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.