Sunday, August 17, 2014

Baseball Player Pitcher Rankings: Kershaw Cleans Up

Keeping with the series, Keith Law ranked pitching tools, and Clayton Kershaw cleaned up the awards (though Kenley Jansen, Zack Greinke, and even Dan Haren get mentions, too) (link insider only):

Best fastball

  • 1. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds: It's certainly the hardest fastball I've ever seen -- I got him at 104 mph on my gun at Petco Park in September 2010 -- and it comes out of his hand shockingly easily given its superhuman velocity. I can't imagine how any left-handed hitter ever sees the ball, or, if he does, how he manages to stay in the box without leaping out of the way. It's possible we'll see another pitcher throw this hard at some point, but I'm not holding my breath.
  • 2. Yordano Ventura, Royals
  • 3. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
  • 4. Jake McGee, Rays
  • 5. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Best cutter

  • 1. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers: Mariano Rivera's retirement leaves this category open for the first time in more than a decade, but Jansen may have it similarly locked up for as long as he stays healthy. Coming in so hard that PITCHf/x often misclassifies it as a fastball, Jansen's cutter has more movement than any true fastball would, so he can get away with throwing it more than 90 percent of the time. As if his mastery of the cutter wasn't remarkable enough, Jansen is a former catcher who didn't even start pitching full time until 2009. The Dodgers stuck him on a mound, only to find him throwing 97 mph right out of the chute.
  • 2. Corey Kluber, Indians
  • 3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  • 4. Jake Arrieta, Cubs
  • 5. Wade Davis, Royals

Best curveball

  • 1. Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics: Gray defies the conventional wisdom about starting pitchers in so many ways, and his curveball is one of the primary ones. He's only about 5-foot-9, allegedly too short for a right-handed starter, but he has worked for years to keep the ball down in the strike zone despite the difficulty a diminutive pitcher can have in getting downhill plane on the pitch. He also throws a true curveball, and even though you'll hear the claim that a little guy can't get the proper depth on a curve, his is the hammer of Thor, coming at near-slider velocity but with downward break rather than slider tilt.
  • 2. Corey Kluber, Indians: In case you're wondering how Kluber has become a top-five starter in the AL this year, it might have something to do with him being No. 2 in this tool (curveball) and the previous one (cutter).
  • 3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  • 4. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
  • 5. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Best slider

  • 1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: What's shocking about Kershaw's slider is that it's a new pitch for him, at least relative to his other offerings. He had no problem picking it up and throwing it well from the very first attempt, according to catcher A.J. Ellis, which is more evidence that we're watching one of the all-time greats at work every time Kershaw takes the mound. Not only does the pitch have great tilt, giving him the side-to-side movement he didn't have with his fastball and curve, but when he misses with it, it's usually down, where hitters can't do much damage against it.
  • 2. Yu Darvish, Rangers
  • 3. Dellin Betances, Yankees
  • 4. Andrew Miller, Orioles
  • 5. Jose Fernandez, Marlins

Best splitter

  • 1. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees: I hope Tanaka's injury doesn't lead teams further away from the splitter, which is barely taught now in the United States and seldom used. I have just one non-Japanese pitcher in my top five, Dan Haren, and even his has become less effective over time. Thrown properly by a pitcher with a large enough hand, it's a devastating weapon, as Tanaka showed us before his elbow cried "Uncle!" earlier this summer. Tanaka's splitter has good tumble, but he can also throw it for a strike -- like Haren does -- which makes it a much more effective pitch than if it were just a chase pitch. Here's hoping Tanaka comes back sooner rather than later and that he doesn't leave the pitch on the shelf when he returns.
  • 2. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
  • 3. Koji Uehara, Red Sox
  • 4. Dan Haren, Dodgers
  • 5. Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees

Best command

    • 1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: I'm running out of superlatives here. Kershaw has the majors' best slider, is among its best fastballs, among its best curveballs and commands all three pitches extremely well. He doesn't walk many guys, he doesn't miss spots, and this year he's working down in the zone more effectively than ever, with a career-best ground ball rate. No starting pitcher has ever won the Cy Young Award in a full season with less than 200 innings pitched, in part because it's hard to deliver enough value without reaching that threshold, but Kershaw looks like he's going to be the first to ever do it.
    • 2. Sean Doolittle, Athletics
    • 3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
    • 4. Zack Greinke, Dodgers
    • 5. Koji Uehara, Red Sox

    Fred's Brim said...

    Is Grienke hurt or just in a funk?

    Steve Sax said...

    I think it's the latter.

    I hope it's the latter.