Over the last nine weeks, we’ve chronicled the best players at each field position and the best starters the AL has to offer. Here, we’ll wrap up this particular run with the National League’s best starters.
I’ve often commented on the level of difficulty each list gave me during its construction, and this one, like the AL list, gave me trouble because there were a good number of candidates for the back half of the list. I feel strongly about the top five, but I think 6-15 could go in a lot of directions.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these rankings as a topic of debate and a way to preview the 2013 season. We’ll pick up next Saturday with other types The Nine lists, but we’ll revisit these lists throughout the season to see how well they prepared us for the future.
9. Johnny Cueto (Reds)
Cueto has pretty consistently outperformed his peripherals in the past and finally had a top shelf season this year in Cincinnati. Cueto remains in his prime and pitches in front of a pretty complete team. I thought about some other guys for this spot, and it killed me to leave Halladay off this list, but this one feels right.
8. Zach Greinke (Dodgers)
Greinke is now a very wealthy man and has a friendly home ballpark. He’s got great stuff but is susceptible to blow up innings. If there wasn’t a bit of a question about his elbow for the start of the season, he’d be a bit higher. Greinke is as talented as almost anyone on the list, but he tends to underperform his peripherals and his health is a bit uncertain.
7. Matt Cain (Giants)
Cain is an absolute workhouse with great control whose WAR undervalues him because it doesn’t appreciate his apparent ability to limit BABIP. He’s never missed a start in seven seasons, clearly has no-hit stuff and is very reliable. The ace of the world champs belongs on any list of this kind, and his contract looks incredible compared to some of the big signings of late.
6. Gio Gonzalez (Nationals)
Gio is a bit wild, but the strikeout rate and the walk rate are trending in the right direction. I’m not his biggest fan and there will certainly be steroid talk this season, but the numbers are telling me he’s a top six starter for next season. I’d rather have Cain or Greinke on my club, but if we’re going to try to be objective about next year, we probably have to give the edge to Gio.
5. Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)
Wainwright had two Cy Young type seasons in 2009 and 2010 before missing all of 2011 after having Tommy John’s Surgery. It took him a few months to return to form, and looks locked in and ready to go. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game when he’s healthy and all signs point to a big season from the 31 year old ace of the Cardinals.
4. Cliff Lee (Phillies)
Lee is coming off five excellent seasons in which he threw 211 innings or more. He has amazing control and a fine strikeout rate. He only has one Cy Young on his shelf, but this lefty ace could easily have a couple more. He is, without a doubt, owner of the best 6-9 season in baseball history and shows no sign of slowing down.
3. Cole Hamels (Phillies)
Everything about Cole Hamels’ game is awesome. Strikeouts, few walks, durability. He doesn’t quite have the ceiling of the others, but he’s consistency keeps him at the top of this list. The changeup is one of the best in the game and he remains the youngest of the Phillies aces heading into 2013.
2. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)
Kershaw is awesome. I don’t think I have to say anything else. He’s 25, has a Cy Young and a couple of near misses. He’s the best left handed pitcher in the game and should be for years to come. The only question about Kershaw is if he or Verlander will break the $200 million barrier for starters.
1. Stephen Strasburg (Nationals)
Last season was all about the innings limit. When he’s allowed to pitch, he is off the charts incredible. His career strikeout rate is 11.21 with a 2.71 BB/9. If he can hold up and stay healthy, he’s the best pitcher in the league. His stuff is amazing to watch. Is he Justin Verlander? Maybe not. Is he as close as any right hander in the game, you bet. Stephen Strasburg is the real deal.
What do you think? Kershaw or Strasburg? Or, someone else?