Monday, February 22, 2016

Pitchers and Catchers: A Countdown For the Sake of Writing Something

The blog's been quiet for too damn long, so I figured I'd roll out a list/countdown, for the sake of starting a conversation. Last year I gave, in my humble opinion, the 10 best closers in baseball. I think I gave Aroldis Chapman the #1 spot, and lo and behold he's pitching for my team this year. I also didn't include Andrew Miller. More foreshadowing.

So, as Pitchers and Catchers have officially reported to Spring Training (as of a couple days ago), I'm going to make a list of the 10 Best Pitchers and the 10 Best Catchers in baseball right now.

Since I made a lot of people cry foul in my last list for putting people like Papelbon on the list solely because of past merits, I'm gonna make a rule that these ten people, on both lists, have to be on there based on what they've done lately. Miguel Montero is not on my list of catchers because he's slid to 'okay' territory, though let it be known that he came close. Justin Verlander's not on my list of the best pitchers because it's not 2011 anymore, and Verlander has had some down seasons, to humanize him a bit. So while Justin Verlander is one of the best active pitchers in the game, he's not currently one of the best arms in baseball. However, if some of these pitchers have only been unstoppable in 2015, that's definitely going to factor into their placement on the list.

People I cut at the last minute: Pitchers- Stephen Strasburg, Johnny Cueto, Jon Lester, Corey Kluber, Adam Wainwright (solely because of the injury last year), Jose Fernandez, Cole Hamels, Sonny Gray. Catchers- Carlos Ruiz, Stephen Vogt, Yasmani Grandal, Alex Avila, Chris Iannetta.

  #10s- Max Scherzer and Travis D'Arnaud. Now you see how divisive this list is going to be. Scherzer's an amazing pitcher, a great arm, and came close to pulling a Johnny Vander Meer last year.  Yet despite having a really great start to the season, people seem to underestimate him now, because of his second half, the fact that the Nationals didn't make it into the playoffs, and the fact that he barely placed on the Cy Young voting. Scherzer is still a great arm, and a guy who's basically the head of the rotation, even when Strasburg isn't wild.

D'Arnaud was contending with Yasmani Grandal for the last spot on the list, but Grandal was veering more toward year-long-fluke territory, so I went with D'Arnaud, who was wonderful whenever he was healthy last season. He can hit and play a pretty solid backstop. I'm putting him down here because I feel like he's more of a one-season fluke.

#9s- Jacob DeGrom and Matt Wieters.
DeGrom is here because, postseason notwithstanding, Matt Harvey's 2015 was not perfect. Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom's last two seasons have been wonderful, and he's slowly popped up as one of the more impressive arms in the NL. Harvey does get a reputation as the ace of the Mets, but Jacob deGrom has the better arm, and the better consistency.

Matt Wieters is here, and Caleb Joseph isn't, which might be kind of controversial. Wieters is here because, in the period of time when he wasn't injured in 2015, he was pretty great at the plate, and even better behind the backstop. Wieters has been an impressive catcher since he came up in 2009, and I feel like he needs another full season of work to reestablish that fact.

#8s- Dallas Keuchel and Wilson Ramos.
Let me explain why the AL Cy Young is so low, because this is a pretty big deal. Keuchel is an amazing arm, and his 2015 was huge, but we're talking about one huge season here. His 2014 was...considerably nice towards the back end, but he wasn't behind a mega-roster like the 2015 Astros in 2014. Keuchel could have some amazing career numbers in the future, but if we're going by one huge 2015 season, that definitely puts him up a few spots, but I'm going to pick some people with some more (RECENT) success for higher spots. Keuchel is still wonderful, but there's a reason that Corey Kluber's not on this list...and it has a bit to do with his 2013 and his 2015, rather than his stellar 2014.

Wilson Ramos is the most underrated catcher in baseball. By far. He's had some pretty solid numbers for a few years in a row, in a consistently competitive roster, and people seem to overlook him in favor of bigger Washington stars like Bryce Harper. Ramos is an amazing defensive catcher, one I'd want on my team.

#7s- Madison Bumgarner and Yadier Molina. Two guys that would be up a bit higher if it weren't for their 2015 numbers.
Don't get me wrong, Bumgarner was wonderful in 2015, but in terms of the season as a whole, he was kind of an afterthought, kind of like the Giants. He, as usual, had some great strikeout numbers, and got a ton of wins, and reestablished himself as the Giants' ace, but didn't get very far into the Cy Young voting, and was overshadowed by a lot of NL pitchers like Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta, guys who made an impact this season by changing the game and bringing their teams forward as contenders as well. Bumgarner's a wonderful pitcher, and with a stronger Giants team in 2016 will likely go up in the rankings by next season, but he's at #7 because his 2015 didn't bring anything earth-shatteringly new to the table. That is pretty harsh, because we're still talking about a guy who threw 200+ strikeouts last year, and nabbed 18 wins, but I'm trying to be fair here.

Molina would have gotten higher had it not been, sadly, for the past two seasons. In 2014 he spent some time on the DL. And last year, Yadier Molina had his first real human season. He hit .270, and the rest of his numbers slipped with him. It's looking like Molina's beginning to decline in quality, as he's 32, and his days of staying behind the backstop without getting beaten up too badly are coming to an end, sadly. That isn't to say he's not a great catcher, as I'm sure his 2016 numbers are still gonna be pretty great, but they may not be as good as his late-00's/early-10's numbers.

#6's- Felix Hernandez and Russell Martin
Felix, if Corey Kluber hadn't have snuck out from out of nowhere and snatched one from him, should have two Cy Youngs by now. Actually, CC Sabathia deserved the one in 2010, so he should have one, the Corey Kluber one. But the world isn't perfect. Felix's numbers dipped slightly in 2015, but he still had 18 wins, a ton of strikeouts, and still dominated a losing team. I'm pretty sure this MadBum-Felix situation's going to be tricky to explain, because both are amazing, and both were swapped for each other multiple times during the making of the list, but Felix landed here because his recent career peaks are a little higher than MadBum's, near-Cy-Young included.

Russell Martin has been pretty stellar the last two seasons, hitting well and recapturing his numbers of LA yore. His reestablishment is actually helping his career numbers, because he's hitting more and farther than he did in the first half of his career. Plus, it helped that he was around a homer-heavy lineup in Toronto last year. Martin probably has some more good hitting years in him, which is why he's up this high, but isn't in his absolute peak as a defensive catcher, which is why he's at #6.

 #5's- Jake Arrieta and Francisco Cervelli
Arrieta at #5 is another ballsy choice, so I'll explain this one too. Arrieta was one of the faces of the comeback in Chicago, pitching some amazing games in the postseason, and a classic no-hitter in Chicago. There's no denying his numbers, especially his 2015 season. Thing about Arrieta is it took him a bit of time to find his footing, and his early numbers in Baltimore weren't great. Also, while Arrieta had a wonderful performance in 2015, it seems a bit more out-of-nowhere with the context of his past numbers, as opposed to a steady incline like Zack Greinke. And yes, Greinke's 2009 was out of nowhere, but from 2009 to 2015 the guy put up some consistently terrific numbers. I'm saying Arrieta has slightly less clout than my final 4, but is still a pretty wonderful pitcher, and will probably put up some fantastic numbers in the future.

Frankie Cervelli is another ballsy move, as a lot of people will say he's up WAY too high. My argument? This is Francisco Cervelli's first full season as a catcher, and it was absolutely wonderful. He was one of the more important pieces in making sure the Pirates made it to the top of the Wild Card race. Now, the reason this was his first season was the fact that since 2009, he'd been the professional backup catcher in the Bronx. So he really didn't have a full season, or any real chance to prove himself, aside from starting a game or two in place of Jorge Posada or Russell Martin or whatever. However, if the Yankees had plugged him in as a starter for a season, he would have done something awful similar to his 2015. Cervelli was a great catcher waiting to happen, and he finally happened in Pittsburgh. Now, from here on out is just him rewriting the legend.

 #4s- Zack Greinke and Brian McCann
Zack Greinke had the 2015 his career needed, an amazing, sub-2 ERA year where he ALMOST nabbed his second Cy Young, and almost stole the spotlight from the untouchable #1 starter. He also did a lot to prove his worth as one of the most intimidating right-handers in baseball. When he's on, he can give you an unlimited amount of strikeouts, and just forget to give up runs. He's going to be leading a rotation in Arizona this year, and while I'm getting some echoes of the last time he was trusted to head up a rotation (2011 in Milwaukee), I think he'll be better because the team is stronger, and the rotation looks pretty good. Greinke will likely have a few more killer seasons left before he peters off.

Brian McCann is definitely not where he was in his Braves days, but he's still one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, and is a much-needed bat in the Yankees lineup. I was worried when he signed, but he's done pretty well for himself. Him and Tex did a lot of the heavy-lifting last year, and while it's concerning that they're both over-30, it's still reassuring that they're hitting. McCann was a nice pickup, and while he's not ruling the league, he's a pretty impressive backup for a contending Yankees team.

#3s- David Price and Jonathan Lucroy
Price certainly deserves his high-placing on the list, because even as a late-season pickup for Toronto, he was pretty unstoppable, and was one of the main reasons the Blue Jays went as far as they did. Price is also one of the most dominating, hard-throwing pitchers in the majors. He can be aggressive as all hell on any team he pitches for, and his power doesn't seem to be slipping. His numbers as a Detroit Tiger, before the trade, were equally impressive. The guy is for real, and he's a current threat, especially as he suits up to be the new ace in Boston. This guy will be controlling a young rotation, and in a cutthroat division, so he's definitely going to be even trickier to defeat.

Jonathan Lucroy is a consistently smooth defensive catcher, and has been for the last few seasons. He's one of the few reasons to keep going to Brewers games. He's also a decent hitter, and a welcome presence in the lineup since the 2013 season. He's been outspoken in wanting a trade, as he wants to play for a competitor, so wherever he lands at the deadline, hopefully his numbers will go farther up, and his true power will come out.

 #2s- Chris Sale and Buster Posey.
Sale is a really gutsy pick, without a Cy Young or any accolades, but it is my opinion that Chris Sale is one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in baseball, and one of the most fearsome. I say this because I am Sale's height and weight. And I'm really tall, and really skinny. So to have a guy my height, throwing absolute fire, with a gigantic wingspan...that has to scare some people. The last four seasons have been consistently amazing for Sale, as he's been high on the strikeout charts for a while. He also led the AL in strikeouts last year, and has gotten Cy Young voting all four of the last four seasons. He's a Cy Young contender waiting for the perfect season to come his way. By the way, I know it's blasphemy to put someone like Sale up here while Bumgarner is 5 spots lower, but Sale has worked this ultra-intimidating, ultra-strikeout factor from the moment he became a starter. Bumgarner worked his way into a starting role. Sale was born into it.

Buster Posey is still as astounding a catcher as he was when he broke into the league in 2010, since nabbing 3 World Series rings, an MVP, and a Rookie of the Year. The guy's got some monster accolades to show, and his career's not even a decade old yet. He's a great hitter, a wonderful defensive catcher, and since his DL-stint in 2011 has had some pretty consistent healthy numbers. The only reason I placed him as #2 is because the guy at #1 has also had a slow build in terms of numbers since around 2010, and went even bigger than Posey in 2015.

#1s- Clayton Kershaw and Salvador Perez.
Kershaw...I don't even need to explain. Guy's got 3 Cy Youngs, an MVP. Last year he had his lowest Cy Young voting rank in his career...he ranked 3rd. He had 300+ strikeouts last year and didn't win the Cy Young. He's gonna be 28 this year and already has 114 wins, and 1700 strikeouts. His numbers are insane, and he's still on top of his game. Not calling him the best pitcher in baseball would be a mistake.

Salvador Perez over Buster Posey...if this was 2014, those would definitely be switched. But in 2015, Posey had a great season. Perez' was better. He hit well, was stellar behind the plate, and had some amazing postseason numbers, even better than he was in 2014. His whole career has been building to this high, and right now he's on top of his game. It's ballsy calling him the best catcher in baseball, but that's exactly what I'm doing. He's more of a big-game offensive player than Posey, more of a lineup tool than Posey. And he's a bigger asset in the postseason. And also, he had a bigger 2015. Posey can be #1 any other year, but I think Perez deserves it now.

So, those are my rankings. They're not meant to be definitive, or well-thought-out, or right. They're meant to be divisive. And plus, this gets me through another leg of spring training.

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