The 100 Greatest Pitchers in MLB Today
With the peak of the steroid era in the rear-view mirror, the MLB has been far more friendly to pitchers over the past few seasons.
The absence of juiced-up hitters has helped, but there is also a fantastic crop of pitching talent in the majors right now both in the starting rotation and in the back end of bullpens.
With that in mind, what follows is my unscientific attempt to name the 100 greatest pitchers in the game today.
The main focus was on how a pitcher has performed over the past few years, with consistency and production valued over potential. However, a great pitcher on the upswing of his career was properly slotted above a veteran hurler in decline despite what the numbers looked like the past few seasons.
Comparing starters and relievers is not an easy thing to do, but I tried to include who I truly felt were the 100 best pitchers, regardless of their role.
Full agreement is virtually impossible on a list of this sort, as this was essentially my opinion, and I look forward to defending my selections and hearing your suggestions in the comment section.
Let's get to it.
*All stats via Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
100. SP Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays
Despite opening last season in the minors, Cobb made 23 starts for the Rays last year and went 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA. The 25-year-old had a great spring and is off to a nice start in the regular season. He should continue to climb this list.
99. RP David Hernandez, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hernandez was acquired from the Orioles prior to the 2011 season in the deal that sent Mark Reynolds to Baltimore. After a solid first season in Arizona, he emerged as one of the league's best eighth-inning guys last year with a 2.50 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 68.1 innings of work.
98. SP Jason Hammel, Baltimore Orioles
After three so-so seasons in Colorado, Hammel was traded to the Orioles last offseason for Jeremy Guthrie. He went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA over 20 starts last year, and the 30-year-old got the Opening Day nod this year.
97. SP Ross Detwiler, Washington Nationals
In and out of the Nationals rotation from 2009-2011, Detwiler went 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA in 27 starts last season. The 27-year-old also pitched for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic this offseason. He's off to a great start, and he's still got some upside to improve over the next few years.
96. SP Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds
Arroyo is on the downswing of his career at 36 years old, but he is still a workhorse who knows how to get big league hitters out. He was 12-10 with a 3.74 ERA last season, and he's gone 93-83 with a 4.09 ERA in his eight seasons in Cincinnati.
95. SP Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners
The A's won negotiating rights with Iwakuma prior to the 2011 season after they paid a $19.1 million posting fee. However, they failed to come to terms on a contract, and he wound up signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal. He went 9-5 with a 3.16 ERA in 30 games (16 starts) last season, and that earned him a two-year, $14 million deal.
94. RP Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals
Landed in a trade with the Yankees prior to the 2008 season, Clippard has been one of the game's top relievers since his first day in Washington. In the past four seasons, he made 265 appearances and posted a 2.80 ERA and 10.6 K/9. He also saved 32 games last year filling in for Drew Storen.
93. SP Ervin Santana, Kansas City Royals
Santana has had an up-and-down big league career, as he's topped the 15-win mark three times, but also posted an ERA over 5.00 three different times. From 2010-11 he went 28-22 with a 3.65 ERA, but struggled to a 9-13 record and 5.16 ERA last season. The stuff is there for him to be a top-50 guy, and he's off to a nice start in his first season with the Royals.
92. RP Luke Gregerson, San Diego Padres
Slotted behind Heath Bell and Mike Adams during his early days in San Diego, Gregerson has now become the team's primary setup man and one of the better ones in all of baseball. In his four seasons entering 2013, he made 290 appearances with a 2.92 ERA and 9.2 K/9.
91. SP Wei-Yin Chen, Baltimore Orioles
After a solid run with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan, Chen signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Orioles last offseason. He made the transition to the MLB smoothly last season, going 12-11 with a 4.02 ERA to finish fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
90. RP Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
The top relief pitching prospect in the game entering last season, Reed took over closer duties for the White Sox shortly after the start of the season. He converted 29-of-33 save chances and posted an 8.8 K/9 mark as a rookie and has only given up one run through seven appearances this season.
89. SP Jeremy Guthrie, Kansas City Royals
Guthrie has been one of the league's top innings eaters the past several seasons, and after a terrible start to last year with the Rockies, he was dealt to the Royals. He went 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts post-trade and re-signed on a three-year deal to help lead an improved Royals rotation.
88. SP Shaun Marcum, New York Mets
He battled injuries last season, but he turned in a solid two-year stretch with the Brewers nonetheless with a 20-11 record and 3.60 ERA. The 31-year-old has yet to throw a pitch for the Mets, as neck problems have plagued him to open the season, but once he's healthy, he could be a steal on the one-year, $4 million deal he signed.
87. RP Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
A starter early on in his career, Perkins moved to the bullpen full-time in 2011. Over the last two seasons, he's posted a 2.52 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 18 saves. The 30-year-old is in his first season as a full-time closer, as he's emerged as one of the better left-handed relievers in the game.
86. RP Sean Marshall, Cincinnati Reds
A middling starter to kick off his career with the Cubs, Marshall moved to the bullpen full time in 2010, and he's been perhaps the best left-handed setup man in the game since. In that span, he's made 231 appearances with a 2.47 ERA and 10.3 K/9 while saving 15 games.
85. SP Jarrod Parker, Oakland Athletics
A top pitching prospect in the Diamondbacks system, Parker was acquired last offseason in the deal that sent Trevor Cahill out of Oakland. He went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA last season to finish fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. While he's off to a slow start this season, he looks to have future ace potential.
84. RP Vinnie Pestano, Cleveland Indians
A 20th-round pick back in 2006, Pestano made 137 appearances the past two seasons and posted a 2.45 ERA and 10.9 K/9 setting up Chris Perez. He has the stuff to close, and if the Indians ever decide to move him, he could quickly emerge as one of the league's better closers.
83. SP Tom Milone, Oakland Athletics
Milone was one of the four players acquired from the Nationals last offseason for Gio Gonzalez, and he made 31 starts last season, going 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA as one of the surprise A's best starters. The 26-year-old is off to a nice start again this year, and he and Parker should carry the staff for years to come.
82. RP Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Drafted as a reliever out of Western Carolina back in 2007, Holland enjoyed a breakout season in 2011 when he posted a 1.80 ERA and 11.1 K/9 over 46 appearances. He was terrific again last season with a 2.96 ERA and 12.2 K/9, and he took over as closer after the team traded Jonathan Broxton. He'll fill that role again this season.
81. SP Jason Vargas, Los Angeles Angels
Over the past three seasons, Vargas has averaged 203 innings and won 33 games with a 3.96 ERA while pitching for the Mariners. He was traded to the Angels this offseason for Kendrys Morales, and the team will count on him to step up as a third reliable starter.
80. SP Edwin Jackson, Chicago Cubs
After settling on a one-year deal with the Nationals last season, Jackson pitched well enough to earn a four-year, $52 million deal from the Cubs. He's never been a staff ace, but he has topped the 180-inning mark each of the past five seasons, and his value comes in his durability.
79. RP Mike Adams, Philadelphia Phillies
A lights-out setup man since his days in San Diego, Adams has posted a 1.98 ERA and 9.5 K/9 over 297 appearances since the start of the 2008 season. He joined the Phillies on a two-year, $12 million deal this offseason, and there are few better in the eighth-inning role in all of baseball.
78. SP Mike Minor, Atlanta Braves
Taken with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft, Minor was in the majors the next season. He joined the rotation full time for the first time last season, and after a rocky first half, he went 6-4 with a 2.16 ERA over his final 14 starts. The 25-year-old has a bright future and is off to a nice start again this year.
77. SP Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians
Masterson appeared to turn a corner in 2011 when he went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA, but he regressed last season, losing 15 games and posting a 4.93 ERA. Nonetheless, he got the Opening Day start this season, and he's gone 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA. The 28-year-old looks to have once again turned a corner.
76. SP Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado Rockies
Chacin burst onto the scene as a 22-year-old rookie in 2010, putting up a 3.28 ERA (142 ERA+) and 9.0 K.9. After another solid season in 2011, he made just 14 starts during an injury-plagued 2012 campaign. Now he's back as the ace of the Rockies staff and off to a strong start this season.
75. RP Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
A dynamic setup man throughout his time in Tampa Bay and Oakland, Balfour took over as closer for the A's last season, and from August 1 until the end of the season, he went 17-for-17 on save chances and posted a 2.03 ERA.
74. SP Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays
After spending the first 12 seasons of his career with the White Sox, Buehrle joined the Marlins last season and moved again this winter when he was dealt to the Blue Jays. He currently stands at 175-132 with a 3.84 ERA for his career, as the 34-year-old has been one of the most underrated pitchers of the past decade.
73. RP Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Drafted out of Texas in the first round of the 2004 draft, Street took over as the A's closer the following season and won AL Rookie of the Year honors. He's off to a rocky start this season, but he's long been one of the league's most consistent closers and has 203 saves and a 9.2 K/9 mark in his career.
72. SP Derek Holland, Texas Rangers
With a 16-5 record and an AL-high four shutouts in 2011, Holland was expected to step into the role of staff ace last season after C.J. Wilson departed in free agency. On the surface, he struggled last season with a 4.67 ERA, but he improved his WHIP, H/9 and BB/9 and should be in for a solid 2013.
71. SP Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Miley opened last season in the Diamondbacks bullpen, but when Josh Collmenter struggled early, he joined the staff and never looked back. He was 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA in 29 starts, as he made the All-Star team and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting.
70. RP Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
After serving as a key setup man in 2010 and 2011, Motte took over as the Cardinals closer last season and recorded an NL-high 42 saves. With a triple-digits fastball, he has prototypical closer stuff, and the Cardinals are anxious to get him back.
69. SP Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year when he went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA, Hellickson had another solid season last year. The 26-year-old will be counted on to help ease the loss of James Shields this season and is a huge part of the Rays' long-term plans.
68. SP Trevor Cahill, Arizona Diamondbacks
Cahill broke out with an 18-8 and 2.97 ERA season as a 22-year-old in 2010, and he was dealt to the Diamondbacks last offseason for a package built around Jarrod Parker. He was 13-12 with a 3.78 ERA last season, and he'll be counted on to help the Diamondbacks return to the postseason.
67. RP David Robertson, New York Yankees
It remains to be seen whether he will be the heir to Mariano Rivera closing out games for the Yankees, but Robertson has undoubtedly been one of the league's best setup men for the past three years. He has a 2.48 ERA and 252 strikeouts in 188.2 innings over that span, and has been a real asset in the eighth.
66. SP Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds
After three up-and-down seasons in the rotation, Bailey finally turned potential into production last season when he went 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA over a career-high 208 innings. The 26-year-old still has a ton of upside and should join Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos as front-line arms atop the staff.
65. RP Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Rodney received little interest on the free-agent market last offseason, signing a one-year, $2 million deal with the Rays. He went on to save 48 games with a 0.60 ERA (282 ERA+) to finish fifth in AL Cy Young voting, and then followed that up with seven saves and one hit allowed in 7.1 innings in the WBC.
64. SP Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
One of the game's top starters entering last season, Halladay battled injury and fell off greatly with an 11-8 record and 4.49 ERA. He struggled all spring and allowed 12 runs in 7.1 innings over his first two starts. He picked up his first win with five hits and one run allowed over eight innings last start, but it's clear he's not the pitcher he once was.
63. RP Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
After saving 45 games with a 1.73 ERA for the Rays in 2010, Soriano signed with the Yankees as a setup man. He was closing again last year after Mariano Rivera went down with an injury, and he saved 42 games with a 2.26 ERA. The Nationals signed him to a two-year, $28 million deal, and he remains one of the game's top ninth-inning arms.
62. SP Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs dealt five players to the Rays for Garza prior to the 2011 season, and he was 15-17 with a 3.52 ERA in 49 starts the past two years. His 2012 ended with a shoulder injury and he remains on the shelf this season, but he still has the stuff to be a front-line guy and a huge trade chip once he returns.
61. SP Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals
Garcia posted back-to-back 13-win seasons with a 3.17 ERA in his first two seasons in the Cardinals rotation before injuries limited him to just 20 starts last season. He's by no means overpowering and his peripheral numbers aren't overly impressive, but he's a proven winner at this point.
60. RP Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates
A journeyman reliever for most of his career, Grilli had a 4.74 ERA over the first 10 years of his career before missing the entire 2010 season with a knee injury. He returned a different pitcher, and over the past two seasons with the Pirates, he has a 2.76 ERA and 12.5 K/9 over 92 appearances. With Joel Hanrahan gone, he's now the closer and has gone 5-for-5 on save chances to open the year.
59. SP Alexi Ogando, Texas Rangers
Ogando joined the Rangers rotation in 2011 and went 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA while making the AL All-Star team. He returned to the bullpen last year and served as a valuable setup man, but injuries forced him back into the rotation this year, where he's gone 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA in three starts. Regardless of what role he's in, Ogando has been great.
58. SP Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers acquired Sanchez from the Marlins at the deadline last season, and he had a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts with the team, followed by a terrific postseason. The Tigers re-signed him to a five-year, $80 million deal this offseason and he's been steady, if not spectacular, throughout his career.
57. RP Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Johnson was a solid setup man from 2008-2011 for the Orioles, posting a 3.02 ERA over 213 appearances, and he took over as the Baltimore closer last season. He embraced the role with an AL-high 51 saves and a 2.49 ERA, and he already has six saves without an earned run allowed this season.
56. SP Wandy Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
After putting up below-average numbers over the first three seasons of his career, Rodriguez has gone 57-55 with a 3.48 ERA since the start of the 2008 season. He was traded to the Pirates at the deadline last year, and he is off to a great start this season, as he remains one of the more underrated southpaws.
55. SP Ryan Dempster, Boston Red Sox
Entering his 16th season, Dempster signed a two-year, $26.5 million deal to join the Red Sox this offseason. He's long been a clubhouse leader and workhorse starter, and he entered the season with a 124-124 career record and a 4.33 ERA.
54. SP Josh Johnson, Toronto Blue Jays
Johnson has long had a tremendous amount of potential, but has battled injuries throughout his career. He won an ERA title in 2010 with a 2.30 mark, but made just nine starts the following season. Healthy wasn't an issue last season, but he went just 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts, and he's struggled in his first two starts with the Blue Jays.
53. SP Doug Fister, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers acquired Fister from the Mariners, and he went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 10 starts down the stretch. He's dealt with some injury issues, but when healthy, he's been a solid No. 2 starter behind Justin Verlander and one of the AL's more underrated starters.
52. SP Paul Maholm, Atlanta Braves
A solid starter during his time with the struggling Pirates, Maholm has come into his own over the past few years. He's 22-25 with a 3.46 ERA since the start of the 2011 season. He's 3-0 without an earned run allowed over 20.1 innings in his first three starts this season.
51. RP J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Once a dominant closer with the Mariners, Putz's career sidetracked a bit during his time with the Mets and White Sox before he signed with the Diamondbacks prior to the 2011 season. He's saved 77 games with a 10.1 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 mark over the past two seasons while posting a 2.48 ERA.
50. SP Josh Beckett, Los Angeles Dodgers
Though he's had an up-and-down career, Beckett has proven capable of being one of the best starters in the game when he's right. He's 132-97 with a 3.90 ERA for his career, and with Zack Greinke on the shelf, the Dodgers will be counting on him to step up.
49. SP Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees
After a successful career in Japan, Kuroda signed with the Dodgers prior to the 2008 season at the age of 33. He's never posted an ERA higher than 3.76 in five big league seasons, and he won a career-high 16 games with a 3.32 ERA in his first season with the Yankees last year.
48. SP Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays
Moore entered last season as the top pitching prospect in the game, and while his rookie campaign may not have lived up to expectations, he was still solid with an 11-11 record and 3.81 ERA. The 23-year-old should only get better, and he's off to a great start this year with 13 strikeouts over 11.1 scoreless innings.
47. RP Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
When Brian Wilson went down with an injury last season, the Giants opted for a closer-by-committee. Romo emerged as the man, though, and he is off to a hot start this season with seven saves and a 14.1 K/9 mark. He has a 2.20 ERA and 10.8 K/9 over 284 career appearances.
46. SP A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates
All but left for dead in New York, Burnett was shipped to the Pirates in a cost-cutting move last offseason, and he went 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA to emerge as the ace of the Pirates staff. The 36-year-old is winding down his solid career, but he still has plus stuff, evidenced by his 27 strikeouts in 17 innings this season.
45. RP Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Acquired from the Cardinals for Mark DeRosa back at the deadline in 2009, Perez has emerged as one of the league's best closers. He has 98 saves and a 2.84 ERA over the past three seasons, and it will be interesting to see if the Indians opt to deal him in the near future.
44. SP Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants
A failed Pirates prospect, Vogelsong didn't pitch in the majors from 2007-2010 before joining the Giants on a minor league deal in 2011. He's gone 27-16 with a 3.05 ERA in his two seasons in San Francisco, and he was 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in four postseason starts last year.
43. RP Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
A heart condition landed Jansen on the DL last season and wound up costing him closer duties this season after the team re-signed Brandon League, but he has some of the best stuff in all of baseball. In 152.1 innings of work, he's struck out 246 hitters and posted a 2.25 ERA with 35 saves.
42. SP Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays
Taken with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 draft, Morrow was traded to the Blue Jays prior to the 2010 season. After showing flashes over his first two seasons in Toronto, he went 10-7 with a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts last season before injuries shelved him. Now, the 28-year-old is looking to pick up where he left off.
41. SP Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves
After opening last season in the bullpen, Medlen joined the Braves rotation last season and went a ridiculous 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 12 starts. The 27-year-old will have a hard time matching that success, but he's off to a good start and looks to have the stuff to be a front-line starter for the Braves long term.
40. SP Kyle Lohse, Milwaukee Brewers
Lohse went 63-74 with a 4.82 ERA in seven seasons prior to joining the Cardinals, then went 55-35 with a 3.90 ERA over the past four seasons in St. Louis. He was 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA as the ace of the Cardinals staff last year, and now he joins the Brewers as the No. 4 starter.
39. RP Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Long one of the league's best closers during his time in Minnesota, Nathan missed the 2010 season with Tommy John surgery and struggled to a 4.84 ERA in his first season back. The Rangers took a chance on him last year, and he saved 37 games with a 2.80 ERA, once again showing that he is an elite closer.
38. SP Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox
A highly regarded prospect in the Red Sox system for several years, Buchholz broke out in 2010, when he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA to finish sixth in AL Cy Young voting. He struggled to match those numbers the past two seasons, but he's flashed his electric arm this year in going 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA. At 28, he still has the potential to be a staff ace.
37. SP Jon Niese, New York Mets
After two seasons as a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, Niese took a step forward last season when he went 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts. That may be his ceiling, but the 26-year-old is a plus arm at the front of the Mets rotation and should be able to turn in similar numbers over the next several seasons.
36. SP Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics
Anderson went 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA as a 21-year-old rookie back in 2009, but injuries limited him to just 38 starts over the next three seasons, as he went 14-14 with a 3.20 ERA. He's healthy this season and is a major breakout candidate atop the A's rotation.
35. SP Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers
Acquired as part of the package the Rangers received from the Braves for Mark Teixeira, Harrison has come into his own over the past two seasons, going 32-20 with a 3.34 ERA. He earned the Opening Day start this season, but struggled through two starts before landing on the DL with a back strain. But there's no reason to think he won't be back to where he was once he returns.
34. RP Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
The greatest closer in the history of the game, Rivera has announced he'll retire at the end of this season. He missed almost all of last season with a torn ACL, but he's come back strong. Even as a 43-year-old, he is one of the league's best ninth-inning arms.
33. SP Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks
After a solid first season with the Diamondbacks in 2010, Kennedy went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA as the ace of the staff the following season. He wasn't quite as sharp last season, but he's established himself as a workhorse with the potential to be one of the game's top arms.
32. SP Matt Harvey, New York Mets
This ranking may be jumping the gun a bit, seeing as he has just 13 big league starts under his belt, but it's hard to ignore the way Harvey has started the season. After posting a 2.73 ERA and 10.6 K/9 in 10 starts last year, he's 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA and just six hits allowed in 22 innings this season.
31. RP Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
In his seven full seasons in the majors, Papelbon has saved at least 30 games each year and posted a 2.32 ERA with 10.8 K/9. The Phillies rewarded that consistency with a four-year, $50 million deal last offseason, and there is no question he is one of the league's top closers.
30. SP Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox
The NL Cy Young winner in 2007, injuries kicked in for Peavy shortly after that, and from 2009-2011, he made just 51 starts and went 23-19 with a 4.35 ERA. Finally healthy last season, he went 11-12 with a 3.37 ERA as he once again emerged as a viable front-line starter.
29. SP Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers signed Greinke to a six-year, $147 million deal this offseason to slot behind Clayton Kershaw in the rotation. While a broken collarbone is expected to keep him on the DL for eight weeks, he still figures to be a key part of the team's postseason push this season.
28. SP Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves
The 37-year-old Hudson is in his 15th big league season, and he's gone 199-104 with a 3.41 ERA to this point in his career. Despite his age, he's remained a top-tier starter the past three seasons, going 49-26 with a 3.19 ERA, and he earned the Opening Day start in Atlanta this season.
27. SP Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
In his three full seasons with the Tigers, Scherzer has gone 43-27 with a 3.89 ERA and 9.2 K/9. He picked his game up last season, going 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 187.2 innings, as he has the stuff to be one of the most overpowering pitchers in the game.
26. SP R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays
Dickey gets the benefit of the doubt after being so great last year, but he has struggled mightily in his Blue Jays debut. His track record said he was more of a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm. That said, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him turn things around in a big way.
25. SP Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs
After spending most of his first four seasons in the majors pitching out of the bullpen, Samardzija opened last season in the Cubs rotation and turned in a breakout year.
His 9-13 record did not necessarily show it, but he posted a 3.81 ERA and struck out 180 hitters in 174.2 innings of work over 28 starts.
The rebuilding Cubs are counting on him taking the next step and locking down the role of staff ace long term, and he's been dominant in the early going this season with a 2.75 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 19.2 innings of work.
24. SP Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
The Nationals' top pitching prospect back in 2009, Zimmermann made 16 starts as a rookie before he suffered an injury and wound up needing Tommy John surgery.
In his first full season back in 2011, he went 8-11 with a 3.18 ERA over 26 starts, though he pitched just 161.1 innings as the team brought him along slowly.
He was even better last year, going 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA, and he's off to a 3-0 start this season as he continues his ascent to the game's elite. If nothing else, the 26-year-old is the best No. 3 starter in the game at this point.
23. SP C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels
A reliever for the first five seasons of his career, Wilson joined the Rangers rotation in 2010 and went 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA in his first two seasons.
Those two years were enough to earn him a five-year, $77.5 million deal from the Angels last offseason, and he went 13-10 with a 3.83 ERA during his first season in Los Angeles.
Though he is already 32, he has just 928.1 big league innings under his belt since he spent so much time in the bullpen. He should continue to pitch at a high level through the length of his current contract and beyond.
22. SP Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds
The Reds paid a hefty price to acquire Latos from the Padres last season, as they shipped Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger to San Diego to acquire the right-hander.
Slotted behind Johnny Cueto in a very good Reds rotation, he went 14-4 with a 3.48 ERA, and he was a different pitcher in the second half when he went 7-2 with a 2.84 ERA.
He's under team control through the 2015 season, but the Reds could look to lock him up with a long-term deal sometime soon, as the 25-year-old figures to be a huge part of their future.
21. SP Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers
A part of the Brewers as a 21-year-old back in 2007, Gallardo joined the rotation full-time in 2009, and he's been one of the National League's best pitchers since.
Over the past four years, he's gone 60-38 with a 3.68 ERA while averaging 204 strikeouts and 196 innings pitched per season.
He's the unquestioned ace of a young Brewers rotation (aside from Kyle Lohse), and at 27 years old, he should continue to be ranked as one of the game's top strikeout pitchers and a perennial Cy Young candidate for the next several seasons, even with the slow start this year.
20. RP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
The flame-throwing Chapman moved from setup man to closer last season, and he put up video game numbers in the ninth inning with 38 saves and 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings.
After kicking around the idea of moving him to the rotation this spring, he wound up back in the bullpen, where he apparently feels most comfortable, and he already has three saves and 13 strikeouts in 7.1 scoreless innings this season.
No one throws harder than the Cuban defector, and the five-year, $25.25 million deal the Reds gave him back in 2010 looks like a steal now.
19. SP Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
Lester joined the Red Sox rotation full-time in 2008, and over the next four seasons, he went 65-32 with a 3.33 ERA and 196 strikeouts per season as one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game.
Like most of the Boston roster, he struggled last season, posting a 9-14 record and 4.82 ERA in what was the first losing season of his career.
He got back on track with a fantastic spring, and that has carried over to the regular season, where he is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA over his first three starts. The 29-year-old has a team option for 2014, but will be in line for a major payday after that.
18. SP James Shields, Kansas City Royals
The Royals have been without a true staff ace since Zack Greinke was traded to the Brewers, and they sent a package of high-end prospects—including Wil Myers—to the Rays this offseason to rectify that situation and acquire Shields.
The 31-year-old is as durable as they come, having pitched at least 200 innings each of the past six years, and he is 81-65 with a 3.80 ERA over that span.
He may not be as good as the 2011 season when he went 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA, 11 complete games and four shutouts, but he is squarely in that second tier of big league aces at this point in his career.
17. SP Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
The price was steep, but the Nationals looked like geniuses for acquiring Gonzalez from the A's last offseason when he went 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA in his first season in Washington.
It remains to be seen just how good the likes of Tom Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and Derek Norris will be, but Gonzalez gave a team looking to win now a major piece to the puzzle.
The Nationals also managed to lock him up with a five-year, $42 million deal that could keep him with the team through 2018 if his two option years are exercised, and he gives the team one of the best No. 2 starters in the games.
16. SP Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
Cueto finally put it all together last season after years of flashing front-line stuff, as he went 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting.
Still only 27, he could conceivably get better over the next couple years, and that could be trouble for the rest of the National League.
He's sidelined right now with a strained lat, and he has battled injuries off and on throughout his career. But as long as he can stay healthy, he's as good as any pitcher in the game when he's on.
15. SP Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
The 2008 AL Cy Young winner and undoubtedly one of the best big-game pitchers in all of baseball, Lee had an odd 2012 season.
The left-hander didn't record his first win of the season until July 4, and he finished the season 6-9 despite making 30 starts and posting a solid 3.16 ERA and striking out 207.
Even at 34, he still has great stuff and some of the best control in all of baseball (1 BB in 23.2 IP in 2013), and he's off to a much better start this season at 2-0 with a 1.52 ERA through his first three starts.
14. SP Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
One of the game's top strikeout pitchers when he first entered the season, and even as recently as 2010 when he led the AL with 233 punch-outs, Weaver has pitched to contact far more over the past two seasons.
As a result, he's put up the best two seasons of his career the last two years, going a combined 38-13 with a 2.59 ERA despite an average 7.2 K/9 mark.
The 30-year-old has a fantastic 102-53 career record, and once he returns from a fractured non-throwing elbow injury that will likely sideline him until the end of May, he should continue to add to that impressive record.
13. SP Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Taken with the No. 13 pick in the 2010 draft, Sale made just 11 minor league appearances before joining the big league club in early August of that same year and posting a 1.93 ERA in 21 appearances.
He was in the bullpen again in 2011, making 58 appearances with a 2.79 ERA and 10.0 K/9. His future was always in the rotation, though, and the White Sox shifted him there to kick off last season.
The transition could not have gone more smoothly, as he went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and 9.0 K/9 while flashing the type of stuff that should make him one of the game's best for a long time. His max-effort delivery is a concern moving forward, but so far, so good as far as health is concerned.
12. SP Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Bumgarner debuted as a 20-year-old back in 2009 and was a regular in the Giants rotation by midseason the following year.
Since the start of that 2010 season, he's gone 39-30 with a 3.17 ERA, and that includes his 3-0, 1.77 ERA start to 2013.
One top of that, he's won both of his World Series starts, allowing no runs and just five hits in 15 innings of work. Pitching has been the driving force in the Giants' recent success, and the 23-year-old Bumgarner should only get better in the years ahead.
11. SP Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
The Rangers spent a ton to acquire Darvish last offseason, winning negotiating rights with a $51.7 million posting fee and then inking him to a six-year, $60 million contract.
His 3.90 ERA was a bit high in his debut season, but there was no question his stuff played in the MLB, as he struck out 221 batters in 191.1 innings on his way to a 16-9 record.
The 26-year-old was expected to be even better in his second season in the states, and he opened the season with a bang, throwing 8.2 innings of perfect baseball against the Astros before Marwin Gonzalez messed things up with a single.
10. RP Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
There are few positions in professional sports that are as fickle as the closer's role, and there are very few true lights-out closers in the league today.
Kimbrel tops that short list, and with all due respect to Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Papelbon, the title of best closer is his by a sizable margin.
He's led the league in saves each of the past two seasons, with 46 and 42, and he has struck out 290 hitters in 167 innings of work with an 11-4 record and 1.40 ERA. He's converted 95-for-106 saves in his career, and at 24, his overpowering stuff should allow him to add plenty more saves to that total.
9. SP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
After spending the past few seasons slotted behind Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, Hamels is finally fronting the staff in Philadelphia.
The 29-year-old went 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA last season, signing a huge six-year, $144 million extension in the process that will keep him in Philadelphia through the 2018 season.
He currently stands at 91-62 for his career with a 3.39 ERA, and while the Phillies may be headed for a rebuilding window soon, he'll remain a constant atop their rotation as one of the game's best.
8. SP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
Wainwright first made a name for himself as the closer on the Cardinals' 2006 World Series team, saving four games and striking out 15 in 9.2 scoreless innings during their postseason run.
Three years later, in 2009, he was one of the best pitchers in the National League. In 2009 and 2010 combined, he went 39-19 with a 2.53 ERA and a pair of top-three Cy Young finishes.
His rise to the ranks of the elite was halted in 2011 when he missed the entire season with Tommy John surgery. After a slow start in his return last season, he went 7-5 with a 3.28 ERA in the second half, and he's once again looked like a bona fide ace in the early going this season.
7. SP David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, Price kicked off his career as a closer in the postseason, much like the aforementioned Adam Wainwright.
After a rocky first season in the rotation in 2009, he's quickly emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past three seasons, going 51-24 with a 2.93 ERA.
He took home AL Cy Young honors last season, and his days of being within the Rays' price range are likely numbered. Few pitchers of his caliber have ever been traded, and it will be interesting to see what type of player package the Rays can get if/when they decide to pull the trigger on moving him.
6. SP Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
After playing second fiddle to Tim Lincecum for several seasons, Cain stepped into the role of ace in 2012 and proved more than worthy of the title.
He posted the best numbers of his career across the board, going 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 193 strikeouts. On top of that, he threw a perfect game and earned the start for the NL in the All-Star Game.
A six-year, $127.5 million extension will keep him in San Francisco through 2017, as the 28-year-old will look to pile onto his 85-79 career record and improve his 3.30 ERA.
5. SP CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
An everyday member of the Indians rotation as a 20-year-old back in 2001, Sabathia has been the definition of durable with at least 28 starts and 180 innings pitched in each of his 12 big league seasons.
Over the past four seasons as a member of the Yankees, the big left-hander went 74-29 with a 3.22 ERA and averaged 226 innings pitched per season.
He's 193-103 with a 3.49 ERA for his career, and at 32 years old, it will be interesting to see what kind of stats he can put up before all is said and done.
4. SP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
He certainly does not have the proven track record of success that the rest of the guys at the top of this list do, but there is simply no ignoring Strasburg's talent level.
He was 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 159.1 innings before being shut down last season, his first full season following Tommy John surgery.
The 24-year-old will need to avoid future injury, but few pitchers have ever had the ceiling that he does, and he could be a dominant, overpowering force atop the Nationals rotation for the next decade.
3. SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Hernandez made 31 starts and threw 191 innings as a 20-year-old back in 2006, and he's been an absolute horse atop the Mariners rotation ever since.
His win-loss record has rarely been an accurate reflection of just how good he is, evidenced by the 13-12 record he turned in while winning the AL Cy Young in 2010 with a 2.27 ERA.
He's apparently committed to helping turn things around in Seattle after signing a seven-year, $175 million extension this offseason. The 27-year-old currently sits at 99-78 with a 3.21 ERA in his career.
2. SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
It's a coin flip at this point between Kershaw and the next man on this list for the top spot, and by the end of the season, it may very well be the Dodgers left-hander who sits atop the pitching world.
Still inconceivably only 25 years old, Kershaw has won back-to-back NL ERA titles, and he could very well have won his second straight Cy Young award last season.
Stephen Strasburg and Craig Kimbrel are the only players besides Kershaw in my top 10 to not recently sign a huge extension, and once the Dodgers decide to lock up their ace, he'll likely become baseball's first $200-million pitcher.
At 63-38 with a 2.75 ERA for his career, it's scary to think that he may actually have room to improve over the next few years.
1. SP Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Already one of the game's best pitchers, Verlander took his game to another level in 2011 when he went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts to win AL Cy Young and MVP honors.
He was dominant again last season, finishing second to David Price for Cy Young honors. There is no pitcher who I would rather hand the ball to for one game.
The Tigers rewarded their ace with a seven-year, $180 million extension this offseason, and he'll look to continue building his Hall of Fame resume in Detroit. As it stands now, he's 126-66 with a 3.66 ERA and 1,471 strikeouts in 1,572 innings.
Joel Reuter is a Nationals MLB Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report