Thursday, March 18, 2010

Best Cuban pitchers in history

The hype surrounding Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman continues to ratchet up after his first spring training start for the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.

After hitting 102 mph on the radar gun in his Cactus League debut on March 8, the 22-year-old lefty -- after allowing a home run to the first batter he faced -- was "almost untouchable," striking out five batters in three innings in his first spring training start on Wednesday.

Whether Chapman will become the next star Cuban major league pitcher remains to be determined. While we wait to find out the answer, here's my top 5 pitchers who were born in Cuba:

1. Martin Dihigo: Because of baseball's color barrier, Dihigo (right), born in Matanzas in 1906, never played in the majors, but the Negro League star is enshrined in the Halls of Fame in the United States, Cuba and Mexico.

A versatile player who played multiple positions, Dihigo -- known in Cuba as El Inmortal, The Immortal One -- compiled a 104-56 record in 18 seasons in Cuba pitching for Habana, Marianao Almendares, Santa Clara and Cienfuegos, according to Jorge S. Figueredo's book, Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

2. Jose Mendez: Born in Cárdenas in 1887, El Diamante Negro, the Black Diamond, also was denied a career in the majors because of the color of his skin, but he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a special election of Negro League players in 2006.

In 13 seasons in Cuba, pitching for Almendares, Santa Clara and Matanzas, Mendez compiled a 76-28 record, according to Figueredo's research.

3. Luis Tiant: The four-time 20-game winner leads all Cuban-born pitchers with 229 career major-league victories (229-172) to go with a 3.30 ERA and 2,416 strikeouts.

Tiant's best season came in 1968 with the Cleveland Indians, when he went 21-9 with an American League-leading 1.60 ERA and nine shutouts, while striking out 264 batters.

4. Adolfo Luque: In 20 major-league seasons, The Pride of Havana, compiled a 194-175 career record with a 3.24 ERA.

His best season came in 1923 with the Cincinnati Reds. After losing 23 games despite a 3.31 ERA the previous season, Luque (left) led the National League with 27 wins (eight losses), a 1.93 ERA and six shutouts.

5. (tie) Mike Cuellar and Camilo Pascual: Cuellar was a four-time 20-game winner, posting a career 3.14 ERA in 15 major-league seasons while winning 185 games with 130 losses. His best season came in 1969 when he went 23-11 with a 2.38 ERA with the Baltimore Orioles.

Given his 3.63 career ERA, Pascual, a two-time 20-game winner, deserved better than his 4-games-above .500 174-170 record in 18 major-league seasons. His best season came in 1963: 21-9 with a 2.46 ERA and an AL-leading 202 strikeouts with the Minnesota Twins.

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