The Winter Meetings have recently wrapped up, and some high-caliber players have found out that they will be wearing different uniforms come next season. Frankly, though, I am tired of hearing about the top pitchers in the Majors, and have now begun wondering about any diamonds in the rough on some of the lesser-known teams; players who would be getting just as much attention as the likes of Jake Peavy, C.C. Sabathia, or Francisco Rodriguez, but are instead stuck on losing teams that are not talked about much. That is why I am focusing on some of the top rising stars on lesser-known teams.
Perhaps you would like to trade for one or more of these pitchers in your favorite baseball game’s franchise mode, or maybe you are just looking for good pitchers to select for your fantasy baseball team come this spring. Whatever the reason, make sure to acknowledge these pitchers because they are just as deserving of praise as their counterparts on more widely known teams.
A Good Starter Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry (To the Bullpen)
A good rotation is a key to success for all MLB teams. Starting pitchers are a team’s first line of defense, and a weak rotation will put more pressure on your offense at the very beginning of a game. These pitchers need to be able to pitch deep into the game, saving the bullpen from being overworked.
They also need to have a good earned run average (ERA) so that when the bullpen does factor into the game, it is not immediately fighting an uphill battle. This list of starters is certainly not complete, but includes pitchers who keep their team in the game when they are on the mound, and would be valuable additions to any squad.
Armando Galarraga (Stats in 2008: 13-7, 3.73 ERA, Detroit Tigers)
Galarraga led all American League rookie pitchers with 13 wins and 126 strikeouts. After a huge success in his rookie season, I am only expecting him to get better as he gets older and gains more experience. With veteran Kenny Rogers still on the staff, he seems to have an excellent source of information to improve his pitching in 2009 and beyond.
Jesse Litsch (Stats in 2008: 13-9, 3.58 ERA, Toronto Blue Jays)
Litsch established himself as a dependable starter in the Blue Jays’ rotation after improving his record, ERA and innings pitched in 2008. With the news that A.J. Burnett is going to the Yankees, Litsch could also find himself becoming Toronto’s number two starter behind Roy Halladay.
John Lannan (Stats in 2008: 9-15, 3.91, Washington Nationals)
Though Lannan did not have a great year from a record standpoint, he was able to keep his ERA low throughout the season. Because of this, it seems like the majority of the games he lost were likely due to low run production from his teammates. He also pitched 182 innings, showing that when he was on the mound, he was able to last deep into games, which saved the bullpen from being overworked. If the Nationals can get more production out of its offense, I believe Lannan’s third season in the majors will be a good one.
Brain Moehler (Stats in 2008: 11-8, 4.56 ERA, Houston Astros)
Moehler pitched fairly well for the Astros in 2008, allowing slightly over 70 runs in 150 innings pitched. He is a veteran on the team, having begun his MLB career in 1996, and though he was not the top pitcher on the staff, I believe his presence on the team is a positive one. He should be able to point out some strategies to the younger players in order to allow them to pitch more effectively.
Matt Harrison (Stats in 2008: 9-3, 5.49 ERA, Texas Rangers)
In his rookie season, Matt Harrison performed extremely well for the Texas Rangers. While he had a slightly high ERA, it is very likely that he will be able to bring that down during his sophomore season. The most important statistic, though, is his record. Going 9-3 in just 15 starts is outstanding, especially for a rookie.
Shutting the Door on the Opposition: Say Hello To the Relievers
While the starting rotation is the first line of defense against opposing hitters, the bullpen represents the final push towards getting a win. These pitchers are given the task of either protecting a lead or keeping a deficit from getting any larger, and arguably have the most difficult job because of all of the pressure placed squarely on their shoulders. No matter how good a team’s starting rotation is, if it does not have a solid bullpen and an excellent closer, the team will not be very successful.
The following pitchers would make excellent additions to any team’s bullpen, and would allow managers and players alike to believe that the game would be in good hands.
Ryan Rowland-Smith (Stats in 2008: 5-3, 3.42 ERA, Seattle Mariners)
In only his second year in the Majors, Rowland-Smith put up impressive numbers for the Mariners. Pitching in 118.1 innings, he had a solid ERA and was able to keep his team in the game when he was pitching. As he continues his career and gains more experience, especially around a teammate such as Felix Hernandez, I expect him to become a better pitcher. Also, with as many innings as he pitched in 2008, maybe the Mariners should consider him as a supplement to the starting rotation?
Jared Burton (Stats in 2008: 5-1, 3.22 ERA, Cincinnati Reds)
In his second year in the Majors, Burton made a great impression on his team by logging almost 60 innings on the mound while maintaining a low ERA. I look for him to improve on his '08 numbers in the future, and with teammates like Edinson Volquez and Bronson Arroyo giving him advice, the Reds seem to have the tools in place to have a good showing next season -- provided that the offense produces more runs for its pitchers.
Leo Nunez (Stats in 2008: 4-1, 2.98 ERA, Kansas City Royals)
While the Royals pitching staff had its fair share of problems in 2008, Nunez was a consistent reliever in the bullpen. He allowed 19 runs in just under 50 innings pitched last season, and each year since he was promoted to Kansas City in 2005, he has improved his ERA, which was a staggering 7.55 in his first year with the team. I am expecting him to continue to improve his ERA and to remain a dependable arm in the Royals’ bullpen.
Brad Ziegler (Stats in 2008: 3-0, 1.06 ERA, Oakland Athletics)
In his rookie season, Ziegler impressed many people, converting 11-of-13 save opportunities while compiling a minuscule ERA in just under 60 innings pitched. While a "sophomore slump" is possible, Ziegler looks to remain a strong pitcher in the Athletics’ bullpen.
Joey Devine (Stats in 2008: 6-1, 0.59 ERA, Oakland Athletics)
Joining his teammate Brad Ziegler, Joey Devine silenced hitters’ bats last season, producing an infinitesimal ERA in 45.2 innings pitched. He has come a long way since he broke into the Majors with the Atlanta Braves in 2005, when he had an ERA of 12.60, allowing seven runs in five innings pitched. If he and Ziegler can continue their dominance over hitters, and the Athletics hitters can produce more runs, the team will likely be a force to be reckoned with in 2009.
These are some of my top picks for pitchers who do not get enough attention for the work they do for their teams. I believe each of these players is likely to have another good season next year, and could potentially help their team get into playoff contention towards the end of the season.
Since there are still a couple of months left until Spring Training starts up again, why not pass the time by considering which players will make the biggest impact on their teams in 2009?