August 20, 2006
Young Pitchers Part II
Remember, according to recent history, out of the six stars of this year's class there will be:
1 Superstar (perennial Cy Young candidate)
2 Great Pitchers (#1 starters, borderline All-Star pitchers)
1 Good Pitcher (roughly a #2 starter)
1 Mediocre Pitcher (back end of the rotation)
1 Bust (out of baseball or completely ineffective)
Scott Kazmir - To the chagrin of Mets fans everywhere, I believe Kazmir has the stuff to be a superstar pitcher for years to come. Kazmir posted 10 wins before the All-Star break despite playing on the lowly Devil Rays, and he's had 10 strikeouts in three of his last six starts. He did serve a DL stint at the end of July, but that was a minor problem that seems to be behind him. Despite missing a couple weeks of the season, Kazmir still ranks 3rd in the AL in strikeouts (with 155). Kazmir should eventually fill his trophy case with multiple Cy Young victories, and, if the D-Rays keep improving or Kazmir moves to a better team, a World Series ring.
The Great Pitchers:
Jon Papelbon - Papelbon has been great so far as closer for the Red Sox, but whether or not he will remain a closer is yet to be seen. The Sox management has expressed interest in moving Papelbon to the rotation as early as next year, possibly filling the closer role with another young pitcher such as Craig Hansen. But the transition shouldn't be too difficult for Paplebon - while most closers usually have one great pitch that they throw most of the time (i.e. Rivera, Billy Wagner, etc.), Paplebon has a full arsenal of pitches to use, which suits him well for a starting role. Also, Pap has thrown two innings or more in one outing often this year, so his stamina shouldn't be a problem. Finally, having Papelbon close this year cuts down on his workload, so he may be less likely to suffer injury problems. However, Pap is 25 years old (older than anyone else on this list), so he's closer to his ceiling than most of these other pitchers are.
Justin Verlander - Verlander may be headed for a sophmore slump next year due to his workload this year (he's likely to top 200 IP this year, plus some more in the playoffs), but that should be a minor abberation. As long as the Tigers are careful with Verlander, he should remain a top pitcher for years to come. He's not striking a ton of guys out, but he's getting outs and is tied for second in the AL with 14 wins. He has had trouble against the top teams - 0-4 with a 7.66 ERA vs the White Sox, Red Sox, and Yankees this year - but he should only get better over time.
The Good Pitcher:
Jered Weaver - Weaver has been nothing short of incredible this year - he still has yet to lose a game in 12 starts, and he has an ERA under 2.00. But there is one major reason why Weaver won't succeed - he's a fly-ball pitcher. Weaver gets almost twice as many fly-balls as grounders, and it's worked well for him so far. But fly-ball pitchers typically are very inconsistent, because if the wind is blowing out one day or you don't have your best stuff, those fly balls become doubles and homers. So I don't think Weaver has the ability to become a great pitcher unless he changes his strategy a bit. But he could still be a #3-4 starter for the improving Angels for the better part of a decade.
The Mediocre Pitcher:
Jon Lester - Lester goes here because he simply isn't as good as the others. He does have a 6-2 record, but his ERA is just under 5.00, so that record is a bit decieving. More alarming is the fact that opposing hitters are hitting .316 off him. (That's saying, in effect, that an average hitter becomes an all-star hitter when he faces Lester.) Maybe putting Lester on this list was a stretch, but either way he probably won't amount to more than a fourth starter in the big leagues.
Who haven't I mentioned yet? Francisco Liriano. Yes, I'm saying that Liriano will be a bust. Now, this probably isn't quite as bold a prediction as it was a week and a half ago, when I actually decided to make it, but it still borders on baseball sacrilege. It has nothing to do with Liriano's talent; he obviously could be one of the top ten lefties of all-time if he kept this up. But Liriano has been injury-plagued throughout his minor-league career, and he now is expected to go on the DL with soreness in his forearm (and other problems). This is a very serious injury - it is very possible that Liriano misses the rest of the season, even with the Twins in a heated pennant race. The Twins have generally been very careful with their young pitchers, but Liriano may still be too fragile to bring back. The list of great young pitchers with major injuries is very long, and the list of those who came back to be great again is significantly shorter. Sure, it seems impossible right now that Liriano could be a major bust, but people said that about Mark Prior three years ago.
A very important story broke this morning - Tom Glavine has arm trouble, and may miss the rest of the season. We'll have to wait for another few days to figure out what will happen, but Glavine is 40 years old and it's very possible that he may need surgery. Glavine has been the leader of the staff throughout the year, and losing him would be a big blow to the Mets' World Series hopes. The Mets could probably start you, me, and seven of your friends from here on out and still make the playoffs. But if they're going to make a deep run, the Mets are going to need a healthy Pedro and a healthy Glavine. And right now they have neither.