Posts Tagged ‘Felix Hernandez’

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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.

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.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners

It has been an interesting half-season of Baseball thus far. It is one that emerges from the break today with only one divisional lead that is greater than four games. The entire National League is wide open, while the American League East and West are shaping up to fight it out for the long run on the other half. Six teams are within four or fewer games in both Leagues’ Wild Card race. Simply put, it has been a vice grip of a struggle for position this summer.

As the second half takes off this afternoon and evening, who is in the driver’s seat for the awards that will outcome as the seasons turn, the fat is trimmed and the postseason takes charge.

Most Valuable Player

American League—Mike Trout, Angels: Every year of his career thus far he has posted an MVP-caliber campaign, while each has seen him reach a higher peak day-to-day. 2014 has been no exception that either, as Trout continues to do everything possible on the diamond with exceptional skill. This year’s Trout Version 3.0 has seen him launch impossibly long home runs with stunning ease, while leading the AL in on-base + slugging% at 1.005 and total bases (209). However, what’s best is that he’s getting to do it while leading a finally successful Angels club, and the numbers always mean more when they are stacking into W’s as well.

National League—Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: After leading the NL in hits two years ago and then winning its MVP a year ago, somehow The Cutch continues to get even better. He is keeping Pirates relevant in the game’s best division via a stunning campaign that seems him in the top 10 in eleven different categories and playing his usual swarming defense as well. It’s a tight race between himself, Troy Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton, but his all-around masterpiece he’s half-finished with is stunning thus far.

Cy Young

American League—Felix Hernandez, Mariners: It looks almost too easy, but the King (who is just touching his prime) has made dominance the norm. He is the owner of the AL’s top ERA, an 11-2 record and comes in second in K’s and first in WHIP as well. Along the way he has allowed more than 2 earned runs only three starts and has nine games of at least 9 strikeouts and 2 or fewer walks.

National League—Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: What is from Kershaw this year is simply awe-inspiring, as he sits in the top five in wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and average against. But what’s most impressive is that he missed a full month and is still there. Imagine if he’d had that time to work? We would be looking potentially at one of the greatest seasons of all-time—not that we still couldn’t be, however.

Rookie of the Year

American League—Jose Abreu, White Sox: He has already exceeded most full-season expectations here as the second half is yet to begin. Abreu comes out the break the Major’s top home run mark, with 29 and is pushing on the door of 80 RBI already. If he keeps at this pace, he has a pretty good shot at meeting Mark McGwire’s record of 49 rookie home runs.

National League—Billy Hamilton, Reds: The Cincy speedster has delivered where expected on the base paths, with 38 first half steals and six triples to boot. But most impressively, he is putting to bed the rhetoric that he is all sizzle, but no steak at the plate, hitting .317 since the break of June.

Manager of the Year

American League—Bob Melvin, Athletics: In the midst of rapidly toughening division, Melvin has held the A’s head above all in the AL for the duration of the season. Armed with a completely all-in for ’14 Billy Beane in the front office and a full cupboard of perfect pieces in his dugout, the Oakland skipper has his club looking like they are ready to break out of the first round (at least) for the first time since 2006.

National League—Nick Price, Reds: The Reds entered the year, and spent a decent part of the beginning of it, in flux towards the bottom of the NL Central. Plagued by injuries both to the lineup and pitching staff, it was an unpredictable day-to-day situation. But their first year manager Price has done a masterful job of pulling the most of what has been available to him. This has included pulling into within ear shot of the Central lead, as well as sending five of his guys to the All-Star Game, with none of them being Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Mat Latos or Jay Bruce.

Comeback Player of the (Half) Year

American League—Albert Pujols, Angels: The reports of his death have proven to be greatly exaggerated. While he is not pumping out the .300+ batting average that used to be standard for him, Pujols has already reached 20 home runs, 19 doubles and driven in 64 runs. It is far from a one-man reason why Anaheim is looking newly minted this year.

National League—Tim Hudson, Giants: After that gruesome ankle injury ended his 2013 in Atlanta, Hudson declared himself ready to go this winter much earlier than anticipated. In turn, the Giants took a flier on him and in return he has given them an All-Star in return. That’s more than fair return on investment, I’d say.

Reliever of the Year

American League—Greg Holland, Royals: The emerging dominance he showed in his first year in the ninth in KC has carried over, and it is fair to say that he has a more than fair claim to be the AL’s premier closer. His strikeouts-per-nine rate is still absurd at 13.7 and has converted 25-of-26 save ops thus far.

National League—Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Let’s see—MLB-best 29 saves, sub 2.00 ERA, batters surviving to a .131 average against and over 20 more strikeouts than innings pitched. In other words: just another run of the mill year at the office for Kimbrel.

Injury Setback of the Year

American League—Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: After putting to bed any and all doubts about his effectiveness translating to the America and the $120M+ the Yankees inked him to as well, Tanaka took the tumble of many a pitcher this season, by tearing his UCL. He was authoring one of the best seasons in the Majors this year, and now will join CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda as injured impact starters for a Yankee team that is suddenly out of answers off the hill again.

National League—Jose Fernandez, Marlins: The most deflating injury of the year is easily Fernandez’s, who joined the Tommy John list in May after getting off to another sensational start. While the game lost one of its most exciting young properties, the surprisingly competitive Marlins lost the biggest difference maker in what could potentially be a stunning breakthrough season for the franchise.

Trout_Pujols

The Oakland A’s have made a good life for themselves living in the shadows. For the second consecutive year, they were beat in the highlights all winter by their division mates, and for the second straight summer, they answered back by winning the AL West. The consummate team effort was once again put on by Bob Melvin’s club, who got an out of the blue MVP-calibur performance from Josh Donaldson, coupled by a few career peaks and a consistent effort from its pitching to pull away from its big dollar division rivals.

2013 Finish

1. Oakland Athletics (96-66)

2. Texas Rangers (91-72)

3. Los Angeles Angels (78-84)

4. Seattle Mariners (71-91)

5. Houston Astros (51-111)

But for how long can that stand? The Rangers were once again relentless in the acquisition game, spinning the biggest trade of the offseason by swapping Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder, then handing a top shelf deal to Shin-Soo Choo to attempt to fix an offense that ran flat a year ago. For a change, the Angels didn’t issue a huge contract out, but the Mariners took their place, overhauling their everyday lineup around the shocking headline deal of the winter with Robinson Cano heading to the Pacific northwest. Even the Astros put the brakes to their two-year bottom out effort some, making a few moves to fill in a few of their many holes in a permanent manner.

But in Oakland, Billy Beane was far from stagnant, and produced the most progressive Oakland winter in some time, overhauling his bullpen to add yet another conglomerate weapon to his all-in club. In the end, what does it all mean? Will Oakland continue to be underrated, despite being the one of only two active teams to pull off their division title in consecutive years, or will one of the high rollers finally see some return on what has been some questionable investments thus far?

All-Division Team

1. Shin-Soo Choo—Rangers, Left Field

2. Mike Trout—Angels, Center Field

3. Robinson Cano—Mariners, Second Base

4. Prince Fielder—Rangers, First Base

5. Adrian Beltre—Rangers, Third Base

6. Raul Ibanez—Angels, Designated Hitter

7. Josh Reddick—Athletics, Right Field

8. Jason Castro—Astros, Catcher

9. Elvis Andrus—Rangers, Shortstop

 

Castro came of age in 2013, making his first All-Star appearance and finishing up the year with 18 home runs and a .276 average

Castro came of age in 2013, making his first All-Star appearance and finishing up the year with 18 home runs and a .276 average

Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez—Mariners

Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish—Rangers

Starting Pitcher: Hisashi Imakuma—Mariners

Starting Pitcher: Jered Weaver—Angels

Right Handed Reliever: Ryan Cook—Athletics

Lefty Handed Reliever: Sean Doolittle—Athletics

Closer: Fernando Rodney—Mariners

 

Lineup

1. Rangers

2. Angels

3. Athletics

4. Mariners

5. Astros

The addition of Fielder gives much needed power to a Texas lineup that was starved of it post-Josh Hamilton last season, while Choo joining Elvis Andrus atop the lineup will put plenty of ducks on the pond for Prince and Adrian Beltre to take advantage of. The Angels potential will always look great, with the names of Albert Pujols and Hamilton in tow, but whether they can approach their former MVP forms continues to be the ultimate question for the Halos. The Mariners mix is obviously much better, but even Robinson Cano himself has said he feels they need to add more to get it over the hump completely.

Fielder brings an elite level run producing presence to Arlington that was badly needed last year (100 RBI in six of the last seven years).

Fielder brings an elite level run producing presence to Arlington that was badly needed last year (100 RBI in six of the last seven years).

Heart of the Lineup

1. Rangers

2. Athletics

3. Mariners

4. Angels

5. Astros

The thing about the A’s middle of the order is that it is coming off a year where Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss all had down years by their standards. If they can find their 2012 levels, along with Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie continuing where they were a year ago, this could be the most frustrating mix in either league for opposing pitchers. Alex Rios stands to hit in one of the most enviable positions in the game—if Fielder and Beltre leave anybody on base for him that is.

Table Setters

1. Rangers

2. Angels

3. Athletics

4. Astros

5. Mariners

The Choo/Andrus duo would have combined for 62 stolen bases and 330 hits a year ago, and such production this year atop the Texas lineup would be huge considering the RBI machines behind them. Anaheim has the game’s best player in Mike Trout doing everything imaginable under the baseball sun out of either the leadoff or second spot in their lineup, and he instantly makes the Angels a threat at every game’s outset. The Astros combo of Dexter Fowler and Jose Altuve is a very interesting duo as well, capable of injecting some life early on for their starved attack as well.

Depth

1. Athletics

2. Angels

3. Mariners

4. Rangers

5. Astros

Everybody on the A’s plays a part in their success, with their bench being critical to the outcome with regularity. Derek Norris, Alberto Callapso and Michael Taylor will all get their share of starting opportunities, while the addition of Nick Punto makes them even more dangerous defensively late in games. Seattle has an exciting young player in Abraham Almonte on their bench, and while he will start in leftfield, the versatile Dustin Ackley is a one-man depth chart, able to contribute in center field, second and first base if needed.

Rotation

1. Athletics

2. Mariners

3. Angels

4. Rangers

5. Astros

There are a lot, and I mean a ton, of “ifs” for each rotation in this division. The A’s lost their top arm in Jarrod Parker for the year to Tommy John surgery, and A.J. Griffin is ailing entering the year as well. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir will have to stay healthy for Oakland to keep its edge as a starting unit. Injuries to Hisashi Imakuma, Derek Holland and Matt Holland have shifted the potential of Seattle and Texas respectively as well, and how well Jered Weaver holds together is vital to the Angels’ success as well.

 

Hernandez is the top half of one of the AL's most successful due from a year ago, finishing in the top 10 in strikeouts (216) and ERA (3.06).

Hernandez is the top half of one of the AL’s most successful due from a year ago, finishing in the top 10 in strikeouts (216) and ERA (3.06).

1-2 Punch

1. Mariners

2. Angels

3. Rangers

4. Athletics

5. Astros

Regardless of what happens, the Mariners have Felix Hernandez, so they have an edge. Felix and Iwakuma were the only set of teammates to finish in the top 10 of the AL Cy Young last year. Yu Darvish affirmed the fact that he is one of the dominant arms in the game a year ago, running up the biggest strikeout season in a decade. He will be tasked with a major responsibility in keeping the Rangers afloat, amid the injuries that have ravaged their staff already. In LA, if both Weaver and C.J. Wilson are both healthy, they give the Angels a pair of potential 17-20 game winners as well.

Bullpen

1. Athletics

2. Mariners

3. Angels

4. Rangers

5. Astros

It may be okay that the Oakland starting staff is dinged up, because they have a SWAT team worth of support in their pen. The additions of two-time AL save champ Jim Johnson (101 saves from since 2012), Luke Gregorson and Eric O’Flathery to a group with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook means that by mid-summer Oakland could be slamming doors by the 6th-7th inning. The addition of Fernando Rodney gives the Mariners a viable closer and absolute for the first time in two years, which is something that the Rangers are hoping Joakim Soria can become once again as well. If no, Alexi Ugando and Neftali Feliz offer solid fallback options.

Defense

1. Athletics

2. Rangers

3. Astros

4. Angels

5. Mariners

The A’s make a habit of doing the small things well, and defense is chief among those. Reddick is on the short list for best defensive outfielder in the game, and Cespedes and Coco Crisp join him in an outfield with miles worth of range. Donaldson, Moss and John Jaso join as plus defenders also. The Astros can man the field well, especially Matt Dominguez, who should enter the Gold Glove picture this year at third base.

Melvin has won 190 games and has received an AL Manager of the Year nod over the past two years, leading Oakland to two division titles in the process.

Melvin has won 190 games and has received an AL Manager of the Year nod over the past two years, leading Oakland to two division titles in the process.

Manager

1. Athletics

2. Angels

3. Rangers

4. Mariners

5. Astros

Bob Melvin deserves a ton of the due for pulling together a group that simply plays better together than any other team in the American League. He empowers his young guys to play on the same level as the veterans that he makes play beyond their full potential (i.e. Jed Lowrie and Donaldson). In Anaheim, Mike Scioscia is the longest tenured manager in the game, and for good reason. Like Ron Washington in Texas, he will deservingly get a chance to pull his club back into the race they are expected to be in.

Finances

1. Angels

2. Rangers

3. Mariners

4. Astros

5. Athletics

The Angels and Rangers have proven they will spend to get the job done, although the results have not returned with the same impact as the names that have signed the deals with them. The Mariners are hoping to not go down the same path with their spending spree that netted Cano, Rodney and Corey Hart. The Astros have funds to spend, but are being cautious in how they go about doing so in their current rebuild process.

Impact Additions

1. Robinson Cano (Mariners via free agency)

2. Prince Fielder (Rangers via trade)

3. Shin Soo-Choo (Rangers via free agency)

4. Jim Johnson (Athletics via trade)

5. David Freese (Angels via trade)

The West was the home of the most aggressive roster overhauls of the year. The Mariners added a new franchise cornerstone in the five-time All-Star Cano, and brought in Hart and Logan Morrison to add some protection as well. The A’s made pitching their priority, while the Rangers went the other route, adding offensive punch. The Angels made perhaps the most intriguing moves, adding high potential young arms in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, as well as picking up a cast-off David Freese to add depth to their top heavy offense.

Leap Forward

1. Sonny Gray—Athletics

2. Jarred Cosart—Astros

3. Tyler Skaggs—Angels

4. Robby Grossman—Astros

5. Mike Zunino—Mariners

Gray did not make his first start until August, but was impressive enough to get the nod for two matchups against Justin Verlander in the ALDS games where he surrendered only three runs in two starts. He’ll be asked to once again carry a heavy load for the suddenly uncertain Oakland rotation. Jarred Cosart was one of the best pitchers in baseball for Houston once he was promoted late last year, with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts, and stands to continue to affirm his spot atop their rotation.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Taijuan Walker—Mariners

2. George Springer—Astros

3. Johnathan Singleton—Astros

4. James Paxton—Mariners

5. Addison Russell—Athletics

The Astros have a bundle of ready to peak talent in their system, and more to come behind this first wave. Springer and Singleton should both be not just everyday contributors, but have established their foothold as the cornerstones of the future of the Houston franchise (until Carlos Correa shows up). Walker has the best arm of any rookie in the AL, and stands to be a major part of the immediate Seattle push for relevancy this year.

PREDICTIONS

1. Oakland Athletics

2. Los Angeles Angels

3. Texas Rangers

4. Seattle Mariners

5. Houston Astros

The underdogs have been over for so long, it is hard to believe they could still be seen as anything less than one of baseball’s best, yet somehow they still are. But let’s straighten this all out: the A’s have the experience, chemistry and are in an understated win now mode as well. With Johnson, Gregerson and Lowrie all pending free agency and a host of other A’s on the verge of arbitration raises, regardless of if this year ends either short of the postseason or with a World Series victory, this is the only year for this assortment of A’s. They will continue to be a young and mostly low cost/high reward group past this year, but this is their best chance to seal the deal. And all things considered, they should be in the mix. They have a very deep pitching staff and a similar lineup, full of two-way players that are fueled on proving their worth amid the game’s most hostile home environment.

But the rest of the division should have something to say as well, but the issue is can they overcome their own fairly pronounced shortcomings to do so. The Rangers have seen the potency of their pitching staff drop off regularly each year, and it may finally be too much to overcome this year. The Angels are the paper champs of baseball annually around this time of year, but have regularly yielded too little in both the health and raw, non-Trout related results category. Injuries are a major factor for both, although Texas enters the year especially crippled in regards to its supporting cast.

The Mariners made a lot of noise, but still are a few pieces short. With a well-stocked system with plenty of ready to contribute players, they are the team most likely to continue to find ways to add to their mix throughout the year—if they can stay competitive long enough. The Astros are burgeoning with some actual tangible potential finally, but they are still a clear cut below the rest of the West still.

With all things considered, the only thing that likely sidetracks the A’s is if they cannot either stay healthy long enough together or their depleted rotation cannot step up and fill the losses they have already sustained. They are the most complete team in the division, and a third championship should be theirs for the taking.

 

For more in real-time on the soon to arrive MLB season, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I70 Baseball.

 

Wainwright_50

One thing there will always be in the game is a dominant right-hander on the mound. And in the lineage of Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and Bob Feller, the best of the best change the course of an entire day from the moment they touch the mound.

Entering into this summer, there are a plethora of hurlers cut from that game defining cloth, and has this list shows, they approach doing so from every possible angle. There’s two sets of teammates included, both whom do it via running up the strikeouts with overwhelming fastballs. While there is a second set that does so in about as divergent ways as possible—one via 95 mph fastballs and cutters, and another with mid-80’s material that never ends up where you’d think it would.

Overall, making the cut here is no easy task today. There is an MVP, four Cy Young winners (including one that is one in the same). There’s two rookies of the year—one former and one reigning—as well as a two-time World Series winner and a phenom that is quietly earning his stripes. Rounding it off, two arms that are in the business of proving that dominance on one side of the ocean can translate just fine to the other. Consider all of this without the inclusion of the injured Matt Harvey as well.

There’s plenty of ways to get the job done, but the ten guys here have found the most dominant ways to go about creating the hardest scenario in sports—squaring up a baseball.

10. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: His record lies about how well he performed last summer. The Nats managed to net him only eight victories, despite him limiting batters to a .207 average against him, and striking out 191 across 30 starts.

9. Jered Weaver, Angels: One of the trickiest pitchers in the game, his ability to throw six pitches at any point, combined with his long delivery and 6’7 frame make him a frustrating presence to get a read on. Injuries limited him 24 starts last summer, but he won 18 and 20 games respectively in 2011-12.

8. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners: The owner of maybe the best splitter in baseball made proved his keep in his second season. In route to finishing third for AL Cy Young honors, he won 14 games, with on a 2.66 ERA, while walking only 42 batters in 219 innings.

7. Zack Greinke, Dodgers: The only thing that sidetracked him from a season that could have potentially rivaled rotation mate Clayton Kershaw was a broken collarbone from an April brawl. Overall, he won 15 games in 28 starts, reaching the victory marker for the fourth time in five years.

yu-darvish-2013-opening-day

6. Yu Darvish, Rangers: He came up short of two no-hitters after the start of the 7th inning, but despite those disappointments, Darvish’s rise to ace status was undeniable. He led all of baseball with 277 strikeouts and finished fourth in the AL with a 2.83 ERA.

5. Jose Fernandez, Marlins: Maybe only Kerry Wood and Doc Gooden made a more immediate impact on their first arrivals in the last 30 years than Fernandez. The NL Rookie of the Year finished second in the league in ERA and allowed the least hits per game of any starter in baseball, at just over five.

4. Max Scherzer, Tigers: It all came together for Scherzer in route to winning the AL Cy Young and pulling rank on par with his more renown rotation mate. Always an overpowering presence, he added a changeup that took him to the next level. The result was a 21-3 record, which led the Majors in wins, while keeping his strikeouts per nine innings mark north of 10.

3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: He not only returned to his pre-Tommy John form of 2010, he set a new personal standard. He won the National League in wins , innings pitched, complete games and shutouts, while setting a personal high and strikeouts and finishing second in the NL Cy Young ballot, along with a Gold Glove to boot.

Felix-Hernandez-Seattle-Mariners-

2. Justin Verlander, Tigers: He had a down year by his own otherworldly standards a year ago, but the ship has far from sailed on JV. In the postseason, he gave up a single run over three starts while striking out 31 against only three walks. He’s averaged 18 wins, 236 innings and nearly a strikeout per inning over the last three seasons.

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners: As he has come into his own and made his potential reality, King Felix has made the excellent the norm. He seems to have the rare ability to throw any pitch on demand, regardless of location, speed and count. He topped 200 strikeouts for the fifth consecutive year, and at age 27 he already has 110 wins, a Cy Young win and two other finishes in the top three within the past five years. What’s more is that he is finally pitching for a team that has a few everyday talents that can match his own.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Matt Cain, James Shields, Jordan Zimmermann

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of this year’s ‘Top 10 Today’, and for the real-time read, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.