The Top 5 pitchers in the game.

This will be the most difficult ranking, but five worthy pitchers will be chosen…

Pitchers aren’t always easy to evaluate, because some of their “success” is attributed to the defense that is backing them up.  A pitcher with a great defense can appear to be a little better than he actually is, especially if his outs are recorded via the defense more of the time.

So we strip it down to K’s, BB’s, and HR’s allowed.  Then a pitcher will come out, strikeout a bunch of hitters, walk some, but not many, and allow only 19 home runs.  But with a great defense behind him, this same pitcher will end up with an ERA+ of 105.

105?  Yes, that isn’t exactly great.  So there has be some consideration put into more than just ERA, more than just K/BB. 

And this ranking is going to have some debating I assume.  Just like every other ranking, each person will want their pitcher to be on the list.  And I try to do my best when ranking them, or if not my best than “better than my worst.”  πŸ™‚

2008 ERA+ included.

  • Johan Santana:  ERA+ 166:  Not sure who else to go with in this spot.  If I needed a pitcher to pitch in 2009 for an AL East team, then maybe I choose someone other than Santana.  However, Santana, after an ERA+ of 166 last season, is the safe bet at number 1.  According to that one stat, that was the second best season that Santana has had.  That is debatable, but it was great regardless.  Johan is going to go down as one of the greatest pitchers that the game has ever seen.  His career ERA+ of 144 will probably decrease, but Santana made the move to the less difficult National League, and now he has the ability to keep it pretty close to that for a while (or until the quality of players in the NL begins to improve some). 
  • Roy Halladay: ERA+ 154:  Like Santana, Halladay could have won the Cy Young in 2008, and I would have had no problem with it.  The problem with Roy is that he plays in Toronto, not Boston, not New York, not Chicago.  Underrated is an overrated term to use, but in this situation it is perfect.  During five of the past seven seasons, Halladay has thrown 220 innings of more, including one season in which he threw 266 innings!  It still might be wise to trade Halladay, but that is a touchy subject, and is not meant to diminish his “greatness” at all.  
  • CC Sabathia:  ERA+ 162:  There is a reason that the Yankees spent so much money on CC.  One of the reasons is because they have more money than anyone else.  The other reason is because Sabathia is a great pitcher, and deserves to be one of the highest paid in the game.  People often point to his playoff failures, but you have to get there first.  Sometimes that gets lost within the mix.  Is anyone else so great in the postseason that they are clearly a more viable candidate than Sabathia?  I didn’t think so…I do know that the Yankees would be wise to try and keep his innings down to the 215-220 range if either Kennedy or Hughes show that they are worthy of giving quality spot starts this season.
  • Brandon Webb:  ERA+ 139:  Say what you want about Brandon Webb, but he is a great pitcher.  Sure, I would rather have Josh Beckett pitch a meaningful game, but that is partially because I have seen it so often at the highest level.  Webb has put up six straight seasons of ERA+’s 126 or better.  In 2006 and 2007 both were greater than 150.  Webb, like Halladay has a great ability to make the opposing hitter put the ball on the ground.  But both have very passable K rates, and that isn’t even the main skill that they possess.  Webb does play in the NL West, so the offenses he has faced are fairly weak.  He is also semi-reliant on a defense to field his groundballs, So I understand where some might take a pitcher who strikes out more batters.  But Webb racks up enough K’s AND has the greatest ability to “dupe” the batter into hitting a ground ball (or the second greatest ability of doing so).  
  • Roy Oswalt:  ERA+ 120:  I know this is debatable, and I understand.  But Oswalt has been a really great pitcher, and even though he had a “down year” last season, I believe that it was an outlier.  His K rates are still legit, although not what they were earlier in the decade.  And Oswalt didn’t walk any more batters.  Oswalt does put the ball on the ground a good amount of the time, so he is reliant on his defense some, especially for a pitcher that is thought by many outside of Houston to be simply a “strikeout pitcher.” 


  1. roundrock15

    When an ERA+ of 120 is a down year, that’s pretty spectacular. It probably goes without saying, but I’m a huge Oswalt fan. I don’t know if I’d call him one of the top five pitchers in baseball, but he has stayed pretty darned consistent, which I fully appreciate.

  2. joefromnewhampshire

    Well that is why he made it. It isn’t a down year, but it was cleary not as good as his past years, due to that slow start. There are so many things about the other pitchers that made me shy away. Although I very well could have gone with Hamels. Or Peavy, although his home ballpark is always a reason not to. Or Lincecum, but only one year of play for him. Beckett is great, but only two seasons of 200 or more innings. Lackey is really good, but he hasn’t really posted that many truly great years (only one year above ERA+ of 128). Haren has been really good for three years now. There were multiple pitchers who could have filled the 5 spot, but I chose Oswalt.

  3. mikeeff

    well if we are talking about the top 5 pitchers in the game then lets just take mariano rivera. he has pitched over 1000 innings and has an ERA+ of 199- higher than any active player.

    also–i would definitely have suggested lincecum, hamels, beckett and any number of others ahead of oswald as being in the top 5 in the game. i’m surprised at your sentimentality of late…rewarding guys for past performances…so unlike the cold stat wiz i know πŸ˜‰

  4. joefromnewhampshire

    As far as Rivera? Best closer ever. But as you know, I value starters more. I have rewarded players for past performances, because although projections are pretty accurate on a whole, I thought I made it clear that they are just that, projections. This isn’t the same list I would have for the five best in 2009. I might take King Felix, lincecum, even Beckett.

  5. raysrenegade

    I have your back on four out of those five.
    I think San Diego has a gem in Jake Peavy that trumps Roy Oswalt. If Tim Linececum can pull off another great year, he might even slap Peavy out of that list.
    Cool thing about 2008-2009, the new crop of starters are beginning to show their faces and it s looks like some great pitching for the next 10-15 years is on the horizon.

    Great list tho. Can’t argue with more than the one selection, but based on the stats, he might be on paper the fifth best guy. Still that is why we write………to get other opinions and seek out more questions with another person;s answers.

    Rays Renegade

  6. joefromnewhampshire

    And anyone that is skeptical of Oswalt being fifth, I understand. But he has been great for a long time, no one ever talks about him much. Peavy is great too ,Rays Renegade, I definitely thought about him. He was on my list that I did a year or two ago.

  7. PWHjort

    I would suggest 1 replacement. This guy gets underrated because people think he’s a number 2 starter when really, on most teams, he’d be an ace and it is debatable whether or not he IS actually the best starter on his team in the first place. For the past 2 seasons he has had more quality starts than Roy Oswalt, has had a lower ERA than Roy Oswalt, has had a higher K/9 than Roy Oswalt, and has the exact same W-L record as Roy Oswalt, 31-17. He has pitched 18 more innings than Roy Oswalt, walked 12 fewer batters than Roy Oswalt, and has played in the AL for one of those years. Considering entire careers, Roy Oswalt has been incredibly successful over an 8-year career, but Dan Haren has been downright dominant for the past 2 years and it’s probably time for him to start getting more respect from MLB ballclubs, he’ll throw a shutout just as quick as Webb. I think the verdict is out that he is legit and one of the most under appreciated aces in the game. He spits out Quality Starts as a matter of routine, he led the league in QS in 2007, 29, and piled on another 24 in 2008. The 2 years before 2007 Dan Haren’s numbers probably would’ve looked a lot like Roy Oswalt’s if he hadn’t been playing in the AL. I think Haren needs to be on the list. Haren actually had very similar numbers to CC Sabathia in 2007, his Cy Young year, but a few pitchers did. They both had a 7.8 K/9, Haren had 3 more QS, and Dan Haren had a better ERA (Sabathia’s ERA+ was 143, Haren’s was 137, but Haren’s ERA was 3.07, Sabathia’s 3.21). The only noticeable difference between the 2 pitchers was Sabathia’s 19-7 decision record vs. Haren’s 15-9. I would hope the voters don’t ignore a season like Haren had in 2007 or 2008 again.

  8. joefromnewhampshire

    Before I saw this, I put up my next list and Haren is on it. So I don’t think that I “underappreciated” him. Top ten is pretty good.

  9. PWHjort

    Ya, I wasn’t saying you do, but media and the baseball community in general doesn’t appreciate Haren at the level they should.

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