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Mike Schopp's Blog



SCHOPP: Pitch fever

Justin Verlander
It's cold. Ever hit a ball when it was 40 degrees out? It's early in the season, where fourth and fifth starters' spots in the rotation are often skipped. The Cleveland Indians, whose pitching isn't quite elite, sometimes get their games blacked out.

There are lots of plausible explanations for why it feels like pitching is dominating hitting these days. With baseball, you don't have to guess. Almost everything now in the game measurable, which in theory I like but it can dump cold water on a formerly fun debate.

In this era of great pitchers -- Baseball is batting .238 with a .687 OPS so far in 2012, and it was .255/.719 in 2011 -- it can still be fun to toss this question around though: Who is the best pitcher in the game?

With a question like that the first order of business is to determine how you're going to answer it. Do you want the active pitcher that's had the best career? The one you'd pick to pitch if your life were on the line? The one you'd start an expansion team with? The one you'd think would be toughest to hit?

Depending on the method, there are possibly several right answers. Here are a few of them:

Justin Verlander, Detroit. The reigning AL MVP has been blowing away hitters for six years, and he may right now be peaking. He's 61-24 since 2009 with killer strikeout totals. Verlander was susceptible to the in-game slump, rendering his statistics misaligned with his talent, until last year when he simply dominated the league. Verlander is as hot as there is, but his postseason numbers aren't good and he's eight starts.

Best pitcher in the game? Maybe, but he's not my guy if my life is at stake.

Who is?

Roy Halladay, Philadelphia. Of the newfangled stats, perhaps WAR (wins above replacement) has received the most respect from the old-school thinkers. How much better is a player than the league average? Well among pitchers, Halladay is the active leader and has ranked in the top TWO in his league eight of the last 10 seasons.

He has a postseason no-hitter to his credit. He never gets hurt. You know what you're getting with Halladay: Innings, outs, and a lot of strikes.

Halladay though is 34. He might be the best in the game today, but with more than 2,500 innings under him you're not starting your new team with him.

Who would that guy be? 

Clayton Kershaw, LA Dodgers. The 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner at only 24 years old has already posted three 30-start seasons in which his ERA finished under 3.00. If you need it, he also won a Gold Glove last year. Kershaw might be the best left-hander in the game and he's still just getting started. I lucked into seeing him in June 2010 in Dodger Stadium against the Braves, and all Jason Heyward did that night was go 0-for-5 with five strikeouts.

He's young enough to get the call for your mythical expansion team. Would he? You could go with...

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay. Moore started 2011 in Double-A and ended it making the two-time AL champion Texas Rangers look stupid. 10 innings, three hits, one run. Unlike Kershaw, a high first-round pick, Moore went only in the eighth round of the 2007 draft. He can't yet be called the best pitcher in the game, but his stuff in the snow the other day in Detroit was the inspiration for this article. If you could pick anyone in the game to start your expansion team with, I say this guy is a respectable choice.

There are many more pitchers that come close to this list. Jered Weaver in two years has had a sub-2.00 ERA at home. CC Sabathia has won 59 games in three seasons. Stephen Strasburg has it all but also has Tommy John surgery in his past. Felix Hernandez is 26 with a Cy Young to his credit. Jon Lester can be great when he isn't moping. Ex-Bison Cliff Lee and his pinpoint control are a study in perseverance. Tim Lincecum has had a rough start as his velocity is down, but since 2008 who has been better? What about Chris Carpenter? Or Johan Santana when he's healthy?

I love pitching and to me this is a golden age.



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