Top 10 Pitchers in MLB doesn’t include Cliff Lee

by on December 19, 2010   10 Comments

Cliff Lee is the envy of his teammates these days, particularly those on his own pitching staff; two of which are better pitchers with smaller salaries.  Actually, the signing of his new 5-year, $120mm contract with the Phillies is the envy of the entire baseball world since he doesn’t even crack the top 10 starting pitchers in MLB, and he wouldn’t even be in the conversation if he wasn’t left-handed (he didn’t even crack the top-10 in WAR in the AL last year, let alone MLB, and the Rangers made the playoffs in spite of his average performance down the stretch, not because of it). Controversial statement?  Read my list of the top 10 pitchers in baseball and you decide where he should be.

1.  Roy Halladay – Undisputed #1.  Some said he wouldn’t rise to the challenge of pitching for a contender and he answered with his 2nd Cy Young and a 6th place finish in the MVP voting.  I don’t even need to post his stats.  Plus at an annual salary of $20mm per season of the next three years, he is $4mm/year less expensive than Lee.

2.  Felix Hernandez – The AL Cy Young winner in 2010 (and runner-up in 2009) has gotten his accolades despite being on a bottom tier team in Seattle.  And rightfully so as he dominated both traditional categories (1st in AL in ERA, H/9, GS, IP; top 10 in everything else) and sabermetric stats like WAR (1st in AL, 4th in MLB), Adj. Pitching Wins (1st in AL, 2nd in MLB), Adj. Pitching Runs (1st in AL, 2nd in MLB), etc. etc.

3.  Adam Wainwright – The name might raise a few eyebrows outside of St. Louis, but his stats solidify him as one of the most dominant pitchers of the past couple years.  He went 20-11 in 2010 when he finished 2nd in the NL Cy Young voting to Halladay, with a 2.42 ERA in 230.1 IP and 213 K.  Add a Gold Glove to his trophy cabinet and the 6’7″ fireballer has the ability to be at the top of this list for the next 10 years.

4.  CC Sabathia – Big, intimating, dominating, inning-eater.  Sabathia is everything an ace is supposed to be – he doesn’t miss starts, he never has an off-night in terms of velocity, he competes and matches up with any pitcher in the big leagues.  He is one of the most reliable starting pitchers in the game, which can often be an unreliable investment – Johan Santana anyone?

5.  David Price – Price is one step ahead of a class of dominating lefties breaking into the big leagues right now including the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner.  Price dominated the AL East is just his second full season in the bigs, and got four first place votes in the 2010 AL Cy Young voting for his 19-win effort.  He has incredible stuff and is just starting to learn how to be a pitcher.  He will be an annual 15-20 game winner for years and years to come.

6.  Jered Weaver – The 6’7″ Weaver has gotten better every year and, at just 28 years old, is set to continue to dominate for quite some time.  A lot of people didn’t notice Weaver set career highs while being in the same division as the best offense in baseball (Texas) – 224 IP and 233 K – and career “lows” – 7.5 H/9 and 0.9 HR/9 – which were masked by a hard-luck 13-12 record despite a 3.01 ERA.

7.  Tim Hudson – It pains me to put a 35-year old with a recent Tommy John surgery in my top 10, but how can you bet against Hudson?  You might want to check that elbow for robotics cause he is only getting better with age, beating all of his 162-averages in 2010 with 17 wins, 2.83 ERA, 228 IP, 7.8 H/9, and just 0.8 HR/9.  His 5.4 WAR is right up there with the big names of Sabathia, Wainwright, etc.  You can argue that younger, statistically similar versions of Hudson like Jeff Weaver should be on the list instead – valid point – but it’s my list, and I take Hudson.

8.  Clay Bucholz – As the Red Sox faded in the Wild Card last year a lot of people didn’t notice Bucholz developing into one of the best starters in baseball.  He finished as the MLB leader in ERA+ at 187 to go with a 17-7 record and 2.33 ERA.  He also only yielded nine home runs all year.  He would be higher on the list if he had more than one unbelievable year under his belt – but it’s a year you can’t ignore, especially with the Yankees and Rays in your division.

9.  Roy OswaltOswalt would be higher on the list if I didn’t believe his best years were behind him.  At 33 years old, Oswalt experienced a renewal of spirit with the Phillies, dominating down the playoffs stretch last year with a 7-1 record, 1.74 ERA, and only 5.8 H/9.  He is good for 30+ starts and 200+ innings for at least a couple more years, but won’t be clinging to the top 10 starters in baseball for much longer.

10.  Josh JohnsonJohnson has a career .672 winning percentage despite playing on a team that is openly not interesting in winning (or at least paying to win).  He has dominating stuff and led the NL in ERA (2.30) and ERA+ (182) last year while finishing 3rd in MLB in WAR (wins above replacement player) at 5.4.  Basically, Johnson is worth 5.4 wins more than the average pitcher, 27 years old, and cheeeeeeap.  The two names that finished ahead of him in WAR are decent pitchers – Ubaldo Jiminez and Roy HalladayJiminez would have made the list if he hadn’t faltered a bit down the stretch last year raising questions of his reliability, but definitely not his stuff.  Dude is sick.

I still have at least 4-5 before putting Lee’s name down.  Lots more if you’re consider pitching value based on contract.

Let the arguments begin.

Author: Aimee Connors
Categories: Major League Baseball (MLB)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Jeff Weaver shouldn’t be on your list, but maybe his younger Jered 😉

    How did Tim Lincecum not make the list? I would think he is an undisputed number 2.

    Comment by Andy Weiler
    December 19, 2010 at 3:55 pm

  2. First, we gotta replace Jeff Weaver with Jared Weaver.

    Then I say replace Hudson with Lincecum and Bucholz with Matt Cain.

    More to come.

    Comment by Mac
    December 19, 2010 at 4:39 pm

  3. I think this is a solid list. I definitely wouldn’t put Lincecum on here with his near 3.50 ERA in 2010. If anyone deserves to be here who is not, it is Clayton Kershaw. His K rate is higher than most that are listed while having comparable stats in other categories.

    Comment by Eric Somsel
    December 19, 2010 at 5:14 pm

  4. Whoops. Good catch, Mac. That’s my Detroit fan coming out it me. I’ll fix it.

    Lincecum? The sabermetric nerd in me penalizes Lincecum and Cain for the park and division they play in – and they aren’t anywhere in the top 10 in any category including WAR, etc. If Hudson and Bucholz get to face the lineups of the NL West in those parks, they’d would had even better numbers (including facing that record-setting strikeout D-Backs lineup).

    Kershaw is in the same boat, but in my mind he will take over from the likes of Hudson and Oswalt soon – those old timers won’t be among the elite for much longer – maybe even in the next year (or two).

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 19, 2010 at 5:17 pm

  5. “The sabermetric nerd in me penalizes Lincecum and Cain for the park and division they play in – and they aren’t anywhere in the top 10 in any category including WAR, etc.” – 15 awesome points for using the term “sabermetric nerd”. Amazing. I’m using that term in my next article.

    I think you are right on with Roy, Felix, Wainright (Kudos for that – lots of folks have overlooked him in recent years because losers like Cliff Lee get the spotlight.. plus he’s a Georgia boy like me… ahhhh, I forget that the Braves traded him, how stupid!!), Josh Johnson (the Braves faced him and he is nasty and underrated), and OF COURSE I agree with Huddy. Huddy is consistently really good, year after year, his sinker ball is nasty, and his soul-patch is money.

    Comment by Josh Brown
    December 20, 2010 at 9:53 am

  6. A prime, uninjured Jake Peavy might squeeze somewhere into my top 10 on a cold night.

    Comment by Mac
    December 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm

  7. Only 16 players all time have won the Cy Young award more then once…Tim Lincecum is one of those…both came the 2 seasons prior to this one, he is still young and he was a big part of the Giants World Series win less then 2 months ago. Yet he isn’t on a top 10 pitcher list?

    Comment by Andy Weiler
    December 21, 2010 at 2:57 am

  8. Lincecum’s two Cy Youngs in two years is amazing, but his drop off in velocity is concerning. He has the look of a guy who caught (a lot of) lightning in a bottle and will gradually decline year after year. Not that you can expect a guy to win a Cy Young every year, but he is in the worst hitting division in baseball with the best pitcher’s parks in baseball (outside of Coors, of course).

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 22, 2010 at 10:16 am

  9. Mac – Peavy is a stud, too, who always will have the chance to bounce back up into the top 5 pitchers in the game if he can come back fully healthy. Much harder to put up numbers in the AL Central, but dude is nasty.

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 23, 2010 at 11:42 am

  10. I agree with most of this list, however, I highly disagree with Tim Hudson, at this point in his career, making it. For me, Lincecum, Kershaw and or Carpenter would fit here better! 3 or 4 years ago I could agree with Hudson but not now, in fact, with the likes of Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hansonon the staff in ATL, he may not even finish ’11 as the Braves #1 guy!?

    Comment by Matthew Oles
    March 1, 2011 at 1:44 pm

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