts:

  1. Max Scherzer: 3,020
  2. Justin Verlander: 3,013
  3. Zack Greinke: 2,809
  4. Clayton Kershaw: 2,670
  5. Chris Sale: 2,059
  6. David Price: 2,039
  7. Adam Wainwright: 2,004

Most of these pitchers are over the age of 35. Sale is the youngest at 32, while Kershaw is 33. Sale missed the 2020 season due to Tommy John surgery but currently owns MLB’s best career K/BB rate of 5.33. He pitched just 42.2 innings in 2021 but posted a 150 ERA+. We could see him make a push towards 3,000 strikeouts if he can return to a full workload as a starting pitcher.

How does this list match up with the active bWAR leaders among pitchers? Here are the current leaders with over 40 bWAR:

  1. Justin Verlander: 72.2
  2. Clayton Kershaw: 69.1
  3. Zack Greinke: 68.0
  4. Max Scherzer: 66.2
  5. Chris Sale: 46.6
  6. Jacob deGrom: 40.7
  7. David Price: 40.4
  8. Adam Wainwright: 40.2

Not surprisingly, most of these players are over 35, except for Kershaw, Sale and deGrom. deGrom has managed the impressive feat of racking up 40 wins above a replacement player in just 1261.2 innings. Price, who is two years older, has only been worth 0.3 games more than deGrom with over 840 more innings under his belt.

The final element that is missing from this discussion is the ability to limit damage from opponents. Here are the active leaders in adjusted ERA (ERA+) with a career ERA+ over 130. This gives us one new active ace:

  1. Jacob deGrom: 157
  2. Clayton Kershaw: 155
  3. Chris Sale: 140
  4. Max Scherzer: 134
  5. Corey Kluber: 133

Finally, I used Baseball Reference’s Stathead tool to filter active pitchers and find the players with at least 2,000 strikeouts, 40 bWAR and an ERA+ greater than or equal to 130. This leaves a total of three aces, in the following order when ranked by ERA+:

  1. Clayton Kershaw: 155
  2. Chris Sale: 140
  3. Max Scherzer: 134

This leaves us Boston haters in the unfortunate position of confronting the fact that Sale is headed for future Hall-of-Famer status if he remains healthy and effective post-surgery. deGrom will join this conversation once he surpasses the 2,000 K threshold.