Dominant left-handed starters are a rare breed in baseball. Because of that, they make the big bucks. But coming into the 2012 season, the unquestioned King of Southpaws was Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The reigning NL Cy Young and pitching Triple Crown winner absolutely blew out the competition last year. Unfortunately for Dodgers fans, he's come back to Earth a little bit through the first three months of the season.
Whether it be flawed mechanics, the nagging plantar fasciitis in his left foot, or that batters have simply begun to figure him out, Kershaw has not been himself this season.
His numbers are still fine, but they aren't dominant like they have been in the past. So, with guys like Chris Sale breaking onto the big-league scene, and old faithfuls like David Price and Cole Hamels still blowing people away, the question must be asked...
...is Kershaw, the guy some people compared to Sandy Koufax in 2011, still the top lefty in all of baseball?
There's a couple dozen lefties I'd love to see in my team's starting rotation. But this is the best of the best, folks. Not everyone gets a free ride here.
For various reasons, be it statistics or age or health concerns, the players listed below have been omitted from the list, but are deserving of consideration. Although, I'm sure there are plenty of Major League hitters who would disagree with my assessment that they aren't just quite nasty enough.
So with my sincerest apologies, I am turning away the following pitchers from the Top 15 lefties in baseball:
- Johan Santana, New York Mets
- Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers
- Wei-Yin Chen, Baltimore Orioles
- Joe Saunders, Arizona Diamondbacks
- Mark Buehrle, Miami Marlins
- Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays
- Felix Dubront, Boston Red Sox
Now, let's see who did make the cut.
It's okay. Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of Tommy Milone. Most people outside the Bay Area are still failing to take notice. That is, until their team rides into Oakland to face the 25-year-old with a 0.99 ERA at home this season.
Milone may not be the most well-known southpaw out there, but he was an intriguing return piece from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade who has really made his presence felt earlier than expected.
Though Milone needs to figure out how to pitch in an unfriendly environment (he dominated in Seattle tonight, so maybe he's on his way), his stuff speaks for itself. At 8-5 with a 3.83 ERA and 57 strikeouts compared to 24 walks, Milone is well-deserving of a spot on this list.
Rodriguez is doing it again for the Astros: being the only thing for fans to look forward to. I have a feeling that Houston will be dealing their ace by the trade deadline this season, but that is the nature of a rebuilding franchise.
That is unfortunate for those aforementioned fans, who have been lucky enough to watch Rodriguez dazzle with power and precision for eight years. In the last five seasons, he's never posted an ERA higher than 3.60 or had a K per 9 less than 7.8.
No matter where Rodriguez ends up, he's a pleasure to watch pitch, and he will probably be due for a decent free-agent contract in 2014.
Oh, the joys of having an explosive offense supporting you. Despite having himself a subpar year in the ERA and WHIP departments so far, Toronto's ace southpaw is sporting a nifty 8-1 record.
Romero has always had a ton of potential, but really burst onto the scene last year with a 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and an All-Star Game appearance.
He's hit a bit of a rough patch this year, but is still one of the most promising lefty starters in all of baseball. If the Jays make a second-half run, it will probably be largely due to this guy bouncing back with some better starts.
Is this a bit premature, given Miley's extensive 12-start resume? One might think...until realizing he has the best ERA and second-best WHIP among lefty starters in Major League Baseball.
That's right, Miley has truly been the best pitcher on that D'Backs staff in 2012, racking up a 9-3 record and almost assuring himself a spot in the All-Star Game.
Miley definitely has a ways to go to be considered "elite" in my book, but the only thing working against him is youth. If we were ranking top lefties in the game based on this season alone, Miley would be top three.
Depending on how the rest of this season goes, we might not only be wondering if Kershaw is the best lefty in baseball. We might be asking if he's the best lefty on his own team.
Capuano has finally put together all his potential and turned it into pure gold in Los Angeles. Over his career, he has never finished a season with an ERA lower than 3.95 and has a .500 record, despite winning 18 one year in Milwaukee.
But something changed in 2012, and Capuano has been the most consistent pitcher in that Dodgers rotation since day one, posting a 9-2 record with a 2.60 ERA thus far.
The White Sox finally brought him into the rotation after nearly 100 big-league innings out of the bullpen since 2010. And it's safe to say the move is paying off.
Sale has an 8-2 record, 2.24 ERA, 0.96 WHIP (leading lefty starters in this category by a wide margin) and is averaging over a strikeout per inning.
Of course, we all know what he did last month, striking out 15 batters in one very filthy, dirty, Randy Johnson-esque start. He may be the pitching star of the future in baseball.
How the mighty have fallen. Once possibly considered the best lefty pitcher in all of baseball, Lester has seen his name drop down the rankings because of inconsistency since 2010, when he went 19-9.
Never has that been more evident than in 2012, a year that has seen his ERA balloon to 4.48 and a WHIP at 1.37. Worst of all, Lester is looking at his lowest strikeout total (if he continues his current pace), since 2008.
Lester is still one of the smarter pitchers in baseball and should bounce back a little bit in the second half of this season.
Considering he hasn't even entered his prime, yet still is the proud owner of four straight 15-win seasons, Lester should be one of the top southpaws for another half-decade at least.
The winless Cliff Lee, that is. It's baffling that Lee doesn't have a win yet in 2012 through 12 starts, but that also just proves how pointless win-loss records are for starting pitchers.
Because despite the big goose egg in the win column, Lee has once again proven to be one of the best lefties in baseball. He is still sporting a 1.13 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning.
Over his career, which includes a Cy Young in 2008, Lee averages a 15-9 record with over 180 strikeouts per year. And if not for bad luck, he'd probably eclipse those numbers again this season.
As if the Giants needed any more pitching to complement Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum (the good version, at least), they went and drafted an absolute gem in 2007 with Bumgarner.
His big, sweeping left-handed delivery reminds me a lot of Randy Johnson, but with less speed and power involved. Bumgarner can get you with the heat, but he's also got great control on his breaking pitches.
Since getting called up at age 20 in 2009, Bumgarner was an absolute beast in the 2010 World Series, threw over 200 innings in 2011, and is now on pace to shatter all his personal bests in 2012.
Cole Hamels is about to become a very rich man. If the Phillies aren't able to hammer out an extension with their co-ace, Hamels is going to blow away the rest of the free agent pitching field this coming winter.
And there's good reason why: Hamels has averaged 15 wins and over 200 strikeouts a season, with a great ERA and WHIP, and he's won a World Series MVP. Oh, did I mention he's only 28 years old?
This season, Hamels has really brought his game, posting a 10-3 record with a 3.03 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 106 strikeouts in 104 innings through the first three months of 2012.
Subtract two years in age from Hamels, and add a little bit of velocity, and you're basically looking at Price. Since day one in Tampa Bay, Price has made it known that he's the real deal.
The two-time All-Star (about to be three-time) is only 26 years old, but has already notched a 19-win season into his belt and even fanned 218 batters last season.
This year, he's dominating again, despite being in the toughest division in baseball. Price has a 10-4 record with a 2.95 ERA and 90 strikeouts so far.
Old Faithful just keeps chuggin' along. He's the next great hope for us fans to see a 300-game winner in Major League Baseball. Don't laugh...he has a chance. Sabathia will probably finish the season with about 195 career wins, and he turns 32 in July.
If Sabathia, who has always had a pretty good track record with health, dominates opposing teams, plays for a winner, and is an absolute workhorse, can go six more seasons at his current pace, he'd be within the 275-280 win range when his contract with the Yankees ends.
Naturally, he's at it again in 2012. Sabathia so far has been dominating the opposition to the tune of a 9-3 record, 3.45 ERA and 105 strikeouts. The 2007 Cy Young winner is almost a lock for his fourth straight 19-win season.
I didn't want to put Wilson this high, but you have to give props when props are deserved. And nobody has justified his free-agent contract more this season than Wilson.
Wilson's encore to his 16-win, 200-plus strikeout season in Texas last year is looking even brighter for the Angels. He's on pace to win about 18 and strikeout over 200, but with a better ERA and WHIP than he's ever produced.
Right now, Wilson is third among lefty starters in all of baseball with a 2.44 ERA, and has a fancy 1.15 WHIP to go along with it.
There's the man of the hour. Kershaw, as previously mentioned, has not been himself in 2012. You can trust me on that: I'm a die hard Dodgers fan who hasn't missed a pitch of the season. And there's just something not right.
So when an abnormal season results in a 2.73 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 95 strikeouts to this point, you know we're talking about a special player. There is a reason Kershaw won the Cy Young last year and so thoroughly dominated National League hitters. He really is that good.
And considering Kershaw is on pace for his fourth straight year of a sub-3.00 ERA and third straight season of 200 or more strikeouts at age 24, there's good reason he's near the top of this list.
I wanted to put my boy Kershaw No. 1 so bad, and answer the question this article poses with a resounding "heck yes!" Alas, I could not.
Gonzalez gives me no choice with his performance this season, combined with his lesser-known dominance in Oakland over the past couple seasons.
Gonzalez won a combined 31 games over the past two seasons in Oakland, and from 2010 to 2011, his numbers improved significantly. I've had the pleasure of watching him pitch close to home when he was with the A's, and I'm not one bit surprised by what he's doing in Washington this year.
I knew it was a good trade from the day it happened, and the Nationals couldn't be happier. Check out this line through 14 starts in 2012: 9-3, 2.55 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 101 strikeouts in only 84.2 innings pitched, 5.8 hits per 9, 10.7 strikeouts per 9, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 3, and only one home run allowed all season long.
Gio Gonzalez truly is the best lefty starter in baseball right now, barely edging out Clayton Kershaw.
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman