Baseball can be a funny game.
Sometimes a pitcher can be in peak form for many years, other times a breakout leads to another level for some pitchers.
We usually know what pitchers we will see at the top of the leaderboards at the beginning of each season, however often times we get a diamond in the rough that mixes in with the big boys.
Regardless of the career path to get to this point, I want to roll out my top five starting pitchers in the game today. These aren’t going to be the best pitchers by strictly numbers, but more like I want these guys with the ball in Game 7 of the World Series type ordeal.
You don’t have to agree, and feel free to comment if not, but nonetheless, here are my top five starting pitchers in baseball today.
1. Justin Verlander
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more competitive pitcher in baseball than the former Tiger and current Astro, although former teammate Max Scherzer may have something to say about that (more on him in a minute).
However, Verlander has seen peaks and valleys in his career. He was the AL Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP winner in the 2011 season when he went 24-5 to go along with a 2.40 ERA across 34 starts and a whopping 251 innings.
Interestingly, Verlander posted just an 8.96 K/9 that season, and you may be surprised to know that he owns just an 8.88 K/9 mark for his career.
Injuries derailed his success once the 2014 season came around and Verlander pitched a career-low 133.1 innings the following season. The numbers stayed strong, however, and Verlander become a valuable trade chip once again, and the Astos pounced on him mere minutes before the August 31st waiver trade deadline.
What they have gotten since has been pure brilliance.
After helping the Astros to a 2017 World Series Championship, Verlander posted a eye-popping 2.52 ERA and 2.78 FIP in 2018, but his strikeouts erupted to the tune of a 12.20 K/9.
While his peripherals suggest regression this time around, Verlander still sits with a stout 2.24 ERA and a big-time 11.07 K/9 across 11 starts in 2019.
Consider this: Verlander has allowed four runs in two of 11 starts this season, and three runs in another. In his other eight starts, he has allowed one earned run or less and has one seven-inning shutout effort in that span as well. He has been simply dominant in eight of 11 starts this season and is on a particularly strong roll right now with 22 innings of two-run ball to go along with 29 strikeouts across his last three starts.
Across seven postseasons, 24 postseason starts and 25 postseason appearances, Verlander has pitched to a 3.19 ERA and hurled a 0.56 ERA across two starts of the 2017 ALCS en route to ALCS MVP honors.
As far as I am concerned, Justin Verlander, with all the miles on that right arm, is the best pitcher in baseball today.
2. Max Scherzer (WSH)
Verlander’s former teammate in Detroit, Scherzer is a bull on the mound who isn’t to be messed with.
He’s an annual Cy Young-caliber pitcher, and while he’s been a little more hittable this season with a 3.41 ERA, Scherzer’s 2019 peripherals are as good as always.
Scherzer also owns a 2.32 FIP and 2.84 xFIP on the season while he continues to the rack up the strikeouts to the tune of a 12.11 K/9 clip.
Scherzer’s career didn’t exactly get started on the best note. He showed early promise with the Diamondbacks with a 3.05 ERA across the first 56 innings of his MLB career, but after being dealt to the Tigers prior to the 2010 season, Scherzer was sent to the minors to iron out some kinks.
He pitched to just a 4.43 ERA and 4.10 FIP the following season, but from that season on, he’s been among the best pitchers in all of baseball.
He owns a career 3.22 ERA, 3.16 FIP, and 3.29 xFIP. He’s posted a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the four years prior to this one, and if the ERA estimators begin to show through as the season moves along, he could very well get under that plateau again this season.
Scherzer has appeared the each of the last six All-Star games and has three career Cy Young awards to his credit, two with Washington in 2016 and 2017 before finishing second in 2018 after winning the AL Cy Young with the Tigers in 2013.
Scherzer doesn’t have as much postseason experience as Verlander, especially since coming to Washington as he’s made just three starts and four appearances in the postseason since coming to Washington prior to the 2016 season.
In sum, he owns a 3.73 ERA in 16 postseason appearances, but he’s yet to get his hands on a World Series trophy and might be the best player in baseball not to have won a World Series to this point in his career.
Nonetheless, Mad Max is too good when he’s on, and he’s my second-best pitcher on the planet right now.
3. Blake Snell (TB)
Snell came out of pretty much nowhere to win the 2018 AL Cy Young Award.
Sure, he was a top prospect with the Rays prior to making his MLB debut, but his 4.04 ERA, 4.19 FIP, and 4.56 xFIP to go along with a brutal 4.11 BB/9 clip from 2017 certainly didn’t help us predict a 2018 Cy Young victory for the talented left-hander.
Snell hasn’t regressed at all from that breakout season as he’s pitched to a 3.31 ERA this season, but also a stout 2.57 FIP and 2.36 xFIP while he’s punching out the opposition at a ridiculous 13.04 K/9 clip.
Snell clearly doesn’t have the career history and path that both Verlander and Scherzer enjoy, but he’s arguably the best pitcher in the game when his stuff is on, which has been the case of late.
He’s made nine starts this season, and he’s allowed seven earned runs in one of them and five earned runs in another, which happened to be on Opening Day. Aside from those two starts, Snell has allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven starts, and one run or fewer in five of his nine starts this season.
Over his last three, Snell has allowed three earned runs across 17.2 innings, walking three and striking out 30. Is that good?
If you combine the 2018 season with the first couple months of the 2019 season, you could make a very strong case for Snell as the best pitcher in baseball right now.
For now, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the two veterans in front of him, but Snell is well on his way to establishing himself as perhaps the best pitcher in this league.
4. Jacob deGrom (NYM)
deGrom is yet another former Cy Young winner on this list as he won the NL version of the award in 2018 when Snell won the AL side.
As expected, there’s been regression in 2019, but only to the point where he’s elite and not un-human as he was with his 1.70 ERA and 1.99 FIP in 2018.
In 2019, deGrom owns a 3.72 ERA and 3.32 FIP to go along with an 11.64 K/9 clip. The strikeouts are increased, but deGrom has certainly been much more hittable in 2019 than he has in recent years.
Still, let’s consider that deGrom owns a 2.73 ERA, 2.84 FIP, and 3.03 xFIP. His ERA estimators are spot on with his actual results, and while his career 10.12 K/9 clip is higher, he’s upted that ante to the tune of a 11.16 mark in 2018 and that 11.64 mark here in 2019.
His 30% hard contact against is a real good number, and we can see why he’s taken a step back this season with a 39.2% mark this year, almost 13% higher than his mark from last season.
The guy doesn’t allow walks (2.25 BB/9 career) or home runs (0.79 HR/9), which is a great way to keep runs off the board on top of the plethora of strikeouts that result in empty at-bats for the opposition.
He may be going through a tougher time in the first two months of 2019, but don’t kid yourself, deGrom is a top five pitcher on this planet to be sure.
5. Gerrit Cole (HOU)
Just like Tigers fans were getting with Verlander and Scherzer in the same rotation for five seasons, Astros fans are now being treated to a similar experience with Verlander and Cole both in peak form and among the best pitchers on the planet.
Cole’s Pirates tenure ended on a disappointing note considering his 4.26 ERA and 4.08 FIP and 8.60 K/9 rate in the 2017 season prior to being traded to Houston.
However, he posted an ERA of 3.88 or under in each of the first four seasons of his MLB career and even posted a 2.60 ERA and 2.66 FIP in the 2015 season.
However, a whole new level has been found in Houston.
In his first season as an Astro, Cole produced an eye-popping 2.88 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 3.04 FIP and 12.40 K/9 while taking the ball 32 times for 200.1 frames.
So far in 2019 he owns a 4.11 ERA and was touched up for six runs on Wednesday against the White Sox, but his 2.99 FIP and 2.33 along with his ridiculous 13.71 K/9 rate are just silly-good numbers.
For his career, Cole owns a 3.42 ERA but also a 3.14 FIP and 3.31 xFIP while his career 9.53 K/9 doesn’t do him justice given his work since coming over to Houston.
Cole wasn’t a part of the Astros 2017 World Series Championship club, and he’s only made five postseason starts and appearances to the tune of a 3.72 ERA, but given the makeup of the Astros right now, he should get plenty of chances to build on his postseason resume if he doesn’t leave in free agency at season’s end.
He’s nasty, he’s electric, and he is must-see TV every time he toes the rubber.
He rounds out of my top five pitchers on the planet today.