David Price turned in a masterful performance for the Detroit Tigers last night, tossing his first shutout of the season in just 93 pitches. The Tigers won 4-0, improving Price's record to 6-2 on the year. They are 11-2 in games that Price has started this season, a big reason why they are still within striking distance of the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central Division.
Price's stellar outing lowered his ERA to 2.44, and he is second in all of baseball with 92 1/3 innings pitched in 13 starts. He leads the majors with three complete games and has faced more batters than any other big league starter. If you ignore his snowy meltdown against the New York Yankees, he has given up 17 earned runs in 12 starts. Simply put, Price has been the ace that the Tigers have needed this season.
But has Price been the best pitcher in baseball?
A few months ago, this question would have seemed somewhat ludicrous. Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers was coming off consecutive seasons with sub-2.00 ERAs and had won three of the previous four National League Cy Young Awards. He added an MVP trophy to his mantle in 2014 with a 21-3 record and 1.77 ERA in 198 1/3 innings, and his 10.85 strikeouts per nine innings led all of baseball.
Two months into the season, Kershaw has struggled (by his lofty standards). American League Cy Young winner Corey Kluber has also allowed a higher ERA than usual, but has regained his dominant form in recent outings. Kluber leads all major league starters with 3.0 WAR in 91 2/3 innings pitched. Former Tiger Max Scherzer is not far behind at 2.9 WAR, ad his 2.26 FIP leads the National League. Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer leads the American League with a 2.07 FIP, while Sonny Gray paces the AL with a 1.74 ERA. Pittsburgh Pirates righthander Gerrit Cole leads the majors with a 1.73 ERA, and Houston's Dallas Keuchel has thrown more innings than all of them.
Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole have only made 12 starts this season. All other pitchers listed have made 13 starts.
As you can see, there is a lot of competition. Price has placed himself among the game's elite with a simple approach: throw strikes, work off the fastball, and don't give the bullpen a reason to stir. Price is coming off back-to-back complete games, and has pitched at least eight innings in five starts this season. His strikeout numbers are down from last season, but after fanning just four batters in two starts against the Royals -- the best team in baseball at avoiding strikeouts -- he has struck out 49 batters in 46 innings. Price also ranks among the league's best with a 5.3 percent walk rate, and has a solid 4.10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Price may not have the eye-popping strikeout and fielding-independent numbers of some of his peers, but there are few pitchers in baseball on his level right now. He has a 1.91 ERA and 1.04 WHIP since the beginning of May, and has been one of the most efficient pitchers in the game. No pitcher has led his team to more victories this season than Price, who is sure to turn his performance into a gaudy new contract at season's end. Whether he is currently the best pitcher in baseball is up for debate, but there are few others (if any) that the Tigers would rather have on the mound right now.