The American League Rookie Pitchers

For the last few weeks, I have been focusing on the hitting side of things when it comes to the Rookie of the Year race in both the American and National Leagues. In this post, we are going to take a look at the pitchers currently in the running for the year-end award in the AL. It seems to be a down year for rookie pitchers, though, with the likes of Tampa Bay’s David Price still in the minors.

The American League

If you’re an ERA fan, then Trevor Cahill’s 4.50 would probably lead you think, “OK, not great but it could be worse.” Well it is. The Oakland right-hander has allowed 27 hits and 18 walks in just 26 innings of work. He’s also added just eight strikeouts. With a line-drive rate of 24 percent, BABIP of .269, and a FIP of 6.37, he’s been lucky (while playing in a big home park) and he’s been bailed out by the defenders behind him. The 21-year-old could probably use a little more polish in the minors.

Cahill’s teammate Brett Anderson has also had a rough go of things so far this year. Coming into the season, the 21-year-old lefty was considered a more advanced pitcher than most players his age but he’s still learning. Anderson has a 5.79 ERA (5.00 FIP) and has allowed 33 hits and nine walks in 28 innings of work. He’s also struck out an uncharacteristically low 4.5 batters per nine innings. In fairness, he’s faced three very tough lineups in Texas, Boston and New York (AL). Anderson is getting opponents to pound the ball into the ground (55.7 GB%) and they also are not hitting the ball with consistent authority against him (10.3 LD%). He’s going to see some good results soon.

Detroit’s Rick Porcello is another player who has been rushed to the Majors, after spending all of last season in high A-ball. The right-hander currently has allowed 28 hits and nine walks in 28.2 innings of work. Porcello has a 4.71 ERA (5.80 FIP) in his five starts. The six home runs allowed are worrisome (1.88 HR/9) but his groundball rate is good (52.1 GB%).

The sixth overall pick from the 2005 draft, Ricky Romero is still trying to live up to that lofty standard. In his first three starts of the season – after surprising everyone by nailing down a rotation spot in spring training – Romero was outstanding. He posted a 1.71 ERA (3.28 FIP) with 19 hits and just four walks in 21 innings of work. Unfortunately, he injured his oblique and hasn’t pitched since April 19. Fortunately for Toronto, he should be back within two weeks. The talent is there, he just needs to trust his stuff and hope he’s finally turned the corner with his command and control.

There may not be a rookie in the Majors who is flying more under the radar than Romero’s teammate Scott Richmond. The Canadian is a great story as a 29-year-old rookie. He took three years off school after high school and did not graduate from Oklahoma State University until he was 25, so he went undrafted. The Jays noticed him while he was pitching in independent baseball in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Within one year of signing, he pitched 27 innings for the Jays in 2008. So far this year, he has allowed 25 hits and 12 walks in 30.1 innings. He also has 26 strikeouts. Among MLB rookies, Richmond is second in strikeouts and innings pitched, as well as first in ERA and wins. He’s 12th in all of baseball in ERA amongst starters with at least 30 innings pitched.

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

8 Responses to “The American League Rookie Pitchers”

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  1. Mike Clay says:

    I’ve been keeping a close watch on Richmond for a few weeks now, but I can’t seem to get myself to add him because I can’t get passed his minor league numbers.

    4.39 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 7.6 K/9 isn’t horrible, but compared to the guys who tend to make in the majors, it isn’t very good.

    I don’t see him continuing to strike out 1 an inning and that ERA isn’t going to stay that low. His .261 BABIP and 82% LOB% agree. I’m rooting for him, but I can’t even get myself to add him as a speculative add.

    Good article.

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    • divakar says:

      also his contact% is only 70% making him 3rd in the league. That makes the top 6:


      That looks like a top 5 with an outlier.

      Somehow or another, the contact% will probably sky-rocket, and all other relevant pitching stats will adjust accordingly. I’m guessing the advance scouts just didn’t pay any attention to Scott Richmond until now. Once they know what he’s doing, the hitters will adjust (and so will Richmond’s stats).

      This is, I think, classic/text-book small sample size excitement.

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      • divakar says:

        More on Richmond being in a “pre-adjustment” phase:

        Right now hitters are swinging at his pitches outside of the zone at a tremendous rate, 2nd highest in the league. They are, however, swinging at his pitches in the strike zone as well.

        The key will be when the hitters lay off the pitches outside the zone, as right now Richmond has the lowest O-Contact% in the league. That won’t last unless Richmond has a new and nasty pitch that hitters simply cannot decipher.

        I’m assuming that as hitters become more selective with his stuff outside the zone, the O-Contact will go up, the O-swing will go down, and he’ll regress significantly. I sense corrections coming.

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  2. It wouldn’t surprise me if Brett Cecil has the best year of all American League rookie pitchers. I hope I assume correctly that this article will be revisited periodically throughout the year, with, of course, Cecil included.

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  3. divakar says:

    I think Porcello is head and shoulders above the other guys on this list. I don’t know enough about Romero, but the others don’t have what Porcello does in terms of pure stuff and, thus, ceiling… the clincher, however, is that Porcello is probably better than all these guys right now.

    I agree his stats don’t back it up just yet, and I haven’t/won’t do Pitch F/X analysis right now… but I am pretty sure his 2-seam fastball is going to give major league hitters a headache for the next decade.

    Porcello has looked incredible to my eyes… If he begins to throw any off-speed pitch for strikes, he’ll be a legit major league starter right now.

    Most hitters already make poor contact with the 2-seam pitch from what I’ve seen, but they are waiting for it because he can’t really throw off-speed pitches for strikes. Even while waiting for it, they rarely make solid contact…

    Porcello also has a legit 4-seamer with movement and velocity that gets strikes, but he uses it to balance his 2-seamer. The 4 seamer is hittable, as demonstrated at Yankee Stadium. That night Porcello walked a couple guys instead of inducing ground balls with the 2-seam fb. The Yankee hitters just sat on his 4-seamer and crushed it. It’s the only time I’ve seen hitters confident against him.

    I’ve watched him regularly, including the collapse against the Yankees, and I’m convinced he’s ready for the Majors right now.

    Often I think Leyland is too quick with his young guys, like Ryan Perry this year, and Andrew Miller last. But as long as Porcello doesn’t feel pressure to do things he cannot (strike out everyone, throw complete game shutouts) he’ll develop and have an impressive year at the same time. From all accounts, his demeanor is just right for this scenario… Plus, his ground-ball tendencies will keep him in games, and he can probably go 6ip/start if he doesn’t walk too many guys.

    His strikeout ceiling is pretty high, but this year I’d be satisfied with a low walk rate and high GB/FB rate.

    He’s the pitcher with both the highest ceiling and the best pitch right now of anyone on this list. To me, it’s really not close.

    (Disclosure: I’m a Red Sox fan, my biases are not for Detroit)

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  4. Dennis says:

    I think, if you consider him a rookie (and I don’t blame you if you don’t) Koji Uehara deserves a look. He’s posted a 4.42 ERA (4.02 FIP ERA) despite 4 of his 6 starts coming against offensively monsterous teams (Rangers x2, Red Sox, Yankees).

    He drops off pretty bad after about 85-90 pitches but he’s been really effective thus far. It’ll be interesting to see if he can maintain it for an entire season.

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  5. Jim says:

    Adding to the sentiment of pitchers not included in the above list, Derek Holland has a spot on the Rangers’ 25-man roster, if not the starting rotation yet. He’s definitely near the top of my list of interesting AL rookie pitchers for 2009–can’t wait until he cracks the starting rotation.

    And I’ll vociferously disagree with Porcello being the best on this list. As of now, he may be, but I believe Cahill and perhaps Anderson both have higher ceilings.

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