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

The NL Central may be one of the weaker divisions in baseball, but all five teams still boast some top-tier pitching talent.

Sonny Gray is a free agent after an excellent season for the Minnesota Twins. (David Berding/Getty Images)

The NL Central is going to be an interesting watch during the 2024 season.

With spring training right around the corner, the built-up excitement amongst baseball fans is about to come out in full force – specifically for the young teams that showed positive signs throughout the 2023 campaign. Some of those teams just happen to come from the NL Central.

There is all the exciting young talent that flashed so much potential in Cincinnati. There are the Pittsburgh Pirates who are looking to start 2024 the same way they started 2023 but sustain it throughout the year. The Cardinals are looking to turn the page on what was an underwhelming, turmoil-filled 2023 season.

The Brewers are about to go into their first season in a while without their two horses at the top of their rotation following the recent trade of Corbin Burnes and the release of Brandon Woodruff. Then you have the Cubs, who are looking to build on what they accomplished last season, but without arguably their best offensive player in Cody Bellinger, who is still a free agent as of this time.

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Offense is important, but here at Just Baseball, we are going to continue to highlight the importance of the players who take the mound. Whether it is the first pitch or the last pitch of a game, these guys have shown to be the 10 best pitchers in the NL Central as we head into the 2024 season.

To make these rankings, I took into account each pitcher’s fWAR from the 2023 season, their ZIPS projections heading into 2024, and how impactful I expect each pitcher to be for their team’s success this coming season.

The following pitchers were ranked by Cristian Crespo in conjunction with the Just Baseball editorial staff.

Honorable Mention: Ryan Helsley (RHP) – St. Louis Cardinals

After Helsley spent the majority of his career as a middle reliever, he took the league by storm with his dominant 2022 season in which he unseated Giovanny Gallegos from his role as the Cardinals’ closer.

As previously mentioned, a lot went wrong for the Cardinals last season. Part of that was due to the forearm injury that kept Helsley sidelined for three months. His overall numbers in 2023 did not mirror his 2022 performance, but after he made his return from the injured list, we were able to see the dominant stuff that had many holding Helsley amongst the upper-tier of options in the ninth inning.

10. Alexis Díaz (RHP) – Cincinnati Reds

The 2023 season was a tale of two seasons for Díaz.

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After arguably being the best closer in the National League in the first half of the season, he posted a 4.61 ERA in the second half. Even with that, Díaz finds himself in a prime position to close games for a highly-anticipated 2024 Reds team.

Brother of superstar closer Edwin Díaz, Alexis is no slouch. He ended the 2023 season with 36 saves in 70 appearances.

Alexis also posted a 30.1% strikeout rate, a .192 xBA, and a .289 xSLG, which all ranked in the 90th percentile or higher last year, per Baseball Savant. The biggest concern entering the 2024 season is his high walk rate, but if he is able to control the free passes, there’s no reason to believe that Díaz cannot find his way to a higher spot on this list heading into the 2025 campaign.

9. David Bednar (RHP) – Pittsburgh Pirates

To the surprise of no one, David Bednar turned in his typical strong season as the closer for the Pirates in 2023.

Even with all of the trade rumors that continue to swirl around him, Bednar looks to continue to call Pittsburgh his home and shut down games for the Pirates in 2024. Despite a career-low 28.9% strikeout rate last season, his ability to limit walks and the long ball is going to help him remain a dominant closer going forward.

The Pirates added Aroldis Chapman to help solidify the back end of their bullpen, but I don’t see him impacting Bednar’s ninth-inning role at all.

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8. Nick Lodolo (LHP) – Cincinnati Reds

Nick Lodolo is coming into the 2024 season with a lot to prove.

The former top prospect was limited to 34.1 innings in 2023 due to injury. Even when he was on the mound, he did not perform to the expectations that the organization had for him. Despite his disappointing season, there is still so much to look forward to when it comes to the young lefty.

Lodolo has an innate ability to spin his curveball, which he throws more than 35% of the time with an impressive 30.4% whiff rate. Based on recent reports, he is on track to be fully ready to go for the start of spring training, and the Reds are going to need him if they want to build on what they did in 2023.

7. Hunter Greene (RHP) – Cincinnati Reds

Like his rotation mate, Greene is going to look to regain the shine he once had as a former top prospect.

Greene had been lauded as a front-line ace throughout his ascension through the minor leagues. However, he has had two seasons in the big leagues, and whether due to injury or poor showings, he has not been able to live up to that potential.

The fireballer has shown flashes of dominance that give many hope he can still meet those high expectations. Even with his struggles, he ranked among the top five pitchers in Stuff+ last year (min. 100 IP).

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The 2024 season will be a telling year for Greene, and the Reds are going to look to get a lot more out of the young righty.

6. Devin Williams (RHP) – Milwaukee Brewers

Devin Williams is coming off a 2023 season in which he saved 36 games, struck out 87 hitters in only 58.2 innings, and had a dazzling 1.53 ERA.

Since Williams broke onto the scene in 2020, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award, the right-handed reliever has accumulated 6.8 fWAR and a 1.75 ERA, both of which rank first among all qualified relievers in that time.

His 40.5% strikeout rate also ranks second only behind Edwin Díaz. His airbender changeup is one of the nastiest pitches in baseball and is consistently featured all over X year in and year out.

As mentioned with Bednar, Williams’ name has also been thrown around in trade rumors, even more so after the Brewers traded Burnes. Williams could very well be the next Brewer on the move, but until then, he continues to be the best relief pitcher in the NL Central.

5. Shota Imanaga (LHP) – Chicago Cubs

The Cubs finally made their big splash this offseason when they inked Shota Imananga. It was a move they desperately needed to make in order to shore up their starting rotation. Our own Aram Leighton wrote a great article breaking down Imanaga and the impact he can have in his first season in Major League Baseball

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The 30-year-old lefty is coming over from NPB and is going to play a key role for the Cubs in 2024. Last season in Japan, he posted a 2.66 ERA in 159 innings with 188 strikeouts.

The concern with Imanaga is the trouble he has had with the long ball. In a home ballpark like Wrigley, that could be an issue. However, if he is able to control the home runs, I think Shota will outperform the expectations placed on him.

4. Mitch Keller (RHP) – Pittsburgh Pirates

After a blazing start to the 2023 season, Keller seemed to hit a wall in the second half that has a lot of people wondering what this upcoming season will look like for the righty.

I do not think it is a coincidence that the Pirates’ fizzling off as the season progressed correlated with the struggles that Keller endured. With the team now looking to head towards sustainable success, yet not adding a front-line arm to their starting rotation, Keller will once again head the starting five entering 2024.

Keller pitched a career-high 194.1 innings last year and accumulated a 2.9 fWAR in doing so. The flashes have been there, and if the Pirates want to take that next step, Keller is going to have to be a big reason why.

3. Freddy Peralta (RHP) – Milwaukee Brewers

2024 is going to be much different for the young right-hander.

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After pitching out of the number three spot of the rotation for much of his career, Peralta will now be the ace of the Brewers’ rotation. The positive thing going for him is that he has shown the ability to perform as an ace since he became a full-time starter in 2021.

After an injury-riddled 2022 season, Peralta had a solid year in 2023 – outside of a few uncharacteristically poor outings. He made a career-high 30 starts with a 3.86 ERA and a career-low 2.93 BB/9. The Brewers are in good hands with Peralta leading their rotation.

He possesses swing-and-miss stuff that, at times, definitely makes for must-watch TV. One interesting stat I found was that Peralta has put up an 11.39 K/9 over the last three seasons. That is the fifth-best among pitchers who have thrown at least 300 innings in that time.

2. Justin Steele (LHP) – Chicago Cubs

As of right now, Justin Steele will head the starting rotation for the Cubs as they make a run for an NL Central title.

Over his past two big league seasons, Steele has been a bona fide Cy Young candidate. Even with some struggles down the stretch in 2023, his final stat line was an impressive 16-5 with 176 strikeouts in 173.1 innings pitched. He was in the running for the NL Cy Young up until the very end.

Barring a late signing of Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, there will be a lot of weight on Steele’s left arm to help lead this Cubs team into the postseason.

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1. Sonny Gray (RHP) – St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals entered this offseason desperately needing to add a starting pitcher to solidify the top of their rotation. They did so by landing Sonny Gray on a three-year deal.

Gray is entering 2024 after an incredible 2023 season with the Minnesota Twins, during which he finished second in the AL Cy Young race and posted career bests in multiple stats. Gray’s profile might not be that of the traditional “ace,” but he sure did pitch like one in 2023, proving to be one of the more formidable starters across the league.

The pressure for Gray to build upon the success he had in 2023 is at an all-time high, especially as he joins a ballclub that has been desperately searching for pitching for some time now. Gray has been a pro’s pro throughout his career, and he is going to play a big role in turning the Cardinals’ fortunes back around.


Following the NL Central will be fun in 2024. With no clear-cut favorite to take the division crown and talent littered throughout, there is reason to believe that this could be anyone’s division. Not to mention all the storylines to look forward to.

The Pirates and Reds both emerged at different times during the 2023 season, and there is a lot of optimism, and talent, within each organization – enough to believe they can make a push for the division.

The Cardinals are looking to close the book on what was a turmoil-filled season and return to their typical juggernaut form. Finally, not only are we seeing a new age brewing in Milwaukee, but we are about to see what should be a fascinating rivalry between the Brewers and Cubs after manager Craig Counsell moved over to his former team’s division foe.

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As if we weren’t all clamoring already for baseball to start, all of these storylines (and talented arms) in the NL Central are going to make 2024 another fun season in Major League Baseball.