How would you like to go up against the following lineup…
C – Russell Martin
1B – Miguel Cabrera
2B – Ian Kinsler
3B – David Wright
SS – Hanley Ramirez
OF – Ryan Braun
OF – Grady Sizemore
OF – Carlos Quentin
Yeah, didn’t think so.
Those nine guys consist of my “Dream Team,” the best and brightest players at their respective positions under the age of 27. Those are the guys you want anchoring your team for the next 10 years.
But wait, I have a pitching staff that’s up for the challenge. These 11 pitchers (five starters, six relievers) under the age of 27 will shut down any lineup — even the one listed above.
Good pitching beats good hitting. Every time. This “Dream Team” pitching staff would eat that lineup up…
Choices: Tim Lincecum,
Edinson Volquez, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, Chad
Billingsley, Zack Greinke, Rich Harden, Scott Kazmir, Johnny Cueto,
Justin Verlander, Jon Lester, Joba Chamberlain, Matt Garza, Clay
Buchholz, Max Scherzer, Francisco Liriano, Clayton Kershaw, David Price
Why do I put myself into these positions?
I’m supposed to pick just five out of this group? Not possible.
This is a tall order, so let’s get right to it and eliminate some right off the bat.
Justin Verlander: Has regressed since 2006-2007 seasons
Zach Greinke: Consistency issues, motivation issues, not as dominant as other guys here
Matt Cain: Great pitcher, but has never pitched in a meaningful game
Matt Garza: Having a great year, not all that surprisingly, but let’s not get overboard.
Clay Buchholz: The no-no was no-fluke, but he’s not close to ace material yet
Max Scherzer: Has yet to fully prove himself; on the mound and in the health department
Clayton Kershaw: Elite prospect, but too “green” for me to pick him as one of my five
David Price: I want to take him, but he hasn’t made it to the bigs yet – so doesn’t qualify
Johnny Cueto: Strikeout machine, but not a complete pitcher yet
That leaves 10 guys vying for five spots – Tim Lincecum, Edinson Volquez, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Chad Billingsley, Rich Harden, Scott Kazmir, Jon Lester, Joba Chamberlain and Francisco Liriano.
In my mind, there are two absolute stone-cold LOCKS here: Lincecum and Hernandez.
Lincecum has it all: the youth (24-years-old), the stuff (98 MPH fastball, wicked breaking ball) and the numbers (11-3 with 167 K in 150 IP). You HAVE to be that nasty to have 11 wins on a crummy team. I don’t care that he’s only 5-foot-11 with a funky delivery. You going to argue with those numbers??
Hernandez, or “King Felix,” as he’s affectionately referred to as, is an interesting case. Greatness was expected of him from Day 1 due to all the hype. He’s been good (37-32, 3.74 ERA in his career) but has had some injury and consistency issues. But everyone forgets one thing…
He’s ONLY 22-YEARS-OLD! He won’t turn 23 until a week into the 2009 season. He’s one of the better pitchers in baseball already, and he’s barely old enough to drink for crying out loud. Think about how good this guy is going to be. He’s like eight years away from his prime! His stuff is dazzling and he WILL win multiple Cy Young Awards in his trophy case when it’s all said and done.
OK, so that’s 2/5 of our rotation. Now, let’s get rid of a few names: Jon Lester and Rich Harden.
Lester is a great story. I know. And I know about the no-hitter, the cancer recovery and the shutout of the Yankees. And I know about the 21-5 career record (but what I also know is that the ‘win’ is the most overrated and unreliable stat in all of sports. Want proof? Lester is 21-5 with a 3.90 ERA and Matt Cain is 28-38 with a 3.72 ERA). But I also know he has some serious control problems (granted, he is improving there). I simply cannot ignore 120 walks in 291 innings. He’s great, but I can’t trust him for the next 10 years. No way, no how.
Harden is filthy. Harden is nasty. And when Harden is healthy, he may be the most dominant starter in all of baseball. Take his 2008 stats for example: 6-2, 2.04 ERA and 131 K and 71 H in 101 IP.
But how often is this guy actually healthy? How about…pretty much never.
2007: 25.2 innings
2006: 46.2 innings
2005: 128 innings
Promise me he stays healthy, and I take him. But you can’t make that promise without breaking it.
Lincecum and Hernandez in; Lester and Harden out. That leaves Volquez, Hamels, Chamberlain, Kazmir, Liriano and Billingsley for three spots.
Chamberlain is in. He’s 22, and he’s already dominating the AL. Need him to be a set-up man? He’s one of the best. Need him to be a starter? He’s keeping up with the best of ’em (3-1, 2.23 ERA, 69 K in 60 IP) Need him to close? I’m sure he’d be great at that, too. Need him to get a big strikeout? He’ll get it (99 K in 84.1 IP this season; 133 K in 108.1 IP in his career).
He’s only allowed 68 hits and three home runs in 84.1 innings this season, and has been progressively better in each start. He’s in my rotation for the next 10 years.
So who are my final two starters? Well, I’d love to take Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez. Liriano is the most intriguing pitcher on the planet (and was basically the second-coming of Cy Young in 2006 at age 22) and Volquez is having the best season of the remaining contenders.
But I’m not taking either of them. Liriano has already had Tommy John Surgery at such a young age and has had MAJOR arm issues his entire career. Plus, he’s only proved his worth for 1/2 of a season — and that was two years ago. He simply cannot be the same after having Tommy John Surgery.
I love Volquez, no question. But he’s already 25-years-old, and has only been this good for a half a season. And to be honest, he hasn’t been all that great lately.
Last seven starts: 3-2, 5.21 ERA, 45 H and 17 BB in 38 IP (110 K)
First 15 starts: 10-1, 1.71 ERA, 65 H and 44 BB in 93.1 (29 K)
He’s still the man, but he’s not in my Top 5 moving forward for the next 10 years.
Getting up to speed…Lincecum, Hernandez and Chamberlain in; Lester, Harden, Liriano and Volquez out. Battling for the final two spots are Hamels, Kazmir and Billingsley.
Hamels is in. Of the three, he is the hardest to get a hit off of and the hardest to reach base against. All three are 24-years-old and have similar career numbers, but Hamels has done it for longer than Billingley has and has better control (and health) than Kazmir.
So, the final debate: Kazmir vs. Billingsley.
Advantage Kazmir: he’s a left-hander, strikes out more hitters, has more experience
Advantage Billingsley: he’s been healthier, has better command
These guys are virtually identical statistics-wise. But Kazmir has pitched in the harder league. And Kazmir is a lefty. To me, he’s just a more dominant starter with more upside than Billingsley. I’m going with Kazmir.
THE PICKS: Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, Joba Chamberlain, Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir
Choices: Jose Arredondo, Jonathan Broxton, Taylor Bucholz, Matt Capps, Manuel Corpas, Manny Delcarmen, J.P. Howell, Jim Johnson, Carlos Marmol, Kyle McClellan, Brendan Morrow, Renyel Pinto, Rafael Perez, Ramon Ramirez, Francisco Rodriguez, Joakim Soria, Huston Street, Brian Wilson, Joel Zumaya
This is infinitely easier than picking the starting rotation. I need six relievers for this team, and it’s quite clear to me who the six best pitchers in this group are: Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Marmol, Brendan Morrow, Francisco Rodriguez, Joakim Soria and Joel Zumaya.
Sure, it would be nice to have a lefty reliever in the ‘pen. But with a group like that, I’m not too worried about holding leads.
THE PICKS: Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Marmol, Brendan Morrow, Francisco Rodriguez, Joakim Soria, Joel Zumaya