MLB: The AL Central Featured the Best Starting Pitching over the Past 8 Years...But What About Now?

- By Jason Fryer

Can you name the only division that's had 6 of the past 8 AL Cy Young Award Winners? If you guessed the American League Central you'd be right. A large number of people feel the American League Central is a below average division shown by the number of Pennant (2005 Chicago White Sox and 2006 Detroit Tigers) and World Series winners (2005 Chicago White Sox) during those 8 years. Even though only 2 of the 5 teams from this division reached the World Series, it still doesn't take away from the quality of arms that were thrown out during this 8 year span.

So for all those wondering, the 5 different pitchers (6 overall as one player won the award twice), who won this award from the AL Central were Johan Santana (2004, 2006), CC Sabathia (2007), Cliff Lee (2008), Zack Greinke (2009), and Justin Verlander (2011). An even more astonishing stat then that four of the five teams (Chicago White Sox) had at-least one player win a Cy Young Award during this amazing stretch. In addition to that, only 1 of the 5 players is still on the team they won their Cy Young Award with: 2011 winner Justin Verlander. The teams from the American and National East might of receive the most attention over the past decade, but it was the AL Central that routinely threw out the best pitchers each day.

That was the past, what about now? Which division has the best starting pitching in baseball? Below is a breakdown each division's starting staff's from worst to best.

6. NL Central: Over the past decade, the National League has seen a number of quality arms come through this division (Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Roy Oswalt, Rodger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Zach Greinke) but all of them have one thing in common: there no longer in the NL Central. So who are a few of the top starting pitchers as of now: Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Adam Wainwright (2010 All-Star), Kyle Lohse, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, A.J. Burnett, and Yovani Gallardo (2010 All-Star). All of the pitchers mentioned in the previous sentence are quality starting pitchers but not elite as shown in the 2 combined All-Star Game appearances.

5. AL Central: What used to be the division with the best starting pitching in baseball has since turned into a division with a few quality starters. Even with Santana, Sabathia, Lee, and Greinke leaving this division, the AL Central is still led by three excellent arms in Justin Verlander (2011 AL Cy Young Award winner), Jake Peavy (2007 NL Cy Young Award Winner), and Chris Sale (2012 All-Star). In addition to those three individuals, the AL Central also has Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Justin Masterson, and Scott Diamond. This list doesn't come close to the quality of arms that the AL Central had in the past but it's not that a bad list of starters.

4. AL East: I know the majority of people believe that because the Red Sox and Yankees it should equate to making the AL East the best at everything, but if you look at the starting pitchers in the other division's, its easy to realize the AL East doesn't have nearly the quality of starters that make up the other three divisions. The two elite pitchers in the AL East are CC Sabathia (2007 Cy Young Award Winner) and David Price (3 time All-Star). However, the reason this division is ranked fourth (and not 5th or 6th) is due to the depth of quality starters in this division which includes Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Jeremy Hellickson (2011 AL Rookie of the Year), James Shields (2011 All-Star), Matt Moore, Wei-Yin Chen, Clay Buchholz (2010 time All-Star), Josh Beckett (3 time All-Star), Ricky Romero (2011 All-Star), and Brandon Morrow. There's bunch of solid pitchers in the AL East but not enough Ace's to put make this one of the top three divisions for best starting pitching in baseball.

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw #22 during the regular season MLB game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. Photo Courtesy By Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE.

3. NL West: I went back and forth when deciding the three best starting pitching divisions in all of baseball but in the end I decided to put the NL West third on my list. At the beginning of my article, I mentioned that 6 of the past 8 Cy Young Award winners came from the AL Central which was most within that timeframe. However, during those same 8 years, the NL West saw 5 of 8 and 10 of the past 13 NL Cy-Young winners come from this division. As impressive as that is, like the AL Central, the majority of the previous winners have moved on from their this division as Tim Lincecum (2008 and 2009) and Clayton Kershaw (2011) are the lone Cy-Young winners who are still on a NL West Team.

In addition to those two pitchers, the NL West also has one of (if not the most) underrated pitchers in all of baseball in Matt Cain who threw a perfect game this year in addition to not allowing an earned run during the 2010 MLB Playoffs as he helped lead the Giants to their first World Series Championship in over 50 years. Aside from those three pitchers, the National League West also includes Ryan Vogelsong (2011 All-Star), Madison Bumgarner, Chad Billingsley (2009 All-Star), Wade Miley (2012 All-Star), Trevor Cahill (2010 All-Star), and Ian Kennedy. This division currently has the third best starting pitching in all of baseball but in about 2 years, I believe the NL West will feature the best starting pitching in baseball.

2. NL East: The NL East is a division that's made up of both younger and older elite starters. The NL East has 3 former Cy Young Award winners: Roy Halladay (2003 and 2010), Johan Santana (2004 and 2006), and Cliff Lee (2010) along with a number of other Ace's. Included in the next line of starting pitchers from the NL East are Stephen Strasburg (2012 All-Star), Gio Gonzalez (2 time All-Star), Jordan Zimmerman, Tim Hudson (3 time All-Star), Tommy Hanson, R.A. Dickey (All-Star 2012), Cole Hamels (3 time All-Star), Mark Buehrle (4 time All-Star), and Josh Johnson (2 time All-Star). Its pretty remarkable to see the amount of All-Stars that are apart of this division as over the past few seasons this has transformed into one of the best divisions for starting pitching in all of baseball.

1. AL West: As impressive as the starters in the NL East are, I still feel the division that features the best starers in all of baseball is the American League West. As of now, the AL West has 2 former Cy Young Award winners in Zack Greinke (2009) and Felix Hernandez (2010) along with the frontrunner for the 2012 AL Cy Young Award in Jarred Weaver who threw a no hitter earlier this season. Along with those three hitters, the American League West (which unlike the other divisions has only 4 teams until next year) also includes Yu Darvish (2012 All-Star), Ryan Dempster (2 time All-Star), Matt Harrison (2012 All-Star), Brandon McCarthy, C.J. Wilson (2 time All-Star), Dan Haren (3 time All-Star), and Jason Vargas.

In addition to the names listed above, the AL West has a number of young and exciting arms in the minors that will be household name within the next few years in Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, Jarrod Parker, Danny Hultzen, and Taijuan Walker. With the majority of these starters still in their prime, I feel the AL West will continue to be known as one of the best divisions in baseball.

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