You could make the argument that a starting pitcher’s ERA is one of the most important statistical measurements when determining how consistent a pitcher is during the course of a season. It’s not a coincidence that the pitchers whom we consider to be the best in baseball tend to also have some of the best ERA.
Sure, there are other important statistical factors that go into trying to define how good a pitcher is: K/9, WHIP, batting average against and, all sabermetricians favorite WAR, or wins above replacement, all come to mind.
But for the purposes of this article, let’s stick with trying to predict which 10 starting pitchers will finish the 2014 season with the best ERA in the game.
10. Matt Cain, Giants. 2013 ERA: 4.00
Uhh, yeah. What the heck happened last year? Cain had been consistently very solid since 2009, helping the Giants win two World Series titles during that span. But 2013 was ugly, for both the Giants and for Cain, who pretty much bombed in every statistical category. With as much success as someone like Cain had the past several seasons, I’m willing to give him a mulligan to prove he’s still a top pitcher.
2014 ERA Prediction: 3.08
9. Andrew Cashner, Padres. 2013 ERA: 3.09
I’m a big believer in “Cash,” as they call him in San Diego. Once thought to be a walking injury risk, this flamethrower became a very quality pitcher last season, and was lights-out in the second half of the year. And pitching in Petco for half of his starts provides a nice bonus as well. I see big things for “Cash” this year.
2014 ERA Prediction: 3.02
8. David Price, Rays. 2013 ERA: 3.33
Pitching in the AL East is always a tricky proposition. The 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner had an off year in 2013, only winning 10 games and experiencing a decline in his strikeout rate in an injury-shortened campaign. Even so, he finished with a 3.33 ERA, so I like my chances for a nice bounce-back season.
2014 ERA Prediction: 2.99
7. Cliff Lee, Phillies. 2013 ERA: 2.87
The Phillies might be irrelevant this year, but that doesn't mean Cliff Lee can’t still pitch. Since returning to Philly for his second (and longer term) stint, Lee has yet to pitch fewer than 211 innings in a season or post an ERA north of 3.16. I’m banking on the streak continuing.
2014 ERA Prediction: 2.97
6. Yu Darvish, Rangers. 2013 ERA: 2.83
Darvish has had a really good first two seasons in Texas. He’s definitely a top-tier pitcher, but he is prone to giving up the long ball, especially in that ballpark, as evident by his 1.12 HR/9. That is the only reason why he isn't higher on this list.
2014 ERA Prediction: 2.94
5. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals. 2013 ERA: 2.94
Wainwright is quietly one of the best pitchers in the game. He was unbelievable pre-2011 Tommy John surgery, and after a 2012 season getting his feet wet again, he had an outstanding 2013. Expect more good things this year.
2014 ERA Prediction: 2.90
4. Madison Bumgarner, Giants. 2013 ERA: 2.77
Bumgarner gets lost in the shuffle with names like Lincecum and Cain in the same dugout, but Madison is now the best of the bunch. He’s become the team’s workhorse, mounting 200+ innings in every season since he became a starter in 2011. He’d be a Cy Young candidate if he didn't have to compete with another lefty 380 miles down the Pacific Coast Highway.
2014 ERA Prediction: 2.83
3. Jose Fernandez, Marlins. 2013 ERA: 2.19
This kid had such a ridiculous rookie season that it’s hard to fathom how good he was. The numbers really speak for themselves. The only caution I would have is he is a little wild, and he needs to get his walk rate down from 3.02 BB/9. That could contribute to an ERA being a tad higher than it would otherwise be.
2014 ERA Prediction: 2.80
2. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals. 2013 ERA: 3.00
Similarly to Price, Strasburg’s 2013 felt somewhat measured, especially with such high expectations coming of his 2012, even though he did improve on his 2012 ERA of 3.16. He only totaled eight wins, and had some of the worst run support in the league. He’s my early pick to win the NL Cy Young this year.
2014 ERA Prediction: 2.63
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. 2013 ERA: 1.83
I’m not going to lie-- I had did a double-take when I looked up Kershaw's exact ERA from 2013. There’s truly not much you can say about a pitcher who has been so dominant in winning back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards. Except he now has a lot more money.
2014 ERA Prediction: 2.12
If you disagree with any of the names and want to chime in on pitchers who I left out, let me hear from you!