The game of baseball is rich with very talented left-handed pitchers. From Lefty Grove to Sandy Koufax to Steve Carlton to Randy Johnson, there is a long line of tradition from southpaw aces. Some are starting to close out their great careers, such as C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee. Some young stars like David Price and Clayton Kershaw are quickly emerging, and look to have long and healthy careers ahead of them. Although a majority of pitchers in the game are right-handed, 6 of the top 10 WAR leaders for pitchers in 2012 were left-handed, including 3 in the top 5. Left handers are a rarity in today’s game, but prove to be very valuable to a team’s staff. I understand we kind of wimped out of the hard rankings (just rank the top five pitchers in the game, regardless of handedness), but this allows us to discuss more players overall. Nonetheless, the talent among southpaw starters is strong and should remain with the further development of the likes of Kershaw, Price, and the young phenoms Matt Moore and Chris Sale.
5. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
With the exception of his 2009 campaign, Cole Hamels has been one of the most consistent arms in all of baseball throughout his career. Over the past three seasons, his ERA’s have been 3.06, 2.79, and 3.05 respectively. His ERA+’s have been 133, 137, and 131 over that same span. It doesn’t get much more consistent than that. He has also been extremely durable for the Phillies, as he has thrown at least 200 innings in 4 of the past 5 seasons. Hamels also sports impressive strikeout and walk rates. For his career, his BB/9 is at 2.2 and his K/9 sits at 9. It looks like Hamels will be staying in Philly for a long time to come and he has deserved his contract extension. You can expect Hamels to be just as productive as his 4 win season in 2012 next year.
4. C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees
CC Sabathia is heading his fifth season of his long seven year deal with the New York Yankees. Through the first four years, he has proven to be very successful in the pinstripes. C.C. is most known for being a workhorse, as he has compiled 200+ innings in each of his last 6 seasons, including at least 230 in 5 of his last 6. He also has not had an ERA above 3.38 in his past 7 seasons. His ERA+ has never dipped below 100 in any season, and is at 125 for his entire career. However, C.C. is coming off a season that shows he may be declining just a bit. He still had a great year, but his WAR of 3.3 was the lowest it has been since 2006. He also was limited to exactly 200 innings, which is at least 30 less than 2009, 2010 and 2011. Sabathia will be 32 years old in 2013, but he still figures to be the leader and ace of the Yankees staff in 2013. I would expect him to give his usual 200 innings with an ERA in the mid 3s again for New York.
3. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
Cliff Lee won six games in 2012. That was all he was able to muster in 211 innings and 30 starts. Some would be ignorant enough to just look at that number and think that Lee was a failure and had a down year in 2012. This is false, as Lee was actually one of the better pitchers in all of baseball. He threw 211 innings and had an ERA of 3.16 with an ERA+ of 127. He also struck out 207 batters and led the league in BB/9 (1.2) and SO/BB (7.39). To further look at Lee’s unbelievable control, he did not hit a single batter in 2012 and let loose just 4 wild pitches. Lee has been extremely durable and consistent since his Cy Young campaign in 2008. He has thrown at least 200 innings in his past 5 seasons and hasn’t had an ERA above 3.22 in any of those 5 years. I expect more of the same for Lee in 2013 and should be around a 4 win player for the Phillies.
2. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
At just 26 years old, David Price has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the game of baseball. Price won the American League Cy Young award in 2012 after he finished as the runner-up in 2010. Last season, Price compiled 20 wins with an ERA of 2.56 and an ERA+ of 149 in 211 innings for the Rays. He also had impressive strikeout and walk rates, with a K/9 of 8.7 and a BB/9 of 2.5. Durability seems to be a key with these pitchers, and Price is no exception. He has thrown at least 200 innings in each of his first 3 full seasons. He has also struck out at least 200 batters in each of the past 2 seasons. Price was a 6 win player in 2012 so it would be tough to expect that kind of production again next season, but I still believe he will be around a 4 or 5 win player in 2013.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw is just 24 years old and has already established himself as one of, if not the most, elite pitchers in major league baseball. He has led the league in ERA in the past two seasons at 2.28 and 2.53 respectively. He has thrown at least 200 innings in each of his last 3 seasons, including 227.2 in 2012. He led the league in strikeouts in 2011 with 248, and followed it up with 229 in 2012. Another stat he led the league in for 2011 and 2012 is WHIP, at 0.97 and 1.02 respectively. Kershaw gave up just 6.7 hits per nine innings in 2012 which again led the league. His ERA+ for his entire career is staggering at 138. Clayton seems likely to cash in on a monster contract at some point, given his track record and young age. He was a 6+ win pitcher in 2011 and 2012 and I would expect around 6 again for 2013.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers
Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals