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Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century: Part 2

This is the second of three installments in this series.  If you want to go back and read the criteria I used to compile this list, or to find out who the top ten pitchers of the 21st-century have been, here’s link to the first post.

In this second installment, you will find that some of the pitchers listed were household names in the late-20th-century as well.  This does not contradict my prior sentiment that the purpose of this list is to highlight those players who are of more recent vintage.

Although I don’t necessarily want this list to reflect a Hall of Fame ballot of retired players, the fact of the matter is that some of the players we might normally consider of pre-9/11 vintage actually spent around half or more of their careers toiling in our current century, performing at a high level.

Each pitcher included on this list, then, was chosen on a case-by-case basis.  This might satisfy some of you, and annoy others, but any list of this sort is going to include a certain amount of built-in subjectivity.  But I am confident that every player on my list deserves to be included, even if their particular ranking is open to debate.

Pedro's return!

Pedro’s return! (Photo credit: andrewmalone)

11)  Pedro Martinez – Like Cy Young straddling the 19th and 20th centuries, and, therefore, being one of the best pitchers in both centuries, Pedro’s accomplishments and career represented some of the finest pitching in both the 20th and 21st centuries.

Pedro’s career WAR of 86.0 is 9th best since the end of WWII.  It was almost evenly divided between his pre-2000 seasons (40.3) and his post 2000 seasons (34.0.)  Depending what you want to do with his year 2000 season, which was his best (11.7 WAR), either century can be viewed as his best.

So let’s split the difference and take half of 2000 and award each half to each century.  He ends up with around 46 WAR for the 20th-century, and 40 WAR for the 21st-century.  That 40.0 WAR ranks 11th-best which, in part, explains why he ranks 11th on my list.  His WAR in this century most closely resembles that of Justin Verlander, so Pedro obviously pitched to a very high level through about the year 2005.

Pedro won the Cy Young award in 2000, finished 2nd in the voting in 2002, placed 3rd in 2003, and 4th in 2004.  In 2005, pitching for the Mets, Pedro’s WAR of 7.0 was third best in the N.L.  In 2003, pitching for Boston, and despite pitching in the toughest division in baseball during a hitter’s era, Martinez surrendered just seven home runs all season.

In the 21st-century, (even if we exclude his superlative 2000 performance), Pedro posted  a win-loss record of 94-44 in 198 starts, striking out 1,336 batters in 1,249 innings pitched.  His 1.089 WHIP (slightly better than Kershaw’s 1.092) is the best this young century has to offer.   And his 3.23 ERA is most similar to Felix Hernandez’s 3.20.

A case can be made, once we figure in the era, the ballparks in which he pitched, and the quality of the competition, that Pedro Martinez was the greatest pitcher of all-time.  I certainly have no problem ranking him in the top five.

English: Mark Buehrle takes a sign during his ...

English: Mark Buehrle takes a sign during his 2009 perfect game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

12)  Mark Buehrle – In a way, Mark Buehrle is the very opposite of Pedro Martinez.  Where Pedro burned bright, Buehrle is a 60-watt bulb.  But we need lots of those 60-watt bulbs to get through the day, and no pitcher in this century has been more dependable than Mark Buehrle.

Buehrle is the only pitcher in the 21st-century to have pitched over 200 innings in each season.  His WAR of 54.0 is third-best, behind only Halladay and Sabathia.

In fact, Buehrle’s 54.0 is nearly identical to Sabathia’s 54.4.  Buehrle’s 2,829 innings pitched ranks first since the year 2001, as do his 426 starts.  His 182 wins rank third most.

Although Buehrle has never in any given season been the best pitcher in his league, he does have four seasons of over 5.0 WAR to his credit, including a career high of 6.1 in 2007.  Buehrle has also been named to four All-Star teams, and has won four Gold Gloves.

So why doesn’t he rate a bit higher?  His 3.84 ERA and his 1.276 WHIP are both among the highest of all the pitchers on this list, and he also has the most losses (141.)  Buehrle has been a reasonably valuable pitcher, and ranking him in the top dozen seems about right to me.

13)  Jered Weaver –  Jered Weaver of the Angels has been one of the more underrated pitchers of this century.  His 1.143 WHIP is 5th best among all active pitchers, and his ERA+ of 127 matches Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez (as well as Kevin Brown, Stanley Coveleski, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson).  In four of his eight seasons, he has posted an ERA+ north of 130.

Jered Weaver

Jered Weaver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Weaver’s career ERA of 3.24 in this century is about the same as those posted by Felix Hernandez, Pedro Martinez, and Brandon Webb.

Weaver has never won a Cy Young award, but he does have a third-place finish (20-5, 2.81 ERA) in 2012, and a second-place finish (7.0 WAR, 18 wins, 2.41 ERA) in 2011, along with a league-leading 233 strikeouts in 2010.

Weaver has been a key member of the Angels rotation for the past eight years, and has averaged over 4.0 WAR per year for his career.

A three-time All Star, Weaver currently ranks 8th in fewest hits surrendered per nine innings among active pitchers.

The reason he doesn’t rate a little higher is because his overall career value doesn’t quite yet match some of those pitchers listed ahead of him, and because he’s never won any significant hardware.  If, health permitting, he continues to pitch at his current high level of effectiveness, he will certainly move up on this list in the future.

14)  Curt Schilling – Yes, like Pedro Martinez, Schilling had greater value in this century than might be expected, considering his career began back when answering machines and VHS players were all the rage.

In fact, about half of Schilling’s career WAR of 80.7 has been accumulated since 2001.  In his 192 starts in this century (about 44% of his career total), Schilling posted a win-loss record of 106-51 (a .675 win-loss percentage) and an ERA of 3.50.  If that ERA seems a bit high, remember that his home ballparks included Arizona’s desert launching pad, and hitter-friendly Fenway Park.

In 2001, 2002 and 2004, he finished runner-up in the Cy Young voting each season.  Although he never led his league in WAR in any particular season this century, he did finish 2nd in each of those three seasons.  He also averaged over a strikeout per inning, striking out 1,377 batters in just 1,358 innings pitched.  His WHIP of 1.12 is also outstanding.

Schilling’s 41.3 WAR is ninth-best this century.  What keeps him rated lower than some other pitchers on this list is that, like Pedro Martinez, he made fewer than 200 starts, while most other pitchers on this list made around 270-350 starts this century.  In short, three or four highly effective seasons is not unusual among the pitchers on this list.

While I believe that Schilling had a Hall of Fame-worthy career, his overall career value isn’t entirely relevant to the purpose of this list.

As a side note, I wish Curt Schilling well in his battle against cancer.  The news came as a shock to me, and I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

English: Jake Peavy

English: Jake Peavy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15)  Jake Peavy – During the first decade of this century, Jake Peavy was one of the best pitchers in the National League.  Four times he posted an ERA under 3.00, leading the league in that category twice, and four times posting an ERA+ between 133 and 171.

For three consecutive seasons, Peavy struck out over 200 batters, leading the league with 216 in ’05, and 240 in ’07.

In 2007, Peavy won the N.L. Cy Young award while leading the league in wins (19), earned run average (2.54) and strikeouts (240.)

While pitching for the Padres in his first eight seasons, Peavy posted a record of 92-68, with an ERA of 3.29.  If he’d continued to pitch at that high level, he would probably rate higher on this list, but other than his one nice season with the White Sox in 2012 (5.2 WAR) Peavy’s basically been a league-average pitcher for most of the past five seasons.

In his entire career, Peavy has a win-loss record of 132-98, and a career ERA in 305 starts of 3.51.

Peavy will be entering his age 34 season in 2014, so he’s young enough that he might still accumulate some additional career WAR, but his best seasons are probably behind him.  It would be in his best interests to return to the N.L. where he enjoyed his greatest success.

16)  Carlos Zambrano –  In some respects, Zambrano’s career is similar to Peavy’s.  Zambrano’s career record was 132-91 in 302 starts, with a career ERA of 3.66.  Pitching at Wrigley is certainly tougher than pitching in San Diego, which, in part, accounts for Zambrano’s relatively high WHIP of 1.331.

English: Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs p...

English: Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs pitching (cropped). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zambrano does have a somewhat higher career WAR than Peavy, 38.2 to 35.8, but Zambrano never won a Cy Young award.  He did, however, finish 5th in the voting three times.

Zambrano was also that rare species of pitcher who was also a switch-hitter.  In fact, Zambrano was an outstanding hitter for a pitcher (or even when compared to many middle infielders.)  For his career, Zambrano batted .238 with 165 base-hits, including an astonishing 24 home runs.

If you add Zambrano’s 6.3 WAR he accumulated for his hitting, he becomes a 44 WAR player, which would rank him in the top half-dozen on this list.  For four consecutive seasons, from 2003-06, inclusive, he averaged 5.75 WAR per year.

Zambrano enjoyed some very good seasons, and he was a fine hitting pitcher.  His high career WHIP, his lack of one or two truly great years, and his relatively high ERA, along with a career that was effectively over by age 29, prevents Zambrano from breaking the top 15 on this list.

Chris Carpenter

Chris Carpenter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

17)  Chris Carpenter –  Chris Carpenter is a tale of two pitchers.  There was the Chris Carpenter who pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays from 1997-02, a pitcher who posted an unspectacular record of 49-50 with a 4.83 ERA in 135 starts.  His ERA+ during those years was just 98, slightly less than a replacement level pitcher.  He accumulated just 7.5 WAR over those six seasons.

Then Carpenter got hurt and missed the entire 2003 season.  It was the best thing that ever happened to him.  The Blue Jays, having grown weary of their once highly touted prospect, gave Carpenter his unconditional release.  Carpenter then signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, and an ace was born.

If you go back and take a look at the numbers I listed for Pedro Martinez in this century, you’ll find that Chris Carpenter’s numbers as a St. Louis Cardinal were eerily similar.  Carpenter made 197 starts of which he won 95 and lost just 44.  He recorded a very solid ERA of 3.07, including an ERA+ of 133.  His WAR was about 32.0 to Pedro’s 34.0.  Carpenter’s WHIP was a little higher than Pedro’s, but was still an excellent 1.125.

Carpenter won the N.L. Cy Young award in 2005, going 21-5, with a 2.83 ERA, and a league-leading seven complete games for the Cardinals.  He also struck out 213 batters, and had an ERA+ of 150.

The following season, he finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting, leading the league in shutouts (3) and WHIP (1.069.)

In 2009, he finished 2nd in the voting for that same award with a 17-4 record, a league-leading 2.24 ERA, and a spectacular ERA+ of 182.

At ages 35 and 36, he led the N.L. in starts each year with 35 and 34, respectively.  He averaged 231 innings pitched during those two seasons, winning 27 games while losing 18, with a cumulative ERA of a still solid 3.32.  Carpenter retired after his age 37 season with 144 career wins and 94 losses.

But Carpenter lost three full seasons due to injury, and was ineffective early in his career.  Still, Carpenter was one of the N.L.’s premier pitchers for about half a dozen years.  When healthy, from ages 29-36, he was a true ace.

Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

18)  Andy Pettitte – It may surprise you to learn that Pettitte was just 28-years old at the turn of the last century, though he’d already pitched for the Yankees for six seasons.  In fact, though, fully two-thirds of Pettitte’s 18 seasons occurred during the 21st-century.

In fact, Pettitte’s 156 wins are the seventh most among all pitchers since the year 2001, as are his 330 starts.  His 2,065 innings pitched rank 8th in the 21st-century.  His 98 losses are tied for tenth place. Surprisingly, he had but two complete game shutouts in his final twelve seasons.

Pettitte’s 35.6 WAR most closely resembles Jake Peavy’s, while his .614 win-loss percentage most closely resembles Roy Oswalt’s .615.  Pettitte did have the advantage, though, of choosing to pitch for highly competitive teams for the last nine years of his career, teams that usually provided him ample run support.  Thus, a moderately high 3.77 ERA during that span still resulted in far more wins than losses.

But Pettitte’s best season this century did not happen while pitching for New York, but, instead, in Houston.  In 2005, at age 33, he produced an outstanding 2.39 ERA (ERA+ of 177) in 222 innings pitched.  He won 17 games, and finished fifth in Cy Young voting.  He ranked 6th in A.L. Cy Young voting for the Yanks in 2003, with a record of 21-8, despite a 4.02 ERA.

Only once in this century did Pettitte finish in the top five in WAR for pitchers in any given season.  In the post-season, Pettitte posted an 11-6 record after the year 2000, with a 3.53 ERA in 153 post-season innings.  And no one ever had a better game face, especially in the playoffs, than Andy Pettitte.

Overall, Pettitte was a very good, but seldom a great pitcher, in the 21st-century.  I would have no problem if someday he is enshrined in Cooperstown, though he would never get there if  his 21st-century numbers were the sole basis on which his career were to be evaluated.

English: Donald Zackary "Zack" Grein...

English: Donald Zackary “Zack” Greinke, an american Major League Baseball starting pitcher, delivers against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, July 29, 2009, in Baltimore.

19)  Zach Greinke – Having just turned 30 years-old, Greinke should have a lot of baseball left in him.  And if his future performance is anything like some of his finest past seasons, he’s going to put together one very fine career.

Just last season, Greinke led the N.L. in win-loss percentage by going 15-4 for the Dodgers (.789.)  Since having been liberated after seven years in Kansas City, (where he was 60-67 despite pitching at least reasonably well in all but one season), Greinke has gone 46-15 over the past three years.

Greinke has averaged eight strikeouts per nine innings in his career, during which he has made 259 starts, tossed 1,670 innings, and posted an adequate 3.65 ERA.  Three times he has fanned over 200 batters in a season, and he’s always had excellent control, having never walked more than 56 batters in a season.

His finest season by far, and one of the very best of this century, occurred in 2009 while he was pitching for the Royals.  At the age of 25, he led the A.L. with a 2.16 ERA in just under 230 innings, brandishing an astonishingly high ERA+ of 205.

There have been only 37 seasons in baseball history where a pitcher has topped an ERA+ of 200, so that is quite an achievement.  His WAR for the year was a Pedro Martinez-esque 10.4.  For his efforts, Greinke won the A.L. Cy Young award that season, despite just 16 victories.

Health permitting, Greinke is now in the right ballpark and in the right league to finally run off a string of seasons, health permitting, that will allow him to move up much higher on this list over the next half-dozen seasons.  Even if he never tops his 2005 season (and he doesn’t have to), he should be able to further solidify his reputation as one of the 21st-century’s best pitchers.

cole hamels

cole hamels (Photo credit: artolog)

20)  Cole Hamels – As with Greinke, Cole Hamels is entering his age 30 season in 2014.  To this point, he’s often been a near-great pitcher, producing high-caliber pitching for the Phillies over the past eight seasons.

You can count on Hamels to make over 30 starts per year, pitch 215-220 innings, strike out over 200 batters (which he has done in three of the last four years), walk fewer than 60, and post a WHIP around 1.14.

On most teams, he would be the staff ace, but on the Phillies deep staff, he’s been their #2 or #3 starter to this point.  His 99-74 record masks his true value, and his 33.8 WAR is close to Pedro Martinez this century (though Hamels has made more starts.)

Hamels has averaged 8.5 K’s / 9 innings in nearly 1,600 innings pitched, so his stuff is among the best in the N.L.  He has received a reasonable amount of Cy Young attention, finishing in the top ten in voting three times.

With a little bit of luck, Hamels could be in line for his first Cy Young award and 20-win season as early as this 2014.  But even if he never quite pitches with the degree of luck and run support he might need to garner that hardware, he’s plenty good enough to continue to rate among the dominant pitchers in the National League for years to come.

I hope you have enjoyed this second installment of the Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century.  Next time, I’ll post the final five pitchers in this series.

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Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century: Part 1

Who are the best pitchers of the 21st-century?

This is the first installment of a three-part series that will examine the top pitchers the 21st-century has had to offer.

Let me be clear, I am not attempting to discuss which of the current young arms of this generation will ultimately prevail as the greatest pitcher of (at least the first quarter) of this century.  Therefore, you won’t find David Price, Steven Strasburg, or Matt Harvey on this list.  To make this list, a pitcher has to A) Have accumulated at least 30.0 career WAR, B) Not have accumulated the vast majority of his career WAR value in the 20th-century, C) Cannot have a career ERA over 4.00 and D) Cannot have been primarily a relief pitcher.

These criteria mean that, for example, Roger Clemens, who won two of his seven Cy Young awards in this century, and even though he accumulated 30.5 WAR since 2001, will not be on this list because the overwhelming majority of his career value (78%) occurred in the 20th-century.  Also, if you throw a broken bat at Mike Piazza, I’m just not very inclined to add you to my list in the first place.  Have a nice retirement, sport.

I narrowed my list down to 25 pitchers because, quite frankly, no one cares who the 26th, 27th, and 28th best pitchers of this century have been.

Although I used WAR as my starting point, this is not simply a list of the top 25 accumulated WAR’s since 2001.  I have also taken into account peak value, hardware won (Cy Young awards / MVP’s), and few others stats, both old and new(ish):  wins, complete games, earned run average, ERA+, and WHIP.

The pitchers who are most likely to rank high on this list are those that have A)  Been real, real good  B) Had the good fortune to begin their careers just as this century got started, and C)  Have enjoyed a  continuous run of success (as opposed to being really good every three years or so.)

Some of the pitchers who are on this list are still quite young (Felix Hernandez, for example), and will undoubtedly rank higher on a list like this in 5-10 years.  But this list reflects where a pitcher has been to this point, not where he may ultimately end up.  Other pitchers (Johan Santana, for example), are more likely to have dropped a bit in 5-10 years, simply because some of these young pitchers may overtake them.

Some of the win totals or strikeout totals I mention for a particular pitcher might not reflect that pitcher’s career totals, because we are only taking into account what a pitcher produced in this century, not what he has accomplished during his entire career.  Some pitchers on this list began their careers in the late-20th century, but I am not counting their 20th-century stats.

Finally, when I say that a particular pitcher was the best pitcher of this century, obviously I mean to this point, but it would be boring to continue to add, “to this point” to each declarative sentence, so I won’t do that.

No, seriously, who are the best pitchers of the 21st-century?

All right, here’s the list, with a bit of explanation of how they got here:

Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Roy Halladay –  Halladay was the best pitcher of the 21st-century, and it’s not particularly close.  His career WAR of 65.4 is the highest on this list.  His 190 wins in this century ranks second only to C.C. Sabathia’s 205.

His 2.93 ERA also ranks second.  His 65 complete games are by far the most of anyone on this list.  No other pitcher reached even 40 complete games.

He won two Cy Young awards, finished second in the voting twice, third once, and fifth twice.  For seven consecutive seasons, he increased his strikeout totals each year, topping out at 220 in 2011.

During his final six seasons, he never walked as many as 40 batters in a year.  In 38 post-season innings, Halladay allowed just 28 base-runners, and posted an ERA of 2.37.

Halladay was probably one of the top 30-40 pitchers of all time, and should someday be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

2)  Johan Santana – It’s possible that Santana may become one of the great, nearly forgotten pitchers of this century.  His career as an everyday starting pitcher was brief, and during some of that he toiled out of the media spotlight in Minnesota.

Yet, a case can be made that Santana should one day be enshrined in Cooperstown.  Like Halladay, Santana won two Cy Young awards.  He also finished third in the voting two other seasons, and he finished fifth in the voting one other time.

He led the A.L. in WHIP for four consecutive seasons, posting a WHIP below 1.00 in three of those years.  He also led the league in strikeouts three times, while striking out over 200 batters for five straight seasons. He won three ERA crowns, and led his league in WAR for pitchers three times, finishing second another time.  He has also thrown the only no-hitter in Mets history.

His 50.6 WAR ranks fourth-best this century, and is higher than several pitchers already in the Hall of Fame.  He has been the best left-handed pitcher in the 21st-century.

3)  C.C. Sabathia – It would have been easy to have ranked Sabathia ahead of Santana.  He has been one of this century’s workhorse pitchers since he debuted in 2001.

English: CC Sabathia

English: CC Sabathia (Photo credit: Wikipediabathia has been one of the ultimate workhorse pitchers since his rookie year of 2001.

Sabathia’s ERA of 3.60 ranks just 19th-best on this list, but let’s remember that he’s pitched in the tough A.L. East for the past five seasons.  Sabathia has a Cy Young award to his credit, and has also finished in the top five in voting for that award in four other seasons.

A durable pitcher, Sabathia has notched over 190 innings pitched eleven times over the past twelve seasons, and has never pitched fewer than 180 innings in any season during his entire career.

He is just one of three players to have made over 400 starts in this century.  His 205 wins are also the most in the 21st-century.  His 54.4 career WAR is second only to Halladay’s, and he is also the only pitcher over the past 13 years to accumulate over 2,000 strikeouts.

Entering his age 33 season in 2014, it’ll be interesting to see how much gas he has left in the tank.  He’s probably not in Hall of Fame range yet, but with another couple of useful seasons, he’ll certainly be in the conversation once he retires.

4)  Roy Oswalt – Oswalt enjoyed a seven-year run of excellence at the beginning of this century that was rivaled by only a handful of other pitchers.  From his rookie year in 2001, and through the next six years, Oswalt posted the following ERA+’s:  170, 144, 148, 124, 144, 150, 140.  After a couple of mediocre seasons, he posted an ERA+ of 145 in 2010 at age 32.  Seven seasons of at least a 140 ERA+ in ten years is a remarkable accomplishment.  Almost as remarkable is that few people seemed to notice it.

While Oswalt never won a Cy Young award, he did finish in the top five in voting in five seasons.  His career ERA of 3.36 is among the top ten since 2001, and if you remove his final, ill-advised 90 innings when he attempted to make a comeback pitching for Texas and Colorado (of all places), his career WAR would be over 50, about the same as Johan Santana.  Oswalt’s closest career comps are probably Bret Saberhagen, David Cone and Ron Guidry.  Nice company, don’t you think?

5)  Tim Hudson –  Hudson has toiled away exceedingly well without much fanfare for a decade and a half.  Eight times in this century, Hudson has reached an ERA+ of at least 120.  His 174 wins since 2001 (he has 205 wins dating back to 1999), are the fourth-highest total among the pitchers on this list.  His 2,475 innings pitched are among the top five.

His 47.4 WAR since 2001 is ranks sixth on my list.  If you remove his injury-shortened seasons, Hudson has averaged right around 15 wins per year  since the beginning of his career.  While seldom one of the very best pitchers in the league, Hudson has often been the most reliable starter on his team, and has finished among the top ten pitchers in WAR in six seasons.

Similar to pitchers like Jimmy Key, Bob Welch or Orel Hershiser, Hudson may not be in line for Cooperstown immortality, but he has produced a yeoman’s career of solidly above-average work that should not be easily dismissed.

Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  Justin Verlander – With eight full seasons under his belt, Verlander has certainly demonstrated that he has been one of the finest pitchers of this century.

Though his 40.7 WAR ranks just tenth overall, that’s primarily because some of those who rank higher have pitched in several more seasons than has Verlander.

I have little doubt that in a couple of years, he should probably rank among the top five in WAR in the 21st-century.

Over the past five seasons, Verlander has been about as dominant as they come, winning the Cy Young / MVP award in 2011, finishing second in Cy Young voting in 2012, as well as three other top ten finishes in the voting since 2006 (the season in which he was also voted A.L. Rookie of the Year.)

Verlander has topped 200 strikeouts in each of the past five seasons, pacing the league in that category three times.  He has also averaged 225 innings pitched over the past seven years, leading the league three times in that statistic.

Verlander’s career ERA+ of 127 is the same as Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, and Curt Schilling.  Entering his age 31 season in 2014, it will be interesting to see if Verlander can continue this run of dominance he has established over the past several years.  If so, he may be regarded 80 years from now as one of the very best pitchers of the 21st-century.

Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7)  Cliff Lee –  Cliff Lee doesn’t walk batters.  Other pitchers in baseball history, such as Greg Maddux and Bret Saberhagen, were fantastic control pitchers, but Cliff Lee may have them all beat.

Over his last 121 starts, Lee has walked a total of just 120 batters, averaging slightly less than one walk per start.  He has not walked as many as 45 batters in a year in any of his past seven seasons.

In 2010, he walked just 18 batters in 212 innings pitched, also leading the league with seven complete games.

Not merely a control pitcher, Lee has struck out over 200 batters in each of the past three seasons, averaging right around a strikeout per inning.

Cliff Lee has had a bit of an odd career in that he showed promise early on, posting an 18-5 record in 2005, but then he crashed and burned, pitching poorly in ’06 and even worse in ’07.  At that point in his career, at age 28, Lee’s career hung in the balance.

Then Lee posted a fantastic comeback in ’08, with a record of 22-3 for Cleveland, leading the league in wins, ERA, ERA+, and winning the Cy Young award.  Since that season, Lee has continued to refine his craft, posting the second highest WAR of his career just last season (7.3.)

Lee’s overall WAR in this century, 42.4, has been topped by only about a half-dozen other pitchers on this list.  In addition to his Cy Young award, he has four other top ten finishes in the voting for that award.  The question is, can Lee continue this run of excellence in the coming years?  He will be entering his age 35 season in 2014, so it remains to be seen.

8)  Felix Hernandez – I was tempted to rank King Felix ahead of Cliff Lee, but here’s why I didn’t.  While Lee and Hernandez each have 86 career losses, Lee has 139 wins to Hernandez’s 110.  Now, I’m well aware of all the arguments regarding the value of wins as a statistic, and I’m also aware that Hernandez has made 42 fewer starts in his career than Lee has, but Lee’s .618 win-lost percentage is vastly superior to Hernandez’s .561 mark.

I don’t think a difference that large can simply be attributed to run support, or lack thereof, or a dramatic difference in each team’s respective bullpen.  I think Cliff Lee has simply been a slightly better pitcher than Felix Hernandez as been.

Lee also has a slight lead on Hernandez with a WAR of 42.4 to King Felix’s 38.7.  Lee’s WHIP, 1.19, has also been slightly better than Hernandez’s 1.20, and we have to keep in mind that Hernandez has had the advantage of pitching in the vastness of Safeco Field over the past nine seasons.

This is not to cast aspersions on Felix Hernandez.  He has a Cy Young award to his credit, along with a second, a fourth, and an 8th-place finish.  And, entering his age 28 season in a couple of months, he could now just be hitting his stride toward what could easily be a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

If he merely pitches as effectively over the next half-dozen seasons as he has up to this point, he will have earned a trip to Cooperstown.  It wouldn’t hurt his chances, however, to move on out of Seattle to a market where he might receive more attention, not to mention more run support.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw (Photo credit: SD Dirk)

9)  Clayton Kershaw – There may be some readers who object to Kershaw being on this list at all, as he’s only been in the Majors for six seasons.  There will be others who wonder why I didn’t rank him higher.

Kershaw has quite possibly produced the finest six-year stretch of any pitcher in baseball in this century.  Over the past five years, he has posted ERA’s, in order, of 2.79, 2.91, 2.28, 2.53, and last season, 1.83.  Not too shabby.

Although he won’t turn 26-years old until next month, he already has 1,206 career strikeouts, and has led the league in K’s in two of the past four seasons.  He has led his league in WHIP for three years running, and has accumulated as much WAR in six years (32.2) as Matt Cain (a fine pitcher in his own right) has accumulated in nine seasons.

Over the past three seasons, Kershaw has won two Cy Young awards, while finishing runner-up in the middle year.  Kershaw has averaged over a strikeout per inning in his career, and has also averaged about three strikeouts for every base on balls.  Clearly, all that stands between Kershaw and a prominent place in baseball immortality is continued good health.

10)  Brandon Webb – Brandon Webb is one of those pitchers who was well-respected at the time, but who will probably never quite get the recognition he deserves for his career accomplishments.  To begin with, let’s consider the fact that Webb toiled in the desert air out in Arizona, where balls carry nearly as well as they do in the high altitude of Colorado.  In other words, Webb pitched his home games in a hitter’s park in a hitter’s era.  Yet, he accomplished some remarkable things.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

Webb pitched just six seasons, but somehow, he accumulated a higher WAR (33.3) and more wins (87) than Kershaw.  Also, while Kershaw’s ERA+ is a lofty 146, Webb’s was a very similar 142, and Webb pitched 139 more innings in his career than Kershaw has done to this point.

Webb won the 2006 N.L. Cy Young award, and then finished runner-up in the voting in each of the next two seasons.  His ERA+’s in his six full seasons were:  165, 128, 125, 152, 158, and 140.  Over a five-year period, from 2004-08, inclusive, Webb averaged nearly 230 innings pitched per season, which obviously took a toll on his right arm.

After 198 career starts, over which he posted an ERA of 3.27, Webb was unable to come back from a shoulder injury, and he retired from baseball at age 30.

That’s a look at the first ten pitchers on my list of the best pitchers of the 21st-century.  In the second installment of this series, we’ll take a look at pitchers #11-#20.

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The Measure of the Man: Sabathia vs. Hernandez

Cy Young.

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A recent article by a writer named Murray Chass called, “The Dark Side to Overtake Cy Young Award,” provoked me to write the following blog-post.

The ongoing argument between the modern stat-heads and the so-called traditionalists is getting old and boring.  The fact of the matter is, the stats the traditionalists use (Wins, ERA, Strikeouts) were all once ” new” stats as well.  Whether a stat is old or new isn’t important.  Any valid stat simply gives us a clearer, fuller picture of the objective value of a player, compared to other players.

I generally believe the modern stats have done a great deal of good for baseball.  Yet I suspect that the real, underlying complaint of many in the “traditionalist” camp is that they find many of the modern stat-heads to be insufferable, arrogant bastards.

As for this criticism, they have a valid point.

I can name a few prominent stat-heads who irk me at times not so much for their point of views, but for how they express their ideas.  In a sense, they appear to be more in love with numbers (and their reputations) than with baseball itself (again, not necessarily a majority of them, but enough of them to matter.)  They automatically dismiss any disagreement with their opinions as the delusional rantings of the ignorant rabble.

Still, the so-called traditionalists are often no less boring to listen to as they relate stories about how the best players demonstrated intangibles like guts, leadership and hustle that do not easily translate into cold, hard numbers.
The truth, of course, is that the vast majority of excellent players possess both the intangibles as well as the objective data to lay claim to their status as great players.

Regarding the Sabathia vs. Hernandez debate, I think both pitchers are worthy candidates to win the Cy Young award.

Of course wins matter.  How can they not?  Do we now believe that a 300-career win pitcher, for example, is not deserving of significant honor and respect?  A pitcher who wins 20 or more games in a season has had a fine year, and certainly deserves to be in the running for this award.

At the same time, if a pitcher has suffered from extremely poor run support all season but has pitched his way to an ERA title, led the league in innings pitched (indicating a true work-horse, which the traditionalists should admire), and is near or at the top in several other statistical categories including ERA+, WHIP, strikeouts, etc., then it’s nonsensical to argue that, if only he had pitched better, he would have “found a way” to have won more games.

From my standpoint, the best thing that could happen this year is for Sabathia and Hernandez to be co-winners of the Cy Young award.

This outcome is highly unlikely, of course, but it would demonstrate proper, measured, and sensible respect for the superior accomplishments of each of these two admirable pitchers this past season.

This isn’t a cop-out on my part.  And I am realistic enough to realize that few will agree with my proposal.

So think of this post, then, as my way of saying to the partisans on each side, shut up and pay proper respect to the opinions of your fellow baseball fans.

No one cares who is smarter or more passionate in their opinions.  If the game of baseball is big enough to contain both Red Sox and Yankee fans, (not to mention shell-shocked Pirates fans), then there is certainly room enough for multiple points of view regarding how to take the measure of a man who dons a baseball uniform.

Because the game itself is bigger than any one man, especially those who presume to measure the value of others.

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Walter Johnson Award Winners

Walter Johnson, Washington National baseball p...

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Here is the official press release from the BBA regarding the N.L. and A.L. winners of the Walter Johnson Award for best pitcher in each league:

HALLADAY, HERNANDEZ OVERWHEMING WINNERS OF WALTER JOHNSON AWARD
2010 was often referred to as “the year of the pitcher.”  However, not all pitchers are created equal.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance
announced today that Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay was the unanimous
selection for the National League Walter Johnson Award, receiving all
nineteen first place votes.  In the American League, Seattle’s Felix
Hernandez was almost as dominant, garnering all but four of the first
place selections from the BBA membership.

Halladay, who came over to Philadelphia in an off-season deal with Toronto,
wasted no time getting comfortable in his new league, posting an 2.44
ERA, striking out 219 batters, winning 21 games, and throwing a perfect
game to boot.  While only the regular season was considered for voting,
he also became only the second player to throw a post-season no-hitter
when he faced the Reds in the National League Divisional Series.
Halladay received 133 points, well ahead of the runner up, St. Louis’s
Adam Wainwright, who received 66.

Hernandez’s
win was statistically more impressive, due to more ballots being cast
in the American League and a wider range of pitchers receiving votes.
His 2010 season, where he put up a sparkling 2.27 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and
struck out 232 in just under 250 innings pitched, led voters to bestow
upon him 137 points, with second place being New York’s CC Sabathia, who
received three first place votes and 62 points over all.

The complete voting results are as follows (first place votes in parenthesis):

American League
Felix Hernandez, Seattle (18) 137
CC Sabathia, New York (3) 62
David Price, Tampa Bay (1) 57
Cliff Lee, Seattle/Texas 41
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles 22
Jon Lester, Boston 18
Clay Buchholz, Boston 14
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota 13
Trevor Cahill, Oakland 5
Justin Verlander, Detroit 5

National League
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia (19) 133
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis 66
Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado 52
Josh Johnson, Florida 43
Tim Hudson, Atlanta 16
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco 7
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles 2
Mat Latos, San Diego 2
Heath Bell, San Diego 1
Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee 1

The
Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage
cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major
league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally. As of
this writing, the organization consists of 233 blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.

The
BBA is organized under a similar structure as the Baseball Writers of
America, where blogs that follow the same team are combined into
“chapters” and only two votes from the chapter on an award are counted.
The blog chapters that are focused on general baseball were allowed two
votes as well, which they could use both on the same league or split
between the two leagues.

Chapters
generally followed one of two methods when casting their ballot.
Either representatives of the chapter were given the ballots for voting
or a “group ballot” was posted, accounting for both of their votes.

Ballots
are posted on the respective blogs and for this award, were tabulated
on a 7-4-3-2-1 point scale for first through fifth place. In the
interest of transparency, links are given below for the ballots. Chapter
affiliation is in parenthesis.  Those chapters that decided on the
group method are noted with an asterisk.

American League
Camden Crazies (Baltimore)*
Boston Red Thoughts (Boston)*
The Tribe Daily (Cleveland)*
Motor City Bengals (Detroit)
Detroit Tigers Scorecard Blog (Detroit)
One Royal Way (Kansas City)*
Twins Target (Minnesota)
Bronx Baseball Daily (New York)*
Contract Year (Oakland)
Sodo Mojo (Seattle)
Tampa Bay Rays News (Tampa Bay)
1 Blue Jays Way (Toronto)
Infield Fly (Toronto)
Misc. Baseball (History)*
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)*
Blogging From The Bleachers (General)*
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)*

National League
Marlin Maniac (Florida)
Marlins Diehards (Florida)
Feeling Dodger Blue (Los Angeles)
The Eddie Kranepool Society (New York)*
Dugger’s Corner (Philadelphia)
Phighting On (Philadelphia)
Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? (Pittsburgh)*
Stan Musial’s Stance (St. Louis)
C70 At The Bat (St. Louis)
Friar Forecast (San Diego)*
22gigantes (San Francisco)*
Misc. Baseball (History)*
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)*
Blogging From The Bleachers (General)*
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)*

Prior Winners:  2009: Zach Greinke, Kansas City; Tim Lincecum, San Francisco

The official website of the BBA is located at www.baseballbloggersalliance.com.
The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by
the hashmark #bbba.  Members of the BBA may be heard at Blog Talk Radio
every Tuesday night with their call-in show, BBA Baseball Talk, which may also be downloaded as a podcast from iTunes.  For more information, contact Daniel Shoptaw at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

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