If pitching is an art, then the game of baseball is in the midst of many Picassos, Van Goghs, and Rembrandts. The sport has seen an influx of flame throwing arms and nasty breaking pitches over the past few years that have made many seasoned Major League hitters consistently look like rookies. This year alone, we have already seen three no hitters thrown, we are currently seeing one of the greatest starting rotations ever(the Astros), and the most elite pitchers in the league are having some of their best seasons yet. The bottom line is, pitching in the MLB is in a very good place. This begs the question, who are the best pitchers in the league? There are perennial Cy Young candidates, pitchers who have made resurgences in the last couple of years, and young arms whose repertoire of pitches are down right filthy. In this article, I will rank the five best pitchers in Major League Baseball. The ranking will be based on how these pitchers have pitched this year, as well as the past couple of years to also look at their accomplishments and overall body of work.
- Clayton Kershaw
This was the hardest spot on the list to rank simply because availability is one of the most important abilities a player can have. Many baseball fans think that you can’t rank Kershaw as the best pitcher in the league due to injuries, but I think that his dominance is too great to understate. The three time Cy Young award winner has been the best pitcher in the world for about five years now, and while the others have a shot to make it, he is the only player on this list who is a lock for the Hall of Fame if he retired right now. Last year, he managed 175 innings, which is a moderate work load for him, and he had a fantastic season. His 2.31 ERA(Earned Run Average) and 6.73 Strikeout/Walk ratio both led the National League. Batters slashed .212/.246/.357(BA/OBP/SLG) against Kershaw in 2017, all elite numbers which landed him as runner up for the Cy Young. Fast forward to this year, and he has had trouble staying on the field. In his 10 games started, Kershaw’s 2.86 ERA and 1.095 WHIP(Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched) are modest numbers for him, but now that he is off the Disabled List he should begin dominating once again.
2. Max Scherzer
The second best pitcher in the league is also the one who beat Kershaw out for the Cy last year. Needless to say, it was well deserved. His 2.51 ERA and 268 strikeouts in 200 innings made for eye popping numbers and his obscene .247 opponents’ wOBA(Weighted On Base Average) helped secure his third Cy Young award. The crazy thing about Scherzer’s 2017 campaign is that he has been even more dominant this year. His 189 ERA+(100 is league average) is the best of his career as well as his ridiculous .870 WHIP. He is even on pace to reach 300 strikeouts for the year, a feat that is a bit surprising to learn he has never reached before. There is stiff competition for the Cy Young this year(Jacob DeGrom has been otherworldly), but if Scherzer were to win the award for a fourth time he would join Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, and Greg Maddux as the only pitchers in the history of the game to win it four times. It’s absolutely wild how in a span of about five years since his first Cy Young, Max Scherzer has gone from a really good pitcher with electric stuff, to a pitcher with one of the best peaks of all time. I don’t think it’s crazy at all to assume that with a couple more years of Max being Max, he will insure himself a spot in Cooperstown.
3. Corey Kluber
No American League pitcher has been as consistently great in the last few years as Corey Kluber. The two-time Cy Young award winner was the clear best pitcher last season. His outstanding 208 ERA+, .869 WHIP, and insanely valuable 8.2 bWAR last year put him head and shoulders above the rest of the Junior Circuit. Kluber uses all of his six foot tall frame to get on top of a sinker with elite tailing movement, and his sharp curveball has become one of the most formidable pitches in the league. Just like Scherzer, Kluber has at least a decent chance of repeating this year as his league’s Cy Young winner. He’s second in the AL right now with 12 wins and his 167 ERA+ ranks sixth. Corey Kluber is a huge reason that the Indians have been such a great team the past couple of year and he will be the key component in making a championship run. Kluber’s elite ability to mix pitches and go deep into games is what makes him the best pitcher in the American League.
4. Chris Sale
If I got to be a Major Leaguer for a game and could hit off any pitcher in the league I think Chris Sale would be the absolute last person on my list. A modern day Randy Johnson, Sale’s violent sidearm delivery coming from the left side is an absolute nightmare for hitters. Along with Kershaw, he is the only player on this list with a career ERA under 3.00, a testament to his consistent greatness. Ever the work horse, he clocked in 214 innings last year and struck out an insane 308 batters. Since last year, Sale has improved his ERA, has the lowest WHIP of his career, and is on pace to have his most valuable season ever according to bWAR. He will once again reach 200 innings, and he’s got an outside shot at hitting 300 strikeouts again. Chris Sale is also the best pitcher in the league to have never won a Cy Young despite a ridiculously impressive 5 straight top 5 finishes. The Red Sox will need him to show out in every start down the stretch if they want to win the AL East.
5. Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander has had a roller coaster of a career up to this point. A few years ago, the baseball world had written him off as washed up, but his career has dramatically turned around ever since he became an Astro. After having a mediocre first half of the year with the Tigers (3.82 ERA), he turned into peak Justin Verlander again when he got traded to Houston. In five starts last year with the team, he got the win every time he took the mound and posted a 380 ERA+. Yes, you read that correctly. Even though that is a small sample size, Verlander was historically great and continued to be great into the postseason, winning ALCS MVP and helping the Astros win the World Series. Verlander’s dominance has carried into this year. In his 18 starts he has posted a 2.12 ERA and a career high 6 Strikeout/Walk Ratio. Every starting pitcher on the Astros has exceeded expectations so far, but Verlander will need to remain the clear number one guy if the Astros want to bring consecutive championships back to Houston.
These are my picks for the five best pitchers in all of Major League Baseball. There are lots of other great candidates who could possibly crack this list in the future, but for now these are the pitchers who have consistently been the best.