WTNYSeptember 02, 2004
Rooks
By Bryan Smith

WTNY favorite Jeff Francis made his second start Tuesday night, and like Scott Kazmir, struggled badly. Unlike the Devil Ray, Francis never had a good first start, leaving his season ERA at 13.50. Both pitchers have been terribly inefficient since reaching the Majors, as Francis threw 97 pitches in only 4 1/3 innings. To make matters worse, only 52 pitches were strikes. This is not the pattern of success, and must change for Francis to succeed.

Overall, the San Francisco Giants knocked Francis for seven hits, eight runs and four walks in his 4+ innings of work. Again, his strikeout numbers looked good, which convinces me speaks of future success. But both Marquis Grissom and Yorvit Torrealba hit home runs off Francis, totaling five for the season. Lets just say, this does not seem positive for a Rockie.

The intense struggles that Kazmir and Francis endured made me realize that rookie pitchers are not doing well this season. Seattle has seen horrible performances from highly touted pitchers Clint Nageotte and Travis Blackley, destroying perceptions of both. Im convinced that players so unanimously highly thought of wont all fail, and just will feature slower learning patters than most.

So I went back to my preseason prospect rankings, and looked at all the pitchers that have debuted in the Majors this season. It totals nine, the four that Ive mentioned plus Edwin Jackson, Zack Greinke, John Van Benschoten, Merkin Valdez and Ryan Wagner. When combined, the totals are not impressive

13-23 5.97 ERA 10.23 H/9 6.17 K/9 1.48 K/BB

This 'player' would have the third worst ERA in the Majors, right ahead of Jose Acevedo and Shawn Estes. The peripherals are similar to Brett Myers, who has an ERA about a half run lower. 5.50 is about more where these players seem to stand, but disastrous performances by Blackley and Valdez skew the numbers. No matter what, they show that pitchers need to have a large learning curve when coming into the Majors.

But what about the hitters? From my preseason top 50, ten hitters have played in the Majors...

Bobby Crosby
Alexis Rios
Jason Bay
Scott Hairston
Justin Morneau
David Wright
Casey Kotchman
Joe Mauer
Grady Sizemore
B.J. Upton

This list doesn't include Khalil Greene, the Padres shortstop that missed my top 50 but will likely win the NL Rookie of the Year. If only Jason Bay hadn't missed time and had more exposure, I wouldn't be looking quite so bad. But when combining these ten seasons, I get...

.272/.336/.468 in 2087 AB

To put this into perspective, an .804 OPS would slot in between Alfonso Soriano and Torii Hunter for the 84th best total in baseball. Actually, these numbers are very similar to Hunter's, the Twins centerfielder currently making $8 million a season. While I would hope a group this highly touted would be better than that, an .804 OPS is considerably better than a 5.97 ERA.

So, why are hitters adjusting that much better to Major League pitching?

The most obvious reason is age. The ten hitters average age is 22.4, while the pitchers are at 21.7. Three of the nine pitchers can't consume alcohol, compared to only one hitter. And furthermore, three of the hitters main contributors had Major League experience (Crosby, Morneau, Bay), while only two pitchers even had cups of coffee. Bay and Morneau each had almost 100 at-bats, and the two alone supply almost half of the group's 82 home runs.

Well, I got even more curious, wanting to know which rookie pitchers are succeeding. Turns out...not too many. Only five pitchers with five starts have ERAs under 4.95, one of which is Zack Greinke. The other four: Bobby Madritsch, Noah Lowry, Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard. So I went back to 2003, and looked if there was anything telling in their numbers that would help in projectability.

First of all, this is a very interesting group. Madritsch is an Independent League pick-up in his late twenties, and Lowry is turning things around at an old age as well. Cabrera spent last season in the Sally League, and Bedard pitched only 19.1 innings. Their ERAs were all over, from 3.63 to 4.24 to 4.72. The H/9, K/9 and K/BB stats were all inconsistent. What wasn't? HR/9. Bobby Madritsch allowed 11 home runs in 158.2 innings, Lowry gave up 7 in 118.1, Cabrera allowed 6 in 125.1, and Bedard surrendered one in 19.1 innings pitched. And it's also fair to include Zack Greinke, who allowed ten in 140 innings of work.

In the very least, this little exercise further verifies Dayn Perry's expirament that showed importance in HR/9. These five pitchers gave up a combined 35 home runs in 2003, despite pitching in more than 560 innings.

When preparing for your fantasy draft next year, my advice to you is to check some minor league HR/9 numbers, you just might find a diamond in the rough.

Comments

Dave Bush!?!?!? He has more than five starts (doesn't he) had zero MLB experience coming into this year and has some real nice numbers. Where's the love ;-) ?

Donkit--
I was using the ESPN stats page, and for some reason must have skipped over Bush's name. If anything, Bush only further proves the point, since he allowed only ten home runs in over 150 innings last year.

Contrary to your statement, Edwin Jackson did not make his MLB debut this year. Jackson's MLB debut came on September 9, 2003, with Jackson defeating Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday.

Don't give up on Jeff Francis just yet. He knows how to pitch and will learn from his mistakes. Remember, he only had 41 IP at the AAA level before getting called up to face two playoff-caliber lineups in his first two starts.

Richard--
I know he pitched last year, but he still counts as a rookie this year.

Dan--
I'll never give up on Jeff Francis. I like him way too much, but he has a lot of learning to do. I would recommend they shut him down for awhile.

Francis pitched well last night in Petco Park to shut down the Padres for five innings.

Bryan, keep all these farm system rankings coming thick and fast!

You compared the rookie hitters to the rookie pitchers...and thought their ages were different. Well, perhaps (I won't do a t-test to confirm or deny), but the real age-related difference is how far each group is away from its peak years. Hitters peak at about 27, so your group is only five years away from peaking. Meanwhile, pitchers peak at around 30, meaning your group is about 8-9 years away.

Perhaps that's the telling difference between your pitching prospects and your hitting prospects.