The elite left-handed starters have a big advantage just for the simple fact that most players see a lot more right-handed pitching. Also, batting practice is mostly thrown by righties. Look for teams that have not faced a Quality left-handed starter for some time ( five games or more) and you will have a nice winning investment. Here are my Top 5 left-handed starting pitchers age 27 or younger going forward this season.
No. 1 Jon Lester (Bos) Age: 27
Jon Lester will be on the bump for the Red Sox come opening day, and deservedly so. He went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.20 WHIP last season. Lester had 225 K’s in 208 IP. Just Awesome stuff! Three straight seasons with 200-plus innings show his durability. Two straight seasons of (exactly) 225 strikeouts show his dominance and consistency. He has a burgeoning ability to induce ground balls with a four-seem fastball, and that keeps the ball in the park. A much-improved change up has further neutralized right-handed hitters, meaning he can get both lefties and righties out on a regular basis. The nine losses he suffered last year were a career high after losing eight games in 2009. He is at the magical age of 27 for a MLB player. Jon Lester will win the CY Young Award in 2011!
No. 2 Clayton Kershaw (LAD) Age: 22
The Dodgers opening day starter this season. Clayton Kershaw made huge advances as a 22-year-old in his third big league season in 2010, and most of those advances were tied in to his durability and pitch efficiency. He cut his walks-per-nine ratio from 4.79 to 3.57, setting a new career-best. As a result, Kershaw increased his innings-per-start ratio from 5.63 to 6.39, which helps the bullpen rest. He had 212 K’s in 204.1 IP and had a career low WHIP of 1.18. Clayton has a 95 MPH fastball, an A+ curve ball, and a much improved change up. He has real good chemistry with new catcher Rod Barajas who the Dodgers traded for late last season. The Dodgers are going to win a lot of games in 2011 and Kershaw should lead the way. Kershaw is 17-4 in his career off a Dodgers team loss. Keep that in mind this season!
No. 3 Cole Hamels (Phi) Age: 27
Cole Hamels was once the arm the Phillies almost entirely rested their championship hopes on, but now he’s one of four capable Cy Young candidates in their rotation. That doesn’t mean Hamels’ performance has regressed. He is actually getting better as he reaches his prime years, including a 9.68 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio after the All-Star break. The addition of a cut fastball in 2010 gave hitters something different to think about as Hamels racked up 211 K’s in 208.1 IP. Keep in mind that Cole will be facing the other team’s fourth starter to start the season. Most teams won’t be able to match the type of skill level that Hamels possesses. His career high in wins was 15 (2007), and I look for Hamels to surpass that in 2011 with his first 20-win season in the big leagues.
No. 4 David Price (TB) Age: 25
The Dodgers originally signed David Price out of high school but decided to attend Vanderbilt on an academic scholarship. The Rays are glad to have him now. Not a one year wonder by any means. David Price is the real deal at 6-6 and 225 pounds. He has a cut fastball that flies in at 94 MPH. The pitch is almost unhittable along with his devastating slider and change-up. Price is 29-13 with a 3.31 ERA in his career and is just getting warmed up. He finished the 2010 season tied for second in the American League (Jon Lester) in Wins (19) and in third place in ERA (2.72). He was ranked 8th in the league in strikeouts with 188. He lost game No. 1 and No. 5 of the 2010 ALDS against Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers. Look for Price to pitch with a “chip on his shoulder” this season. The Rays figure to contend for a playoff spot and David Price should benefit from a team that should score a lot of runs in 2011.
No. 5 Francisco Liriano (Min) Age: 27
It took three years after Tommy John surgery for Liriano to regain elite level status, but that is exactly what took place last season. Liriano’s strikeout and walk rates jumped back to ace levels in 2010, but just as impressive was the return of his heavy ground-ball profile. His wicked slider also returned, as did his pre-surgery velocity. Liriano was just 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 2010 but did have 201 K’s in 191.1 IP, which is what you want to see. He led the AL Central at inducing double-plays and gets to play in a pitchers park for half his starts.
Beware of playing the Under at Target Field this season.
You might see more runs scored this season at Target Field as the organization has removed several trees in Center Field that all the hitters complained about last season. Other adjustments have been made as well that will help score more runs there. Also, the odds-makers will keep the over/unders relatively low this season after what took place last season.