While perusing Tuesday’s boxscores, something amazing jumped out at us. The names of the pitching heroes all seemed to share a common theme.
Jon Lester’s amazing one-hit shutout, finished off by Jonathan Papelbon; Francisco Liriano coming within one out of his first complete game; Chad Billingsley tossing seven superb innings for his first career win; Joe Saunders throwing an excellent seven innings with just four hits allowed; Shaun Marcum firing five innings of shutout, one-hit ball; Carlos Marmol earning a win by throwing six strong innings with 6 Ks; Mike Pelfrey winning on the strength of a solid six-inning outing; Clay Hensley chalking up a victory based on six strong innings.
Notice anything interesting about all this? The fact that every single one of those gems was put up by a rookie leads us to believe that we could soon be entering a new golden age of pitching.
In recent years, high-end Fantasy pitching has been dominated by the Geritol set: Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Kenny Rogers, Curt Schilling, Tom Glavine, Jamie Moyer, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and the like.
Now these vets are all still quality options, but the rookie pitcher crop of 2006, unlike any we’ve seen in many, many years, suggests that the baton is about to be passed to a new generation of mound stars.
Of course, that doesn’t even factor in second- and third-year pitchers who have already or will soon establish themselves as aces (such as Scott Kazmir, Jeff Francis, Francisco Rodriguez, Huston Street, Felix Hernandez, etc.) or minor league prospects still waiting their chance (Homer Bailey, Phillip Hughes, Scott Elbert, Jason Hirsch, etc.)
This wave of young, talented arms certainly answers the question that many Fantasy owners have had for years: where is all the young pitching? Well, it’s arrived.
But they’re not just here. They’re real, and they’re spectacular.
Every major league team has at least one freshman hurler who’s made a contribution this season. Let’s run through the Show and recap the highlights of the rookie class of 2006.
Boston Red Sox: Papelbon has been all that, and more. He’s ruining his chances as a future starter because he’s just so damned lights out as a closer. After Tuesday’s gem, Lester is now 5-0, 2.38. Who would have thought the BoSox would find the answer to their rotation depth within their own system? Having already dealt away Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia in the Josh Beckett deal, and Cla Meredith to get Doug Mirabelli back, the Sox left themselves fairly thin in the pitching prospect ranks. Or so it looked. Other young BoSox hurlers to step up this season include Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen, who have helped stabilize the bullpen.
Baltimore Orioles: Rockin’ Leo Mazzone’s presence hasn’t exactly had the positive impact on the starting staff as many (ourselves included) expected, but the bullpen looks solid thanks to great work from a trio of rooks: Chris Britton, Kurt Birkins and Sandy Rleal.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Tim Corcoran has fit in well as a swing man, while Jon Switzer and Ruddy Lugo have each earned more important roles as set-up men for the Rays.
Toronto Blue Jays: Casey Janssen has been inconsistent, but he’s kept the Jays in many games, especially when he was first called up. And although he’s since been farmed out, reliever Francisco Rosario opened some eyes in the Toronto organization.
New York Yankees: Matt Smith gave up only four hits in 12 scoreless innings, but was sent down because the club needed outfield help. He’ll be back.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers’ renaissance this year has been built upon their arms, and rookies have played key roles, from Justin Verlander excelling as a starter to Joel Zumaya looking like the heir apparent at closer with his 100 mph+ heat. Despite some command issues, Jordan Tata showed promise as a middle reliever before getting demoted. Zach Miner gives Detroit a second rookie in its rotation, and he hasn’t looked overmatched in the least.
Cleveland Indians: It’s been a tough year in Cleveland, but on the plus side the club may have found its long-term closing solution in Fausto Carmona. He’s been elevated to a set-up gig and should Bob Wickman be dealt, Carmona could get a shot at some saves. The bullpen has also been bolstered by freshman Edward Mujica and, earlier in the season, Rafael Perez.
Minnesota Twins: Forget about being the top rookie, Liriano looks like he’ll be the best pitcher in baseball in short order. He won his 11th game Tuesday, cutting his ERA under 2.00. What are they feeding those young twirlers in Twins Land?
Chicago White Sox: Closer Bobby Jenks is proving his playoff run last season was no fluke. How about 50 Ks in 42.1 IP?
Kansas City Royals: There’s not much to be excited about in KC these days. Joe Nelson has been the club’s best rookie pitcher, but he’s 31 years old. Yup, like we said… not much to get jacked about.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers have plenty of pitching prospects on the way (Edison Volquez, Thomas Diamond and John Danks, for instance), but this year, the two who have shone brightest are relievers Bryan Corey and Wes Littleton. Corey, of course, is not exactly a long-term prospect at the age of 32.
Oakland Athletics: The A’s had a great rookie pitching class last year with Joe Blanton and Street. This year, the only notable contribution came from Ron Flores, who pitched well, but was sent down to Triple-A a couple of days ago.
Seattle Mariners: Jake Woods has made the most significant contribution to the Mariners among rookie pitchers. If he gets his control under wraps, his value will increase.
Los Angeles Angels: Jered Weaver has made a huge splash, not only for his brilliant pitching, but also because the Angels had him replace his own brother!
On Thursday, we’ll recap the National League rookie pitcher class.