Thursday, September 9, 2010

Britney Spears & 2010 Pitching Debuts

Remember last year, when we wrote this piece called Power Arms of the Future?  We wanted to celebrate how impressed we were with performances from young pitchers like Mat Latos, Tommy Hanson, and Neftali Feliz.  The next day, we wrote a post entitled Position Players of the Future, which according to our traffic* numbers became our most popular post since inception.

*Speaking of traffic numbers, the "Britney Spears" part of this post's title is a joke experiment stemming from a brief point made last month's Fangraphs Live NYC event.  The main point was that it is a shame how important a good title is to getting traffic.  You could have a great blog post, but it's rare that a lot of people will click on it if the title isn't appealing.  If you mention "Britney Spears", though, you'll get tons of hits.  (They may have said 'Britney Spears hot pics' or 'Britney Spears panties', but I decided this was still a family blog.)

As something we hope will be a sort of tradition over here, we decided to make the distinction very black and white.  Here are the most exciting pitchers who made their Major League debut in 2010.

For all the Strasburg and Chapman mania, last season's crop of newbies appear a bit more formidable.  Audience, you have the power; you be the judge:

Honorable mention: Jake Arrieta, Felix Doubront, Ivan Nova, Carlos Monasterios, and Michael Kirkman.

25.) Jeremy Jeffress, Brewers
24.) Barry Enright, Diamondbacks
23.) Zach Braddock, Brewers
22.) Dillon Gee, Mets
21.) Fernando Salas, Cardinals
20.) Cory Luebke, Padres
19.) Jose Ceda, Marlins
18.) Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
17.) John Ely, Dodgers
16.) Brad Lincoln, Pirates
15.) Travis Wood, Reds
14.) Jordan Norberto, Diamondbacks
13.) Jonny Venters, Braves
12.) Yunesky Maya, Nationals
11.) Tyson Ross, A's
10.) Sam Demel, Diamondbacks
Jordan Norberto is the current closer, and yet we have his teammate, Sam Demel, ranked ahead of him.  Norberto has a live arm, but his control has been outrageous.  Demel looks to have the pedigree and will be groomed to be the closer down the road.

9.) Sergio Santos, White Sox
A converted power-hitting 6'4" 240lb infielder, Sergio Santos has morphed into an exciting power pitcher for Ozzie Guillen's bullpen.  We love the movement he appears to get on his heavy, mid-nineties fastball.

8.) Jenrry Mejia, Mets
So much of this list is about promise and expectation.  Last year, we seemed to have missed a few times, overrating Chris Tillman and Junichi Tazawa, while underrating Ricky Romero and Mat Latos a bit.  Mejia feels to us like the highest ranked guy who's career could still go either way.  Does he have some lights-out seasons ahead of him?  Are we looking at a back end starter?  Or, could he even be a bust?  For now, we're bullish on Mejia.

7.) Chris Sale, White Sox
At this stage, it feels like we're getting a crop of players that are more or less can't-miss guys.  Sale has been outstanding in his Major League career, allowing only 1 run while striking out 19 batters in 13 innings pitched.

6.) Drew Storen, Nationals
The Nationals closer of the future has been highly touted around these parts since he was drafted 10th overall in the 2009 draft.  There is next to no doubt that he will save 30 games for the Nationals in a season very soon, probably as soon as next year.

5.) Mike Leake, Reds
Leake is a poor man's Greg Maddux, but considering Maddux is a Rolls Royce, Leake can have a very nice career as a Cadillac, or something like that.

4.) Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
We expected Hellickson to dominate the late innings for the Rays, a-la David Price in 2008.  Boy were we wrong.  After a perfect 3-0 record in his first 3 starts and a quality start no decision in his fourth, he has struggled in two relief appearances since returning from the minor leagues to transition to the bullpen.

Not only that, check out the quotes from his manager, Joe Maddon, in the following excerpt from this piece by Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune.
"Opposing hitters are batting .474 against Hellickson the reliever. They batted .172 off Hellickson the starter, who was 3-0 in four starts and posted a 2.05 ERA, allowing six runs in 26 1/3 innings.
"This guy is a pitcher, he's not a thrower. A lot of what he does is based on command and feel," Maddon said. "When you pitch infrequently, that's what we're seeing right now."
-- snip --
Hellickson will not be asked to do what LHP David Price did in 2008, which was basically pitch the Rays to the World Series by earning a win in Game 2 and the save in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox.
-- snip --
"Totally different," Maddon said. "David could come out and throw 96, 97, 98 (mph). They're going to chase a lot of that stuff, too. Jeremy, he's a pitcher. He relies more on location than command. It's two entirely different situations. Couldn't be more different."
We still have Hellickson as high as 4th on this list because we think he's going to be a near dominant starter for at least the next seven or eight years.

3.) Mike Minor, Braves
There's only one David Price
Minor showed up a little late to the party this season, but he's been missing bats, throws from the left side, has the pedigree, and is in an environment that fosters success.  There's not much to criticise with this young gun out of Vanderbilt.  I guess the easiest thing devil's advocate could say is, "He's no David Price."

2.) Aroldis Chapman, Reds
1.) Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
The list of superlatives for both Strasburg and Chapman is long and distinguished.  Anyone who's followed this space the past 15 months knows we are big fans of the two.  It really is incredible for me, as a Cubs fan, to realize that the two most exciting young arms to debut this year - and maybe even in the past 20 years - are being managed by Jim Riggleman and Dusty Baker.  Riggs often takes the blame for destroying Kerry's young arm, while Baker was there for the meteoric rise and fall of Mark Prior.

Although Strasburg is having Tommy John surgery, I think that he is young and talented enough to come back strong and as effective as anyone else in the game.  Let's keep in mind, Kerry Wood was overused, and did not have good mechanics.  Prior also had a few odd occurrences that lead to an injured shoulder.  I feel this point is not mentioned enough, but shoulder injuries are much more devastating for a pitcher than elbow problems.

It'll probably be 2013 before Strasburg may be  serious contender for a Cy Young award, but with a rotation including Strasburg, Maya, Zimmerman, and a bullpen lead by Drew Storen, the future is bright in our nation's capital.

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