Matt Harvey is baseball's ERA king just over a month into the season.
Just over a month into the 2013 regular season, 11 starting pitchers sit with an ERA below 2.00.
While a starting pitcher finishing the season with an ERA under 2.00 isn't as rare a feat as a batter hitting .400 for an entire year, it's not a common occurrence. In the 72 years since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, only 21 pitchers have finished a season with a sub-2.00 ERA, accomplishing the feat 28 times.
That's a pretty exclusive club.
Over the past decade, only one pitcher, Roger Clemens, has manged to pull it off, pitching to a 1.87 ERA for the Houston Astros in 2005. You have to go back 13 years to find the last time it happened in the AL, when Pedro Martinez pitched to a 1.74 ERA with Boston back in 2000.
What are the chances that one of the 11 starters off to scintillating starts in 2013 will become the third starting pitcher to pull off the feat this century?
Let's take a look.
2013 Stats: 6 GS, 2-1, 1.62 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 4.3 K/9
In a word, no.
Jake Westbrook's numbers are incredibly deceiving, as the 35-year-old right-hander is walking nearly as many batters as he's striking out and is allowing a hit per inning.
He's been incredibly lucky—not dominant.
Westbrook, a 13-year-veteran, owns a career 4.24 ERA (3.97 in three-plus seasons with the Cardinals). That's exactly the range where he'll finish the 2013 season, with a solid but unspectacular ERA.
2013 Stats: 7 GS, 5-0, 1.75 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 7.0 K/9
There's not much to complain about when it comes to Patrick Corbin's 2013 season in Arizona. His velocity is up and he's pounding the strike zone, resulting in improved effectiveness from all of his pitches, especially his sinker, which has allowed him to keep the ball in the park far more often than he did a season ago.
That said, I simply don't like his chances of posting a sub-2.00 ERA this season. Corbin is still a work in progress, and whether or not he can maintain his increased velocity and effectiveness throughout the season is a legitimate question to ask.
I don't see Corbin finishing the year with a sub-3.00 ERA, much less one that's below 2.00.
2013 Stats: 7 GS, 3-3, 1.97 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 11.4 K/9
Only once in his eight-year career has Anibal Sanchez finished a season with an ERA below 3.00, and that came in his rookie season of 2006, when he went 11-3 with a 2.83 ERA for the then-Florida Marlins.
Like Verlander, Sanchez plays many of his games in Comerica Park, and that needs to be taken into consideration.
So does the fact that Sanchez, who has allowed 20 home runs a season over the past two years, has only surrendered one long ball this season, putting him on pace for a career-low five home runs allowed in 2013.
That's not going to continue, and his ERA will rise above 3.00 by season's end—exactly where most expect it to be.
2013 Stats: 8 GS, 6-0, 1.69 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, 9.2 K/9
After starting the season as hot as any pitcher in baseball, the shine has begun to come off of Clay Buchholz ever so slightly:
|First Four Starts||0.90||1.00|
|Next Four Starts||2.51||1.08|
Quality performances to be sure, and there's no question that Buchholz, in the prime of his career, is capable of putting up Cy Young-worthy numbers at the end of the season.
But between the quality of the lineups that he has to face and that Fenway Park remains more favorable to hitters than pitchers, it's hard to like his chances of finishing the month of May, much less the season, with a sub-2.00 ERA.
2013 Stats: 8 GS, 4-0, 1.44 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 9.9 K/9
As Fox Sports' Ben Maller points out, we shouldn't be all that surprised at Matt Harvey's numbers thus far in 2013:
9-9 (.500) Mets record in games started by Matt Harvey since he came to big leagues last season. Harvey has 2.10 ERA over that time. @wsj— Ben Maller (@benmaller) May 13, 2013
Harvey has been as dominant as any pitcher in baseball this season, allowing two or more earned runs in only two of his eight starts. That said, he is on pace to throw 267 innings in 2013—more than 100 more than the 166.1 he threw between Triple-A and the big leagues last season combined.
While Harvey is likely to continue putting forward quality starts, the extra workload is going to take some getting used to for the 24-year-old, both physically and mentally.
Harvey might one day post a sub-2.00 ERA, but the odds are that it won't be in 2013.
2013 Stats: 8 GS, 6-0, 1.74 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9, 8.9 K/9
Hisashi Iwakuma isn't your typical major league sophomore—something that wasn't lost on Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Since the All-Star Break last season, Iwakuma has the best ERA among AL starters, with a 2.22 mark in 23 starts (Verlander 2.37, Felix 2.48)— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) May 11, 2013
Part of that success is certainly due to the 32-year-old's arsenal of pitches, which he's used to bewilder and frustrate batters all season long.
But some of it is due to the fact that teams haven't faced him often—if at all—so he's had the element of surprise working in his favor.
As he continues to make the rounds through the American League, that advantage will begin to disappear. There's little chance of him being able to maintain a .198 BABIP over the course of a full season, and as the hits begin falling, his ERA is sure to rise as a result.
2013 Stats: 7 GS, 5-2, 1.58 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 10.05 K/9
Like Matt Harvey, Shelby Miller doesn't have a ton of big league experience. So he certainly has an advantage over some teams who don't have much in the way of first-hand experience against St. Louis' 22-year-old right-hander.
Like Harvey, Miller is on pace to exceed his previous career high in innings pitched, and you have to expect some regression as the season wears on.
2013 Stats: 7 GS, 6-1, 1.59 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 1.6 BB/9, 6.0 K/9
Jordan Zimmermann has surpassed his more highly touted teammates, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, to become the ace of Washington's rotation in 2013. He's off to a ridiculous start that has included dominant performances against some of the most formidable lineups in baseball:
That's impressive, but it's also something that we've seen before.
Last season, Zimmermann posted a 2.14 ERA through his first seven starts of the season. Over his last 25 starts in 2012, though, his ERA rose by a more than a full run to 3.16.
While Zimmermann is entering his prime and is capable of pulling off the feat, the odds are better that he winds up with an ERA in the 2.50 range than they are of him continuing the streak that he's on for the next five months.
2013 Stats: 8 GS, 5-2, 1.53 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 1.2 BB/9, 8.6 K/9
The name Felix Hernandez and the word "cannot" don't appear in the same sentence very often. The 28-year-old ace of the Mariners pitching staff has proven that he's capable of doing pretty much anything on the mound, twice finishing the season with a sub-2.50 ERA.
Hernandez is also as consistent as any pitcher in baseball, not fading in the second half of the season as some pitchers are prone to do:
While the King gets to feast on the Houston Astros multiple times this year—a definite advantage over some of the other pitchers on this list—he still has his fair share of formidable lineups to get through in AL West play.
In 93 career starts against the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers, Felix has pitched to a 3.51 ERA and 1.23 WHIP—quality numbers for sure, but not something that makes you believe that a season-ending ERA below 2.00 is in the cards for Hernandez.
2013 Stats: 8 GS, 4-3, 1.93 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, 10.0 K/9
Arguably the best pitcher in the game today, Justin Verlander is certainly capable of pulling off a season in which he finishes with a sub-2.00 ERA.
But it's highly unlikely.
Clearly in the prime of his career, pitching to a 2.52 ERA and 0.99 WHIP since the beginning of the 2011 season, the 30-year-old ace of Detroit's rotation has a career 3.35 ERA over a career that's spanned parts of nine seasons.
Amazingly enough, Verlander's numbers are significantly better at home in Comerica Park, one of the most hitter-friendly venues in baseball, than they are elsewhere:
Between the effects of his home park and the quality of the lineups that he'll be facing the rest of the way, it's hard to see Verlander keeping his ERA below 2.00 for much longer.
2013 Stats: 8 GS, 3-2, 1.62 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, 9.1 K/9
Clayton Kershaw is as good a pitcher as there is in baseball. And with two consecutive ERA titles under his belt, it's no surprise that the 25-year-old ace of the Dodgers staff is among the league leaders in ERA once again.
Eight of the 10 earned runs that he's surrendered on the season came during a three-game stretch where he walked 11 batters in 17.1 innings of work, and it's those random bouts of inconsistency that keep me from giving Kershaw better odds than 40-to-1.
Yet Kershaw remains one of three best pitchers on the planet, along with Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander, and I'm not about to doubt that he's capable of pulling off the feat.