Powerful Pitching: Comparing The Top 10 Starters Of The NL and AL
2010 was the "Year of the Pitcher," so I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the top pitchers in each league and compare them.
The addition of a DH in an American League lineup makes it impossible to know for sure who is the better pitcher between aces in each league, but I have tried nonetheless.
The following article is purely opinion, and I expect to hear the wrath of many a sabermetrician who thinks that so and so's GDIPGLCTF (sarcasm) is the explanation behind their struggles and or achievements.
In this article I compare who I think are the top 10 pitchers in each league in order to prove my point that the National League has superior starting pitching, and far more depth than does the AL.
In selecting the top 10 starting pitchers, I have to be specific. These are the pitchers who I feel are not only at the pinnacle of their game, but have also proven over the course of several (or many) great seasons that they are more than a flash in the pan.
Therefore, pitchers with a track record of greatness, receive more credit than a pitcher like Mat Latos, who was great, but is still unproven at the big league level.
In certain instances, a pitcher with incredible talent can make up for a lack of experience simply because they show no signs of slowing down. Further, I have to take into consideration the intangibles: pitchers who are still among the best in the league but have been injured/stuck on bad teams, etc.
Just for fun, I will assign a point system for this comparison. If an NL and AL pitcher are a "tie/draw," no points are awarded to either side. If a pitcher is slightly better than another, one point is awarded to their league. If a pitcher is far better than his counterpart, two poiints are awarded.
There are several issues with the validity of this number system, and this comparison between the two leagues in general, but compiling it was a fun way for me to illustrate the superior pitching of the National League.
Top 10 National League Starters
1. Roy Halladay
2. Tim Lincecum
3. Adam Wainwright
4. Josh Johnson
5. Johan Santana
6. Zach Greinke
7. Cliff Lee
8. Ubaldo Jimenez
9. Matt Cain
10. Chris Carpenter
Jonathan Sanchez/ Yoveni Gallardo
Top 10 American League Starters
1. Felix Hernandez
2. C.C. Sabathia
3. Jon Lester
4. Justin Verlander
5. David Price
6. Jake Peavy
7. Trevor Cahill
8. Francisco Liriano
9. Phil Hughes
10. Jared Weaver
Roy Halladay Vs. King Felix
TIE (0 pts)
Halladay and Hernandez pitch in different styles, but both have perfected their approach. Both pitchers go after hitters with premier stuff, and both are able to strike batters out when they need to. Though Hernandez has better "stuff," Halladay has superior command.
Hernandez is young and has not shown he can pitch in big-game situations, but I don't think you can penalize him for that. I believe that these two men are the best in each league, and the best in the game. I cannot give either the edge here.
Halladay is the media darling of the East Coast at the pitcher position, and is widely considered the best pitcher in baseball. Halladay looked almost immortal when he threw a no-hitter in his first post-season start, and won the hardware (Cy Young), entitling him the best pitcher in the National League of 2010.
Halladay's work ethic is unmatched, he has a plan every time he throws, and he combines elite stuff with elite command. Halladay is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and is the top pitcher in the National League.
Felix Hernandez :
If Hernandez pitched for the Yankees or Red Sox he would probably win 25 or more games. For the Mariners, Hernandez won 13, and slipped under the radar for a majority of the year while posting his best individual season yet.
Hernandez is clearly and without a doubt one of the best pitchers in baseball. His arm is a lightning bolt, and combined with an increased command of the strike zone Hernandez has the ability to be the best pitcher in baseball.
As baseball fans, we should all hope that he is out of Seattle, and on to a contender soon... Just not the Phillies, Yankees or Red Sox.
NL- 0 AL- 0
Tim Lincecum Vs. C.C. Sabathia
TIE (0 pts)
This is a fun comparison. When you look at these two men, they could not be any different. C.C. Sabathia resembles a linebacker at 6'7, 290 lbs and could probably eat Lincecum if he chose to.
Lincecum, on the other hand, resembles, well... maybe a batboy? That being said, both Sabathia and Linecum are among the best in their league, and in the entire Major Leagues.
Can you believe the "Freak" has only been pitching since 2007? At just 26 years old, Lincecum is four years younger than Sabathia, and has pitched four seasons (3 3/4) to Sabathia's 10.
Despite his relative inexperience, Linececum is by no means considered unproven. In his short career Lincecum has already racked up back-to-back Cy Young Awards, All Star appearances, strikeout records, topped it off with a World Series ring.
Lincecum entered the league as a pure power pitcher, using his unorthodox mechanics to hurl 98 mph fastballs by everyone in his path. I even remember seeing Lincecum hit 101 mph on the radar gun. For whatever reason (probably the amount of innings he has thrown combined with his small frame), Lincecum's velocity has gradually dropped every year he has pitched.
Skeptics immediately pointed fingers at this drop, and argued that Lincecum would not be able to continue his dominance without the elite fastball. Lincecum looked at the change in velocity and decided he would learn to throw the best pitch in baseball: his changeup.
Lincecum's changeup is the premiere swing-through pitch in baseball, and makes him just as difficult on left handed hitters as right. Lincecum's "down" year (down August would be more accurate) removed him from the top spot in the NL and MLB, but barely.
If he stays healthy, Lincecum will once again post dominant numbers for the Giants in 2011.
In 2001 Sabathia was the youngest player in the league. He posted a 17-5 record and should have won the Rookie of the Year if not for Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki.
Like Lincecum, Sabathia's velocity has dropped some over the course of his career, but he has plenty of juice, and an impressive arsenal of off-speed pitches to make hitters in the AL East look foolish.
Hitters use the word "deceptive" to describe pitchers whose pitches are difficult to pick up. Deception can be created by hiding the ball, unique mechanics (Lincecum), or sheer size.
Sabathia uses the latter, his incredible size, to stifle even the greatest hitters, and to log well over 200 innings each year. He is one of the most durable pitchers in the game, and is definitely the guy you want going for you in a big game.
Sabathia's stuff is not on the same level as Hernandez's, but he is arguably just as good, and should be considered a top 5 pitcher in baseball.
NL- 0 AL- 0
Adam Wainwright Vs. Jon Lester
TIE (+0 pts)
Here are two guys who are about as consistent as they come. Though both lack the star power of the four previously mentioned, both Wainwright and Lester are elite, and are the aces of their (very talented) teams.
I was going to give the edge to Wainwright because he has strung together two sub 3.00 era's together the past two seasons and has truly dominated hitters, whereas Lester has never had a season with an era below 3.2.
On the other hand, Lester pitches in the AL East, the best hitting division in baseball, making this differential in era much less significant. Further, Lester battled and defeated Cancer, and helped win a World Series for the Red Sox.
Both of these pitchers are complete studs that would headline any staff in the league beside the Yankees, Giants or Phillies, and will likely continue their success for a long time.
Really, the only thing holding Wainwright back from super-stardom is the quality of pitching in the National League. Ever since he transitioned from an elite closer for the World Series Cardinals to a starting pitcher, Wainwright has shown he belongs in the front of just about any rotation.
Standing at 6'7 like Sabathia, Wainwright's deception, stuff and command translate into very few hits, and thus low ERAs. What really separates Wainwright and makes him "elite" is his curveball.
Seeming to fall right out of the sky, Wainwright's height combined with an incredibly sharp break make his curveball nearly un-hittable against right handed hitters. I think beside Tim Lincecum's changeup, Wainwright's curve may be the best individual pitch in baseball.
It is simply a matter of time before Wainwright finally wins a Cy Young award, and it will be well deserved. I really don't think it is bold to call Wainwright a future Hall of Famer, and think that the trio of him, Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia is just as good as that of the Phillies and Giants "Big Three."
Jon Lester battled Lymphoma, came back to the Major Leagues, won a World Series, and threw a no-hitter. It is difficult to script a better story than that, and Jon Lester has become one of my favorite pitchers in the game today.
Lester's stuff is not quite as electric as some of the other names on this list, but he is a complete pitcher with three plus pitches, a good fourth (cutter), and command of each.
Lester's strikeout numbers, and Batting Average Against numbers are off the charts, and he beats both left-handed and right-handed hitters.
Lester may only be getting better, and if he pitches in a league other than the AL East, I think he will be able to put up the huge numbers that he needs to win the Cy Young.
NL- 0 AL- 0
Josh Johnson Vs. Justin Verlander
Edge: Josh Johnson (+1 pt-NL)
The similarities between Josh Johnson and Justin Verlander are uncanny. Both men debuted in the Major Leagues in 2005, with 2006 being their breakout year, play for teams that compete, albeit inconsistently, both are enormous, standing 6'7 and 6'5 respectively, and both are among the hardest throwers in the Major Leagues.
That being said, Johnson is the hotter commodity as of late, putting up insane numbers last year before falling off slightly toward the end of the season. Though both pitchers are aces and rightfully so, I think that Johnson has a higher ceiling than Verlander due to a superior command of his off-speed pitches.
Before last year I was relatively unaware of Johnson's existence. Drafted in 2005, he has had some good season, but was marred by injuries, and has been unable to string together enough terrific seasons to really merit consideration for "elite" status in the big leagues.
The year 2010 changed that as Johnson showed the world what he can do when healthy. For the first half of the 2010 season, Johnson quietly dominated hitters to the tune of a 1.70 ERA, best in the Majors. I say quietly because his brilliance was overshadowed by the equally spectacular Ubaldo Jimenez.
His season was no fluke, as this flame thrower has shown an ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes, and can beat just about anybody with his 95+ mph fastball.
Though Halladay deserved his Cy Young, Johnson gave him a great run, and burst onto the scene as one of the best pitchers in the league.
It will really surprise me if Josh Johnson doesn't win a Cy Young award in the next five seasons; this guy is the real deal.
Justin Verlander's fastball averages 95.8 mph, good for second place in the MLB behind Ubaldo Jimenez. It is not however, the second best fastball.
If this doesn't make sense to you, take a look at Brandon Webb in his prime. Movement on a fastball is almost of equal importance to velocity, and when a fastball has both, well....good luck batta.
Verlander's fastball lacks movement, and he lacks command of his off-speed pitches, so hitters are able to key in on his (straight) fastball.
These are the reasons I believe Josh Johnson is the better pitcher between the two. Verlander however, is by no means an average pitcher. He is the Tigers' ace, and one of the better pitchers in the entire league.
Coming off a stellar career at little-known Old Dominion University, Verlander only got better in the Minor Leagues, and was ranked as the Tigers' top prospect before being called up.
Since his debut in 2005, Verlander has put together a bunch of great seasons, and led the league in strikeouts with 269 in '09. He has not however, ever had an earned run average below 3.00, and until he does, I have a hard time considering him truly elite.
If he is able to increase the command of his offspeed pitches, Verlander will become even better. An even better Verlander is a top 5 pitcher, and I am not counting out that possibility. I don't however, think he matches up even with the eighth-best pitcher in the NL...
NL- 1 AL- 0
Johan Santana Vs. David Price
Edge: Johan Santana (+1 pt- NL)
These are two of the best lefties in the league, and are the aces of the respective ballclubs, yet their status in baseball is far from similar.
Santana, a 10-year vet, is only a few good seasons away from a place in Cooperstown, whereas Price is an up-and-coming superstar with an incredibly bright future in the league.
Though Price had a better 2010, Santana's was not too shabby, either, and because he has proven himself year after year, I give him the edge in this comparison.
In 2008, Johan Santana signed a six-year contract with the Mets for a whopping $137.5 million. He is making slightly less money than Cliff Lee, and in my mind, the Mets got a bargain. It is a testament to the depth of NL pitching that I have Santana as the fifth-best starter in the league.
Armed with impressive stuff, command, and the intangible skill of simply knowing how to beat good hitters, Johan has dazzled throughout his 10 year career, winning two Cy Youngs, and sitting at a career ERA of 3.10.
Only because he pitches for the lowly Mets has Santana fallen off the radar as being one of the best pitchers in the game, but make no mistake- he is still in his prime, posting an ERA of 2.98 last year.
If Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins can clean up the Mets franchise and make a run at playoffs, Santana will again rise to the top in the eyes of media, and fans across the country.
Otherwise, we will have to wait until his contract expires in 2014, when he signs a deal that should, in my mind, make him the highest paid lefty in the league (at least per year).
When I was a redshirt freshman, I was far more concerned with simply making the roster than what was going on around the rest of the country. David Price was on the opposite end of the spectrum, mowing down hitters with no difficulty, leading Vanderbilt to the tune of a 2.63 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 133.1 innings pitched.
Clearly Price was on another level in the college game, and had some of the best stuff in recent memory. The Rays awarded Price when they picked him first in the 2007 MLB draft.
It did not take long for Price to be called up, and he introduced himself to the baseball world in the playoffs, throwing 14 effective innings out of the pen.
Price had a mediocre rookie season in 2009, but certainly made up for it in 2010. Last year Price emerged as the true ace of the Rays, besting even his college credentials with a 2.72 ERA, finishing runner-up in the Cy Young vote only to Felix Hernandez.
Price may not have the best command in the league, but attacks hitters with a deceptive arm slot (he is 6'6) and one of the best fastballs in the league. Oh, and his slider is nearly unhittable when thrown to a lefty.
If Price can follow up last season with another one of similar brilliance he will have proven he is the real deal, and on the path to greatness.
For now, he is a young ace with a ceiling as high as anyone not named Stephen Strasburg, and should garner an enormous contract when he reaches Free Agency. Lets hope he doesn't end up in pinstripes.
NL- 2 AL- 0
Zack Greinke Vs. Jake Peavy
TIE (+0 pts)
I'm not sure the best analyst in baseball could accurate compare these two pitchers. Physically Greinke and Peavy are similar, standing at 6'2, weighing roughly 195 lbs. Both have electric stuff, and the ability to completely dominate opposing hitters when healthy.
However, both have serious question marks regarding consistency, and for differing reasons. Nevertheless, the raw talent of each merits their place at No. 6 on this list.
I want to give the edge to Greinke because he is only one year removed from a Cy Young, but cannot do so as he is coming off a less than stellar year in 2010, and has a less impressive overall career than Peavy.
If Peavy regains his health, and Greinke, his confidence, 2011 will be a return to form for both pitchers.
Greinke's 2009 Cy Young season was no fluke, his "stuff" is off the charts. His fastball sits in the upper 90's with late life and his off-speed pitches are all plus, and very late.
In friendlier non-baseball terms- Greinke's fastball is fast enough as is, but coming out of his hand, it "pops," and appears to speed up at the last second, an illusion created by the incredible spin Greinke generates.
Greinke throws a 12/6 curveball (drops straight down), a hard slider, and a change-up (his worst pitch but still effective). He mixes speeds, commands the strike-zone, and has great mechanics.
Why, then, is Greinke not the best pitcher in the National League? Well he is...when his mental approach follows his physical abilities. Greinke's one and only flaw as a pitcher rests in the mental aspect of the game.
Dealing with anxiety issues, and a relative instability as a pitcher at the highest level, Greinke melted down following a good rookie year, leading the league with 17 losses (for an awful Royals team) and a 5.80 ERA.
For a kid with as much talent as Greinke, these numbers are shocking. The time away from the game seemed to help him, as he returned in 2007 to post a 3.69.
His breakout year came in 2009, as Greinke seemed to let his talents speak for themselves, and he posted jaw dropping numbers in earning a unanimous Cy Young Award.
Last year Greinke may have slipped up a bit in his approach, but still posted respectable numbers considering his circumstances pitching for the horrendous Royals.
Greinke's trade to the Brewers has energized the Milwaukee fan base, and looks to give them one of the strongest rotations in the league.
Just how good however, depends on Greinke's ability to focus on simply trust his natural ability, and forget whatever extra is going on upstairs.
I think that going to New York may have been disastrous; Milwaukee may be exactly the place to guide him to another Cy Young.
After Greg Maddux, and before Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy was my favorite pitcher in baseball. This does not mean he was the best, but that could also be argued.
The 2007 Cy Young season was Peavy's best, as he posted a 19-6 record, 2.54 era, and led the league in strikeouts with 240.
Unfortunately I don't think Peavy will ever be as good as he was in 2007, but the guy is notorious for a bulldog mentality and work ethic, and could most definitely prove me wrong.
When he is healthy, Peavy has a plus fastball (with late life and great movement/sink) a plus changeup (lots of sink), and a true strikeout pitch in his slider. His low arm slot makes him one of the hardest pitchers against a right handed hitter.
I love Peavy's aggressiveness and mound presence, and hope he is able to come back healthy in 2011.
NL- 2 AL- 0
Cliff Lee Vs. Trevor Cahill
Edge: Cliff Lee (+2 pts- NL)
It's not really fair to compare two pitchers who are at such different stages of their careers, but so is the dilemma I face due to the lack of depth in the American League.
A pitcher like Josh Beckett would be a better comparison against Lee, but at this point I really think Cahill is the guy I would rather have. Therefore, I must compare the two as the seventh-best pitchers in their respective leagues.
In 2010, both Lee and Cahill were among the best in the American League, with Lee finishing seventh in the Cy Young vote, and Cahill ninth.
As stated, track record must be taken into consideration, and the fact that Lee has a career that may lead to Cooperstown gives him a significant edge over an unproven Cahill.
That does not mean that I think Lee will be far better than Cahill in 2011, in fact I think Cahill's future is incredibly bright.
Unfortunately, he has got to wait until 2012 to jump up this list, and prove himself an equal to a bona fide ace such as Cliff Lee.
Seeing Cliff Lee on a list at No. 7 these days likely results in one doing a double take. Having been the top free agent pitcher this off-season, Lee commanded more media attention than any other pitcher, and is a favorite for Hot Stove banter.
Up until the Giants broke what must have been a spell, Cliff Lee was God among men in the post-season. In sports, the good are separated from the great in their ability to pitch well when it matters most, and Cliff Lee has done just that.
I do not think, however, (and I expect to receive a lot of heat for this), that Cliff Lee is one of the top 5 best pitchers in the National League. If I was evaluating pitchers simply on command of the strike zone, Lee would probably be the greatest in Major League history.
That is no exaggeration... Lee walked just 18 batters in 212.1 innings, a stat that (especially as a fellow pitcher) is completely mind-blowing and simply unheard of.
Lee's repeatable mechanics and feel for the baseball allow him to throw strikes more often than any pitcher in baseball, and by a large margin.
His stuff however, is not quite up to par with some of the other names on this list, and therefore, is easier to hit when he misses up in the zone (a strike is not always a good pitch).
Lee had a fantastic season in 2010 and likely welcomes a return to the DH-free NL, but I do not think he will be quite as good as everyone expects him to be over the course of his five-year contract.
If he is, he will win 20+ games annually, post ERAs below 3.20, and likely win a few more rings for the "Evil Empire" of the NL.
Trevor Cahill and the rest of the young Oakland A's pitching staff flew largely under the radar in 2010, finishing with an impressive 3.58 ERA.
Cahill emerged as the ace of the staff despite being just 22 years old; the sky is the limit for this kid. Cahill's two seam fastball, though only traveling around 90 mph, is one of the best pitches in baseball.
The movement on the pitch is drastic, and honestly looks like a changeup or screwball out of his hand. This movement, along with his ability to command the pitch down in the zone, makes Cahill an extremely effective ground ball pitcher in the mold of Brandon Webb.
When Webb was in his prime, he was one of the best in the game and won a Cy Young. I think Cahill has every bit of potential to do the same, but simply has to repeat his success for a few more seasons to deserve recognition as one of the very best in the game.
As it stands right now, Cahill is a true ace with one of the brightest futures in the league, but his overall track record consists of one bad season, and one very good one. He's not yet on par with Cliff Lee.
NL- 4 AL- 0
*Sidenote: Brandon Webb was pitching his way into Cooperstown before his injury. If he is able to pitch like he did in his prime for another 5-6 seasons (that is asking a lot), I think he will end up there.
Ubaldo Jimenez Vs. Francisco Liriano
Edge: Ubaldo Jimenez (+2 pts- NL)
At No. 8, we have the battle for the best Dominican pitcher in baseball today. All things being considered, I believe Jimenez comes out on top, and by a fairly large margin due to a superior track record and superior "stuff."
When I say unmatched, I am comparing Jimenez not only to Liriano, but every other pitcher in the entire league besides Strasburg. Liriano is coming off a stellar 2010 season, four years removed from his tremendous rookie year in 2006.
The inconsistency before and in-between these two seasons are what hold Liriano back from being one of the best in the game. These Dominican pitchers sit at No. 8 on my list, but both have the physical potential to be nothing less than No. 1.
All eyes were on Ubaldo Jimenez for the first half of the 2010 season. Those struggling with vision squinted at the television in disbelief, fantasy owners celebrated, and batters likely considered a new line of work.
It looked as if Ubaldo was going to not only run away with the 2010 NL Cy Young Award, but with recognition for pitching one of the best individual seasons in baseball history. Forgive me for a change in format, but these were his numbers before the All Star Break:
and..... a no-hitter
These numbers show what Jimenez can do to his opposition when he is at his best. In his first full season as a starter in 2008 Jimenez walked 103 batters and did not look to have the command of an ace in the league.
The following year Jimenez walked fewer batters and posted a 3.47 ERA, thus earning himself credibility as the Rockies ace, leading to speculation that he could become great.
In 2010, Jimenez became great, and flashed potential suggesting that there were no limits to his greatness. All of this seems pretty drastic, but that's just how filthy Jimenez is.
Pitching at 6'4, with a herky-jerky delivery, Jimenez would be tough to hit with just good stuff. His pitches however, are all plus, and his fastball averages an astounding 96.8 mph, highest in the league.
Pablo Sandoval, understated yet to the point, said about Jimenez "he knows how to throw the ball." Jimenez has gotten better in each year he pitches, and if he improves upon 2010 his skills will likely surpass even Halladay's or Lincecum's.
If it weren't for his "collapse" of sorts in the second half of last season, Jimenez would be even higher on this list, but as it stands, he is No. 8 with the best probability of moving up the list as anyone else in either league. Jimenez is my favorite to win the NL Cy Young in 2011.
Liriano won Comeback Player of the Year in 2010, an interesting feat for a player who is just 26 years old. At just 22, Liriano pitched 121 innings for the Twins and looked to be on his way to Rookie of the Year distinction and a chance at the Cy Young.
Sadly, his career was derailed by arm trouble (he had Tommy John surgery), keeping him out of the game until he returned in 2008. He struggled mightily in his first several outings, and the Twins were forced to send him back to the minors.
He fixed whatever problems he had while in the minors, and pitched brilliantly upon returning to the big league club toward the end of 2008. The following year Liriano surprisingly regressed, setting the stage for his comeback year in 2010.
Liriano has one of the premiere sliders in the game, and throws in the mid-90s so naturally his potential is extremely high, it just isn't quite as high as Ubaldo's. I believe Liriano is one of the better pitchers in the game, but is not the ace on a number of teams.
This changes if he returns to his 2006 form, a realistic possibility that would probably be enough to vault the Twins past the Yankees in 2011.
NL- 6 AL- 0
Matt Cain Vs. Phil Hughes
Edge: Cain (+2 pts- NL)
Dealing with the pressures of New York scrutiny may be difficult, but with a career W/L record of 31-18 (.633%) and an ERA of 4.20, I'd be willing to bet Phil Hughes is glad he was drafted by the Yankees.
There is no better comparison than Hughes vs. Cain to illustrate the inaccuracy of W/L% in determining a pitcher's abilities. Sitting at a lowly 57-62 (.479%) over the course of his career, Cain's career era is a staggering .75 points lower than Hughes' at 3.45.
Yes, Hughes pitches in the AL East, the premiere hitting division in baseball, but I do not think that is enough to excuse this differential in allowing runs (Cain did just fine against the best hitting team in baseball last year).
Though Cain has logged a lot more innings than Hughes at the big league level, both are poised to continue pitching as dominant No. 2 starters on teams that won the World Series in 2009 and 2010.
I do not think either of these pitchers will be the ace for their respective teams, but are regardless among the top 10 pitchers in their league. The NL has more depth, and I think that Cain would be listed at No. 6 or No. 7 on the AL list.
Don't let Cain's curly blond locks fool you: this kid is an absolute competitor on the mound. Cain was drafted out of high school, and emerged as the Giants top prospect in 2005, pitching very well in limited innings. He was the talk of the town, and was the ace of the future....until Lincecum showed up.
Ever since Lincecum's arrival in San Francisco, Matt Cain has been second fiddle, going literally unnoticed for his first few seasons by anyone outside of San Francisco.
It did not help that the Giants offense was completely anemic in support of Cain, averaging so few runs that he finished 7-16 with an ERA of 3.65. In the 2010 post-season Cain threw 21 1/3 scoreless innings, the fourth-longest in baseball history...the baseball world took notice.
Cain's first season in the league saw him throwing fastballs consistently at 94+ mph. Interestingly, Cain's velocity has dropped quite significantly, averaging 91.6 mph, yet its effectiveness has gone up...it was the fourth-most effective in the NL in 2010!
The explanation behind the effectiveness of Cain's fastball despite its relative lack in velocity is a) it is "heavy" and b) he moves it up and down better than almost any pitcher in the league.
Neither of these arguments can be made using numbers, so let me try to explain: a "heavy" fastball is one that appears firmer than it actually is, and seems to speed up at the last second (see- "late life"). Perhaps because his motion is so fluid, Cains fastball is one of the "heaviest" in baseball, and results in hitters swinging, far too late, behind his 92-mph fastball in the middle of the plate.
Second, Cain has good command of his off-speed pitches, and uses a plus-changeup to keep left handed hitters off balance. His ability to throw the fastball up in the zone is what makes him so effective, and is his primary strikeout pitch.
Many have said Cain is actually the better pitcher on the Giants, and while I do not agree, they certainly make a decent point when looking at his numbers in 2010.
Cain is a workhorse, and will likely continue to pitch well as the No. 2 starter for the Giants, but does not have the stuff to be a true No. 1 guy on a number of teams. I remember when he was being compared to Edwin Jackson...that seems pretty silly now.
Like Cain, Hughes received a lot of hype as a prospect in the Yankees organization. Touted as an elite starting prospect, Hughes showed glimpses of stardom in his first season with the Yankees, and pitched well as a rookie reliever in the post-season.
The following season Hughes sustained a cracked rib, and was sent down to the minors to rehabilitate. Some would argue that last season was Hughes' "breakout" year, but I think that 2009 was his best.
Pitching in a set up role to the great Mariano Rivera, Hughes was one of the most feared relievers in the league, and posted terrific numbers in all areas. His stuff is well above average, and certainly better than Cain's.
I don't think that he has quite yet learned how to be the elite pitcher that he has been touted to be. Last year was a solid one for Hughes, and he is a very solid No. 2 on almost every rotation in the MLB, but he is not quite at the level of Cain.
If Hughes can improve upon his 2010 campaign as a starter, he will solidify his spot as one of the top pitchers in the AL. He's got a very bright future but I don't think that he will take over C.C.'s spot any time soon.
NL- 8 AL- 0
Chris Carpenter Vs. Jared Weaver
Edge: Carpenter (+2 pts- NL)
Here is where the depth of the National League starts to become really apparent. Although Jared Weaver is a good, possibly great pitcher, he is nowhere near as good as Chris Carpenter.
In fact, Chris Carpenter is probably better than Matt Cain but I believe internally I decided that he was aging for the worse, whereas Cain was only getting better.
Anyway, back to the point- there are at least 4 pitchers left off the top 10 in the NL that I would slot above Jared Weaver: Oswalt, Hudson, Latos, and Hamels (Kershaw, Gallardo, Garcia and Sanchez are arguably better as well).
Putting Weaver at No. 10 was difficult with young pitchers like Clay Bucholz, Brandon Morrow, and C.J. Wilson knocking at the door of being great; however, Weaver has established himself as a premiere pitching in baseball over several seasons: his best being 2010.
The lower down this list, the harder it is to compare who is really better due to age, experience, league differential, etc., but regardless of who faces Carpenter at No. 10, the NL is simply much deeper.
Chris Carpenter may be the second-best pitcher on the Cardinals, but you could argue his is their ace from an emotional perspective.
An imposing pitcher at 6'6, and a veteran of 13 seasons, Carpenter is never a guy you want to see in the opposing dugout, and has led the Cardinals to a number of post-season appearances.
He was the ace for the Cardinals' World Series victory over the Tigers in 2006. One must look back however, to the years prior to 2004, when Carpenter was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Carpenter frequently struggled with arm injuries, and never had a good season with the Blue Jays, some going so far as to label him a complete bust.
In 2002 he received shoulder surgery, and was subsequently released by the Blue Jays, a transaction that eventually led to an invigoration of his career. Since he was signed as a Free Agent by the Cardinals, Carpenter has racked up numerous honors and distinctions including a Cy Young in 2005.
In 2009, he finished second in the Cy Young race only because...Tim Lincecum was also in the National League.
Carpenter has five pitches that he can throw for strikes, and has exceptional command with his fastball (4 seam and 2 seam), changeup and cutter. His curveball is his out-pitch, and is one of the better out pitches in all of baseball.
Carpenter is a gamer and one of the true vets who still excels in the league. Because of his age, I feel like Carpenter will soon begin to fall out of his prime, but his statistics from 2010 say otherwise.
When healthy, Carpenter pushes Wainwright for the No. 1 spot on the Cardinals and gives them one of the toughest "Big Threes" in all of baseball (with Jaime Garcia at No. 3). I think he may have at least two or three more good years in him, and 2011 will probably be another All Star year for the big right-hander.
Jared Weaver is a pitcher who I have really not seen enough. Drafted in the first round of the 2004 draft, Weaver was a highly touted prospect out of Long Beach who had unique mechanics, good command, and explosive stuff.
At the Major League level I would not necessarily call Weaver's stuff "explosive," but it is certainly above average, and he knows how to pitch. Weaver throws behind his body, creating deception against right handed hitters, and it showed in 2010 when he led the American League in strikeouts with 233.
Weaver has largely flown under the radar, and I am guilty as charged in missing the slow and steady rise of this young pitcher. He is the unquestioned ace of the Angels, and if he builds on 2010, Weaver may start to enter discussions of being an elite pitcher in the MLB.
NL- 10 AL- 0
Conclusion: NL Pitching Is Much Deeper Than AL Pitching
Maybe the All-Star game was no fluke after all. In compiling this list I came to the conclusion that the top starters in the National League were both more proven, and more dynamic than their counterparts in the American League.
Though the talent disparity is not quite as large in the top 10, I believe a top 20 list would reflect a much further bias in favor of the National League (the argument that you will read after this would argue that to be "good" in the AL one has to be "great" in the NL, explaining the disparity between the top 20).
An infinite number of arguments could be made debasing this theory; the most prominent being that AL hitting is far superior to NL hitting, thus making it far more difficult to post impressive numbers in the AL.
Though this IS true, let it be known that it is something that I took into consideration in compiling the list. That being said, please feel free to debase anything said in this piece. It is all opinion and is most likely off-base, but that's the fun of speculation.
The National League wins this competition by a score of 10 points to 0.