4) Framber Valdez
When Framber Valdez gets the ball, opposing hitters know they are in for a tough night. Valdez tormented opposing lineups in 2022, going 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA and an MLB-record 25 consecutive quality starts. Valdez will likely finish top-5 in Cy Young voting in the American League.
As baseball trends more and more towards the bullpen, Valdez is an old-school starter, going deep into games every fifth-day. He averaged just a tick under 6 2/3 innings per outing and went over 100 pitches 15 times.
When the playoffs came around, Valdez went to an even higher level, going 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA over his four starts. In the Fall Classic, he became just the second pitcher since 2003 with multiple 8+ strikeout starts.
How can an arm this dominant be only fourth on the list?
Valdez has two things working against his future:
1) He is already under contract through his age 31 season.
2) He is heavily reliant on the ground ball and will likely see some drop-off with the banning of the shift.
Valdez will be entering year-2 of arbitration this offseason, meaning he is under team control through 2025. When he finally becomes an unrestricted free agent, Valdez will be 32. In an era when we see arms like Scherzer and Verlander continue to dominate at an advanced age, it doesn't exactly make him old. But it is worth keeping in mind when kicking around the idea of a huge extension.
Even more notable is the MLB's banning of the shift beginning next season. No pitcher in baseball recorded more outs on the ground than Valdez, and it wasn't particularly close. His 314 ground ball outs were 41 more than any other pitcher. His 66.5% ground ball rate was 9.8% higher than the next closest pitcher.
Does the elimination of the shift mean Valdez is no longer a fantastic pitcher? Not hardly. But it is possible that his 18th percentile hard-hit rate means his 3.31 xERA is a more accurate representation of the pitcher to come than his 2.82 actual ERA.
A 3.31 ERA still makes Valdez a top-25 pitcher in the game, and one that is well deserving of an extension. But, to the victor go the spoils. It speaks immense volumes that the Astros have three players even more deserving of a long-term extension.