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.”  🙂

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.” 


What to expect from the next “Johan?”

There was a time in 2006 when Francisco Liriano was a dominant force to be reckoned with. 

Liriano was mowing down hitters at an alarming rate and appeared to be the next of the great crop of pitchers in the game.

Or the next “Johan” to be exact. 

Both were lefties.  Both had great stuff.  One more established than the other of course.  But then again, there was a time when Johan was not “Johan The Great.”  But rather Johan Santana, a pitcher striving to be a successful Major Leaguer, trying to do what he loves (while earning a very “comfortable” income).

Liriano went 12-3 in 2006, not pitching in the rotation until later in the year.  The same route Johan took once he was on the Twins Major League roster.

The young lefty, Liriano, K’d 144 in only 121 innings, while allowing only 32 bases on balls.  A monstrous 4 1/2 K’s per free pass allowed. 

I remember it well, although actually saw little of it.  But had Liriano thrown more innings, he very well could have won the Cy Young.  Johan actually took home the award that year anyway, so at least a fellow teammate benefited from the absence of Liriano early on in the season. 

Tommy John surgery puts all of the buzz about Liriano on hold…

Then he returns in 2008…But most of the year, is designated for Liriano to learn how to pitch again. 

He tears up the minors at one point, then gets the possibly overdue call to the Majors.  67 walks, 32 walks, in 76 innings, ERA+ 104.  Far from 2006-esque, but acceptable seeing how he was absent from the game for a year+. 

So what to expect from what we would call a pitcher with sick stuff? 

Since I am only human, I will allow the projection systems to explain.

The three systems I have available to me project an ERA between 3.62 and 3.97. 

Bill James’ projection is the most generous of the three, both in reference to rate stats and innings pitched.

So Liriano should be above average at worst according to these projections.  But we all know that there is much more potential to be unlocked than this.  Liriano could win the Cy Young and none of us would be surprised.  Well, maybe a little.  After all, Liriano is going to pitch his first FULL season at the Major League level as a starter (if everything goes right). 

Liriano could very well be the reason Twins fans all but forget that Johan “The Great” ever came through Minnesota to begin with.

But then again, those are very lofty expectations, and unfair to a young and partially undeveloped pitcher.

…With great potential… 

Johan The Very Good?


     One thing that I hate is when discussions occur about Hall of Famers.  And someone on the message board takes it upon his or her self to say, “It is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good.”  I’m sorry, maybe others find humor in this, but I cannot stand it.  The first time it might have been ok.  But after reading just about every one of Rob Neyer’s message boards for the past two years, I seem to see it ALL THE TIME now.  And it isn’t as if it’s not accurate either, just annoying. 


     But anyway, Johan was once nicknamed “Johan the Great.”  Or so I have heard.  But the Great Ship may have sailed away and his little canoe may not have the speed to catch up with it.  And unless he comes across a motor on one of the deserted islands he comes across, it is probably on its way, far, far away from Johan.  


     Of course perception does not intersect with reality…again!  I don’t remember which “expert” was talking about it the other day, but they referred to Johan’s performance in defense of his “struggles.”  And they were right!  An ERA+ of 140 going into today’s actions.  95 K’s in 107 IP.  28 walks!  I don’t deny that Santana has lost something.  After all the scouts say it is true.  But it isn’t as if he is some mediocre innings eater either.  And I am skeptical to sit here and say that he will end the year with an ERA+ of 140.  There is a period of adjustment that the hitters are going through, hitters in the NL that aren’t familiar with Santana.  So his numbers may come down just a little, they may not however.  The fact is that he is still a very good pitcher!  Santana is 7th in ERA+ in the NL.  He is 4th in K/BB.  12th in K/9.  Etc, etc, etc.  His ERA has actually gone down since May 10. 


     All of those stats indicate that Santana is still worthy to be mentioned among the top pitchers in the game.  And 107 innings since many of us declared him to be the best pitcher in the game isn’t enough to disqualify him from that status, or at least the status of being ONE of the best pitchers in baseball.  I know that he gives up more home runs nowadays.  And I don’t doubt that he will be closer to what he IS now than what he Was then.  But what he WAS was incredible, and what he IS is very good.  And most teams would love to have a “Very Good” starter anchoring their rotation.