Top NL 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 three rookie pitchers in the National League who have performed fairly well in their first seasons as they chase the Rookie of the Year award. On Monday we looked at the top rookie hitters in the AL, on Tuesday we looked at the top rookie pitchers in the AL, and yesterday we looked at the top hitters in the NL.

J.A. Happ, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies

The 26-year-old Happ has truly made a name for himself this season, so much so that the Toronto Blue Jays insisted that he be included in any deal for former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. The southpaw is pitching well in the heat of a pennant race with just 99 hits allowed in 121 innings of work. His rates are solid too at 3.05 BB/9 and 6.62 K/9. A word of caution, though, as Happ is being aided by a low BABIP allowed of .256 and he is a fly-ball pitcher. His repertoire includes a fastball that averages out around 90 mph, as well as a cutter, changeup and occasional breaking ball.

Kenshin Kawakami, RHP, Atlanta Braves

Kawakami has arguably been the second most reliable rookie starter in the National League in 2009, although in fairness he’s a 34-year-old Japanese veteran. The right-hander has allowed 112 hits in 118 innings of work, while posting a walk rate of 3.74 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 6.41 K/9. He’s had a little trouble with the long ball and he gives up his fair share of fly balls. Kawakami averages out at 90 mph on the fastball and his repertoire includes a number of pitches, including a curveball and splitter. The Japanese native pitches better at home (3.28 ERA) than on the road (4.92 ERA). Kawakami has been battling through some minor ailments as of late.

Randy Wells, RHP, Chicago Cubs

Wells has been a godsend for the Cubs in 2009 and the organization almost lost him in 2007/08 when the Toronto Blue Jays organization nabbed him in the Rule 5 draft. After just one MLB appearance, though, the Jays cut Wells loose and Chicago gladly took him back. The converted catcher is 26 years old, but he is big, strong and has a fresh arm. So far this season, Wells has allowed 102 hits in 107.2 innings of work. He has an excellent walk rate at 2.02 BB/9 and a respectable (but low-ish) strikeout rate at 5.68 K/9. Right-handed batters are having a much more difficult time hitting for average against Wells (.228) than left-handers (.288). He’s approaching his career high in innings pitched.

Quick Hits: Jordan Zimmermann (Washington) was on pace to be a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate before blowing out his elbow. Now it looks like the pitcher – who was leading rookie starters in K/9 – will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss all of 2010. Tommy Hanson (Atlanta Braves) has pitched just 73.2 innings so he falls short of qualifying for consideration this week. With a great final month and a half, though, he could vault himself into the race.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap things up.




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


24 Responses to “Top NL Rookie Pitchers”

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  1. pm says:

    If you are going to include Kawakami, you should have included Craig Stammen on the list because he has a better FIP than Kawakami and Stammen plays with the worst defense in baseball.

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  2. JR says:

    You say caution on Happ because he has a low BABIP and he’s a flyball pitcher. But don’t those two things go together?

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  3. Rahul says:

    Happ also has a LOB of 84.1%…really don’t think he is anything special

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    • don says:

      It’s hard to know what to make of small sample sizes, but after his first 6 or so starts he started walking markedly fewer guys. (13BB and 48K in the last 64 innings, unless I can’t do arithmetic)

      He’s not going to keep an ERA in the 2s but if he can stay in the 4-4.5 range, that’d be better than what most people were expecting before the season.

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      • Pat says:

        Have you watched Happ pitch at all though? Guys really don’t get good swings on him. He gets a lot of weak fly balls and choppers. This isn’t a Kyle Kendrick case where everyone hits him hard and he just gets lucky because it’s right at people. Agreed he may not keep his ERA in the 2’s, but I think he will easily keep it below 4.

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  4. scott says:

    What about Jake Fox!?

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  5. nick says:

    JA Happ may win this but he has become one of the most overrated pitchers by the mainstream media. His low K rate, flyball tendencies coupled with Philly’s home field, and ridiculous strand rate point to a pitcher whose success is not sustainable. Especially a 2 something ERA. Yet they talk him up like the Phillies next ace pitcher, their next Cole Hamels.

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    • JoeDE says:

      Who says that? No one(At least no one worth listening to) says that JA Happ is the Phillies next ace. He is a good pitcher who is lucky right now. Also, most of the time peripherals are used to predict future performance. If he does what he’s doing the rest of the season, then he most certainly will deserve ROY. ALSO, if anything his peripherals have been coming in line with his ERA and not the other way around(Last start was pretty rough though).

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      • BillG says:

        I’m not saying they are worth listening too, but I have read a number of articles out of Philly wherein the author suggested that Happ should be untouchable due to his low ERA and number of wins. It’s easy to get spoiled by the quality of the analysis on this site and to forget that the main stream media is still largely in the stone age. .

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  6. nick says:

    Also Hanson has already matched Kenshin Kawakami’s 1.0 WAR, with about 45 innings pitched less. That’s impressive and I think he’s the best rookie pitcher going forward but it’ll be interesting to see if he can catch Happ and Wells

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    • don says:

      Hanson will get better for sure, and will probably have the best career of the bunch, though so far he’s also got a great ERA masking so-so K and BB rates and a high strand rate.

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      • nick says:

        Looking at game logs, his BB rate and K rate are extremely better this past month, obviously small sample size, but it looks like he’s turned his peripherals around. The strand rate is a concern however.

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  7. Toz says:

    I can agree that Happ is not an ace. His composure and makeup, however, seem to make his stuff better. He knows what to throw, he knows when to throw it, and he can throw it where he wants. Of course, he is aided by a very good defense as well. Nonetheless, it is difficult to argue with results. If he winds up around a 4.00, I think the Phillies will be quite happy with the results, particularly since he was supposed to be the #5.

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