By Seth MacDonald
#5- Stephen Strasburg- Washington Nationals
Maybe in a year or two, he’ll be higher up on this list. But since Stephen Strasburg has only pitched one full Major League season, he gets the #5 spot on my list.
Strasburg was one of the most anticipated draft picks in Major League Baseball history (going #1 o
In 46 starts, Strasburg is 22-10 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and has averaged just over 11 strikeouts per nine innings, including a franchise record 14 in his debut. The 24-year-old flamethrower is one of a kind, a “prodigy” some might say, and should continue to improve over the course of his career, which is currently still at the beginning.
Since he’s not on any type of innings limit this year, look for his numbers to be even better than they were a season ago.
Strasburg throws some of the nastiest stuff in baseball and could end up being the very best in the game one day. Definitely look for him to be right there in the NL Cy Young race this season.
#4- Jered Weaver- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Year in and year out, Jered Weaver always seems to get the job done. Even though he’s not as overpowering as the other guys on this list, the pin-point accuracy of his sneaky fastballs and nasty curve to compliment them make him the pitcher he is. More often than not, he leaves hitters feeling baffled and confused (his 233 strikeouts in 2010 led the AL).
Weaver, 30, was one of four pitchers to notch 20 wins last year (Dickey, Gonzalez, Price), and his WHIP was below 1.07 for the third consecutive season (1.02 to lead the league, same with his opponent’s batting average of .214)—he also threw his first career no hitter on May 2nd against the Twins.
Since 2009 he’s got a terrific 2.97 ERA (counting his first start of this year), and his .670 winning percentage (67-33) since then is the second highest in baseball to Justin Verlander’s .716.
Satisfied yet? Jered Weaver is the real deal. If you ever have a chance to watch him pitch, by all means, do it.
#3- Felix Hernandez- Seattle Mariners
The 26-year-old made his major league debut in 2005 at the age of 19 and has done nothing but grow and improve as a starting pitcher since then. The Mariners locked him up this off season for a reason (through 2019)—he’s a stud. A workhorse. His 954 innings pitched from 2009-12 were the most in baseball during that time frame (one out more than Justin Verlander) to go along with a 2.81 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.
He won the AL Cy Young award in 2010 despite winning only 13 games (lowest for a Cy Young award winner in a non-shortened season; had a 2.27 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 249 2/3 innings pitched) due to horrendous offensive support.
His repertoire of pitches is absolutely filthy and it’s pretty scary to think he’s turning just 27 in a few days. He’s still a baby. This guy will be around for a while and with his stuff, he’ll probably just get better. And with an improved lineup backing him up this year, don’t be surprised if he wins 20 games. He’s already got one, thanks to his 7 2/3 shutout innings against Oakland on Monday.
#2- Justin Verlander- Detroit Tigers
What’s not to like about him? The guy is an absolute horse who can flat out dominate when he wants to. From 2009-12, he posted a 2.95 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 135 starts as the Tigers’ number one pitcher. His 78 wins and 977 strikeouts were all tops in baseball during that period.
He’s got two no hitters under his belt (’07, ’11) and is one of the rare power pitchers who actually seems to get stronger as the game goes along (he was reaching triple digits in the ninth inning in both his no-nos). The man keeps himself in tremendous shape—he just looks like an athlete. And the results have definitely showed. With the recent mega extension he signed with the Tigers, don’t be surprised if Verlander adds a ring or two to his award collection which already includes a Rookie of the Year (’06), Cy Young (’11), MVP (’11) and five all star selections.
#1- Clayton Kershaw- Los Angeles Dodgers
This guy, to me, is the very best starting pitcher in baseball.
Verlander was a close second but since Kershaw is just over five years younger and pitches in the National League, he gets my vote. If he pitched in the American League, it could be different. Regardless of which league, though, Kershaw is still an animal. With his complete game shutout on Monday against the Giants, it looks like he’s going to have another great season, maybe his best.
Who knows? His 2008 rookie year was average, going 5-5 with a 4.26 and 1.50 WHIP in 22 games. Was that a tease? According to his stats from 2009-12, yes. 56-32 record. 2.60 ERA (best in baseball), 1.09 WHIP, 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He won the 2011 NL Cy Young award going 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA and 0.98 WHIP while recording 248 strikeouts and holding opponents to a .207 batting average—all tops in the league that year. Damn.
Oh, and did I mention he just turned 25 last month? There’s no telling just how good Kershaw will be. But it will be fun to find out.
*: A few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make my top 5: Matt Cain, David Price, James Shields, CC Sabathia.