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The Best 1-2 Punches of '10 So Far

SEATTLE - JUNE 02:  Starting pitcher Cliff Lee #36 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field on June 2, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE - JUNE 02: Starting pitcher Cliff Lee #36 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field on June 2, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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So far this season, we've heard a whole lot of talk about aces. Aces pitching perfect games, aces pitching no-hitters, aces making their MLB debuts, aces flourishing throughout the game. Heck, there are even expected to be a few aces on the trade market this summer.

It's already been discussed in multiple different places whether or not 2010 is really a "Year of the Pitcher", with a variety of conclusions being came to. In then end though, this definitely isn't 1968, and is far more likely merely a culmination of a series of factors that have led to the decrease in scoring this season. That being said, there have still been some truly brilliant pitching performances this season, all across the country. 

But I'm not merely going over the best individual pitchers in the game, I'm going to look at the best pitching combinations from any pitching staff in the game. It's often said that teams with multiple front-line starters are the teams that are best equipped for playoff runs, and you'd be hard-pressed to disagree if you looked at the majority of teams that have made World Series runs. But which teams have had dominant 1-2 punches this season?

I thought I'd take a quick look at which teams have gotten the most production from their two best starting pitchers, using xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching, scaled to ERA) to judge performance. This isn't a look at which teams have the best 1-2 punches going forward (I can probably do a write-up on that if anyone's interested though,), but rather it's a look at which teams have gotten the most from their 1-2 punches SO FAR. I used only pitchers who are presented qualified for the ERA title, which led to the exclusion of pitchers such as Kris Medlen, Jason Hammel, Trevor Cahill and Jhoulys Chacin, who have all pitched quite well this season. Well, here's the top 5:

1. Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, Philadelphia - 3.30 xFIP in 201.1 innings pitched

2. Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, Seattle - 3.34 xFIP in 181.1 innings pitched

3. Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker, Minnesota - 3.42 xFIP in 184.1 innings pitched

4. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter - 3.44 xFIP in 218.2 innings pitched

5. Jered Weaver and Joel Pineiro, Los Angeles (AL) - 3.57 xFIP in 193 innings pitched

With that out of the way, let's look at the results, with the entire list of the best 1-2 punches from all 30 teams as well little blurbs about every team after the hip hop.

(Author's Note (10:35 AM): The list has been updated to include last night's performances. There were only some slight tweaks in the list, with Minnesota and St. Louis swapping spots at No. 3 and No. 4, Florida and Houston swapping spots at No. 8 and No. 9, the Cubs and Arizona swapping spots at No. 10 and No. 11, and Milwaukee and Baltimore swapping spots at No. 26 and No. 27. Otherwise, all is well in 1-2-punchland.)


The Best 1-2 Punches in Baseball (using xFIP from FanGraphs, pitchers must have 70+ IP)

1. Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, Philadelphia - 3.30 xFIP in 201.1 innings pitched

You know that I just have to say it: What if they kept Cliff Lee?

2. Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, Seattle - 3.34 xFIP in 181.1 innings pitched

Lee is having a historic season right now: his 16.75 K/BB ratio would destroy Bret Saberhagen's 11.0 K/BB record

3. Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker, Minnesota - 3.42 xFIP in 184.1 innings pitched

Whoever says the Twins don't have an ace, hasn't been paying enough attention to Liriano (2.99 xFIP after last night). If they add Lee and go into the postseason with a Lee/Baker/Liriano/Pavano rotation, they could be WS favorites.

4. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, St. Louis - 3.44 xFIP in 218.2 innings pitched

If we did the best 1-2-3 punches, the Cards would top the list with the addition of Jaime Garcia.

5. Jered Weaver and Joel Pineiro, Los Angeles (AL) - 3.57 xFIP in 185.2 innings pitched

News flash: Jered Weaver has finally taken that next big step towards acedom. Oh, and I suppose Pineiro's great 2009 wasn't merely because Dave Duncan was around, too. He's turning out to be a serious bargain.

6. Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil, Toronto - 3.61 xFIP in 180.1 innings pitched

I can't stress this enough: Ricky Romero is legit. ZiPS projects a 4.30 FIP from here on out, but I'm much more optimistic. (ZiPS now projects Romero at 4.17 after last night; I still expect more.)

7. Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco - 3.64 xFIP in 184.1 innings pitched

I'm guessing you're surprised that Matt Cain isn't here (2.16 ERA), but xFIP has never liked Cain, his HR/FB numbers are always lower than normal (6.5% HR/FB for his career, 3.6% this season).

8. Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco, Florida - 3.66 xFIP in 189.2 innings pitched

Johnson doesn't get nearly enough pub, he's a top-5 pitcher in the NL right now, while Nolasco continues to post an ERA well above his xFIP for the second straight year. Anibal Sanchez has impressed but he's got a lucky HR/FB right now.

9. Roy Oswalt and Brett Myers, Houston - 3.71 xFIP in 200.1 innings pitched

Oswalt continues to make himself very appealing to contenders, while Myers is actually turning out to be one of the better free-agent bargains of the previous offseason. It's too bad that everyone else hasn't been so successful.

10. Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, Arizona - 3.75 xFIP in 206.1 innings pitched

Haren's the only pitcher with K/BB ratios over 5 in 2008, 2009 and 2010, while Jackson has seen his FIP and xFIP improve only to watch his ERA increase by nearly a run-and-a-half.

11. Randy Wells and Carlos Silva, Chicago (NL) - 3.76 xFIP in 165.1 innings pitched

The Cubs have given Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster a combined $183.5M in guaranteed money. Wells was a 38th-round pick, selected by Toronto in the Rule V draft in 2007 and returned to the Cubs four months later. Silva is coming off a two-year span during which he battled injuries and put up a 6.81 ERA in 36 starts. So far they've been the Cubs' two best starters. Go figure.

12. Hiroki Kuroda and Chad Billingsley - Los Angeles (NL) - 3.81 xFIP in 165 innings pitched

Yup, no Clayton Kershaw. For the second straight year, he's got a HR/FB below 5%, though, so maybe he's just one of those guys that will consistently outperform his xFIP. Kind of like Matt Cain, for example.

13. Mat Latos and Clayton Richard, San Diego - 3.84 xFIP in 175 innings pitched

Latos has been a beast this year (3.59 K/BB, 45% GB rate), it didn't take the Pads too long to find a new ace. As for Richard, his well-known platoon split isn't nearly as pronounced this year (4.09 xFIP vs. RH, 3.78 xFIP vs. LH), which should bode well for his future in the starting rotation. In these two, the Padres have the beginning of a nice rotation.

14. James Shields and David Price, Tampa Bay - 3.86 xFIP in 190.1 innings pitched

Shields is on his way to a fourth consecutive four-win season, even though his ERA sits at 4.50. Price's improvement this year is mostly based in an improved groundball rate, but he could still stand to lower his walks and miss a few more bats, because he's not maintaining a 2.45 ERA.

15. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, Boston - 3.88 xFIP in 189 innings pitched

The Red Sox owe starters John Lackey (5.16 xFIP) and Josh Beckett (4.27 xFIP, injury issues) a total of $129 through 2014. I'm guessing they're happy that they'll have Lester and Buchholz around cheaply through that period, too. 

16. Phil Hughes and CC Sabathia, New York (AL) - 3.91 xFIP in 182.6 innings pitched

The Bombers probably shouldn't get too crazy with the Hughes Rules, he's been their best starter this year. I'm surprised that he hasn't gotten as much attention considering that he's 10-1 with a 3.17 ERA, and he's the Yankee. His stuff right now is totally different than what he was throwing in his first three stints as a starter with the club in '07-'09.  

17. Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar, Kansas City - 4.02 xFIP in 174 innings pitched

Another example of why win-loss records don't matter: Greinke's 2-8 with a 3.83 xFIP, while Hochevar is 5-4 with a 4.25 xFIP. Although there should be some serious concerns about Greinke's whiff (6.7%) and contact (84.7%) rates, which have both gone in the wrong direction since last season.

18. Gavin Floyd and Jake Peavy, Chicago (AL) - 4.05 xFIP in 185.1 innings pitched

Jake Peavy's first five starts: 0-2 W-L, 7.85 ERA, 22/20 K/BB

Jake Peavy's last nine starts: 6-3 W-L, 3.82 ERA, 55/9 K/BB

So, yeah, Peavy bounced back from his rough start.

19. Justin Verlander and Max Schezer, Detroit - 4.10 xFIP in 169 innings pitched

Not sure why, but it appears that Verlander's 2009 was an outlier.

Verlander whiff rate, '06-'10: 8.1%, 9.0%, 8.4%, 11.3%, 8.3%

Verlander contact rate, '06-'10: 82.2%, 80.6%, 81.4%, 76.8%, 82.3%

20. Aaron Harang and Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati - 4.15 xFIP in 177.2 innings pitched

Mike Leake is getting all of the attention, but Cueto's step forward has been nearly as important to the Reds' solid start. After a mediocre 2009, his contact and whiff rates are back to there they were in 2007, and his command is better than ever. Between Cueto, Leake, Homer Bailey and Aroldis Chapman, the Reds have quite the young rotation being built.

21. Justin Masterson and Fausto Carmona, Cleveland - 4.15 xFIP in 173.2 innings pitched

Masterson and Carmona actually have the two best groundball rates in the American League. Masterson has a huge platoon split (2.88 xFIP vs. RH, 4.69 xFIP vs. LH), too, but I'm not sure if that's nearly as noteworthy as his 66.5% groundball rate. Masterson currently has the best GB/FB ratio in baseball among starters.

22. Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez, Oakland - 4.17 xFIP in 184.1 innings pitched

Brett Anderson would be here if he was healthy, and Trevor Cahill fell roughly 3 innings short of qualifying for this list. That being said, People generally just think of the perfect game when they hear about Braden, but he's posted ERA and FIP marks below 4.00 in 231 innings covering the past two seasons. 

23. Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe, Atlanta - 4.20 xFIP in 175 innings pitched

Hanson's numbers this season are exceptionally similar to last season's, while Lowe has actually managed to see his xFIP and FIP increase for the second straight year. Kris Medlen fell about 2 innings short of qualifying, but his 3.78 xFIP would've been the best mark on the team. Frankly, I was bit surprised to see how mediocre Atlanta's starting pitching has been so far.

24. Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook, Colorado - 4.21 xFIP in 187.1 innings pitched

Yeah, so xFIP isn't exactly buying Jimenez's ERA, although that shouldn't really surprise anyone. The groundball rate is great but his K/BB is only pretty good, and he's been crazy lucky with his HR/FB and BABIP. The Rockies get docked a bit for having just two starters qualify for the ERA title, though, as Chacin, Hammel and Jeff Francis have all pitched much better than Cook but not often enough to qualify yet. Once one of them does, I presume that Colorado will move up this list.

25. Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson, Texas - 4.25 xFIP in 183.1 innings pitched

Yup, Texas' best two starters this season have been a guy that spent the past two years pitching in Japan and someone who made exactly ZERO starts in professional baseball from 2006 through 2009. Wilson's ERA is due for some nice regression, but Lewis is turning out to be a truly brilliant free-agent signing.

26. Yovani Gallardo and Dave Bush, Milwaukee - 4.36 xFIP in 165 innings pitched

I feel bad for Gallardo; he was essentially the only effective starter in that rotation for a long time. Manny Parra and Chris Narveson have done a nice job in the rotation since getting a chance, but all that money that the team spent on Doug Davis and Randy Wolf hasn't worked out too well. Why does it seem like the Brewers just can't sign an effective veteran pitcher? (Wolf, Davis, Jeff Suppan, Trevor Hoffman, David Riske, LaTroy Hawkins, Eric Gagne, etc.)

27. Kevin Millwood and Brian Matusz, Baltimore - 4.41 xFIP in 177.2 innings pitched

As Dave Cameron noted on FanGraphs, Millwood appears to be this year's Carl Pavano: a veteran pitcher with an ugly ERA that masks some pretty impressive peripheral stats. He's currently putting up his best respective xFIP and K/BB marks since 2006, yet his record currently sits at 1-8. People hoping that Matusz would build on his 2009 debut are probably disappointed, though, because his ERA/FIP/xFIP marks haven't changed all that much.

28. Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana, New York (NL) - 4.41 xFIP in 191.2 innings pitched

Mmm yeah..  so the Mets do kind of need an ace. Pelfrey has been nothing short of great this year, but the fact that he's been their best pitcher, and not Santana, has to be a major concern for New York. Eno Sarris wrote a nice piece covering Santana's decline for ESPN's TMI Blog, but the big point stands: the Mets owe Santana $77.5M for 2011-2013, and at this point he looks like a league average starter. That's why people say that signing even an elite starter long-term is risky business.

29. Zack Duke and Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh - 4.59 xFIP in 167.1 innings pitched

What, you weren't expecting them to be any higher, right? Duke has a brutal 5.49 ERA but his peripherals are actually pretty solid, while Maholm's ERA is much shinier but his other numbers don't quite match those of Duke. Overall, this is a very underwhelming group. Let's just say that this is a team that could really use Jameson Tallion's arm.

30. Livan Hernandez and John Lannan - 5.24 xFIP in 167.2 innings pitched

Did you notice that massive drop-off between the Pirates and Nats? Frankly, it blows my mind that the Nationals are currently 33-39. They have just two starters that qualify for the ERA title, and both of them have xFIP marks over 5. Obviously things should look better by season's end, though. Strasburg alone should move the team up a few spots here, while Scott Olsen and Craig Stammen have actually been pretty solid when they've made it to the mound. Oh, and you never know what we might get from Chien-Ming Wang, Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis and Ross Detwiler, either. Then again, I suppose that nasty luck is pretty much the only way that your best two starters can end up with a combined xFIP of 5.24.