The Top 10 Best Pitchers in the AL Central for the 2024 Season

All-Stars, breakout stars, dominant closers, and a former Cy Young winner headline the list of the best pitchers in the AL Central division.

Pablo Lopez
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 16: Pablo Lopez #49 of the Minnesota Twins pitches in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 16, 2023 in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The best pitcher in the American League Central a year ago was Sonny Gray, who went 8-8 with a 2.79 ERA, 2.83 FIP and MLB-best 0.4 HR/9 across 184 innings for the Minnesota Twins, finishing runner-up to Gerrit Cole in AL Cy Young Award voting.

Gray won’t get a chance to repeat as the best pitcher in the division, because the three-time All-Star departed in the offseason to join the St. Louis Cardinals on a three-year, $75 million deal.

Gone is Gray, although a slew of other veterans — Jack Flaherty (Detroit Tigers), Michael Wacha (Kansas City Royals), Erick Fedde (Chicago White Sox), Kenta Maeda (Tigers), Seth Lugo (Royals) and Michael Soroka (White Sox) — joined the AL Central. All of those arms fell just short of cracking our countdown of the 10 best pitchers in the AL Central for the 2024 season.

Honorable Mention: Bailey Ober, Minnesota Twins

2023 Stats: 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 9.10 K/9 and a 2.4 fWAR across 144 1/3 innings pitched

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Age in 2024: 28

Ober was excellent over a career-high 144 1/3 innings pitched a year ago, with a 3.43 ERA and 3.96 FIP to show for it.

A 12th-round pick in 2017 out of the College of Charleston (South Carolina), Ober has been a proficient starter for the Twins over the last three seasons, posting a 3.63 ERA and 3.95 FIP across 57 starts.

With the loss of Gray, Ober will become an even more important presence in Rocco Baldelli’s rotation. ZiPS believes the 28-year-old will have very similar numbers to what he put up a year ago, projecting him to go 8-6 with a 3.63 ERA, 4.09 FIP and 2.2 fWAR in 28 starts.

10. Joe Ryan, Minnesota Twins

2023 Stats: 11-10 with a 4.51 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 10.97 K/9 and a 2.2 fWAR across 161 2/3 innings pitched

Age in 2024: 28

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Ryan’s back-of-the-baseball card stats from a year ago don’t jump off the page, but over the past two seasons, he’s logged over 300 innings, while posting a 4.05 ERA and 4.07 FIP. It’s not sexy, but you can stick around in the league for more than a decade if you pitch 150 innings with an ERA around four every year.

Of course, there are signs of Ryan’s upside. He posted a 3.55 ERA across 147 innings in 2022. His 197 strikeouts in 2023 were eighth among all starting pitchers in the AL. The floor is high. Perhaps in 2024, we’ll see just how high the ceiling can be for the 28-year-old.

Like with Ober, Ryan becomes that much more important with the loss of Gray this past offseason. Can he emerge as a legitimate No. 2 starter for the Twins in 2024?

9. Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians

2023 Stats: 44 saves in 56 attempts, 3.22 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 7.93 K/9 and a 1.7 fWAR across 72 2/3 innings pitched

Age in 2024: 26

On one hand, Clase had 12 blown saves last season. On the other hand, he was an All-Star for the second consecutive season and led baseball in both saves (44) and games finished (65).

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Devin Williams and Josh Hader certainly deserve to be part of the discussion, but there’s a strong argument to be made that Clase has been the best reliever in baseball dating back to 2021. Over the last three years, he leads all relief pitchers in games pitched (223), saves (110) and fWAR (6.2).

Clase has been mentioned as a trade candidate this offseason, and it’s understandable given his recent success and the fact that he’s on a team-friendly contract. But he won’t turn 26 until January, and is due just $14.2 million total over the next three seasons, with very affordable club options for 2027 and 2028. Cleveland would be best served keeping Clase and trying to compete.

8. Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins

2023 Stats: 27 saves in 32 attempts, 2.45 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 12.13 K/9 and 1.0 fWAR across 62 1/3 innings pitched

Age in 2024: 26

Across the first 116 appearances of his career, Duran has a 2.15 ERA and 2.85 FIP, placing him among the best relievers in baseball since the start of the 2022 season.

ZiPS is projecting another big season for the 6-foot-5, 230-pound righty, believing that he’ll record 28 saves with a 2.80 ERA, 2.90 FIP and 1.1 fWAR. No AL reliever has a lower projected ERA.

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Duran, who turned 26 in January, has a chance to anchor the bullpen in Minnesota for some time to come. While the Twins will no doubt receive trade interest as he gets more expensive, he won’t even become eligible for arbitration until 2025 and can’t test free agency until after the 2027 season.

7. Cole Ragans, Kansas City Royals

2023 Stats: 7-5 with a 3.47 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 10.59 K/9 and a 2.2 fWAR across 96 innings pitched

Age in 2024: 26

While Aroldis Chapman helped the Texas Rangers to win their first World Series title, Royals general manager J.J. Picollo appears to have found a diamond in the rough in Ragans, who was acquired in return for the All-Star reliever, along with outfield prospect Roni Cabrera.

In parts of two seasons with the Rangers, Ragans posted a 5.32 ERA in 26 games, nine of which were starts. The Royals used the lefty exclusively as a starting pitcher, and from July 1 on, his 2.4 fWAR was tied for 10th-best among all starting pitchers. He went 5-2 with a 2.64 ERA and 2.49 FIP in 12 starts as a Royal.

ZiPS projects that he’ll come back down to earth in his first full season with Kansas City but still be an effective starter nonetheless. Ragans, in the estimation of ZiPS, will go 7-7 with a 4.04 ERA and 4.01 FIP in 2023.

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6. Tanner Bibee, Cleveland Guardians

2023 Stats: 10-4 with a 2.98 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 8.94 K/9 and a 3.0 fWAR across 142 innings pitched

Age in 2024: 25

Right hip inflammation prematurely ended Bibee’s 2023 campaign, but he had already put together an impressive enough season to finish runner-up to Gunnar Henderson in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

Without Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie — more on them in a minute — for much of the season, Bibee struck out 141 batters over 142 innings pitched and was the best starter for Cleveland.

Bibee is years away from even becoming eligible for arbitration, so if he’s able to build on his impressive rookie season, he could be an anchor of Cleveland’s rotation for quite some time.

5. Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Guardians

2023 Stats: 0-3 with a 5.06 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 9.00 K/9 and a 0.2 fWAR across 16 innings pitched

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Age in 2024: 26

A former first-round pick, McKenzie had a breakout 2022 season, posting a 2.96 ERA, 3.59 FIP and a 3.4 fWAR across 191 1/3 innings pitched. But McKenzie threw 71 1/3 more innings in 2022 than 2021, and as is often the case the year after a giant innings increase, McKenzie spent significant time on the injured list in 2023.

McKenzie went on the injured list with a right teres major strain on March 30 and didn’t return until early June. He then made two starts, before returning to the injured list with a right elbow sprain. He would return for two starts in September, and by all accounts, had a normal offseason. You always worry about elbow injuries flaring back up, particularly when they are treated with rest and rehab rather than surgery. But until there is a reoccurrence, all we can do is prepare like McKenzie will have a healthy campaign in 2024.

If he is indeed healthy, McKenzie could re-emerge as one of the better young starters in the AL in 2024 and help the Guardians compete for a division title.

4. Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians

2023 Stats: 6-6 with a 3.80 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 7.52 K/9 and a 2.1 fWAR across 128 innings pitched

Age in 2024: 29

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Bieber is the most accomplished pitcher on this list, with two All-Star Game appearances, a Gold Glove, an ERA title, a Triple Crown and an AL Cy Young Award on his resume.

However, since winning the AL Cy Young Award in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Bieber has been limited to less than 22 starts in two of three campaigns. Granted, he was excellent across 200 innings in 2022, posting a 2.88 ERA. But right elbow inflammation limited Bieber to 21 starts a year ago, and his average fastball velocity fell to 91.6 mph, a drastic drop from 94.3 mph in 2020.

If healthy, Bieber could pitch his way back into not only being the top name on this list but one of the most-coveted free agents in what projects to be a deep free-agent pitching class next offseason.

3. Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox

2023 Stats: 7-9 with a 4.58 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 10.88 K/9 and a 3.7 fWAR across 177 innings pitched

Age in 2024: 28

Cease is perhaps the most speculated-upon trade candidate in the league, but to this point, new White Sox general manager Chris Getz hasn’t pulled the trigger on dealing the coveted righty.

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The 28-year-old is coming off of a relatively down season but finished second in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2022, going 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA and 3.10 FIP over 184 innings. Over the last three seasons, Cease has posted 12.6 fWAR, which ranks eighth among all qualified starting pitchers.

Cease can’t become a free agent until after the 2025 season, so unless the White Sox change course and sign him to a long-term extension, he’s going to continue to be discussed as a trade candidate. And his value will only increase this summer if he pitches at the level he did in 2022.

2. Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers

2023 Stats: 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA, 2.00 FIP, 11.43 K/9 and a 3.3 fWAR across 80 1/3 innings pitched

Age in 2024: 27

Skubal didn’t make his first start of the season until July 4, after he returned from flexor tendon surgery. But when he returned, he pitched about as well as anyone in the sport.

From the Fourth of July on, Skubal led all qualified pitchers in FIP (2.00) and fWAR (3.3). Numbers like those would have made him a candidate to start the All-Star Game if he had put them up in the first half of the year. And if he had come close to sustaining them over the course of a full season, Skubal would have been an AL Cy Young Award candidate.

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The biggest test facing Skubal — likely the Opening Day starter for the Tigers — is making 30 starts for the first time in his career in 2024. If he can do that, this could be the season he establishes himself as one of the premier starters in the sport.

1. Pablo L贸pez, Minnesota Twins

2023 Stats: 11-8 with a 3.66 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 10.86 K/9 and a 4.5 fWAR across 194 innings pitched

Age in 2024: 28

The baseball world was enamored with the first half Luis Arr谩ez had for the Miami Marlins in 2023, during which he batted .383. Yet, as the season wore on, fans could see why the Twins were willing to trade such an excellent contact hitter for L贸pez.

L贸pez logged a career-high 194 innings in his first campaign with the Twins, posting a 3.33 FIP and finishing seventh in AL Cy Young Award voting. An All-Star for the first time in 2023, L贸pez struck out 234 batters, finishing second only to Kevin Gausman in the Junior Circuit.

The four-year, $73.5 million extension that the Twins inked L贸pez to last April looks very team-friendly, particularly now that Gray has moved on for a nearly identical amount over three seasons.

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