Who is the American League's best starting pitcher?
Jim Cowsert / USA TODAY Sports

Right now, pitching is king in Major League Baseball. Scoring is down and strikeouts are way up. While the Tommy John epidemic grips young pitchers and injury fears are at an all time high, pitchers just keep getting better. Imagine what league-wide numbers would look like if Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez, and the rest were all on the mound!

In the American League, there is an incredible assortment of great pitchers putting up video game numbers so far in 2014. But who among them is the best? Which pitcher would you rank as the AL’s best, based on their numbers to this point and their potential to sustain through the rest of the season?

Honorable Mention

These guys are off to great starts to the season, but probably don’t belong in the conversation for best in the league.

Dallas Kuechel looks great in Houston, Anibal Sanchez missed time with injury but the 2013 AL ERA champ picked up where he left off, and Mark Buehrle is some sort of wizard. Corey Kluber looks every bit an ace and, like Sanchez, has a case for inclusion among the best in the league.

More established stars are posting great numbers but competition is stiff in this, the Year of The Pitcher (version 3.0). David Price seems to have run into some misfortune as he’s allowed more runs than his secondary numbers suggest he should. Jon Lester is making a great case for the Red Sox to throw a bus full of money at him.

5. Max Scherzer

The 2013 AL Cy Young winner notched his first career complete game shutout Thursday night, besting the White Sox by striking out eight while allowing just three walks and three hits. For the season Scherzer strikes out more than 10 batters per nine innings, right in line with his numbers last year.

His fastball velocity is down slightly but his changeup has become a much more effective weapon for the Tigers right-hander.

2014 so far: 3.05 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 2.3 fWAR (based on fielding independent numbers), 2.8 rWAR (based on runs allowed per nine innings).

4. Yu Darvish

What kind of world do we live in where Yu Darvish is only the fourth-best starter in the AL? Crazy to think the owner of the best strikeout rate in the league who has also cut his walk rate to a career low, and only allows a home run every other start should find himself this low on the list. Such is the state of pitching in today’s game.

2014 so far:  2.11 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 2.9 fWAR, 3.8 rWAR.

3. Chris Sale

As noted above, Max Scherzer picked up his first career complete game shutout Thursday night. The losing pitcher in this affair? Chris Sale, who gave up one entire run across seven innings, striking out 10 Tigers in the process.

Sale’s been nothing short of insane in 2014, posting consistently great outings. Since coming off the disabled list at the end of May, Sale’s allowed just 15 hits and seven runs total across five outings - four of which came on one incredible swing of the bat.

2014 so far:  1.97 ERA, 2.17 FIP, 2.1 fWAR, 2.6 rWAR.

2. Felix Hernandez

At some point, King Felix’s brilliance will stop being amazing. We aren’t there yet, thankfully. The Mariners ace is off to another incredible start, striking out batters at the highest rate of his career while walking a career low. He’s only allowed three home runs in nearly 100 innings pitched this season. Is that any good?

It is hard to believe that Felix is only 28 years old, as this is his tenth big league season. It’s shaping up to be his finest, quite a statement for a former Cy Young winner.

2014 so far:  2.39 ERA, 1.93 FIP, 3.7 fWAR, 2.3 rWAR

1. Masahiro Tanaka

How do you say “best case scenario” in Japanese? The performance of Masahiro Tanaka thus far has been nothing short of astounding. The 25-year-old Japanese ace is exceeding every possible expectation so far this season.

Masterful control, a devastating array of pitches and, more than anything else, a keen sense of “how to pitch.” He adds and subtracts on his fastball as the situation requires and always appears in control.

#TANAK has an advantage right now as he’s faced 12 different teams in 13 starts - facing only the Cubs twice, inexplicably. But a pitcher who’s so adept at...pitching…gets the benefit of the doubt from me. This is no bebe in the woods, as Tanaka is a seasoned pro proving the Yankees year-long pursuit entirely worthwhile.

2014 so far: 2.02 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 2.8 fWAR, 3.7 rWAR.



 

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Who is the American League's best starting pitcher?
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