TEN BEST PITCHERS TODAY

By Dr. John Bagonzi

 

Of all the pitchers currently active, the following ten are whom I consider the best in the business today. How they compare to pitchers of past generations it's hard to say. Different hitters, different conditions make it hard to compare from one generation to the next. So as not to blur the distinction between past and present, the only pitchers considered are those that are presently active today. Obviously, there are great pitchers who have just retired who might be considered as among the elite, and certainly I was choosing an all-time team I would give definite consideration to hurlers from past generations such as Feller and Spahn. Also when I talk of greatness, I'm balancing short term and long term value. Certainly, one could make the case that at this point Tom Glavine's career value exceeds that of Pedro Martinez, yet I consider Pedro a greater pitcher because the absolute brilliance he's displayed over the last half decade has been at best matched by less than a handful of hurlers throughout the entire history of the game.

#1 ROGER CLEMENS

At age 39, Roger Clemens not only presents an open and shut case in terms of active pitcher with the greatest career value, but this season he is staking a claim at being currently the best in the business.  Others, even on his own team, have lower ERA's but nobody this season is showing himself to be more of a winner. The Clemens of today's Yankees may not be able to overpower you for nine, but he can do it for six or seven which is plenty enough with Rivera anchoring the Yankee bullpen.

 

He brings the ball consistently at 95 m.p.h. - two-seam and four-seam fastballs --and can still blow you away upstairs.  But Clemens has nothing to prove. He's had his twenty strikeout games and his ERA crowns.  Now his eye is on a bigger slice of history -- 300 wins and a few more World Series rings. The Rocket of today has incorporated a viscous splitter and can locate a slider.  He has control of both sides of the plate and can pitch you north and south also. And while he can get that strikeout with runners in scoring position, he now uses his fielders to the max.

 

He has become the epitome of an advanced form of pitching - power with great control.  He has ideal mechanics even though he is essentially a short armer. Great use of lower body, and off-arm, great trunk rotation, and a strong lead leg that contributes towards creating a compact delivery with no superfluous movement. Add to that a consistent follow-through and you have a pitcher with aesthetically beautiful form and injury-averting mechanics.  It's a delight to watch him work.  His powerful sense of competitiveness guarantees that the bunt will be fielded, third base will be backed-up, and his head will always be in the game.

 

His 5 Cy Young's doesn't impress me as much as his tremendous work ethic and idealized pitching style.  Barring a sudden change in his competitive personality, he will remain effective even as he passes the 300 win mark.  When history looks back, the comparisons won't be made between Clemens and contemporary power pitchers like Randy Johnson and John Smoltz, but rather between Clemens and Grove and Feller.

#2  PEDRO MARTINEZ  

His annual sabbaticals to the DL are keeping him from piling up the numbers that would put him at the head of the class when the final score sheets are tallied. But when he's on the mound and isn't hurting, he belongs among a handful of pitchers like a Walter Johnson or Feller who wins games day-in and day-out, regardless of who's playing behind him.

 

Most observers claim he's a master of three pitches and he'll readily admit to two, but the truth of the matter is that he throws four and is the best in baseball at the throwing of each. He wants people to believe that his sinking change-up is his best pitch and it is a thing of beauty.  However, his 95 m.p.h. fastball with excellent second stage movement makes it impossible to sit on the change-up. Add to that a curve ball with good late break and a nasty cutter-slider that makes lefties wary of hanging out over the plate and the K's mount up quickly.

 

With great poise, he has the capacity to turn it up a notch in tough situations.  He seems unphased by tough losses or the complaints of those who take umbrage at his inside pitching.  He is the epitome of the stopper, the streak breaker.  With a strikeout to walk ratio unparalleled in the game, he has shown himself to be a full run better than his closest competition over the last four years.  And even Gibson in his greatest year was never that. At 5’10" 170 lbs. With his long arm and especially long fingers, Martinez proves that power pitching is all about arm acceleration.  He is a phenomenon of great acceleration, rotation and location.  Throwing the ball at 95+ m.p.h., he provides an exception to the notion that balls traveling that speed will straighten out. The shoulder problems he annually experiences could be due to a low elbow.

 

Will be one of all time greats he can work out the shoulder issue.  His single game and single season records are awesome. A stopper of good teams, he has shown himself capable of taking over the big games in October.

#3 GREG MADDUX

The author of the late-break fastball and a master at painting the black and changing speeds, he epitomizes the artistry of pitching without power. This consummate craftsman epitomizes the way a pitcher should approach his trade. Very cerebral, very competitive, very deceptive, he is a great fielder, excellent bunter, and able batter. His two-seam fastball that yanks at the last instant is his main staple along with a mechanical and mental command that places him in the elite category of today's pitchers as well as yesteryears. 

 

With four Cy Young's several 20 game seasons, a likelihood of 300 wins and Hall of Fame induction, Greg Maddux is the premier pure pitching personification of his time. Young pitchers should study Maddux in both his style and habits, as he proves that one can dominate without the overpowering talents with which everyone gets impressed.

#4 CURT SCHILLING

Represents the way I like to pitch - pure blue collar -give them gas as long as you can -outlast them and never give in.  With solid mechanics that enable him to endure , he always seems able to get some extra kick on the fastball in tough situations.  With mastery of the strike zone , inside and out, like Clemens he has the option of going up and down. He's all meat and potatoes, mixing his fastball and hard slider together with mental toughness and grit. A likely 20 game winner every year , he wants the ball for those tough games. 

 

A pitcher with a purpose, possessing ideal mechanical rhythm with balance and finish. This combination bodes well for longevity. He will win 225+ games, while annually setting the pace for innings pitched and complete games.  Schilling is the personification of the hard nosed, stubborn dedicated pitcher with an uncompromising ethic. A power pitcher with the personality and mind set to match, he is a pleasure to watch at work.

#5 RANDY JOHNSON

Basically an aberration – the hardest most consistent thrower today.  In the 97-99 m.p.h. range often, he hits a 100 occasionally.  He possesses a frightening, back bending slider thrown with the kind of velocity that compliments his fastball. He forces hitters to alter their approach, even to discard their stride. At 6’ 9” coming from the side out of a tangled mass of arm, glove and leg with super velocity designed to reduce decision time to a minuscule, he terrorizes lefties into taking days off or bucket booting. The intimidation inspired by this mustachioed warrior is awesome. His work ethic and relatively good control for his style, size and velocity make him one of the outstanding workmen of his time. 

 

He is likely to set records that will give him Hall of Fame entry in the future.  At 38. still developing his trade without any loss of power. A true phenomenon of power pitching. Every big lefty coming up is compared to him, but ultimately there will  prove to be only one Big Unit.

#6 KEVIN BROWN 

The perpetrator of the power sinker – one of the truly hard-nosed competitors of his era.  At 36, he can still bring 93+ m.p.h. fastballs.  His hard sinker is probably the best in the game. Induces innumerable ground ball outs and plenty of K's. Can also blow a 4-seam fastball upstairs by the great hitters. Has a hard slider to compliment the hard sinker, as well as a sharp splitter.  A tenacious attitude and good control make this unrelenting competitor one of the great big game pitchers today , always at the top of league in ERA. 

 

Kevin Brown leads the way when it comes to all out putting the package together. Durability has been a trademark should last to age 41 when contract runs out. Another example of great work habits that the young pitcher should emulate.

#6 TOM GLAVINE

This cerebral lefty is in a class with Greg Maddux and is a textbook study on how to pitch without overwhelming stuff. A master of location and speed changes, he oftentimes makes batters chase bad pitches. A fastball with great location (outside and low to righties) makes him very effective against right handed batters. A circle change-up mixed with occasional slider-curve and command of both sides of plate, in addition to a demeanor of mental control, make this artist a constant contender for 20 wins and frequently a Cy Young candidate (of which he has already won two). 

 

By no means overpowering, Glavine has learned to work from the right side of the pitchers plate. Through the course of a game, he is able to gradually widen the strike zone and will get batters chasing pitches they can't hit. A pitcher of big games should easily pitch into his forties and become a Hall of Fame candidate. He is a pleasure to watch and provides a study in the inner sanctum of pitching technique.

# 7 DAVID WELLS

This portly left-hander at age 38 is still capable of throwing outstanding games. Possessing a still dominant curve ball of the big type (with occasional yellow hammer tendencies) that he can throw for strikes. He mixes an average to above average fastball that he is able to also locate frequently -- with the addition of a cut fastball he uses on right hand batters. This lefty uses good stuff mixed with an intelligent approach to pitching. Still a quality pitcher with good stats and a strong track record, I look for him to still win 20 games in the future.

#8 MIKE HAMPTON

A lefty with a sinker that's not quite the power sinker of a Kevin Brown, but nevertheless  a sinker of substantial import. Mike Hampton is a big game pitcher who gives his infielders a workout . Possessor of a tenacious attitude he has the ability to keep the ball low which allows him to survive mile high territory without giving up the dreaded home run. He has the ability to elevate his game and is a constant bet to win 20. A Tom Glavine type who, as with Glavine and Maddux, wins games with his batting ability as well as his athleticism in fielding. Maybe the best hitting pitcher of his generation.

#9 AL LEITER

Again, another big game pitcher presenting a strong fastball with a hard slider and cutter working both sides of plate. His ability to raise his game and strike out batters in the clutch makes Leiter a domineering pitcher. Successful now over a period of time, he does not seem to be slowing down and has good years ahead of him.  Good mechanics and outstanding use of lead leg gives him a physical presence on the mound. Throws harder than most people realize. Quite capable of a few pitching gems every season.

#10 MARIANO RIVERA

The absolute premier closer in the game today,  Rivera makes this list because of his exactness and uniqueness in employing the cut fastball as an out pitch. He has raised the cutter to an art form and while his regular fastball is high quality, it is the cutter which is the devils pitch. Using the cutter inside on lefties, away on righties, Rivera is able to respond to any situation in late innings. Possessing outstanding control – he should last a long time. He is truly one of the outstanding specialists of his time, and has proven himself  one of the greatest October pitchers of all time, surpassing even Eckersly and Fingers in accomplishment.


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