Ranking the 10 Best Starting Pitchers in the AL West
The AL West is no stranger to good starting pitching. For years, the Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels have carved out success with their rotations, and over the last few years, the Texas Rangers have put together a strong staff.
The division features former All-Stars, Cy Young winners, pitchers who have thrown no-hitters and even a rookie phenom from Japan.
With all of the quality arms that call the AL West home, it begs the question: Who is the best starter in the division?
So, here is a list of the 10 best starting pitchers in the AL West based upon a combination of career numbers, achievements, postseason results, pitching repertoires and performances early in 2012.
10. Derek Holland
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First things first, Derek Holland's numbers for the Texas Rangers this season have not been impressive. He is only 4-4 and is sporting an ERA of 5.11, the highest on the Rangers' starting staff.
But this ranking is not based on this season alone. Holland has some of the most explosive stuff in all of baseball. He features a mid-90's fastball and a quality curveball and changeup that keep hitters off balance.
He has also performed well early on in his career, especially last season when he posted a 16-5 record with a 3.95 ERA in his first full season as a starter in the majors. His potential was on full display last postseason, when he delivered an 8.1-inning scoreless gem in Game 4 of the World Series.
Holland is erratic and inconsistent at times, but he has the build and the makeup to be a great major league starter. I fully expect him to turn his turbulent start around quickly—he is too talented to continue to struggle.
9. Kevin Millwood
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Kevin Millwood has been in the majors for a long time. When the 37-year-old signed with the Seattle Mariners this offseason, they became the seventh different stop of his 16-year career.
For a guy who can't seem to stay in one place for long, Millwood sure does bring a level of consistency to a team.
There is nothing spectacular about his game, but he is steady. He has a career ERA of 4.09 and is almost always good for 170 innings-plus, as he has done in every season but two during his career.
There is something to say about consistency. Millwood may never go out and strikeout 15 batters, but if he has good command and is locating his fastball he will always give his team the opportunity to win, which is all a ballclub can ever ask for out of its starter.
Millwood has performed well early this season with a 3.56 ERA. This, is in spite of his 3-4 record, which is mostly due to lack of run support. The quiet, steady confidence Millwood displays on the rubber and gives his team is exactly why he is on this list.
8. Ervin Santana
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Ervin Santana has always been about potential. He has some of the best pure stuff in the majors and when he puts it all together he is deadly, like he did last August when he threw a no-hitter against the Indians.
However, Santana is inconsistent and, at times, he is almost seems apathetic on the mound.
His career numbers are solid, not spectacular—with an 89-73 record and a 4.25 ERA—despite the talent he has. But in 2010 and 2011 it had seemed that he had taken a step forward. He looked more focused on the mound and posted an ERA below four both seasons.
The no-hitter last August looked as if it could be his breakout moment, but the early returns in 2012 aren't so good.
He is 2-6 with a 4.78 ERA early this season, and while the record can be explained by a lack of run support, the ERA is just the result of bad pitching. Santana is struggling to keep hitters in the park, as he has already allowed 15 home runs in only 70 innings pitched.
Santana has all of the talent in the world and will probably turn his early season struggles around, but if he ever wants to be about more than just potential he needs to find a way to harness his talent every time he takes the mound.
7. Brandon McCarthy
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At 6'7" Brandon McCarthy looks like he should be more at home on a basketball court than a pitching mound, but the last two years McCarthy has established himself as a pitcher with front-of-the-rotation potential.
Early on in his career McCarthy had all of the tools in the world, but he didn’t have the ability to stay healthy. In his first five major league seasons, he never pitched over 125 innings and only reached 100-inning mark once—for reference, an average number of innings for a starter is over 170.
That inability to stay healthy was the reason both the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers gave up on his young arm. But when he found his way to Oakland in 2011, he finally had a healthy season and the results followed. He posted a 9-9 record, a 3.32 ERA and an impressive WHIP of 1.13.
McCarthy has carried his momentum from last season into 2012, and has gotten out of the gates with a blistering start, posting a 2.95 ERA, seventh-best in the American League.
At 28-years-old he is now the head of a young A's rotation, and if his good health continues, McCarthy has a chance to become a bona fide ace.
6. Colby Lewis
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Calling Colby Lewis a journeyman might be an understatement. The former first-round pick of the Texas Rangers struggled early on in his major league career, as he dealt with injuries while bouncing from team to team.
Eventually, Lewis left the majors to play in Japan for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and it was there that he found his game and revitalized his career. In the 2010 things came full circle for Lewis, as he signed a deal with the Rangers to come back home to Arlington and join the up-and-coming Rangers rotation.
All that has happened in the two years since is that Texas has gone to two straight World Series and Lewis has given his MLB career a second life.
He has been solid in his two years with the Rangers, posting a 3.78 ERA in 2010 and a 4.30 in 2011. Lewis has also an innings-eater for Texas, pitching over 200 innings in both seasons while setting the example for the young staff.
Lewis is almost always good for a quality start and the Rangers rely on his consistency. He is also a quick worker on the mound, he throws strikes and pitches to contact with his low 90's cut fastball, which causes many hitters to hit into weak outs.
This season has been much of the same for Lewis, as he is 4-4 with a 3.50 ERA. Except this season he is doing it from the top of the rotation, setting the tone for the rest of the Rangers' starters. Lewis might not have ace stuff, but his mental toughness and consistency make him deserving of a spot on this list.
5. Yu Darvish
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Yes, I know Yu Darvish is a rookie. Yes, I know he hasn't proven much in the majors yet. But if the early returns on Darvish are any indication, he has a chance to be one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
The 25-year-old righty from Japan signed a six-year, $60 million deal this past offseason, and so far he has been worth every cent.
Darvish has confused hitters from day one, with his ridiculous repertoire of pitches. He pairs his mid-90's two-seam fastball with an impressive group of off-speed pitches and a hard breaking slider.
The best thing about his stuff, though—and the most frustrating part for hitters—is that all of his pitches move. Nothing that he throws is ever straight and he has pitches he can rely on to work both sides of the plate against righties and lefties.
He is sporting a 7-3 record with a 3.21 ERA, a third of the way through his rookie season, and is a leading contender for AL Rookie of the Year.
Darvish is a long way from establishing himself as a true superstar in the MLB, but he is already one of the best pitchers in the AL West. And unlike previously imported pitchers from Japan, Darvish has the pure stuff and the makeup to keep it going for years.
4. C.J. Wilson
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When C.J. Wilson signed his five-year, $77.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels this offseason, it officially signified him as a front-end starter, only two seasons removed from being a reliever.
The former closer has excelled at pitching once every five days since he made the switch to the rotation with the Rangers in 2010. That season he posted an ERA of 3.35, and in 2011, when he was thrust into the role of the Rangers' ace, he stepped with a 16-7 record, a 2.94 ERA and an All-Star appearance to boot.
Those results made him the most sought-after free-agent pitcher on the market this past offseason, and early in 2012 he has erased any doubts that he might not live up to his contract. A third of the way through the season Wilson is on a blistering pace, with a 6-4 record and a 2.54 ERA.
However, in spite of those great numbers Wilson finds himself at No. 4 on the list for one reason: postseason performances.
In the Rangers’ two World Series runs Wilson struggled, especially in 2011 when he went 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA. When you couple that with his All-Star game loss that year, he became the first player in major league history to be the losing pitcher of record in an All-Star game and in all three rounds of the playoffs.
To be a true ace you have to come up large in the biggest moments, and that's why Wilson finds himself at only No. 4 on this list.
3. Dan Haren
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Dan Haren isn't your usual front-line starter. He’s not flashy or overpowering and his name won’t come up on many best pitcher lists. But one thing is for sure: he gets results.
He has a career ERA of 3.59 and has won at every stop in his nine-year career, whether it be in the AL with the A’s and Angels or the NL with the Diamondbacks.
Haren mainly utilizes the cutter to attack batters, and while his isn't on the same level as Mariano Rivera's, it is still a very effective pitch that induces weak contact from hitters.
Actually, just calling it Haren's main pitch is a bit of an understatement; the cut fastball actually revitalized his career.
In 2010 Haren had the worst year of his career in Arizona, posting a 4.70 ERA. But his experimentation with the cutter turned his game around and he hasn't looked back since being traded to the Angels at the 2010 deadline.
In 2011 Haren went 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA and has a 3.52 ERA early in 2012. Haren won't strike many hitters out, but he doesn’t have to. Haren is consistent and one of the top starting pitchers in the American league.
2. Jered Weaver
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Jered Weaver is on fire as of late. In 2011 he put together an incredible 18-8 season with a 2.41 ERA. Usually those numbers equal a Cy Young, but he ended up finishing second behind Justin Verlander and his historic season.
Weaver hasn't slowed down much at the beginning of the 2012 either, early on he is sporting a sparkling 6-1 record and a 2.61 ERA. He even threw a no-hitter in for good measure against the Twins earlier this season.
Actually, it seems the only thing that can slow Weaver down right now is himself, as he headed to the 15 day DL last Tuesday with a lower back injury.
But he'll be back from that soon, and there is no reason not to think he won't continue to lead the Angles rotation. Weaver utilities a low 90's 4-seam fastball with a lot of natural movement, and pairs that with a hard breaking slider and a slow curve, which often combined to make hitters look silly.
However, it's Weaver's cross-body delivery that makes him really effective. He hides the ball from the hitter during the majority of his windup, making it almost impossible for the batter to pick the ball up well.
Weaver is one of the top pitchers in all of baseball and is a true No. 1 starter, expect him to be competing for Cy Young's for years to come.
1. Felix Hernandez
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Yep, Felix Hernandez is No.1 on this list, and if you need proof as to why, you need to look no further than his nickname—King Felix—it says it all.
At only 26 years old, Hernandez is already one of the most accomplished pitchers in all of baseball. He has a career ERA of 3.25 and a win-loss record of 89-71, he is a two-time All-Star and won the AL Cy Young award in 2010.
Hernandez has some of the best pure stuff in all of baseball, featuring an electric fastball and a myriad of off-speed pitches that can make hitters look silly.
He even has a bit of swagger to go with his great stuff, with his cap turned slightly to the side and his jersey is never quite buttoned up all of the way.
Despite Hernandez’s flair and talent, he doesn't often get the national recognition he deserves, despite his eight stellar seasons in the league. But that's because he has been hidden away in Seattle on a poor team.
Still, it does not change the fact that the 26-year-old is one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball and the best pitcher in the AL West.