2017 MLB Player Rankings for SP: Clayton Kershaw still the best pitcher in baseball

Spring training is here! Pitchers and catchers have reported to camp, and in less than two weeks, Grapefruit League and Cactus League games will begin. We’re almost home. 

So, with the offseason having come to an end, it’s time to look ahead to the 2017 upcoming season. And to do that, we’ve been breaking down the top 10 players at each position for the last several days. Some things to keep in mind:

  1. The players are ranked according to who we’d want for 2017 only. Contracts and salaries don’t matter. Simply put, if you are trying to win the World Series this year, whom do you want at the position?
  2. These rankings are the result of voting by your four CBSSports.com baseball writers: R.J. Anderson, Mike Axisa, Dayn Perry, and Matt Snyder. We ranked the players individually and averaged them all together.
  3. These are not fantasy baseball rankings. You can find those here. It’s not just about offense. All-around play matters, especially at an up-the-middle position.

Now let’s get cracking on our starting pitcher rankings headed into the 2017 season. There are more high-quality power starters in baseball right now than there has been at any other point in history. Velocity (and strikeouts) are at an all-time high. Here are our top 10 starters in baseball going in to the new year.

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Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher in baseball. USATSI

2017 MLB Player Rankings: Starting Pitchers
1
Clayton Kershaw L.A. Dodgers Dodgers SP

Although a back issue sidelined him for more than two months last season, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw remains the game’s best starting pitcher. He’s the best pitcher of his generation and is already an all-time great. Kershaw has built a Hall of Fame foundation and now just needs the longevity.

Last season Kershaw fell 13 innings short of qualifying for the ERA title. He still posted new career bests in ERA (1.69), WHIP (0.73), walk rate (0.7 BB/9), and K/BB ratio (15.64). Kershaw struck out 172 and walked 11. 11! And one of the 11 was intentional too. Since the start of the 2011 season, Kershaw has thrown 1,277 innings with a 2.06 ERA. The next lowest ERA by a pitcher with at least 500 innings during that time is 2.73 by Johnny Cueto . Yeah.

And for all the hate Kershaw gets for his postseason failures, the Dodgers won five postseason games last year, and Kershaw pitched in four of them. He is hardly the biggest reason they are the first team in history to go to the postseason four straight years and not make the World Series.

The question isn’t whether Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball at the moment. The question is whether he will go down as one of the 10 best pitchers of all-time.

2
Max Scherzer Washington Nationals SP
I can’t remember the last time a pitcher flirted with a no-hitter as often as Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer . Maybe peak Randy Johnson? It seems like Scherzer takes a no-hitter into the sixth inning every other start. This past season Scherzer won his second Cy Young award -- he is one of six pitchers to win the award in both leagues -- and led the league in innings (228 1/3) and strikeouts (284). His 0.97 WHIP was lowest among starters to qualify for the ERA title.
3
Chris Sale Boston Red Sox SP
I was starting to think Chris Sale would be this generation’s Mike Mussina. The indisputably great pitcher with a career of almosts. Almost winning a Cy Young. Almost winning a World Series. Almost throwing a perfect game. That sort of thing. The trade to the Boston Red Sox ensures two things. One, Sale will no longer be overlooked in any discussion about the game’s best pitchers. And two, he will get a ton more run support and defensive help. (The Chicago White Sox were one of the worst defensive teams in baseball during Sale’s five seasons as starter.) And, for the record, I’m certain Sale would have made our top three even without the trade to Boston. This isn’t a case of a good pitcher getting pumped up by joining the Red Sox.
4
Noah Syndergaard N.Y. Mets Mets SP
When he reported to spring training earlier this week, New York Mets ace Noah Syndergaard said he gained some weight this offseason in an effort to throw even harder. That should terrify hitters, because last season Syndergaard averaged 97.9 mph with his fastball. It was the fastest single-season average fastball velocity by a qualified starter since the PitchFX system was installed in 2008. Syndergaard is, truly, a freak of nature. Starting pitchers are not supposed to throw this hard, this often. Oh, and by the way, his secondary stuff (slider, curveball, changeup) are all really good too.
5
Corey Kluber Cleveland Indians SP
How will Cleveland Indians righty Corey Kluber rebound after throwing a career-high 249 1/3 innings last season, including the postseason? Remember, he made three of his final four postseason starts on short rest too. Obviously we hear at CBS Sports expect Kluber will rebound just fine. That’s why he’s in our top five. Kluber has gone from unheralded fourth round pick to unquestioned ace, and he is one of the game’s premier strikeout artists.
6
Madison Bumgarner San Francisco Giants SP
San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner has firmly established himself as one of the best postseason pitchers in baseball history. There’s no question about that. He’s also been pretty excellent in the regular season too, you know. Bumgarner just wrapped up his fourth straight season of 200-plus innings with a sub-3.00 ERA. He’s thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last six years. The only other pitcher who can make that claim is Texas Rangers lefty Cole Hamels .
7
Johnny Cueto San Francisco Giants SP
Any lingering concerns about Johnny Cueto’s elbow from the second half of 2015 were erased emphatically in 2016. Cueto, now with the Giants, threw 219 2/3 innings with a 2.79 ERA (147 ERA+) last year. He was also brilliant in his lone postseason start despite taking the loss. As I mentioned earlier, only Kershaw has a lower ERA than Cueto over the last six seasons. Cueto and Bumgarner are baseball’s best 1-2 punch at the moment.
8
Justin Verlander Detroit Tigers SP
Three years ago it seemed Detroit Tigers righty Justin Verlander was entering his decline phase. All those years of huge workloads and 100 mph fastballs were starting to take their toll. Then, late in 2015, Verlander figured some things out, and they carried over in to 2016. He finished second in the Cy Young voting -- Verlander actually received more first place votes than Red Sox righty Rick Porcello , who won the award -- and is back to being a top of the rotation force. Like Kershaw, Verlander is going to go down as an all-time great.
9
Jon Lester Chi. Cubs Cubs SP
Chicago Cubs southpaw Jon Lester just wrapped up his ninth straight season of 190-plus innings, and in eight of those nine seasons his ERA was at least 10 percent better than the league average. Last year he set new career bests in ERA (2.44), ERA+ (164), and WHIP (1.02). Even at age 33 and with all those innings on his arm, Lester is showing no sign of slowing down.
10
Jake Arrieta Chi. Cubs Cubs SP
No, Jake Arrieta was not quite as good last season as he was in 2015, when he put together arguably the greatest second half in baseball history. But still, the Cubs right-hander remains among the game’s most dominant hurlers when he’s on. Like Scherzer, Arrieta seems to take a no-hitter in to the sixth inning every other time out. He’ll be a free agent after 2017 and should cash in big time.

Also receiving votes: Carlos Martinez , St. Louis Cardinals ; Jose Quintana , White Sox; David Price , Red Sox

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