The National League Rookie Pitchers

Well, we’ve already taken a look at the top rookie pitchers in the American League, so let’s have a gander at the Senior Circuit’s best young hurlers. Warning: The depth amongst the starters is not as good as it is in the American League.

The National League

St. Louis’ Jason Motte was absolutely lights-out in spring training and won the closer’s role… as much as any rookie pitcher can win a role for manager Tony LaRussa. A couple shaky games later, though, he was on the outside looking in. Motte hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last nine appearances but veteran Ryan Franklin has established himself as the club’s closer. Middle relievers rarely receive consideration for the Rookie of the Year award, but you never know.

One of my pre-season favorites for the NL rookie pitcher of the year, James McDonald has struggled to say the least. He currently has an 8.16 ERA (6.17 FIP) and has pitched himself out of the starting rotation for the first-place Dodgers. McDonald’s lack of control has been his downfall as he’s walked 14 batters in 14.1 innings of work.

Jordan Zimmermann won the No. 5 spot in the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation in spring training, but the club did not need five starters until the middle of the first month so he began the year in Triple-A. Since being recalled, Zimmermann has pitched well in two of his three starts (The stinker came against St. Louis). The 2007 second round draft pick is still getting comfortable in the Majors and he’s allowed 20 hits and three walks in 17 innings of work. He’s also struck out 14 batters. Zimmermann needs to try and avoid the long ball (2.12 HR/9). When all is said and done, the right-hander could have the best numbers of any of the rookie pitchers in 2009 but it remains to be seen if the Rookie of the Year voters will lose him in the mess that is Washington. His teammate Shairon Martis is also having a nice season so far in the Nats rotation.

Like Scott Richmond of the Jays, Bobby Parnell is another talented rookie hurler that gets overlooked despite playing in a large market like New York, likely because he is a middle reliever who gets a ton of outs by putting the ball in play. The right-hander has a 1.38 ERA (3.10 FIP) in 13 innings so far this season. He has walked just four batters with eight strikeouts and he hasn’t allowed a home run. Parnell still has room to get better as he has not been inducing quite as many groundballs as he traditionally does.

Honorable Mentions

It’s no secret that I hate the fact Japanese players are eligible for the Rookie if the Year awards. Baltimore’s Koji Uehara, 34, and Atlanta’s Kenshin Kawakami, 33, have years of experience while playing in Japan. Uehara spent nine years in the Japanese Central League and is currently leading all MLB ‘rookies’ in innings pitched and strikeouts (by one over Richmond). Kawakami, 33, spent 10 years in the Japanese Central League. Despite the added experience, though, the right-hander has struggled with his control and currently has a 6.41 ERA (5.54 FIP) in 26.2 innings of work.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

3 Responses to “The National League Rookie Pitchers”

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  1. David says:

    Based on FanGraphs value, Uehara is the most valuable rookie pitcher in the AL. Who would have thought that he and Adam Eaton would rank among the top 30 AL starters.

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  2. Big Oil says:

    A brief-quasi scouting report based on tv viewing.

    Despite the 6 ER this evening, Zimmermann did not pitch that poorly, in my opinion. He was victimized by a borderline call during the Hudson AB in the 1st (the 1-2 pitch I believe), was followed by a broken bat bloop single where a play could have been made on Hudson going from 1st to 3rd if not for Elijah Dukes’ passiveness in CF, a good play on which would have resulted in the second out (sadly this wasn’t the last we’d see of this). So, it becomes 1st and 3rd, one out, and a fly ball off Kemp’s bat (after a legit hit and BB) carries enough to leave the yard for a grand slam. In my mind, there is no question the ball was carrying tonight. I acknowledge this is somewhat subjective. In any event, shortly thereafter, Dukes and Dunn engaged in a staring contest on a routine fly ball resulting in a triple by Blake. A sac fly later, and he has 6 ER in 1 IP.

    Over the course of the next 5 innings, Zimmermann notched 3Ks, 1 BB, and 2H. Perhaps more intangibly, he kept himself in the game — and I know this type of unquantifiable analysis has little currency among sabr’s — but this is something I viewed as impressive and encouraging for a kid. This seems to be an example of those occasions (probably more frequent than the general fan population would recognize) where the box score does not reflect the performance of a particular player. Hopefully this helps those unable to watch his performance and thus evaluate his current talents properly.

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  3. Brent Griffin says:

    You said that you don’t agree with the fact that Japanese players can with the rookie of the year. However, the first player to win the award was Jackie Robinson, who obviously played in the negro leagues before he came to the MLB. I even heard a rumor that the rookie of the year was created that season to be given to Jackie Robinson because of the great season he had. I don’t know how much of this rumor is true, but nonetheless, the first player to win the award is someone who came from another professional league. The precedent has been set and it seems only right to continue it. Only 3 Japanese players have won it in the history of the award, and none since 2001. Its obvious to say the Japanese players are not dominating this award so we might as well keep it as is. I have no problem with it.

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