Debate over who the best pitchers are in MLB takes place year round, but with baseball season in full swing (pun intended), the discussion is at its pinnacle. Every fan of the game has their own criteria for what makes a great pitcher, though for the last several years Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez seem to have firmly established themselves as the best in the game.
The most important quality I look for in a pitcher is his results, with quality numbers coming over the course of several seasons taking precedent. Some young pitchers are on the cusp of establishing themselves as top hurlers in the game, but in order to make the top 10 of this list, they have to have made at least 30 starts in the big leagues.
Durability and injury history are absolutely factors considered, and innings pitched, strikeout and walk numbers are the statistics I look most closely at because they are the statistics best controlled by the pitcher.
It's important to note that age was not a factor, since I'm looking at who's the best in the game today and not who will be the best in the future.
I know my criteria is far from the be-all end-all and I look forward to hearing how yours is different.
While going through the best pitchers in the game, it quickly became clear that some high-quality pitchers had to be left off the top-10 list.
Some were left off the list for different reasons than others, though.
Matt Harvey and Shelby Miller were left off the list because neither has made 30 starts in the big leagues and I'd like to see a bigger sample size from them before I designate either as one of the top 10 starters in the game. Both do have the stuff and makeup to make that jump very soon, however.
Clay Buchholz and Anibal Sanchez are similar to Harvey and Miller in that their recent numbers are not enough to place them among the elite in the MLB. Their numbers this year stand out from their career numbers and I'm not ready to say that their numbers this year aren't just the product of two-month long anomaly.
Pitchers like Cole Hamels, Jake Peavy, Gio Gonzalez and Madison Bumgarner were all close to making this list as well, but their numbers, both this year and over the past three seasons, weren't on par with the 10 that did make it.
Now, without the further ado: The top 10 pitchers in Major League Baseball.
2013 Stats: 9 Games Started, 8.02 K/9, 2.29 BB/9, 5.24 ERA, 0.6 WAR
2011-2013 Stats: 74 Games Started, 8.66 K/9, 2.50 BB/9, 3.29 ERA, 9.7 WAR
Price's numbers have dipped this year, but some of that can be attributed to a triceps injury he went to the DL for in May.
In 2011 and 2012, Price, a former No. 1 overall pick, firmly established himself has one of the best pitchers in the game, pitching atop a talented Tampa Bay Rays rotation. Armed with one of the best fastballs in the game, Price has been dominant at times in a tough AL East division.
Price's strikeout numbers may be among the lowest on the list, but his year-to-year consistency is what puts him on this list. Price made at least 31 starts every year from 2010 to 2012, and has registered a K/9 over eight while lowering his BB/9 each of the last three seasons.
Price's injury this season and the struggles that came before it are a bit worrisome, and the primary reason he ranks behind the next pitcher on this list.
2013 Stats: 10 Games Started, 8.49 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, 2.44 ERA, 1.8 WAR
2011-2013 Stats: 39 Games Started, 9.11 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 2.86 ERA, 7.9 WAR
Sale is the youngest pitcher on this list and has started the fewest games of anyone on it, but his short track record speaks for itself. Sale has quickly established himself as one of the best pitchers in the game, making it to the major leagues just months after the White Sox made him the 13th pick in the 2010 draft.
In 2010 and 2011, Sale came out of the bullpen for the White Sox, but he's made a seamless transition to the starting rotation over the last two years.
With a fastball that tops out at 97 and and a slider and changeup that both grade out as plus, Sale has held batters to just a .223 batting average against since he joined the starting rotation.
It should be noted that there are some injury concerns about Sale due to his slender 180-pound frame and sidearm motion, but he has been able to stay healthy thus far in his career, and I'm taking a durable until proven otherwise stance on this front.
Should he stay healthy, Sale has the chance to jump even higher on this list if he is able to add some weight to his skinny 6'6" frame, while maintaining his current dominant arsenal.
2013 Stats: 13 Games Started, 8.09 K/9, 1.72 BB/9, 3.74 ERA, 1.7 WAR
2011-2013 Stats: 74 Games Started, 8.67 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, 3.27 ERA, 12.8 WAR
Some may quibble with Sabathia's inclusion on this list given his drop in velocity this season, but there is little reason to believe that Sabathia can't still be one of the best pitchers in the league without touching 95 MPH on a regular basis (see No. 6 on this list for proof of that).
Those in search of proof that CC can still be a dominant pitcher need look no further than his last two starts.
With the Yankees in the midst of a five-game losing streak, Sabathia struck out 10 in 7.1 innings in a win against the Red Sox and then threw a complete game against a good-hitting Cleveland Indians team in his latest start.
With his stuff of years past, the big lefty would rank even higher on this list, but his track record, durability, and continued success all make Sabathia easy to include among the top 10 pitchers in MLB.
2013 Stats: 12 Games Started, 8.84 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 2.54 ERA, 1.3 WAR
2011-2013 Stats: 45 Games Started, 10.27 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 2.83 ERA, 6.5 WAR
After a trio of lefties to start the list, Strasburg marks the first right-handed pitcher to make the top 10.
Strasburg's story is well-documented as he was the first overall pick by the Nationals in 2009, shot through the system and made to the bigs by 2010, only to injure his elbow and miss most of 2011. After staying healthy for 2012 and showing the same dominant pre-injury form, there is no doubting the young right-hander's place among baseball's best.
Strasburg has everything you want in a pitcher. He's got the high-octane fastball to go along with a breaking ball and a changeup that both grade out as plus.
His numbers reflect this, too.
Strasburg has the second-highest K/9 number of anyone on this list since 2011 and he backs it up with fantastic control.
I'd like to rank Strasburg higher, but thus far in his career, he hasn't pitched as many innings per start as the guys above him.
A year from now, however, it would surprise no one if Strasburg ranks at or near the top of this list.
2013 Stats: 12 Games Started, 7.54 K/9, 1.32 BB/9, 2.45 ERA, 2.5 WAR
2011-2013 Stats: 74 Games Started, 8.78 K/9, 1.40 BB/9, 2.71 ERA, 13.8 WAR
At 34 years old, Lee is easily the oldest pitcher on this list, but he shows no signs of slowing down. His pinpoint control has allowed him to dominate in both the American and National Leagues in recent years.
Lee's K/BB ratio of 6.25 since the start of the 2011 season easily ranks as the best of any pitcher on this list.
What separates Lee from the guys behind him (other than the control) is his durability, ability to eat innings and the consistency of his repertoire. Perhaps more than any other guy on this list, Lee knows how to pitch, and though he doesn't throw as hard as the other guys in the top 10, no other pitcher utilizes what they have better than Lee.
Lee's postseason performance also factors into his placement this high on the list. In his postseason career, Lee is 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA and strikeout-to-walk ratio of almost nine.
The best in the game perform best when the stakes are highest, and such is certainly true with Lee.
2013 Stats: 12 Games Started, 8.49 K/9, 0.61 BB/9, 2.33 ERA, 3.5 WAR
2011-2013 Stats: 44 Games Started, 8.38 K/9, 1.81 BB/9, 3.44 ERA, 7.5 WAR
If this list were based on 2013 performance alone, Wainwright would probably rank at the top. He's been that dominant this year.
His claiming of the No. 5 spot on this list is truly amazing since he missed all of the 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Pitching to a 3.94 ERA last year, Wainwright clearly took some time to get back to his former self, but his numbers this year indicate he is all the way back to being the pitcher that threw over 230 innings in both 2009 and 2010.
Wainwright has pinpoint control of his fastball and one of the best curveballs in all of baseball, and his ability to eat innings, dominant K/BB ratio and performance this season are the reasons he ranks above the preceding five pitchers.
Keeping Wainwright from a higher placement on this list is a K/9 number that ranks as the lowest on this list, a stark contrast from the man who comes next.
2013 Stats: 12 Games Started, 12.28 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 2.77 ERA, 2.5 WAR
2011-2013 Stats: 41 Games Started, 10.96 K/9, 3.73 BB/9, 3.56 ERA, 7.4 WAR
It may be a bit of a leap of faith to include Darvish this high on the list, but I'm willing to accept his shortcomings in the track record and the control department given his dominant strikeout numbers.
Darvish's 10.96 K/9 easily ranks as the best of anyone on this list, and if this year is any indication, he's only getting better as time goes along.
The fact that his numbers are so good in a hitter's haven like Texas makes what he's doing all the more special, too.
Yu has perhaps the most dominant repertoire in all of the Major Leagues, and every time he takes the mound, it seems he's a threat to throw a no-hitter.
By the end of this season, Darvish may join the top three pitchers on this list as the best in the game, but for now, he remains a half step below them given his still-limited track record and list-high BB/9 numbers.
2013 Stats: 13 Games Started, 9.43 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 2.58 ERA, 2.7 WAR
2011-2013 Stats: 79 Games Started, 8.74 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 3.15 ERA, 13.3 WAR
King Felix's placement at No. 3 on this list is no slight on him, and if I could have three No.1s on this list, I'd do it.
Since someone had to take the spot, Felix was the pick due to a K/9 number lower than the pitchers in the top two spots, and an ERA that's higher than the top two guys.
This is all just nitpicking, though, since there's no denying that Felix is one of the best pitchers in baseball.
He's an absolute horse, having thrown over 230 innings four years in a row, and he's well on his way there once again this year.
Though he's armed with a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s, his best pitch is a changeup that allows him to get more ground balls than everyone on this list but Wainwright.
2013 Stats: 13 Games Started, 8.78 K/9, 2.51 BB/9, 1.93 ERA, 2.4 WAR
2011-2013 Stats: 79 Games Started, 9.22 K/9, 2.32 BB/9, 2.32 ERA, 14.3 WAR
Giving Kershaw the No. 2 spot on this list seems to be a bit unfair and it's better to consider him and the top pitcher as 1 and 1A.
Since 2011, Kershaw has by far the best ERA of anyone on this list, ranks third in innings pitched, third in K/9 and second in wins above replacement.
This year, he's been every bit as good, too, with the best ERA and the most innings pitched of any pitcher on this list.
While he doesn't have the postseason pedigree of many of the pitchers on this list, including the guy in the No. 1 spot, this has more to do with a lack of opportunity than it does a failure to pitch well in big games.
Kershaw has one of the best fastballs of any left-hander in the game to go along with a devastating slider and curveball, making him easily the best pitcher in the National League.
In many eras Kershaw would be the best pitcher in the game, but unfortunately for him, the man who takes the No. 1 spot is truly a once-in-a-generation talent.
2013 Stats: 12 Games Started, 10.73 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, 3.70 ERA, 2.4 WAR
2011-2013 Stats: 79 Games Started, 9.22 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 2.67 ERA, 16.2 WAR
Though Kershaw can definitely make a claim as the top pitcher in all of baseball, it's hard to argue against what Justin Verlander has accomplished over the last few seasons.
Verlander's numbers are as good as anyone else's in the game, but what makes him the top pitcher in the game over Kershaw and King Felix is his fastball.
Like no one else in the game, Verlander has the unique ability to dial up his fastball to triple digits in the later innings of his starts.
If opposing teams don't get to Verlander early, they're likely in for a long night as he usually gets stronger as games go along.
All of his statistics rank in the top tier of pitchers on this list and he has thrown more innings than anyone else in the top 10 since the start of the 2011 season.
All three of the pitchers at the top of this list have numbers that set them apart from the other seven pitchers on this list, but Verlander's arsenal gives him the slight edge over Kershaw and Hernandez. His fastball gets all the attention, but he has a curveball, slider and a changeup that all grade as plus and combine to make him the best in the business.
Verlander is my top pitcher in all of baseball, but by no means is he everyone's. Where does he rank on your list, and if he's not No. 1, then who is? Let me know in the comments below.