The 10 Best Strikeout Pitchers in the Game Today
"Dirty," "filthy" and "devastating" are as good a group of words as any to describe pitches from this eclectic group of strikeout maestros.
Whether it's a hard slider catching the paint or a looping curve that will buckle the knees, these are the guys who have us shaking our heads as they send batter after batter back to the dugout in frustration.
Of course, there are so many great strikeout pitchers in the game. As Bleacher Report's Zachary Rymer pointed out, strikeouts are on the rise.
So please offer up any obvious exclusions to this list in the comments section below.
All stats taken from Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
10. Gio Gonzalez
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The headlines for the Washington Nationals' 2012 season were dominated by Stephen Strasburg and what was an impending innings limitation.
In some respects, Gio Gonzalez's breakout season was somewhat overlooked. He brought his walk rate down from 4.1 to 3.4 and managed to raise his K/9 from 8.8 to 9.3, tops in the National League.
His 207 strikeouts alongside 21 wins were exactly what was needed as media and fans worried about the other star pitcher in the rotation.
If you are looking for a great out pitch, there is hardly better than his curveball that Brooks Baseball reports boasted a 13.84 percent whiff rate in 2012; that was a pitch he went to 26 percent of the time.
9. Jeff Samardzija
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Somewhere along the line, Jeff Samardzija went from a hurler to a genuine pitcher—someone who takes great care in location as they do in power.
In 2011, he finally found his way from the minors to the bullpen and is now the ace of a depleted staff. If there is a bright spot amid a franchise making strides to rebuild, it would have to be Samardzija.
It's hard to find a favorite pitch from the 28-year-old, because his four-seam fastball has pop and can rise in on right-handers, but I am partial to his splitter that can be filthy when it's on.
Bouncing back from a shaky first three seasons, the Cubs ace brought his ERA and WHIP down to respectable levels in the last couple seasons and went from a 1.74 K/BB rate in 2011 to 3.21 in 2012.
Things are looking up for the Cubs. Well, once every five days at least.
8. Felix Hernandez
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Remarkably, Felix Hernandez has managed to bring down his velocity in his last few seasons while increasing his strikeout totals.
King Felix has topped 200 strikeouts in the past four seasons while also keeping his K/9 rate above eight. Per FanGraphs, he has also settled his fastball down to averages from the low-to-mid-90s.
For Hernandez, it has become far more about placement and movement than it has been about overpowering batters.
He said as much in a recent MyNorthWest.com report.
It is not about adding or improving a pitch at this point with Felix. It is about pitching smarter. He said something after Tuesday's game that indicated this. When asked if he had thrown a 2-2 curve to Cliff Pennington for a strikeout he said that yes, indeed he had. He didn't just confirm the pitch, however. He gave the reason why.
"Just trying to mix it up," he said. "Not throw too many changeups with two strikes. Throw different pitches, see how that works."
He has the stuff to dominate on power alone, but his emphasis on being smarter means the Mariners pitcher should continue his string of 200-plus-strikeout seasons for a few more years.
Being far more crafty has certainly paid off for the ace.
7. Aroldis Chapman
Fortunately, we will see far more Aroldis Chapman coming out to save the ninth inning this season.
The Reds closer flirted with starting once again this spring but couldn't successfully adopt a third pitch, something usually required from the starting pitcher.
For the time being, we will have to make due with dominance in the form of a triple-digit fastball and an effective slider, the latter notching a 23.75 percent whiff rate in 2012, via Brooks Baseball.
In just over 71 innings, Chapman acquired 122 strikeouts, making it fortunate for NL hitters he hasn't quite perfected a third pitch.
6. Justin Verlander
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Postseason debacles aside, Justin Verlander earned every last bit of his new seven-year, $180 million contract.
He has been arguably the best pitcher in the bigs for the past several years and shows no signs of giving up that reign. He works tirelessly in the offseason and keeps himself in great shape.
The 30-year-old has topped 200 strikeouts in each of the last four seasons and has earned the top spot in that category for three of them.
The great part about Verlander is his ability to change things up to batters trying to get a hold on what the ace might throw. Not only can he pick and choose form his wide array of pitches, he also changes velocity extremely well.
5. Clayton Kershaw
K-Shaw uses every last measure of his 6'3" frame, and it tends to be unfair.
There is hardly anything more beautiful in the game today than watching Clayton Kershaw load up on his left leg and push off with devastating results.
The 25-year-old was fourth last year in strikeouts and seventh in K's per nine innings with a rate of 9.053—all of that with a late-season hip injury.
He has 90-plus mph velocity with a filthy curve that loops like anything Bugs Bunny could dream up. The best part is he is coming into the season seemingly healthy.
After four consecutive years of enjoying nine-plus strikeouts per nine innings, we may be in store for something special for 2013.
4. Craig Kimbrel
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Rest easy, all you pitchers with command issues. Craig Kimbrel proved you can right the ship and become one of the premier pitchers in the game.
The Braves closer managed a dreadful seven walks per nine innings in limited action in 2010, which seems like eons ago.
In 2012, Kimbrel had a 16.7 K/9 while only walking two per nine innings. He does it with classic closer filth, a fastball that rests between the mid-to-high 90s and a devastating curveball. Both pitches boasted above 20 percent whiff rates last season.
3. Yu Darvish
Yu Darvish's rookie season was all about getting accustomed to the majors and adapting to what it takes to make it through a full year and get to the back end of games.
There is a lot to be excited for if you are a Rangers fan. Darvish came over from Japan amid much fanfare and managed to notch 221 strikeouts with a 10.4 K/9 rate.
What's most telling are his final two months of the 2012 season. From August 17 until September 20, Darvish managed to throw seven or more innings in his starts while allowing only nine earned runs in six games and also punching out 52 batters.
Darvish had far more command of his pitches and was getting accustomed to all the finer nuances of his new league. It wouldn't be a reach to think he will surpass the remarkable K total he had in his rookie campaign.
2. Max Scherzer
If you are going to describe Max Scherzer in a word, it would have to be "volatile."
The Detroit Tigers pitcher has been known to pepper in some mini-meltdowns amid his more successful starts. Of his 32 games started in 2012, seven featured four or more earned runs for Scherzer.
That's the bad news from such a powerful pitcher with so much arm movement because the rest is all pure domination.
According to FanGraphs, the 28-year-old has consistently maintained a 95-plus mile per hour velocity to his fastball that seems to pop at the end and come in on right-handers.
Armed with a slider and changeup that can still clock in the 80s, Scherzer enjoyed the best K/9 rate in 2012, notching 11.1.
1. Stephen Strasburg
Stephen Strasburg was tied for 14th in strikeouts in 2012 with 197, according to ESPN. Considering that was with a pitch limit being imposed on the young pitcher, we can safely assume the 200-K mark is in clear danger of being broken in his 2013 campaign.
If you want to see a ball dance, take a gander at Strasburg during any of his starts. His fastball rarely stays on a straight path and his curveball is as dramatic as any in the game.
The most startling part is the 24-year-old is still trying to hone his craft. I guess 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings wasn't good enough.
The Washington Post reports Strasburg worked this spring on making his pitches far tighter in order to fool batters a bit more, as if that were necessary.
Strasburg would prefer to have his pitches move less, but with more purpose.
“A hitter can see it,” Strasburg said. “Obviously, it looks cooler on TV when you’re watching it, when a guy is throwing something that’s move like this” – Strasburg waved his hand in a sweeping motion – “or dropping off. But a hitter can see it a lot earlier. I’m trying to get away from that and get more consistent, tighter pitches that are going to break maybe a little bit less, but sharper and later.”
Batters, you stand no chance.
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