Because not everybody is lucky enough to have the talent they need to succeed both within and around them.
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
I once had a dream that Felix Hernandez was striking out my entire extended family.
“No, Felix! Stop!”
He bellowed a deep, maniacal laugh and I realized the futility of my calls for help. My grandma was up next, and somehow, she already had two strikes on her. Felix smiled evilly at me and reared back. Grandma gave a mighty swing, totally embarrassing herself, and went and sat down on the bench with the rest of my humiliated relatives.
Suddenly, I was naked at the prom.
Felix made a season out of doing that to totally conscious people who were actually trained professionals at putting the ball in play. He led the AL in ERA (2.27) and racked up innings like he was stockpiling them for the winter (249.2). When you stop and think “Damn it, he was on the same rotation as Cliff Lee,” it seems utterly shameful that the Mariners branded him with only 13 wins, 12 losses, and zero playoff berth.
Long live the King.
Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins
Josh Johnson was the rogue cop in a department full of corruption. He could have gone to the chief for assignments, but police commissioner David Samson and and mayor Jeffrey Loria were too busy ripping off the people of Miami for their brand new HQ to offer any stabilization.
Josh was alone out there, and with Chris Coghlan going down under fire, he was the force of good in a situation festering in the bad.
But he made the most of it, sort of. The NL East was pretty much run by the Braves all year, until the last month and a half when the Phillies decided it was their’s now. So at least Josh never had to deal with an epic collapse; it was more of a lukewarm drift through the summer months until the inevitable elimination from contention. His almost career best 186 strike outs supported a league leading 2.30 ERA. If he hadn’t become a casualty by the end of the year, he probably would have topped it (“it” being 191 K’s last year).
The Fish yanked him out and hope to preserve that arm for 2011. Had their season been an epic action movie, he would have undoubtedly ended it with a dive out a tenth-story sky scraper window, dual-uzis blasting, criminals dying left and right.
Brett Myers, Houston Astros
Brett’s season was especially jarring because nobody really seemed to notice it. By the trade deadline, however, he was key material. Analysts the world over began touting him as the guy most likely on the buyers’ radar, with Houston being very low in the standings, yet very high in desired starting pitchers (Roy Oswalt, also a hot commodity, was shipped out to redder pastures in Philly).
Yet, there stood Brett, having the season they always wanted to see from him in Philadelphia. Had it not been for injuries, slumps, and pretty successful experiment in the bullpen, they might have. But by the end of his illustrious career in the northeast, he was packed into a crate and shipped on down to Texas, where this year he came out of what felt like nowhere (from Philly, at least) and plugged the lowest ERA (3.14) and most innings (223.2) of his career.
The Astros later season surge allowed him to give a big ‘ol Brett Myers finger to his former teammates, starting one game of a four-game series in which the ‘Stros wiped the floor with the Phils.
Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
On a rotation of fading glory, Buchholz stood up, took the ball, and kept shit together. At 25, he is part of a wave of young pitchers descending on MLB like a swarm of steaming, breaking locusts. Up in Boston, history teaches us they love their freedom fighters. Clay took on the duty as a flailing Red Sox squad fought against the ghastly grasp of elimination.
Reflecting on his past, Red Sox Nation had cautious expectations for the young’n. His career had been checkered by the occasional blow-up or runaway inning. To see him come out and keep pace with the pitchers expected to perform as aces was all they could have asked.
But a 17-7, 2.33 season? Not at all what they were pushing in Beantown. In the last 90 years, only four Sawx starters have finished a season with a lower ERA.
"“I wasn’t expecting anything to happen that happened, got some confidence along the way.”"
Nobody really was, but they welcomed it during a season that seemed to run out of steam. Second in ERA only to King Felix up there, Buchholz now has every reason to count the days to 2011.
And Lester, of course, went 19-9 with 3.25 ERA and 225 K’s, with all those expectations Buchholz didn’t have.
And not only that, they helped Boston refuse the Yankees their division crown, forcing them to take a humiliating Wild Card spot instead. As they say in Boston, “If the Yankees are suffering, even just a little bit, an angel gets it’s wings. And then flies over to Derek Jetah’s house at night and PISSES IN HIS FAWKIN’ MOUTH.”
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Verlander, in two less starts than 2009, only had one fewer wins, going 18-9. I know, I know wins are meaningless. But there’s a reason great pitchers have more of them.
The Tigers made the AL Central look like it was going to be a clenched division, and then when the White Sox started sticking their nose in, it looked like it was getting even raunchier. Than everybody went extinct except the Twins and the Central turned into the land that time forgot.
But still, Verlander pitched onward, second in K’s (219) only to Lester, though that number is 50 less than his 2009 campaign. The Tigers had a lot of faults for getting the deal they got, but Verlander(3.37 ERA) and his amazing disappearing breaking ball were not one of them.
Actually, nobody should be contesting this guy being on here. What the hell am I talking about.
Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers are one of those teams in flyover country that I just plain forget about until they come to town. Unfortunately, if Yovani is your starter, there’s a chance he’s going to remind you he and his team exist. Real fast.
YoGa averaged almost 10 (9.7) strikeouts per nine innings in his first year as an All-Star. That’s more than Roy Halladay (8.3). Way more. And while may not have the balance that could garner him some serious notoriety (Dude gave up a six-run lead to the Mets on September 29), he’s fully capable of going on a rampage when he locks in (Dude also went through a stretch of 29 starts with a 13-7 record and a 3.55 ERA).
Problem is, nobody likes to swing at his pitches. A 40.8% swing rate is hell of low–the fourth lowest in baseball–and for a staff ace, that’s just not cutting it (That pun was so intended I heard really loud carnival music going off in my head as I typed it).
The message remains painfully clear for Yovani in 2011: THROW. MORE. STRIKES.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
I once had a dog that ran everywhere, and man, he was just the best. Everybody knew he was going to win all the dog contests and take the world by storm.
“Look at Chuckles!” they’d say. “Why, he’s the greatest wolfhound who ever lived!”
Then one day, his heart exploded, and we were forced to leave him on my neighbor’s compost pile to collect flies and the gurgling scents of months and months and organic waste.
Boy, the Cardinals really let 2010 get away from them.
After they faceplanted on top of the NL Central and allowed the Reds to toss them onto the MLB compost heap, guys like Adam Wainwright must have been especially pissed. He piled up 20 wins, 230.1 innings, and a personal best 213 strikeouts (as opposed to his previous personal best of 212 in 2009).
Trevor Cahill, Oakland Athletics
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “You just put him on there because you needed more AL pitchers so people wouldn’t call you an NL-sucking facist, you criminal!”
Hey that is only partly true but also easily defendable.
For a month this summer he had a 1.00 ERA. Bouncing up from an 0-3 2009, the 22-year-old kept himself busy during a crappy A’s season with an 18-8 record and a 2.43 ERA. I actually just bumped him up from the “Honorable Mentions” section because it just seemed even more unfair (Don’t want any pitchers reading this and getting their hearts broken a second time. Hey, Trevor! You’re welcome!)
Of course, after said month (when he was cautiously tossed into Cy Young talks), he choked into a 3-3, 6.09 ERA run, so you know. But the guy’s young. You’ve got to factor that in there. If he can swallow this streakiness, or get some bats behind him, he could really start smoking for more significant chunks of time.
Ervin Santana: You want to talk about a guy who got blue balled by his offense a couple of times. He helped staff the Lackey-less, Saunders-less Angels, and stacked up the most IP of his career, going 17-10 with a 3.92 ERA for a losing cause.
Ubaldo Jimenez: We knew that ridiculous first half was not going to last forever, but it was insane while it lasted, with an ERA under 2, and he even notched one of this year’s no-hitters.
R.A. Dickey: The only knuckleballer not named Tim Wakefield, Dickey and his beard prevented the tears of Mets’ fans from flowing whenever he could.
Dallas Braden: Ha ha just kidding.