MLB: Top 10 Starting Pitchers in the Game Today

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2011

MLB: Top 10 Starting Pitchers in the Game Today

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    In baseball's prolific post-steroid era, starting pitching has never been this good.

    There are legitimately 10 pitchers who could capture this year's Cy Young award in their respective leagues.

    Strikeout artists, command specialists, innings eaters and upper-90mph heat seekers make up the pool of the MLB's most dominating starters.

    With these attributes, it's easy to recognize the importance of having good pitching, especially in the playoffs.

    Based on recent production, eye popping numbers from 2011 and each guy's potential going forward, here are the best starting pitchers in the game today.

On the Rise

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    Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

    Cueto has been downright dominant and arguably the hottest pitcher in the majors since his first start on May 8th.  Now while the 25-year-old ace isn't going to tally up huge strikeout numbers, his 2.02 ERA and 1.04 WHIP rank amongst the best in the majors.  Going forward, there's no reason why Cueto can't slither his way into baseball's top 10 pitchers by the end of 2012.

    Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks

    The New York Yankees have to be kicking themselves for trading Kennedy instead of Phil Hughes a few years back.  Kennedy has been Arizona's best pitcher this season and is easily one of the biggest surprises around baseball.  With 16 wins and a 3.09 ERA, it's difficult to leave him out of the top 10, but that's only paying tribute to the excellence of the other starters on this list.

Just Missed

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    Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels

    Haren is seemingly interchangeable with a few guys on this list.  With 21 quality outings in only 27 starts this year, Haren's mound presence has never been greater.  He's on pace for 240 innings, a WHIP below 1.00 and continues to be a sure fire pitcher every time he's given the ball.

    Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox

    Beckett's back.  There's no arguing that.  But because the 31-year-old veteran has only posted 10 wins and one complete game thus far into the season, he comes up short as far as the top 10 pitchers are concerned.  His numbers are very impressive, but he's more likely to make a postseason best of the best list than an all-around, all season long ranking.

    David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

    Has Price been a disappointment in 2011?  Sure, but when you consider his talent as an entirety, there's no doubting his top-level potential.  People sometimes forget that the guy's only 25 and that he's already won 40 games in his career.  His ERA may be higher than usual, but his 1.11 WHIP and high strikeout totals make him an excellent borderline option for baseball's top spot.

10. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    It's scary to think that a top-10 pitcher in baseball is only the third-best option on his team.

    Slotted behind Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels has pitched just as well as the latter.

    The 27-year-old is currently sitting on the DL, but with a 2.62 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in 2011, Hamels should have no problem picking up where he left off.

    Even with a mediocre season in '09, it was easy to predict that Hamels would eventually command one of the best arms in baseball.

    He's always been good in the postseason, is finally limiting hits and home runs, hasn't given up too many walks and is currently on pace for a career-high 16 victories.

    Healthy, Hamels is one of the best pitchers around.

9. Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox

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    Jon Lester continues to be underrated.

    He came into the year after posting back-to-back 200IP/200K seasons, making him one of the most efficient and consistent starters around.

    Also considering he pitches in the hardest division in baseball, those numbers and what he's done thus far into the season seems too good to be true.

    Currently on pace for a 3.13 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, Lester has shown no signs of slowing down at the ripe age of 27.

    What makes his season even more impressive is the fact that even though he's constantly pitching against teams like New York, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Los Angeles, Lester has only surrendered 128 hits in 154 innings of work.

    He's been one of the most tactical starters in the league on a weekly basis.

    Oh, I almost forgot.  He's currently 9-2 with a 2.84 ERA on the road this year.

8. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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    What's not to like about Jered Weaver?

    He's young, just signed a long-term deal with Los Angeles and has been one of the top Cy Young contenders for the entire season.

    With a 2.10 ERA and 14 wins, Weaver may end up receiving those honors of the AL's best arm and stabilize his place among the best pitchers in baseball.

    Actually, Weaver could be looked at as the American League version of Cole Hamels.  Always on the cusp of greatness, but just a tad inconsistent to be named one of baseball's best arms.

    With that said, 2011 has proven that Weaver is no joke.  He's currently on pace for career highs in innings, complete games, hits allowed and wins.

    To be honest with you, many people probably consider Weaver a top-five starter in baseball.

    Can you blame them?

7. C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees

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    There's a reason why C.C. Sabathia's All-Star snub this year may have been the biggest voting mistake in baseball history.

    Besides Justin Verlander, Sabathia has been the winningest pitcher in the AL this season, posting 17 wins and three complete games through nearly 200 innings of work.

    With a sub-3.00 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP, New York's innings eater has been ever so masterful in his third season with the Bronx Bombers.

    If everything goes as planned, Sabathia will eclipse 40 total wins over this season and last, making him one of the most proficient starters in the MLB.

    Sabathia's potential is through the roof and his ability to last long in games allows the Yankees' prolific offense to battle back and get him wins.

    There's no arguing his spot on this list.  If anything, he should be higher.

6. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Cliff Lee comes in at No. 6.

    He's simply rejuvenated himself over the past three and a half seasons after serving as a mediocre starter for the majority of his career.

    Now 32 years old, Lee has become one of the best big game pitchers in the league, currently on pace for 18 wins and six complete games.

    Even though the crafty veteran has been mixed and mingled amongst trade hungry MLB teams since 2009, he's still managed to post a 62-32 overall record since '08 (including this year).

    The only knock on Lee that would bump him out of the top five is that he tends to give up more hits than his fellow starters.

    Regardless, nothing can change his potential to throw a complete game gem every time he steps on the mound, instantly making him one of the best pitchers out there.

5. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Is it just me or do people tend to forget that Felix Hernandez is 25 years old?

    Well, he is.  And despite pitching for one of the worst offensive teams in the majors over the past five years, Hernandez has been one of the most talented hurlers around.

    From 2007-2010, "King Felix" has recorded 55 wins with a sub-4.00 ERA every year.

    He's recorded back-to-back 200IP/200K seasons and is currently on pace to do that again in 2011.

    At this point in his career, Hernandez is amongst the best starters in the MLB, regardless of horrible run support and a young demeanor.

    To say he doesn't deserve a spot on this list would be a discredit to a possible future Hall of Famer.

4. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    This was a hard one to swallow.

    Tim Lincecum has been so good since coming into the league in 2007, that putting him at No. 4 feels like an injustice.

    However, "Timmy Jim" has slightly fallen off the wagon this year and still doesn't have the dominant winning percentage that other top pitchers do.

    With that said, being ranked in the top five isn't all that bad.

    Lincecum helped the San Francisco Giants win a title, won back-to-back NL Cy Young awards ('08,'09) and is on pace to record four straight seasons with at least 230 strikeouts.

    The dominance is there.  The big game pitching is there. 

    The only problem for Lincecum's chances of being the best pitcher in the league are the next three names on this list.

3. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

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    I realize I may catch some heat for this, but I'm slating Roy Halladay at No. 3.

    Now before the season, I would've been the first person to defend Doc as the best pitcher in the league. 

    However, at this point in 2011, two other starters have done just enough to pass him by.

    With that said, Halladay could still regain his status as the best starter around.  It could come in this year's playoffs or even in 2012, but time is not a factor for the most stable starter in all of baseball.

    I could easily sit here and shoot off some impressive stats and accomplishments in Halladay's career, but if you're reading this article, I presume you have enough baseball knowledge to know who and what he's done in his 14 year career.

    By the way, Halladay is currently on pace for 19 wins this year, making this season the eighth time he's eclipsed the 15-win mark.

2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Well, here it is.  Clayton Kershaw at No. 2.

    This could be a little biased because Kershaw has helped me secure a first place title in my fantasy league, but his stats alone in 2011 suggest he deserves this honor.

    The 23-year-old is finally receiving the run support and bullpen success he deserves.  This year will trump any past season he's had as far as wins, but that's only because the Los Angeles Dodgers have struggled to score runs and secure Kershaw's quality outings over the last few seasons.

    With that said, currently on pace to go 20-6, Kershaw has finally found a spot amongst the MLB's best.

    He leads the league in strikeouts with 207, has only walked 48 batters and is right on the cusp of winning his first of many NL Cy Young awards.

    Kershaw has been great on the road, but his dominance is even more relevant at home, going 9-1 with a 1.88 ERA.

    Too bad the Dodgers aren't good enough to make the playoffs, because watching Kershaw pitch in October would be truly amazing.

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Could it be anybody else?

    I don't think so.

    Justin Verlander has been the most dominant pitcher in all of baseball in 2011, having already won 19 games.  He could easily get to 22 or 23 by the end of the year and is basically guaranteed to win his first AL Cy Young.

    If you were to forget about his 2008 campaign in which he went 11-17 with a 4.83 ERA, Verlander would have won 17 or more games in each of his first seven professional seasons.

    Now 28, the Detroit Tigers' ace already has over 100 career wins with over 1,200 innings and 1,100 strikeouts.

    He's thrown two no-hitters, has flirted with a few more in the recent past and has 20 career games with 10 or more strikeouts.

    For those reasons and many more, Verlander is in every way the best pitcher in baseball.