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After 8 more shutout innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks and a career high 14 strikeouts, the pitching line of Tigers Ace Justin Verlander over the last six games is an otherworldly 6-0, 0.72 ERA, 51 K in 49.2 innings.  The question must be asked- is Verlander the best of the best?  Obviously Verlander is not the only one having a remarkable year.  So now I will examine seven other pitchers, creating an “Elite Eight” of starters having great years and determine as of this writing, who is the best pitcher in baseball.  Others for consideration- Boston’s Josh Beckett, Tampa Bay’s James Shields, Los Angeles’ Jered Weaver, Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens, and of course, the

 Philadelphia tandem of Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.  I will eliminate four of them to make a Final Four, which I will examine at another date.

Let’s first start by looking at the six pitchers’ stat lines (sorted alphabetically by last name with Verlander at the top), with the stats they lead the league in being bolded


Verlander

GS

W-L

ERA

IP

K

SO/BB

WHIP

WAR

FIP

17

10-3

2.38

128.2

124

4.59

0.839

3.6

2.83

Verlander leagues the major leagues in GS, W, IP, and WHIP.

Beckett

GS

W-L

ERA

IP

K

SO/BB

WHIP

WAR

FIP

14

6-2

1.86

92.0

79

2.63

0.924

2.5

2.97

Beckett’s ERA is tops in the major leagues among qualifiers.

Halladay

GS

W-L

ERA

IP

K

SO/BB

WHIP

WAR

FIP

17

10-3

2.40

127.1

123

7.69

1.029

4.5

2.15

Halladay pitches in the NL so the bold reflects the NL lead, though he does lead the major leagues in GS, W, SO/BB, WAR, and FIP.

Jurrjens

GS

W-L

ERA

IP

K

SO/BB

WHIP

WAR

FIP

14

10-3

2.07

95.2

55

2.50

1.139

1.8

3.23

Jurrjens pitches in the NL, so the Wins and ERA lead is the NL lead.  Though his W lead is the major league lead.


Kershaw

GS

W-L

ERA

IP

K

SO/BB

WHIP

WAR

FIP

17

8-3

2.93

116.2

128

4.00

1.029

3.4

2.49

Kershaw tops the majors in GS and K.


Lee

GS

W-L

ERA

IP

K

SO/BB

WHIP

WAR

FIP

16

8-5

2.87

113

114

4.56

1.115

3.3

2.57


Shields

GS

W-L

ERA

IP

K

SO/BB

WHIP

WAR

FIP

16

8-4

2.29

121.2

117

4.18

0.962

2.7

3.10


Weaver

GS

W-L

ERA

IP

K

SO/BB

WHIP

WAR

FIP

17

9-4

1.97

123.1

106

3.79

0.932

3.9

2.36

For Weaver, his GS leads the majors, and his WAR and FIP lead the AL.


Looking at these, here are the first four pitchers to be eliminated.


Though Jair Jurrjens is having a great year as far as the wins and ERA is concerned, his peripherals are a little concerning.  Among pitchers on this list, his 3.23 FIP is the lowest and his WAR is the lowest.  His low strikeouts could be overlooked if he walked fewer men, but 2.50 SO/BB just won’t cut it. 

Verlander, Beckett, Halladay, Jurrjens, Kershaw, Lee, Shields, Weaver


Another that can be immediately disqualified is the ace of the Red Sox.  Lately Josh Beckett has been scratched from his most recent starts, so his inning numbers are skewed due to that.  His SO/9 rate is 1.2 below his career average, showing that he has been pitching to contact much more this year.  After a bad year last year, that may or may not be his choice.  He has a ridiculously low BAbip, showing that his defense has been helping him tremendously, and that’s why his FIP is also high.

Verlander, Beckett, Halladay, Jurrjens, Kershaw, Lee, Shields, Weaver


The next candidate to leave is James Shields.  His last three starts have been tremendous, having a complete game in all of them, while only allowing one earned run.  He has six complete games this year, tops in the majors.  But if his last three starts are discounted, he has a not quite as impressive 2.85 ERA.  Every pitcher has dominant streaks, so I’m not using that to discount Shields, but I will use this: his career ERA is 4.04.  This is his sixth full year in the Show and has never posted an ERA under 3.56., even peaking at 5.18 last season.  Now this is Shields’ breakout year, no doubt about that, but can keep it up?  Among pitchers with a WAR of 2.0 or higher, only Matt Garza (another former Ray who enjoyed a breakout season) has a higher percentage of fly balls go for home runs than Shields’ 10.5%.  That stat is more acceptable with hard throwers like Verlander, because the batters use the pitchers’ power to turn the balls around and hit them to the seats.  But Shields has an average fastball of 91 MPH (thank you baseballanalytics.org), so that indicates that batters are hitting him, and hitting him well.  And quite honestly, the national perception is that he is not even the best pitcher on his team (David Price).

Verlander, Beckett, Halladay, Jurrjens, Kershaw, Lee, Shields, Weaver


Next to leave is an NL lefty, and it’s not who you think.  Though he is coming into his own as of late, Cliff Lee is having a down year.  He leads the major leagues with three shutouts, two of which coming in back to back outings.  The best pitcher in baseball needs to be dominant most of the year, and the best Lee can hope for is two-thirds of it.  Through May of this year (roughly a third of the season), Lee had a losing record, 4-5, and a 3.94 ERA.  His walk numbers are up, already walking more than he did all of last year.  That being said, he is the front runner for June player of the month, only allowing one earned run in 33 innings.  But other pitchers on this list haven’t had a bad stretch like that for that long, so unfortunate-Lee, Cliff is gone.

Verlander, Beckett, Halladay, Jurrjens, Kershaw, Lee, Shields, Weaver


*all stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com


Obviously this list is subjective, and this reflects my opinion as to the top four pitchers in baseball- Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, and Jered Weaver.  I welcome arguments in the comments section.  I will post who is the best pitcher in baseball thus far later this week, so stay tuned to TigersDenBlog.com