MLB Power Rankings: Picking the Best Hitter-Pitcher Combo in the NL

Ray TannockSenior Analyst IFebruary 23, 2011

MLB Power Rankings: Picking the Best Hitter-Pitcher Combo in the NL

0 of 16

    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    A well-built house needs two distinct aspects: a great foundation and quality construction.

    And while that may be some pretty obvious information, every single major league team also has the same needs.

    Can any one pitcher or hitter make a well-built team? Obviously not, but in the same vein, it all begins with the two top players on the mound and at the plate.

    Today, let’s take a look at all of the National League teams and rank who has the best hitter-pitcher combo. Again, it takes more than one pitcher and one hitter to make a solid team.

    But remember, even a house is built brick by brick.

16. Arizona Diamondbacks

1 of 16

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Combo: Justin Upton and Daniel Hudson

    While there isn’t too much to get excited about in Arizona this season, there are still a few bright spots on this team that can make them dangerous. Outfielder Justin Upton and starting pitcher Daniel Hudson are two of the best examples.

    Justin Upton dealt with a troublesome shoulder in 2010, and subsequently did not perform up to his expectations.

    But this isn’t a gauge of what he is capable of.

    Upton enters spring training healthy and ready to bounce back from 2010, a very likely scenario that will probably see Upton hit over .300, with 25 homeruns and close to 100 RBI.

    Daniel Hudson is probably not the player you would expect to be mentioned, but I believe he will lead this squad in 2011.

    After coming over to the Diamondbacks in the Edwin Jackson trade, Hudson dominated as a D-Back, showing off his command with a 7-1 record and a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts and showing his ability to pitch deep, going seven or more innings nine times.

    Hudson had a bit of luck attaining such a feat, but it was also the product of his natural ability, which should be even more impressive in 2011.

15. Pittsburgh Pirates

2 of 16

    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Combo: Andrew McCutchen and James McDonald

    Andrew McCutchen lived up to the hype last year, posting an impressive .286/.365/.449 batting line with an equally impressive 16 home runs, topping his performance from his rookie season.

    In addition to those numbers, McCutchen also stole a whopping 33 bases, only struck out 89 times and improved upon every other category in his sophomore year.

    McCutchen is clearly the best threat at the plate for Pittsburgh coming into 2011, and you can expect him to get even better in 2011 with a slightly better surrounding cast.

    James McDonald was the No. 56 prospect according to Baseball America in 2009, and a pleasant surprise in 2010.

    Pittsburgh wound up being a perfect fit for McDonald—a fit that afforded him a 1.80 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and 7.2 strikeouts in nine innings over his final five starts.

    The scouts are probably sitting pretty high on their horses after the 2010 season, and McDonald has nothing but potential written all over him.

14. Houston Astros

3 of 16

    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Combo: Hunter Pence and Wandy Rodriguez

    For an all-around hitter who can hit for power and steal bases when you need him to, Hunter Pence is as good as they come.

    Last year, Pence smashed 25 homers with 91 RBI and stole 18 bags, making him one of the best hitters at the plate for Houston.

    But to think that Hunter Pence peaked—a growing thought among some—is a bit premature, which is why I can see Pence’s bat and legs leading this team for another season.

    Want a premier bounce-back pitcher for 2011? Well, how about Wandy Rodriguez?

    Last year, I took a lot of flak for being so high on this guy from a fantasy baseball perspective, but the fact is the guy did exactly what I said he was going to do—throw a ton of strikes.

    In fact, after a rocky start, Rodriguez finished the season rather strong, going 8-2 with a 2.03 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his last 18 starts.

    With a nice surrounding cast both in the rotation and in the bullpen, Rodriguez is primed to become that elite pitcher that many thought he was capable of this year.

13. Washington Nationals

4 of 16

    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Combo: Jayson Werth and Steven Strasburg

    I don’t think there are too many people who would disagree that Washington is on the rise, especially with the signing of outfielder Jayson Werth and the return of Steven Strasburg.

    But consistency will be the key factor for Washington if it is to stay competitive for an entire season, which is where Jayson Werth excels.

    In any given season, Jayson Werth is nearly guaranteed to hit at least 25 homeruns, 80 to 90 RBI and steal a minimum of 20 bags.

    Add in his .284 BA and .881 OPS over the past four years, and suddenly Werth seems as if he is destined to be the No. 1 hitter on this team.

    If it weren’t for TJ surgery cutting this kid’s season short, Steven Strasburg would have blown several MLB records into outer space.

    Strasburg was 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA and an eye-opening 12.2 K/9 rate—and he was doing it in his rookie year, for crying out loud.

    But Tommy John surgery does have a history of doing funny things to pitchers, so we’ll have to wait and see what aftershocks—if any—come traipsing along.

    To be honest, I believe he’ll be just fine.

12. San Diego Padres

5 of 16

    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Combo: Ryan Ludwick and Aaron Harang

    Think I’m crazy?

    I can understand considering how miserable the 2010 season went for both Ryan Ludwick and Aaron Harang.

    But keep in mind one thing: PETCO Park has a history of rejuvenating pitchers coming off bad years, and Ludwick has had the entire offseason to get acclimated to San Diego.

    Ryan Ludwick was brought over for his ability to smack the ball into orbit, but it never truly materialized in 2010.

    He admitted that the last two months were “the worst of his career” but is champing at the bit to rectify what he feels is the reason the Padres missed the playoffs by a single game.

    Ludwick is a player who can hit, and hit well. Given the fact that he did crack six homeruns in San Diego and his natural ability to hit, his chances of a bounce-back season are very high.

    Aaron Harang also had one of the worst seasons of his career, finishing with a 6-7 record and a 5.32 ERA.

    But PETCO Park is far more pitcher-friendly of a place than Great American Ball Park, and you can pretty much bank on the notion of a bounce-back season.

    There is plenty of talent in the starting rotation, but if Aaron Harang bounces back, he will wind up being the new ace of the squad.

11. Chicago Cubs

6 of 16

    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Combo: Marlon Byrd and Ryan Dempster.

    There will probably be serious argument from the Cubs faithful on mentioning Marlon Byrd, especially with Carlos Pena in town, but I’ll let that argument be settled by the end-of-year numbers.

    If it weren’t for a total hitting collapse in the second half of the season, Byrd would have surely done far better than his 12 homers and 66 RBI.

    But even Marlon Byrd has admitted that his mechanics were out of whack, and truly feels he can easily correct what afflicted him.

    Byrd could also bat third in the lineup this year, making a tasty situation for power plus runs. Expect Byrd to reach 20 homeruns, top 85 RBI and even steal seven bags.

    One of the brightest areas for the Cubbies has got to be the reliability and consistency of starting pitcher Ryan Dempster.

    Over the last three seasons, Ryan Dempster has accumulated a 43-27 record with a 3.49 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and has struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings in that span.

    His ability was recently awarded, when Cubs manager Mike Quade announced Dempster—not Carlos Zambrano—will open the season against Pittsburgh.

    Heck, Ryan Dempster even makes an incredible fantasy baseball option.

10. Atlanta Braves

7 of 16

    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Combo: Dan Uggla and Tim Hudson

    Keeping on the consistency train, Dan Uggla is our next boarding passenger.

    Over the past four seasons, Dan Uggla has hit 30 plus homeruns, 88 plus RBI and has never had his OPS dip below .805.

    Moving to Atlanta was probably one of the best things that could happen to him since he moves to a better team when it comes to a supporting cast at the plate, so expect Uggla to lead this team in several categories right out of the gate.

    On the mound, it doesn’t get any better than Tim Hudson.

    The old man is about as reliable as grandpa’s old bloodhound on a hot summer day and built like a Mack truck. Hudson is one of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball.

    Tim Hudson has never had a losing season; he consistently hovers over the 3.50 mark with his ERA and is a dominant force on the mound.

    Last year was a banner year for Hudson—he went 17-9 with a career low 2.83 ERA—so it will be hard to top those numbers.

    Still, you can expect Hudson to flirt with another 18 wins and an ERA that will fall between 3.00 and 3.15.

9. Cincinnati Reds

8 of 16

    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Combo: Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto

    Arguably one of the hardest teams to choose from, considering the plethora of hitters and pitchers on this team, this slide is probably best left for debate.

    I think as far as potential Joey Votto has the best chance of leading this team in 2011 and for years to come.

    And Johnny Cueto, with his penchant to fan batters, has become the leading man on the mound.

    Again, anyone on this team could emerge as the best hitter or pitcher, but these two are my nominations…what say you Reds’ fans? I'm most interested in this one.

8. New York Mets

9 of 16

    david wrightHunter Martin/Getty Images

    Combo: David Wright and Johan Santana

    After a disastrous 2009 season and a rocky start to 2010, David Wright pulled together and finished the year with a .283/.354/.503 batting line alongside 25 homeruns and 103 RBI—he even stole 19 bases.

    Wright continues to be the backbone of this team offensively and defensively, and while he may not capture his numbers from 2007, he continuously shows he can get extremely close.

    Look for another solid year from the third baseman.

    No R.A. Dickey, or Mike Pelfrey? Not a chance!

    To even think a 36-year-old knuckleballer (Dickey) who had one solid year will lead this squad in 2011 is absolutely absurd.

    And as far as Mike Pelfrey goes, he had a solid season in 2010, but Pelfrey has always been a 50/50 pitcher, so expect him to come back down to earth in 2011.

    Still, the Mets will have to do with Dickey, Pelfrey and a handful of hopefuls until Johan Santana returns, which is expected sometime in June.

    Johan Santana is still recovering from shoulder surgery that slowed him down in 2010, but he is still the staff’s ace.

    Santana is 133-69 with a 3.10 ERA alongside an 8.9 K/9 rate over his 10 year career…kinda hard to argue those numbers.

7. San Francisco Giants

10 of 16

    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Combo: Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum

    The obvious mention here is Tim Lincecum simply because this kid will one day be in the Hall of Fame, and will go down in history as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.

    But a more curious mention is second-year man Buster Posey.

    Buster Posey hit .305 with 18 homeruns and 67 RBI in just over 400 AB, which helped propel the Giants to becoming World Series champs, so the sky’s the limit for the youngster.

    Posey will not, however, play first base at all this year according to GM Bruce Bochy…sorry fantasy fans!

6. Milwaukee Brewers

11 of 16

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Combo: Prince Fielder and Zach Greinke

    Most hitters would love to say they hit 32 homeruns with 83 RBI in any given season. They would even salivate over a .261/.401/.471 batting line.

    But for Prince Fielder, that’s a down year, when you compare it to his career line of .279/.385/.535 with an average of 37 homers and 104 RBI a season.

    Still, I believe there is no reason to think Fielder is beginning to decline. And there is more of a chance for Fielder to return to his dominant form in 2011, now that they added Zach Greinke.

    Speaking of the Kansas City Royals castoff, Greinke really couldn’t be a better situation than pitching in the National League.

    Remember, despite having a down season in 2010 with the Royals—coming off his Cy Young campaign in 2009—Greinke still won 10 games. In fact, Greinke has won 10-plus games in three straight years.

    Greinke won't have to face a DH in the NL and should benefit from weaker bottom-of-the-lineup hitters.

    He should also benefit from a better-hitting team in the Brewers than his former relationship with the Royals.

5. Colorado Rockies

12 of 16

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Combo: Troy Tulowitzki and Ubaldo Jimenez

    The last two years have been gold for Tulo, who is one of the best shortstops in the game right now.

    Troy Tulowitzki has hit .305/.379/.560 with 59 HR and 187 RBI while only striking out 190 times over the past two seasons. He's clearly the best hitter on his team.

    It also helps that half of his games are played at Coors Field.

    Ubaldo Jimenez was a force to be reckoned with in 2010, going 19-8 with an impressive 2.88 ERA and career high 204 strikeouts.

    But despite this monumental performance, GM Dan O’Doud believes that his best baseball is still ahead of him.

    An intimidating notion, if you think about it.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

13 of 16

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Combo: Matt Kemp and Ted Lilly

    Matt Kemp is probably one of the best hitters on the Dodgers currently, and with good reason.

    Over his first two full seasons, Kemp held his batting average and stolen-base total solid while increasing his power. But in 2010, his average and stolen base count declined.

    At 26, it isn’t uncommon for a young player to take a step back before reaching his peak, which is what will probably happen in 2011.

    If there were a more miserable time in Ted Lilly’s career, I don’t know of it.

    His rocky return from injury and his rocky situation in Chicago was enough to make any pitcher slump. But after his reunion with Joe Torre in Los Angeles, the "Lilly" sprouted!

    Ted Lilly went 7-4 with a 3.52 ERA and a 9.0 K/9 rate after transferring over to the West Coast, and there is little reason to think he’ll slow down in 2011.

    Especially with a full year to reminisce…err, I mean work with Torre and company.

3. Florida Marlins

14 of 16

    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    Combo: Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson

    With Dan Uggla gone and the uncertainty of whether or not Chris Coughlin can bounce back from a miserable year, Hanley Ramirez clearly remains the number one hitter for the Marlins.

    The Marlins are looking for Ramirez to be more of a run producer in 2011, despite Ramirez aspiring to steal more bases.

    Either way, whether he is swinging for the fences or owning the base paths, Hanley Ramirez is one of the most dangerous short stops in the game today. Expect a season in which he could flirt with 30 HR and 30 plus SB.

    After a great start to the season Josh Johnson's 2010 campaign came to a halt thanks to injury. But now, he is completely healthy and says he feels better than ever.

    When he’s not injured, Johnson is clearly the staff’s ace, posting a 26-11 with a 2.80 ERA and 1.13 WHIP since the start of the 2009 season.

    He also has 377 strikeouts in 392 2/3 innings in that span.

    Last year Johnson was cruising along at 11-6 with a career-best 2.30 ERA before his injury.

    You can bet that Johnson puts in at least 30 starts this year, he’ll be among the top three pitchers in the NL.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

15 of 16

    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Combo: Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright

    No surprise here, eh?

    But what is surprising is perhaps not being listed at No. 1? Well, that’s because a few points were shaved off the Cardinals for their ace combination of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter going all funny at the end of the season offering little reliability…just ask fantasy baseball owners.

    Still, Wainwright has been the Cardinals most dominant force on the mound, going 50-22 with a 2.68 ERA and 516 strikeouts.

    While Wainwright will need to polish up his fastball a bit, I think the 2011 season will be another banner year for him.

    As far as Albert Pujols goes, what can you say about the man other than amazing?

    Pujols has six seasons of 40-plus homeruns and 10 running seasons of 100-plus RBI.

    In addition to that, miraculously enough, Pujols has never had a season where he had more than 93 strikeouts—that being his rookie year.

    Despite the apparent contract tension in St. Louis right now, I firmly believe Pujols will achieve the one goal his heart is set on: to be a Cardinal forever.

1. Philadelphia Phillies

16 of 16

    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Combo: Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay

    Where does one begin?

    Ryan Howard has been the face of this team since arriving and hasn’t let up since. In seven seasons with the Phillies, Howard has put together a nice .279/.372/.572 batting line with 253 homeruns and 748 RBI with a .944 OPS.

    In particular, however, Howard has done one thing that many power hitters cannot in cutting down his strikeouts last year.

    From 2006 to 2009 Ryan Howard averaged 191 strikeouts, a number he cut back to 157 in 2010.

    Howard says the ankle issue that slowed him down last year is behind him, and says he’s ready to come out of the gate swinging. Expect another year when Howard flirts with 40 homeruns and 100-plus RBI.

    Whether you are an AL fan or a NL fan, I think it’s safe to say everyone knows of Roy Halladay and his pitching prowess.

    Three 20-plus-win seasons, seven-time All-Star, two-time Cy Young Award winner and one of the most dominate arms on the mound today a la Nolan Ryan.

    With the re-addition of Cliff Lee, a starting rotation that is complemented by Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, a solid staff of hitters and a solid bullpen, this Philadelphia Phillies team is likely to be the deadliest team in the National League in 2011.