Major League Baseball's 5 Best Pitchers in 2012

Christopher ConnorsCorrespondent IJuly 20, 2012

Major League Baseball's 5 Best Pitchers in 2012

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    Lately, it seems that every year in Major League Baseball has been "The Year of the Pitcher." That's because earned-run average has dropped over 0.6 of a run since the 2006 season. Strikeouts per nine innings have risen one full strikeout since the 2005 season.

    Yes, in the eternal competition between baseball's "Hatfields and McCoys," the pitchers finally have gained a comfortable arm up against the hitters. Veterans such as New York Mets ace Johan Santana and Chicago White Sox hurler Jake Peavy have enjoyed excellent bounce-back seasons, but young fire-ballers like the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and Washington's Stephen Strasburg have emerged strong on the 2012 pitching landscape.

    Here, in early June, I felt this was as good of a time as any to determine who the best five pitchers are in Major League Baseball right now.

    My evaluation criteria involves taking into account past performance, but it primarily relies upon the broad range of current statistical performance, with a particular emphasis on earned-run average (ERA), walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP), strikeouts, ground ball-to-fly ball ratio and, to a lesser extent, total of wins.

    Here you go, the top five best pitchers in baseball right now: 

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Any conversation about who the best pitcher in baseball is in the year 2012 must begin and end with Justin Verlander. The Detroit Tigers' stud right-hander is the reigning American League Cy Young and MVP Award winner. Verlander's 2011 season was one of the most dominant by a pitcher in baseball history.

    He had an incredible 24-5 record and led the AL in strikeouts, WHIP, batting average against (BAA), ERA and wins. Verlander also led the majors in strikeouts for the 2009 season and is currently second in the big leagues in Ks. This durable workhorse has led the majors in innings pitched over the past four seasons and can easily reach 100 miles per hour (mph) on the radar gun.

2. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    At just 24 years old and coming off Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss nearly all of the 2011 season, the highly touted Strasburg is showing why he was the No. 1 draft pick in the 2009 MLB draft. He has helped fuel the Nats' run to the top of the NL East standings, firing a filthy 100 mph fastball that has helped him rack up 135 strikeouts, a 2.66 ERA and a stingy 1.10 WHIP.

    Strasburg is a classic fastball-curveball-change-up pitcher, who mixes speeds and makes opposing batters look awkward at nearly every plate appearance. The raucous atmosphere in Strasburg's first major-league start in June of 2010 was palpable, and his coming of age as, perhaps, the next great pitcher of his generation has created a buzz all across Major League Baseball.

3. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The reigning 2011 National League Cy Young award winner is a strikeout machine who is responsible for leading the Los Angeles Dodgers into playoff contention so far. Kershaw finished 2011 with 21 wins, tied for best in the NL, and led the league in strikeouts, WHIP and ERA. Like Verlander, the Texas native is an innings eater.

    He has gone over 200 innings pitched (IP) the past two seasons and he is second in the National League in IP so far in 2012. Kershaw's fastball tops out at 97 mph and he features two varieties of curveballs, including a "12-6" curve, which is one of the toughest pitches to hit in the majors.

    At just 24 years old, the sky is truly the limit for this exceptionally talented southpaw. 

4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    The tall, lanky southern California native is right at home pitching for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, mowing down hitters at an impressive clip. Weaver tossed his first no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins on May 2nd, a 121-pitch gem with nine strikeouts and just one walk.

    Weaver is 11-1 so far in 2012, remaining hot after a sizzling 2011 season where he finished second in Cy Young voting to Verlander. Weaver sported an 18-8 record and was just barely behind Verlander in most key pitching categories. His 2.41 ERA was the fifth best in baseball. 

5. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

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    With each passing year, Matt Cain keeps getting better and better. He has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since 2009 and played a pivotal role in helping the Giants capture the 2010 World Series title. How incredible was Cain's postseason performance? In 21.1 innings pitched, he did not allow a single earned run.

    The Dothan, Ala. native has been outstanding in 2012, pitching a perfect game in June against Houston and starting the All-Star Game for the National League. Cain is a durable, dominant strikeout pitcher who was previously overlooked in a stacked San Francisco rotation.

    He's currently sixth in the National League in strikeouts, second in strikeout-to-bases-on-balls ratio and he holds a 2.56 ERA. Make no mistake, Cain is one of the best in the game, and he continues to show that he's rounding into one of the best pitchers in the game.