MLB Predictions: Jon Lester and 20 Pitchers Poised to Win 20 Games In 2011
For major league pitchers, 20 wins has always been the benchmark of an exceptional MLB season and to some extent, a career.
In fact, almost every one of the 51 pitchers in the Hall of Fame won 20 games in a season at least once in their career—relief pitchers excluded.
After a 2009 season in which no pitcher won more than 19 games, three pitchers were able to reach 20 wins in the 2010 MLB Season - Roy Halladay (21), CC Sabathia (21) and Adam Wainwright (20).
Halladay had already accomplished the feat twice with the Toronto Blue Jays (2003, 2008) before joining the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, whereas neither Sabathia nor Wainwright had ever done so before.
Three pitchers finished only one win away from 20 - Ubaldo Jimenez, Jon Lester and David Price - while many others were able to win 17 or 18 games, begging the question:
Who Will Become Baseball's Next 20-Game Winner in 2011?
Clay Buchholz: Boston Red Sox
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Clay Buchholz finished with 17 wins and the third best ERA (2.33) in all of baseball in 2010.
Some question whether he will be able to repeat that performance in the 2011 MLB Season due to a somewhat average WHIP (1.20) and a less-than-impressive strikeout total (120), while others point to his plus changeup and youth (26 years old) as signs that he could maintain or improve his peripherals.
Even if Buchholz were to suffer a slight regression in 2011, it is still likely he could compete for 20 wins thanks to the new and improved Boston Red Sox lineup.
The Red Sox acquired Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason and will have Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis back—a trio of All Stars that missed a combined 293 games in 2010.
It’s not hard to imagine the Red Sox scoring runs early and often in 2011, giving Clay Buchholz and excellent chance at winning 20 games.
Trevor Cahill: Oakland Athletics
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Trevor Cahill was one of only four pitchers in the American League in 2010 to post an ERA below 3.00. His WHIP (1.11) was impressive while his 1.87 K/BB and 118 K over 196.2 innings left a lot to be desired.
He doesn’t offer much velocity but showed a keen ability to changeup speeds and hit the corners.
While he is still nowhere close to a Hall of Fame pitcher, early similarities could be drawn between him and Gregg Maddux.
Cahill’s offense improved in the offseason with the addition of David DeJesus and Josh Willingham which should help his run support in the 2011 MLB Season.
It should also be noted that Cahill plays his home games in The Coliseum—one of the five best MLB pitcher’s parks—and a majority of his road games in cavernous AL West stadiums, such as Safeco Field in Seattle and Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
Ryan Dempster: Chicago Cubs
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Ryan Dempster won 15 games in 2010 to lead the Chicago Cubs pitching staff and eclipsed 200 K for the second time in his career showing no signs of wearing down as he strays further from his prime.
In fact, Dempster has made 31 or more starts in each of the three seasons since he returned to the Chicago Cubs rotation in 2008 and surpassed 200 innings in all of them.
In that time he has struck out at least 172 batters every season with an impressive 2.49 K/BB and a respectable 3.48 ERA.
The Chicago Cubs improved in the offseason with the signing of Carlos Pena at 1B and should get full seasons from Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto and Starlin Castro.
The team also showed new signs of life under interim manager Mike Quade that could carry over into the 2011 MLB Season and put Ryan Dempster in prime position to win 20 games.
The main concern could be Dempster’s poor record in NL Central matchups. In 2010, Dempster won 5 games and lost 7 to division opponents-including a 0-3 record against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Those numbers will have to improve for 20 wins to become a possibility.
Yovani Gallardo: Milwaukee Brewers
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Yovani Gallardo emerged as the Milwaukee Brewers ace in 2010 and enjoyed a successful campaign in which he won 14 games. His numbers were nearly identical to his 2009 performance as he maintained a 3.84 ERA, 1.37 WHIP whiling striking out 200.
The largest improvement came in his BB totals. After walking 94 batters over 185.2 innings in 2009, Gallardo trimmed his total down to 75 BB over 185 innings in 2010. If he can continue that trend going forward he could emerge as a one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Going into the 2011 MLB Season, Yovani Gallardo will want to target his pitch count as an area for improvement. Gallardo will need to induce more ground balls and trust his defense in order to pitch further into games and reach the 200+ innings that will be necessary to compete for 20 wins.
The Milwaukee Brewers offense is returning intact from 2010 and should offer similar run support if not better as both Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun figure to have better seasons in 2011-Fielder has the added motivation of an enormous contract looming in the offseason.
Zack Greinke: Milwaukee Brewers
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Zack Greinke followed up his 2009 AL Cy Young performance with a truly forgettable season in 2010.
He suffered decline across the board-his 4.17 ERA was two runs higher than 2009 and his 181 K were 62 less-and would go on to post a 10-14 record with the Kansas City Royals.
Greinke was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in the offseason where he should enjoy a new sense of purpose as the team figures to compete for the NL Central in 2011 as well as the World Series.
Pitchers typically show improvement when transitioning from the AL to the NL and the Brewers will hope to see the same from Greinke in 2011.
He won’t need to be as perfect as he was in 2009 in order to win 20 games. If Zack Greinke can meet somewhere in the middle with a 3.15 ERA and 200+ K, it should be more than enough considering the run support he will receive from Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks.
Cole Hamels: Philadelphia Phillies
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Cole Hamels had the best season of his career in 2010 with the Philadelphia Phillies when he posted a 3.06 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 211 K. Unfortunately his 12-11 record was not telling of his performance.
At 26 years old, Hamels should be able to maintain his 2010 performance or improve it in 2011 while surrounded by the veteran presence of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee in the Phillies rotation. Hamels will need to prove he belongs amongst them and has the ability to do so.
He should benefit early in the season as the team’s fourth starter and face easier matchups in April and May then he has in recent seasons.
It is certainly possible Cole Hamels could be the first pitcher to win 10 games in 2011 and be fast on his way to 20.
The Philadelphia Phillies lineup took a hit in the offseason with the loss of Jayson Werth to the Washington Nationals, but with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins all expected to bounce back in 2011 it is likely that Cole Hamels will enjoy more than sufficient run support for his talent.
Tommy Hanson: Atlanta Braves
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Tommy Hanson put up a very solid sophomore season in 2010 when he posted a 3.33 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and a mere 56 BB. His 10-11 record doesn’t do his season justice nor does it seem possible considering the success of the Atlanta Braves last season.
Hanson is still only 24 years old and has one of the best sliders in baseball. The pitch can be hard on a pitchers arm, but it has been too effective for Tommy Hanson thus far to shy away from it.
His K-Rate dropped in 2010 compared to 2009, a trend he will need to reverse if he looks to double his win total from a year ago. Pitch counts are also a concern as he was only able to pitch into the 7th inning in nine of his starts and the 8th in one.
He will have one of the best lineups in the National League in the MLB Season with the return of Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann along with the offseason addition of Dan Uggla.
Tommy Hanson also benefits from pitching at Turner Fielder, one of the more pitcher-friendly MLB stadiums in the game.
Dan Haren: Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim
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Dan Haren had 12 wins and his worst season in three years in 2010. Even with significant decline in a couple of categories, Haren still posted solid statistics across the board with a 3.91 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 216 K.
Haren was traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim just prior to the MLB Trade Deadline and enjoyed success there in the final three months of the season.
The story with Dan Haren over his career has been his pre- and post-All Star break splits. Haren has become famous for getting off to hot starts in April, May and June only to collapse down the stretch and send all his numbers plummeting down to Earth.
If Haren were able to pitch consistently from Opening Day to October it is very likely he could join the ranks of other 20 game winners in baseball history and today.
He will have a solid offense providing run support with Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Kendry Morales on the Angels and should enjoy pitching at Angel Stadium as opposed to Chase Field which has become notorious as one of the best hitter's parks in baseball.
Felix Hernandez: Seattle Mariners
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Felix Hernandez became the poster boy in 2010 for why a pitcher should not be judged by wins in losses. Hernandez dominated opposing hitters with a 2.27 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 232 K only to be rewarded with 13 wins.
Fortunately for Hernandez, baseball reporters acknowledged his brilliance last season by awarding him the Cy Young over CC Sabathia who had 21 wins in 2010 but not as impressive statistics.
Hernandez is only 25 years old with an outstanding K/BB and K-Rate and there is still the possibility that the best is yet to come, although it might not have to in order for to win 20 games in 2010.
In fact, while still excellent, his 2009 season paled in comparison to last season and yet he was able to win 19 games.
His average run support was 3.75 in 2010 and while the Seattle Mariners did little to improve there offseason, it seems very unlikely he would suffer as much bad luck in the 2011 MLB Season.
He also benefits from pitching at Safeco Field which is widely regarded as the second best pitcher's park in baseball.
Phil Hughes: New York Yankees
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Phil Hughes pitched his first full season in a starting rotation in 2010 and showed he belongs. He posted a respectable 4.19 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 146 K and was able to win 18 games with the New York Yankees.
Hughes is probably the least flashy name on this list due to his low K-Rate and modest velocity.
However, his strikeouts will naturally increase if he is able to pitch 200 innings in 2011 and he should improve in other areas as he is only 24 years old.
Unlike Felix Hernandez, Hughes does not necessarily have to be dominant in order to earn a win thanks to the juggernaut offense of the Yankees.
Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher are all returning to a lineup that scored the most runs in baseball in 2010 (859).
There is reason to believe the Yankees will enjoy a repeat performance thanks to the New Yankees Stadium which is the best hitter's park in baseball today.
Ubaldo Jimenez: Colorado Rockies
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Ubaldo Jimenez had one of the best starts to a season in 2010 in the history of baseball, including a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves on April 17th. Jimenez went on to post a 2.88 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 214 K and 19 wins.
If he were able to perform all season at the rate he was in April and May, 25 wins wouldn't have been out of the question for Jimenez in 2010.
He had one of the best K-Rates of all MLB pitchers with a 8.96 K/9 in 2010. His elite strikeout potential should be enough to keep him in consideration for both 20 wins and the NL Cy Young Award in 2011.
The Colorado Rockies secured the long-term future of their team by signing both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to mulityear extensions in the offseason. Seth Smith should see more time in the outfield and Ty Wigginton will add more power to the lineup as both a bench player and infield platoon piece.
With the core offense returning, as well as the advantage of hitting at Coors Field, there is reason to believe that Jimenez should enjoy plenty of run support in 2011.
Josh Johnson: Florida Marlins
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Josh Johnson put up the best ERA (2.30) and WHIP (1.11) of his career in 2010 on his way to 11 wins with the Florida Marlins.
Johnson has developed into one of the more dominant MLB pitchers when on the mound and shows phenomenal velocity and control with a K/BB rate close to 4.0 last season.
The problem with Johnson is his health. He has already had Tommy John surgery in his young career and he was once again was not able to finish the season and made only one September start in 2010.
His shoulder and back injuries could be a concern again entering the 2011 season and if he isn't able to stay healthy his chance at 20 wins could diminish quickly.
He not only suffers from aches and pains but a poor lineup as well. He received very little run support in 2010 and now Dan Uggla no longer plays for the Florida Marlins. He does however benefit from playing his home games at Sun Life Stadium, one of the better pitcher parks in baseball.
Of all the pitchers on this list, Josh Johnson might have the most going against him, but his talent is simply to excellent to ignore.
Clayton Kershaw: Los Angeles Dodgers
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Clayton Kershaw had an amazing season in 2010 for the Los Angeles Dodgers despite winning only 13 games. Kershaw posted a 2.91 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 212 K in 204.1 innings.
He dropped 10 BB off his total from the 2009 season and erased some of the concerns in regards to his control. However, he still did throw 81 BB in 2010, a stat he will still want to continue to improve on.
Kershaw is only 23 years old and has already pitched over 200 innings in a season so there should be no concern of him wearing down in 2011 or future seasons. Combine that with his phenomenal K-Rate and he could be the favorite to eclipse 20 wins.
The LA Dodgers improved on offense in the offseason with the signing of Rod Barajas and Juan Uribe. It is also likely that the team gets far more production from both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier this season which should result in plenty of run support for Kershaw.
Dodgers Stadium is the fourth best pitcher's park in all of baseball and should only increase his already phenomenal potential.
Jon Lester: Boston Red Sox
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Jon Lester emerged as the ace of the Boston Red Sox pitching staff in 2010. He won 19 games for the Red Sox and posted a 3.25 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 225 K in 208 innings.
Lester has excellent velocity and was able to average over a strikeout per inning for the second consecutive season. His strikeout totals allow him to strand base runners counteract his issues with control.
He had 83 BB in 2010, the only blemish on his season and a number he will want to cut down on if he intends to be considered as a potential Cy Young candidate.
As mentioned with Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox lineup is about as good as it gets and could score anywhere from 850 to 900 runs this season.
Considering the increased run support Lester should enjoy from Crawford and Gonzalez and the fact that he already won 19 games in 2010, he would almost have to be the favorite to become baseball's next 20 game winner in 2011.
Ted Lilly: Los Angeles Dodgers
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Ted Lilly had a very impressive season in 2010 despite missing most of April due to injury.
He was traded from the Chicago Cubs to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the MLB trade deadline and posted a combined 3.62 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 166 K with the teams.
Lilly was truly excellent in his time with the Dodgers when he had a 9 K/9 and 0.99 pitch that likely caused him to sign a three-year extension with the team.
He and Ryan Dempster are the elder statesmen on this list and could suffer a decline due to age and possible injury risk, but, if Lilly is able to stay healthy there is reason to be optimistic about 20 wins with the Dodgers in 2011.
Like Clayton Kershaw, Ted Lilly will benefit from the additions to the LA lineup in the offseason and, as evidence by his performance last season, he should enjoy starting in the pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium.
Francisco Liriano: Minnesota Twins
Francisco Liriano returned to the Minnesota Twins starting lineup with avengeance in 2010 and helped lead the team to consecutive AL Central titles. Liriano posted a 3.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 201 K in 191.2 innings.
His K-rate was phenomenal last season and he cuts 13 BB from his 2009 total despite pitching in close to 60 more innings. If he is able to maintain his control, Liriano and the Twins should enjoy many seasons like 2010.
Liriano, however, is still a health risk after already having Tommy John surgery in his career. His mechanics are considered to be conducive to injury and it could be something he has to fight in 2011 or beyond.
Most of the Minnesota Twins lineup is returning in 2011, including Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young. The addition of Japanese phenom Tsuyoshi Nishioka could also add a spark to their offense.
Target Field debuted as a pitcher's park in 2010 and should continue to help Liriano as he progresses into one of the top young pitchers in baseball.
Ricky Romero: Toronto Blue Jays
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Ricky Romero improved on all of his 2009 statistics last season and won 14 games for the Toronto Blue Jays. Romero dropped 0.60 points of his ERA (3.73) and posted a 1.29 WHIP and 174 K in 210 innings.
Romero should see his K-Rate continue to climb as he enters the prime years of his career and his ability to induce ground balls bodes well for his WHIP and ERA in future seasons.
He will want to work on his control in 2011 as he had 82 BB. Considering how well most players in the AL East hit, Romero can't allow to let them on base for free.
The Toronto Blue Jays lead all teams in 2010 with 257 HR which was 46 more than the next closest team. Jose Bautista is unlikely to hit 54 HR again, but you should see an increase in both Aaron Hill and Adam Lind's totals.
If he can keep the opponents hits on the ground while his team sends theirs flying to the seats, Romero could be in a prime position to shock New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox fans and win 20 games.
Justin Verlander: Detroit Tigers
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Justin Verlander solidified his place as one of the best young pitchers in baseball with an impressive 2010 season and 18 wins. He had a 3.37 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 219 K in 224.1 innings with the Detroit Tigers.
Both his WHIP and ERA were career lows which are encouraging signs for the Tigers' ace. However, while he did pitch in 16 less innings, he also threw 50 less strikeouts then he did in 2009.
If Verlander could get his K-Rate back up to prior seasons while maintaining his low ERA and WHIP he would challenge Jon Lester and Felix Hernandez for the AL Cy Young Award.
The Detroit Tigers added Victor Martinez who should help provide protection for Miguel Cabrera and drive in runs for Justin Verlander and the rest of the Tigers rotation.
Comerica Park is ranked right in the middle in terms of being pitcher or hitter friendly, so, at the very least, it shouldn't negatively impact Justin Verlander potential for 20 wins in 2011 as he has pitched there the entirety of his career.
20.1 Max Scherzer
"21 Pitchers" didn't quite have the same ring to it, but if the list were to be one pitcher longer I would have to include Verlander's teammate Max Scherzer.
His K-Rate is almost on par with Verlander and he showed great poise after returning to the team from a midseason demotion to the minor leagues.
Watch out for Scherzer and Verlander in 2011.
Edinson Volquez: Cincinnati Reds
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Edinson Volquez had a bumpy return to the Cincinnati Reds rotation in 2010. Some starts were excellent while other were plain awful and in the end he finished with a 4.31 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and 67 K in 62.2 innings.
Even in the shortened season, Volquez phenomenal K-Rate and should continue into 2011 along with the added velocity that is common after Tommy John surgery,
Volquez will have to improve his control if he hopes to become the ace of the Reds staff and cut down on his walks as evidence by his 35 in limited duty last year.
The Cincinnati Reds were the best offense in the National League in 2010 and there should be no reason to expect a decline this year. Every member his returning while young players like Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs should only improve on their performance from last season.
Edinson Volquez is only three seasons removed from a season in which he won 17 games. If he gets back to being healthy, 20 wins is certainly in his sights.
Jered Weaver: Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim
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Jered Weaver broke out in a big way in 2010 and won 13 games for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He posted career bests in almost all categories including a 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 233 K in 224.1 innings.
He will be in the prime of his career entering the 2011 season and shouldn't suffer any regression due to age or injury, making him a sleeper candidate for the AL Cy Young Award.
Money will also be motivation as Weaver is still in his arbitration years but will be due a substantial pay increase when he enters free agency after the 2012 season. An impressive followup performance to his 2010 season and the Angels might not let it get to that.
The Los Angeles Angels missed out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre in the offseason but were able to acquire Vernon Wells via trade and should have Kendry Morales back in the lineup and healthy for the season.
Angel Stadium is one of the best pitcher's parks in baseball and should only increase the odds of Jered Weaver approaching or surpassing 20 wins in 2011.