NL Central Preview: Starting Pitcher #1

Starting Pitcher #1. The Ace of the staff. The guy you look to after a short losing streak who will step up, pitch well, and be the “stopper.”

Over the offseason the NL Central has become starting pitcher rich with the additions of Shaun Marcum and Zach Grinke in Milwaukee and Matt Garza in Chicago. They join Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Zambrano, and Yovani Gallardo among others. There is no shortage of quality starting pitching in the NL Central, unless you call Pittsburgh home, as most of their quality young arms are still a year or so away.

Now these aren’t the six best pitchers of the NL Central by far. What I have done is ranked projected starters based on their statistics and position on the team and projected them into a position in the rotation. These are my perceived #1 starters from each pitching staff.

After a short hiatus, let’s jump back into it.

6. Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh (5.10, 9-15 in 32 starts)
Yes, there are other Pittsburgh pitchers with slightly better numbers, but there is no doubt that Maholm is viewed as the leader on a Pirates rotation that only has a couple pitchers with potential to perform at a top level. For Maholm, he will be looking to recapture some success on the mound. In 2008 he posted a 3.71 ERA in over 200 innings in 31 starts. Since that point he has regressed since, posting a 4.44 in 31 starts in 2009 and then up to a 5.10 in 32 starts in 2010. As the go-to guy in the Pirates rotation, will he flourish or flop?

5. Ryan Dempster, Chicago (3.85, 15-12 in 34 starts)
Position #2 through position #5 on this list could go any way because their numbers are all pretty similar. However, I chose Dempster for position #5. After spending three years as the Cubs’ closer, Dempster moved back into the rotation in 2008 and has performed well since, getting an All Star nod and finishing sixth in the Cy Young voting in ’08. In his three years as a starter, he’s captured 43 wins. With Zambrano being unreliable, that made room for Dempster to move into the #1 starting pitcher slot for me.

4. Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee (3.84, 14-7 in 31 starts)
The 24 year old Gallardo will get some backup in 2011 as ownership paid a steep price to acquire Toronto’s Shaun Marcum and Kansas City’s Zach Grienke to back him up. Gallardo received an All Star nod in 2010 as well. But not only can he pitch, he can also hit as he earned this season’s NL Silver Slugger for pitchers and any offense you can get out of your pitchers is a positive thing.

3. Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati (3.88, 17-10 in 33 starts)
I dropped Arroyo to third at the last minute because I felt his win numbers were high based on his team’s performance. The Reds were impressive last year and Arroyo is their #1 guy. Arroyo is one guy who has never gotten much attention, but has quietly put in a very solid career in the major leagues. In addition, he’s been reliable. He’s made 32 or more starts in each of the last six seasons.

2. Brett Myers, Houston (3.14, 14-8 in 33 starts)
Wandy Rodriguez might get more attention, but Brett Myers is the top pitcher in this rotation, especially after the year he put up in 2010. In his first season in Houston after spending the first 8 years of his career in Philadelphia, Myers had the best season of his career. He finished 10th in Cy Young voting this year too. At the last minute, I moved Brett up into second-place because I felt his overall season was more impressive than Arroyo’s. Better ERA and was only 3 wins shy on a much worse ballclub.

1. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis (2.42, 20-11 in 33 starts)
The undisputed #1 pitcher in the National League Central. There’s really no other way to say it. He and rookie teammate Jaime Garcia were the only two starters to post sub-3 ERAs in 2010, but Wainwright has been a Cy Young contender for the last couple seasons and hopefully this year will be the year that he finally breaks through and earns one. He also was the only NL Central starter to earn 20 wins as he established himself as St. Louis’ #1 pitcher, taking that position from Chris Carpenter. Hopefully it will be a role that he will occupy for a long time.

Now to total up the points earned:

Milwaukee — 39 pts
Cincinnati — 38 pts
St. Louis — 38 pts
Chicago — 28 pts
Pittsburgh — 25 pts
Houston — 21 pts

What’s next for this series? We’ll finish out the projected rotations and the team’s closers. I’m also looking at doing something on each team’s bullpen as a whole as well and that should give me the picture of the entire division.