Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pitching Dominance and the Next Wave

In reading around the blogs lately and listening to sports talk radio, the two topics I hear most often are a) the wave of young talent that is just now appearing and b) the dominance of pitching in the game of baseball right now. I'm not going to do an exhaustive analysis here, but I think the two are very much related and I want to highlight just how many young, talented pitchers are out there, and what there is yet to look forward to.

Tim Lincecum (Giants) - 26 years old
Everyone knows his name by now and just last week he turned 26, in his 4th Major League season. Timmay has dominated so far in his short career with a K/9 rate of over 10 and back-to-back Cy Young Awards. If he can stay healthy, it's possible we could see one of the best pitching careers of the last 50+ years.

Matt Cain (Giants) - 25 years old
Battery-mate of Lincecum, Cain is even younger and has very much lived in Lincecum's shadow. Cain isn't quite as dominant, but still sports a 3.39ERA in almost 1,000 Major League innings. One aspect of Cain's value is his durability, if he reaches 200IP this season, it will be his 3rd consecutive season of 200+ IP.

Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) - 22 years old
At 22, Kershaw has to be one of the more exciting young pitchers in baseball. He has some control issues at times, but sports of a K/9 rate of 9.5, doesn't give up many home-runs, oh, and did I mention, he's only 22. He's already won 20 games in his short career and will be a guy to keep an eye on.

Mat Latos (Padres) - 22 years old
Buried in forgotten San Diego, Latos is putting together a quietly dominant year and just like Kershaw, he's only 22 years old. In 13 starts this year, Latos has a 3.19ERA and 0.98WHIP and has struck out 3 times as many batters as he's walked. Latos was dominant in the minors and looks to have translated some of that success to the major league level.

Ubaldo Jimenez (Rockies) - 26 years old
Today's matchup with Liriano is a tasty one huh? Since his rookie season in 2007, Jimenez has improved his numbers every season and now is one of the best pitchers in the National League. There's no way he keeps up his current 1.16ERA, but there's no reason to think he can't consistently be around 3.00. He's 26 and we're gonna be seeing him around for awhile.

Yovani Gallardo (Brewers) - 24 years old
Perhaps because he's played on some crappy teams, Gallardo never seems to get any recognition. He's 24, strikes out over 9 per 9IP, and if he played on a better team, would probably be a lot more well-known. He's another one that's gonna be around for awhile.

Jaime Garcia (Cardinals) - 23 years old
He became the 1st rookie pitcher since 1913 to have 12 consecutive outings without allowing more than 2ERs. He currently has a 1.59ERA, 2nd behind only Jimenez, in 13 starts. I wrote about him earlier this year, I think the drop-off to more sustainable numbers is coming soon, but he has certainly shown he can pitch.

Stephen Strasburg (Nationals) - 21 years old
Do I even have to say anything? He's been spectacular in his 1st two major league starts and looks nearly unhittable. I'm looking forward to seeing how he does against some real major league hitting though. Pittsburgh and Cleveland are the AAAA teams of the Majors.

Tommy Hanson (Braves) - 23 years old
Hanson is 23 years old and in 35 Major League starts, he has a 3.08ERA and 1.19WHIP. He strikes out almost 9 per 9IP and wins games with 18 wins already. He finished 3rd in the ROY voting last year and it won't be long before we see him in All-Star games.

...and that's just the National League. And that's not including pitchers like Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, J.A. Happ or handfuls of other good pitchers in the NL like Carpenter, Wainwright, Billingsley, Haren, Hamels, Hudson, etc, etc. Now to the American League.

David Price (Rays)
It's hard not to start with the Rays, and Price has really come on strong this year, posting his 10th victory the other day. He's not the strikeout artist that some of the other young phenoms are, but he's held his own on a strong Rays staff, and in the AL East no less...

Matt Garza (Rays) - 26 years old
The Twins bailed on Garza WAY too early, and he has been great the past few years, now working on his 4th consecutive season with a sub-4.00 ERA and a 2nd consecutive season of 200+ IP.

Phil Hughes (Yankees) - 24 years old
It took Hughes a little while to settle in, but he has really opened some eyes this season sporting a near 9K/9IP rate and a tiny 1.12WHIP. He's won 9 games already this season against 1 loss and has emerged as one of the Yankees better starting pitching options next to CC.

Francisco Liriano (Twins) - 26 years old
Liriano looks to be back near his rare form of 2006 with back-to-back 10K+ efforts in his last two starts. He's definitely the Twins #1 option at this point and if he can continue to have success post-Tommy John, there's no reason to think he won't stick around for several years to come.

Clay Buchholz (Red Sox)- 25 years old
I tend to think Buchholz is just having a good year, but he's been very good so far, posting a 2.67ERA in 84+ IP. He still has a lot to prove, but he's someone worth watching.

Jon Lester (Red Sox) - 26 years old
Lester is also having a very good year so far for the Red Sox and looks to be legit. He had a 10+ K/9 rate last year and his WHIP has gone down every season so far.

Brian Matusz (Orioles) - 23 years old
Hopefully he'll get traded because I think he's a lot better than what he's shown and he's a diamond in the rough pitching for the Orioles. He's young yet so keep an eye out for him.

John Danks (White Sox) - 25 years old
Danks has been a man among boys this year within the White Sox rotation and has been perhaps the only one to duplicate past success this season. He has an impressive 3.18ERA and 1.18WHIP and is on pace for another 200 inning season. He should be the front man of the White Sox rotation for a few years.

Felix Hernandez (Mariners) - 24 years old
King Felix is definitely one of the best pitchers in the AL and finished 2nd behind Zack Greinke for the AL Cy Young award last year. Hernandez would be a superstar if he pitched for a large market team, but he's put up superstar numbers the last few season in Seattle and is the clear ace of their staff despite Cliff Lee's presence. I predict Hernandez will win the AL Cy Young award at some point, hopefully soon.

I could go on and on; Ricky Romero, Brett Anderson, Rick Porcello, Wade Davis, Kevin Slowey, etc. The fact is, the number of good arms out there right now is starting to outnumber the good bats, especially in terms of what we see coming out of the minors. The 'changing of the guard' for pitchers is or has happened and the same thing is starting to happen for batters. Players like Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones are starting to filter out and new bats like Jason Heyward, Buster Posey  and Mike Stanton are bursting onto the scene. Personally I think it's a great time to be a baseball fan, there's a lot going on right now!

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