|National League Best Pitchers||| Print ||
Written by Lewie Pollis (Contact & Archive) on February 15, 2011
I kicked off my MLB predictions series with guesses on whom the best position players and pitchers in the American League will be. Last week, I took on the hitters of the National League. Today, I offer my picks for the best hurlers in the Senior Circuit.
Here are my picks for the five best starters and three best relievers in the NL for 2011, along with my best-guess projections for their stats.
Expectations were lofty for Roy Halladay last year after he left the treacherous AL East for the gentler National League, but he thrived for the Phillies in 2010, winning 21 games with a 2.44 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 7.3 K/BB ratio in 250.2 innings. Throw in a perfect game, a no-hitter in the playoffs and a unanimous NL Cy Young award, and it's hard to make a case for anyone besides Doc to be the best starter in the game.
Cliff Lee: 16-7, 2.84 ERA, 217.1 IP, 191/27/18, 6.5 WAR
If anyone can challenge Halladay for the top spot, it's his new teammate Cliff Lee. The rightful 2010 AL Cy Young winner nearly set a new MLB record with his 10.3 K/BB ratio and posted the best FIP (2.58) in the league while helping the Texas Rangers to their first-ever World Series berth. Lee shocked the baseball world this winter by signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, and the move to the weaker league will boost his numbers even further.
Adam Wainwright: 18-8, 2.97 ERA, 223 IP, 203/59/20, 6.4 WAR
The St. Louis Cardinals' lineup might not be terribly intimidating aside from Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, but Adam Wainwright doesn't need much run support to win games. Over the last two years, only CC Sabathia has more wins (40) than Wainwright (39), and only Felix Hernandez (2.38) has a lower ERA (Wainwright's is 2.53). That's not all luck, either -- his 2.99 FIP ranks sixth and his 3.25 xFIP fourth. He's still on the right side of 30, and there's no reason to think he won't continue to be among the best pitchers in the game.
Josh Johnson: 15-8, 2.82 ERA, 195.2 IP, 189/50/18, 6.2 WAR
Josh Johnson's been a bona fide ace for years when he's healthy, but the 27-year-old had a breakout 2010 season, posting a 2.30 ERA and 2.41 FIP while setting career bests in strikeout rate (9.1 K/9), walk rate (2.4 BB/9) and home run rate (0.34, the best in baseball). He got a little lucky with the homers (4.2 percent HR/FB rate), but his numbers could take a step back and he'd still be an elite pitcher.
Tommy Hanson: 14-6, 3.09 ERA, 216 IP, 199/56/21, 5.6 WAR
In 2009, at age 22, Tommy Hanson dominated opposing hitters to the tune of a 2.89 ERA in 21 big-league starts. He followed that up with a spectacular 2010 season in which he displayed improved control (2.5 BB/9) and posted a 3.33 ERA. Yes, his .286 BABIP and 5.8 percent HR/FB rate do seem a little fluky, but his 3.21 tERA suggests that he may truly be able to induce weak contact. And given that he's only 24 and his MLB numbers pale in comparison to the mastery he showed in the minors, any luck-based regression could be outweighed by legitimate improvement.
Narrowing this list down to five starters was excruciatingly difficult, but I have reasons for why I snubbed each near-miss player. I passed on Tim Lincecum because of his mechanical issues and his much-discussed loss of fastball velocity. Ubaldo Jimenez missed the cut because his impressive start last year was almost entirely due to luck, and I have similar qualms about Matt Cain. Roy Oswalt and Chris Carpenter are a little old for my taste, and guys like Zack Greinke, Shawn Marcum, Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo and Clayton Kershaw just weren't quite good enough.
Choosing the best players gets a little easier in the bullpen, but unfortunately relievers are much harder to project. Here are my picks:
Brian Wilson: 46 saves, 2.35 ERA, 69.2 IP, 82/25/4, 2.7 WAR
Brian Wilson isn't solely responsible for the San Francisco Giants' 2010 World Series championship, but if three of the 48 save opportunities he converted had been lost, the Giants would have missed the playoffs. But it wasn't just his gaudy save total that made Wilson's year impressive -- he also posted a 1.81 ERA and 11.2 K/9 rate. The man who MLB fined for "having too much awesome on my feet" should continue to be an elite closer in 2011.
Carlos Marmol: 42 saves, 2.48 ERA, 72.2 IP, 108/46/3, 2.6 WAR
Forget that Carlos Marmol recorded 38 saves and a 2.55 ERA, or that his 2.01 FIP was the best in the game among pitchers with more than 60 innings pitched. The thing that made Marmol stand out last year was his 16.0 K/9 rate, which would be far and away the best single-season mark in baseball history if he had enough innings to qualify. And while his 2.95 xFIP suggests that he got lucky, his 2.12 tERA indicates that he may have the true talent to induce weak contact.
Heath Bell: 43 saves, 2.67 ERA, 72 IP, 85/26/5, 2.4 WAR
Most 33-year-old relievers are dismissed as past their primes, but Heath Bell had the best season of his career in 2010, posting a 1.93 ERA and striking out over 11 batters per nine innings while notching 47 saves. Amazingly, his average fastball velocity (94.0 mph) was the highest it's been since 2007. Maybe he really has found the fountain of youth.
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