May 26, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) prepares to deliver a pitch against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Ranking the Top 10 starting pitchers in Major League Baseball


The 2014 season has continued the recent trend of the game being pitcher dominated, a trend that begun virtually immediately after the PED era. With several pitchers finding their own rhythm and degree of dominance in today’s MLB, there are 10 “elite” pitchers who have been consistently effective throughout the beginning portion of this season.

Criteria for Ranking: Pitchers will be assessed mostly on their statistics, namely ERA, WHIP, WAR, FIP, K/BB rate and number of strikeouts. Injured pitchers are also not eligible, which eliminates the likes of Jose Fernandez from qualifying on this list. Past performances will also be considered, but will not be the primary criteria for this list.

10. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

After storming into the MLB in 2012, Darvish solidified himself as one of the most dominating strikeout pitchers in the game, and he has continued that in 2014. Darvish has posted a 2.35 ERA thus far, with 71 strikeouts as opposed to just 19 walks. Darvish is also mustering a career best 2.40 FIP, which helps him to remain the lone bright spot in an otherwise lackluster Texas rotation. Darvish may not be Cy Young caliber just yet, but there aren’t many more whiff-inducing pitchers than Yu Darvish.

9. Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

The defending Cy Young Award winner has not quite matched his 2013 campaign, but his performance in 2014 is far from a Cy Young hangover. Putting up a 6-1 record thus far, Scherzer has managed a 2.59 ERA with 78 strikeouts in just 66 innings. His 10.6 K/9IP rate is the best in the American League, and Scherzer’s 1.136 WHIP is still marks above his career average of 1.223. Scherzer will probably not win the Cy Young Award this year, but he will most certainly be recognized as one of the more dominant pitchers in 2014.

8. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

While maintaining a reputation as one of the game’s best starting pitchers in recent years, Hernandez has still not shown signs of slowing down. On a rejuvenated Mariners team, Hernandez has managed a 6-1 record through 11 games started, including a stellar 1.062 WHIP, a career best 2.28 FIP, and 74 strikeouts in 75.1 IP. While he is not necessarily the best the AL has to offer this year, King Felix is still the King of Seattle, and if the Mariners become competitive this year, Hernandez will be a reason why.

7. Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays

The 35 year old starter appeared to be past his prime, but the former World Series champion has proven everyone wrong. In his 2nd season north of the border, Buehrle is tops in the majors with 8 wins, and has managed a stunning 2.16 ERA through 10 starts. With a 193 ERA+ that leads the AL and a 2.6 WAR, the Toronto ace has repeatedly been able to prove his value for the surprise contender this year in the AL East.

6. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

Another outstanding southpaw with a strong start, Chris Sale perhaps looks more dominant than ever, even coming back after the shoulder soreness that had him on the 15 day DL. While only starting 5 games, Sale is a perfect 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA, amassing a stellar .720 WHIP and 1.82 FIP. Shall Sale stay healthy for the rest of the year, the 25 year old southpaw may not only be an AL Cy Young contender, but may be considered the best pitcher in the game, providing strength for a weak White Sox rotation.

5. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees

7 years and $155 million for a contract, without ever having played a game in the MLB. Tanaka has proven through his early stages in the big leagues that he is well worth his money however. Tanaka has anchored the Yankees mediocre rotation with a 2.29 ERA and a 7-1 record, managing an AL best .976 WHIP for those that qualify. Tanaka has also proven his ability to strike out in large quantities, with 79 strikeouts in 70.2 IP. At the age of 25, Tanaka will be able to help the Yankees stay competitive for quite some time.

4. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers

Even with Clayton Kershaw still remaining the ace of the LA staff, Zack Greinke has put up quite the argument to have been the better pitcher this season. Greinke’s 7-1 record with a 2.01 ERA are further evidence that the 30 year old right hander does not give in too much, and has helped a Dodger team that has performed well below expectations thus far. With 65 strikeouts in just 58.1 IP, Greinke is also displaying his ability to get strikeouts, a skill reminiscent of his Cy Young Award winning days in Kansas City.

3. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

The long-time ace of the Cardinals’ staff continues to be what he always has been: a true ace. Wainwright leads the MLB with 81.0 IP and 2 Complete Game Shutouts, and has also posted a stellar 8-2 record. The Cardinals are certainly performing well below expectations as a whole, but Wainwright has been able to carry the Cards’ rotation to try and get back up to the top of the NL Central. Even if things don’t work out for St. Louis in 2014, it will not be to the  fault of Adam Wainwright.

2. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

After several fairly consistent seasons, Cueto has finally emerged as a prime starter in the MLB. His major league-leading .737 WHIP, NL leading 82 strikeouts, and solid 2.8 WAR are enough to put Cueto not only into a Cy Young conversation, but a premier pitcher in the game conversation. While the Reds have struggled, along with the rest of the NL Central, Cueto’s 1.86 ERA has been able to limit the opposition very consistently, and gives the Reds, who are due to get much better, a hope to get back into the playoff hunt.

1. Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs

It may be the first time in major league history that a pitcher with just one win (a win he just earned Monday afternoon) through his first 11 starts has been discussed to be the best pitcher in the game. Samardzija holds an MLB best 1.68 ERA, a stellar 1.07 WHIP, and he’s also posted 64 strikeouts. Even with the one win, what’s more important for the North Side ace is his value at the upcoming trade deadline, and how he may be the biggest deadline prize in years, shall he keep up his performance.

Thank you for reading and be sure to comment on who you think was snubbed!

Tags: MLB

  • Patrick Green

    Great job, Peter. A lot of these guys are interchangeable — including borderline candidates who did not make the list. Dallas Keuchel, Sonny Gray, James Shields, Corey Kluber, and Michael Wacha are also worthy candidates. I wouldn’t have put Samardzija number one, though. His HR/9 has been unsustainable (0.26) and Cueto’s been pretty dang impressive.

    • Peter Marzano

      Thank you for reading! And yes, a ton of borderline candidates: Keuchel having the highest WAR for a pitcher in the MLB is hard to ignore, Sonny Gray has matured into an ace, Corey Kluber is keeping Cleveland together, and Wacha along with Wainwright have made a great 1-2 punch. And that’s understandable. I think Samardzija has the greatest value to his team, which was a factor in me putting him at number one, and Cueto has been crazy good this year.

  • Michael

    Can’t imagine how Wainwright doesn’t top this list right now. Even if you allow that unsustainable HR or BABIP rates have Samardzija and Cueto in a dead heat with him thus far, you’ve got to give the nod to the established track record…