Pitchers are, to say the least, not as predictable as hitters. Especially these days when Tommy John surgery is becoming almost commonplace among young pitchers. Nevertheless, we once more haul out our Ouija boards, crystal balls, and divining rods. As we did for infielders and outfielders, we’ll see what the moundsmen’s prospects for a plaque are.
Although he hasn’t pitched since 2012, Johan Santana is technically still active and right now on a flyer with the Orioles, trying to build enough arm strength to make it back to the big leagues. Santana has easily the most peak value of any active pitcher. His career was just long enough that he looks like his period’s Sandy Koufax or Rube Waddell. He’s under the radar for many, but for me he’s just above the line.
Current case: B-
Likely final case: B-
C.C. Sabathia’s career may be in deep doodoo. He began declining in 2012 and really lost it in 2013. He’s had elbow issues in recent memory, and this year the knee that’s propped up that big frame for so long has begun to give way. He’s been a horse for a long time and is only 200–300 innings shy of the likes of Chuck Finley or Orel Hershiser who, en toto, racked up similar value to what C.C. has earned so far. He’s on or just below the line right now. If his body allows him to be an average pitcher for even a couple-three more years, it would really seal the deal.
Likely final case: B
If you like Andy Pettitte, then meet Mark Buerhle. Burhrle has been rarely great, always good, never bad. A good candidate for those who like the slow burn. Buehrle will actually pass by Pettitte this year, and at 35 with no history of arm problems, he has a good shot to climb the ladder. Let’s say that between today and age 40 he’s a roughly average pitcher and earns another 10 WAR. He’d look like Red Ruffing or Red Faber. In today’s game, pitcher peaks are simply lower than they ever have been, so reaching that level in the non-Kershaw division is pretty special. To make the HoME he needs that kind of exuent because he’s just below the line now.
Current case: C+
Likely final case: B-
It seems like Cliff Lee has been around forever. He got knocked around a lot early on before finding his game. But since that point, it’s been nothing but good times. Right now, he’s got the same peak performance as C.C. but lacks the bulk. So to speak. At 35 and suddenly encountering arm troubles, the outlook has suddenly darkened. If TJ surgery is in the cards, Lee seems like the kind of pitcher who could return and succeed even if his style had to change. He’s athletic, trim, never walks anybody, keeps the ball down, and is baseball smart. It’s easy to see him coming back and being at least an average pitcher for several years. To sniff the HoME, he’ll need four or five more productive seasons.
Current case: C-
Likely final case: C+
- Clayton Kershaw only needs to avoid Dr. Andrews office. Only….
- Cole Hamels is surprisingly good and needs to fill out his resume. A couple more All-Star level seasons would really help.
- John Lester currently has Pat Hentgen’s peak. Lotta work to do.
See me in three years
Tim Hudson is your active leader in career wins and shutouts. He’s second in WAR, winning percentage, starts, and innings. And almost no one talks about him. By value, he currently sits in the same location as Sabathia, but he feels more like the Luis Tiant or Rick Reuschel of his generation. At 38 he’s pitching better than he has the last couple years and is signed through next season. I like his chances to move solidly over the line.
Current grade: C+/B-
Likely final grade: B-
Justin Verlander has the hardware, big years, and black ink, which means he’s also got a good peak for this era. Historically, however, it’s nothing special. Today’s hurlers will be tough to judge against their historical peers due to their lack of bulk. But Verlander has risen a little higher than his peers so far. At 31 he’s probably past his peak or nearly so, but he has a ton of work to do yet. There’s just not enough substance yet to hold up that peak.
Current grade: incomplete
Likely final grade: God only knows
2005 was a hell of a year for rookie pitchers. Verlander and Felix Hernandez both debuted, and we’ll probably talk about them in the same breath for years. The big difference between them, however, is that King Felix is three years younger. He’s got a lot fewer eye-popping seasons and is a little behind Verlander. But he’s got much more time to be awesome.
Current grade: incomplete
Likely final grade: As good or better than Verlander’s
- Rx for Jered Weaver less DL, more innings.
- Which Zack Grienke will show up in a given year? The 205 ERA+ version or the more common 115–125 version?
- Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum sure seem broken.
- The year lost to TJ and the other lost to closing have held Adam Wainwright back, but holding on to this level of performance would make a huge difference.