2011 MLB Preview: Cole Hamels and the League’s 25 Most Underrated Starters
What makes a professional athlete underrated?
The word has a multitude of interpretations; it's a matter of perception.
So when I constructed this list, I brainstormed what qualities make a pitcher underrated.
- Overachiever- A pure competitor who wants the ball even if his stuff and physique is subpar.
- Silent Assassin- Marvin Harrison is the perfect example here. He never opened up his mouth; his hands did the talking. These guys can easily be overlooked by the general public.
- The Royal Syndrome- Quick, name me three Royals starting pitchers. Now name three starters from the Yankees. When you play for a bad, or small market team, you're not going to get the same media attention as the bigger market teams.
- Aces Wild- If you're not the ace of the staff, the focus isn't on you. For example, Cliff Lee's pitching performances in last year's postseason were incredible, but the masterpieces from C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis were underrated.
- Injuries- When a baseball player is not playing, he's not in the news. When a player goes down for an entire season, that's a substantial amount of time away from the field. Players can get forgotten over time.
Enjoy the list and please feel free to offer your opinions below.
25. Derek Lowe (Braves)
Last Year: 193.2 IP 16-12 4.00 ERA 1.37 WHIP 136 K's
This is a guy you want pitching in the postseason.
He may not put up the greatest numbers during the regular season, but his playoff resume is awfully impressive. Lowe has started in 12 games and appeared in 23. He's 5-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 95.1 innings pitched.
Early on in his career, Lowe closed games for the Red Sox so he has bullpen experience as well. He started and won Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees.
Derek Lowe and Tim Lincecum squared off in Game 1 of last year's NLCS. On paper, it's a mismatch. Lincecum was the two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, but Lowe had all the prior playoff success.
Lincecum threw a two-hit complete game shutout to go along with 14 strikeouts. Lowe hung in there. He kept the Braves in the game. He tossed five-and-a-third innings, allowing just one run.
Lincecum and the Giants won the game 1-0.
24. Ian Kennedy (Diamondbacks)
Last Year: 194 IP 9-10 3.80 ERA 1.20 WHIP 168 K's
Kennedy had a fantastic September to close the season for Arizona.
In his five September starts, Kennedy had a 1.55 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. None of those starts translated into any wins. He doesn't get any run support.
The former highly-touted Yankees prospect may be finally getting it all together.
23. Brett Anderson (A's)
Last Year: 112.1 IP 7-6 2.80 ERA 1.19 WHIP 75 K's
Anderson has a history of knee and elbow injuries, but I trust Billy Beane. We'll get to a few more Oakland starters in a bit.
He's just 23, but he has a case of the Brad Lidge Syndrome. Anderson throws his slider nearly 30 percent of the time.
When healthy, Anderson is solid. He's going to give you quality outings and keep your team in the game.
22. Brandon Webb (Rangers)
Last Year: DNP
By season's end, I think the Rangers signing of Webb will go down as the most underrated offseason signing.
Webb has missed the majority of two seasons due to shoulder surgery. When healthy, Webb can be one of the elite pitchers in the game. In his prime, he had the best sinker in baseball. He led the MLB in groundball/flyball ratio during his 2006 NL Cy Young Award winning season.
Here's how former Diamondback teammate Eric Byrnes described the pitch in a 2007 ESPN article.
"When [Brandon Webb's] sinker is on, it looks like a major league pitcher throwing to little leaguers. It's like those wiffle ball games you used to play in your backyard, when your buddy knew how to throw the special pitch that nobody else had," Byrnes said.
21. Gavin Floyd (White Sox)
Last Year: 187.1 IP 10-13 4.08 ERA 1.37 WHIP 151 K's
Floyd possesses one of the best curveballs in the game.
At 28, Floyd is in the prime of his career. The velocity on his fastball has increased over the years. He throws it around 92 miles per hour.
Floyd went 17-8 with the White Sox in 2008.
20. Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers)
Last Year: 196.1 IP 11-13 3.39 ERA 1.16 WHIP 120 K's
Kuroda, the 36-year-old Japaneese veteran, had another fine season for the Dodgers. His ERA has been below four in each of his first three seasons of his MLB career.
Kuroda has great control of his fastball and possesses a high ground ball rate. He keeps the ball down in the strike zone.
19. Daniel Hudson (Diamondbacks)
Last Year: 95.1 IP 8-2 2.45 ERA 1.00 WHIP 84 K's
With the tandem of Hudson and Kennedy, the Diamondbacks have a bright future at the top of the rotation.
The Diamondbacks acquired Hudson in the Edwin Jackson trade to the White Sox.
He throws three solid pitches—fastball, slider and changeup.
18. Gio Gonzalez (A's)
Last Year: 200.2 IP 15-9 3.23 ERA 1.31 WHIP 171 K's
Gonzalez possesses the most underrated, if not the best, curveball in the game.
He hurls it about 30 percent of the time.
I'd like to see him cut his walks down—92 last season.
17. John Danks (White Sox)
Last Year: 213 IP 15-11 3.72 ERA 1.22 WHIP 162 K's
Danks continues to prove the skeptics wrong.
His ERA has been below four the previous three seasons, while the whip has been less than 1.30.
The cutter is his best pitch.
16. Brandon Morrow (Blue Jays)
Last Year:146 IP 10-7 4.49 ERA 1.38 WHIP 178 K's
On Aug. 8 of last season, Morrow struck out 17 Ray batters in an amazing one-hit pitching performance against Tampa Bay.
Morrow was seventh in the MLB in getting swinging strikes. Batters whiff 11 percent of the time, the average is around 8.5 percent.
The change of scenery from Seattle to Toronto has helped.
15. Shaun Marcum (Brewers)
Last Year: 195.1 IP 13-8 3.64 ERA 1.15 WHIP 165 K's
Remember when the Brewers didn't have a pitching staff? The Brewers improved their starting rotation drastically with the additions of Zack Greinke and Marcum.
Marcum, who missed the 2009 season due to an elbow injury, bounced back last year. His velocity is low, about 87-88 MPH on the fastball, but his control is good. His changeup is his best pitch.
14. Ryan Dempster (Cubs)
Last Year: 215.1 IP 15-12 3.85 ERA 1.32 WHIP 208 K's
Dempster is simply reliable.
He's gone over 200 innings three years in a row, and his 208 strikeouts last season was one shy of his career high.
The only disturbing trend is his walks; he was fifth in the NL last year with 89 walks.
13. Max Scherzer (Tigers)
Last Year: 195.2 IP 12-11 3.50 ERA 1.25 WHIP 184 K's
Scherzer throws hard.
After a trip to the minors to fine-tune his mechanics, Scherzer pitched well. In his final 15 starts, Scherzer had a 2.47 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 8.47 strikeouts per nine.
He throws three pitches; the slider is his best pitch.
12. Ricky Romero (Blue Jays)
Last Year: 210 IP 14-9 3.73 ERA 1.29 WHIP 174 K's
Romero throws four pitchers and mixes them all in well.
He has a terrific, competitive make-up; Romero knows how to pitch. He keeps the ball down in the strike zone.
Halladay may be gone, but the Blue Jays have built a nice, young staff; they acquired Kyle Drabek in the Halladay deal.
11. Clay Buchholz (Red Sox)
Everyone starts with Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and John Lackey when talking about Boston's rotation; Buchholz had the second best season of the four.
Here are the stats from last season.
- Buchholz: 173.2 IP 17-7 2.33 ERA 1.20 WHIP 120 K's
- Lester:208 IP 19-9 3.25 ERA 1.20 WHIP 225 K's
- Lackey: 215 IP 14-11 4.40 ERA 1.42 WHIP 156 K's
- Beckett: 127.7 IP 6-6 5.78 ERA 1.54 WHIP 116 K's
10. Tim Hudson (Braves)
Last Year: 228.2 IP 17-9 2.83 ERA 1.15 WHIP 139 K's
After an injury-riddled season in 2009, Hudson bounced back last year.
At 35, let's see how he comes out this season?
9. Tommy Hanson (Braves)
Last Year: 202.2 IP 10-11 3.33 ERA 1.17 WHIP 173 K's
At just 24, Hanson will be an ace on the Braves staff for quite a while.
If there is a knock on him, some say he throws too many sliders—28 percent of the time.
He possesses good command and nips at the corners with his fastball.
8. Jered Weaver (Angels)
Last Year: 224.1 IP 13-12 3.01 ERA 1.07 WHIP 233 K's
Weaver broke out last season as the ace of the Angels staff. He led the AL in strikeouts.
There's no reason why he can't repeat last year's performance.
I fully expect him to log over 200 innings and strikeouts again.
7. Yovani Gallardo (Brewers)
Last Year: 185 IP 14-7 3.84 ERA 1.37 WHIP 200 K's
Gallardo cut his walks down considerably from 2009; he went from walking 94 to 75. He threw 185 innings in both years.
His velocity on his fastball continues to increase; he flings it around 92-94 MPH.
He's still only 25 and still learning how to pitch.
6. Wandy Rodriguez (Astros)
Last Year: 195 IP 11-12 3.60 ERA 1.29 WHIP 178 K's
Remember in the intro when I was talking about silent assassins; Rodriguez is one of those pitchers.
His ERA is consistently in the 3.50 range, and he gets near the the 200 innings-pitched mark.
Rodriguez possesses a nasty curveball to go along with pin-point control.
5. Mat Latos (Padres)
Last Year: 184.2 IP 14-10 2.92 ERA 1.08 WHIP 189 K's
In my opinion, Latos ran out of gas down the stretch in September. He had an amazing 15-game stretch where he allowed less than two earned runs. Let's see if he can break through the September wall.
Latos throws in the mid 90s, and his breaking pitch is a knee buckler. He keeps batters off-balanced.
Once again another youngster on this list; Latos is just 23.
4. Trevor Cahill (A's)
Last Year: 196.2 IP 18-8 2.97 ERA 1.11 WHIP 118 K's
Cahill is a Brandon Webb replica. You can make the argument that his sinker may be the best in the game.
If you wanted to do an underrated starting staff discussion, it starts with the A’s; Cahill is the best of that underrated bunch.
3. Matt Cain (Giants)
Last Year: 223.1 IP 13-11 3.14 ERA 1.08 WHIP 177 K's
In the year of the pitcher, the San Francisco Giants starting staff proved it was the best in baseball.
Lincecum is the face of the staff, but Cain isn’t too shabby himself. He’s extremely consistent and proved it in a pivotal NLCS Game 3 start against Cole Hamels.
Cain’s going to win 15-plus games, have an ERA around 3.00, WHIP around 1.20. And he’s still just 26.
2. Cole Hamels (Phillies)
Last Year: 208.2 IP 12-11 3.06 ERA 1.18 WHIP 211 K's
Hamels won the 2008 World Series MVP, yet he’s on my underrated list.
He’s had his ups and downs since 2008.
Before last season, Hamels was a two-pitch pitcher—the fastball and devastating change-up. The hitters adjusted to him in 2009.
In 2010, Hamels started throwing a hard cutter, and on occasion, he’ll toss up a curveball. Hamels adjusted back to the hitters.
Being the fourth starter in Philadelphia, Hamels is a legitimate candidate to win 20 games.
1. Josh Johnson (Marlins)
Last Year: 183.2 IP 11-6 2.30 ERA 1.11 WHIP 186 K's
He’s a guy that most baseball people know about, but he’s yet to have a chance to shine on the postseason stage.
He’s very comparable to Josh Beckett when he led the 2003 Marlins to a World Series Title.
Many casual fans didn’t know who Beckett was until the 2003 postseason.
After 2003, Beckett went on to Boston to win another World Series Crown in 2007.
Can the current Florida franchise put it all together for a season and sneak into the NL Wild-Card slot, like the 2003 team?
Beckett was given a postseason opportunity, and he flourished. Johnson has yet to get there.