The Other Guys: Baseball’s Best Supporting Pitchers

While the daily responsibility, as well as the biggest highlights, find the everyday guys in a Major League Baseball lineup, nothing can change the course of game quicker than a dominant frontline starting pitcher. Look no further than the MVP performance of Clayton Kershaw last summer or the timeless authority than Madison Bumgarner inserted over the fall that followed.

But while those aces get the headlines, in many cases there is a far less heralded rotation mate that can make major waves as well. Sometimes their star is firmly asserted, such as the case with Zack Grienke behind Kershaw or David Price joining Justin Verlander in Detroit. Yet there are also the cases of either the young, emergent ace in the making or the perennially underestimated hurlers as well, whose contributions go grossly underappreciated.

Over the first month of this baseball season, it has been those supporting pitchers that have made some of the biggest impacts. And in many cases, it has been as a replacement for some missing impact from their frontline mates.

So who are the best of the rest in baseball today? And which secondary starter has a chance to make the biggest impact on the pennant this year?

Chicago Cubs

The Lead: Jon Lester

He was the crown jewel of the offseason resurfacing of the Cubs, and is carrying the weight of being the face to change not only the competitive potential of his new team, but also the culture of the team as place where big name free agents can to go and thrive. He has gotten off to a slow start thus far (his ERA was north of 6.00 through his first four starts), but as he learns his new league, the usual Lester will emerge.

Supporting: Jake Arrieta

A reclamation project of sorts, Arrieta was once one of the prized young assets of the Baltimore Orioles, but never was able to put it all together for them. Well so far, so good for him in the NL. Since arriving in Chicago during the 2013 season, Arrieta has won 68% of his starts and carried a 2.72 ERA. He quietly finished in the top 10 of the 2014 NL Cy Young vote as well, posting a 2.53 ERA over 25 starts.

 Cleveland Indians

The Lead: Corey Kluber

On the heels of his 19-win, 269 strikeout, Cy Young Award winning breakout season, it is no surprise that Kluber is often in the midst of another epic start most times out. Despite being winless on the young season, he has twice carried a no-hitter past the fifth inning and it is just a matter of time before he receives the payout from the dominant form he is oft capable of.

Supporting: Trevor Bauer

He was one of the most dominant college pitchers of recent memory and joined his UCLA teammate (and fellow emergent MLB starter) Gerrit Cole in the top three players taken in the 2011 draft. It took some time for him to realize that potential, but now he is close to becoming the prized commodity he was made to be when the Indians included then All-Star outfielder Shin-Soo Choo in a deal to acquire him from the Diamondbacks. He is currently carrying an ERA just south of 1.00 on the year, and was pulled in the sixth inning of his first start of the year, without allowing a hit, while striking out 11.


New York Mets

The Lead: Matt Harvey

It would not be a stretch to consider Harvey to be the face of New York baseball at this point. He is such an attraction that the Mets actually chose to push his first start of the season to the second game of their home campaign, so that they could ensure another massive haul at the turnstiles for crowds clamoring to see him pitch.

Supporting: Jacob deGrom

Yet it was de Grom, last year’s National League Rookie of the Year, that played the Opening Day understudy, while issuing a performance that proved he was absolutely worthy of top billing on the Mets staff as well. The 26-year-old has picked up where he left off during his ROY effort, limiting NL batters to six extra base hits over his first four appearances this season.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Lead: Adam Wainwright

Wainwright has been one of the game’s top pitchers for the past half-decade, leading the National League in wins and innings pitched since 2013 and twice finishing as runner-up for the NL Cy Young and third a year ago.

Supporting: Michael Wacha

Like Wainwright did with Chris Carpenter before him, Wacha has fast been on the rise through the Cardinal rotation since making an instant impact late in the 2013 season. He has been one of the NL’s most dominant starters thus far in 2015, twice beating Johnny Cueto and outdueling Max Scherzer another time to open up the season with a 3-0 record. However, with Wainwright now done for the season with an Achilles injury, the spotlight should do nothing but intensify on what the 23-year-old starter will mean for the Cardinals’ prospects throughout a brutal NL Central slate.

Washington Nationals

The Lead(s): Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez

This star studded cast has been touted as The Beatles of MLB starting pitching. Already perhaps the best group in the game as of last season, boasting the phenomenal Strasburg and a pair of proven, indomitable workhorses in Zimmermann and Gonzalez. However, the staff’s potential shot through the atmosphere and into outer space when it added Scherzer, who had been the top starter in the American League since the start of 2013. The expectations have been no less than to be on par with the Braves of the early 90’s in being mentioned as one of the best staffs of all-time.

Supporting: Doug Fister

Yet while the hype was rightfully around those top four names, it has been Fister that has been just strong as any of his more touted rotation mates. In his first season in the NL, he won 16 games and posted the third best win percentage in the NL, as well as the third lowest ERA (2.41). The pinpoint control artist also carries the lowest active walks per nine inning mark at just 1.76. Fister is just as big a part of the Nats picture as anyone on the team, period.

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