With baseball’s Spring Training games under way and the regular season opener later this month (Seattle versus Oakland on March 28) it’s high time we continue to rank the best pitchers, by league. Last week it was the American League, so this week we explore the National League.
A couple of notes before we start. Just as the offensive players were ranked previously, there are several factors involved as this is a projection of 2012. Age obviously matters as does consistency and venue. Pitching in the thin air of Colorado or the small confines of Fenway Park is a little more difficult than the more spacious parks in Kansas City or San Francisco.
Also, for purposes of this list, relievers, closers, and starters are all available for inclusion.
With such a broad base to choose from, mentioning just 10 here doesn’t seem to do everyone justice, though. So, here are a few that were considered, but just fell short of the cut (several because of injuries): Heath Bell (Miami Marlins), Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati Reds), Jaime Garcia (St. Louis Cardinals), Tim Hudson (Atlanta Braves), Josh Johnson (Miami Marlins), Adam Wainright (St. Louis Cardinals), and Brian Wilson (San Francisco Giants). Onto the list:
10. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants, 27 years old; 2011 Pitching stats: 12-11 record, 2.88 ERA, 221.7 innings, 7.3 strikeouts/nine innings, 2.6 walks/nine innings, 1.08 walks/hits per inning. Career full-season average: 12-12 record, 3.35 ERA, 220 innings, 7.4 strikeouts/nine innings, 3.2 walks/nine innings, 1.20 walks/hits per inning—Cain has been remarkably consistent for the Giants since they brought him up as a 20-year-old in 2005. The right-handed throwing Cain has posted an ERA below 3.80 each of the past five seasons while starting between 32 and 34 games each of those seasons.
9. Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks, 27 years old; 2011 Pitching stats: 21-4 record, 2.88 ERA, 222 innings, 8.0 strikeouts/nine innings, 2.2 walks/nine innings, 1.09 walks/hits per inning. Career full-season average: 14-8 record, 3.65 ERA, 207 innings, 7.7 strikeouts/nine innings, 3.1 walks/nine innings, 1.21 walks/hits per inning—Kennedy has shot up the charts quickly in his two seasons in the desert, finishing fourth in the Cy Young last year after going 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA in 2010. Though Cain has a better career ERA, he plays in a pitcher’s park and doesn’t have the strikeouts/walks numbers that Kennedy does to instill confidence.
8. Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds, 24 years old; 2011 Pitching stats: 9-14 record, 3.47 ERA, 194 innings, 8.6 strikeouts/nine innings, 2.9 walks/nine innings, 1.18 walks/hits per inning. Career full-season average: 13-14 record, 3.37 ERA, 203 innings, 8.7 strikeouts/nine innings, 2.8 walks/nine innings, 1.15 walks/hits per inning—Latos already has two good seasons under his belt, going 14-10 with a 2.92 ERA as a 22-year-old in 2010 while with the Padres, finishing eighth in the Cy Young voting that season. A close call over Kennedy, Latos has better strikeout/walks numbers at a younger age.
7. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies, 28 years old; 2011 Pitching stats: 14-9 record, 2.79 ERA, 216 innings, 8.1 strikeouts/nine innings, 1.8 walks/nine innings, 0.99 walks/hits per inning. Career full-season average: 14-10 record, 3.39 ERA, 219 innings, 8.5 strikeouts/nine innings, 2.3 walks/nine innings, 1.14 walks/hits per inning—Hamels had his greatest season yet in 2011 posting his best ERA as well as walk-rate. Since Hamels is due to hit free agency as probably the top lefty on the market after this season, he should be fairly motivated in 2012.