Earlier this week, my friends Brian Kenny of Television and Joe Sheehan of Internet got locked up in a friendly debate about THE BEST PITCHER IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE.
Sometimes I worry that Brian gets just a bit over-excited by strikeouts, but he's got a pretty good point: Matt Harvey's a tremendous pitcher. Joe's also got a pretty good point: Clayton Kershaw's been just as tremendous as Harvey this season and he's got a longer track record of being tremendous.
I'm going to assume that we're not interested in what happens in 2014 and beyond. As the debate's gone, I'm assuming the question is this: "If you could have one National League pitcher to start one game against a generic lineup, which pitcher would you want?"
And I'm saying you can't answer that question with any precision without considering Wainwright and Lee.
Here's the quartet, ranked by innings:
and ranked by strikeout-to-walk ratio:
1. Wainwright (9.5)
2. Harvey (5.5)
3. Lee (5.5)
4. Kershaw (3.8)
and home runs allowed:
1. Wainwright (4)
2. Harvey (5)
3. Kershaw (7)
4. Lee (8)
Except the fourth-place guys on each list, they're all around the top of the league rankings in those categories, too.
Ballparks-wise, Lee faces the toughest home assignments, while Kershaw and especially Harvey are helped by their home parks.
Back to the original question ... If we're talking about one game, then it's still incredibly difficult to separate these four pitchers. But if we're talking about the rest of this season? Harvey's the first to go, because he's not yet proved his durability. Cliff Lee, meanwhile, has topped 200 innings in each of the last five seasons. Kershaw's topped 200 innings in each of the last three seasons, and currently leads the National League. Wainwright missed 2011 but came back strong last season, and this season he leads the league with four complete games and two shutouts. He's also running amok with that strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Matt Harvey's sort of the super-advanced pitching version of Yasiel Puig. There's nobody more exciting, but at this point we're sorta guessing what he's going to be. When it comes to Kershaw and Lee and Wainwright, we don't have to guess. Which one is best, even though we're halfway through the season, almost depends on which one pitched yesterday. At this moment that's Kershaw, who threw a shutout in Coors Field Tuesday night. But Harvey pitches tonight, and Wainwright tomorrow night. So stay tuned.
What do you think? Am I -- or Brian Kenny or Joe Sheehan -- missing something important? Oh, and before I forget, OF COURSE HARVEY SHOULD START THE ALL-STAR GAME IN NEW YORK. Hell, I'll bet even goofy Jon Papelbon can get behind that one.