Baseball’s Best Southpaws

The baseball season is still very young, but we’ve already seen dynamic pitching performances across major league baseball. In the Pacific Northwest, local fans are witnessing the emergence of left-hander James Paxton as one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the game.

With Paxton’s performance catching the attention of national baseball pundits and giving Mariners fans a sense of hope, I thought it’d be fun to share where I think he ranks among southpaw starters.

Bear in mind, my assessment is based on performances to date. I suspect my rankings will look considerably different by season’s end.

1. Chris Sale – Boston Red Sox

Dealt from the Chicago White Sox during the offseason, the Lakeland, Florida native continues to deliver elite-level performances despite pitching in the shadow of the Green Monster and the pressurized New England market. In fact, he’s thrived during the young season.

Even though Sale was on the losing end of a pitching match-up against New York Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka yesterday, he continues to lead the majors in FIP, fWAR, strikeouts, and innings/start.

It’ll be years before we know how the five-player deal that brought the 28-year-old to Beantown plays out for both clubs, but the early returns must please Red Sox Nation.


2. James Paxton – Seattle Mariners

Entering the season, injuries and inconsistency limited the Ladner, Canada native to just 50 starts since his 2013 debut. Now, he’s rewarding Mariners management for their patience.

Paxton’s ERA, FIP, strikeout and walk rates, plus fWAR are top-5 among southpaws. He’s also the only big league starter with 25-plus innings who hasn’t surrendered a home run. His metamorphosis from oft-injured prospect to anchor of Seattle’s rotation has earned him the moniker “Big Maple” from manager Scott Servais and teammates.

For the Mariners to have a chance of playing in the postseason, the 28-year-old will need to live-up to his new label — especially with rotation mates Felix Hernandez and Drew Smyly sidelined by injury.


3. Jason Vargas – Kansas City Royals

It’s doubtful the 34-year-old was on any preseason list as a top left-hander. After all, he missed most of two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery and his career-high fWAR (3.0) came when he was a member of the 2010 Mariners.

Having said that, Vargas is currently one of the best southpaws in the majors. He’s surrendered just two walks in 25.2 innings and striking out hitters at a higher rate than any point of his 12-year career.

Whether he can sustain this early success is debatable. Maintaining a 2.1-percent walk rate isn’t likely for veteran who’s averaged a rate three times higher during 190-plus career starts. But, Vargas has been a great early season story and I’m rooting for him.


4. Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers

Arguably the best pitcher of his generation and a future Hall of Famer, the seventh overall pick of the 2006 draft is back on track after making the fewest starts since his rookie season due to back problems.

Based on his record of sustained superior performance, Kershaw is destined to contend for a fourth NL Cy Young Award. So far, so good — he’s top-five in strikeouts, walk rate, innings/start, fWAR, FIP, and ERA.

As always, the Dodgers will go as far as their ace takes them. Perhaps, the Fall Classic returns to Chavez Ravine this year.


5. Madison Bumgarner — San Francisco Giants

Yes, the Giants ace is currently mending on the disabled list after injuring his pitching shoulder during a dirt bike mishap. But, the 2014 World Series MVP winner was off to a superb start.

Bumgarner won’t stay on my list much longer. But, at the time of his accident, he was top-five in strikeouts, fWAR, FIP, and innings pitched.

The former first round draft was on track to seriously contend for his first Cy Young Award. Unbelievably, he’s never finished in the top-three in voting.

Clearly, that’s out of reach now.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. During the baseball season, he can be seen often observing the local team at Safeco Field. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins
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