A Look At 2015 St. Louis Rams Rookies

Posted: August 21, 2015 by The Cheap Seat Fan in Gaming, NFL
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When the 2015 NFL Draft concluded earlier this year, the St. Louis Rams came away very satisfied. They felt like they addressed a bunch of needs, while getting some elite-level talent. Some experts might not be quite as high on the picks, but in a few weeks, everyone will get a chance to see how they perform. Here’s a closer look at what to expect out of their top rookies.

 

Todd Gurley

Obviously, this rookie running back is going to make or break this draft class. He has the chance to be one of the best in fantasy football money leagues, but as for right now he is trying to just be healthy enough to play in 2015. A rough knee injury ended his college career, but he looks at it as a new beginning. St. Louis won’t rely on him solely, but he should still be in the running for offensive rookie of the year in the NFL.

Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown

After taking a flashy running back in the first round, St. Louis addressed their OT concerns by grabbing these two. Havenstein will now be an anchor on the line for them, as Jeff Fisher hopes  to run the ball more often this upcoming season.

Brown very well could be better pro than college player. He was a tackle in college, but St. Louis could use him inside as a guard. He is big and athletic, and that is exactly what the Rams needed.

Bud Sasser

Third round pick Sean Mannion will probably not play much if at all at quarterback in 2015, and Andrew Donnal is just a solid OT to add to the line. However, those in fantasy football money leagues have a chance to learn more about Bud Sasser as the season moves along. He is a bigger receiver, and Fisher likes using guys like that. He had a lot of success at Missouri, and he could get some targets in 2015.

St. Louis is hoping that this draft class can get them back into playoff contention as early as this year. It will mostly come down to Gurley, but don’t sleep on all the line help they stockpiled.

5 First Round Draft Scenarios for The St. Louis Rams

Posted: April 30, 2015 by The Cheap Seat Fan in NFL
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Predicting an NFL Draft scenario is about as practiced of an impossible science as there is in sports. Hundreds of mock drafts pop up around the internet in the months leading into the draft, often fueled by hot takes of the moment, rumored rumblings or aligned by logic that is independent from the teams themselves. And while there is no doubt that such efforts are fantastic conversation fuel and helps to make the draft the spectacle that it is, it is utterly impossible to know what is really going to happen until the teams hop on the phones the day of and the Commissioner starts calling names.

In St. Louis, the Draft itself offers a much needed reprieve from over saturation of the business of the franchise’s future that hovers over the Rams like a crown of thrones. Regardless of what is uncertain over the horizon beyond 2015, what is definite is that the team will come into this weekend’s collegiate selection spectacular with a uniquely blend of both specific and ideal needs that can be addressed.

The first round specifically offers a precise intrigue about what Les Snead, Jeff Fisher and Kevin Demoff will settle on to better their fortunes, which on the field have more potential than arguably ever before during this regime’s time over the club. The NFC West is in transition and the Rams have affirmed themselves as an in-division contender, and what they do over the weekend will play a major part in whether that opportunity is seized or not.

But it all starts with getting the first round right, which is something the team has done with more regularity over the past few years than it has in over a decade. The selections of Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Tavon Austin, Alec Ogletree, Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald over the past four years in the first round have firmly rebuilt the core of the team’s talent pool and eliminated the rash of specific needs which overwhelmed the team’s offseason senses just a few years ago.

But what direction is the best path to take that 10th overall selection in? The defense has entrenched itself as one of the league’s most dynamic units, but still has some finishing touches it could stand to take on. The offense –while improving— still has much room for improvement, but is the right fit there to do that with?

Also, is staying at 10 the right fit at all? As shown in the past few years, Snead has no qualms about keeping it in neutral until the draft gets underway and then putting his spot in motion.

All of these options carry viable outcomes. Here are a few of the best possible ways to address each scenario.

 

Rodger Saffold stands to be the lone member of the 2015 offensive line who was a starter in week one of 2014.

Rodger Saffold stands to be the lone member of the 2015 offensive line who was a starter in week one of 2014.

Reaffirming the Offensive Line

It has been the most consistently reassessed, revisited and rebuilt portion of the team for over a decade now: the offensive line. The ever-present problem continues to loom large over the team yet again, as there are three starters gone from last year’s line (which was still in need of more help as is). In addition, Robinson will make the move from guard over to left tackle permanently, so acclimation time should be expected there as well.

Replacing both starting tackles from a year ago, as well as upgrading at center and right guard all at once is a daunting task. And while it would likely elicit groans from the portion of the fan base that wants a more jersey-sellable selection in the first round, it would make it a prime year for the team to make another foray into the Draft’s offensive line pool – if the right caliber of player was there.

That does not seem to clearly be the case, as most of the top tackles in the draft are seen as more of the career right tackle mold. Iowa’s Brandon Schreff could be the exception however, as he could be the type of impact tackle that has the versatility to play either side of the line, should things not work out with Robinson on the left side. Likewise, it is too early to take the top guard/center prospects at 10. This complicates things some, but opens up a possibility we will explore later.

Stepping Up the Secondary

In a similar type of situation as just discussed, it is not a year where a top 10 player is a defensive back. However, there are a few players that would not be total reaches at the spot either. The trio of Janoris Jenkins, E.J. Gaines and Trumaine Johnson was solid last year and is a young group capable of growing more in the coming years.

Regardless of this, it was the position where the team was most susceptible to being beat, surrendering a borderline worrisome 19th most yards in the NFL last year and an average of 241 per game. While there are no first round safeties on the board at all this year, opting to go with a bigger corner such as Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson or Michigan State’s Trae Waynes could be a smart decision. Also, Marcus Peters has been called the top talent at the position available, but has seen his stock dip some due to character concerns, similar to what Jenkins faced before landing in St. Louis. He could be worth the risk as well.

For many, Alabama's Amari Cooper represents an instant #1 caliber receiver. He caught 228 passes for over 3,400 yards and 30 touchdowns in college.

For many, Alabama’s Amari Cooper represents a potential instant #1 caliber receiver. He caught 228 passes for over 3,400 yards and 30 touchdowns in college in three years as a member of the Crimson Tide.

Getting a Big Play Threat at Receiver

It would not be a Rams draft if there was not a conversation about taking a wide receiver. And once again, it is not the worst idea in the world. The current group at the position is solid but not spectacular, and adding a potential breakout talent to the mix could upgrade the potential of the entire offering for new quarterback Nick Foles.

There are a plethora of players that fit the bill of potentially being the elusive #1 receiver that the team still could use. West Virginia’s Kevin White and Alabama’s Amari Cooper are the top players available, but there are no shortage of teams that could use them within the top 10 as well. But behind that duo, there are still some worthwhile prospects as well, including Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman and Louisville’s DeVonte Parker, both of whom fit the big, fast mold that the team needs a combo of.

Going receiver doesn’t upgrade their biggest need, but it certainly doesn’t hurt them either.

Go Into “BPA” Mode?

Then there’s the “easy” route (if there is such a thing in the draft) and going with the “best available player”. Take a look at the big board and take the top talent available period. The Rams are in position to do that as well if they choose, and it could yield some interesting results. It could net one of the previously mentioned receivers or cornerbacks, but it could also mean that another pass rusher could come into the fold, such as Mizzou’s Shane Ray, who could likely fall after his marijuana associated arrest last week. This could also mean one of the top running backs in the draft, Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, both of whom would bring an intriguing new element to a running back group that is still establishing itself.

And it could also mean that the team really mixes it up and takes Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, whose stock seems to be anywhere from #1 to #40 right now. Although it appears that there is movement to get him much earlier than the Rams pick right now, at some point this weekend, the team needs to add to its quarterback stash. And with a potential as intriguing as Mariota potentially being there, he may be too alluring to pass on.

Trading Back Altogether

But what if the water just is not right at all for what they are looking for at #10? Or what if another hungier club is looking to either move into the place to land a desirable target for themselves? It should shock nobody if the Rams move out of this spot altogether to assess the first round from a different vantage point.

With so many variable in play around matching their roster with what is available for the picking this year, this could be the best option for them. Having sacrificed some late round picks to acquire safety Marc Barron last fall, moving back and stockpiling early on could be the best benefit for them. Especially with the fact that so many of the right fits for them stand to still be available later in the first round as well.

 

By James Martin, guest post

 

For the past few years, Cheap.Seats.Please and the good folks over at Fanduel, the home of one-day fantasy leagues covering the entire sporting spectrum, have teamed up to bring analysis to get you ready to put your money where your mouth. With baseball season upon us, we are once again coming together to breakdown a particularly important portion of the game: starting pitching.

Wild Card Game - San Francisco Giants v Pittsburgh Pirates

 

Last week, I broke down my top 10 starting pitchers today, but now another take on the game’s top arms is ready to weight in on that debate as well, but from a fantasy baseball perspective. And as you will see, regardless of purpose for ranking, it remains a position where the riches are truly plentiful.

Having good starting pitching is one of the most important keys to success in baseball. That is why teams are willing to spend top dollar in free agency to sign great arms, and they will hold onto young and promising guys as tightly as possible. They might be a bit too unpredictable to be drafted really early on in fantasy baseball, but World Series champions know how much they mean. Here is a look at the 5 best pitchers in the game right now going into the 2015 MLB regular season.

 

Clayton Kershaw

When you win a Cy Young Award and a MVP trophy in the same season, it is supposed to be celebrated as one of the best seasons in baseball history. However, the ending of the 2014 season for Kershaw was a little bit bittersweet. He was hit around in the postseason, and that led to an early exit for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is healthy, in the middle of his prime and hungry to show that he is as dependable as they come. Do not be surprised if he is once again the best regular season pitcher in the game.

 

Felix Hernandez

He didn’t end up winning the Cy Young last year for the Seattle Mariners, but he was still the main reason why they were able to stay in the playoff race until the very end. With some extra support added to the roster in 2015, he will be looking for an even better year statistically. Not only has he been dominant since the beginning, but he has been pretty consistent as well. Pitching in spacious Safeco Field does help him out a little.

 

Madison Bumgarner

By fantasy baseball standards, many look at Bumgarner as a guy who will be extremely overrated going into the regular season. You see, he did not put up monster numbers last year, and he probably will not in the regular season in 2015 either. However, he is still a top 10 pitcher by fantasy baseball standards, and he is arguably the best big-game pitcher in the game right now. He is the ace of the pitching staff for the reigning World Series champions. That has to count for something.

 

Chris Sale

Casual baseball fans might be a bit surprised to see him ranked this highly, but the Chicago White Sox expect big things out of Sale in 2015. He probably would have been the Cy Young Award winner in the American League last year if it was not for some missed playing time. He is still very young, and the White Sox have better talent around him now. He racks up strikeouts with ease, and that always helps all the other numbers as well.

 

Max Scherzer

It can always be tough for a pitcher to change not only teams, but leagues as well. That is what Scherzer is going through this offseason as he joins the Washington Nationals. He will also have the weight of a huge contract on his shoulders that could take a toll on him in general. With all that being said, he is been consistent for a few years now, so it really should not be that much of an issue for him to stay strong.

 

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With today’s designated hitter breakdown, it brings to a close the second annual installment of my rankings of the Top 10 players at each position entering the spring. Coming to such conclusions is an imperfect science to say the least, based on both what is proven, predicated and set by precedence in some areas. But at the end, the goal is to get a snapshot of the players who have the biggest current impact at each position, pitted against each other. And that is a goal I do believe I achieved yet again.

Not to say that there were not a few close calls along the way, as well as players that I believe could easily turn in better 2015 returns than their ranking dictates. When putting 115 players into tiers, this is bound to happen.

One of the most hotly debated rankings was the placement of Pirates outfielder Starling Marte at #3 in left field, a spot that put him over such players as Matt Holliday, Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez. The ranking of Marte so high is admittedly a gamble; he is clearly talented player that has turned in some impressive extra base hit, stolen base and defensive performances over the past few years. However he also is coming in off the benefit of a scorching hot second half of 2015 and is still yet to turn in a full year of the type of excellent play that many others below him have on that list. There are even some that make argument that he should not be considered even among the top 10 players at the position currently, let alone upper third.

But he is a perfect example of what a portion of the goal of the ranking is: to get it right going ahead. If he performs at a 15% decreased clip of his second half average, he still pulls in at just south of a .300 average at .297 and when combined with his proven ability to run up steals, runs scored and triples, Marte is an elite level contributor at the spot. And by taking him so high on the list, I am betting his development continues and he does.

Going in the opposite direction, there is the fact that I left the American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber outside of the top 10 starting pitchers this year. This could be seen as a ridiculous notion and I understand that. How can the guy that was just recognized as the best pitcher in his league not be considered among the top 10 players at his spot, especially on a list that includes four other pitchers (included then ALer Max Scherzer) that he beat out for the honors?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians

It is a valid argument, however one that is being made at the wrong position to jockey for position. The upper class of starting pitching hierarchy is one that is reached by reaching (and staying at) the elite level of pitching in my mind. And while Kluber had a solid 2013 (11-5, 3.86 ERA, 147 innings), followed by his massive 2014, it still does not surpass the regular standard set by the 10th man on the list in Jordan Zimmermann, or even other runners up in Cole Hamels or Jon Lester, among others. If Kluber comes back and anchors another tremendous year for the Indians, a full expectation of him making a Johnny Cueto-like jump into the top 10 will be realized.

Sometimes making a big debut into the rankings is simply a matter of the being aligned at the right position at the right time as well. While Kluber could not make it into pitcher’s top 10, there were several notable players that did make either high initial impacts or substantial jumps up the list.

Jose Abreu of the White Sox is easily the most notable of the group, because he did it at such a difficult position to make a dent within. The AL Rookie of the Year debuted at #4 on the first base charts after his huge breakout year. Part of this was a function of his undeniable impact on the field, but another portion was due to the fact that first base is undergoing a bit of an overhaul as well. While Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt set a clear cap atop the position, it is open season some underneath that level with younger impacts such as Abreu and Anthony Rizzo fighting for position among a group of veterans such as Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion who all make comparable impacts.

Another such major debut belong to Anthony Rendon, who checked in at #5 among third basemen. Third base is it usual mixture of impact depth, but is also seeing some of its long-time stalwarts such as David Wright, Evan Longoria and Aramis Ramirez beginning to slide some. That shake up allowed for Rendon’s big 2014 to push him to strong debut among his positional contemporaries in the same fashion that Matt Carpenter did just a year ago, who checked in just a spot above Rendon this year.

All in all, there a plenty of debates that can be made among these type of ranks, because for the most part there are only a few positions where there is a clear cut top guy. Giancarlo Stanton, Robinson Cano, Troy Tulowitzki, Adrian Beltre and Clayton Kershaw have it on lock. There are some very interesting to watch wages for positional supremacy between Cabrera and Goldschmidt, Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, and Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Greg Holland.

Debates such as these are part of what makes the game the game, and the fun in how to determine it. Coming up soon at The Sports Fan Journal, I will begin to release my Top 100 players in the game today, which is built on slightly different set of parameters. Recent impact is offset by a look into the three year window of player more than just their immediate impact in the game. Developmental trends (both upward and downward) come into play more and award winners see a greater precedence set as well. There is no cap on players per position either, so more first basemen, starting pitchers and outfielders work their way into the scene as well.

There is a lot to sort out and a lot of work to put into the inexact science that its final result is, but for now here is a recap of the rankings by position. For the full article on each, click the header above each ranking column. (Top 3 at each position noted below)

Top 10 Catchers—January 28th (Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Jonathan Lucroy)

Top 10 First Basemen—January 29th (Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez)

Top 10 Second Basemen—January 30th (Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve, Ian Kinsler)

Top 10 Third Basemen—February 3rd (Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, Evan Longoria)

Top 10 Shortstops—February 4th (Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond, Jhonny Peralta)

Top 10 Left Fielders—February 5th (Alex Gordon, Michael Brantley, Starling Marte)

Top 10 Center Fielders—February 6th (Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones)

Top 10 Right Fielders—February 9th (Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, Bryce Harper)

Top 10 Starting Pitchers—February 10th (Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale)

Top 10 Relief Pitchers—February 11th (Craig Kimbrel, Greg Holland, Aroldis Chapman)

Top 5 Designated Hitters—February 12th (Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, Nelson Cruz)

For kicks, what would a lineup look like made out of the top ranked player at each position? Here’s my take at the ultimate All-Star Team:

  1. Mike Trout-CF
  2. Robinson Cano-2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera-1B
  4. Giancarlo Stanton-RF
  5. Troy Tulowitzki-SS
  6. Victor Martinez-DH
  7. Buster Posey-C
  8. Adrian Beltre-3B
  9. Alex Gordon-LF

 

Clayton Kershaw-Pitcher

Craig Kimbrel-Closer

 

Now that’s downright ugly right there.

 

 

To keep up with me on Twitter, follow at @CheapSeatFan. Stay current on the columns at The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball as well.

Designated hitter may be the clearest job description in all of the work force: hit the ball, every time. And hard. You have no other job or responsibility, just go up and rake every time. But at the same time, such a clear job comes with some fairly heavy expectations as well. And those that do it better than most usually find themselves among the very best hitters in the game.

V-Mart

That rings true with the best of the AL’s top specialty bats headed into this year. Among the best of the current group of DH’s includes a runner up for MVP honors, the league’s reigning top home run producer, the active (and returning) home run king and arguably the greatest player to ever frequent the position as well. The competition is thick, but the elite is still somewhat easy to pull apart.

With that said, here is the finale of the year’s Top 10 rankings headed into the spring, as well as the best in the game today to put a “particular set of skills” on display nightly.

 

1. Victor Martinez, Tigers: He narrowly avoided what could have been yet another serious knee injury this offseason, but is likely to be ready for Opening Day now. And considering the way that he stepped up last year, which is a godsend for the retooling Tigers. V-Mart finished second in the American League MVP vote after posting career bests in batting average (.335) home runs (32) and hits (188). Most remarkably however is that he was so efficient in his production that he joined none other than Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds as the only players ever aged 35 or later to hit .300 with 30 home runs, while striking out 45 times or less (42) – all in 641 plate appearances.

2-year average: .317 average/.876 OPS, 23 home runs/94 RBI/185 hits/78 runs scored/34 doubles

2. David Ortiz, Red Sox: The ageless Papi continued to be a top-tier run producer a year ago. He reached the 35 home run plateau for the first time in seven years –and eighth time overall – while also posting the sixth most RBI in the AL. With the retooled Red Sox lineup surrounding him this year, yet another high productivity year should be on deck for Ortiz as he creeps closer and closer to 500 home runs.

2-year average: .286 average/.916 OPS/32 home runs/104 RBI/148 hits/72 runs scored/32 doubles

3. Nelson Cruz, Mariners: He made the absolute most of his one-year redemption deal in Baltimore, making a huge impact by leading the Majors with 40 home runs. He also tacked on a career-best 108 RBI as well, and parlayed it all into being the Mariners’ major addition this offseason. He will return to an AL West where he averaged 27 long balls a year from 2009 thru 2013 for the Rangers.

2-year average: .269 average/.848 OPS/34 home runs/92 RBI/138 hits/68 runs scored/25 doubles

4. Adam LaRoche, White Sox: Steady as ever, LaRoche ran up over 80 home runs in his four year stint with the Nationals and in the process became one of the most dependable middle of the lineup options in the National League. Now as he takes his game to the American League, he should be fed a healthy diet of fastballs to allow him to transition nicely into his bat-only capacity on the South Side.

2-year average: .248 average/.776 OPS/23 home runs/77 RBI/124 hits/72 runs scored/19 doubles

5. Steve Pearce, Orioles: He was the biggest unsung contributor in the Oriole offense a year ago, whose emergence made it possible for the club’s offense to thrive in light of some of the serious injuries it had to endure. Pierce made the most of his first crack as a full-time option, connecting for 21 home runs and sporting a superb .373 on-base percentage as well.

2-year average: .284 average/.891 OPS/12 home runs/31 RBI/65 hits/32 runs scored/16 doubles

 

Runners Up: Alex Rodriguez, Billy Butler, Evan Gattis

 

To catch up on the entire Top 10 rankings series, stay locked here at CSP. To get the words in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The relief pitcher game is a varied and tough world. From overpowering closers, to strategically placed match up artists, to the jacks of all trades that get the tough outs whenever they come up, there are all sorts of impacts that are requested out of the modern day bullpen.

Craig-Kimbrel

With all of those elements considered, 2014 was a year where it seemed that the redefinition of a true impact arm out of the pen took a further step in a new direction. Gone are the days when a big save total and a flashy one-inning arm alone makes for the cream of the relief crop. Now the seventh and eighth innings are arguably just as important and are also manned by some of the most dominant relievers in the game as well. In order to make an elite bullpen today, it takes at the minimum of what could be considered two closer caliber arms. The old adage of an elite reliever making it an “eight inning game” is getting earlier and earlier.

And with that, here are the best in the world at bringing a game to screeching halt today—regardless of when the cease fire may be needed.

 

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves (#1 in 2014): He is the easy answer to a comprehensive question. No closer has been more efficiently dominant than Kimbrel has been since he debuted four years ago. In 2014 he kept to his usual ways, which included taking at least a share of the National League saves lead for the fourth straight year with 47, and posting a sub-2.00 ERA while holding batters to an average against beneath .200 (1.61 and .142, respectively) yet again.

2-year average: 1.40 ERA, 0.894 WHIP, 48 Saves, 57 Games Finished, 13.5 K’s per nine, .142 avg. against

2. Greg Holland, Royals (#5 in ’14): The final nail among KC’s deadly bullpen toolbox is Holland, who affirmed the fact that he is among the game’s most dominant mound presences a year ago. He nearly replicated his outstanding 2013 performance, finishing in the top 3 in the American League in saves and games finished, while limiting opponents to a .170 average against him.

2-year average: 1.32 ERA, 0.889 WHIP, 46 saves, 60 games finished, 13.4 K’s per nine, .170 avg. against

3. Aroldis Chapman, Reds (#2 in ’14): The game’s most overpowering presence issued over 400 pitches that were at least 100 miles per hour a year ago. He rode this regular abuse of power to a stunning 106 strikeouts in just 54 innings, a rate that would play out to 17.7 per nine innings. Over the course, he set a MLB-record for consecutive appearance with a K, at 49 and struck out 52% of his total batters faced.

2-year average: 2.29 ERA, 0.943 WHIP, 37 saves, 50 games finished, 16.7 K’s per nine, .121 avg. against

4. Wade Davis, Royals (Not Ranked): Dominance was not in short supply out of the Royals pen a year ago. Davis was the second stage of hell in the Royals pen, between Kelvin Herrera and Holland, and was arguably the toughest part of the equation. He allowed just eight earned runs over 72 innings in 2014, while striking out 109 and allowing only 64 base runners.

2-year (in relief) average: 0.98 ERA, 0.829 WHIP, 3 saves, 13 games finished, 9 K’s per nine, .151 avg. against

5. Dellin Betances, Yankees (Not Ranked): During his rookie year, he simmered behind closer David Robertson despite being the clear best arm in the Yankee pen, but now the slow burn is nearly done. Betances is still not the sole owner of the Yank’s ninth inning duties –the newly signed Andrew Miller is in the mix as well – but his 2014 effort (135 strikeouts in 90 innings, a 1.40 ERA) proved that he has the type of stuff that makes an easy translation into the role with Joe Girardi is ready.

2-year average: 1.89 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, 1 save, 6 games finished, 13.7 K’s per nine, .149 avg. against

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6. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (#6 in ’14): He got off to a slow start with the rest of the Dodgers’ pen, but he turned back into the standard shutdown machine he is beginning to regularly be in the second half. Jansen ran up 101 strikeouts against only 19 walks on the year, in route to a career-best 44 saves and solidifying himself as one of the preeminent power arms in the game.

2-year average: 2.28 ERA, 0.976 WHIP, 36 saves, 51 games finished, 13.4 K’s per nine, .224 avg. against

7. Sean Doolittle, Athletics (Not Ranked): It is tough to beat what you simply cannot reach base against, and regardless of whether he was a situational arm, setup man or closer –all roles he worked in last year— Doolittle was epically stingy. He held batters to a .169 average against him, while walking only eight batters over 62 innings and striking out 89. He followed a 30 game run without issuing a walk by seamlessly sliding into the closer role, converting 22-of-26 situations.

2-year average: 2.94 ERA, 0.851 WHIP, 12 saves, 26 games finished, 10.2 K’s per nine, .169 avg. against

8. Koji Uehara, Red Sox (#3 in ’14): He was bound to come back to Earth some after his once-in-a-lifetime 2013, but Uehara was still his usual very efficient self a year later. He used his pinpoint control and confounding change-up to convert 26 saves and keep a 10-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio (80-to-8). Uehara reaffirmed the fact that he is one of the most efficient final inning options in the game, albeit in a far more finesse way than any of his contemporaries.

2-year average: 1.75 ERA, 0.728 WHIP, 24 saves, 45 games finished, 11.7 K’s per nine, .216 avg. against

9. Mark Melancon, Pirates (Not Ranked): He was one of the NL’s best setup men before becoming one of its best closers, all in the same year. Melancon notched 14 holds before taking over for an injured Jason Grilli in the ninth, when he then ran up 33 saves as well. Armed with a hard turning slider, impressive control and an ability to take the ball as often as asked, he is one of the most versatile relievers in the game.

2-year average: 1.65 ERA, 0.915 WHIP, 24 saves, 36 games finished, 8.9 K’s per nine, .195 avg. against

10. Huston Street, Angels (Not Ranked): He put forth his usual uber-proficient effort between San Diego and Anaheim, posting a sub-2.00 ERA in over 25 innings in both leagues. His overall 1.37 ERA was a personal low and the second time in three years he posted an ERA figure sub 1.90, and he converted a career-high 41 saves overall in the process.

2-year average: 2.02 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, 37 saves, 52 games finished, 8.0 K’s per nine, .196 avg. against

 

Runners Up: Jonathan Papelbon, Jake McGee, Zack Britton, Drew Storen

 

Pulling apart the ten best starting pitchers in baseball is almost certain to create a stir at any point in history. But attempting to do so right now is an even more confounding process, because this is quickly becoming an epic era for arms. The offensive era of Major League Baseball has come to a screeching halt in recent years due to the quality of pitching that has confronted it.

Kershaw_22

Despite the fact that there is a clear cut top guy on the mound today, the distinction between number two and even number 10 can be subject to debate….and even much further than that. Take for example that this offseason, the race to acquire one of the three big name arms on the market between Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields was the talk of the winter— but only one of those legitimate frontline cornerstones could even make this list. Needless to say, it’s a tough crowd.

But as there is with everything else, the cream has to rise to the top. And in past years while I have made this list separately as a right-handed and left-handed countdown, I am upping the ante and throwing both together. So, here is the best crack I could take a taking at least 20 deserving pitchers and trimming them to ten.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (#1 LHP in 2014): Every year it becomes more and more difficult to imagine Kershaw taking his game to another level, but he did yet again last year. He added both the National League Most Valuable Player and a third Cy Young Award to his resume, as he finished with a 21-3 record, 239 strikeouts and a career-low 1.77 ERA. Overall he led his league in over 10 separate categories despite missing the first month of the season and became the first pitcher ever to lead the league in ERA four consecutive years.

2-year average: 18-6, 1.80 ERA, 236 strikeouts, 217 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts

2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (#1 RHP in ’14): The King is coming off the second best year of his career and one where he finished as runner up in the American League Cy Young balloting. He won 15 games for the M’s and led the AL with a 2.14 ERA and held batters to a .200 average against. His 248 strikeout were a new career-best as well. In addition, for the third time in his career Hernandez allowed the least hits per nine innings in the game.

2-year average: 14-8, 2.55 ERA, 232 strikeouts, 220 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

3. Chris Sale, White Sox (#4 LHP in ’14): Far and away the AL’s top lefty, Sale had yet another brilliant campaign in 2014. While injuries interrupted a portion of his season, the 25-year-old was oft-dominant every other time out. He lowered his era nearly a full run, to microscopic 2.17 figure over 174 innings, while leading the AL in strikeouts-per-nine innings at 10.8. He made his third straight All-Star appearance and climbed the Cy Young charts for a third straight year as well, a sign of things that could be come.

2-year average: 12-9, 2.67 ERA, 217 strikeouts, 194 innings pitched, 3 complete games, 0 shutouts

4. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (#3 RHP in ’14): The Redbird’s warhorse ace put up another magnificent season, despite battling through some tough arm troubles for most of the year. He reached 20 wins for the second time in his career, while posting a career-low 2.38 ERA. It was the fourth time in his past five years he won at least 19 games while making it to the mound for at least 220 innings.

2-year average: 20-9, 2.67 ERA, 199 strikeouts, 234 innings pitched, 5 complete games, 2 shutouts

5. Max Scherzer, Nationals (#4 RHP in ’14): The newest Nat’s free agent voyage was the most notable thing attached his name this year, but earned it with another dominant year on the mound. In his final season in Detroit, the 2013 AL Cy Young winner led the AL in wins for the second straight year and topped 250 strikeouts. Over the past two years, he has posted a remarkable 39-8 record, good for 83% win percentage.

2-year average: 20-4, 3.02 ERA, 246 strikeouts, 217 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

madison-bumgarner-40-of-the-san-francisco-giants

6. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (#5 LHP in ’14): No player in the game’s stock rose more than Bumgarner’s did last year, and it was well deserved. Even before his unbelievably awesome postseason (a 1.03 ERA over 52.2 innings and four wins), he had taken a step forward in asserting himself as one of the game’s best arms. He posted career-bests in wins (18), strikeouts (219), innings pitched (217.1) and complete games (4), amongst other categories.

2-year average: 16-10, 2.88 ERA, 209 strikeouts, 209 innings pitched, 2 complete games, 1 shutout

7. Johnny Cueto , Reds (Not Ranked): Cueto jumped from the ranks of underappreciated to unavoidably superb last year. He was more dominant, more often than any other pitcher not named Kershaw. Cueto pitched the most innings in the National League, but still held batters to the lowest average against in NL (.197). Along the way he also won 20 games for the first time, led his circuit in strikeouts and finished with the league’s lowest hits against per nine figure as well.

2-year average: 12-6, 2.82 ERA, 146 strikeouts, 152 innings pitched, 2 complete games, 1 shutout

8. Zack Greinke, Dodgers (#7 RHP in ’14): The ever-efficient, best #2 (by default) in the game had a quietly record-breaking output in 2014. Greinke ran up a streak of 22 straight starts of allow two or fewer earned runs, which dated back into 2013. All-in-all, he won 17 games, with top 10 figures in both ERA and strikeouts, while tacking a Gold Glove on as well.

2-year average: 16-6, 2.68 ERA, 178 strikeouts, 190 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

9. David Price, Tigers (#3 LHP in ’14): It was an odd year for Price between Tampa and Detroit, and one where he got off to a rugged start. But once he settled in, he was arguably as dominant as he has ever been. Price went on a strikeout spree in June where he ran up 54 strikeouts against only five walks in 39.2 innings. From there he led the Majors in missing bats with 271 strikeouts and innings pitched with 248.1.

2-year average: 12-10, 3.29 ERA, 211 strikeouts, 218 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 0 shutouts

10. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (Not Ranked): I will admit to being slow to the appreciation train for Zimmermann, but his results have become too regularly impactful to deny at this point. He has been in the top 10 in NL ERA for the past two years, and led the senior circuit in wins two years ago. The consummate control specialist has struck a balance between accuracy on the plate and power as well, has he struck out over 180 batters for the third straight year.

2-year average: 16-7, 2.96 ERA, 172 strikeouts, 206 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts

Runners Up: Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Corey Kluber

 

To catch up on the countdown, scroll back a few days. To keep up with it in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.