A look at MLB’s most underrated and overrated pitchers

 It’s always tricky to examine
“overrated” and “underrated”, but I will give it a try. Here
is a list of the five most underrated and overrated starting pitchers
in baseball, as based on public perception vs. recent performance:


No. 5

Justin Masterson, RHP, Cleveland

Masterson was somewhat of an
afterthought by fans when the Victor Martinez trade went down in July
2009. But he had been a valuable starter and reliever for the Red
Sox, and flourished as a starter in Cleveland in 2011 after an
inauspicious first full campaign in 2010. He racked up 158 strikeouts
in 2011 while posting a 12-10 record and 3.21 ERA and emerging as the
staff ace for the surprising Indians. Masterson can hit the mid-90’s
and features a nasty sinker he throws from just above a sidearm
angle. For good measure, he has dominated his former team, posting a
3-0 record with a 1.95 ERA in four career starts against the Red Sox.
Just 26, he has a bright future with the Tribe and should team with
fellow underrated righty Josh Tomlin to give Cleveland a solid
foundation for years to come.

No. 4

Doug Fister, RHP, Detroit Tigers

Granted, Fister got many fans
attention with his gritty postseason performance for Detroit this
year, but he was virtually a no-name when Seattle traded him at the
trade deadline. His dominant 2011 campaign was stamped with an 8-1
record and 1.79 ERA after he was acquired by the Tigers, going 11-13
overall with a 2.83 ERA. Fister does a great job of mixing his
pitches and keeping the ball down in the zone, and walked only 37
batters in 216 1/3 innings while striking out 146.

No. 3

Mat Latos, RHP, San Diego Padres

Latos, a 6’6” righty, has flown
under the radar playing for the Padres. The past two seasons, he has
posted a 2.97 ERA in 379 innings pitched, starting 31 games both
times. He has matched that consistency in the strikeout department,
with 189 in 2010 and 185 in 2011 while allowing just 16 home runs
both years. Despite getting very little run support from a weak
offense (which would help explain his 27-29 career record that belies
his 3.37 ERA), Latos overpowers hitters with a mid-90’s fastball and
sharp-breaking slider.

No. 2

Gio Gonzalez, LHP, Oakland Athletics

Gonzalez may be even more overshadowed
in the Bay Area than Cain. The southpaw earned his first All-Star
berth in 2011 and rightfully so, as he went 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA in
32 starts. This came on the heels of a 2010 season when he went 15-9
with a 3.23 ERA in 33 starts. He has 368 strikeouts the past two
seasons, but that’s been somewhat overshadowed by the walks, of which
he has issued 183 over that span. Still, compiling consecutive
seasons of 200-plus innings on a staff decimated by injuries is quite
impressive for the 26-year-old.

No. 1

Matt Cain, RHP, San Francisco Giants

It’s easy to forget about Cain because
of the success of Tim Lincecum. After all, “The Freak” has graced
magazine covers and won over hearts with his flowing locks and
skater-kid appearance. But the Giants would not have been World
Champions in 2010 if not for the brilliance of Cain. He has been
remarkably consistent the last 3 years, starting 33 games exactly in
each one and posting ERA’s of 2.89, 3.14, and 2.88. His record is
39-30 over that span, but the problem is his career mark is 69-73,
which belies his 3.35 career ERA. He has started at least 31 games in
all six of his full Major League seasons, but often fails to get
ample run support. He is not particularly overpowering, as evidence
by his 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings, but the two-time All-Star
often keeps hitters guessing and still brings a low-90’s fastball and
solid changeup to the equation.

Other notables: Ricky Romero, LHP,
Toronto Blue Jays (29-20 record the past two years, 2.91 ERA in
2011); R.A. Dickey, RHP, New York Mets (3.08 ERA the past two
seasons); Jhoulys Chacin, RHP, Colorado Rockies (3.52 ERA in two full

Bonus: Most underrated reliever

Jeremy Affeldt, LHP, San Francisco

Though he was rather unspectacular in
the early stages of his career, which began in 2002 with the Royals,
Affledt has emerged as perhaps the game’s most valuable reliever,
starting in 2007 when he helped lead the Rockies to their first World
Series. The lefty appeared in 75 games and posted a 4-3 record and
3.51 ERA that season, then proved his worth in the NL West once again
in being one of the Giants’ most important cogs during their 2010
World Series run. This past season, Affledt was outstanding once
again, going 3-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 67 outings. But his best year
came in 2009, his first with the Giants, when he appeared in 74 games
and went 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA. Throw in a great 2008 campaign with the
Reds (1-1, 3.33 in 74 games), and the last half-decade has seen
Affeldt emerge as perhaps the game’s best non-closer out of the
bullpen. The 32-year-old is currently a free agent and figures to
garner a lot of interest from teams needing relief help.


No. 5

Zack Greinke, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

It’s hard to ignore some pretty solid
numbers for Greinke in 2011 – 16-6, 3.83 ERA, 201 strikeouts. But
there is still more hype surrounding him than need be after his 2009
Cy Young campaign with Kansas City. He struggled in 2010 to a 10-14
record and 4.17 ERA, and his K/9 ratio dipped to 7.4. And while he
did fan 201 batters in ’11, he struggled in the playoffs, posting a
6.48 ERA in three starts.

No. 4

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Cleveland Indians

Jimenez seems like a slam-dunk to be
No. 1 on this list, but by the same token it seems that many people
have jumped off his bandwagon after his apparent 2010 first-half
mirage. Jimenez was the toast of baseball through the All-Star break
in ’10, as he went 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA and was a shoo-in for the Cy
Young award. But he faltered in the second half, somehow failing to
win 20 games by going a mere 4-7 with a 3.80 ERA. That bad momentum
seemed to carry over to 2011, when Jimenez struggled with both the
Rockies and Indians. Yet Cleveland still felt confident enough in his
abilities to ship its top two pitching prospects off to get him.
Needing a boost down the stretch, instead what the Tribe got from the
lanky righty was a 4-4 record and 5.10 ERA. For the year Jimenez went
10-13 with a 4.68 ERA and walked 78 batters. Base on balls was a big
problem for him even in 2010, when he walked 92 hitters yet struck
out 214. He can touch the high 90’s with his fastball and has good
breaking stuff, but his lack of command has haunted him since his
great 2010 start, and the Rockies may have pulled off a steal of a
deal in getting Drew Pomeranz and Alex White along with two other
prospects for him.

No. 3

Ryan Dempster, RHP, Chicago Cubs

I suppose it’s not saying much to be
considered the ace of the Chicago Cubs, but Dempster still seems to
be more flash than substance at this stage in his career. He has
averaged 189.5 strikeouts the past four seasons, yet his ERA has
increased in each one of those years. He slumped to 10-14 with a 4.80
ERA in making a league-high 34 starts for the Cubbies in 2011,
getting tagged for 23 long balls while issuing 82 walks. The two-time
All-Star, who finished sixth in Cy Young voting during a stellar 2008
season, has a 112-116 career record and 4.41 ERA. In 2001 with the
Marlins, he led the NL with a preposterous 112 free passes, then was
tagged for a league-worst 125 earned runs the following season. He is
slated to make $14 million in 2012 with Chicago after picking up his
option, which will be the final year of a 4-year, $52 million deal he
signed following his outstanding ’08 campaign.

No. 2

David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

No. 1 also happened to be his pick in
the 2007 Draft, but Price has been solid, not spectacular, in his
young career. He failed to follow up an outstanding 2010 season
(19-6, 2.72) in 2011, going just 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA in 34 starts.
He often struggled in big games, never more obvious than when he
lasted just four innings and allowed six runs against the Yankees
with the Rays’ season on the line. He has scuffled mightily in the
postseason the past two seasons, going 0-3 with a 4.66 ERA when his
team has needed him to perform like an ace. He has been outshined on
the young Tampa Bay staff by James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson.

No. 1

C.J. Wilson, LHP, Texas Rangers

Color me shocked if Wilson breaks the
bank this offseason as a free agent, because he once again proved
this postseason he is far from ace material. The lefty is not
overpowering and lacks a great put-away pitch, and that cost him
dearly when Texas needed him most during their second straight
pennant run. Not to simply sweep his 16-7, 2.94 season under the rug,
but he posted a paltry 5.68 ERA in six postseason games (five
starts), and became the first pitcher in history to lose the All-Star
Game, an ALDS game, an ALCS game, and a World Series game. Overall in
the playoffs, he is 1-5 with a 4.82 ERA, which has marred him going
31-15 with a 3.14 ERA the last two regular seasons. He has somewhat
offset his 376 strikeouts by walking 167 batters, including a
league-high 93 in 2010.

This is not to say that a pitcher’s
legacy should be solely determined by his postseason performance, but
Wilson this season had many an opportunity to showcase his talents to
interested teams and looked like a far cry from the pitcher who
anchored the Rangers’ staff all season.

Other notables: Shaun Marcum, RHP,
Milwaukee Brewers (0-3, 14.90 ERA in 2011 playoffs after 13-7, 3.54
regular season); Jake Peavy, RHP, Chicago White Sox (4.49 ERA while
making just 39 starts the past 2½ seasons after being acquired via
trade from the Padres).

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