Posts Tagged ‘Max Scherzer’

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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.

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As the Major League Baseball trade deadline approaches, player movement fever hits a temperature that it will not see again until December’s free agent season hits full speed. And as next week’s All-Star Game moves past and the second half of the season launches, player movement rumors will be the talk of the game nearly as much as the boxscore itself.

And while some teams have already begun the position rearrangement battle, as Saturday’s Cubs-Athletics blockbuster swap launched, the ability to make acquisitions on the trade market is not as readily simple of a move as it used to be. With the addition of the second Wild Card team, the line between ‘buyer’ and ‘seller’ is blurred simply for the fact there is an additional opportunity to stay competitive for those formerly fringe clubs. So, with less available to buy, understanding what waits ahead is most important than ever.

As always, some moves are made with the future in mind. There will be players that are sent along their way over the next few weeks simply so that the team can salvage something in return for the fact that they may not be able to retain that player. More than uncertain draft pick compensation, the lure of getting a big gain back from a team that is looking to find the final addition to make it into October is a certain way to plan for the future in the present.

In addition to that element, there are simply the players that will test their might on the market, to flex their earning ability muscle. This year’s free agent class is flush with both types of talents: those that have to be shipped and those that have already served their notice of being “ready to mingle”.

With that said, here is a very early look at the high points of the upcoming free agent class as it appears this summer. Take into mind that there are a host of other players that COULD reach the market, via either club, player or mutual options not being elected. And considering this year’s free agent crop looks to have even more long-term punch than either 2013 or 2014’s group of FA’s, even more additions to the mix could make it a chance to really change the face of more than a few franchises.

1.) Max Scherzer—Starting Pitcher, Tigers (30)

It was a calculated gamble that many understood at the time when Scherzer turned down the Tigers reported six year, $144 million deal entering the season, a decision that was roundly panned by the baseball community. But despite doing so, he still sits in a good position to demand at least the same level of compensation, or better. His former deal matches what Cole Hamels inked with Philadelphia before the 2013 season, and Scherzer (who has won over 60 games the last four years and is on pace to push for another 20 win effort this summer) clearly has the credentials to just START negotiations at that level. The entire large-to-high medium market should beckon for him—and he’s in position to name his price still.

2.) Hanley Ramirez, Shortstop, Dodgers (31)

The talent is above reproach for Ramirez, and is high enough to ward off the growing red flags around him both now and down the line. A move off of shortstop is inevitable, whether he likes it or not, and has even been rumored as being non-negotiable if he stays in LA. He is battling injuries for the second straight year and his durability may be best suited by a third base move. But he is easily the most valuable everyday commodity that will see the market and is at the right age to call for a well-paying four-to-five year pact.

3.) Jon Lester—Starting Pitcher, Red Sox (31)

Stakes are getting high between Lester and the Sox. On the heels of their World Series win, he offered to take a discount to get the deal done, but nothing materialized. So now he is a half-season away from the open market and the waters seem to have changed directions. It is rumored that he is looking for up to $140 million over the lifetime of his deal and considering he is having an All-Star follow up to his dominant October 2013 effort and is a mid-prime hard throwing lefty, he should see it.

4.) Pablo Sandoval—Third Baseman, Giants (28)

The ever enigmatic Panda has resurrected both his season and his stock this year. He is on pace hit more home runs and drive in more runs than he has since 2009. This timely rebuild could come with some questions about if he keeps the effort on after getting paid, but he is a part of the San Francisco cornerstone and they would be hard pressed to let him go. But there will be plenty of suitors coming if he sees the market.

5.) James Shields—Starting Pitcher, Royals (33)

Shields is in a precarious position: if the Royals stay in the mix, he will stay in KC until the end. But if they falter over the next few weeks, he could instantly become the biggest trade chip on market for contenders looking to make the push. Either way, he should see a substantial four year deal awaiting him this winter in the range of the $19 million per year range.

6.) Nelson Cruz—Outfield/DH, Orioles (34)

This winter’s greatest value pickup by far, he has taken a PED suspension damaged stock image and turned it into $17 million worth of value for $10 million less in Baltimore. It is a huge demo season for Cruz, who will find a welcoming AL heavy market awaiting him to give another run at a long-term deal this winter. A three year, $50 million type of deal would make perfect sense.

7.) Chase Headley—Third Baseman, Padres (31)

He has been riding the stock that he built with his monster second half of 2012 for a while (he has hit .236 over the past two, injury riddled years), but there are worst ways to invest for a team in need of solving some gaping issues at third (see the AL East specifically). In addition to the premium of being a switch hitting, power potential third baseman, he is also a former Gold Glove winner as well.

8.) Melky Cabrera—Left Fielder, Blue Jays (30)

He is another former PED suspended player that has proven his value upon return. After a sluggish first year in Toronto, he has consistently stayed among the AL leaders in hits and runs scored this summer and is proving to be an instant boost to the top of any order.

9.) Ervin Santana—Starting Pitcher, Braves (30)

His audition season with the Braves has not been as regularly dominant as his 2013 in Kansas City was, but he has been effective none the less. With a year on the open market with no draft pick compensation tied to him, he should see one of the longer deals issued to a pitcher this year land his way.

10.) Victor Martinez—Designated Hitter, Tigers (35)

He is having perhaps his best year of his career at the plate, and is seeing the market at the right time to be a veteran presence that is limited to DH duty at this point. While it cuts out half of the teams that could have interest in him, as David Ortiz has proved regularly, there will be healthy offers for him regardless. Expect Detroit to make the biggest push however, as he is essential to their structure, post dealing Prince Fielder away.

11.) JJ Hardy—Shortstop, Orioles (32)

He has been one of the biggest power presences at shortstop the last few years, but has had a sudden outage this summer of a major kind (two home runs in 309 plate appearances), which is alarming, considering he has not hit for a high average at any point in his career. However, he continues to be a sterling defender and top shortstops always get paid well, so he should be no exception.

12.) David Robertson—Relief Pitcher, Yankees (30): After establishing himself as perhaps the premier setup man in the game over the past few years, Robertson transitioned as well as could be requested to the ninth inning as well. It would reason to think that the Yankees would do anything they could to keep him from seeing free agency or at the very least blow him out of the water with their first offer. On a pitching staff in flux, he is as crucial as any arm they possess.

13.) Jason Hammel—Starting Pitcher, Athletics (32)

He is having a career year so far in and is now headed to back to the American League to see if he can hold it together as a part of a pennant chase. If he should, then he should garner solid interest for a team on the rebuild, similar to the three-year, $30 million deal Scott Feldman landed in Houston, if not slightly better.

14.) Jed Lowrie—Shortstop, A’s (31)

The versatile Lowrie can contribute regularly at any position on the infield and he should emerge as the top utility option available. He is having a bad downspin this year, with an average under .230 and OPS lingering around .650, but his 31 home runs from 2012-13 and .290 average just a year ago bode well in his favor. However, with Oakland’s move of prospect Addison Russell to Chicago, he could stay put as well.

15.) Colby Rasmus—Center Fielder, Blue Jays (28)

Since being cast off to Toronto three years ago, Rasmus has begun to find some consistency in his output, but he is in the midst of a horrible 2014 with average hovering close to .220 and an on-base % not much higher. His power along will not be enough to raise his stock to commanding a great everyday pay rate, but he could see something like Chris Young’s $7.25 million deal with the Mets off potential return alone.

16.) Koji Uehara—Relief Pitcher, Red Sox (40)

Age does not seem to be a problem for the crafty, yet dominant Boston closer. However, due to it he will not require a long-term, nor ridiculous high dollar commitment. With two stellar seasons in his pocket, he will net a solid return, but likely not a back breaking deal either. A return to Boston is most likely, but the ever changing scene for closers could open tempting doors as well.

17.) Josh Beckett—Starting Pitcher, Dodgers (35)

He has reinvented himself in an impressive fashion this year and has been one of the National League’s best. Looking at it outside of the vacuum, he does have a checkered health history and is hitting his mid-30’s, but with what he has shown this year he could be a hot, quick fix commodity this winter in the same fashion that Hiroki Kuroda carved out for himself the last few

18.) Justin Masterson—Starting Pitcher, Indians (30)

His 2014 has been the polar opposite of his breakthrough 2013, which lowered his stock some, but the promise of what Masterson brings is enough to keep him among the top options available this winter. His career has been a study in talented inconsistencies, but he certainly will be one of the more interesting cases available this winter.

19.) Mike Morse—1B/OF, Giants (33)

With a healthy wrist again, Morse has been a solid power presence in the middle of the Giants’ lineup that has seen its core be unsteady due to injury thus far. He is on pace to near 25 home runs and drive in 80 runs, which could net him a seven to eight million type of deal.

20.) Russell Martin—Catcher, Pirates (32)

Martin has been the glue for the Pirates resurgence and is having an even better offensive season that he did in his first in Pittsburgh (from .229 up to .279 thus far). He should be a hot property for teams looking to upgrade with a catcher that has not reached his decline yet and can call as good of a game as can be asked for.

21.) Luke Gregorson—Relief Pitcher, A’s (31)

22. Jake Peavy—Starting Pitcher, Red Sox (34)

23. Stephen Drew—Shortstop, Red Sox (31)

24. Asdrubal Cabrera—Shortstop, Indians (29)

25. Corey Hart—First Baseman, Mariners (33)

26. Sergio Romo—Relief Pitcher, Giants (32)

27. Francisco Liriano—Starting Pitcher, Pirates (31)

28. Kendrys Morales—Designated Hitter/First Base, Twins (31)

29. Torii Hunter—Right Fielder, Tigers (39)

30. Michael Cuddyer—OF/1B, Rockies (36)

31. Hiroki Kuroda—Starting Pitcher, Yankees (40)

32. Francisco Rodriguez—Relief Pitcher, Brewers (33)

33. Kyle Kendrick—Starting Pitcher, Phillies (30)

34. Jason Motte—Relief Pitcher, Cardinals (33)

35. Adam Dunn—Designated Hitter, White Sox (35)

36. Kurt Suzuki—Catcher, Twins (31)

37. Casey McGehee—Third Baseman, Marlins (32)

38. Nate Schierholtz—Right Fielder, Cubs (31)

39. Emilio Bonifacio—2B/OF, Cubs (30)

40. Joba Chamberlain—Relief Pitcher, Tigers (29)

 

For potential free agents to come, they are separated by contract condition:

Player Option: Dan Haren, Dodgers (if 180 innings are reached – On pace for 187.1

Club Option only: Jonny Cueto, Reds ($10M). Alex Rios, Rangers ($13.5M). Huston Street, Padres ($7M). Yovani Gallardo, Brewers ($13M). Joakim Soria, Rangers ($7M). Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays ($10M). Billy Butler, Royals ($12.5M) . Denard Span, Nationals ($9M). Adam Lind, Blue Jays ($7.5M) . Ben Zobrist, Rays ($7.5M). Mike Aviles, Indians ($3.5M). Brett Anderson, Rockies ($12M). Darren O’Day, Orioles ($4.25M).

Mutual/Vesting: Nick Markakis, Orioles ($17.5M). Adam LaRoche, Nationals ($15M), Rafael Soriano, Nationals ($14M). Ryan Ludwick, Reds ($4.5M). Rickie Weeks, Brewers ($11.5M). Jimmy Rollins, Phillies. A.J. Burnett, Phillies.

Cabrera_

Nothing was the same in the middle ground point of the American League last year….well sort of. The Tigers did win the division for the third consecutive year, but they were not pushed by their usual rivals in the Chicago White Sox. Instead, it was a mixture of a coming of age revival in Kansas City, as well as a rebuilt and recharged Indians club that made the division quite interesting for the first time in a while.

2013 Finish

1. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

2. Cleveland Indians (92-70)

3. Kansas City Royals (86-76)

4. Minnesota Twins (66-96)

5. Chicago White Sox (63-99)

Looking ahead at this year, and there is perhaps no division with more clubs in “win now” mode than the Central. The Royals are at a boiling point coming off of their progressive 2013 campaign, with their young studs at a complete maturity point and their rotation anchor, that they traded the farm for just last season, likely in his last year in town. Likewise, the Indians have taken a few losses from last year’s surprise Wild Card-winning club, but are still laden with young talent and a manager in Terry Francona that proved he still has the innate ability to get production out of players they failed to see in themselves. Even the bottom feeders in the division have made strides to get back into the mix. The Twins moved their all-universe catcher in Joe Mauer to first base to get more from him more often, while the White Sox had an understated, but clear overhaul on their roster to attempt to reverse the free fall they spun into last summer.

Even the champs have refused to stay pat. While the Central has been the Tigers’ lair, they saw fit to make some stunning changes, shipping out a franchise cornerstone in Prince Fielder after only two years, and moving on All-Star pitcher Doug Fister, all in the name finding some sort of edge that is more than just being a regular division champion, but fizzling out before becoming much more. Will the winter of change be enough to shake things up in the AL Central? Or will it be more of the same when the summer dust settles?

All-Division Team

1. Austin Jackson—Tigers, Center Field

2. Torii Hunter—Tigers, Right Field

3. Jason Kipnis—Indians, Second Base

4. Miguel Cabrera—Tigers, First Base

5. Victor Martinez—Tigers, Designated Hitter

6. Alex Gordon—Royals, Left Field

7. Salvador Perez—Royals, Catcher

8. Trevor Plouffe—Twins, Third Base

9. Astrubal Cabrera—Indians, Shortstop

Mauer's move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from his division's dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Mauer’s move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from the division dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: Max Scherzer—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: James Shields—Royals

Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale—White Sox

Right Handed Reliever: Aaron Crow—Royals

Lefty Handed Reliever: Tim Collins—Royals

Closer: Greg Holland—Royals

Cleveland's decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Cleveland’s decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Just taking a look back up at the all-division lineup tells you all you need to know about the potency of the Tigers lineup. Even without Fielder, their 1-6 of Ian Kinsler, Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez, Jackson and Alex Avila is just a gauntlet. However the Royals have a relentless balance of speed and line drive hitters, built around the ability to score in bunches. Likewise, the Indians have a lineup that could be more potent this year than last, as their core continues to develop.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Cabrera is the best hitter alive, and has won the previous three AL batting titles and previous two MVPs. Simply put, he’s better than the heart of a few teams lineups himself. However, KC could see an upswing in production from the heart of its lineup with the decision to move Gordon back into it, just as the White Sox should be more potent with the addition of Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu.

Table Setters

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

The place that the Tigers get most noticeably better is at the top of their lineup, by adding a bonafide speed/contact/power threat in Kinsler to join the ageless Hunter. But the addition of Norichika Aoki (.356 on-base %) in Kansas City, along with former Tiger Omar Infante (.345 OBP) gives the Royals a hellacious duo to lead off games as well.

Depth

1. Indians

2. White Sox

3. Tigers

4. Royals

5. Twins

Cleveland won with an everyman approach last season, and they return a team that is capable of pulling out all stops for contributions. With Mike Aviles and Ryan Rayburn as versatile weapons at his disposal, Francona can compete even at less than 100% roster availability. An increase in MLB-ready youth as made the White Sox deeper, with players such as Dayan Viciedo and Matt Davidson waiting in the wings, and experienced utility man Jeff Keppinger back in a more suiting support role.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer, all before reaching the promise of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

Rotation

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Detroit boasts the AL’s best rotation, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (winners of the 2 of the last 3 AL Cy Youngs) headlining, and the underrated Anibal Sanchez (the 2013 AL ERA champ) coming out behind them. The Twins still have a ways to go, but added a headliner in Ricky Nolasco and solid rebuild project in Phil Hughes to help resurrect the Majors worst starting five from a year ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

There is no better 1-2 combo in the game than Scherzer and Verlander, who have combined to win 67 games over the past two seasons. James Shields is perhaps the most indispensable member of any rotation that is slated to be in the pennant race this year, as his presence likely guarantees the Royals stay in the division and/or wild card race or if he is shipped out to help another contenders chances. In Chicago, it is tough (if not impossible) to name a better under 25-or-younger hurler than Chris Sale.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Bullpen

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. Twins

4. Indians

5. White Sox

Spearheaded by Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera, the Royal pen led the AL in relief ERA by nearly half a run at 2.55 and had the lowest average against at .217. It is one of the premier units in all of the game, even with Luke Hochevar lost for the year. The Tigers’ Achilles heel has been locking down games late, but they spent top dollar on Joe Nathan (43 saves, 1.39 ERA) to end those concerns. Glen Perkins is one of the more underrated closers in the game, closing out 52 of the Twins tough earned wins over the past two years.

Defense

1. Royals

2. Indians

3. White Sox

4. Tigers

5. Twins

By a team defense measuring metric, the superb Royals defense saved 93 total runs last year. With Gold Glovers in Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez leading the way, the Royals cover their spacious home in Kaufmann Field exceptionally well. The addition of Adam Eaton to Alejandro De Aza in Chicago gives the Sox two very athletic outfielders to accompany an equally capable middle infield of Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez.

Manager

1. Terry Francona—Indians

2. Ron Gardenhire—Twins

3. Robin Ventura—White Sox

4. Brad Ausmus—Tigers

5. Ned Yost—Royals

Francona proved his worth as one of the game’s best game managers and motivators last year, pulling the Indians into the postseason in his first year in Rock City and becoming the AL Manager of the Year in the process. Ventura and Gardenhire are held in high regard, despite the lacks of talent they have at their command. Ausmus will be asked to fill in some sizable shoes in replacing the retired Jim Leyland.

Finances

1. Tigers

2. White Sox

3. Indians

4. Royals

5. Twins

The Tigers have shown the willingness to spend the extra dollar to add what is needed to win, and they may have to do so sooner than later to address their suddenly empty shortstop position. Conversely, the Royals and Indians are a pair of franchises that are all in financially entering the season, and finding that extra piece late in the year would take some maneuvering.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Impact Additions

1. Joe Nathan (Tigers via free agency)

2. Jose Dariel Abreu (White Sox via free agency)

3. Ian Kinsler (Tigers via trade)

4. Omar Infante (Royals via free agency)

5. Norichika Aoki (Royals via trade)

The Royals made a series of moves in the offseason to add quality depth, at reasonable costs. The outcome was Infante, Aoki, Jason Vargas and Danny Valencia. Going in the completely different direction, the White Sox made a leap of faith in giving $60+ million to Abreu to add some needed life to a shiftless lineup.

Leap Forward

1. Danny Salazar—Indians

2. Drew Smyly—Tigers

3. Jose Quintana—White Sox

4. Adam Eaton—White Sox

5. Kyle Gibson—Twins

Salazar played so well down the stretch he was chosen to pitch the AL Wild Card game after only 10 games. The club believes in him enough that it was comfortable with letting Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez leave this winter. A similar belief in Smyly allowed the Tigers to move on from Doug Fister and his impending contract negotiations.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Jose Dariel Abreu—White Sox

2. Nick Castellanos—Tigers

3. Yordano Ventura—Royals

4. Matt Davidson—White Sox

5. Erik Johnson—White Sox

No longer is Castellanos log jammed behind an out of position Cabrera at third base, and he will enter the season as a favorite to push for AL Rookie of the Year. The White Sox youth movement is based around acquiring a handful of quick to play rookies such as Abreu and Davidson, who they will put into the mix immediately this year.

PREDICTIONS

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Cleveland Indians

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

The AL Central has long been a class struggle of a mix: the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the impoverished all very clearly separated. But if things play out the way they could this year, it could be a mostly competitive division. The White Sox are better, as are the Royals. It doesn’t seem like it, but the Twins are slowly pulling it together and have one of the game’s best managers to oversee it. The Indians have more fight than any other team, and while some pieces are gone, they are far from has beens.

Then there are the Tigers, and they are….well different than they have been before. But that is a good thing, because what was in place, while good enough to win the division every year, had peaked and needed to be adjusted. They made some stunning moves, but stayed strong where they already were and got more versatile in the process—all while keeping the game’s best hitter and two of its premiere pitchers in two.

But the Royals should not be underestimated. In many ways, they resemble the Pirates of last year in they got a taste of the race, return an improved mix of vets and matured talents and have talent on par with both of the teams that finished ahead of them the previous year. In the end, the Tigers are still the class of the division and will push for the league’s best record as they always do, but the Royals will push them all summer and break into the postseason for the first time in a generation.

For more on the year as it approaches in the Central, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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.