Ranking the Top 15 Starting Pitchers in 2013 MLB Playoffs
MLB Playoffs 2013: Ranking the Top 15 Starting Pitchers
When it comes time for the MLB Playoffs, it comes time for people to make a name for themselves. That could mean getting a big hit, that could mean making a big catch, or that could mean a pitcher rising to the occasion on the biggest stage and carrying the team either to the next round or to a trophy and champagne shower.
Playoff baseball is when legends are made and there are countless examples of pitcher rising above being a mere mortal for eternity because of how they lifted their respective team to a big victory. A prime example in this regard is Curt Schilling.
Coming into the 2004 MLB Playoffs, Schilling had a productive and respectable career, but he didn’t have too terribly much individually to hang his hat on. Sure he had a World Series from 2001 under his belt, but other than that he had only a couple of second-place Cy Young Award finishes to show for himself. Then came the bloody sock game.
If you know baseball, you know the story of Schilling pitching for the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS. Pitching on an injured ankle that caused blood to seep through his sock, Schilling went into hero-mode and helped tie the series at three games apiece. After that game, he ceased from being just an above-average starting pitcher and became a legend.
Now another crop of starting pitchers is about to have the chance to write their names in baseball lore. Now that the play-in game from Monday night is out of the way with the Tampa Bay Rays topping the Texas Rangers for the final wildcard spot, here are the 15 best pitchers that will be taking part in the playoffs this year.
15. A.J. Burnett – Pittsburgh Pirates
A.J. Burnett may be 36 years old, he may be considering retirement after this postseason run with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he may have only a 10-11 record on the season—but that doesn’t mean he still hasn’t brought it when he’s had the ball for the Bucs this season.
In 30 starts this season, Burnett has a solid 3.30 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, as well as averaging more than a strikeout per inning and with opponents hitting just .231 against him. He’s kept his walk rate down and kept the ball in the ballpark well all season. Burnett will be a huge factor in any Pirates’ success in the playoffs.
14. Kris Medlen – Atlanta Braves
There’s no doubt that the Atlanta Braves had high expectations for Kris Medlen coming into this season. His win/loss record at 15-12 may not be ideal, but he’s answered the call with his overall performance, helping to anchor a young and talented Braves rotation.
In 31 starts this season, Medlen has delivered with a 3.11 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, which is solid considering a shaky start to the season and a rough go of it in July. He’s not been as dominant as he was last season, but the Braves have to be fully confident in their chances when Medlen takes the hill.
13. Alex Cobb – Tampa Bay Rays
Despite missing a good chunk of the season after a scary injury from a line-drive off of the head, Tampa Bay Rays youngster Alex Cobb has been phenomenal when he’s been healthy enough to go, even outshining the ace of the Rays’ staff, David Price, this season.
In 22 starts, the 25-year-old Cobb has a 2.76 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and a .228 batting average against. With an 11-3 record, he’s also averaging just under a strikeout per inning and showing off a strikeout-to-walk ration of over three. Cobb will have a good chance to show off his stuff in the postseason, if you haven’t already seen how good he is yet.
12. Hyun-Jin Ryu – Los Angeles Dodgers
Hyun-Jin Ryu may be the rookie on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching staff, but he’s performed like a veteran stud this season. The 26-year-old Korean has been the third starter in arguably the best top-of-the-rotation in the league, looking like a guy that could be a number one or two pitcher for most staffs in the MLB.
In 29 starts, Ryu has a solid 14-7 record to go along with a 2.97 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Ryu isn’t a high strikeout guy, but he consistently takes the bump and gets the job done. Getting the job done is all it takes to be successful, so he’s earned his spot on this list.
11. Shelby Miller – St. Louis Cardinals
Shelby Miller was considered one of the better prospects in baseball this season for the St. Louis Cardinals and he’s shown why. In 31 starts in his first full season, Miller has come into the league and shown that he can be the next great hurler for the Cards.
With a solid 15-9 record, Miller has posted a 3.06 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP as opponents are hitting just .234 against him. Miller still is a young pitcher that makes the occasional mistake, but based on talent, it’s impossible not to have the 22-year-old here.
10. Julio Teheran – Atlanta Braves
The Braves may have a younger pitching staff, but it’s hardly devoid of talent. With Medlen already on the list, he’s joined by 22-year-old hurler Julio Teheran, who has been arguably the most sure thing for Atlanta this season on the mound and, in a year when Jose Fernandez or Yasiel Puig wasn’t around, would be in contention to win Rookie of the Year.
With a solid 14-8 record this season, Teheran has also posted a 3.20 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and is striking out just under a one batter per inning. In addition, he’s posted an extremely solid strikeout-to-walk ratio. Sure, Teheran is still young and has had some rough outings this season, but there’s no denying the Braves have to be confident when they give him the ball.
9. Mat Latos – Cincinnati Reds
Though Mat Latos won’t be available for the Cincinnati Reds’ wildcard game on Tuesday due to soreness in his arm, there’s no doubt that the hurler has been the ace of the staff for much of the season, especially with Johnny Cueto dealing with injuries for much of the season.
In 32 starts this season, Latos has posted a 17-7 record, 3.16 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. His strikeout and walk rates have remained around his career averages, but he’s done a solid job in pressure situations and has kept the ball in the park at a better rate than throughout his career. Latos has always had the talent, but he’s really put it all together this season.
8. Justin Verlander – Detroit Tigers
For years, the Detroit Tigers have relied upon Justin Verlander as their ace, but that hasn’t exactly been the case this year. He’s delivered a solid season, but a lot him being on this list and being this high is based on his reputation and his past success in the postseason with Detroit.
In 34 starts this season, Verlander has once again seen a big workload, throwing 218.2 innings with an average of 108.6 pitches per start. He’s still been solid with a 3.46 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and an average of just barely under a strikeout per inning, but he hasn’t been elite. Even with that, though, the Tigers still have to feel good that they can put Verlander out on this mound in the playoffs.
7. Zack Greinke – Los Angeles Dodgers
Zack Greinke could have been higher on this list had it not been for a really rough patch in the season for him from the end of May through the beginning of July. Even with that, though, his overall performance this season with the Dodgers deserves a fair amount of recognition, especially with the way he’s come on in the second half of the season.
Overall this season, Greinke has a 15-4 record, a 2.63 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP to boast this season. In his last 12 starts, though, Greinke hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a game, has a 7-1 record and the Dodgers have won 10 of the 12 games in which he was the starter. Perhaps I should have him a bit higher considering how good he’s been down the stretch, but having him here feels like the safest bet.
6. Anibal Sanchez – Detroit Tigers
In his first full season in Detroit, Anibal Sanchez has delivered the best year of his career in the Bigs. Even surrounded by a slew of talented pitchers in the Tigers’ starting rotation, Sanchez has still managed to put up the numbers to stand out on his own merits.
Through 29 starts this season, Sanchez has a 14-8 record, but that’s not indicative of all his success. Sanchez also has a great 2.57 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, while also forcing opponents to hit just .229 against him. Sanchez is always a threat to strike guys out, but he also keeps the ball in play incredibly well. It’s hard to imagine the Tigers not being thankful he’s dealing for them.
5. Bartolo Colon – Oakland Athletics
At 40 years old and about 50 pounds (to give him the benefit of the doubt) overweight, Bartolo Colon seemed like the least likely player to be the ace of the Oakland Athletics’ starting rotation this season. With the A’s headed to the playoffs, though, Colon’s dominance has been a reason why.
It’s been astounding to watch Colon as he’s accrued his 18-6 record, 2.65 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He’s barely striking out a batter every other inning and has little velocity on his pitches. However, he’s had elite control over his stuff this season, showcased by having only 29 walks on the season. If he can continue this in the playoffs, it’ll still be surprising, but it’ll keep lifting Oakland.
4. Adam Wainwright – St. Louis Cardinals
Adam Wainwright was an elite pitcher in this league before missing all of the 2011 season for the Cards. He came back in 2012, but only to average results. This season, though, he’s done something to recapture whatever it was he had before his injury, because he’s been dealing this year.
Pitching a heavy 241.2 innings this season over 34 starts, Wainwright has posted a 19-9 record, a 2.94 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is ridiculously over six this season and he’s done everything St. Louis could possibly ask. It’s good to see him back to his old form and I’m sure the Cardinals would agree.
3. Clay Buchholz – Boston Red Sox
Boston Red Sox hurler Clay Buchholz is easily the hardest pitcher to place on this list. When he was fully healthy, the 29-year-old was arguably the best in the majors. After missing a significant portion of the season and coming back to slightly less elite results, it’s hard to gauge him. Ultimately, I decided to rank him based on how good he could be if he’s fully ready.
In 16 starts this season, Buccholz has been unreal. He has a 12-1 record, 1.74 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Moreover, he’s kept the ball inside the fences well and opponents have struggled to get on base, hitting only .199 against him. If Buchholz can get back to the form he showed at the start of this season, this Red Sox team might be the frontrunners for the World Series.
2. Max Scherzer – Detroit Tigers
Max Scherzer has been a reliable starter for the Tigers over the past three seasons, but he’s never been on the level that he has been this season. After living in Verlander’s shadow in Detroit’s rotation in the past, Scherzer has unquestionably been the ace of the staff this season.
For starters, Scherzer has a crazy 21-3 record for the season. Even if you aren’t a win/loss guy, that’s impressive. Scherzer also has a 2.90 ERA and 0.97 WHIP to accompany that record, too, as well as having 240 strikeouts over 214.1 innings this season. I’m not sure what lit a fire under Scherzer this season, but I doubt the Tigers care. I would guess they’re just happy to reap the benefits.
1. Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers
Remember in the 2001 Little League World Series when Danny Almonte, the pitcher for the Bronx team, was just near unhittable? Sure, he was two years older than was allowed by Little League, but that’s essentially what it looks like when Clayton Kershaw takes the mound for the Dodgers.
You know a guy is dominant on the mound when a 16-9 record isn’t as good as it should be. However, when you look at Kershaw’s 1.83 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, a .195 batting average against, and strikeout-to-walk ratio well over four, it’s not hard to see why. Kershaw is just in a class of his own when it comes to pitching.