MLB Strikeout Leader Preview: Cole Favored to Top the Board Again

Brewers' Burnes Currently New York Ace's Biggest Challenger

New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole re-established himself as Major League Baseball’s strikeout king last season, becoming the third different pitcher to lead the league in punch outs since he first topped the board in 2019.

Can Cole maintain that title in 2023, or will another hurler overtake him once again? Let’s dive into the odds in our MLB strikeout leader preview.


Yankees logo Gerrit Cole, Yankees (+500)

Cole is the betting favorite in our MLB strikeout leader preview, and with good reason. Last season, the Yankees ace led the majors in strikeouts with 257, 14 more than Corbin Burnes. He’s punched out at least 200 batters in each of the last four full seasons, excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign.

The 32-year-old right-hander was also one of eight pitchers to throw 200 innings in 2022. Taking his age and durability into account, Cole has a good shot at becoming the first back-to-back strikeout king since Justin Verlander in 2012.

Brewers logo Corbin Burnes, Brewers (+800)

Last season, Corbin Burnes led the National League in punchouts with 243, edging out Carlos Rodon (237), and surpassed 200 innings for the first time in his brief career. His 33 starts led the majors, tied with three others.

Burnes faded down the stretch, pitching to 4.81 ERA in six August starts. Yet, the burly right-hander still struck out more than a batter per inning (35 in 33.2 innings) over than span.

White Sox logoDylan Cease, White Sox (+1000)

Outside of Cole, nobody in the American League recorded more strikeouts last season than Cease. The Chicago ace punched out 227 batters, one more than in 2021, and logged a career-high 184 innings. His ERA of 2.20 was third among starters behind Verlander and Julio Urias.

Although his strikeout rate dipped precipitously in the second half, from 12.9 K/9 to 8.7, so did his WHIP, which should erase any concerns about his durability. There are still relatively few miles on Cease’s arm, making him an attractive candidate in our MLB strikeout leader preview.

Braves logo Spencer Strider, Braves (+1000)

Strider displayed overpowering stuff while transitioning from the bullpen to Atlanta’s rotation in late May. He finished second in NL Rookie of the Year Voting behind Braves outfielder Michael Harris, posting a 2.67 ERA with 202 strikeouts in just 131.2 innings. He posted a ridiculous 38.3% strikeout rate, which ranked seventh in the majors and second among starters behind Jacob deGrom.

There’s no disputing the 24-year-old right-hander has an elite swing-and-miss repertoire. The only question is his workload. He’s projected to throw between 150-160 innings this season, fewer than most on the board.

Rangers logo Jacob deGrom, Rangers (+1200)

DeGrom’s ability is obvious. When healthy, he’s the best pitcher in baseball, and therein lies the problem.

Injuries have limited the two-time Cy Young winner to just 156.1 innings the last two MLB seasons. After missing the first four months of last season with a scapula injury, deGrom rejoined the Mets’ rotation in August and averaged 14.3 K/9 over 11 starts. That equaled his rate from 2021 and would have led the majors had he maintained it over a full season.

DeGrom, the NL strikeout leader in 2019 and 2020, is now with Texas after signing a five-year, $185 million deal over the offseason. If he can avoid the IL, deGrom should be able to reach 200 strikeouts for the fifth time in his career. At +1200 on the MLB betting line, he may be worth a sprinkle.

Mets logo Max Scherzer, Mets (+1200)

Scherzer is second among active pitchers in career strikeouts with 3,193, trailing only his new Mets teammate, Justin Verlander (3,198). He turned in outstanding numbers in his first year in New York, recording a career-best 2.29 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP (0.91) for the seventh time in eight years.

That said, the 38-year-old also raised slight concerns about his age, missing more than a month with an oblique injury. His K/9 rate (10.7), while still elite, was the lowest since 2014.

Like deGrom — or any other pitcher on the board, for that matter — Scherzer will need to stay healthy to top the market.

DARK HORSE CANDIDATES (+2000 or longer)

Mets logo Justin Verlander, Mets (+2000)

Sure, he turned 40 in February, but Verlander seems to keep getting better with age. He won his third AL Cy Young last year for the World Champion Astros — and did so while coming off Tommy John surgery.

Verlander posted the lowest ERA of his career at 1.75 and continued to strike out batters at a healthy rate (9.5 K/9). There’s little reason to count out Verlander as he heads to New York.

Rays logo Shane McClanahan, Rays (+2200)

If seems like a matter of when, not if, McClanahan wins a Cy Young. The 25-year-old southpaw has established himself as one of baseball’s best young hurlers. He notched 194 strikeouts over 166.1 innings last year and has posted an outstanding 10.4 K/9 rate over his first two seasons.

He could be in for an even bigger 2023 as the Rays look to climb the MLB standings.

Phillies logo Zack Wheeler, Phillies (+5000)

Is he a longshot? Sure. But don’t forget, Wheeler finished second in the majors with 247 strikeouts in 2021, one behind Robbie Ray.

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