In my continuing quest to preview the 2009 season, today’s edition will take a look at the top five pitchers in the American League. Not only will this help preview the upcoming season, but also is a nice little fantasy baseball preview if you have an upcoming draft (or as we call it here, “Phantasy Impact”). Below you will find the top five pitchers ranked along with their 2008 stats, my projections for their 2009 stats, a condensed scouting report of mine and a last word on each. As always please share your thoughts on this list or a ranking of your own in the comments section.
 C.C. Sabathia, LHP – New York Yankees
2008 Stats: 17-10, 2.70 ERA, 251 K, 1.11 WHIP
2009 Projections: 19-8, 3.55 ERA, 215 K, 1.18 WHIP
Scouting Report: Sabathia has a monstrous, imposing physical presence on the mound. He comes at hitters with a high 3/4 arm action with a slight hesitation in the middle of his delivery. Hides the ball well and unleashes a bevy of pitches including a fasatball (92-96 mph) with good life, a sliding-cutter he jams in on righties, a slurve to lefties and a circle change with an arm speed similar to his fastball. A workhorse that is an ace of aces.
Last Word: Despite having pitched over 500 innings over the past two years combined, Sabathia doesn’t seem to be the type to slow down. I don’t think he will tire out but his stats won’t be quite a strong as he leaves the AL/NL Central and moves to the very powerful AL East where he will have to contend with the lineups of Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto. He is an incredible competitor and can handle the Big Apple and the sideshow that is the Yankees.
 Roy Halladay, RHP – Toronto Blue Jays
2008 Stats: 20-11, 2.78 ERA, 206 K, 1.05 WHIP
2009 Projections: 18-9, 3.18 ERA, 198 K, 1.10 WHIP
Scouting Report: Halladay has a smooth, repeatable delivery with a low 3/4 arm slot. He has incredible command of his pitches including a low-90’s tailing fastball, very original change up and a tight curve with a huge bite that can be thrown at any point in the count. Halladay is a workhorse who has thrived in the toughest division in baseball for many, many years.
Last Word: The American League East was Halladay’s division until the Yankees brought in Sabathia. Now Sabathia is the best of the best and it’s up to Halladay to prove otherwise. He has thrown over 220 innings each of the past three years so some worry about his stability. I don’t think he’s given us any reason to worry, so let’s just assume he’ll be the same Halladay we have come to know and love.
 Francisco Liriano, LHP – Minnesota Twins
2008 Stats: 6-4, 3.91 ERA, 67 K, 1.39 WHIP
2009 Projections: 20-6, 2.75 ERA, 225 K, 1.10 WHIP
Scouting Report: Liriano is a strong, athletic lefty with a high 3/4 arm angle. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery from back in 2006 and this year looks to recover his same dominant stuff from back then. He showed signs of it last season and holds an arsenal of a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball, a hard, slanted slider with bite that hitters can’t touch. His return last year saw his pitch quality and command return.
Last Word: With the amount of time passed since his surgery, Liriano should see his success really start returning this season. It usually takes about a year and a half to start really seeing your pitches return and that’s right about where we are. The only reason he isn’t ranked higher is that the two above him have been more consistent. With how good the Twins rotation is, this right here is their ace and will return to the top of his game in 2009. Look for a serious Cy Young calibur season.
 John Lackey, RHP – Los Angeles Angels
2008 Stats: 12-5, 3.75 ERA, 130 K, 1.23 ERA
2009 Projections: 15-11, 3.50 ERA, 170 K, 1.26 WHIP
Scouting Report: Lackey has a sound delivery with a loose 3/4 arm action. He possess an 89-92 mph fastball with good late life that cuts in on lefties, a sharp, late-biting slider and a tight sweeping curveball. Has the ability to throw his breaking stuff at any point in the count. Unlike most, he tends to change speeds off his curveball rather than his change.
Last Word: Lackey isn’t as exciting as Sabathia, as reliable as Halladay or as sexy as Liriano, but he is a very consistent pitcher who will get the job done. Missed the first six weeks of the season last year with a tricep injury, but looks to return to form in 2009 as the ace of the Angels. And with the lack of offense they will provide him, he will need to be on top of his game.
 Felix Hernandez, RHP – Seattle Mariners
2008 Stats: 9-11, 3.45 ERA, 175 K, 1.39 WHIP
2009 Projections: 16-11, 3.10 ERA, 190 K, 1.30 WHIP
Scouting Report: Hernandez has an incredible arm and dominating, electric stuff. He attacks hitters with an over the top arm action with an arsenal including a two and four seam fastball (92-97 mph), a powerful slider, two different curves and a well placed change. Uses his four seamer as his predominant strikeout pitch. Has been wildly inconsistent and hasn’t lived up to the “King” billing he received as a rookie. For some reason he doesn’t seem to get up for the lesser teams as he does for the best in the league. Needs to change that before becoming elite.
Last Word: I don’t know what Hernandez’s problem is, but he needs to find his competitive side and unleash it. When he faces the tough teams he comes guns blazing but when he faces the bottom of the barrel it’s almost as if he, as much as I don’t want to say it, doesn’t try as hard. Has the weapons to be one of the best but will struggle to get run support with the anemic Seattle offense.
By Matthew Whipps
“The Diamond Cutter“
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist