A year or so ago, I argued that Roy Halladay was still the best baseball pitcher. Yes, Justin Verlander pitched phenomenally well in 2011. But Halladay pitched phenomenally well, too, had a longer history of pitching phenomenally well, and showed virtually no signs of decline.
Things have changed.
Halladay's been relatively ineffective this season, and while a completely healthy Roy Halladay is likely to pitch brilliantly (or almost brilliantly) in 2013, it's pretty clear that the torch has been passed. Among the 75 pitchers with at least 300 innings over these last two seasons, Verlander ranks No. 1 in innings, strikeouts, and ERA+ (by a lot). Oh, and he's got the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in that span. He trails Dan Haren in that category, but nobody's going to argue that Dan Haren is better than Justin Verlander. What's that? You prefer the newfangled statistical yardsticks? According to Baseball-Reference.com, Verlander's 15 Wins Above Replacement over these last two seasons blows away the field.
If you asked a bunch of general managers which pitcher they would take, if they could have anyone, nearly all of them would take Verlander.
But what if they could take two? That's where it gets tricky, I think. Once you get past Verlander, there are a dozen pitchers with WAR between 8 and 12. That's our cutoff, I think; from there the dropoff is pretty obvious, with Hiroki Kuroda, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmerman and Ian Kennedy next on the list. Good pitchers all, of course, but I don't think anyone's taking one of those guys for No. 2 on the All-Planet Team.
Here are the dozen, names only and in descending WARrder: Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, Matt Harrison, Johnny Cueto, Gio González, R.A. Dickey, Félix Hernández, David Price. Oh, and I suppose we should throw Stephen Strasburg in there. And maybe Kris Medlen because ... Nah. It's just too early, no matter .
Rather than make arguments for any of those pitchers, let me make arguments against a few of them, just to whittle down the list some ...
Halladay, as we noted, hasn't been great this season. Dickey is a million years old. Kershaw's got a hip injury, and for all we know he's going to miss some time next spring. Harrison's, Cueto's, and González's strikeout-to-walk ratios aren't anything special. Felix Hernandez doesn't know how to win.
Kidding! King Felix stays.
Which is good, because we've cut our list in half, to this:
I'm leaning toward Weaver and Hernandez, but then I'm biased toward pitchers in the Big Boy League. Otherwise, though, I don't really have a pony in this race. Let's hash it out together! Please vote in the poll, then make your case in the comments. By the end of business today, we'll figure this thing out.