By: Brian Pulsifer
When you think about what defines a major league pitcher as having value, there are several things that come to mind. Topping the list is total number of wins, strikeouts, and of course, earned run average (E.R.A.), however only one of these is an accurate illustration of a pitcher’s overall strength and value. Let me explain: The number of wins a pitcher gets for his team can be misleading, dependent on his teammates run support during each of his outings. The number of strikeouts that a pitcher throws can be a bit of a flashy stat, as an out is an out. When it comes down to it, E.R.A. is the primary element that determines a pitcher’s value to his team. It cancels out the defensive troubles a team may have, as well as the offense (or lack thereof) that a pitcher may have backing him. In the end, the E.R.A. that a pitcher posts is the truest measure of his success for that season, and best reflects his overall value.
Over the last 2 complete seasons (excluding the current 2012 season), there have been exactly 10 pitchers in the MLB who have finished the season in the top 25 in E.R.A. The challenge that I have for all readers right now is to list those 10 pitchers without scrolling down to find the answers. Being able to name even 7 of these pitchers is an impressive feat, and getting 8 or more is phenomenal. Go ahead and try to make a list right now…
Now that you have created your list, cross off Verlander and Lincecum, as neither of those are correct, and see how many you can get with the 8 names that you still have left remaining. The complete list consists of a lot of the superstars that you probably would have guessed. This group includes pitchers such as Doc Halladay, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Jered Weaver, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, and Clayton Kershaw. It’s not surprising that everyone on this list makes at least 14 million dollars a season, (excluding Kershaw, his money is coming later in his contract) as these players are well known throughout the majors.
Now on to the more surprising pitchers on the list, if you had any of these, you know what you are talking about. Tim Hudson may not be a name that is shocking, but also isn’t one that immediately comes to mind. Tim Hudson may not be considered a superstar, although he was at one point in his career, but his current salary of 9 million dollars shows that he is still being paid well. The two names remaining, and the two players who are undoubtedly the most undervalued pitchers in major league baseball right now, are R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets, and Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals. It’s not a surprise that these two are the only pitchers on this list that are making less than 5 million dollars this season, and their teams are lucky to have them at that price.
Gio Gonzalez is one of 3 pitchers on this list who pitched in the AL when he put up his phenomenal 3.18 E.R.A. over the last two seasons. Gio’s transition to the National League is one of the main reasons why I have been touting him all season as a possible Cy Young Candidate to come out of relative obscurity this season. Gio has done nothing to disappoint, as he has gotten off to a 7-2 start on the year to have the second most wins in the NL. He also is leading the NL with 86 strikeouts, and is third in the National League with a 2.31 E.R.A. on the year. He is sitting in an excellent spot right now, with the potential to win the pitching “triple crown,” and yet still has not gotten the credit that he deserves. The only reason I can see as to why Gio has not gotten the publicity yet is because of the market he was playing in when he was in Oakland. He’s flashy with his strikeouts, is young enough, and it just doesn’t add up. Gio isn’t even considered the best pitcher on his own team, as Stephen Strasburg outshines him, even though he leads Strasburg in every single major category. Maybe that potential Cy Young will finally give Gio the credit that he deserves.
The reasons that R.A. Dickey is undervalued are far easier to understand, even though he plays in New York, he is a 37 year-old knuckle ball pitcher. Dickey’s 3.06 E.R.A. over the last 2 seasons hasn’t done much for his credibility as a starter though, as you basically hear absolutely nothing about him. What has Dickey done this year to backup those numbers? Nothing but lead the majors in wins at 8-1 on the year, lead the majors in quality starts with 10, and post a 2.69 E.R.A. Dickey has also miraculously learned to strikeout batters this year, as his 70 K’s is on pace for by far the most in his career. The thing that is even scarier about Dickey, is that if you take away one start against the Braves that was in the rain, (a knuckle ball just doesn’t work in the rain), his E.R.A. of 1.81 would be the best in the entire major leagues. What really sums up Dickey is a comment I heard in Dickey’s last outing in which he shut out the defending champion Cardinals, striking out 9 batters en route. The announcer made a comment about whether Dickey had a chance of making the all-star team this year… A guy who leads the majors in wins and has a 2.69 E.R.A. should have more than just a chance of earning all-star honors.
The season is still young, but out of this list of 10 pitchers, 7 of them would make the list again this year, as Halladay, Hudson, and Sabathia would fall out of this star-studded group. There is a lot to be said for consistent excellence, and very few MLB pitchers have what it takes to perform in this manner. Time will tell if either of these major league aces ever get the credit they are due, but from this more than casual observer, both deserve to be considered along with the other elite.