Which southpaw reigns in latest SP Power Rankings?

May 23rd, 2024

Our latest Starting Pitcher Power Rankings voting featured a battle between three sensational southpaws, each with a viable claim on the top spot but wildly different paths to this point.

Our MLB.com panel had to weigh the relative merits of the Cubs’ Shota Imanaga, who has made a triumphant transition from Japan’s NPB to the Majors; the Tigers’ Tarik Skubal, whose filthy pitch arsenal is spurring an age-27 breakout after last year’s promising return from injury; and the Phillies’ Ranger Suárez, a soft-tossing seven-year veteran riding an epic hot streak.

There was no easy decision here, but ultimately, only one could be, well, No. 1. Here is a look at the results of this week’s Starting Pitcher Power Rankings, which also features, among its newcomers, a resurgent 35-year-old and an ascendant 21-year-old.

1. , Cubs (Last poll: 4)
As Imanaga has continued to put up zeroes game after game, our panel’s reaction has gone from skepticism to acceptance to a full embrace. The 30-year-old lefty’s performance so far seems like a magic trick -- his four-seamer/splitter combo literally looks like one to opponents -- but the results are impossible to ignore. No starting pitcher has begun his Major League career quite like this (5-0, 0.84 ERA in nine starts), and after making his Starting Pitcher Power Rankings debut at No. 4 in our previous poll, Imanaga could not be kept from the top spot this time around.

2. , Tigers (2)
Skubal has never previously shown up on a Cy Young Award ballot, but right now, he looks like a strong AL favorite in 2024. With a four-seamer and sinker that both exceed 96 mph on average, and a changeup and slider that both miss lots of bats, Skubal carried an MLB-leading 1.94 FIP and 0.78 WHIP into Wednesday, when the Royals touched him up for four earned runs.

3. , Phillies (5)
After his outing on Tuesday night, terms like “mind-boggling,” “historic” and “incredible” were being thrown around in reference to Suárez. The 28-year-old Venezuela native is off to the type of start (9-0, 1.36 ERA) that is conjuring Hall of Fame names like Juan Marichal, Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander as researchers look to contextualize his excellence. Suárez has only 13th-percentile fastball velocity, but a five-pitch mix and pinpoint control have dazzled opposing lineups with an artistic flourish in 2024.

4. , Phillies (1)
Wheeler led our previous two polls, but despite one recent hiccup on May 12 at Miami, his drop this time is mostly about the off-the-charts success of the trio above him forcing the issue. The durable right-hander still has an excellent chance to capture his first Cy Young Award -- and his first World Series ring. With Suárez, Wheeler and Aaron Nola leading the way, the Phillies have the best rotation, and the best record, in MLB this season.

5. , Dodgers (3)
With a 96-mph fastball thrown with 99th-percentile release extension and two elite breaking pitches in his slider and curveball, a healthy Glasnow is giving hitters fits in 2024. All three offerings have generated at least 20 strikeouts, leading to Glasnow’s MLB-leading total of 81. In roughly one full season of work since the start of 2023 (31 starts, 182 innings), Glasnow has 243 K’s.

6. , Braves (not ranked)
As MLB.com’s Thomas Harrigan recently wrote, Sale is dominating hitters like it’s 2018 again. That has a lot to do with good health, something the seven-time All-Star lefty enjoyed rarely, if ever, during a frustrating stretch from 2019-23. Making the most of a fresh start in Atlanta, Sale once again looks unhittable. Over his past six outings, he owns a ridiculous 50-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 39 innings, while allowing a .463 OPS.

7. , Royals (not ranked)
It was fair to be skeptical when the Padres signed Lugo to be a starting pitcher before 2023, given his extensive background as a (mostly) solid reliever. But Lugo more than held his own last season (3.57 ERA in 26 starts), and now he has taken it to another level in K.C. (1.79 ERA in 10 starts). Even more intriguing: Lugo has roughly tripled his strikeout rate between his first five starts (11.1%) and his past five (33.8%).

8. , Pirates (not ranked)
Skenes’ MLB debut hinted at the enormous potential of a pitching prospect many have said is the best to arrive in The Show since Stephen Strasburg. His second outing, last Friday afternoon, provided the full Skenes Experience. Facing a Cubs lineup that had just seen him six days earlier, the 21-year-old was absolutely dominant over six hitless innings. Next up: the Giants on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park.

9. , Orioles (7)
Burnes endured an odd stretch recently during which the Orioles, one of the best teams in baseball, lost four of his starts in a row -- this despite each being a quality start and Burnes posting a combined ERA of 2.59 in those four games. Things got back on track on Sunday, however, when Burnes matched a season high with 11 strikeouts in a victory over the Mariners.

10. , Red Sox (not ranked)
Houck is running a ground-ball rate well over 50% thanks to three pitches -- a sinker, slider and especially a splitter -- that all keep the ball out of the air. As a result, he has allowed just one home run in 65 innings this season, and opponents are slugging only .254 against him. Between that and a walk rate that he cut almost in half from 2023, Houck is authoring a big-time breakout campaign.

Others receiving votes: Javier Assad (Cubs), Yu Darvish (Padres), Kutter Crawford (Red Sox), Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Dodgers), Jared Jones (Pirates), Reynaldo López (Braves), Dylan Cease (Padres), Luis Gil (Yankees), Luis Castillo (Mariners), George Kirby (Mariners), Zac Gallen (D-backs), Logan Webb (Giants)

Voters: David Adler, Scott Chiusano, Doug Gausepohl, Thomas Harrigan, Bryan Horowitz, Brent Maguire, Whitney McIntosh, Ricardo Montes de Oca, Arturo Pardavila, Andrew Simon, Zac Vierra