MLB Power Rankings: Picking the Best Hitter-Pitcher Combo in the AL
This week, we take a look at the best hitter-pitcher combo in the American League.
I'm one who believes total value wins championships. Not pitching, not defense and not a power bat. If you have the overall balance and more total value, you're the best.
So, then, it would be important to have both a solid bat (who can play defense, but that's not factored in here) and an ace on the mound. A door slammer if you will.
There are a few things I valued highly when sorting these rankings. Some of them will be viewed as unconventional to some readers, and that's fine. I welcome any and all comments below.
For batters, I used an advanced metric called Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). The link can explain this to you far better than I can. In a nut shell, though, wRC+ is a park and league adjusted stat that combines everything a player does to contribute to runs scored.
Why is this better than conventional stats? It's not Player A's fault no one is ever in scoring position when he gets a hit, so RBI is kind of sneaky in that it doesn't tell the whole story. Same with Player B who always gets stranded at third. His run total isn't revealing everything.
For pitchers, I went with Fangraph's version of WAR. Pretty much every way I looked at pitchers, they shook out in the same order. I put very little stock into stats like wins for pitchers, but having to defend that became a lot less likely now that Felix Hernandez won a Cy Young with such a low win total.
For both pitchers and hitters, I made some adjustments for expected regression due to age, luck etc.
Now that we have that stuff out of the way, let's get to the results.
#14: Brett Anderson and Hideki Matsui
Pitcher: Brett Anderson
Hitter: Hideki Matsui
The Athletics have made some strong moves this winter to close the gap between themselves and the defending AL West champion Rangers.
They bolstered their bullpen, and added Hideki Matsui to the fold. While I disagree with the money they paid for Matsui while letting essentially the same player in Jack Cust sign elsewhere for cheaper, Billy Beane is a smart cookie.
Just looking at WAR, it was close between Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden. Looking deeper at things, Anderson has the better FIP and xFIP and a BABIP that I believe will regress. He's a good young pitcher that I think most agree is going to blossom.
#13: Kyle Davies and Billy Butler
Kansas City Royals
Pitcher: Kyle Davies
Hitter: Billy Butler
The Royals are still a year or two away from the kids down on the farm exploding onto the season. For now, with David DeJesus gone to the A's, Billy Butler is left as probably the best hitter on the team.
The same goes with the pitching. Zack Grienke is gone, so someone has to be the staff ace until the kids show up. It's probably a close call between Davies and Luke Hocheaver, but I'm going to give the slight edge to Davies to to more recent success.
Of course, Joakim Soria could end up beating them both coming out of the bullpen. I'll stick with the starter, though.
#12: Brian Matusz and Luke Scott
Pitcher: Brian Matusz
Hitter: Luke Scott
This one could be interesting. I don't think where the Orioles rank would change much, if at all, but there have been some interesting pieces added that could change the representatives.
With Vladamir Guerrero heavily rumored to be added to the mix, I considered him for this. There was also the addition of Derek Lee. Matt Weiters or Adam Jones could have huge years at the dish.
I think Vlad will regress some from 2010, and I don't know that Lee has what he used to either. So, amongst the others I'll go with the incumbent wRC+ and WAR leader of the offense Luke Scott.
On the pitching side, Brian Matusz could be challenged by Jeremy Guthrie, but I think Guthrie's peripheral numbers show this would be a push if anything. Perhaps one of the young guys like Chris Tillman puts a nice breakthrough year together, but like the hitters, I don't see anyone making a massive jump over Matusz for this to be argued too much.
#11: Gavin Floyd and Adam Dunn
Chicago White Sox
Pitcher: Gavin Floyd
Hitter: Adam Dunn
I have Floyd and John Danks at a dead heat for their pitcher spot, just looking at last season. So opening things up to the past couple seasons, Floyd has been more consistent with a 4 WAR performance in each.
Adam Dunn is the new bopper on the block. Paul Konerko would be the easy choice, especially after a big year. I think he regresses, though, as he was in a clear decline over the past few seasons before busting out a good showing in 2010.
The move to DH should keep Dunn healthy and more productive at the plate.
#10: Justin Masterson and Shin-Soo Choo
Pitcher: Justin Masterson
Hitter: Shin-Soo Choo
Over the past two seasons, the leader in combined WAR for all Indians pitchers is Cliff Lee. He only pitched half a season there in 2009 and not at all last season.
Someone has to take over the role as best pitcher of the team, and for now that may be Masterson. It could also be the bigger name, Fausto Carmona. I'm choosing to go with the younger arm who hasn't won as many games, and maybe was a tick less valuable in 2010, but has been more consistent the past couple seasons.
At the plate, the Indians and their fans let out a collective sigh of relief when the South Korean national team won the Asian Games, thus granting Choo an exception from his looming military obligations.
Carlos Santana had a fantastic rookie campaign, and could make big strides in his second season, but look for Choo to build on his 5 WAR 2010 and remain the best hitter on the club.
#9: Jared Weaver and Vernon Wells
Los Angels Angels of Anaheim
Pitcher: Jared Weaver
Hitter: Vernon Wells
Angels owner Arte Moreno had big visions for the off-season. One that saw them charging back to relevance in the American League.
They didn't get Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre, so they settled for Vernon Wells. Since we're only looking at hitting for this list, we can remove Wells' bad defense and say he's not a horrible hitter. He's certainly not amongst the league's best, and that contract. Oh, that contract.
Weaver had a wonderful 2010, edging out Felix Hernandez for the strikeout title by one. His FIP was dead on with his ERA, so there's no questioning how good he is, by use of traditional or newfangled geeky numbers. He's right in his prime, so there's no doubt he should be able to have more success.
#8: Ricky Romero Jose Bautista
Toronto Blue Jays
Pitcher: Ricky Romero
Hitter: Jose Bautista
2011 could be a year that sees some regression North of the border.
Jose Bautista had an out-of-his-mind season last year, and while maybe something finally click for him at age 29, 6.9 WAR seasons don't just happen and become sustainable. I don't know that he'll fall off a cliff, but I'm going to pencil him at at 4.1 WAR for 2011.
On the pitching side, Ricky Romero has a chance to stay pretty good. The regression for their staff will come from another pitcher or two. With Shaun Marcum gone and Brandon Morrow still needing to prove some consistency, Romero should feel comfortable as the staff ace for now.
#7: Felix Hernandez and Ichiro
Pitcher: Felix Hernandez
Hitter: Ichiro Suzuki
As the reigning Cy Young winner, all eyes will be on King Felix. While he's still certain to be amongst the game's best, pitchers are inconsistent. As much as I'd love to see him repeat his 2010 success, he was given a pretty heavy burden and is still only going to be 25 this season.
In Ichiro, you have one of baseball's most steady producers. If you recall from the opening slide, I leaned heavily on wRC+ to rank the batters. Ichiro is a perfect example of why. He doesn't hit a ton of home runs, but he contributes heavily to the runs his team scores.
#6: Jon Lester and Adrian Gonzalez
Boston Red Sox
Pitcher: Jon Lester
Hitter: Adrian Gonzalez
The Red Sox added two big time bats this off-season in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. While using their past numbers, it may be hard to pick who would be the best overall contributor. However, while I think Fenway may taketh a bit from Crawford, it should giveth to Gonzalez.
Gonzo was already one of the better hitters in the game, and that was while playing half his games in enormous Petco Park. The loss of Adrian Beltre could have hurt for Boston, but a healthy Kevin Youkilis and Gonzalez should provide more than enough fire power.
Jon Lester fell just shy of 20 wins last season. He's had three consecutive solid seasons. Entering his age 27 season, there's no reason to expect him to hit a wall. His xFIP is right in line with his ERA and the projection systems are calling for another terrific year.
This duo could launch themselves further up on next year's list.
#5: Francisco Liriano and Joe Mauer
Pitcher: Francisco Liriano
Hitter: Joe Mauer
This was a tough call between Boston and the Twinkies. I'm giving the edge to Minnesota because we're pretty sure what we can expect from this pairing at their ballpark. Time will have to tell the story for the others.
Francisco Liriano fired back onto the season in 2010. With rumors swirling that the Twins might entertain offers last winter as he started to pitch in the Venezuelan League, perhaps no one expected this bounce back. His results made the Twins hold their thought, and it's a darn good thing they did.
Joe Mauer. What do you really need to say other than those two words? It's certainly possible that Justin Moeneau is healthy and is the best hitter on the team. It's also certainly possible that Mauer wins another batting title and captures an MVP. What a great problem to have, huh?
#4: David Price and Evan Longoria
Tampa Bay Rays
Pitcher: David Price
Hitter: Evan Longoria
Their team may have suffered some key losses this season, but don't expect that to slow down the individual performances of these two young stars.
Price was a contender for the Cy Young in 2010, and should be again next season. His xFIP shows some regression could be coming, but that's pretty normal for a pitcher coming off a great year. Price will turn 26 this season, so he's still young but also entering his prime. I'd expect a great showing.
Evan Longoria has quickly become one of the game's best hitters, and he too won't turn 26 until October. With Carl Crawford gone, he's the team's best hitter and will have a heavy load to carry. I don't see Longoria as the type that will falter under this pressure, and I'm betting he sticks up close to 7 WAR again.
#3: CJ Wilson and Josh Hamilton
Pitcher: CJ Wilson
Hitter: Josh Hamilton
A lot of the combined value here comes from the reigning AL MVP, Josh Hamilton. His 8 WAR season was phenomenal. It would be unfair for me to say that Jose Bautista cannot have a similar season that came out of nowhere only to say the same for Hamilton. I do think, though, that Hamilton has much better tools and peripherals to keep it up. He may not throw up as huge a year, but 7 WAR shouldn't be unfathomable.
I don't want to make Wilson sound like chopped liver, but he's here largely due to Cliff Lee being gone and slightly edging out Colby Lewis. This squad would have been the undisputed number one with Lee, but they can still hang on the top three with a healthy and effective Wilson.
#2: CC Sabathia and Robinson Cano
New York Yankees
Pitcher: CC Sabathia
Hitter: Robinson Cano
There's no doubt Cano had a wonderful 2010 campaign. His 2008 wasn't stellar, but his 2009 saw great strides leading up to his big breakout last season. I don't know how much he'll build on that moving forward, but I don't believe he's a candidate to regress much, if at all. He's in his prime, but I like the two batters on this list ahead of him better.
Sabathia obviously has been one of the better pitchers in the game over the last several years. Though, he has dropped a full win in value in each of the past two seasons. He'll turn 31 in the middle of the season, which doesn't mean the end of the world for a pitcher. However, at some point you wonder if his large frame starts to take a toll. He did see a spike in his BABIP last season, so that could stand to regress to the mean and improve his value.
#1: Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera
Pitcher: Justin Verlander
Hitter: Miguel Cabrera
The race was close between the top three squads, but I think this one has the best chance to remain this good.
Verlander will be entering his age 28 season. He saw a spike in 2009, then regressed a bit in 2010. I think he, at minimum, stays where he's at in the 6 WAR range. Though, in his prime, he could pop off another 8 WAR season, too.
Cabrera, also turning 28, is a flat out masher. His value hit a speed bump his first season in Detroit, but he's been right back to hanging around 6 WAR the past two seasons. His BABIP was even down a bit last season. With a little luck, more balls will fall for hits and Cabrera could have an MVP type season.