MLB Preview: Top 12 Pitchers 25 Years and Younger
With Cliff Lee dominating yet another playoff team, it's time to think about the next wave of pitchers in baseball. As good as Lee is, he's already well into his 30s. As are Andy Pettite and Roy Halladay—two other postseason aces.
So we take a look at who's ready to carry the mantle, and see who the next top 10 pitchers in baseball are.
12) Phil Hughes
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I'm putting Hughes on this list because he A) he is talented, and B) I don't want to hear the complaints from Yankee fans in the comments section about where he is. This list was going to be a top 10, and you can see that Hughes is No. 12.
Hughes is good, but he really struggled after the All-Star break (8-7, 5.55 ERA), with his high-win totals more a result of a great Yankee offense, not necessarily great stuff. Hughes showed everyone in the first half of the season, and out of the bullpen last season, that he does have a lot talent. But Hughes will have to do it over a full season to move up on this list.
11) Brian Matusz
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This is a guy many people have never heard of, and for good reason: he pitches for the Orioles. His season-stats are good, not great (10-12, 4.30 ERA, 143 Ks over 175+ IP), but the focus is on what he did over the second half.
Phil Hughes, the pitcher he just edges out on this list, crumbled down the stretch. Matusz got stronger.
In his last eight starts, the 23-year-old went 6-0 (with the Orioles winning the two other games he got no-decisions in), with a 1.56 ERA. What may be more impressive is the competition he faced during that stretch: a seven-inning, eight K shutout at Tampa; a five IP, one ER performance at Boston; an eight IP, six K shutout against Texas; a six IP, three ER victory in New York; a six IP, one ER, nine K victory over Detroit; and a seven IP, one ER victory in Chicago.
Simply put, Matusz's numbers were good over the course of the year—now factor in that he played for a terrible team, with a bad offense, a weak bullpen, all while playing in the toughest division in baseball (the AL East). If Baltimore has any chance of getting back in the thick of things in the AL East, Matusz is going to have to lead the way.
10) Ricky Romero
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Everybody likes to credit the Jays' resurgence this season on an offense that seemed to hit the ball out of the park every time you blinked. That's true, but Romero's pitching certainly helped Toronto surprise everyone by turning in an 85-win campaign.
The 25-year-old was was the sixth overall pick in the draft in 2005 and he's starting to show his great potential. This season, his second in the majors, Romero went 14-9, with a 3.73 ERA and 174 Ks. For Romero, this season saw his numbers drop in all big categories from his rookie campaign (one more win, ERA dropped .57, WHIP dropped .23, and BAA (batting average against) dropped 42 percentage points).
The Cal State Fullerton product heads up a very promising Jays rotation that took a big step forward this season.
9) Jaime Garcia
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If not for Buster Posey and Jason Heyward, Garcia would be a runaway for NL Rookie of the Year. Despite getting little run support from a struggling Cardinals offense all season, Garcia went 13-8, with a 2.70 ERA in his first full season.
The victim of bad luck (he allowed 15 unearned runs, and only 49 earned runs), Garcia held better than a 2:1 K:BB ratio, and only surrendered nine home runs all season. The 24-year-old (and former 22nd round draft pick) has become the third and final piece to a dominating trio with Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.
8) Tommy Hanson
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The Braves future ace turned in his second stellar season in A-Town, despite posting a losing record (10-11). Hanson's ERA checked in at 3.33 this season, after going 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in his rookie season. Hanson has a K:BB ratio of better than 3:1, and struck out 173 batters this season. He appears to be on line to join the exclusive 200 K crew within the next couple of seasons.
At 24-years-old, Hanson threw over 200 innings in his first full season this year, and despite raising his ERA by .44, actually lowered his WHIP (from 1.18 his first year to 1.17 this season), meaning the spike in ERA was partially the result in bad luck.
Hanson will be one of the top pitchers for years to come, and is the leader of a very talented Braves rotation.
7) Gio Gonzalez
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The first of two A's on the list, Gonzalez completed his first full season in the majors with very impressive numbers: 200+ IP, 15-9 record, 3.23 ERA, 171 Ks. Now imagine if the A's had any semblance of an offense?
Gonzalez, a 25-year-old from Hialeah, Florida, has one of the best power arms in baseball. And unlike many young pitchers who break down as the year continues, Gonzalez actually improved. After falling to 6-5 with a 4.21 ERA on June 16th, Gonzalez finished the season with a 9-4 record and a 2.53 ERA.
Gonzalez would be the ace of the staff, if not for...
6) Trevor Cahill
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Trevor Cahill. The 22-year-old edges out Gonzalez in the pecking order of top A's pitchers.
This season, he had the fourth-lowest ERA in the AL, the third-lowest BAA, the fourth-best WHIP and tied for fourth in wins. Cahill went 18-8, with a 2.97 ERA.
The difference between Cahill and many of the other pitchers on the list is pure style. Despite putting up such impressive numbers, Cahill struck out only 118 in 196.1 IP. This means he pitches to contact, which means he has to rely on his defense.
But Cahill took a major step forward from his rookie season, cutting his home runs allowed by eight (despite pitching 18 more innings), and cut his walks by nine.
Along with Gonzalez, the A's will have a solid 1-2 combo at the top of their rotation for years to come.
5) Yovani Gallardo
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Gallardo's numbers took a step back last season, with his ERA jumping .11, his WHIP going up .06, and his BAA skyrocketing from .219 in 2009 to .251 in 2010. But Gallardo did cut his home runs by nine (from 21 in 2009 to only 12 in 2010), and cut his walks from 94 in 2009 to only 75 this season.
If Gallardo continues to be able to command his control, and keep the ball in the park, watch out. He's struck out 200 in back-to-back seasons, and has accumulated a 27-19 record despite pitching on a bad Brewers team.
At 24, Gallardo will have a lot of time to work on it, and if he's able to gain consistency, he will be a Cy Young candidate for years to come.
4) Clayton Kershaw
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Clayton Kershaw has downright filthy stuff. At 22, Kershaw has already established himself as the ace of the Dodgers staff. Kershaw posted a 13-10 record, with a 2.91 ERA to go along with 212 Ks in 204.1 IP.
But what may be more impressive than his stats is what his stats could have been. In his last two seasons, Kershaw has started 62 games, with a 2.85 ERA and 397 Ks in 375.1 innings...and has all of 21 wins. His wins have been tempered due to a weak offense and bullpen.
In 10 starts this year, Kershaw allowed two earned runs or less and either got a loss or a no decision. Of his 13 wins, he allowed three runs only once. In his other 12, he allowed two runs or less. On nearly any other team, Kershaw would be a lock for 20 wins. On the Dodgers, he has 13.
But don't mistake his low win total for a lack of talent. This guy is one of the most talented pitchers in baseball, and will dominate hitters for years to come.
3) Mat Latos
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Latos just barely edges out Kershaw on this list. Like Kershaw, Latos is a 22-year-old power pitcher (189 Ks in 184.1 IP) who pitches for a team with a bad offense. Latos's ERA was .01 worse (2.92 vs. 2.91) than Kershaw's. Both were robbed of wins despite great numbers (14-10 record).
While the Dodgers' offense is weak, the Padres' is anemic. But Latos has a much better bullpen behind him. That's neither here nor there, as the argument concerns Latos vs. Kershaw. Both are great talents, and guys I'd want to lead my team. But Latos' stunning consistency this season gave him the slight edge.
This season, he set a Major League record with 15 consecutive starts of at least five IP and two ER or less. Latos really struggled out of the gate (1-2 with a 6.20 ERA in April), but besides that was dominant until he hit a funk in September, losing his last five decisions (though his last three losses saw him lose three games where he allowed three ER or less).
Latos and Kershaw, coupled with Tim Lincecum and Ubaldo Jimenez, give the NL West the potential for the best pitchers for the next several years.
2) David Price
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Price was tied for second in the AL in wins, third in ERA, eighth in Ks, ninth in WHIP, and fifth in BAA. Basically, every major category saw Price near the top.
The undisputed ace of the Rays, Price, at 25 years old, is living up to his billing when he was drafted first overall in 2007. Price stepped up in September, going 4-0 (the Rays went 7-0 in the games he pitched in) with a 1.64 ERA. Price twice outdueled Yankees ace CC Sabathia in September, helping the Rays capture the AL East crown.
As a rookie, Price played a major role in the Rays' playoff run, with a 1-0 record, a save and a 1.59 ERA. Price closed out Game 7 of the ALCS with 1.1 shutout innings, including escaping a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, and won Game 2 after the Rays dropped Game 1.
Price pitches in the tough AL East with a middle-of-the-road offense, and constantly steps up when it counts. He'd be No. 1 if not for...
1) Felix Hernandez
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King Felix is a top-three pitcher in baseball and the best pitcher in the AL.
This season, Hernandez, a leading candidate for the Cy Young, threw 232 strikeouts with a 2.27 ERA—all career-bests—and still only went 13-12. The Mariners feature an anemic offense and a weak bullpen, which limits King Felix's opportunities at wins.
But Felix would have won the Cy Young last season if not for Zack Greinke's outstanding season, and should win it this year (if voters look past his low win totals). Hernandez leads the AL in Ks, ERA, BAA, and was second in WHIP (to Cliff Lee) and third in CGs (to Lee and Carl Pavano).
With a better than 3:1 K:BB ratio, Hernandez' greatness can't simply be measured in numbers. His stuff is overpowering, as he constantly baffles hitters with his movement and speed.
The Mariners don't have much going for them right now, but they do have the King.
Michael Perchick is the writer/editor of TheJockosphere, a sports/Twitter site, reporting the top tweets and news directly from athletes. Follow him on Twitter @TheREALPerchick, and at http://thejockosphere.com/.