Who are the #1 Starters in Baseball?

Who are the #1 Starters in Baseball?


Who are the #1 Starters in Baseball?

Earlier this week, Bill Simmons listed his true movie stars, and then CRM, in his own individual and non-clique-ish way, thought that it was both too restrictive and that there were some strange choices (Kevin James?). Now, I don’t get out to movies much anymore and am the resident curmudgeon, so I wouldn’t know what to make of any of that. Everything usually turns to sports for me, so those movie star discussions got me thinking, “who are the #1 starters in baseball?”

This, like movie stars, seems like it is an area where there is a lot of ambiguity. Some people take a very restrictive view. “Oh, he’s a good pitcher, but he’s not a true ace.” I’m taking the view here that there are 30 teams, and if every team had one of the best pitchers, there would be 30 of them, hence the term #1 starter. So, I’m going to try to list who they might be, and we’ll see how many of them fit our pre-conceived notions.

I’m going to look at it from the standpoint of if we selected 30 pitchers this year. We can look to the past, but we don’t want to go too far in the past. If Greg Maddux came out of retirement, he would still be a Hall of Famer, but he would also no longer be a #1 starter. Conversely, we don’t want to be too enamored by very recent success with a small sample size. For example, 22-year old Michael Pineda of Seattle is off to a good start, but he’s only thrown 102 innings in his career. Probably not enough to get on the list even if the rate stats are in the range. I don’t want to reward a hot 2 month stretch, either. A history of above average pitching is better than more inconsistency with better numbers in 15 starts in 2011.

Anyway, let’s get to it. I’m doing this absolutely free form–I didn’t make my choices before I started this exercise. First, the easy choices, without much comment:

  1. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
  2. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia
  3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
  4. Jered Weaver, Anaheim
  5. Justin Verlander, Detroit
  6. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
  7. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
  8. C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees
  9. Josh Johnson, Florida
  10. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
  11. Matt Cain, San Francisco
  12. So those were the no-brainers. Then, some that are pretty much locks, but have either struggled slightly in 2011, or don’t have the lengthy history of success, or don’t have the dominant peripherals.

  13. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado
  14. Zack Greinke, Milwaukee
  15. Dan Haren, Anaheim
  16. David Price, Tampa Bay
  17. Josh Beckett, Boston
  18. John Lester, Boston
  19. C.J. Wilson, Texas
  20. Tim Hudson, Atlanta
  21. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati
  22. Tommy Hanson, Atlanta
  23. Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta
  24. Looking at Boston brought me to the Clay Buchholz issue. If you go by ERA+ over the last three years, Buchholz is 4th for all pitchers with 300+ IP, behind only Halladay, Josh Johnson, and King Felix. Really? But he has a mediocre WHIP and K/BB ratio, he wasn’t good before that, and half his starts over the last three came in an excellent but somewhat fluky 2010. Plus, he’s on the DL, and so the rest of this exercise will be deciding whether I am going to have to put Buchholz on. I’m not committing yet.

    He’s kind of the younger and not as good version (at the same age) of Mark Buehrle, who I will also now be trying to avoid putting on the list at age 32. The anti-Buchholz, meanwhile, is Carlos Zambrano, a guy I would have slotted in before taking a closer look at his recent numbers. He feels like a #1 starter by persona and arm, but his WHIP isn’t great, and this year, his strikeouts are down. His ERA+ in recent years also puts him below the cutline. None of those three are in . . . yet. So I move on, looking to find 8 more before I put them in.

  25. Gio Gonzalez, Oakland
  26. Trevor Cahill, Oakland
  27. Ricky Romero, Toronto
  28. Chris Carpenter, St. Louis
  29. The Oakland duo and Romero are young and have pitched well over the last two years, probably enough to merit being considered #1 starters. Carpenter, meanwhile, is the opposite, a veteran who, based on 2011, shouldn’t be on here, but I think still has enough to be considered a #1.

  30. John Danks, Chicago White Sox
  31. Clay Buchholz, Boston
  32. Danks probably could have been a little higher, so I’ll add him here. I think I’ve got to put Buchholz on the list, although he doesn’t really feel like a guy you would consider a #1, the numbers are there cumulatively over the last 3 seasons.

  33. Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee
  34. Ian Kennedy, Arizona
  35. We’ll close with Marcum and Kennedy in the final two spots. I went with Kennedy, just barely, over Anibal Sanchez, who I think will be here soon. I don’t think Zambrano makes the cut anymore. Wandy Rodriguez would be right on the cut line, but is 32 years old and his best season of the last three was 2009. Roy Oswalt would be on here, but for the concerns that he’s never going to stay healthy for long enough stretches to merit it anymore.  Erik Bedard hasn’t stayed healthy long enough and consistently enough. Madison Bumgarner and Jhoulys Chacin are close, just young and less of a track record.

    My list of 30 #1 starters includes guys that play for 20 teams, meaning that 10 major league teams arguably do not have a guy who would be a top starter. Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Boston make the list with three each. I’m also guessing that the list of guys people consider true #1 starters is fewer than what appears here. But solid starters like Shawn Marcum or young guys like Chacin are really the borderline for what a #1 starter is in 2011.

[photo via Getty]

Latest Leads

More MLB