15 NL West Hurlers Who Could Make the 2012 MLB All-Star Game
For some MLB fans, the NL West is the National League's weakest division—the 2011 San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres recorded the 28th- and 29th-worst team batting averages in all of baseball, respectively.
The Los Angeles Dodgers finished 12th, and the Colorado Rockies placed ninth.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Diamondbacks—the NL West team that actually won the division—recorded a team batting average of .250, putting them in 19th place, just fractions of a point behind the Cleveland Indians.
The Padres additionally finished dead last in all of baseball with just 91 home runs, while the Giants and Dodgers took 22nd and 23rd place, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers were MLB's last-place team in doubles, while Los Angeles and San Diego ran 29th and 30th in extra-base hits.
When it comes to offense—perhaps other than Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp and Arizona's Justin Upton—the NL West doesn't get much respect.
Pitching, however, is a completely different story.
The Giants (second), Padres (third) and Dodgers (fifth) all placed in the top five in MLB ERA, while the Giants and Dodgers took second and fourth place, respectively, in strikeouts.
The Diamondbacks led all of baseball with 58 saves, while the Giants gave up a major league-best 96 home runs, 24 dingers less than their nearest foes, the Philadelphia Phillies (120 HR).
Yes, when it comes to pitching, the NL West is one of the best, if not the best, divisions in baseball.
As the 2012 season approaches, it is time to navigate through the NL West's sea of pitching talent and predict those most likely to vie for an All-Star selection.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Daniel Hudson
2011 Stats: 16-12 Record, 3.49 ERA, 169 K
In his first full season with Arizona, starting pitcher Daniel Hudson built upon the success he enjoyed in 2010 when he left the Chicago White Sox for the desert.
Hudson's 3.49 ERA was 18th-best in the National League, while his 16 wins were sixth-best and his 169 strikeouts were 17th-highest.
Hudson pitched 222.0 innings, fifth-best in the NL, while throwing three complete games out of 33 games started.
He was the NL's player of the week in late May and earned a Silver Slugger Award, which unfortunately won't play much of a role in the All-Star game, where pitchers do not bat.
Still, Hudson's 2011 numbers suggest he is certainly the Diamondbacks' No. 2 starter, meaning he is surely a worthwhile candidate for selection to the 2012 NL All-Star team.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Ian Kennedy
2011 Stats: 21-4 Record, 2.88 ERA, 198 K
Finishing fourth in the 2011 NL Cy Young race, ace Ian Kennedy is almost a shoo-in to represent the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2012 All-Star Game.
When Kennedy was not selected to the 2011 team while several Giants pitchers with slightly less stellar credentials were, the snubbing served as a reminder that baseball politics—specifically, 2011 NL All-Star manager Bruce Bochy selecting his club's pitchers over Kennedy—sometimes supersede merit.
With the 2012 NL All-Star managerial duties shifting out of the NL West, Diamondbacks fans hope such favoritism might subside so that the NL West's winningest pitcher* in 2011 might get a 2012 All-Star nod.
In the wake of Kennedy's 2011 line, it is pretty difficult to imagine the 2012 All-Star Game will not feature the Arizona right-hander.
*Kennedy's 21 wins placed him in a first-place tie with 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
Arizona Diamondbacks: J.J. Putz
2011 Stats: 45 Saves, 2.17 ERA, 61 K (58.0 IP)
Though the Diamondbacks led the major leagues in saves in 2011, closer J.J. Putz finished third in the league, just one save behind leaders John Axford (Milwaukee) and Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta).
Still, now that 2011 All-Star Heath Bell is out of the division, Putz stands a fine chance of being selected.
His WHIP of 0.91 and batting average against of .195 were outstanding and a significant part of Arizona's run to the top of the NL West heap.
As is the case with Ian Kennedy, without Bruce Bochy at the NL All-Star team helm, Putz may indeed go in lieu of Giants closer Brian Wilson.
Colorado Rockies: Rafael Betancourt
2011 Stats: 2-0 Record (Relief), 2.89 ERA, 73 K (62.1 IP)
When it comes to Coors Field, conventional wisdom indicates offensive statistics tend to inflate while pitching numbers tend to suffer.
So when Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Rafael Betancourt puts up a 2.89 ERA with a 0.87 WHIP, it stands to reason that he simply gets the job done during those middle-late innings of work.
The All-Star pitching staff is generally starter-heavy, leaving Betancourt's chances of making the team fairly slim, but if the Rockies decide to convert him to a full-time closer, he will have a realistic shot of being selected as one of the last pitchers in.
Colorado Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin
2011 Stats: 11-14 Record, 3.62 ERA, 150 K
Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin has played two-plus years in the big leagues, all in Colorado, during which he has compiled a 20-26 record with a 3.52 ERA and 301 K in 342.1 IP.
His career batting average against is .228, while his WHIP is 1.31. With two complete games and one shutout last season—the shutout occurring at home—Chacin has shown potential, though his second half of 2011 was much worse than his first.
If he can replicate his first-half success in early 2012, Chacin could find himself being considered for his first All-Star team.
Colorado Rockies: Tyler Chatwood
2011 Stats: 6-11 Record, 4.75 ERA, 74 K
When the Rockies traded catcher Chris Iannetta to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for 22-year-old pitcher Tyler Chatwood, it was a move meant to add depth to a stagnant Colorado bullpen.
Chatwood's rookie-season statistics indicate he is more likely to make his first All-Star team in 2013 or 2014 than in 2012, though Chatwood's performance in spring training and during his first few appearances at Coors Field will seal his fate as far as 2012 All-Star consideration is concerned.
This young two-time minor league All-Star still has some work to do before being considered All-Star-worthy, but Colorado acquired him for that very purpose—to develop Chatwood into a franchise pitcher.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Chad Billingsley
2011 Stats: 11-11 Record, 4.21 ERA, 152 K
Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley was a 2009 All-Star when he put up a 12-11 record and 4.03 ERA. His 2008 line read 16-10, 3.14 ERA and 201 K, the only time Billingsley recorded over 200 K in a season.
Though he has struggled to return to those figures ever since, Billingsley has become somewhat of a pitching staple in Los Angeles.
Perhaps this consistency will give Billingsley the confidence he needs to impress early in 2012 so he can secure a spot on the NL All-Star team, where he will join his Cy Young Award-winning teammate...
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
2011 Stats: 21-5 Record, 2.28 ERA, 248 K
...Clayton Kershaw, who stands poised to make his second consecutive NL All-Star team.
The NL's 2011 pitching Triple Crown, Cy Young and Gold Glove Award winner, Kershaw sealed his 2012 All-Star selection in late July of 2011.
Simply put, there is no way Kershaw will be left off the 2012 NL All-Star team.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenley Jansen
2011 Stats: 2-1 (Relief), 2.85 ERA, 96 K (53.2 IP)
With the Dodgers' loss of closer Jonathan Broxton early in 2011, the club made due with a bevy of relievers and fill-in closers, most impressively Hong-Chih Kuo and Kenley Jansen.
With Kuo a free agent and Jansen remaining on the Dodgers' roster, that leaves the 24-year-old in prime position to not only assume the closer's role, but to make the 2012 All-Star team as well.
Jansen's 2.85 ERA and .159 batting average against in 2011 followed a 27-inning rookie performance in 2010 that saw Jansen throw up a sizzling 0.67 ERA with a batting average against of just .130.
His career WHIP is 1.03, while his career strikeouts-per-innings-pitched rate is over 1.7 K per inning.
His strikeouts-to-walks ratio, meanwhile, is 3.34-to-one.
Jansen is a strong and underrated pitcher in the NL West, one who stands an outside chance of making his first All-Star team in 2012.
San Diego Padres: Cory Luebke
2011 Stats: 6-10 Record (17 GS, 46 G), 3.29 ERA, 154 K (139.2 IP)
Last season, the San Diego Padres sent closer Heath Bell to the All-Star game as their lone representative.
When free agent Bell left for the Miami Marlins in early December, starter Aaron Harang appeared poised to assume the Padres' solo All-Star slot.
When Harang's signing with the Dodgers became official just days later, that role fell to starter Mat Latos.
When Latos left for the Cincinnati Reds later that month, that left, among others, part-time starter Cory Luebke.
For a team that seems to have a knack of getting rid of its good players, the Padres can offer Luebke, who has a decent ERA with a decent number of strikeouts for his innings pitched.
The Padres don't especially have an All-Star to offer, but they must be represented regardless.
Cory Luebke stands a chance to represent the club—unless the role goes to a position player in 2012.
San Diego Padres: Huston Street
2011 Stats: 29 Saves, 3.86 ERA, 55 K (58.1 IP)
In a journey west from the Colorado Rockies, closer Huston Street might not be as great as Heath Bell, but he is no slouch in the closer's role.
Entering his eighth year as an MLB closer, Street might very well find himself pitching in more non-save situations, ultimately giving him a chance to pad his ERA figures while trying to reduce his oppositional batting average to his career figure of .221.
His WHIP during his first season in Colorado was 0.91, while his career WHIP is just 1.07.
Street might prove an underrated success in San Diego, making him an excellent candidate for selection to the 2012 NL All-Star team.
San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner
2011 Stats: 13-13 Record, 3.21 ERA, 191 K
Though the NL West might hold an advantage over the rest of the league when it comes to pitching, the San Francisco Giants hold an advantage over the rest of the division in that same category.
Since the Giants recorded several league-worst offensive statistics, the following Giants pitchers' records may be deceiving.
For instance, though starter Madison Bumgarner recorded a 13-13 record in 2011, he was in the top 10 in the National League in ERA, pitching a 9-4, 2.52 ERA second half.
Part of the reason pitchers like Arizona's Ian Kennedy were snubbed from the 2011 NL All-Star team was the fact that the Giants happen to have some really great pitchers.
Of course manager Bruce Bochy was biased—he wanted to show them off!
San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain
2011 Stats: 12-11 Record, 2.88 ERA, 179 K
Unlike several of his prominent teammates, Giants starter Matt Cain was able to record a winning record in 2011—barely.
With a 2.88 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, Cain is in prime position to be considered for the 2012 NL All-Star team.
His proximity to teammates Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum, however, decrease the odds that he and one of his co-starters will be selected.
San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum
2011 Stats: 13-14 Record, 2.74 ERA, 220 K
Tim Lincecum might not have won last year's NL Cy Young Award, but this San Francisco Giant stands a greater chance of making the 2012 All-Star team than his other esteemed teammates.
His ERA and strikeout figures alone indicate Lincecum is not yet done battling for future Cy Young Awards, while his streak of four consecutive All-Star appearances suggests he will once again return to the Midsummer Classic in 2012.
His 2011 ERA was an improvement over his 2011 figure by 69 points, while his 2011 batting average against of .222 was 20 points lower than his 2010 BAA.
San Francisco Giants: Brian Wilson
2011 Stats: 36 Saves, 3.11 ERA, 54 K (55.0 IP)
His 2011 numbers may not have been as impressive as Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz's, but Giants closer Brian Wilson, like teammate Tim Lincecum, has a consecutive All-Star appearances streak to uphold.
Wilson has appeared in two consecutive All-Star games and three overall, dating back to his 2008 selection.
Yet unlike Lincecum, Wilson's 2011 numbers were not more impressive than his 2010 stats—his ERA rose by 1.30, his batting average against rose by .020 points and his WHIP rose from 1.18 in 2010 to 1.47 last season.
Unfortunately, though Wilson still remains a viable All-Star candidate, Putz has overtaken him as the division's best closer.