The 12 MLB Teams with the Best Hitter and Pitcher Combos

Matt PowersCorrespondent IINovember 29, 2011

The 12 MLB Teams with the Best Hitter and Pitcher Combos

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    In MLB, having dynamic impact players is something you just cannot measure the value of. An ace pitcher can almost guarantee you a victory every fifth game, while a top hitter is a good bet to keep producing runs even when the rest of the offense struggles.

    When your team has one of each, that is something tough for an opponent to overcome and usually means that you will have a winning record—assuming management keeps the rest of the roster solid. This article ranks the 12 best hitter and pitcher combos in the game today.

12. Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum, Giants

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    The Giants duo of third baseman Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum barely beat out the Marlins duo of Josh Johnson and Mike Stanton for the final spot in part because of Johnson missing the bulk of the 2011 season. Lincecum is a proven ace, while Sandoval is a strong hitter at a key position.

    Sandoval hit .315 with 23 homers and 70 runs batted in while only playing in 117 games this season. That was a nice bounce-back from a down year in 2010, where weight issues and a divorce led him to struggle badly at the plate all year.

    Sandoval started to look more like the guy that hit .330 with 25 homers in his first full season back in 2009 after getting in better shape last winter and putting the off-field issues behind him.

    Lincecum only went 13-14 in 2011, but that's more due to lack of run support, as his 2.74 ERA shows that he didn't have a down year. The two-time National League Cy Young Award winner has already led the league in strikeouts three times in his short career.

    Lincecum is one of the premier pitchers in the game, and teamed with a potential batting champion, the Giants have one of the top 12 combos in the game. If we see the 2009 Sandoval next year, this duoe could easily move up a few spots in the rankings.

11. Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

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    The Washington Nationals combo of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and ultra-hyped pitcher Stephen Strasburg is a bit aggressively ranked here, but Strasburg has pitched extremely well in his short career, and Zimmerman is one of the most underrated players in the game.

    Zimmerman only played in 101 games in 2011 due to injury, and that led to him having an off year at the plate. Zimmerman hit .289 with 12 homers and 43 runs batted in, down from his 2010 line of .307 with 25 homers and 85 runs batted in. In addition to being a strong hitter for both average and power, Zimmerman is a Gold Glove defender at the hot corner.

    Strasburg has only made 17 starts combined between 2010 and 2011 with Tommy John surgery sandwiched in between, but he has made those starts count. Overall the most hyped prospect in the history of the game is 6-4 with a 2.54 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 92 innings.

    Strasburg is likely going to be on an innings limit the way teammate Jordan Zimmermann was this year in his return from Tommy John surgery, but he should finally get to prove himself over the course of a full season.

    The Nationals duo has so much talent that I felt comfortable ranking it above combos that have been more productive in 2011, like the Rangers duo of Josh Hamilton and Alexi Ogando. Assuming Strasburg looks like the guy we have seen thus far, this ranking will be a bit low a year from now.

10. Matt Holliday and Chris Carpenter, Cardinals

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    The Cardinals combo gets a bit of an asterisk because I chose Matt Holliday over Albert Pujols because of Pujols' status as a free agent. If Pujols does return, this duo would rank a bit higher. The same goes for ace Adam Wainwright in his return from Tommy John surgery.

    Holliday is hardly a bad choice, as pitchers hate to face the left fielder. Over the course of eight major league seasons, Holliday is a .315/.388/.541 hitter that will hit over 20 homers and drive in nearly 100 runs per season. He's not quite Pujols, but he is a five-time All-Star.

    Carpenter is a former National League Cy Young Award winner who has finished in the top three in the voting for the award three separate times. He isn't the same pitcher he once was, as evidenced by his 11-9 record and 3.45 ERA in 2011, but the 36-year-old was big in the clutch. Carpenter took over during his six postseason starts and pitched to a 3.25 ERA while helping lead his team to another World Series title.

    Although the Pujols and Wainwright combo would rank higher, Holliday and Carpenter is still very strong and gives the Cardinals among the best combos of two hitters and two pitchers in all of baseball.

9. Jose Bautista and Ricky Romero, Blue Jays

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    The Blue Jays combination of one of the game's most feared sluggers and a promising young front-of-the-rotation starter has a chance to help the Blue Jays reach the playoffs in 2012 if the front office can shore up some of the smaller holes.

    Bautista came from nowhere in 2010 to hit .260 with a major league-leading 54 homers. He came back in 2011 to prove that he was no one-year wonder when he hit .302 with an American League-leading 43 homers in 149 games. Bautista's on-base percentage of .447 and slugging percentage of .608 make him feared by almost all pitchers.

    Romero just completed his third major league season this year, going 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA in the tough AL East. That's enough to bring his career mark to 42-29 with a 3.60 ERA and 493 strikeouts, an impressive beginning to a career for the All-Star. Romero, who turned 27 years old after the season ended, has improved each year in the majors and may not have reached his full potential yet.

    Bautista is among the best sluggers in the game, and Romero is an emerging young star at the front of the Jays rotation, but Romero isn't yet the ace that the pitchers above him are. If Romero improves again in 2012, the Jays could rank higher a year from now.

8. Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

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    The Diamondbacks combo of youngsters Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy is among the top young combinations in the game. Upton has already established himself as an MVP candidate, while Kennedy has already won 20 games.

    The 24-year-old Upton hit .289/.369/.529 with 31 homers, 88 runs batted in and 21 steals in 2011. That season was good enough to place him fourth in the National League MVP Award voting.

    The scary thing is that as good as he is with the bat, he's also a strong defender, and he isn't fully developed just yet. Given another year or two, Upton could potentially put up a season fairly similar to that of Matt Kemp.

    The 26-year-old Kennedy emerged in 2010 when he went 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA, but he finally broke out big this season. The former Yankees prospect went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and 198 strikeouts. Those numbers were good enough to land him in fourth place in National League Cy Young Award voting and put him in a tie for the league lead in victories.

    Upton and Kennedy are both among the best in the league, although because they play on the West Coast they don't get the same national attention as some others do. Even though they don't get a ton of attention, the Diamondbacks have a pair of young stars to build their club around.

7. Evan Longoria and David Price, Rays

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    The Rays' young combo of Evan Longoria and David Price had a great 2011 season despite the fact that each player saw his production slip a bit from his 2010 totals. Both players are among the top players at their positions in the game, and each played a large role in the Rays winning the Wild Card on the final day of the season.

    Longoria battled through an early injury, but his homer in the 162nd game of the year helped the Rays clinch their playoff berth. Longoria's average fell to a career-low .244, but he hit 31 homers and batted in 99 runs in 133 games. Longoria, who only turned 26 years old after the regular season, is also a two-time Gold Glove winner at the hot corner.

    Price, who turned 26 years old in August, took a step back from his great 2010 season that saw him finish second in Cy Young Award voting. Despite a down year, Price still went 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA and 218 strikeouts.

    The Rays combo is one of the most desired combos in the game, as both are considered to be the faces of the franchise. James Shields could have easily been selected over Price, showing just what kind of talent the team has.

6. Curtis Granderson and CC Sabathia, Yankees

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    A breakout season by center fielder Curtis Granderson was enough to get him selected over Robinson Cano for this spot, although the argument can be made for Cano over Granderson. Either way, the Yankees have a dynamic hitter and inning-eating ace.

    Granderson struggled in his first year with the Yankees but rebounded to hit .262 with 41 homers, 119 runs batted in and 25 steals for the American League East champions. His strong play in center as well as his power and speed combo make him a player capable of impacting the game in different ways.

    CC Sabathia went 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA and 230 strikeouts, good enough to place him fourth in the Cy Young Award voting. The burly ace has averaged 226 innings per season during his 11-year career, and he already has 176 wins at age 31.

    Granderson or Cano and Sabathia is a great place to start building a ballclub, as you know you get a top offensive player at a key position and a guy that will go out and make at least 30 starts each season.

5. Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester, Red Sox

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    The Boston Red Sox combo of Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester is just one of multiple combos that could have been used for the team. Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez could have easily been picked over Ellsbury, as could Carl Crawford if he returns to form, and Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz could get consideration over Lester.

    Ellsbury rebounded from an injury-plagued 2010 season by finishing second in the MVP Award voting. He hit .321/.376/.552 with 32 homers, 105 runs batted in and 39 steals while giving the team's offense the jump-start Crawford was expected to provide. Ellsbury was robbed of the AL MVP when Justin Verlander won the award.

    Lester slipped a bit in 2011 but still managed to go 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA and 182 strikeouts. The 27-year-old is 65-32 over the past four seasons and has proven himself in the postseason as a clutch performer. A two-time All-Star, Lester finished fourth in the 2010 Cy Young Award voting.

    The Red Sox have a ton of talent, but they aren't the only team with that level of talent. The combo of Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez would actually rank a bit higher than this ranking if the rankings were for the best combination of any two players.

4. Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo, Brewers

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    The Brewers combo of Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo is a big part of the reason that the club won the NL Central without much competition. Having one of the top hitters in the game as well as a Cy Young candidate like Gallardo explain why the team ranks so high on this list.

    The 2011 National League MVP, Braun only turned 28 years old this month. He hit .332/.397/.597 with 33 homers, 111 runs batted in and 33 stolen bases as he teamed with Prince Fielder to give the Brewers a scary duo for opposing pitchers. Since coming up to the majors, Braun is hitting .312 with 161 homers and 96 steals over the course of five seasons.

    Gallardo went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA and 207 strikeouts, finishing seventh in Cy Young Award voting. The 25-year-old has won 44 games over the last three seasons and has racked up over 200 strikeouts in each season. The scary part is that there is still room to improve for this young star.

    The Brewers combo is among the top five in the game, although you could make an argument to select Zack Greinke over Gallardo for the pitching spot. Even if Fielder leaves as a free agent this winter, the Brewers will be in good position with this talented duo to count on.

3. Hunter Pence and Roy Halladay, Phillies

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    When you have one of the top three pitchers in the game to go with a real offensive threat, you get a great combo. Obviously Roy Halladay gives the team a boost in the rankings, as Hunter Pence may not be as good as some of the other hitters in the top five, but Pence is still very good.

    Pence hit .314 with 22 homers and 97 runs batted in last year, but the 28-year-old really broke out after being traded to the Phillies at the deadline. In 54 games with the team, Pence hit .324 with 11 homers and 35 runs batted in, helping the team run away with the NL East.

    Obviously the team has other guys in the mix for this spot, like Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but the way Pence broke out in a hitter's park with a better lineup around him was a good sign of things to come.

    Halladay has won Cy Young Awards in both the American and National Leagues and was the runner-up to Clayton Kershaw this year. Halladay went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA and 220 strikeouts. For his career he has 188 wins and a 3.23 ERA, especially impressive considering he spent all but two seasons in the tough AL East. As good as he is, he has Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels breathing down his neck for this spot.

    The Phillies combo is very impressive and could challenge the Tigers and Dodgers combos if Pence keeps up the pace he was on down the stretch. Even if he can't keep that pace up, he's a two-time All-Star.

2. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, Tigers

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    The Tigers combination of first baseman Miguel Cabrera and ace Justin Verlander is clearly the second-best in baseball, a level above everyone else other than the Dodgers duo of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. Cabrera is one of the best pure sluggers in the game today, and Verlander is a legit ace.

    Cabrera had an off year with his power numbers, but his 30 homers is still a quality number, and he managed to win the batting title and lead the American League in doubles and on-base percentage as well. This is the fifth time in his nine-year career that he has finished in the top five in MVP Award voting.

    Verlander won the American League pitcher's Triple Crown by leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. He went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts. Verlander's dominance on the mound is a big part of the reason that the Tigers made a run to the ALCS.

    Verlander and Cabrera almost singlehandedly led the Tigers to an AL Central division crown. The duo are exactly the type of players that one would expect to be in the top two combos in the game, as the Tigers have the elite run-producer and the flamethrowing ace.

1. Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

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    The Dodgers may not have had a very good team in 2011, but it could be argued that the team had both the best hitter and best pitcher in all of baseball. Clayton Kershaw won his first National League Cy Young Award, while Matt Kemp was robbed of an MVP Award only because his team wasn't very good.

    All Kemp did was hit .324/.399/.586 with 39 homers, 126 runs batted in and 40 stolen bases. The Dodgers' struggles were the only reason that he did not win the MVP, as he had the best season of any hitter in baseball in 2011. The best is yet to come for Kemp, who only turned 27 years old in late September.

    Clayton Kershaw went 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts, winning the National League Triple Crown for pitchers by leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Kershaw's dominance as a 23-year-old is simply special, as he may have passed Felix Hernandez as the best under-25 pitcher in the game.

    The Dodgers duo will give new ownership a pair of young cornerstone pieces to build the franchise around for potentially the next decade. As good as the Tigers duo is, it is clearly behind the Dodgers combo for the best duo in the game.