Ah, the left-handed starting pitcher. Even in the year 2013, this is still a valuable commodity in the game today. But while the best lefties in the game are elite, the middle ground of lefties can be a little mediocre. The lefthanders to rank 11th-15th in ERA in the league this year were Ross Detwiler, Jonathon Niese, Scott Diamond, Paul Maholm, and Chris Capuano…not exactly a murderer's row. However, there are still enough quality lefties in the league to make a great-looking top ten.
Remember: this list (and all of the lists we'll be rolling out this week) reflect the order I'd prefer to have the players for the 2013 season. I don't care about 2016, I don't care about 2010, I care about 2013. Got it? Good.
10. Wade Miley, Diamondbacks
Miley, the NL Rookie of the Year runner-up, had a great season that came out of nowhere for the Diamondbacks, but I'm just not sure what his future is going to look like. He's already 26, and just completed his first full season in the majors. Miley also doesn't throw overly hard (with a fastball that averaged 91 last year), and he doesn't strike many hitters out. However, Miley is a stickler with the free passes and kept the ball in the yard in 2012. I think he could come back to Earth with a resounding thud in 2013 thanks to his home park and his tenuous batted ball stats.
9. Matt Harrison, Rangers
Fresh off of a five-year contract extension, Harrison clocks in at ninth on the list. As I mentioned in the piece this morning about his extension, Harrison is really an underwhelming sort of pitcher, striking out just over 15% of batters in 2012. But Harrison eats innings, gets ground balls, and as cliche as it sounds, he keeps his team in the game. That's good enough to make him one of the top ten left-handed starters in the league, albeit one with a much lower ceiling than everyone else on the list.
8. Chris Sale, White Sox
After spending 2011 in the bullpen for the White Sox, Sale was shifted to the rotation. With fingers crossed around the league for his health, Sale succeeded in his new role more than anyone could have imagined. While Sale didn't strike out as high of a percentage of hitters as he did in the bullpen, he was still just a hair shy of 25%, and also managed to cut his walk rate to a more than respectable level. However, Sale's groundball rate did drop in his new role, and there's always an injury risk looming when looking at Sale's delivery, which could hinder his progression in the future.
7. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Bumgarner's second full season in the majors wasn't as dynamid as his first full year, but it was pretty solid, especially considering his age (turned 23 in August). Bumgarner's main issue in 2012 was luck, as his strikeout and walk rates were nearly identical to that in 2011 and his groundball rate actually went up. However, the San Francisco starter saw his homer rate nearly double thanks to a crazy spike on the road against righties. No matter though, because aside from that, everything looks solid for Bumgarner going forward.
6. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
This seems a little low for the third place finisher in the NL Cy Young balloting this year, but hear me out. Despite Gonzalez bursting onto the scene in Washington this year and battling Stephen Strasburg for rotation supremacy in DC, I'll need to see him do it for a second straight year in the vicious NL East before I throw him in the top five. But there was a lot for Gonzalez to hang his hat on in 2012, including both his strikeout and walk rates shifting in the right direction. However, despite that, Gonzalez still couldn't get his strikeout to walk ratio over 3.00. Gonzalez's control remains the major thing holding him back from being an elite starter in this league.
5. Cliff Lee, Phillies
Ignore his win/loss record in 2012. Just go ahead and pretend it didn't happen. Just because Lee went 6-9 in 2012 doesn't mean he's somehow done as a pitcher and that he had an awful year. Despite that record, Lee pitched amazing. He had a 7.39 strikeout to walk ratio (the best mark in baseball *by far*), and struck out 24.4% of batters he faced while walking just 3.3%. Lee also notched 200 innings for the fifth straight year, and while his 3.16 FIP was his highest in the last five years, it's not a huge red flag. Lee is falling into the same trap as the next player on this list: he's been so good for the last few years that when he has a disappointing season by his standards, people immediately (and foolishly) write him off.
4. CC Sabathia, Yankees
Sabathia is almost falling into the trap of being so overrated that he's underrated while playing in New York. 2012 was the first time since 2006 that Sabathia didn't throw at least 230 innings, but he still finished at 200. Sabathia's 2012 also featured a 4.48 strikeout to walk rate (second best mark of his career, to just his Cy Young winning 2007), and another great groundball rate of 48% (two years removed since he posted a rate north of 50%). While some might scoff at "just" a 4.8 fWAR season from Sabathia in 2012, it was his eighth straight four win year, and his eleventh straight three win year (with just his 2001 rookie season falling short, at 2.9 fWAR). Sabathia has been the model of consistency, and the only reason he's not higher is because of his age (32, 33 in July).
3. Cole Hamels, Phillies
Hamels has been the model of consistency since his arrival in Philadelphia in 2006. Hamels has never posted a FIP above 4.00 during his career with the Phillies, and hasn't had a season worth less than 3.5 fWAR since that abbreviated rookie season. Hamels struck out a career best 24.9% of batters in 2012, and while keeping his walk rate consistent, posted a strikeout to walk ratio above 4.00 for the second straight year. The only real knock on Hamels' game is that he allows his fair share of home runs, an issue he's curbed over the last two years by allowing fewer flyballs.
2. David Price, Rays
The reigning AL Cy Young winner had his best season in 2012, putting together a five win year with strikeout and walk rates nearly identical to the ones he posted in 2011. However, Price cut his home run rate and boosted his groundball rate by nearly 9%, turning him into an absolutely fearsome pitcher. At just 27, the former top overall pick in the amateur draft has been everything the Rays expected plus more, and is damn near unhittable when he's on target. Nearly a quarter of the batters he faced in 2012 struck out, and while that is a little lower than the K% of the top man on our list, it's still very impressive.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Kerhsaw will turn 25 in March, and has already won the Cy Young once and finished as the runner-up once. He's had an ERA above 3.00 once in his five year career, which was his 20-year old rookie season. He's put together four straight four win seasons. The man has struck out 974 batters in 944 career innings before his 25th birthday. If Kershaw stays healthy, he might end up as one of the best pitchers of all-time. He's so unbelievably good, and he hasn't even hit his stride yet.