The top pitchers worth watching heading into the 2022 MLB season

Nick Reid Apr 7, 2022

Truly good pitching is an art form. To an ace, a baseball is what a paintbrush is to a painter or a slab of clay to a sculptor. But in my eyes not even the nutcracker ballet is as beautiful to watch as the best pitchers in the MLB when they’re at the top of their game. It’s not a knock on Beethoven or Picasso or the other greats, but have any of them thrown a one-hit, two walk complete game shutout with seventeen strikeouts? No matter how great those guys are they’ve got nothing on 2010 Brandon Morrow.

Most fans find a pitching duel boring, and I love a good slugfest as much as anyone, but there’s something special about watching a great starter go to work. And with MLB Opening Day on the cusp here are my favourite pitchers to watch heading into the 2022 season. No matter how hardcore of a baseball nerd you are, if you’re a fan of the sport you’ve got to pay attention to these guys. You can thank me later.

*Quick disclaimer: There’s no Gerrit Cole on this list. He might be the best pitcher in baseball but I refuse to watch the Yankees unless they’re facing the Blue Jays.

Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers

Walker Buehler has become one of the best pitchers in baseball, and my favourite to watch. The Dodgers’ ace was spectacular last season, going 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. With the Dodgers’ rotation in flux all of last season with premier arms such as Clayton Kershaw and Dustin May missing time due to injury, Buehler stepped up making an MLB-high 33 starts. Talk about being able to count on a guy to give you his best every fifth day.

What cements Buehler’s spot in baseball’s top tier of pitching is his postseason success. He’s already made 15 career starts in October and he’s only 27 years old. One of the best performances of his career came in Game 6 of the 2020 Fall Classic when he limited the Tampa Bay Rays to one run and three hits across six innings, striking out ten batters as the Dodgers clinched the World Series. Buehler’s 2.94 ERA and 11.4 K/9 in the postseason is enough to tell you that he’s as legit as it gets. He’s the face of the next great generation of pitching.

Feature Pitch – Fastball

In an age where pitchers rely on filthy breaking balls more than ever, sometimes a nice and simple heater is enough to get hitters looking foolish at the plate. Buehler’s fastball sure is nice, but from a batter’s perspective there’s nothing simple about it. I would put him and Cole as having the best four-seamers in baseball, and according to Run Value Buehler’s fastball was one of the very best pitches in 2021.

Sitting around 96 mph with the ability to reach triple digits if necessary, very few starters throw it harder than he does. It’s an unruly strikeout pitch and has a lot to do with his uncanny ability to get so many swings and misses. And don’t sleep on his offspeed stuff, either.

Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee bRewers

Bursting onto the scene a couple seasons ago, Corbin Burnes is already on his way to becoming a household name. He’s the reigning National League Cy Young winner after delivering an impressive 2021 campaign in which he went 11-5 with a 2.43 ERA and 12.6 K/9, both of which led all of baseball.

Burnes’ league-best ERA doesn’t even properly justify how good he was when you consider that his FIP (fielding independent pitching) a metric that’s considered a better indicator of pitching success than ERA, was a microscopic 1.63. Burnes was an absolute menace on the mound.

Feature Pitch: Cutter

Corbin Burnes is a strikeout MACHINE and lot of that has to do with his cutter. When he throws that pitch backdoor (meaning to the batter the pitch looks outside only for the ball to go NOPE, I’M PAINTING THE EDGE OF THE ZONE AND YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT) it’s simply unhittable. He has one of the best cutters we’ve seen since Mariano Rivera.

When Burnes throws that 96mph cut and mixes in his fastball and sweeping slider, it’s game over. He got the Opening Day nod and if I’m a hitter on the Chicago Cubs I’m faking an injury Thursday so I don’t have to look like a fool facing that dude.

Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays

There’s certainly a Blue Jays bias here but I cannot WAIT to see Kevin Gausman at the Rogers Centre this year. The Jays’ big offseason signing broke out with the San Francisco Giants, and entered free agency this winter coming off of a 2.81 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 16-4 season. Gaus had the sixth-most strikeouts in the Majors last season with 227, and lowered his hit, walk, and home run rate to career-bests.

The Blue Jays gave the LSU alum $110 million over five years to anchor this rotation alongside Jose Berrios, and if he can help lead Toronto to a World Series title he’ll be worth that money and some. I’m enthralled to watch his Blue Jay-but at home this Saturday against the Texas Rangers.

Feature Pitch: Splitter

As someone who is convinced that baseball is the hardest sport in the world, watching hitters attempt to make contact with Gausman’s splitter only further proves my case. Seeing his splitter come in around the top of the knee only to drop in the dirt behind the plate embarrassing the batter is poetry in motion, and I look forward to seeing it a ton this season.

Kevin Gausman is a workhorse who should be able to hold his own in a juggernaut AL East. With his great flow I’m sure he and Bo Bichette have already hit it off.

Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

I’m expecting a big bounceback season from Aaron Nola. His 9-9 record and 4.63 ERA last season would make you think he’s not all that, but his 3.37 FIP indicates his inflated ERA had a lot to do with bad luck and a terrible defense behind him.

Nola is a fiend for missing bats with a 11.1 K/9 in ’21, and dropped his walk rate to an impeccable 1.9 BB/9. A former Bayou Bengal like Gausman, the 29-year old has become one of the league’s most reliable workhorses as he hasn’t missed a start over the least four seasons.

Feature Pitch: 2-Seam Fastball (but watch out for that curveball)

There are a lot of great swing-and-miss pitchers, but Nola is one of the most electric. He has such a knack for striking out hitters thanks to his lethal arsenal of pitches. His 2-seamer (which is still a fastball like a 4-seamer but has some movement thanks to a slightly different grip) floats like an upper 90’s whiffle ball. Mix in a whopping curveball that decimated new Blue Jay Gosuke Katoh in the video above and you have a pitcher who keeps you guessing at the plate.

Nola is susceptible to a bit of volatility at times, but when he’s on his game he’s dominant on the mound. He’s my darkhorse NL Cy Young pick this season. He and fellow Phillies rotation mate Zack Wheeler have the potential to be baseball’s best 1-2 punch.

Honorable Mentions:

While these four arms are the cream of the MLB crop when it comes to their watchability heading this season, don’t sleep on these pitchers who just missed the cut.

Logan Webb of the San Francisco Giants was quietly elite last season with a 2.72 FIP and stingy 7.8 hits per 9 innings. He was phenomenal in two postseason starts allowing just one earned run, one walk, and seventeen strikeouts in 14.2 innings. Not bad for a 24-year old.

The Chicago White Sox have high expectations heading into 2022 and a lot of that has to do with their ace Lucas Giolito. He had 11 wins and 3.53 ERA for the reigning AL Central champs, and I think he still has room to grow. Gio has one of the most complete arsenals in the game that makes even the best hitters look like little leaguers. He’s also good for a soundbite or two.

People also seem to forget how nasty Shane Bieber was in 2020. The Biebs went 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA and 14.2 K/9 in the shortened season, and while he only made a dozen starts those numbers are simply bonkers and won him the AL Cy Young by a landslide. The 26-year old right-hander’s ’21 campaign was derailed by injuries, but he was still filthy when healthy. Bieber is going to shove again this season and remind everyone that the Cleveland Guardians have a stud on their hands.

Nick Reid

Blue Jays Contributor for Sport Management student at Brock University. Have seen a game at all 30 Major League ballparks. Would rather be eating poutine at the Rogers Centre.

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