This is the ninth article in the series ranking the best players by positions in the NL East. This one compares the five aces of the pitching staffs in the division; listed alphabetically by last name as Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson, Johan Santana, and Stephen Strasburg.
If you missed the article on the catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, left fielders, center fielders, or right fielders, please click here to read it.
5. Johan Santana, New York Mets: Johan Santana missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery; he has rebounded strong in 2012 despite a drop in his velocity that been constant over the last several seasons. Santana is averaging just 88.3 miles per hour on his fastball – over a full MPH lower than 2010 – but he is as guile as ever, with a league-high 12.0 strikeout per nine inning rate.
Santana hasn’t gotten a victory yet in four starts, but he’s compiled a 3.00 ERA in 18 innings, and the New York Mets have to be pleased with his production considering they weren’t sure how much they could count on him this season. Santana is being paid $24 million for this year and $25.5 million for next year, so the Mets need him to be his All-Star self.
4. Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins: After a stellar 2010 season, Josh Johnson struggled with injuries for the majority of 2011. Johnson was 11-6 with a league-best 2.30 ERA in 28 starts in ’10, striking out 186 batters in 183.2 innings. He finished fifth in the NL Cy Young award voting, even earning MVP votes, and made his second straight All-Star team. He was 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in nine starts in 2011, posting equally strong strikeout numbers and another fantastic WHIP.
Johnson has been subpar so far in 2012, with an 0-2 mark to go with a 4.63 ERA in four starts. He is averaging fewer than six innings per start, and his strikeout rate of 6.6 per nine innings is significantly lower than his mark from last season, but the sample size is too small to move him down on this list. Johnson likely just needs a few starts to get his form back. After all, he still hasn’t given up a home run this season, and his walks are right on par with his norm.
3. Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves: When healthy, Tim Hudson would be the ace of the Atlanta Braves, so he gets the nod over Tommy Hanson for this ranking. Hudson has had a very underrated career – winning 15 games seven different times. His .651 career winning percentage puts him fifth among active starting pitchers.
Hudson was 16-10 with a 3.22 ERA in 215 innings last season, striking out 158 batters and walking just 56. He was more wild than normal, throwing a career-high 10 wild pitches and leading the league with 15 hits batsmen. He is out for the first several weeks as he recovers from offseason back surgery, but Hudson should be back for the Braves any day now.
He’s a good number one starter and ranking him third on this list is really no reflection on Hudson not being good – it’s just that the other aces in the NL East are so unbelievably good.
2. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg is just 23 years old and he is already one of the 10 best pitchers in major league baseball, if not top five. Strasburg is 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA in four starts, and he has struck out 25 batters in 25 innings. After missing last season with Tommy John surgery, Strasburg has rebounded strong and his career numbers through 21 starts are simply phenomenal: He is 8-4 with a 2.23 ERA to go with some simply incredible peripheral numbers: a 5.64 strikeout to walk ratio, 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings, 0.4 home runs allowed per nine innings, and a 176 adjusted ERA.
Strasburg throws heat to go with a changeup that touches in the low nineties. He has the tools to be the face of major league baseball if he keeps it up, and the only reason he isn’t number one on this list is because of the doctor, Roy Halladay.
1. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Halladay is like a fine wine: He just gets better with age. Halladay is 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA in five starts; he has allowed just 25 hits in a league-high 37 innings. Halladay still hasn’t given up a home run, and he is as consistent in 2012 as he has been over the last six years.
Halladay has finished in the top five in Cy Young award voting every year since 2006, and he has led the league in complete games five years running, a testament to his outstanding durability and work ethic. He has led the league in strikeout to walk ratio four consecutive years and he has had the lowest walk rate in the game for three years running. Halladay’s transition to the National League has only made him a better pitcher. He posted his best-ever ERA in 2011, and he could easily set his new career best mark in 2012. At this point, Halladay is well on his way to being a Hall of Famer.