Top AL Rookie Pitchers

This week we’re taking a look at some of the top rookies in Major League Baseball in an attempt to ascertain who is the most deserving candidate for Rookie of the Year in both the American and National Leagues. Today, we’ll take a look at five starting pitchers (minimum 100 IP) in the American League who have a solid chance at the Rookie of the Year award. Yesterday, we looked at the top rookie hitters in the AL.

Brett Anderson, LHP, Oakland Athletics

For whatever reason, teammate Trevor Cahill seems to get more ink than Anderson, although the latter player is definitely having the more consistent season. A 2006 second round draft pick out of an Oklahoma high school (by Arizona), Anderson spent just two seasons in the minors before making the club out of spring training in 2009. The southpaw has allowed 126 hits in 121.2 innings of work and he’s leading AL rookie pitchers in strikeouts with 98 (7.25 K/9) while maintaining a solid walk rate at 2.59 BB/9. Anderson appears to be maintaining the velocity on his fastball better at the MLB level, than he did in the minors. He’s got a respectable ground-ball rate at 49.1% and he’s limiting the line drives with a rate of 14.3%. Also on the positive side, Anderson’s numbers have improved across the board in July and August so he’s learning and making adjustments.

Brad Bergesen, RHP, Baltimore Orioles

Perhaps the least-heard-about-name on this list, Bergesen just keeps plugging away despite having almost zero hype entering the season. The former fourth round draft pick was taken out of a California high school in 2004 and he honed his skills in the minors for five seasons. Bergesen has almost freaky-good control, having posted a walk rate below 2.00 BB/9 in all but one minor league season prior to 2009 (his first, when he appeared in just five games). The right-hander is a sinker/slider pitcher whose fastball averages around the upper-80s, so he needs that control (and command) to succeed. As he gets around the league a little more, Bergesen may have to break out the changeup (7.9% usage) a little more. His ground-ball rate of 50.1% definitely helps him survive in the AL East. Overall, he’s allowed 126 hits in 123.1 innings of work, while also posting a walk rate of 2.34 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 4.74 K/9.

Jeff Niemann, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

The 6’9” right-hander took longer to reach the Majors than many thought he would after being taken fourth overall out of Rice University in the 2004 draft. It’s been worth the wait for the 26-year-old pitcher. After a couple of up-and-down months to start the year, Niemann has settled in to become one of the Rays’ most reliable starters. Overall, he has allowed 116 hits in 120.2 innings of work. He has a 2.98 BB/9 rate and a strikeout rate of 5.74 K/9. Niemann, though, has been helped by a low BABIP allowed of .283. He’s also a flyball pitcher who has kept the ball in the park (0.90 HR/9). Niemann doesn’t throw as hard as he did in college – now averaging around 92 mph – but he mixes in four pitches. He handles right-handed and left-handed batters well, with identical batting-averages-allowed at .255.

Rick Porcello, RHP, Detroit Tigers

Not surprisingly, the 20-year-old rookie has wilted a bit under the hot summer sun (8.79 ERA, 21 hits in 14 innings in July). With only one minor league season under his belt, Porcello has performed admirably given his lack of experience. In 20 starts, he’s allowed 118 hits in 111 innings of work, while also posting a solid walk rate of 3.08 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 4.54 K/9. Home runs have been an issue for Porcello (1.38 HR/9) even though he has a ground-ball rate of 56.1%. He’s been aided by a low BABIP allowed of .282. Porcello relies heavily on his sinking fastball that averages out around 91 mph, but he also mixes in a curveball and changeup. The right-hander has a very bright future but he’s fallen back a bit in the Rookie of the Year race.

Ricky Romero, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays

Romero is a perfect example of how patience is often needed when dealing with young players – and pitchers in particular. After being taken with the sixth overall pick of the 2005 draft out of Cal State Fullerton, the southpaw struggled with his command and confidence in the minors. He was constantly compared to Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who was selected one pick after Romero and reached in the Majors in his first full season. Romero finally earned the call to the Majors in his fifth pro season, but he’s still young at the age of 24. The southpaw made some adjustments to his delivery with Toronto’s pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and his command and control have both significantly improved. Overall, Romero has allowed 114 hits in 115.2 innings, while also posting a walk rate of 3.42 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 7.00 K/9. He’s allowed his fair share of line drives at 20.3%, but he’s done a nice job of offsetting that with ground balls at 52%. Romero has a nice fastball for a lefty and it averages out around 91.6 mph. He also utilizes a curveball, slider, and changeup.

Honorable Mention: Andrew Bailey, RHP, Oakland Athletics

It’s hard for relievers to get taken seriously for the Rookie of the Year award, but Bailey is definitely making a name for himself. The right-hander has racked up 16 saves in 20 attempts for the Athletics. He also has a stunning strikeout rate of 10.29 K/9. His walk rate is 3.14 BB/9. Bailey, 25, has limited batters to 40 hits in 63 innings of work. His success is even more impressive considering that he spent the majority of his minor league career working out of the starting rotation.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some rookie hitters in the National League.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

19 Responses to “Top AL Rookie Pitchers”

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  1. Karl says:

    I agree with the Brett Anderson assessment. He’s been incredibly hot this summer but the wins don’t show it. Anderson’s been victimized by the A’s terrible offense. The kid has only given up 13 runs in 52 2/3 innings. In my mind, he’s already the A’s ace. Forget the loud Cahill homers.

    Interestingly, Jeff Niemann has basically turned into the Rays’ #1 guy (10 wins). His stuff isn’t better than Garza or Shields but Longoria & Co. just show him the love offensively.

    If you could have any of the pitchers above, who would you take?

    Karl Moats, Writer
    Check out my latest post: Don’t Jinx Him Now But Brett Anderson Is Rolling
    Love/Hate It? Email me at

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    • RaysForever says:

      Agree with the Niemann run support point. He’s been our rock star so far. I wish I could buy Garza some runs.

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    • Michael says:

      I didn’t know the guy who won the most games was your No. 1 starter. Please tell me more, Mr. Karl of great fantasy wisdom.

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    • Terminator X says:

      Just a heads up, advertising your site on here probably won’t go over very well. Also, do some more research on BABIP, you’re blatantly misunderstanding it. A low BABIP is a BAD sign for a pitcher, not a good one. BABIP is largely out of a pitcher’s control, and a low one just means he’s been getting lucky.

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      • Karl says:

        Apologies if it came across like an advertisement. Per Niemann, I wasn’t referring to his BABIP (though that’s a great point, Terminator X). I was simply saying he’s enjoyed significant more run support than Garza and Shields. In terms of fantasy, I’d rather have had him over the last couple weeks.

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      • Not David says:

        If it “came across like an advertisement?” What else would that ridiculous signature you slap on the end of every comment come across as?

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      • Ed says:

        Yes, please stop with the shameless plugs in your comments.

        Speaking of BABIP, I was thinking the other day, wouldn’t it be cool if you could customize a T-shirt with your own message and order it on-line for less than $20? Check it out now:

        Head Writer,

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  2. fanofdefenseagain says:

    I assume that “Karl” is an internal, Fangraphs practical joke.

    A “fantasy writer” who comments on pitcher wins.

    Too funny.

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  3. Marc Hulet says:

    Long term, I think Porcello and Anderson are the best bets of the players in the post.

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  4. Travis L says:

    Why was Romero compared to Tulowitski? Did he start out as an IF?

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  5. Or says:

    What about Derek Holland? He’s got a very solid K/BB ratio, has shown definite signs of recent improvement, throwing two masterpieces lately, keeps the ball on the ground, has an 18.5% LD rate…

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  6. Nathan says:

    I’m excited to see if Neftali Feliz jumps into this discussion should he have a Joba-esque (Jobarian?) stretch run with the Rangers.

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  7. Eric/OR says:

    Bailey wins ROY, as did Street a few years prior.

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    • Paul Thomas says:

      Maybe he will, but Anderson should… having a season like this as a 21-year-old. I mean, the sky’s really the limit for him. There’s not a single thing he doesn’t do well, other than that he probably won’t win any Gold Gloves fielding his position.

      Cahill, by contrast, needs a reboot from disk in AAA.

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  8. paul says:

    Porcello “wilting”, last 2 games has been strong

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  9. Keith says:

    No Holland? That seems like a crime in considering his recent domination.

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  10. Nick says:

    Don’t be dicks to Karl.

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  11. OsandRoayals says:

    Holland didn’t, make the list presumably because of two reasons:
    a) he split time as a reliever and starter and unlike Bailey didn’t collect a multitude of saves.
    b) he’s 20-40 innings behind all the other starters, which is a significant amount (at least 3 starts really)

    Not mentioned is that Bergeson and Romero lead all rookies by a significant margin with ~6.4 innings per start (granted Porcello was on a stricter pitch count and probably would lead if his pitch count was closer to everyone else’s)

    Another note: Bergeson’s recovery from a shin contusion has been slowed so he’s likely to drop out of the rankings as he falls further behind

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