NL Central: Best Starting Pitching in MLB?

It’s a question that has become increasingly legitimate as the 2010-2011 offseason reaches its halfway point. With just over two months to go until opening day at Busch Stadium on March 31st, the NL Central picture is starting to take shape. The coming season is sure to be full of excitement both on and off the field, which is currently covered in snow after a winter storm swept through St. Louis. Although the field may not be ready for baseball, I think many Cards fans are. With this in mind, I’ll examine the starting pitching of this new and improved division, and I’ll do my best to build anticipation for the 2011 campaign as well.

Last year, the Central was a very mediocre division to say the least. Sure, the Cards and Reds fought head-to-head and played some impressive baseball at times, but in the end, both clubs turned in disappointing results. Apart from Cincinnati and St. Louis, the teams of the Central flew under the radar for the most part.

Pitching was no different of a story. Of course, there were you’re big name number one starters like Ryan Dempster, Yovani Gallardo, and Bronson Arroyo, but the Cardinals were really the only team with the luxury of three great starters in Wainwright, Carpenter, and Garcia. They were also the only team in their division to consistently finish in the top ten in MLB in most major pitching categories, including ERA (5th), complete games (10th), shutouts (8th), WHIP (10th), K/BB ratio (10th), and quality starts (6th). It’s also important to keep in mind that this outstanding pitching success was achieved despite the fifth worst run support average in the entire league.

It truly is amazing just how much a couple of roster moves here and there can change a team. Although free agency is by no means over, the NL Central has already proven to be extremely competitive on baseball’s hot stove. In a relatively short period of time, the teams of the Central have made a variety of key acquisitions via free agency and trades. There is no question that the Central has improved, but the extent to which it has done so remains to be seen. If nothing else, baseball’s only six team division looks very talented on paper, particularly in one area: Starting pitching.

I’ll lay out what I think are the four best starting pitching divisions in baseball in an attempt to answer my original question. Check it out after the jump.

*These are in no particular order; Stats are from last season

AL East

  1. Jon Lester (Boston) 19-9, 3.25 ERA
  2. Clay Buchholz (Boston) 17-7, 2.33 ERA
  3. David Price (Tampa Bay) 19-6, 2.72 ERA
  4. CC Sabathia (New York) 21-7, 3.18 ERA
  5. Ricky Romero (Toronto) 14-9, 3.73 ERA
  6. Brett Cecil (Toronto) 15-7, 4.22 ERA
  7. John Lackey (Boston) 14-11, 4.40 ERA
  8. James Shields (Tampa Bay) 13-15, 5.18 ERA
  9. Phil Hughes (New York) 18-8, 4.19 ERA
  10. AJ Burnett (New York) 10-15, 5.26 ERA

The AL East has generally been known as the toughest division in all of baseball for the last three or so years, and starting pitching has undoubtedly been one of the main reasons why. Even despite the losses of Shaun Marcum and Matt Garza, the East still contains double-digit quality starters. With Lester, Buchholz, Sabathia, Hughes, and Price, the AL East should have no problem racking up Cy Young Awards moving forward. We should also keep in mind that the pitchers in this division have to go up against some extremely tough hitting on a regular basis.

NL East

  1. Tim Hudson (Atlanta) 17-9, 2.83 ERA
  2. Derek Lowe (Atlanta) 16-12, 4.00ERA
  3. Roy Halladay (Philadelphia) 21-10, 2.44 ERA
  4. Stephen Strasburg (Washington) 5-3, 2.91 ERA
  5. Cliff Lee (Philadelphia) 12-9, 3.18 ERA
  6. Josh Johnson (Florida) 11-6, 2.30 ERA
  7. Johan Santana (New York) 11-9, 2.98 ERA
  8. Roy Oswalt (Philadelphia) 13-13, 2.76 ERA
  9. Mike Pelfrey (New York) 15-9, 3.66 ERA
  10. Anibal Sanchez (Florida) 13-12, 3.55 ERA
  11. Ricky Nolasco (Florida) 14-9, 4.51 ERA
  12. Cole Hamels (Philadelphia) 12-11, 3.06 ERA

As it turns out, the Phillies aren’t the only team in the NL East with some great starting pitching. Halladay and Lee might just be the two best pitchers in the game, but Josh Johnson and Tim Hudson are not too far behind. I know rookie sensation Stephen Strasburg is a big question mark coming off injury, but his limitless potential is reason enough to put him on this list. Let’s just say the hitters in the NL East will have quite a challenge in the coming years.

NL West

  1. Tim Lincecum (San Francisco) 16-10, 3.43 ERA
  2. Daniel Hudson (Arizona) 8-2, 2.45 ERA
  3. Ubaldo Jimenez (Colorado) 19-8, 2.88 ERA
  4. Matt Cain (San Francisco) 13-11, 3.14 ERA
  5. Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles) 13-10, 2.91 ERA
  6. Hiroki Kuroda (Los Angeles) 11-13, 3.39 ERA
  7. Mat Latos (San Diego) 14-10, 2.92 ERA
  8. Jonathan Sanchez (San Francisco) 13-9, 3.07 ERA
  9. Ted Lilly (Los Angeles) 10-12, 3.62 ERA
  10. Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco) 7-6, 3.00 ERA
  11. Jon Garland (San Diego) 14-12, 3.47 ERA
  12. Clayton Richard (San Diego) 14-9, 3.75 ERA

As they shocked the baseball world and won the World Series last October, the Giants showcased their superb starting pitching. However, in doing so, they represented all of the NL West well. The division certainly didn’t score many runs last year, but the pitching made up for it in a big way. The most impressive part of the West: Almost all of its starting pitchers are young and still improving. The NL West has already established its dominant pitching, and it’s not about to go away any time soon.

NL Central

  1. Adam Wainwright (St. Louis) 20-11, 2.42 ERA
  2. Zack Greinke (Milwaukee) 10-14, 4.17 ERA
  3. Matt Garza (Chicago) 15-10, 3.91 ERA
  4. Chris Carpenter (St. Louis) 16-9, 3.22 ERA
  5. Yovani Gallardo (Milwaukee) 14-7, 3.84 ERA
  6. Bronson Arroyo (Cincinnati) 17-10, 3.88 ERA
  7. Ryan Dempster (Chicago) 15-12, 3.85 ERA
  8. Jamie Garcia (St. Louis) 13-8, 2.70 ERA
  9. Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati) 12-7, 3.64 ERA
  10. Mike Leake (Cincinnati) 8-4, 4.23 ERA
  11. Carlos Zambrano (Chicago) 11-6, 3.33 ERA
  12. Brett Myers (Houston) 14-8, 3.14 ERA
  13. JA Happ (Houston) 6-4, 3.40 ERA
  14. Shaun Marcum (Milwaukee) 13-8, 3.64 ERA

Finally, the NL Central. The Cardinals showed last year that pitching can carry a team pretty far when the offense struggles, and with the emergence of youngster Jamie Garcia, St. Louis has built a three-headed starting pitching monster to lead the way. With new acquisitions Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Matt Garza, the Brewers and Cubs have bolstered their respective rotations. These newest NL Central members may very well have taken the division to the next level too. With the exception of the Pirates, each team now has at least two quality starters. The Central will definitely be competitive in the future in terms of pitching, but does it have the best combination of starters right now?

After this examination, it’s almost too close to determine which division has the best overall starting pitching. However, I do not believe it’s the NL Central. At least not yet. The NL West and NL East are, in my opinion, neck and neck for the honor. Both the Phillies and Giants each have four aces, and their divisions support them very well.

I guess it’s a good thing for the Cards and their fans that the Central isn’t the best division for starting pitching. With that said, it is a division that will not be easy to win in 2011. The National League as a whole is loaded with superstar pitchers, so I think it’s safe to say that it will be a long, tough road to the World Series this year. I hope Pujols, Holliday, and the rest of the offensive is ready.

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    Tags: Adam Wainwright AL East Chris Carpenter Jamie Garcia Matt Garza NL Central NL East NL West Shaun Marcum Zack Greinke

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