MLB All-Star Game 2011: The 15 Best Pitchers on All-Star Team

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJuly 12, 2011

MLB All-Star Game 2011: The 15 Best Pitchers on All-Star Team

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    The 2011 MLB All-Star Game takes place live from Chase Field in Arizona. The game seems to have lost some of its luster with so many guys pulling out of the game, but there is still plenty of star power on display.

    In fact, some of the guys who were snubbed (Andrew McCutchen being the biggest) were able to get added to the roster.

    But with baseball moving away from the offensive era and into this new generation of pitching and defense, we want to power rank the 15 best pitchers on this year's All-Star team.

    The list is comprised of guys who are on the roster. Some of them won't pitch, either due to injury or because they pitched on Sunday, but they deserve to be included on this list because they are that good.

    With so much talent on the mound in this game, don't expect a lot of offensive fireworks. Last year's game was a great example of the great depth of pitching talent in the game. It was a very swift moving 3-1 game in which the National League won thanks to a Brian McCann three-run double in the top of the seventh inning.

    There are no relief pitchers on the list—sorry, Mariano Rivera fans—because I can't justify taking a person who is only responsible for three outs ahead of someone who is responsible for 20-plus outs every single game. Plus, the crop of starting pitchers in this game is as strong as any group in recent memory.

    Five of the 15 pitchers on this list have won Cy Young awards, two others were named World Series MVP and the remaining eight guys are all capable of leading any rotation in baseball.

    Without further ado, here are the 15 best pitchers on the 2011 American and National League All-Star teams.

15. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

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    In Matt Cain's first full season in 2006, he posted a very solid 4.15 ERA in 190.2 innings pitched. He has gotten better every season since, with this xFIP slowly trending downward as the seasons have gone by.

    This year, his strikeouts are up from the previous two seasons (7.48/9 IP) while his walk (2.35/9 IP) and home run rates (0.50/9 IP) are down.

    Sabermetricians have been baffled by his performance because his overall numbers didn't seem sustainable, but he appears to be the man to prove baseball science wrong.

14. Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta Braves

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    Jair Jurrjens is having a magical season so far. He has the second-best ERA in baseball at 1.87, and is going strong for an Atlanta team that looks like it can make a serious run to the World Series in October.

    As good as Jurrjens has been, his performance in the first half is likely not sustainable. He doesn't miss enough bats (5.29 K/9 IP) and his batting average on balls in play is very low (.256). His xFIP is almost two runs higher (3.76) than his actual ERA.

    He has been a great story in the first half and had a good case to be the starter in this year's All-Star game, but eventually the numbers are going to catch up to him.

13. Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox

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    When Josh Beckett is healthy, there are not a lot of guys that are better than him. Last year, he really struggled with injuries and his performance on the field suffered as a result.

    He has been healthy, for the most part, this season and his performance is back to what we have come to expect from him. His home run-to-fly ball ratio this season is the lowest of his career and he is making that contract extension the Red Sox gave him last season look like a smart move.

    Beckett has been playing a bit over his head so far this year—his .225 BABIP is insanely low—but the stuff looks as good as it ever has. The only reason he isn't higher on this list is the injury concerns.

12. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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    The Angels have one of the best 1-2 combinations in all of baseball. Dan Haren, who should be an All-Star, is one of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball. He is a true ace, but doesn't get the credit that he deserves because he plays on the West Coast.

    Haren's teammate, Jered Weaver, has really come into his own the last two years. His strikeouts have gone up, while his walks and home runs have gone down. I don't know if he can sustain a 1.86 ERA all season long, the numbers say that he can't, but right now he is one of the best pitchers in the game.

11. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

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    In the offseason, there were rumors that the Rays were going to trade either James Shields or Matt Garza to save money and make room for Jeremy Hellickson in the rotation. Ultimately, the team moved Garza and that move looks like aces right now.

    Not only did the Rays get an excellent haul of prospects from the Cubs for Garza, but Shields has also had a fantastic season for them so far. His numbers last year were inflated thanks to an abnormal home run rate that has been cut almost in half this year.

    Shields has one of the best changeups in the game, and he leads the all of baseball with seven complete games so far.

10. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    If we were ranking All-Star pitchers just based on stuff, Kershaw would be much higher on the list. He is a hard throwing lefty with a devastating curveball and knockout changeup. His 10.13 strikeouts/ 9 IP is the best of his career and the 2.41 BB/ 9 IP is the lowest of his career. He keeps getting better and better with each season, and he is only 23 with room to get even better.

    Honestly, if you ask me at the end of the year if there was one pitcher that I could have to build a team around it would be Kershaw. The more I think about it, the more I realize that No. 10 on this list is probably too low, but I believe that you could take any of the guys in the top 10, put them in any order and that would be fine.

9. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    It really says something when you can make a case for being the best pitcher in a rotation that also features Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, but that's how good Cole Hamels has been this season.

    Coming into the 2011 season, all the focus was on the Phillies starting rotation and they have not disappointed, even without Roy Oswalt for most of the season.

    Hamels has been absolutely dynamite for a Phillies team that has the best record in baseball (57-34). He is pitching like he did in the 2008 Postseason. His walks and home runs are down and his strikeout rate, while not quite as good as it was last year, is very good.

    I never thought of Hamels as an ace prior to this year, but his performance so far this year has proven me wrong.

8. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

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    CC Sabathia was one of the biggest All-Star snubs in the American League this year. He did end up getting named to the squad, though he won't be able to pitch after dueling with James Shields and the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

    With so much uncertainty in the New York Yankees rotation this year, Sabathia had even more pressure on his shoulders and he has more than held up his end of the bargain. His walks are down to their lowest level since 2008 and his home rate is insanely low. In fact, that rate is so low that it probably isn't sustainable for the remainder of the year.

    The Yankees put an opt out clause in Sabathia's contract which gives him the freedom to test free agency after this season. I would be shocked if he didn't use it to make the team pay him even more or risk losing the only quality, consistent starter they have.

7. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    People within baseball are still amazed at how good Tim Lincecum has been given his small frame and unusual throwing mechanics. But two Cy Young awards and a World Series title later, Big Time Timmy Jim is having the last laugh.

    Even though Lincecum's fastball isn't as fast as it once was, he has made up for it with excellent movement on the pitch and a devastating curveball and changeup.

    The one thing that has always been a little troubling with Lincecum is his walk rate, he's never had great command, but because he gets so many strikeouts he can make up for it.

6. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Felix Hernandez, the 2010 AL Cy Young Winner, has had a good season so far, but it hasn't been quite as dominating as he was last year.

    His strikeouts are up (8.75/9 IP) but so are his walks (2.69). As a result, his ERA has gone up nearly a full run (2.27 last year to 3.19 this season). His sabermetric numbers show that he has just had a little bad luck so far this season (3.04 xFIP) and his ERA could go down in the second half.

    As good as he has been in his career up to this point, he is only 25 and has room to get even better as he enters the prime of his career.

5. Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox

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    Jon Lester is one of the best success stories in Major League Baseball. He was one of the top prospects in the game in 2006, but was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He came back in the middle of 2007 and has been one of the best pitchers in baseball ever since.

    Lester has been very up and down this year, but the talent is there and the fact that he is left handed increases his value. His home run rate is way up this year, which has led to some inflated numbers. But once that number normalizes, he will make a strong Red Sox team even better.

4. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Cliff Lee's transformation from 2007 to today is remarkable. He used to be a guy who had good stuff but couldn't locate it. After he was demoted to Triple-A and left off Cleveland's playoff roster in 2007, he came back a new man.

    There is no one in baseball with the command and control that he has. The addition of a cutter to arsenal made him even more lethal and allowed him to miss more bats. He was absolutely dominant in June, allowing only 1 run in 42 innings pitched. He hasn't pitched like an ace in any other month, with ERA's of 4.18 in April and 3.78 in May.

    Given his track record of dominance, I would not be too worried about Lee. He is going to be fine, and the Phillies will be fine too.

3. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    David Price is just beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be. Last year was the warm-up act for what promises to be a long and prosperous career.

    This season, Price's strikeouts have gone up (8.72/9 IP compared to 8.11 last year) and his walks have decreased dramatically (1.81/ 9 IP compared to 3.41 last year). Based on age, stuff and performance, you can make a case that he is the best pitcher in the American League East.

    His season ERA is 3.70 but his xFIP sits at 2.96, suggesting that he has gotten a little unlucky at times and that his ERA will come down in the second half.

2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    The top two pitchers on this list really are head and shoulders above everyone else on this list. Verlander has always had No. 1 starter stuff, but this year everything seems to be clicking for him.

    He is not trying to blow hitters away anymore—his 8.76 K/9 IP is his lowest rate since 2008—but his walk rate has dropped from 2.85/9 IP last year to 1.85 this year. He is pitching to contact more to keep his pitch counts low, which allows him to work deeper into games.

    There has been no one in the American League better than him this year. There is still a long way to go in the season, but right now he is the clear choice for the Cy Young award.

1. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Should we be surprised? Roy Halladay has been dominating the National League this year, and all of baseball for the last decade. His combination of current and past performance pushes him above everyone else in all of baseball, including the pitchers not on the All-Star roster.

    Some people said that 2010 was the best season of his career, but this year he has been even better. His strikeouts are up and his home runs are down.

    He has the best combination of command and control, stuff and poise of any pitcher in baseball, and he has dominated in both the American League and National League. With a couple more dominant seasons, we will be talking about him as a Hall of Famer.