Rookie Pitchers

Dave · October 22, 2010 at 10:59 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I’m working on a piece on what to expect from Michael Pineda next year, but it started to get overly long, and so I’ve decided to break it up a little bit. Today, we’ll just look at some data on how starting pitchers have performed in their first year in the majors over the last decade. From 2000 to 2010, there have been 148 starting pitchers who have thrown 50 or more innings in their first year in the big leagues. The results vary, as you would expect, but you may be surprised at how they’ve done overall. Here’s the median performance for the group.

20 GS, 112 IP, 115 H, 60 R, 42 BB, 77 K, 14 HR, 4.59 ERA, .267/.335/.436 opponents line

That’s almost exactly an average line for a pitcher over the last 10 years. That’s 3.37 BB/9, 6.18 K/9, and 1.1 HR/9, if you’re used to single game rates. Perhaps that performance will be a bit of a surprise to you if you’re used to the narrative that you can’t trust young pitchers, but in reality, there are nearly as many successes as failures in the group.

Greg Reynolds, Brad Lincoln, Aaron Heilman, Rick Vanden Hurk, and Charlie Morton failed spectacularly in their first trip through the big leagues, but on the other end of the spectrum, there’s Zach Duke, Barry Zito, Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, and Brandon Webb. In fact, if you begin to restrict the list to guys who were considered high quality pitching prospects, you get an even more optimistic view about the potential results for talented rookie arms.

Jered Weaver, Barry Zito, Brandon Webb, Felix Hernandez, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad, Tommy Hanson, Stephen Strasburg, Dontrelle Willis, Mark Prior, Yovanni Gallardo, John Lackey, Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, and Rick Porcello all posted an ERA under 4.00 in their first year in the big leagues, living up to the hype right off the bat in each case.

The list of guys who got bombed as rookies, and were highly thought of coming up through the minors, is much shorter. There’s Matt Garza, Jeremy Bonderman, Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Chris Tillman, John Danks, and Mark Mulder, but that’s about it. Most of the guys who really got torched were considered mediocre prospects before they even got to the big leagues. And, as you probably noticed, most of these guys turned out just fine eventually, even if they didn’t have a great first season.

There’s a stigma that comes with rookie pitchers, as if they are some kind of disaster waiting to happen. The reality is much different. Good pitchers are good pitchers, and experience is not as big a deal as is generally assumed.

The one area where you can temper your expectations significantly is in quantity of innings. Of the 148 pitchers on the list, only one threw 200 innings in his first year in the big leagues, and that was Daisuke Matsuzaka, not your typical youngster. Excluding him, only Greg Smith was able to top 190 innings, and just five more were able to break the 180 innings barrier. When we estimate innings pitched for Pineda, we’re going to have to be pretty conservative. He’s almost certainly not going to be allowed to throw a full year’s worth of starts, no matter how well he pitches.

However, when it comes to how he’ll pitch, history suggests some optimism.

Comments

25 Responses to “Rookie Pitchers”

  1. spankystout on October 22nd, 2010 12:17 pm

    Nice article. I’m all for tempering expectations
    of youngsters. If Pineda stays healthy would 170-180IP be a lofty, or plausible projection for him in 2011?

  2. Mike Snow on October 22nd, 2010 12:32 pm

    Number of pitchers in this century who threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title as rookies:

    2000: 1
    2001: 2
    2002: 4
    2003: 5
    2004: 0
    2005: 5
    2006: 4
    2007: 4
    2008: 7
    2009: 7
    2010: 4

    Average per year is 3.9. Even if Pineda isn’t kept in Tacoma to start the season, don’t expect him to be in that number next year.

  3. spankystout on October 22nd, 2010 12:37 pm

    Thanks Mike. I was hoping they wouldn’t have to shut Pineda down in August or early September. But it looks like IF he makes the team and stays healthy the M’s will have him for a little over half a season…Historical precedent can be a bummer sometimes.

  4. Mike Snow on October 22nd, 2010 12:45 pm

    Assuming the Mariners are still a bit short of really contending for the playoffs next year, about the most hopeful scenario is for Pineda’s 2011 to approximate Brandon Morrow’s 2010. That should be enough to make people happy (about Pineda, I mean – not necessarily about Brandon Morrow, Brandon League, Jack Zduriencik, Bill Bavasi, or Tim Lincecum).

  5. J-Dog on October 22nd, 2010 12:48 pm

    If Pineda stays healthy would 170-180IP be a lofty, or plausible projection for him in 2011?

    That is probably a little high. In 2010, he had a IP limit of 150, the M’s shut him down at 139, and his numbers started to decline around 125.

  6. uoduckfan33 on October 22nd, 2010 1:07 pm

    Hey Dave,
    Were you able to run a regression on minor league stats vs. major league stats? How “should,” for instance, Pineda’s 9.9 K/2.2 BB/0.6 HR (at AA/AAA) transfer over to the majors, if this set of pitchers is used as a model?

  7. dlukas on October 22nd, 2010 2:44 pm

    I would be interested to know what it looks like when you regress rookie and second year. There seems to be a consensus, credible or not, that young pitchers have an advantage sheerly by virtue of the fact that nobody has faced their pitches before. That seems plausible to me but does the data bear it out? I remember Felix was just lights-out untouchable his rookie year, but his second year remains by far his worst…

  8. CMC_Stags on October 22nd, 2010 3:20 pm

    For what it’s worth, the current Chone projects put Pineda’s most likely (or is it average expected?) outcome at:

    25 GS, 130 IP, 132 His, 55 BB, 97 SO, 4.36 ERA

    That would have been good for 4th on the team in IP in 2010 behind Felix, Vargas, and Fister and ahead of RRS and Pauley. The projected ERA would be 5th behind what Felix, Vargas, Fister, and Pauley put up last year.

    For reference, here are the Chone projections for a few other M’s starters:

    Felix: 30 GS, 204 IP, 181 Hits, 63 BB, 189 SO, 3.18 ERA
    Vargas: 27 GS, 155 IP, 160 Hits, 46 BB, 101 SO, 4.20 ERA
    Fister: 28 GS, 162 IP, 177 Hits, 41 BB, 97 SO, 4.39 ERA
    Pauley: 28 GS, 159 IP, 175 Hits, 55 BB, 97 SO, 4.75 ERA

  9. diderot on October 22nd, 2010 3:49 pm

    I’d be interested in how the K/9 and BB/9 rates changed over time (say first 3-5 years) for those highly regarded prospects, whether they were immediate successes or not. On average, do they move much?

  10. bellacaramella on October 22nd, 2010 4:06 pm

    Anyone else wondering how Gerrit Cole projects?

  11. mrb on October 22nd, 2010 5:00 pm

    I think there’s a slight flaw, in that by excluding guys who don’t get to 50 IP (presumably, because the end up in the bullpen or are not good enough their rookie year), you’re weeding out the worst rookie pitches.

    If you could re-run, except with, say, every rookie pitcher who started a game in April (ie, were, for at least a moment, somewhere in the rotation), I don’t think the outlook would be as rosy.

  12. Duncan Idaho on October 22nd, 2010 6:14 pm

    My only hope with Pineda is that they only keep him at Tacoma long enough to get the extra year of service. Hopefully the same will be done with Ackley.

    As far as Pineda’s workload is concerned I’d be happy with about 160 innings.

    In closing, that strikeout projection by Chone is an absolute joke. I know MILB K’s don’t translate directly to the bigs but they do moreso for power pitchers. Projecting him to go from around 10 K/9 all the way down to 6.7 K/9 is a little rediculous. I’d say between 7.5 and 8 K/9 is a little more realistic.

  13. MKT on October 22nd, 2010 7:50 pm

    mrb wrote:

    I think there’s a slight flaw, in that by excluding guys who don’t get to 50 IP (presumably, because the end up in the bullpen or are not good enough their rookie year), you’re weeding out the worst rookie pitches.

    If you could re-run, except with, say, every rookie pitcher who started a game in April (ie, were, for at least a moment, somewhere in the rotation), I don’t think the outlook would be as rosy.

    Yup, I agree 100%. By looking only at the 50+ IP pitchers, you’re selecting a highly biased sample.

    Granted, looking at all rookie pitchers would probably be biased in the opposite direction (though I suspect by a smaller amount), because it would include marginal prospects as well as perceived blue chips.

    A procedure which would reduce both biases would be to look at touted prospects making their debuts. That’s subjective and hard to define, but one could create an objective definition, maybe pitchers who’d been drafted in the first two rounds, made their debuts within x years of being drafted, and/or had had some minor league success.

  14. joethewest on October 22nd, 2010 9:02 pm

    Is anyone else pumped that our young pitchers will now be under the Tutelage of Carl Willis, the guy that helped C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and soon to be Felix Hernandez to Cy Young awards?

    Lee was terrible before the Indians started making him throw off-speed stuff. Look at him now. I think we can expect big things from our young pitchers next year.

  15. heyoka on October 23rd, 2010 7:37 am

    A good long reliever would be helpful this coming year more than ever with Pineda in the rotation.

    Perhaps we should return RRS to his former role.

  16. Duncan Idaho on October 23rd, 2010 11:41 am

    Look at pictures of Hyphen when he first came up and now. He looks to have gained about 25 and not in a good way. I’m thinking the lack of conditioning had something to do with the reason he didn’t see an uptick in velocity out of the bullpen. When he first came up he occasionaly hit 94-95 mph.

  17. Kazinski on October 24th, 2010 1:14 am

    If Pineda stays healthy would 170-180IP be a lofty, or plausible projection for him in 2011?

    Madison Bumgarner of the Giants is an interesting comp for Pineda, they are the same age, Pineda is 21 years 9 months, Bumgarner 21, 2 mos., both started their career in A ball in 2008. Bumgarner has pitched 204IP this year, 82ip in AAA, 111 with the Giants in the regular season, and 12 in the playoffs, including 2 shutout innings tonight in the NLCS two days after starting game 4. He has been too good to shut down in the middle of a pennant race and playoffs.

    I hope the Giants aren’t pushing him too hard, but what do you do when a rookie is that good, and the games mean something. These games are huge for a franchise, and his contribution has been huge. And who are the Giants to deprive him of the experience, he may never be back, you can never tell. He’s going to pitch in his first world series before Roy Halladay gets into his first one.

  18. msb on October 24th, 2010 8:44 am

    Look at pictures of Hyphen when he first came up and now. He looks to have gained about 25 and not in a good way. I’m thinking the lack of conditioning had something to do with the reason he didn’t see an uptick in velocity out of the bullpen.

    Ryan’s conditioning in 2009

  19. halibuthank on October 24th, 2010 2:01 pm

    Couldn’t help but post this from Bill Simmons over at ESPN’s Page two:

    Q: Now that Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt are playing for a World Series, did we ever replace them with a new guy who makes you say, “I feel bad for them, I wish they were on a good team?”
    – Kenny, Bethesda, Md.

    SG: Not officially. Let’s turn over the title to Felix Hernandez and Chris Paul. Enjoy it, fellas. See you in a big market in a few years.

    Ouch. The simple honesty is painful. Let’s hope that Felix stays.

  20. philosofool on October 25th, 2010 7:55 am

    Rookie pitchers that gets shelled in the bigs seem to be flyballers.

  21. nathaniel dawson on October 25th, 2010 1:56 pm

    Rookie pitchers that gets shelled in the bigs seem to be flyballers.

    You have something to base this on, or is it just wild speculation?

  22. nathaniel dawson on October 25th, 2010 3:12 pm

    Just so we wouldn’t have a drive-by with nothing further, I’ve decided to provide my own evidence.

    There could be any number of definitions of “rookie pitcher”, but because I happened to have a certain dataset handy, (a big yahoo! to Fangraphs for this) I went with “any pitcher in 2010 that pitched at least 20 innings for the first time in his career”.

    Of the 39 rookie pitchers that allowed at least 5 runs per 9 innings (I guess that’s a fair enough description of getting shelled), 12 of them (31%) had a GB to FB ratio [in this case, GB/(GB+FB)] in the top third. 13 of them (33%) had a GB to FB ratio in the bottom third. Their aggregate GB to FB ratio was 54.9%.

    Of the 45 pitchers that allowed less than 5 runs per 9 innings, 17 of them (38%) had a GB to FB ratio in the top third of all pitchers. 16 of them (36%) had a GB to FB ratio in the bottom third. Their aggregate GB to FB ratio was 54.3%.

    That’s only one year, but does any of that suggest that rookie flyball pitchers get shelled more often than rookie groundballers do?

  23. Duncan Idaho on October 27th, 2010 10:39 am

    msb I don’t care what he did in 2009. Hyphen looked overweight in 2010, and it showed very well in his jowels. Before last year he never had that extra chin.

  24. msb on October 27th, 2010 11:09 am

    The point I was making was that was his off-season routine going into ST 2010, and that he has long been notorious for his workouts — possibly because his father does it for a living. I can’t tell you what his looking jowly might mean.

  25. philosofool on October 27th, 2010 1:24 pm

    You have something to base this on, or is it just wild speculation?

    Well, how things seem isn’t a matter of wild speculation. It really does seem that way, when you look at Dave’s list: “There’s Matt Garza, Jeremy Bonderman, Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Chris Tillman, John Danks,” Every one of those guys is on the fly baller side, or added a pitch that produced ground balls after his rookie season. Dave could have added Brian Matusz to the list as well. You’d want to do more research to confirm the general hypothesis, but there was a series of articles over at fangraphs on the subject of sinker ballers in the minors. They’re rarely loved by scouts but often have pretty good success in the majors. Minor league GB% is much more predictive of MLB gb% than MiLB K% or BB% is of those MLB rates.

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