Who are the best strikeout pitchers in the game today? It may seem like a simple question with an obvious answer. While the top name on the list is a no brainer, after that things start to get a little bit more interesting. Let’s take a look, though there certainly isa lot of room for debate.
Tim Lincecum—San Francisco Giants
Since 2008 he leads the Majors among pitchers with at least 400 innings with a K/9 of 10.27 (the only pitcher in the league with a strikeout rate above 10 over that span.) From 2008-2010 he posted strikeout totals of 265, 261 and 231. In his first five starts of 2011 he’s proven that nothing has changed, with 38 Ks in 33.1 innings. There is just no one better at this point.
Jon Lester—Boston Red Sox
In 2009 and 2010 he posted K/9s of 9.96 and 9.74. Yes, he’s got off to a slow start in 2011, but it hasn’t taken long for him to turn things around. His numbers are skewed downward due to failing to record a strikeout in his first start (5.1 innings). In his last four he has 30 K over 26.0 innings. It’s hard to argue that he belongs right up there with the best strikeout artists in the league.
Jered Weaver—Los Angeles Angels
While he had shown minor league strikeout success (10.98 K/9), he had never shown it in the Major Leagues until 2010 (9.35 K/9). Now, as he pitches at a ridiculous level to open the 2011 campaign, he continues to compile strikeouts at an impressive rate. Over his first five starts (36.2 innings), Weaver has already managed 39 strikeouts, good for a K/9 of 9.57. He has become one of the elite in the game on every level, and strikeouts are certainly no different.
Clayton Kershaw—Los Angeles Dodgers
It may be surprising that he comes in this early, but the lefty just continues to get better and better. Since 2008 he posted strikeout rates of 8.36, 9.74 and 9.34. Last season he posted the first 200 strikeout season of his career and early on, it appears that he’s going to have his second in 2011 with 36 K in his first 33 innings. The more innings he throws (and there shouldn’t be an innings limit), the better he is going to get (and it appears that he is going to be allowed to work deeper into games, assuming he continues to find the strike zone). Since 2008 he is just one of five pitchers with at least 400 innings with a K/9 above 9.0.
Yovani Gallardo—Milwaukee Brewers
Over the past two seasons he has proven that he has the skills to be one of the elite strikeout artists in the league with K/9s of 9.89 and 9.73. While he has gotten off to a slow start in 2011 (5.74 K/9), it should be just a matter of time before the results present themselves (he showed signs in his last start with 7 K over 6.0 innings). Armed with a fastball that continues to average over 92 mph, he clearly has put the arm problems behind him.
Jonathan Sanchez—San Francisco Giants
Sanchez has control issues, limiting his potential fantasy appeal, but there is no questioning his ability to generate swings and misses. Since making his Major League debut he has posted a K/9 of 9.46 and has looked even better over his first five starts in 2011 (33 K in 28.0 innings). He is coming off his first career 200 K campaign and the only reason he may not be able to replicate it is if the walks continually force him out of games early (career BB/9 of 4.59).
Max Scherzer—Detroit Tigers
He has the potential to be a lock for a list like this by the end of the season, but we need to see him post the results for a full year. Over his minor league career he posted a K/9 of 11.64; the problem is in the Majors the only time he pitched over 180 innings (last season), he posted a K/9 of 8.46. However, it’s only a matter of time.
Justin Verlander—Detroit Tigers
Two years ago he posted 269 K over 240 innings, but it is actually the only year that he has posted a K/9 better than 9.00. He regressed to 8.79 in ’10, much more in line with his entire career. That’s not to say that he could return to those days, especially with a fastball that has averaged nearly 95 mph over the course of his career, but he needs to back it up before he joins this type of list.
Brandon Morrow—Toronto Blue Jays
Over his minor league career he posted a K/9 of 8.06, so you may be surprised to see that he even received any consideration. However, when you post a 10.95 mark over 146.1 innings, especially in the AL East, it has to be noticed. Given his career track record it will take more than one season to break this exclusive group, but it may not be long before he does. He certainly proved in his first start of the year that he belongs, striking out 10 over 5.1 innings of work.
Roy Halladay—Philadelphia Phillies
He certainly does rack up the strikeouts, but he’s more of a “compiler” than anything. Yes, he’s going to strikeout over 200, but it comes courtesy of significantly more innings pitched. Keep in mind that prior to 2011, his career best K/9 is 7.86. It’s impossible to consider him a Top 5 strikeout pitcher.
Who do you feel are the Top 5 strikeout pitchers in baseball today? Who do you think I left off the list? Who do you think I overrated? Let the debate begin!
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