Five MLB Pitchers Who Have Exceeded All Expectations in 2024

These five starting pitchers are dominating on the mound this season in a way no one would have expected.

Yusei Kikuchi of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts following the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - MARCH 30: Yusei Kikuchi #16 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts following the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on March 30, 2024 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Sure, this year’s MLB schedule has not yet hit the Memorial Day milestone, but there are already plenty of surprising developments on the mound. These five starting pitchers, in particular, are standing out because of the improvements they’ve made (so far) this season.

Let’s take a look at what is helping these pitchers excel in 2024 compared to their past performances. As a note, all statistics cited in this article are through games on May 21.

Javier Assad

One of the best stories on the Chicago Cubs this year comes from a pitcher who had put up solid numbers across his first two MLB seasons. However, in 2024, Javier Assad has been showing why he belongs in the Cubs rotation.

In past seasons, Assad was a hybrid pitcher on Chicago’s North Side, filling every role on the mound from starter to late-inning reliever. This season, he has only worked as a starter (so far), logging 10 starts with a 1.70 ERA/3.58 FIP/1.113 WHIP. All of those numbers are, at this point, career-bests for the 26-year-old right-hander.

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While Shota Imanaga’s masterful work and Kyle Hendricks’ move to the bullpen have dominated the pitching headlines for the Cubs, Assad has quietly dominated. He has used a mix of six pitches to keep hitters off balance; his sinker (used a career-high 33.9% of the time) has been especially effective, holding batters to a .152 batting average.

However, as you can see from his start on Tuesday night in Atlanta, using a variety of pitches and speeds is pushing Assad to higher heights in 2024.

Yusei Kikuchi

If you’re a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, you know the start of Yusei Kikuchi’s tenure north of the border was anything but smooth. In the first year of a three-year, $36 million deal, Kikuchi struggled so much during the 2022 season that he was removed from the rotation and into the bullpen.

However, something seemed to click again for Kikuchi as 2023 rolled along, with manager John Schneider praising the southpaw for his durability and effectiveness on the mound.

Kikuchi progressed from a 5.19 ERA in 100.2 innings in 2022 to a 3.86 ERA in 167.2 frames last season. He has taken another step forward this season, posting a 2.64 ERA/2.61 FIP/1.121 WHIP over his first 10 starts (58.0 innings).

One of the keys to his success has been an uptick in velocity on his four-seamer, which is averaging a career-high 95.5 mph so far this year. However, his secondary pitches, including his changeup, have been effective as well, set up by a fastball that he is throwing 46.4% percent of the time.

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Reese Olson

Acquired by the Detroit Tigers in a 2021 trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, Olson got his first taste of MLB action last season, making 18 starts and appearing in 21 games overall. He logged a 3.99 ERA while striking out 103 in 103.2 innings. That’s a solid way to kick off your MLB career, but the 24-year-old right-hander has been even more impressive in his first nine starts of 2024.

Although his record might be 0-5, Olson has posted a 2.16 ERA/2.82 FIP/1.060 WHIP. He’s also allowed just one home run in 50.0 innings of work, helping him record an ERA+ of 187.

Olson gave up that lone home run in his latest start, one in which he left in the third inning after being struck by a line drive. His injury has been diagnosed as a right hip contusion. He is expected to throw a bullpen session to test his hip area and see if he can make his next start.

That line drive, and its subsequent damage, is one of very few things that have derailed Olson so far this season. His increased changeup usage (rising from 15.1% last year to 23.8% this season) has made a big difference. While opponents only hit .208 against his changeup last year, that number has shrunk to .147 in 2024.

However, it is the slider-fastball mix that comprises Olson’s two favorite pitches so far this season, and he’s found a balance between the two to keep hitters guessing, especially when he can also mix in his changeup as he pleases.

Clarke Schmidt

Over the last two seasons, Clarke Schmidt has become a mainstay in the New York Yankees rotation. His effectiveness this season has helped them stay ahead of the Baltimore Orioles at the top of the American League East.

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Schmidt’s 4.64 ERA/4.42 FIP/1.352 WHIP were acceptable in 2023, but this season’s 2.59 ERA/3.54 FIP/1.132 WHIP are a marked improvement… and those numbers come after Schmidt admitted he likely tipped a pitch during a key moment in a loss to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday.

Still, even with that, the 28-year-old right-hander has been excellent. For proof, look no further than his back-to-back starts earlier this month in which he scattered a combined eight hits over 14.2 innings while striking out 14 and walking just two.

One of the keys to Schmidt’s success has been the addition of a cutter that came into play last season but has become his favorite pitch in 2024. He is throwing it 35% of the time. Combine that with a sinker and sweeper, and Schmidt is throwing plenty of pitches with movement to keep opposing batters off-balance. That mix is certainly working for him so far this year.

Additionally, while we’re talking Yankees pitching, a quick shoutout must go to Luis Gil and what he has done so far this season. He has a 2.39 ERA/3.12 FIP/1.082 WHIP while leading qualified MLB pitchers with just 4.8 hits allowed per nine innings. He’s doing all of that after missing the 2023 season following Tommy John surgery.

For a pitcher who was expected to be the team’s fifth starter, Gil is joining Schmidt in helping the Yankees survive Gerrit Cole’s stint on the 60-day injured list to begin the season.

Trevor Williams

Speaking of Cole, a former Pittsburgh Pirates hurler who has found success outside of the Steel City, Trevor Williams of the Washington Nationals can be included in that same category.

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Now in his second season in Washington, Williams is bouncing back from a tough debut campaign in D.C. where he put up a 5.55 ERA/5.98 FIP/1.600 WHIP while allowing a National League-high 34 home runs. This year, he is logging a 2.35 ERA/2.82 FIP/1.087 WHIP. His early success is surely connected to the single home run he has surrendered through his first 46.0 innings.

Finding success on an MLB mound isn’t completely new for the 32-year-old right-hander, who also posted solid seasons for the Pirates in 2018 (3.11 ERA in 170.2 innings over 31 starts) and the New York Mets in 2022 (3.21 ERA in 89.2 innings in a mix of starts and relief appearances).

However, a sweeper that Williams developed in 2023 has become a big part of his arsenal in 2024. He is throwing it 19.2% of the time (the second-highest rate of any pitch in his arsenal) with opponents batting just .150 against it.

Williams also credits former Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle, who is now working in a pitching strategist role with the organization, for helping him achieve his early success this season.