Posts Tagged ‘Chris Sale’

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There is an exciting trend going on in Major League Baseball right now. As the previous Top 10’s thus far have clearly shown, there is an incredible rush of precocious talents at every position around the game right now. However, much of its full potential is often stifled by a matching level of phenomenal pitching as well. There is a golden age of pitching coming together currently, and attempting to pull out who is the best of the lot assures that more than one legitimate, front of the rotation, All-Star level talent will be missed.

When coming together with this countdown, the credentials of the collected group are as eye popping as their signature pitches are. There have been a total of nine Cy Young Awards issued to this group; nearly one per person. There is a league Most Valuable Player, a World Series/League Championship Series MVP and four players alone that will take home nearly $1 million per game this year.

The collected accolades of this group could go on and on, but just be certain: there are three currently active former Cy Young winners that could not even approach the honorable mention of this list, such is how intense the competition for being a true ‘ace’ is in the game today.

So let’s see how it plays out, the Top 10 starting pitchers in baseball today.

To review last year’s list, click here.

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10. Matt Harvey, Mets (Not Ranked in 2015)

2015: 13-8, 2.71 ERA, 188 K’s, 189.1 innings, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts, 1.01 WHIP

Last 2 Seasons*: 11-6, 2.50 ERA, 190 K’s, 184 innings, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts, 0.97 WHIP

The Dark Knight has officially returned. Throughout all of the headlines regarding his work rate, one thing Harvey proved beyond a shadow of doubt last year is that he is still among the elite power arms in the game. After missing the end of 2013 and all of 2014, Harvey reestablished himself atop the Mets’ rotation and it is of no lack of coincidence the Metropolitans conquered the National League as a result.

He wasted no time in returning to his previous form, despite having his innings on overview during the majority of the year. Harvey locked in during the month of August and pitched as well as he ever had, allowing one run over four starts, while running up 24 strikeouts while allowing only two walks. In the postseason, he flew past the 200 innings mark, still averaging a strikeout per playoff inning and going 2-0 overall, including a heroic eight inning effort that the bullpen ultimately lost after his exit in the decisive game of the World Series.

9. Dallas Keuchel, Astros (NR in ’15)

2015: 20-8, 2.48 ERA, 216 K’s, 232 innings, 3 complete games, 2 shutouts, 1.01 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 13-9, 3.33 ERA, 162 K’s, 195 innings, 3 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.20 WHIP

No player in baseball carried his 2014 breakout momentum further in 2015 than Keuchel did. Keuchel confirmed his place as one of the top pitchers in all of baseball, as he guided the Astros back to the postseason and snagged the American League Cy Young award along the way. Keuchel led the AL in wins, innings pitched, shutouts and WHIP, while also finishing within the top five in strikeouts, ERA, complete games and winning percentage as well.

He is a precise pitcher in the classic left-handed way, beating opponents with a sharp mixture of movement on both a slider and sinker, while changing speeds expertly. Over the past two seasons, has won over 50% of his starts and gone the distance eight times. He affirmed his status as a frontline performer by pitching Houston into the postseason by going into Yankee Stadium and holding the home club to three hits over six innings, while running up seven strikeouts in the AL Wild Card game.

8. Chris Sale, White Sox (#3 in ’15)

2015: 13-11, 3.41 ERA, 274 K’s, 208.2 innings, 1 complete game, 0 shutouts, 1.08 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 12-10, 2.92 ERA, 236 K’s, 199 innings, 2 complete games, 0 shutouts, 1.04 WHIP

It can be argued that there is no more deceptively dominant of a pitcher in the game today. Sale continued to reaffirm his place as the top victim of circumstance (also known as the best pitcher on a bad team) in the game today. He is coming off a season where he bested his former career high in strikeouts by nearly 50, despite only making one more start than in the season where he set his previous high.

Sale’s ERA did rise by over a run and a half last season, partially due to being supported by the AL’s worst team defense, which allowed for an absurdly high .324 average against him on balls in play. The improvements that the White Sox made defensively around their infield should greatly assist in raising the results of Sale on the mound. Especially since he is a virtual lock to remain one of the most oft-unhittable pitchers in the game today.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 28: Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants pitches in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

 

7. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (#6 in ’15)

2015: 18-9, 2.93 ERA, 234 K’s, 218 innings, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts, 1.00 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 16-9, 2.90 ERA, 217 K’s, 3 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.04 WHIP

On the heels of his super heroic 2014 postseason, expectations were fairly high for Bumgarner has he embarked on the follow up season. And while his remaining at that level was an impossible expectation to believe in, he did continue to ascend up the standings of MLB arms. He matched his 18-win level from the previous year while setting a new personal high in strikeouts for the fourth consecutive year. It was also the fourth straight season his winning percentage increase.

Bumgarner has found a production neighborhood he lives in and has essentially taken out a mortgage there. There is simply not a pitching leaderboard that he will not be a factor on. He’s a lock for 200 innings, 200 strikeouts, his FIP figure is always in the range of 3.00 or lower and he’ll go the distance nearly a handful of times as well. Add in the fact that he’s also going to hit in the range of .250 at the plate, pop five home runs and drive in around 10 runs, and he is the consummate all-around performer on the mound.

6. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (#2 in ’15)

2015: 18-9, 3.53 ERA, 191 K’s, 201.2 innings, 2 complete games, 2 shutouts, 1.18 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 15-8, 2.86 ERA, 218 K’s, 214 innings, 1 complete game, 1 shutout, 1.06 WHIP

Perhaps keeping the King this high is an overinvestment in the past. However, just as a strong season does not create complete stature, neither does one bad half. Hernandez had a morbidly bad second half by his own standards, where he had a drop in velocity, an increase in home runs surrendered and a drop in effectiveness. However this was preceded by a first half where he was his usual self, working to a 2.84 ERA, 11 wins and holding batters to a .214 average.

His second half was exacerbated by a horrible August, where he allowed a. 328 average, a 6.60 ERA and pitched a season low 30 innings. But in rehabbing the entire picture, he went 3-1 in September, dropped his ERA by 3.76 runs and won three out of his five starts, carrying his season wins total to 18. So while his numbers climbed, by keeping it in context, it is not a full fall off by the King, just more or less his crown slipping briefly.

 

5. Jake Arrieta, Cubs (NR in ’15)

2015: 22-6, 1.77 ERA, 236 K’s, 229 innings, 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, 0.86 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 12-5, 2.52 ERA, 154 K’s, 2 complete games, 1 shutout, 0.98 WHIP

Arrieta had a Koufax-level breakout season last year, pitching arguably one of the most dominant campaigns in baseball history. And it really shouldn’t come as a surprise because once you see Arrieta’s mixture of explosive release, power fastball and seasickening slider, it is not hard to understand why he so quickly injected himself not only into last summer’s Cy Young picture (a race which he won handily), but also has thrown himself firmly into the handful of best pitchers in baseball.

During his epic 2015, he led the National League in wins, compete games and shutouts, one of which came in the form of a no-hitter versus the LA Dodgers on Sunday Night Baseball. This performance came amid his extraordinarily dominant second half, where he allowed four runs over the course of two months, while going 10-1 with a 0.75 ERA from August through October. The only question about Arrieta is if he can do it again (the spring thus far has indicated that to be resounding ‘yes’), if so he will continue to launch himself up this ranking towards the elite in all of the game, regardless of position.

4. David Price, Red Sox (#9 in ’15)

2015: 18-5, 2.45 ERA, 225 K’s, 220.1 innings, 3 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.07 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 14-8, 3.01 ERA, 216 K’s, 218 innings, 3 complete games, 0 shutouts, 1.08 WHIP

With the exception of Jake Arrieta, no pitcher in the game had a bigger impact on the pennant race last season than Price did. After being dealt from the Detroit Tigers to Toronto at the trade deadline, Price propelled the Jays up the standings. His August-September performance saw him win nine of his 11 Blue Jay starts, while only being credited with one loss. This win total matched his four month total in Detroit and saw him reach at least 18 victories for the third time in his career.

The cumulative effort of his year saw him be the runner-up for the AL Cy Young. He was also an All-Star for the fifth time and finished second in Fielding Independent Pitching a 2.78 (a figure that measures the impact that pitcher alone has at preventing baserunners). On the tail end of this performance, Price became the most sought after free agent available this winter and properly cashed in on the position—inking a $217 million pact in Boston, making him the highest paid pitcher in baseball history.

 

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3. Max Scherzer, Nationals (#5 in ’15)

2015: 14-12, 2.79 ERA, 276 K’s, 228.2 innings, 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, 0.91 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 18-7, 2.94 ERA, 256 K’s, 221 innings, 2 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.02 WHIP

There are days when there simply is not a more dominant pitcher alive than Max Scherzer. And when those days happen, it is an event of historical proportions. His 2015 was an eye-popping blend of regular authority, one where 11 times he reached double-digits in strikeouts, threw a perfect game in June, then followed it with just a plain old no-hitter in his season finale in October.

Despite the pothole his season hit late in 2015 (a 0-3, 6.43 ERA August), Scherzer has continued to raise the level of his overwhelming outcomes annually. His season-by-season strikeout totals have risen from 231 to 240 to 252 to 276 annually since 2012. Only once in the last five years has he won less than 15 games in a season as well. No wonder he has won 69 games across two different leagues over the past three years.

2. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks (#8 in ’15)

2015: 19-3, 1.66 ERA, 200 K’s, 222.2 innings, 1 complete game, 0 shutouts, 0.844 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 17-5, 2.30 ERA, 185 K’s, 201 innings, 1 complete game, 0 shutouts, 1.02 WHIP

Greinke has one of the most efficiently, dominant seasons in recent history last year. He posted the lowest full season ERA in 20 years, when Greg Maddux turned in a 1.56 in 1994. Greinke essentially pulled the power plug on all competition, as the highest full month ERA he posted was a 2.04 number in August. Along the way, he had two months where he allowed less than five earned runs and posted a 13-1 record from July 4th through October 3rd. In the same time frame, he pitched at least 7 innings in all but three starts, getting the decision in all but two.

It has just been in recent years where Greinke’s startling regular high level output has truly been understood for how eye popping it is. He has reached double-digits in wins since 2008. Only twice along that time has he failed to pitch 200 innings or make 30 starts. He has now lead each league in ERA once, with a 2.16 ERA in 2009 and last year’s 1.66. He is both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger recipient as well. The $206 million that the Diamondbacks gave him in December was a very sound investment.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (#1 in ’15)

2015: 16-7, 2.13 ERA, 301 K’s, 232.2 innings, 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, 0.88 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 18-6, 1.92 ERA, 257 K’s, 232.2 innings, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts, 0.88 WHIP

2015 was the worst season that Kershaw has produced in his past three.

And now that we have that out of the way, it was also a year where he finished third in the NL Cy Young race (his lowest finish since 2010), struck out 301 batters (the most in Majors since Randy Johnson in 2002) and also finished in the top three in innings pitched, ERA, WHIP, win percentage and complete games. However, by his otherworldly standards, this was a downturn in his overall production.

Thus is the life when you are the best pitcher of your generation: a season that would qualify as a career year for most looks like a slight bump along your unflinchingly dominant way. Entering his age 28 season, Kershaw carries three Cy Young Awards, the 2014 NL MVP, 114 wins, five career All-Star selections, a no-hitter and an all-time MLB record for most consecutive years leading the MLB in ERA, a four year streak broken last year—when he finished third instead.

His sustained dominance has placed him far and away from the rest of the pack atop the mound now. Kershaw cannot be fairly compared next to his contemporaries; he’s simply better placed next to where those already in Cooperstown stood at the same age.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Jacob deGrom, Mets; Gerrit Cole, Pirates; Adam Wainwright, Cardinals; Sonny Gray, A’s.

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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.

 

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.

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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

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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.

It’s coming down the awards season stretch here in the CHEAP SEATS, and now the heavy lifting is getting under way. In a year that saw many men carry the role, pulling apart the best arm in the American League this year is no easy task. However, when the dust settles, there was a standard issue performance from one of the game’s top hurlers that set the mark yet again. And this time around, he deserves the oft-missed spotlight for his works…

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2014 American League Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year—Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

Without a doubt, Felix Hernandez has long sat among the upper rung of the elite pitchers in the game. I mean, while the validity of some nicknames (ah em, ‘Big Game’ comes to mind) can be disputed, “King Felix” is not one that is contested too often. Every season he turns in as an excellent of an all-around performance as could be imagined, but it always seems to come with a caveat of some sort—mostly created by his teammates.

The Mariners have long been a middling club that has kept him from what should be a career overflowing with victories. However, just once in his career has Hernandez come even close to 20 victories, when he notched 19 back in 2009. Otherwise, his season totals have ranged mostly between 12 and 14 a year, not exactly what you would expect from an “elite” starter, regardless of the emphasis one places on pitcher victories as a marker of success.

However, one thing that Felix has mastered is the art of bringing to the forefront art of measuring a pitcher’s worth in spite of lack of creditable victories. And once again in 2014 the King showed that he showcases the best-rounded dominance of any arm in the AL, and that the true success is in the details.

So, from the very beginning of this assessment of his year, throw out the wins category, at least for now. We will come back to it later. But here is what he did otherwise: finished in the top five in innings pitched (236, 2nd), strikeouts (248, 4th), WHIP (0.92, 1st), games started (34, 1st), quality start percentage (79%, 3rd) and batting average against (.200, 1st).

That is an awesome assortment of areas that show just how impressive his summer was in how they contradict each other. He held batters to the lowest average against in the league while pitching the most innings. He was a regular terror as well, making the most starts in the MLB this year, but surrendering the least amount baserunners by his own cause, with a walks + hits figure of under one per inning. His 248 strikeouts were a new career-high as well, while his 46 walks tied his career-low set a year ago.

However, what’s more is that he finally pitched in some meaningful baseball games. It was the first time that he got to perform in a true ace-like environment, in the midst of a September push for the postseason, which despite finishing on the fringe of, he proved his mettle in completely. As the stretch went on, he remained equally effective. Posting first and second half splits of a 2.12 ERA before the break, and a 2.16 mark after, including a 1.66 ERA in 38 September innings. He lowered opponents averages to .197 in the second half and allowed one run or fewer in four of six starts in the season’s final month.

And as for the victories, they came. 15 in total, his second highest single-season mark of his career. And while there were a number of hurlers that finished ahead of him in that category, none made a more indelible mark off the mound than the King did. And that’s why he deserves the throne and they deserve the court.

 

Runners Up

  1. Corey Kluber, Indians: The breakout star of the year in the AL, Kluber rose to the top of the Cleveland rotation and in the course of the season, became one of the league’s premier power arms. In his third year, he finished tied for the league lead in victories with 18, while he finished second in strikeouts with 269 and third in ERA at 2.44. His second half ERA of 1.73 was tops among all full-time starters in the MLB.
  2. Chris Sale, White Sox: It was high quality over sheer quantity for Sale, but he continued his ascension up the hill of premier pitchers in the game. The side winding lefty finished with the second best ERA in the AL at 2.17 and held opponents to a .205 batting average. He worked at least six innings in 18 of his final 19 starts, while striking out at least nine in eight of those contests.
  3. Max Scherzer, Tigers: He decisively proved the critics wrong that said the 2013 Cy Young winner was foolish for not taking the money while his stock was at its peak. His 2014 effort, while not an award winning one, was once again among the best in either league. He went 18-5, while posting a career-best 252 strikeouts, so the evidence does still point towards he’s getting even better.
  4. Jon Lester, Athletics/Red Sox: The grizzly lefty carried over his World Series momentum into the new year and posted one of his best all-around seasons ever. Split between Oakland and Boston, he a 16-11 record and finished with a 2.46 ERA, the lowest mark of his career by nearly a full run.

 

Past Winners

2013: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

2012: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

2011: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

 

For more of the Award Tour as it makes its rounds, stay tuned here on CSP. For the in the moment words and reaction, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan, which is built for that type of thing. Ya know.

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The point of a good countdown is to both acknowledge achievement of those featured in it, while also provoking some good debate on how it is ordered. Sometimes this can even create some suspense on the way towards the conclusion, during that wait to see if it works out like it “should” in the end.

Well, I’ve got a bit of bad news—this is not one of those times. If you’ve been following baseball even loosely over the past few years, there’s no question about who the best left-hander (or pitcher at all) is right now, that’s a done deal. There is no great challenge in figuring that out, however that is only half the story, because there is a phenomenal set of southpaws around the Majors right now.

In fact, it is a group so good that even a 17-game winner from just last year couldn’t crack the list, and that’s saying something. So, enjoy the countdown to #2, because it is both a very close call…and well as a testament to how great #1 is, already.

10. Francisco Liriano, Pirates: One of the most fascinating things to watch last summer was how Liriano reinvented himself from washed up power hurler to crafty and precise out machine. Using his slider primarily, he allowed 31% of his runs on the year in only two of his 26 starts and had a 2.14 ERA in the other 24.

9. CC Sabathia, Yankees: It’s easy to say that CC is on the verge of being washed up and that the innings have finally taken their toll, but he’s a gamer that’s never failed to reach double digit wins and will show up to camp as what looks to be 30-40 pounds lighter for the rebuilt Yanks. Something tells me that 2013 will be the aberration over the rule.

8. Jon Lester, Red Sox: He would have been the World Series MVP on any other, non-Ortiz team, winning two games in the Fall Classic, and had an impressive 4-1 postseason record. On the year, he topped 15 wins for the fifth time in six years.

7. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals: He didn’t turn in another 21-win effort for the sulking Nats, but Gonzalez was still turned in over 190 strikeouts for the third straight year and is primed to be a big part of a 2014 turnaround that started late in DC last fall.

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6. Cole Hamels, Phillies: He seemed to be cursed to just not be able to pull out a win for most of last year, but pitched better than his 14 losses would lead one to believe. Otherwise, his final effort stays close to the level that is accustomed of him, topping both 200 strikeouts and innings, while keeping his ERA at a solid 3.60.

5. Madison Bumgarner, Giants: One of the most underrated, but consistently superb hurlers in the game. He has risen to the top of the Giants staff at just age 24, and has already won 50 games and topped 200 innings each of the last three years, while posting a career-low 2.77 ERA in 2013.

4. Chris Sale, White Sox: He proved his 2012 was no fluke, has he turned in yet an even more impressive effort in his sophomore starting season, despite a decrease in wins on a much worse club. His 226 strikeout were third best in the AL, and the soon-to-be 25 year old hasn’t approached his ceiling yet.

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3. David Price, Rays: He had a slow start coming off his Cy Young 2012 effort, due to a triceps injury that sidelined him to the disabled list for the first time. But he returned to his regular form in the second half, going 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA, and winning a gutsy tie-breaker playoff start to push Tampa into the playoffs.

2. Cliff Lee, Phillies: The game’s preeminent control artist was is back at his old tricks. Over the past two seasons, he has struck out 429 batters, while walking only 60 in return. Over that span, he has not pitched less than 211 innings in a season and won 37 games.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Like I said, there’s no drama here—he’s the best pitcher in the world regardless of arm. A winner of two of the last three NL Cy Young Awards (and had a very strong case for the one he finished runner-up for), he’s as dominant of a 25 year old as there has been since Roger Clemens.  Over his past near-700 innings pitched, his ERA is a miniscule 2.21, a stretch that he has won three consecutive ERA titles, including an insane 1.83 a summer ago. Kershaw is $30 million per year well spent.

Just A Bit Outside: C.J. Wilson, Matt Moore, Patrick Corbin

For more in real-time about this and the rest of the Top 10’s across the board, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The week here in the CHEAP SEATS has been dedicated to chronicling the best of the best from 2013 Major League Baseball season. Now at the end, it is time for business to pick up, because now its time to get down to an award that’s named for simply the most dominant pitcher of all-time.

While Cy Young gets a rightfully respectful nod in the award that bears his name, he was simply no Walter Johnson. The Big Train won 476 games, while carrying a 2.17 ERA and an untouchable record of 110 shutouts. Basically, if there’s going to be an award given for a flash of pitching excellence, the honor of association should be with him. And this season, while the best pitcher in Johnson’s former league of affiliation did not record a single shutout, there was nobody else that oppressed AL lineups nearly as effectively as he did.

2013 American League Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

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The Numbers: 21-3, 2.90 ERA, 214.1 IP, 240 K/56 BB, 0.97 WHIP, 0 CG/0 SHO, .198 BAA

Perfection.

It is not something that meets the pitching mound often, yet when Max Scherzer reached his 13th win, and had not yet suffered his first loss, it was clear it was beyond time to pay attention to the special summer he was authoring. When he took the mound to start the All-Star Game in July, it was clear he had stepped out of the shadow of Justin Verlander and was not only the best arm in Detroit, but he had become among the best in all of baseball.

Gone were the days where high pitch counts and careless fastballs curtailed his clearly superior fastball and biting slider combo. This summer, while he more effectively unleashed his change-up, he evolved from a strikeout pitcher only (he’s topped 230 K’s the past two summers) and had become among the stingiest arms in the game, as he was one of only two pitchers to allow less than one runner per inning in baseball. This control over the game allowed him to become one of three pitchers to ever post a 19-1 record.

There’s a growing idea that the win is an overrated statistic for measuring the effectiveness of a pitcher, and to a certain extent, there is some truth to that. Yet Scherzer’s fantastic 2013 saw him factor into the decision in all but eight games he started, and the Tigers as a team turn in a 25-7 record on days he took the mound, with him personally being credited with 23 of them. That’s the type of dominance that proves it’s still all about the W, especially when it so often is tied to one man’s impact. And nobody made the impact more often than Scherzer did this summer.

The Rest:

2. Yu Darvish—Rangers: 13-9, 2.83 ERA, 209.2 IP, 277 K/80 BB, 1.07 WHIP, 0 CG/0 SHO, .194 BAA

The irony is that Darvish, who carried a perfect game through 26 outs and saw another no-hit bid end in the seventh inning, didn’t finish with a single complete game or shutout. But what is clear is that he was the most oft-dominant AL pitcher this season; his 277 strikeouts were the most in the league in 14 years.

3. Bartolo Colon-Athletics: 18-6, 2.65 ERA, 190.1 IP, 117 K/29 BB, 1.17 WHIP, 3 CG/3 SHO, .264 BAA

The continually evolving Colon put up the most shockingly effective season of his career at age 40. Colon posted the lowest ERA of his career throwing fastball’s 90% of the time, and keeping batters off their bases. He won 11 games in the first half, and tied for the AL lead with three shutouts.

4. Koji Uehara—Red Sox: 4-1, 1.09 ERA, 74.1 IP, 101 K/9 BBs, 0.57 WHIP, 21 Saves/13 Holds, .130 BAA

Uehara’s dominant season transcended just the confines of relief work, and made him the most effective pitcher in all of baseball. His impact on the year was more properly honored in the Goose Goosage Award summary.

5. Hisashi Iwakuma—Mariners: 14-6, 2.66 ERA, 219.2 IP, 185 K/42 BB, 1.01 WHIP, 0 CG/0 SHO, .220 BAA

There may not be a more infuriating pitcher in all of baseball than Iwakuma. He throws at least five different pitches that he combines with a deceptive motion and precise control. He finished second in the AL in ERA.

6. Anibal Sanchez—Tigers: 14-10, 2.57 ERA, 182 IP, 202 K/54 BB, 1.15 WHIP, 1 CG/1 SHO, .229 BAA

7. Chris Sale—White Sox: 11-14, 3.07 ERA, 214.1 IP, 226 K/46 BB, 1.07 WHIP, 4 CG/1 SHO, .230 BAA

8. Felix Hernandez—Mariners: 12-10, 3.04 ERA, 204.1 IP, 216 K/46 BB, 1.13 WHIP, 0 CB/0 SHO, .242 BAA

9. Ubaldo Jimenez—Indians: 13-9, 3.30 ERA, 182.2 IP, 194 K/80 BB, 1.33 WHIP, 0 CG/0 SHO, .239 BAA

10. Justin Masterson—Indians: 14-10, 3.45 ERA, 193 IP, 195 K/76 BB, 1.20 WHIP, 3 CG/3 SHO, .222 BAA

Award season continues on the next few days here in the CHEAP SEATS, as the season’s past raps and the one to come gets its shine…

Wednesday: NL/AL Goose Gossage Relief Pitchers of the Year: Koji Uehara & Craig Kimbrel

Thursday: Willie Mays Rookies of the Year” href=”https://cheapseatsplease.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/the-award-tour-2013-nlal-willie-mays-rookies-of-the-year/”>NL/AL Willie Mays Rookies of the Year: Jose Fernandez & Wil Myers

Tomorrow: NL/AL Connie Mack Managers of the Year

Monday: NL Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year

Tuesday: AL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player

Wednesday: NL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player

The American League on the mound in 2011 was like a Japanese building next to Godzilla, only there were no Mothra’s or annoying little tanks to slow down Justin Verlander. He ran so thoroughly through the opposition that his Cy Young win looked small next to the eventual MVP he took on.

A year later, the class step up their ballgame to come up to his level, and even surpass it. The race to call name the best arm in the AL was as even and spread out of a race as was offered. The consistency the perennial threats such as the Yankees’ CC Sabathia was battled by the undeniable rise of Chris Sale and the White Sox along with him. Meanwhile out west, Jared Weaver joined the No-Hit bandwagon, while Felix Hernandez did a notch better tossing a Perfecto on the Rays. And Tampa Bay showcased the brilliance that is watching an amazing skill set come together every day, such as David Price’s 2012 endeavor showed.

However, all things considered, Mount Verlander still posed a considerable task peak to climb on its 2012 merits alone. While he faced an impossible encore performance, was even a return to Earth still finding him on a level of his own? Well…yes, it still did. Soon enough, could the Baseball Bloggers Alliance AL entry to the Walter Johnson Award be due for a renaming? If this keeps up, maybe.

2012 AL Walter Johnson Award—Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Nobody was in a more impossible position than Verlander was every time out in ’12. He was coming off one of the most decorated years any pitcher has ever authored, and was doing so for a team that had upgraded around him. But there had to be a happy medium; winning 20 games is a task to repeat, so winning 24 again? No, there was no way that he had as good of a year as he did a summer ago, but still the AL couldn’t keep up with the game’s ultimate Ace.

Verlander’s effort epitomized the Tigers season. He was gritty, leading the Majors once more in innings pitched (238.1), strikeouts (239) and complete games (6). The wins were down to 17, which was his lowest total in four years, however when the chips were down, he was never better. The Tigers, who won the AL Central by 15 games a year ago, had to fight until the season’s last week to overcome the Chicago White Sox. Over that stretch, Verlander went 5-1 in September, sporting a 1.93 ERA and 41 strikeouts.

Last season, his outright domination wowed an amazed to a point that the Tigers closed out business better than anybody in baseball. This year, he had to focus it late to pull the team into the playoffs. That versatility and dependency makes him the definition of an Ace. There’s a legit buzz of history and hopelessness around any appearance he makes on the mound. 2012 wasn’t 2011, and it proves that clutch grit is just as great as distance producing excellence. And it also makes him the best pitcher in the world, until somebody outdoes him.

Best of the Rest

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: He once again defied the confines of his place as the top arm on a non-contending team. King Felix finished with 223 spread across 232 frames, and led the Majors with 5 shutouts. From mid-June to August, he struck out 100, while walking only 14 on a 1.40 ERA.

3. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays: In year four, Price became the complete package.  His 2.56 ERA was the lowest in the AL, and he became the first Ray to ever top 20 wins in a season, also the top total in the league.

4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: Sale’s rise to prominence totaled 17 wins and 192 strikeouts, as well as grabbed the White Sox by the collar nearly drug them back into the playoffs. Not bad considering he made his first career start this past April.

5. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels: Weaver was the rock of the Angels through a tough team start and injuries himself. He went undefeated in July, and only lost once in both May and September, racking up his first 20 win season, tying for the league lead.

Later today, the ballot for the Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year in both leagues will be revealed.

MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS, recap & preview

October 9Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter

October 10Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper & Mike Trout

October 11—Walter Johnson/Pitcher of the Year Award: Clayton Kershaw & Justin Verlander

October 11—Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Award:

October 12—Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award

For more on the run through a crazy October, and tomorrow’s big MVP announcement in the CHEAP SEATS, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.