Might as well get my cover boy out of the way. He's the highest paid pitcher in the league, and one of the most dominant. The big guy's got great pitches, great mechanics, and surprisingly good durability considering his size.
At 29 years old (his birthday is July 21, happy belated Bday, CC), he's got 127 wins, nearly 1500 strikeouts, and a 3.66 ERA. That's a Hall of Fame pace, with a win count similar to Maddux, but not as fast as you would like a mammoth power pitcher to post if you're going to mark him down as a lock for the Hall early.
The biggest question with CC will be his durability. He's a 300 lbs power pitcher and his legs are absorbing a lot of shock each time he gets on the mound. So far, his great mechanics have kept him very healthy, but questions about his health will only grow as he gets deeper into his career.
He's also got a nasty habit of not showing up in the post season. I'd chalk that up to overuse and not to CC being a choke artist, but it's still not a label he wants to be associated with.
Even so, CC's pretty close to a sure thing as far as predicting 29 year old pitchers goes.
Santana's got a big fastball and a nasty changeup. He's the same age as Buehrle, and has 120 W's. While Buehrle has 13 more wins, there's a catch. Santana didn't become an everyday big–leaguer until 2004. Buehrle started 30 games in 2001.
Santana's moving through the numbers at a much quicker pace, and has shown himself to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the league. In fact, in his four years as a starter, he's notched two Cy Youngs. If I had to pick anyone to compare him to, it would be his former teammate, and future Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez.
Pedro has a career 2.91 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, .213 opponent batting average, and he averaged 1.12 Strikeouts per inning. Those are ridiculously dominant numbers.
Santana has a career 3.11 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .224 opponent batting average and he averages 1.02 strikeouts per inning, virtually the same. While Santana doesn't have a year like Pedro's 2000 Red Sox season* to his credit yet, he's playing a similar game and has potential to do just that.
In my opinion, he's the best pitcher in the game, and has been since 2004. With another 5 years like he put up from 2004–2008 he'll be a lock for the Hall of Fame and shooting for a first year ballot.
*Pedro's 2000 campaign was one of the most ridiculously dominant pitching performances ever. He won 18 games and posted a 1.74 ERA and a .167 opponent batting average FOR THE SEASON. He had 6 losses that year, in two of them he gave up one earned run and never gave up more than 3 in any loss. Simply put, nobody could touch him.
Funny, there are multiple pictures of a pitcher batting on the first page of images. I think big Z would like want me to use a picture of him adding run support so I'll do it.
I know, these next two guys are long shots, even for an article like this. They both have 100 wins though, and are young guys too. That alone deserves consideration.
First up is Zambrano. He has 103 wins, 65 losses, and a 3.48 ERA so far. He's been good on the road too, posting a 28–9 record over the last 3 seasons.
He's got all the makings of a star, but he's a very emotional pitcher. This may be a ticking time bomb; there's no way to tell if something could set him into a Brad Lidge–esque funk ruining his HoF chances. Also, his numbers and his dominance haven't stacked up to that of the previous three or the player I'm looking at next.
This guy's an enigma. On one hand, he's been around for nine years and posted numbers less impressive than Zambrano's. Beckett has fewer wins, a higher ERA, and opponents bat better against him.
Somehow, though, he's more dominant. It's not media bias, he really is. Zambrano's not the best pitcher in his city. Beckett out–dueled Andy Pettitte in a World Series. Oh yeah, it was a complete game shut out too. Since then, all he's done is win 10+ games per year and continue to show up in post season games (7–2 lifetime with a 2.9 ERA).
The biggest question for Beckett is can he stay healthy? He's a low innings/season guy, not because he sucks, but because he's constantly on the DL. In 2008, he spent most of the season pitching hurt, and it showed with a 12–10 record and a 4.03 ERA.
A major reason for the Marlins letting him go, aside from the fact that they trade everyone, was because of his DL trips. Sure he's dominant, but when you only see him 25 times a season, it's hard to justify paying him as an ace.
It also makes it hard to put up consistent HoF numbers. Beckett's on track for 200+ wins, and he's still got room to improve his pitching; pitching smarter and not giving up the long ball would go a long way towards lowering his ERA and increasing his win totals.
Regardless, his post–season success labels him as a winner. That will carry him pretty far towards the Hall if he can grind out a decent next 7 or 8 years.
Brandon Webb (30 years old):
87–62, 3.27 ERA, .240 opp BA, 1.21 WHIP.
A bit of a late bloomer, he's been pitching in the Bigs since 2003, and has dominated since 2005. He's out this year though, and he's already over 30; time is not on Webb's side.
Jake Peavy (28 years old):
92–68, 3.29 ERA, .232 opp BA, 1.19 WHIP
He's good and he's young, but he's playing for the Padres. That makes it pretty tough to get wins and post good numbers. In fact, he's had a sub .500 record in three seasons during his career. Still, he's posted a sub 3.00 ERA in 4 seasons, so he deserves a look. The guy's good, his team isn't.
Jon Garland (29 years old)
111–98, 4.47 ERA, .275 opp BA, 1.39 WHIP
His numbers stink. He's winning a lot, but nothing else leads me to believe that he'll be a Hall of Famer. Still, 111 wins is a lot before you're 30, and he's worth a mention.