Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who won the Cy Young award last season, headlines a strong Team USA starting rotation in the World Baseball Classic.
When your team's roster consists of big bats like David Wright, Ryan Braun, Adam Jones and Mark Teixeira, it's easy to see why baseball fans could overlook Team USA's pitching. The strong batting lineup is easily the biggest strength of Team USA heading into the World Baseball Classic, but if the team's pitching is strong, its chances of winning the title of world champion greatly improve.
Huge names make up the pitching roster, including R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez and Craig Kimbrel, while several other players will fit in nicely around the stars.
Dickey and Gonzalez, who finished first and third, respectively, in Cy Young voting last season, make up the top-two starting spots for Team USA.
Following them are several other pitchers who could make solid contributions. Ryan Vogelsong from the San Francisco Giants has a great arm and gives the team a great chance to win every time he starts. In 2012, Vogelsong went 14-9, had a 3.37 ERA and averaged a little over five strikeouts per game.
After Vogelsong is Ross Detwiler, who doesn't have a big name, but has been highly productive for the Washington Nationals. Detwiler relies on his fastball a little too much, but in the fifth spot in Washington's rotation last season, he picked up 10 wins on a 3.4 ERA.
The only other starter on Team USA's roster is Derek Holland, who, in his four seasons in the majors, has been a productive starter for the Texas Rangers. He has a career 39-29 record, having his best season in 2011.
Holland averages over four strikeouts per game, but has a career 4.71 ERA. Considering the number of players who declined invitations to the tournament, Holland isn't a bad fifth starter to have on the roster, and he certainly gives Team USA a chance to win.
Who will win the World Baseball Classic?
In the bullpen, the Americans are just as strong, with names like Craig Kimbrel, Heath Bell and Jeremy Affeldt heading up the relief pitchers.
Kimbrel will likely be the main closer for Team USA, as he has averaged 44 saves over the past two seasons. The 24-year-old is probably the best closer in the entire WBC, with a 1.46 ERA and only 11 blown saves in his young career.
Bell, though he struggled last season with the Miami Marlins, brings a lot of experience to the team. And he has certainly shown he is capable of saving games and sending batters back to the dugout. In 2011, Bell had 43 saves with a 2.44 ERA, and he closed out 47 games in 2010.
Meanwhile, Affeldt has been around the league for 11 years, but he recently found his role as a relief pitcher. His experience and numbers will come in handy on the team, especially because starters normally won't go for more than five innings.
In that case, Affeldt has experience as a starter and could come in in relief for three or four innings. Last season, he had a 2.70 ERA and 16 holds for the Giants, finishing with a 1-2 record and three saves.
With this combination of starters and a solid bullpen, Team USA will certainly be a strong contender in the World Baseball Classic. Hitting will only get the team so far, but if the pitchers come through, expect a win for the Americans.