By Christian S. Kohl
With over a month of the baseball season already gone, the American League has witnessed a handful of its starting pitchers absolutely dominating on the mound. While consistent elite performers such as CC Sabathia and David Price have taken a bit of time to warm up to the major league season, several starters have excelled right out of the gate. The question is, which one of them is the best?
Coming off an absolutely stellar 2011 season, the consensus pick in the preseason was Tigers ace Justin Verlander. With an overpowering fastball which seems to increase in velocity as the game goes on, in addition to a devastating breaking ball, the Detroit workhorse has begun the season in fine style, pitching to a 2.38 ERA with 42 strikeouts. He has managed to work his way around a few rocky outings and is poised to post fantastic season-long totals yet again.
Another starter firing right out of the gate is Tampa Bay pitcher James Shields, who begins the season at a red-hot 5-0 clip. He adds a 3.05 ERA and 39 K’s as well, consistently battling through rocky beginnings to go deep into games and finding ways to win. Whether or not he can maintain this level of consistency remains to be seen, but so far his performance as the #2 starter in Tampa Bay has been nothing shy of elite.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the early going is Texas phenom Yu Darvish. While nobody can seem to agree exactly how many different pitches he actually throws, his impressive arsenal has stymied American League bats in the early going. Darvish sports a 4-1 record, a 2.54 ERA, and apparently can long-toss over 200 feet with his left hand. This 25 year-old gem from Japan is certainly not short on versatility, and provides Texas with a fantastic lockdown starter in the wake of losing Cliff Lee.
It’s hard to go wrong with Seattle’s prize starter Felix Hernandez. Even in shakier outings, King Felix allows his bullpen to rest by consistently going deep into ballgames. His 52.1 innings pitched leads the American league, as do his equally impressive 51 strikeouts. While the bullpen may lose leads for him, and an often stagnant Seattle offense may not provide him with ample run support, Felix Hernandez is as un-hittable as anyone in baseball when he has his best stuff.
So far, however, it is all but impossible to deny the nod to Jared Weaver as the American League’s finest starting pitcher. He returns in customary style this year at the top of the leaderboard in strikeouts, and also boasts an impressive no-hitter in the early going as well. But it’s not just Minnesota who have failed to hit Weaver so far; barely anyone in the American league can touch him. Weaver has allowed a paltry 8 runs across 44.2 innings pitched, to the tune of a 1.61 ERA. With nearly 5 runs per game in support from his offense, so far, when Jared Weaver takes the mound, the Angels win and win easy. If he continues at this pace, Weaver will absolutely be in contention for both Cy Young and MVP awards at season’s end.
Others such as Jake Peavy and Bartolo Colon have also begun the season at a very fast and productive clip. While Weaver has been arguably the most dominant through the first month of the season, the question remains, whose health and endurance will allow them to finish the season the strongest? Any way you slice it, it’s hard to go wrong with any of these elite starters anchoring your pitching rotation.
Christian S. Kohl is a writer and filmmaker based in New York City. Find out more about him at DailySpew.com.