Are Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Papelbon, Takashi Saito and Joakim Soria the Four Best Pitchers in Baseball?
One key stat says they are right now.
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Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Papelbon, Takashi Saito and Joakim Soria are arguably the four best pitchers in baseball today. Why do I say that? They all have unbelievable pitching stats that mark them as the best pitchers in the major leagues today.
I have studied pitching stats for many years now and one of the key stats I use to evaluate pitchers is percentage of the league ERA. How much better or worse is a pitcher’s ERA vs the league’s average ERA. The best pitchers in baseball will be well below the average and the worst will be well above the average. Historically the very best pitchers in baseball history have been able to be around 70% or less of the league average ERA’s adjusted for park effects.
Some of the lowest career percentage of the league ERA’s include Pedro Martinez currently at 65% (I would give Pedro a shot to pitch for my team in 2009 for sure), Lefty Grove at 67.6%, Ed Walsh and Walter Johnson at 68% each, Smokey Joe Wood at 69% along with Johan Santana currently at 69.3%. It’s not that unusual for pitcher’s to go well below these numbers for certain years of their careers. Greg Maddux pitched to just 35% of the league ERA in the 1994 season for the Atlanta Braves and rings in at 76% for his stellar career.
The lowest career percentage of the league ERA I have found to date for a pitcher with a relatively long career is Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees at 50.2%. Just an unbelievable number pointing out just how great a pitcher Mo has been throughout his career and last year he pitched to just 31.5% of the league ERA. Former New York Mets closer Billy Wagner rings in at 55.5% for his career to date and the Mets new closer and newly signed free agent, Francisco Rodriguez, rings in at just 52.8% for his career but he has a long way to go in his career.
And all that brings me back to Chamberlain, Papelbon, Saito and Soria because each of the four are below 50% for their careers to date. Remember I cannot find any pitcher with a relatively long career in baseball history below 50% for their career. None of the four have logged more than 230 career innings but all four have pitched at least 124 innings. I can’t find any other pitchers with at least that many innings pitched who have career ERA’s below 50% of the league ERA’s. A quick look at the four.
Joba Chamberlain (New York Yankees) – has pitched to 48.8% of the league ERA to date in 124.3 innings pitched over 2 seasons. His career ERA stands at 2.17 and he has K’d 11.0 batters per 9 innings with a K to BB ratio of 3.3. Joba has the highest career percentage of the league ERA of the four but has also started the most games (12). In his minor league career Joba pitched to a 2.45 ERA mainly as a starter so what he is doing so far is not off the charts from his established minor league record. The Yankees have him slated in as a starter in 2009 but the debate over whether he should start or relieve is still there. Either way he has a chance to have a brilliant career.
Jonathan Papelbon (Boston Red Sox) – has pitched to a stellar 39.3% of the league ERA to date in 230 innings. His career ERA stands at 1.84 and he has K’d 10.6 batters per 9 innings with a K to BB ratio of 5.1 and a brilliant WHIP of just .93. Very impressive numbers and he has pitched the most innings of the four with the lowest percentage of the league ERA. Papelbon has so far in his major league career far exceeded what he did in the minors where his ERA was 3.05 but he was mainly a starter in the minors and is a closer in the bigs. He and the Red Sox recently agreed to a one year $6.25 million contract as Papelbon has refused to sign a longer term deal and has hinted he wants to be paid better or will look to leave the Sox and go somewhere else and maybe be a starter for a higher money salary. He couldn’t possibly match his reliever record as a starter but you can’t blame him for wanting to be paid more. I mean 39.3% of the league ERA pitchers do not really exist.
Takashi Saito (Boston Red Sox) – has pitched to 43.4% of the league ERA to date with a 1.95 ERA in 189.7 innings with a K rate of 11.6 and a K to BB ratio of 4.6. Saito’s WHIP is even better than Papelbon at .91. The Japanese import has been nothing short of brilliant in the majors and has far exceeded what he did in Japan where his ERA was 3.89 and his WHIP was 1.25 in over 1400 innings pitched. How has he done it? I don’t really know but I had him on my fantasy baseball team his first year over and it is fun to watch him pitch and the batters flail at his darting pitches. Saito originally pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers but signed a free agent contract this offseason with the Boston Red Sox which could pay him up to $15 million over two years if he can stay healthy and meet the performance bonuses. He missed the last two months of the 2008 season with elbow problems.
Joakim Soria (Kansas City Royals) – has pitched to 45.7% of the league ERA to date with a 2.05 ERA and a 9.3 K rate with a 3.7 K to BB ratio. He even has the lowest WHIP of the four at .90. Soria’s brief minor league career was impressive as he had an ERA of 2.78 with an unbelievable K to BB ratio of 9.6 and a WHIP of .80 in just 16.2 innings all at A ball or less (Rookie). Kudos to the Kansas City Royals for getting him right into the majors after he showed brilliance in A ball. Most teams would have forced him to go through AA and AAA first.
(In addition to Papelbon and Saito, the Red Sox also have Japanese import Hideki Okajima and his career percentage of the league ERA of 51.3% on their staff. If these three relievers can stay healthy and that’s a big if the Red Sox have the best bullpen in baseball by far.)
Using career percentage of the league ERA as a basis these four pitchers are the best pitchers in the major leagues heading into the 2009 baseball season and it shows when they pitch. All four are fun to watch because they really baffle and over match the hitters with their stuff and all four strikeout better than 1 batter per inning pitched. The pitcher they most remind me of is Mariano Rivera because he has been overmatching hitters his entire career. All four will be lucky to come anywhere close to accomplishing what Rivera has in his long career but going into the 2009 season Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Papelbon, Takashi Saito and Joakim Soria are the toughest pitchers to hit in baseball and that makes them the four best pitchers in baseball right now.