MLB Power Rankings: AJ Burnett and the League’s 15 Most Unpredictable Hurlers
You're sitting at home watching the ball game and a pitching change is made. They bring in your team's closer and you hold your breath. "Please let him get the last out, that's all I ask" you say as the count runs full.
I'll let you finish this one as a half glass full or empty type of person but we as baseball fans dread this moment. The moment when "that guy" on your team toes the mound either in a start or a closers role and you have no idea what to expect. This installment will look at the League's most unpredictable pitchers. To have a little fun, we will rank them on antacids. One pill is you have a few worries but will make it, five pills is break out the milk because your ulcer is about to act up. Enjoy!
Brandon Webb: Texas Rangers
Brandon Webb is on this list simply because of his injuries. In 2006 when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he finished the season 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA which were good enough numbers to win the Cy Young award. In 2008, he was 22-7 with a 3.30 ERA and finished second to an up and comer with the Giants named Tim "the Freak" Lincecum. His 2007 numbers were even better winning 18 and having an ERA at 3.01. Then the shoulder injury came and Webb hasn't been the same since. He had surgery on his right shoulder in August of 2009 and sat out the entire 2010 season. He signed a one year contract with the Texas Rangers early in the free agent period which officials hope will be a steal.
Unfortunately, early indications were that he wasn't having that same sink that made him the Cy Young award winner in 2006 and his fast ball was clocked around 84-86 mph. His track record says he's as good as they come but the law of averages says he has a long ways to go. Bring the antacid tablets with you this spring and we'll let his performance and health decide whether you take them or leave them in your pocket.
Javier Vazquez: Florida Marlins
Just as Edwin Jackson thrived going from the National League to the American League, our next pitcher is the complete opposite. Javier Vazquez has been in the major leagues since 1998 when he broke in with the then Montreal Expos. He pitched six years in Montreal and had above average success never posting an ERA higher than 6.06 (his first season in the big leagues) and as low as 3.24 in in 2003. Then he jumped to the American League. Vazquez signed with the New York Yankees and promptly won 14 games but had a 4.91 ERA, almost a two run difference.
He bounced around to the Diamondbacks and the White Sox then found his way to Atlanta where he had his career season. Last year, he again made the trip to New York where he finised 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA. The Marlins scooped him up this off-season and, as history shows, are expecting a solid pitching performance from the Puerto Rican pitcher. Because he's back in the National League, don't worry about popping more than one antacid when this National League pitcher takes the mound back where he belongs.
Dallas Braden: Oakland Athletics
Dallas Braden may have had one of the most roller coaster rides for a pitcher in recent memory. He tosses a perfect game on Mother's Day against the AL East Champion Rays. He calls out A-Rod for crossing "his" mound during at game at the Coliseum. He ends up going 11-14 with a respectable 3.50 ERA. Who is this guy? Good question. Because he threw the perfect game, you have to give him credit because it's only been done a handful of times in history. On the other hand, he did have a losing record and none of his other stats really jump out at you like "this guy is on the road to stardom". A perfect game is a perfect game and that holds a lot of weight for me. I'm ready to make a bold prediction and say he will never throw a no hitter or perfect game again but he will win some ball games for the Athletics. This upside will ease some tensions for the A's fans and allow you only one antacid per start.
Mike Pelfrey: New York Mets
MIke Pelfrey was a pleasant surprise for the Mets last year. He posted a 15-9 mark with a 3.66 ERA. After Johan Santana was shut down due to elbow problems, Pelfrey assumed the 'ace' of the Mets staff. His numbers weren't bad but is this something that you can take to the bank every fifth day or was it something where he was flying under the radar? He is an imposing figure on the mound at 6'7 230lbs. but isn't exactly a power pitcher. He relies heavily on his location, an average to a bit above average fastball and his sinker. He was named the opening day starter for 2011 with Santana coming back from surgery so it's Pelfrey's staff. Because he's not your typical number one starter but did have a pretty solid 2010 season, two antacids should be enough to get you through a Pelfrey start.
Joba Chamberlain: New York Yankees
Another Yankee heart stopper is Joba Chamberlain. Joba though is honestly in a tough situation: is he a relief pitcher as his, his current role right now or is he a starter? The Yankees seem to change their mind quite often throughout the course of the season and this off-season was no different. With the addition of Rafael Soriano and the inability to land the big free agent starter, is Chamberlain going to get another chance to start?
This may have something to do with his inconsistencies on the mound. Chamberlain is a flame thrower with a nasty slider. He is a competitor on the mound and needs to have a place where he can grow either as a reliever or a starter. The antacid chart has him as a 2.
Edwin Jackson: Chicago White Sox
When the trade deadline came around in 2010, a lot of people scratched their heads when White Sox GM Kenny Williams made the trade for Edwin Jackson. He had throw a 149 pitch no-hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks so you knew he had good stuff. Then you look at his numbers where he was 6-10 for those same Diamondbacks with a high 5.16 ERA. He gets to Chicago and gives the Sox solid starts down the stretch ending the season 10-12 with a 4.47 cumulative ERA. It's odd that his ERA actually dropped moving from the National to American League but that's exactly what happened.
It's hard to say what Edwin Jackson the White Sox will get. Will he be the solid number four or five pitcher the White Sox maybe envisioned him being or will he be the National League pitcher in 2005 and 2010 with not very good numbers. As a fan, you should keep two antacids close by this year just in case Jackson resorts back to his National League days.
Bobby Jenks: Boston Red Sox
Maybe the photo says it all. Maybe the marriage between White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Jenks soared over the past five seasons as witnessed in Jenks save productivity (a high of 41 in 2006 to 27 in 2010). Maybe it was time to move on. Sure are a lot of maybes but as a Twins fan, I loved when Jenks came in the game because you knew you had a chance to come back and win in the ninth.
Jenks is now in a potential set-up role to Jonathan Papelbon (an honorable mention on this list) and Daniel Bard (closer in waiting for the Red Sox). His closing days are probably over due to the aforementioned names but this could be the role for Jenks. The issue for Jenks is how he will be able to handle the Red Sox nation's tolerance for losing and the microscope he will be under in Beantown. Antacids? Take 3.
James Shields: Tampa Bay Rays
I promise to quit picking on the AL East after this last unpredictable pitcher but James Shields is indeed unpredictable. Shields got the nickname "big game James" after the Rays run in 2008 when they made the World Series. Since then he hasn't lived up to the name. His ERA has steadily climbed over the past two seasons going from 3.56 in 2008 to 5.18 in 2010. His win total has fluctuated that much as he's consistently around 11-13 wins a season but the losses have reached double digits each of the past two seasons.
Shields will be asked to carry a lot of the load this year for the Rays with the loss of Matt Garza. The Rays still have a solid staff with David Price and Jeremy Hellickson and the up and coming Wade Davis but Shields is the key to this staff being able to at least compete with the beast's of the east. You're going to need three antacids when Shields takes the mound in 2011.
Jonathan Broxton: Los Angeles Dodgers
Before I give you the antacids you will need for Broxton, let me throw a few stats and figures out there before we make a judgement. In 2008, Broxton saved only 14 games for the Dodgers. That number increased to 36 in 2009 alongside 7 wins in the bullpen. 2010 comes along and he saves 22 games but loses 6 presumably in blown saves. This begs the question, is he an elite closer? Dodger manager Joe Torre took away the closer duties from Broxton last year and he never earned them back. This spring, the job will be to earn that coveted role back and with it the Dodger faithfuls trust in him. It's tough to tell at this juncture what Broxton will show up for camp but I would take 3 antacids every time he takes the hill this year at Chavez Revine.
AJ Burnett: New York Yankees
Judging by the facial expressions in the photo, Burnett has either just hit somebody or walked somebody. Such was the case in 2010 when Burnett. After posting a 13-9 record with an ERA just over 4.00 in 2009, Burnett ballooned to a 10-15 record with a 5.26 ERA in 2010 with 19 batter hit. Why? It's really hard to say but if you look at his stats with Florida and his short time with the Blue Jays, his numbers have been about average at best. His best year was, of course, his free agent year in 2008 with the Blue Jays when he set a career high in wins and strikeouts.
He hasn't done a whole lot during the regular season while with the Yankees to really justify the big contract given to him after the 2008 season. Maybe the New York press has gotten to him or maybe he isn't as good as pitcher has people had him pegged for. Whatever the reason, he's a 4 on the antacid chart for this writer.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Boston Red Sox
Boy where to start with Dice-K. The Red Sox handed out a pretty good chunk of change to sign the Japanese import and Boston surely got their money's worth. His first two years, Dice-K was 33-15 and posted a 2.90 ERA in 2008 with the infamous "gyro ball".
Since then he's 13-12 with a 5.25 ERA. He's been hampered with some nagging injuries the past couple years but the Red Sox continue to count on him to bounce back to the 2007 and 2008 Dice-K. With Josh Beckett, John Lester and Clay Buchholtz in the rotation, Dice-K is no longer the ace that the Sox thought he could be. In all honesty, he may not even be the same pitcher he once was. Every time he toes the hill now, have that antacid ready. I would say have about 4 of them ready to digest.
Barry Zito: San Francisco Giants
Barry Zito, before him being over paid I mean "market value" contract, while with the Oakland Athletics was a good young pitcher. He along with Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson made up one of the best trios of starting pitchers in the early 2000's. Then he became a free agent and went across the Bay to San Francisco. This signaled the beginning of the end for Zito as somebody you could take to the bank at least seven innings of well pitched ball and a chance for the team to win. Now you have no idea who is going to show up. Based on his record, the chances of Zito picking up a win on any given start aren't real hot as he's only won 40 games in his four years with the Giants. That's only a bit over $3 million per win but who's counting? Well Zito is for sure but fans sure aren't. The best advice I can give is take four antacids before you head out to AT&T Park. You have to remember though, you are in one of the most beautiful cities in the world even though the performance on the mound might not be so make the most of it.
RA Dickey and Tim Wakefield: New York Mets and Boston Red Sox
There aren't to many of them left but when they pitch, fans collectively hold their breaths. R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield are two of the last knuckle ballers in the majors. Wakefield has seemingly been around forever breaking in with the Pirates in 1992 and hooked up with the Red Sox where he's been since 1995. What's amazing is the fact he's 44 years old and still is productive both as a starter and a reliever. He's won 17 games twice and never has walked more than 90 in a season.
R.A. Dickey is the clone of Wakefield in the National League. He was a first round draft pick by the Texas Rangers in 2001. From 2006-2010, Dickey has pitched for the Rangers, Mariners, Twins and now with the Mets. Surprisingly, Dickey went 11-9 with a solid 2.84 ERA for the Amazins' last year.
The reason why these two chucklers are on the antacid list is simply because of their signature pitch. The knuckle ball is the hardest pitch in baseball to not only control but to catch. The catcher's mitt seems to grow by two when these guys are out on the mound. If neither one can find the zone or at least make the hitter chase a pitch, they don't have the 90+ fastball that can keep hitters honest. For that reason only, Wakefield and Dickey are our first, five antacid pitchers.
Rich Harden: Oakland Athletics
Our second, five tablet pitcher is Rich Harden. One word describes Harden and why he is on the list, injuries. Harden has to have the worst luck for a starting pitcher in recent memory. He started his career with the Oakland Athletics in 2003 and has pitched for the Cubs and the Rangers. People rave about his stuff and if he could only stay healthy how good this guy could be. The statistics don't necessarily back up these claims as he's never won more than 11 games in a season and has never pitched more than 190 innings.
On June 8, 2008, Harden became the 38th pitcher to strike out three batters on nine pitches while pitching for the Athletics. On July 12th of that same year, this time in a Cubs uniform, Harden struck out 10 San Francisco Giants in 5 1/3 innings. Last year, he nearly no-hit the Minnesota Twins in Arlington on August 23, 2010. Are you starting to see why you need the tablets? This guy could go out and dominate every night he throws if only you knew he'd make it through the game. Because of this, I had to give him the five antacid tablets because you just can't have your stomach turning that much during his starts.
Carlos Zambrano: Chicago Cubs
The last of the five tablet pitchers on my list, Carlos Zambrano is hard to figure out. Some people have said his stuff isn't near what it was and others blame it on his anger issues. I don't know which one is right but I do know Zambrano has the ability to go out and win every game he pitches. His ERA has been sub 4.00 since he joined the rotation and has averaged double digit wins since then as well.
I think sometimes Zambrano brings the trouble on himself. He has made various comments regarding his contract, about retirement and other issues that really have no relevance to his performance on the mound. It finally boiled over last year with his meltdown in the dugout and then him having to enter anger management classes. As mentioned before, Big Z can shut down any opposing offense but you have no idea what you are going to get every time out and that's a tough pill to swallow.
Honorable Mention: Bronson Arroyo: Cincinnati Reds
I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing but unfortunately the more I thought about this topic, a few more names came to mind. These last few individuals could easily have made the "antacid list" but just missed out.
Our first honorable mention pitcher is Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo set a career high for wins in 2010 with 17 but he also lost 10. His 2010 numbers are very similar to his 2009 numbers but the losses are the negative that really sticks out. You can chalk him up to pitch at least 200 innings, as he's done the past six seasons, but you can also count on double digit losses. He gives up a lot of hits and doesn't strike a lot of batters out which means he has a lot of runners on base. This in itself gives the casual fan some reason to feel that stomach turn a bit.
Honorable Mention: Josh Beckett: Boston Red Sox
Unfortunately, fans of the Boston Red Sox saw this picture more often than they wanted to in 2010. As we already have three Red Sox pitchers pitchers on our list, why not add one more? The "ace" of the staff, Josh Beckett, was lights out in 2007 when he won 20 games had a 3.27 ERA. Three years later he won 6 games and had an ERA over 5.70. You can make the argument that everybody has a down year but there is a trend beginning to come into focus. After winning his 20 games in 2007, the following year he won 12 and sported a 4.03 ERA. He comes back in 2009, wins 17 games with a 3.86 ERA then proceeds to have the year he did in 2010. If you buy into this, 2011 should be a banner year for Beckett based solely on the trends.
However, the Red Sox did little to bolster their starting rotation this off-season and are hoping that the sluggers they brought in (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez) can provide enough offense to offset the Sox pitching staff. I'd like to think that Beckett will come back and have a solid year but I'm not willing to bet stomach on that one.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Farnsworth: Tampa Bay Rays
Our last antacid pitcher is journeyman reliever Kyle Farnsworth. The positive about Farnsworth throughout his career is that he throws the ball extremely hard. The problem is, is that he doesn't always know where it's going and when he finds the zone, the "electric" fastball that Farnsworth once possessed is as straight as an arrow. This doesn't bode well for Farnsworth as seen by his collection of teams he's played for over the course of his career. He's made stops in Atlanta (twice), New York, Kansas City, Chicago (Cubs), Detroit and now Tampa Bay. The way the market for relievers shot up this off-season, Farnsworth was able to cash in with a one year $3.25 million contract with the Rays. He's never collected more than 16 saves in a season and will get the opportunity to close some games for the Rays. Just from watching Farnsworth over the course of his career, call it a gut instinct, but I just don't see him being lights out with the Rays and causing some ulcers for Rays fans along the way.