Around the MajorsJune 17, 2008
A Quick Look at the Rookie Pitchers
By Marc Hulet

Now that we are at the midway point in June, it is the perfect time to take a look at how the Rookie of the Year races are shaping up in both the American League and the National League. Today we'll take a gander at the pitchers and I'll come back on Wednesday with a look at the hitters.

National League

  • Jair Jurrjens, RHP, Atlanta Braves
    2008: 84.0 IP | 86 H | 34 BB-62 SO | 118 ERA+

    Jair Jurrjens has been solid for Atlanta this season, which has helped to ease the loss of veteran Tom Glavine to injury. Jurrjens has the most impressive won-loss record of the rookie hurlers in the National League at 7-3 (a fact that unfortunately is important to voters at the end of the season). His rates are OK at 6.48 K/9 and 3.77 BB/9 but they do not suggest superstar-in-the-making; instead they appear to be more in line with a No. 3 starter. Major League hitters are batting .266 against Jurrjens, who has similar numbers against both left-handed and right-handed batters.

  • John Lannan, LHP, Washington Nationals
    2008: 76.0 IP | 78 H | 26 BB-46 SO | 123 ERA+

    John Lannan has been effective in his brief career so far, which is a little surprising considering he was an 11th round draft pick in 2005 out of a small college. He also doesn't exactly have overwhelming stuff. Regardless, through 76 innings this season, Lannan's ERA stands at 3.43. His rates are OK, but not great at 5.45 K/9 and 3.08 BB/9. Batters are hitting .267 against him. The numbers suggest Lannan could be a pretty solid No. 4 starter but he is probably not going to be a future All-Star or even the Rookie of the Year... although stranger things have happened.

  • Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
    2008: 82.1 IP | 84 H | 27 BB-50 SO | 107 ERA+

    It's hardly fair to compare a pitcher with 91 career wins and more than 1,500 innings pitched in Japan's top baseball league to 22- and 23-year-old true-blue rookies, but that's Major League Baseball for you. Despite his success and the press surrounding him, Hiroki Kuroda actually has similar rates to Lannan: 5.47 K/9, 2.95 BB/9 and he has allowed a .266 batting average against in 82.1 innings. Kuroda, 32, also has only three wins in his 14 starts. He has been good, but hardly dominating.

  • Johnny Cueto, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
    2008: 79.2 IP | 82 H | 31 BB-72 SO | 81 ERA+

    Johnny Cueto caught the attention of the baseball world with a sizzling month of April but he has cooled considerably. Regardless, his future remains bright. Cueto needs to cut down on the hits allowed (82 in 79.2 innings) and walks (3.50 BB/9). He also needs to keep the ball in the park (18 homers) but he is pitching in a homer-happy stadium. His strikeout rate of 8.13 K/9 will earn him some votes in the Rookie of the Year balloting, but his ERA will hurt him (5.42).

  • Max Scherzer, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
    2008: 31.0 IP | 25 H | 14 BB-33 SO | 154 ERA+

    If Max Scherzer returns to the majors soon enough, he could still be in the running for Rookie of the Year in the National League at the end of the season. He was recently demoted to the minors to stretch out his arm for a role reversal from reliever and spot starter to full-time starter. Many scouts believe Scherzer is better-suited to relieving long-term, but he will have an opportunity to prove them wrong. He has had a nice start to his career with a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings, as well as a rate of 9.58 K/9 and only two homers allowed. Batters are hitting only .222 against him. He is walking more than four batters per nine innings, which obviously needs to improve.

    American League

  • Greg Smith, LHP, Oakland Athletics
    2008: 79.2 IP | 68 H | 33 BB-62 SO | 107 ERA+

    Greg Smith, an afterthought in the Danny Haren winter trade, was supposed to be an organizational soldier and at best a swing man in the bullpen in 2008. Instead, he has been a savior and one of the Athletics' most valuable players. He is third in innings pitched amongst Major League rookies, second in ERA and second in hits allowed per nine innings (minimum 50 innings). In 79.2 innings pitched, Smith has allowed 68 hits and has held batters to a .232 average. Like most rookies, he is allowing too many walks with a rate of 3.73 BB/9.

  • Nick Blackburn, RHP, Minnesota Twins
    2008: 86.0 IP | 106 H | 15 BB-46 SO | 103 ERA+

    Nick Blackburn, like Smith, has been an unexpected savior for his pitching staff, compensating for the ineffectiveness of Francisco Liriano. Blackburn is tops amongst rookie hurlers with 86 innings pitched but he has also allowed 106 hits. His control though (only 15 walks) helps to make up for that, and keeps his WHIP from getting out of hand. Like many of the rookie pitchers, Blackburn is not blowing anyone away and he has struck out fewer than five batters per nine innings.

  • Clay Buchholz, RHP, Boston Red Sox
    2008: 42.1 IP | 49 H | 20 BB-43 SO | 79 ERA+

    Despite making a name for himself last season with his heroics, including a no-hitter, Clay Buchholz has had an up-and-down year, complete with injuries and demotions. Regardless, the 22-year-old has some of the most impressive "stuff" amongst the rookies and a strong second half could help him significantly in the Rookie of the Year voting. Buchholz has the greatest chance of having an All-Star career out of all the American League hurlers but it remains to be seen how big of an impact he will have in his rookie season. He currently has a 5.53 ERA in 42.1 innings with more than one hit allowed per inning pitched.

  • Armando Galarraga, RHP, Detroit Tigers
    2008: 65.1 IP | 40 H | 27 BB-44 SO | 127 ERA+

    Claimed off the scrap heap from Texas (gee, could they use a pitcher or five?), Armando Galarraga has been a solid performer since being promoted from the minors. He has a 3.31 ERA and a 6-2 record on the season. He has pitched 65.1 innings so far and allowed just 40 hits. He has also posted rates of 6.06 K/9 and 3.72 BB/9. Do Ranger fans dare to dream about what a rotation would look like with Galarraga and Edinson Volquez in it?

  • Aaron Laffey, LHP, Cleveland Indians
    2008: 57.1 IP | 53 H | 13 BB-28 SO | 150 ERA+

    Aaron Laffey has been laughing at American League batters so far this season with a 4-3 record and 2.83 ERA. In 57.1 innings, he has allowed 53 hits and only 2.04 BB/9. Unfortunately, he has also struck out only 4.40 batters per nine innings. Cleveland fans can only hope he does not implode like Jeremy Sowers.

  • Comments

    Why no Joba? Has he not made enough starts? How about Hochevar? Former high pick SHOULD get some respect.

    I think I was a rookie last year.

    nope, not enough innings/games on roster...he's very much so a rookie

    sorry. not him, you

    Hochevar was closer to getting added than Joba... But his numbers were nothing better than those on the list and I only wanted to look at the Top 5 in each league. Joba is hurt by the fact he spent the first third of the season in the bullpen and wasn't the closer. Middle relievers and set-up men rarely, if ever, earn the Rookie of the Year... Now, if Joba does well in the rotation the rest of the way, he'll likely get coverage in the late-season look at the rookies.

    So then why is scherzer in there? No other viable candidate in the NL?

    I put Galarraga and Laffey on my fantasy team last month. I've not been disappointed.

    I don't see how Buchholz makes the list and Joba doesn't - whether you're looking at "who would get votes today" or "who will get votes in October."

    Right now, neither might get many votes, but Joba's 2.28 ERA in 23 relief innings + a 2.84 ERA in his first three "starts" would at least put him on the radar, while no one's going to give Buchholz the time of day with a 5.53 ERA.

    Looking forward, Joba is only 5 GS behind Buchholz right now and gaining; he'll take the IP lead in another start or two. At minimum, those are close enough that Joba's huge ERA lead (16 fewer ER in 6 fewer IP translates to ~1 ERA difference in 130-150 IP) should put him comfortably ahead in the race.

    Also, my dark horse pick for NL ROY is Jorge Campillo. He'll wind up with 25 starts if he stays in the rotation all year, and he's currently posting a 186 ERA+ thanks to a 5:1 K:BB ratio (7.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9) and 4 HR allowed in 54 IP. He could certainly vanish as quickly as he arrived, of course, but his peripherals certainly look more impressive than any other candidate's.

    Don't know about the other pitchers on this list, but Greg Smith's ERA is much lower than his peripherals suggest, his xFIP (via The Hardball Times) is much higher, suggesting he should regress if he does not improve his peripherals going forward.

    Great pick Chris! Certainly Campillo should be there. Certainly he has better numbers than Cueto, Scherzer and probably Kuroda

    Masterson gets my vote, although probably for next year.

    Hochevar has been getting much better. as has Andrew Miller, Miller should have been listed over all but Cueto

    Miller is not eligible... his rookie status expired last year. Campillo was considered but again he began in the bullpen and has such fringe stuff (mid-80s fastball) that I can't see him being effective long-term.

    If you think Campillo's stuff is "fringe," you should seen him wreck the Angles last Sunday. He gave up two runs through 8, and those came on a pop-up that Kotchman somehow hooked around that 300 ft. foul pole on the RF line. I think he ended up facing 4 over the minimum, had a great K-rate and GO/AO rate. His FB might have poor velocity, but pair it with his plus change, plus curve, plus command & control....

    Anyhow, he's got nearly twice the innings of Scherzer (who, incidentally, also started in the 'pen), (arguably) better components, and a better adjusted ERA.

    I dunno. I guess he could fade once some good scouting reports get out on him and people stop swinging and missing at his out-of-the-zone junk, but I think he's got some staying power.

    Why not Manny Parra, I think he deserves to be mentioned in this article. He is a very good left handed pitcher, that has good velocity, control, and can strike guys out at a good rate. He has been pretty good so far w/ the Brewers, look for him to get even better.