Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and the Best One-Two Punches in Baseball

Victor FiloromoCorrespondent IJune 2, 2011

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and the Best One-Two Punches in Baseball

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    9 Sep 1997:  Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves during the Braves 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. Mandatory Credit: Harry How  /Allsport
    Harry How/Getty Images

    If you're heading into a three-game series, there are certain pitchers that may strike fear in a hitter. Now consider what might be a two-day nightmare: having to go to bat against some of the best duos in the Majors.

    These are the top eight one-two punches in the Major Leagues.

    To make things easier, we took a look at how the pitchers are performing this year and their recent performance over the past couple of years to devise the best one-two punches in baseball.

    These types of lists are never an exact science, but think of it this way: if you're heading into the playoffs, which two pitchers on a team would you least want to face?

    If you're facing these flamethrowers, look out. It could be a long night. Or, couple of nights.

8. Josh Johnson & Anibal Sanchez

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - APRIL 01:  Josh Johnson #55 of the Florida Marlins pitches during opening day against the New York Mets at Sun Life Stadium on April 1, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Prior to his shoulder injury that has sidelined him for a portion of this season, Josh Johnson could have been recognized as the best pitcher in the National League.

    He is currently 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA, and has been a terror for opposing hitters, particularly early in the game, which has been well documented.

    About 51 percent of balls in play against Johnson have been ground balls, with batters pounding their bats (and the ball) into the dirt after frustrating at-bats against the Florida right-hander. He has allowed just 39 hits in 60.1 innings this season.

    Anibal Sanchez, Johnson's lesser known teammate, has been making a strong case to become one of the best pitchers in baseball, doing it under near-secrecy in South Florida.

    Sanchez is 5-1 in 2011 with a 2.57 ERA, with two complete games to his name in his 73.2 innings pitched. The main problem for Sanchez throughout his career has been staying healthy, but if his arm is in good shape, opposing hitters usually are not.

    He is yet to pitch 200 innings in a season but came close last year, going 195.2 innings for Florida and posting a 3.55 ERA.

    His development this year can be linked to his development of his change-up, which has become a go-to pitch for Sanchez. He is now relying less on his fastball and is locating the change-up and curveball better than he has in the past.

7. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 21:  Pitcher Chad Billingsley #58 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is congratulated by fellow pitcher Clayton Kershaw #22 after his complete game shutout against the San Francisco Giants on July 21, 2010 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles,
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Youth is served with this duo, which has taken the mound by storm in Chavez Ravine in 2011.

    Clayton Kershaw, just 23, is 6-3 with a 2.62 ERA in 2011, and has a 3.63 K/BB ratio, good for eighth in the National League.

    He has been relying less on his curveball and more on his slider in 2011, and it has made him a dangerous three-pitch pitcher.

    Kershaw is the type of pitcher who cannot afford to walk batters, or he will get in trouble. It was something he struggled with early in his career, seemingly always at the 100-pitch mark in the 5th or 6th inning.

    He has gone at least six innings in nine of 12 starts in 2011, including a complete game victory his last time out against the Marlins.

    Chad Billingsley, meanwhile, is enjoying another strong season in 2011. His fastball-cutter combination continues to do well against opposing hitters. He is 4-4 with a 3.46 ERA, and his fastball velocity is as strong as it was three years ago.

    His best year was 2008, in which he went 16-10, pitched the most innings of his career (200.2), and had the highest strikeouts-per-nine ratio of his career, at 9.01.

    He is a pitcher that many teams do not want to face, particularly right-handed hitters, who hit just .219/.281/.306 against him in 2011.

6. David Price and James Shields

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - MAY 21: David Price #14 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches during a game against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on May 21, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    No Matt Garza, no problem for the Tampa Bay Rays' pitching staff. With young arms like Jeremy Hellickson in the organization, the Rays didn't need Garza, and shipped him to Chicago this past off-season.

    They still have a very strong one-two punch in David Price and James Shields.

    Price is 6-5 in 2011 with a 3.52 ERA, and is coming off a complete game shutout against the Indians on May 27 and eight innings of solid work against the Rangers on June 1, in which he took the loss. Price won 19 games last year and posted a 2.72 ERA, good enough to finish second in the American League Cy Young race.

    His incredibly low 1.49 BB/9 ratio would lead many to believe Price will get that ERA down as the season runs its course, with his FIP of 2.85 showing that he has done a bit better than his ERA indicates.

    "Big Game James" Shields, nickname deserved or not, has had an impressive 2011 season. It's leading many to believe that he has finally figured things out. He has a 2.15 ERA and is 5-3 on the season.

    He has allowed just 63 hits in 83.2 innings pitched. His strikeouts have also seen an uptick, as his 8.7 K/9 ratio would be the highest of his career by far if it holds up.

    Prior to this season, Shields had a 4.25 ERA in his career, with many wondering if he would ever take the next step and become a shutdown number two behind Price.

    He certainly has in 2011, but will have to prove it for the rest of the year and into next season.

5. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester

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    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14:  Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch against the New York Yankees on May 14, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Best ERA in the American League for Josh Beckett? No problem. Keeping this season up? Could be a problem.

    Beckett's 1.80 ERA, best in the American League, may be tough to keep up. Lefties are actually performing worse versus Beckett than righties, but his .240 BABIP may be tough to sustain throughout the rest of the year.

    That being said, even a moderate regression for Beckett sets him up for a strong 2011. His BABIP last year of .338 would have pointed to a luckier 2011 at the outset, but this one has been extra special. After his 5.78 ERA and injury-riddled 2010, Beckett has been a key to Boston's resurgence after their abysmal start to 2011. 

    He could use a little extra run support, as his 4-2 record indicates the BoSox haven't been exactly breaking out the bats during Beckett starts.

    Jon Lester, on the other hand, has had a bit of a struggle in 2011, but is still a more-than-capable arm to run out for the Red Sox every fifth day.

    His K/9 and BB/9 ratios have both gone up, but he is still 7-2 with a 3.94 ERA. His fastball has lost a bit of velocity (down to 92.5 from 93.3 last year), but there is no sign of injury for Lester. His cutter has been worked into the game a bit more, and it's been a pretty valuable pitch for him.

    When all is said and done, expect Lester to get his ERA down by the end of this season and have another solid year.

4. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson

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    PITTSBURGH - MAY 24:  Jair Jurrjens #49 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game on May 24, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    If you think Cy Young considerations for 2011, you might immediately think of Jair Jurrjens. Nine starts into the season, Jurrjens is making his case for the award after going 65.2 innings, allowing just 56 hits and posting a 7-1 record along with his 1.51 ERA.

    Regression is to be expected, as Jurrjens has a .262 BABIP and a career-low K/9 ratio of 5.21. He has never been a strikeout pitcher, but those numbers are less than impressive. The important thing for Jurrjens has been his incredibly low BB/9 ratio of 1.51.

    It's pretty simple: if you aren't going to strike anyone out, you better not walk anybody. Jurrjens' xFIP is 3.49, so there could be some mild regression as 2011 plays out, but he has proven himself as a very competent pitcher over the past few years (when health allows).

    Tommy Hanson is making his case as one of the best young pitchers in baseball as well. Not yet 25, Hanson is coming off a 34 start, 200-inning year with Atlanta. He is currently 6-4 with a 2.82 ERA, and most of his numbers check out pretty well.

    His strikeouts are up, his walks are up slightly from last year (but down from his debut year in 2009), and he's getting more ground balls.

    His curveball has progressed nicely this year, becoming a go-to pitch. The splits are pretty extreme for Hanson, with lefties posting a .796 OPS against him. The good news? Righties have just a .464 OPS against him and are hitting a measly .161.

3. Jered Weaver and Dan Haren

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    ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 25:  Pitchers Dan Harren #24 (R) and Jared Weaver #36 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the baseball game against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 25, 2011 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djans
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Slowly but surely, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren are making a name for themselves in Anaheim.

    Weaver, now 28, is putting together the best season of his career. He is 6-4 with a 2.10 ERA, but has been getting a bit lucky with balls in play against him.

    In fact, both pitchers have. Weaver's .247 BABIP against him will likely catch him to up sooner rather than later, but for now, there are no complaints.

    His WHIP of .95 is fourth-best in the American League, a nudge behind, you guessed it, Dan Haren. He struck out 233 last year, and is not on the same pace strikeouts-wise in 2011, but has cut down on his walks.

    Haren, meanwhile, an absolute steal from Arizona last trade deadline, has been excellent for the Angels. Most of his numbers mimic Weaver, including their minuscule WHIP. After having five games last year (and two more with the Angels) with the Diamondbacks where he allowed at least ten hits in a game, Haren has had that happen but once to him in 2011.

    He has been a model of consistency, with six straight 200-inning seasons under his belt. After posting a .311 BABIP last season, Haren's .253 BABIP this year may, like Weaver, catch up to him eventually. However, with 86.1 innings pitched already, he is well on his way to having another 200-inning season in Anaheim.

    His increased use of his cutter has gotten him a long way, a pitch he now throws 41.9% of the time, compared to just 23.3% of the time as recently as two years ago. A steal of a trade it was for a heck of a pitcher, who now makes up half of a devastating one-two punch.

2. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain

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    SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 26:  Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants jokes with Matt Cain #18 during batting practice before their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park on August 26, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    While Roy Halladay may have unseated Tim Lincecum in the National League Cy Young race in 2011, his back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2009 were certainly astounding.

    We all know the story by now; the height-lacking, lanky, "Freak" from Washington has become one of baseball's best. This year, he is 5-4 with a 2.59 ERA, certainly well in the running for the Cy Young Award once more.

    His strikeout numbers have declined in each of the last four seasons, but nothing that is extraordinarily drastic. He is getting more ground balls than ever, and allowing fewer home runs.

    He's relied a bit more on the slider and less on his curveball. Not a bad idea considering his slider has been a pretty good pitch.

    Since the start of the 2008 season, Lincecum is 54-26 with a 2.80 ERA. And last year was the "worst" year of his career, in which he had a 3.43 ERA and 16 victories. Results? You get them with Lincecum.

    It seemed like just yesterday we were talking about Cain being one of the best young pitchers in baseball under the age of 25. Now 26, Cain is in his sixth full season, and has made at least 30 starts in each of the first five. He backs up his durability with his pitching prowess.

    Cain's ERA is slightly hire than his xFIP, coming in at 3.88. His xFIP of 3.80 is darn near close, though. He's 3-4 thus far, with hitters hitting .244 off of him. Last year, batters hit just .218 off Cain. The numbers say that Cain's curveball has been less than stellar, so laying off of that could be beneficial as he tries to work in his change-up more often.

    Cain is one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball, with 200 innings pitched in each of the last four seasons. Sometimes, durability is half the battle. He was also excellent en route to the Giants' World Series win last year, hurling 21.1 innings while not allowing a run.

1. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee

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    PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 26:  Pitcher Roy Halladay #34 (R) and Cliff Lee #33 of the Philadelphia Phillies sit in the dugout during the Major League Baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on April 26, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    There is still no duo a team would want to face less than Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, masters of their domain on the mound.

    When the Phillies traded Cliff Lee away and brought Roy Halladay aboard, not many envisioned they would ever be teammates. General Manager Ruben Amaro obviously thought otherwise.

    After picking up 21 victories last year along with a Cy Young Award, Halladay has come back and been his normal self in 2011. A 7-3 record, a 2.56 ERA, just 1.3 BB/9 and 9.0 K/9, which would actually be a career high. Indeed, Halladay and Lee are one and two in strikeouts in the Majors: Halladay has 91 and Lee has 90.

    Halladay has 31 complete games since the beginning of the 2008 season. He has five straight years of at least 200 innings, and eclipsed 250 last year. He is a groundball machine, and is throwing his cut fastball more than ever, and breaking more bats than ever. That pitch is up over 10 percent in usage from last year. Another Cy Young is not out of the question for "Doc."

    Lee's 2011 start may be somewhat confusing to outsiders, but it's pretty clear what's going on here: a whole lot of bad luck. His 10.12 K/9 ratio is tops in the entire National League, yet he has a 3.94 ERA and a 4-5 record. He lost a game in which he struck out 16 batters.

    Lee has a 3.94 ERA, but a 2.63 xFIP. Eventually, things are going to balance themselves out. Oh, expect that .339 BABIP to turn around too. And, just as quickly as Lee can give up ten runs in two starts, he can also do what he did in late April and early May, where he started four games and allowed just seven earned runs.

    He is still on pace to have a pretty great season. The scary thing is that Cole Hamels could have been added easily to Halladay or Lee, and the duo still would have made the top two, maybe even been number one.

    Money can't buy you happiness, they say. Philadelphia is hoping it may buy them a World Series title.