- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
With all the discussion this week about Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and his Cy Young Award candidacy -- I would vote for him -- look at some of the pitchers who have won more than the 13 games King Felix has, and you might be surprised. Were you aware Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Brett Cecil got his 15th win of the season Wednesday night? Maybe not, since Cecil is owned in fewer than 20 percent of ESPN standard mixed leagues.
Cecil beat the postseason-bound Tampa Bay Rays, and I'm guessing one of the reasons fantasy owners were cool on the 23-year-old was because of the matchup. Well, forgetting the fact the Rays weren't featuring their best offense, Cecil actually went 3-1 against the Rays this season. In fact, Cecil was 11-2 against American League East teams in 2010, including a sweet 4-0 in five starts against the New York Yankees, with a 2.67 ERA.
Cecil was able to break out this season by keeping his walks in check, and he did a terrific job against left-handed hitters. In 2011, he should make more strides in his peripheral categories, probably lower his ERA into the 3.75 range and up his strikeouts. Will he win 15 games again? Well, fantasy owners should know better than to try to predict wins. Cecil will finish 4-0 in September but with a 6.92 ERA. I'm calling it fatigue and a bit of luck, but his overall strong performance this season was legitimate.
Cecil is, of course, not the only relatively ignored pitcher with more wins than Hernandez this season. Let's discuss a few of the interesting, readily available names moving forward:
Gio Gonzalez, Oakland Athletics: The somewhat well-traveled (White Sox, Phillies, back to the White Sox, then Oakland), but still only 25-year-old lefty always profiled as a big strikeout pitcher, and he has shown that with the Athletics, fanning 163 hitters. He also was prone to allowing walks throughout the minors, and he is second in the AL in free passes, although one can get away with it by allowing a .231 batting average. Gonzalez has won 14 games, his second-half ERA is 2.80 and I will rank him better than teammate and 17-game winner Trevor Cahill next season because of the strikeouts. Gonzalez could fan 200 hitters next year.
Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets: We knew sustaining his 4-0 April, and the 0.69 ERA, was too much to ask, and it was when the hittable Pelfrey was tuned up in July for a 10.02 ERA and 42 hits allowed in 20 2/3 innings. He's not that hittable. Pelfrey was cut in many leagues then and not picked up again, but he fixed things with a 1.82 August ERA and is still winning games. Pelfrey is a 15-game winner on a team with a below-average offense, which reminds fantasy owners how unlucky Seattle's Hernandez has been. Pelfrey should start Sunday, and he should be used by fantasy owners needing one last push; he has tossed four consecutive quality starts, and he's 10-3 with a 2.92 ERA at home. He'll get to pitch half the time at home in 2011 as well, which is why I'll call him a top-40 starting pitcher.
Jon Garland, San Diego Padres: Don't laugh. This guy finds a way to win games, but it's not like it has come with a poor ERA and WHIP this season. Garland once won 18 games with a 4.51 ERA. A win Thursday would give him 15, and he enters this outing with a serviceable 3.58 ERA and, get this, a career-best 128 strikeouts. OK, so he's no Tim Lincecum for the whiffs, but he's certainly been ownable this year, as he ranks better on the Player Rater than defending AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. Garland might end up on another team in 2011, but with usable road numbers this season (4.01 ERA, higher K rate on the road) he should be worth drafting late.
Eric Karabell examines a handful of surprise 14-game winners and offers his expectations of these pitchers next season.