Roy Halladay and the Lackluster Pitchers of the 21st Century
The second decade of the 21st Century has arrived, and there is something missing from baseball for the first time in a couple of generations.
For the first time since Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton were dominating baseball in the 1970s, Major League Baseball is without an established class of future Hall of Fame pitchers.
Not that long ago baseball fans were being treated to an exhibition of four of the greatest pitchers of all time in Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.
After the Big Four, we had the likes of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, four pitchers who were not amongst the greatest of all time but who were deserving of historical perspective and may even have a trip to Cooperstown in their futures down the line.
In 2011, Major League Baseball certainly does not feature eight starting pitchers who make legitimate Hall of Fame candidates, and frankly, there likely are not even four good names.
Let's take a look at the best the majors can muster at this point.
25. Jon Garland, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Only in 2011 could a pitcher of Jon Garland's caliber be in a conversation like this.
24. Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners
Felix Hernandez is obviously an incredibly talented pitcher, and at the age of 25 he already has 75 wins, an ERA title, a wins title and a Cy Young Award.
As my mother would say, that and a buck-fifty will get'em on the bus, but at this point, he is at least five years from discussing Hall of Fame potential in any real sense.
23. Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants
Tim Lincecum has lit the world on fire in his first four seasons in Major League Baseball, winning two Cy Young Awards, leading the National League in strikeouts every year for four years and winning a World Series.
To date, he has not done much more than Bret Saberhagen did in his first four years with the Kansas City Royals, and I do not see Saberhagen's name in Cooperstown.
22. Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers
One of the great high-velocity pitchers of the last five years and a workhorse over the last four, Justin Verlander is a big exciting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and has an outside shot at winning his 100th game this season at the age of 28.
Somewhere, Jimmy Key is reading this with a smirk on his face.
21. John Lackey, SP, Boston Red Sox
By the age of 30, John Lackey had an ERA title, a World Series ring and 100 wins in eight seasons with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Then, he signed a big-money deal to go pitch in Fenway Park, one of the least pitcher-friendly parks in baseball, and his career has gone off the rails.
Lackey could very much have been in the Hall of Fame conversation with 10 more good years in Anaheim. Looking at him now, he probably did not have 10 more good years left regardless of where he pitched.
20. Jon Lester, SP, Boston Red Sox
Only 27 years old and clearly at the top of his game, Jon Lester is one of the few entering-their-prime starters it feels safe to get excited about. Lester is coming off a three-year stretch in which he has gone 50-23 with a 3.29 ERA (139 ERA+) and 602 strikeouts in 621.2 innings pitched while playing in a home park that eats lesser pitchers.
Of course, he has been doing this for three seasons. Call us in 10 more.
19. Freddy Garcia, SP, Chicago White Sox
We only include Freddy Garcia here to make the following point:
This is what passes for a veteran pitcher in 2011. In 13 seasons, Garcia is 135-89 with a 4.10 ERA (110 ERA+) and 1416 strikeouts in 1960.2 innings pitched. He has had a solid major league career, but he is also kind of the Tom Browning of this era, and no one would ever have included Tom Browning in this conversation 20 years ago.
18. Livan Hernandez, SP, Washington Nationals
Livan Hernandez is the Tommy John (as in the pitcher, not the surgery) of our era. A mediocre pitcher who has had some really good seasons but also some forgettable ones, Livan has 169 wins and just crossed the 3,000 inning barrier and shows no sign of no longer being able to pitch, even if his prospects for continued effectiveness seem slim.
That this guy would be considered the grizzlied old man of our era speaks volumes of our era.
17. Jake Peavy, SP, Chicago White Sox
Two ERA titles, two strikeout titles, 100 wins and a Cy Young Award by the age of 29, Peavy appears to be shaking off the rust and getting ready for the second half of his career.
Yes, baseball fans, this is the type of starting pitching that gets us excited in 2011.
16. Brandon Webb, SP, Texas Rangers
We will pack away the smarmy tone for this one: Brandon Webb was on pace to be a historically noteworthy pitcher when he was shelved due to injuries at the age of 29. Two wins titles, a Cy Young Award, an ERA+ over 140 and 87 wins in seven seasons was actually worth getting excited over.
Now, at the age of 32, it appears as though Webb may miss his third straight season.
15. Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
At the age of 28, Jered Weaver has already done some good things at the major league level and looks ready to enjoy his finest season in 2011. Even if he wins 20 games, though, at the age of 29 Weaver will not look much different than Dave Stieb did by this age.
14. Dan Haren, SP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Danny Haren is probably one of the top six or seven active major league pitchers right now. He is five wins away from 100, has a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching 4-to-1 and has a 3.58 career ERA (121 ERA+).
And we would scoff at the implication that he could be considered a Hall of Famer yet.
13. Barry Zito, SP, San Francisco Giants
One of Major League Baseball's most veteran and accomplished starting pitchers, Zito is over 2,200 innings and is eight wins away from 150, which are incredibly mediocre milestones for one of Major League Baseball's most veteran and accomplished pitchers.
Zito is now solidly into the Frank Tanana period of his career.
12. Carlos Zambrano, SP, Chicago Cubs
It is almost hard to believe that this guy was once a perennial Cy Young candidate. At 30 years of age, Zambrano has pitched admirably throughout his career at Wrigley Field, where pitchers go to die and has 120 wins and nearly 1,500 strikeouts to show for it.
Of course, he also seems to already be on the downside of his career.
11. Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
You love Cliff Lee, you absolutely love him. He is one of the game's elite pitchers. One of the best. Time to start ranking him all time.
Cliff Lee is 32 years old, and what he is doing now, he has only been doing for three years, since 2008. Yes, his mastery of the strike zone is amazing, and yes, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is historic.
He is also 32 years old, has yet to reach 1,500 innings, just won his 100th game and has a career ERA+ of 111, which puts him in the same company as Bill Campbell, Sonny Siebert, Earl Moore, Hal Schumacher and Jim Turner.
10. Derek Lowe, SP, Atlanta Braves
At the age of 38 and coming down the stretch of a noteworthy career, Derek Lowe is 160-132 with a 3.85 ERA (116 ERA+) in 2379.1 innings pitched.
Consider the fact that he was not a full-time starter until the age of 29 and had only 20 wins when he made the transition, and it is easy to hear how the Derek Lowe-as-historically-noteworthy-player argument begins to take place in your head.
Was Don Sutton really that much better than Lowe has been during his career?
9. Javier Vazquez, SP, Florida Marlins
We hope you have come to this slide, and it has made you scoff. It should.
Nevertheless, know this: Javier Vazquez is currently your active major league leader in strikeouts with 2,390, and ranks 40th all time. He is also ninth on the active Wins list with 154. Vazquez is currently enduring his second straight season of struggles, but he is also only 35 years old.
It is not crazy to think that he could right the ship (as he has in the past), get to 3,000 strikeouts, 3,000 innings and 200 wins, and become...one of his era's most noteworthy pitchers.
Don't hate the player.
8. Chris Carpenter, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Chris Carpenter is off to a rough start to the 2011 season, and at the age of 36, he does not appear to be set expand very much upon his 134-85 record, his 3.81 ERA (116 ERA+) or his 2,015 innings pitched.
Carpenter is, in many ways, the reverse Saberhagen.
7. C.C. Sabathia, SP, New York Yankees
One of the best pitchers in baseball, C.C. Sabathia probably has the best shot at 300 wins of any currently active pitcher, with 161 wins at the age of 30. Nevertheless, C.C.'s 3.56 ERA (123 ERA+) is not historically great, his strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.69) is ordinary, as is his strikeouts-per-nine-innings (7.6).
6. Tim Wakefield, SP, Boston Red Sox
Ladies and gentlemen, your active major league career leader in Wins (193), innings pitched (3,095.0), batters faced (13,361) and lots of others categories which do not flatter his career.
5. Mark Buehrle, SP, Chicago White Sox
One of the most successful pitch-to-contact pitchers of our lifetime.
Mark Buehrle does not really do anything particularly well. He has led the league in hits allowed four times, he frequently fails to strikeout 4.5 batters per game (which is historically rare) and gives up plenty of home runs.
Nevertheless, he just won his 150th career game this season and has a 3.85 ERA (119 ERA+), which ain't bad.
4. Tim Hudson, SP, Atlanta Braves
Tim Hudson is one of the very few veteran pitchers that we have been able to watch progress from exciting youngster to in-his-prime star to sage veteran. Now 35 years old, what Hudson lacks in raw talent he more than makes up for with smarts and skillful craftsmanship.
Hudson is 169-90 and could potentially finish the 2011 season with 2,500 innings pitched.
3. Roy Oswalt, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Roy Oswalt is 153-84 with a 3.18 ERA (135 ERA+) and a 3.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2,047 career innings.
And at the age of 33, he regularly talks about retiring when his current contract is up.
2. Johan Santana, SP, New York Mets
Of all current major league starting pitchers, Johan Santana has the most historically dominant numbers:
3.10 ERA (142 ERA+)
3.55 strikeout-to-walk ratio
Three ERA titles
Three strikeouts titles
Two Cy Young Awards
Five top five Cy Young Award finishes.
Of course, Santana is also 32 years old, has not pitched this season and will not until July and already seems to be past his best years.
1. Roy Halladay, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Is there any doubt that Roy Halladay is the best starting pitcher in the game today?
Is there any doubt that, amongst all active pitchers, Halladay is the most historically significant?
Maybe: you could argue that Santana has had a better career. But with Santana hurt and Halladay on top of his game, it is at worst a wash.
Halladay, at the age of 34, has 174 wins, roughly 2,400 innings pitched, less than 2,000 strikeouts and a 3.29 ERA (137 ERA+).
These are very good numbers, but to have Major League Baseball's top shelf alpha-dog pitcher put up these sorts of numbers, you know that we are at an interesting time in baseball.
And it is not a time defined by its historically great pitchers.