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The amazing Vance Worley wins again

9/2/2011

OK, with 42 saves, a 1.62 ERA, and one of the highest strikeout rates of all time for a relief pitcher, Craig Kimbrel will win the NL Rookie of the Year Award, perhaps in unanimous fashion. Kimbrel hasn't been perfect -- he's blown five saves -- but he has dominated opponents and has a good chance to become the 12th pitcher to record 50 saves in a season.

But I've been more impressed with Phillies rookie right-hander Vance Worley, who won again on Thursday to push his record to 10-1 with a 2.85 ERA. Here's a fun statistic courtesy of Elias: The Phillies have won 13 consecutive Worley starts, the third-highest total in the NL in the past 15 years (the Cardinals won 17 straight Chris Carpenter starts in 2005 and the Braves won 15 straight John Smoltz starts in 1996).

That ERA is no accident, as Worley has struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings with a nifty strikeout-to-walk ratio of 90-to-33. The big surprise is that Worley has developed into a good strikeout pitcher despite a mediocre fastball that averages 90 mph. It was that lack of a big heater that had Baseball America rank Worley as just the 11th-best prospect for the Phillies heading into the season. It made sense: Two years ago, Worley had an ERA over 5.00 in Double-A. He lost weight last season and improved, but with 119 strikeouts in 158 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, he hardly had numbers that screamed future major league starter. "Worley profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter," wrote Baseball America. "With no plus pitch and his reliance on command, he may be best suited for a middle-relief role in the long term."

Injuries to Joe Blanton and then Roy Oswalt opened up a rotation slot for Worley and he took advantage. In 17 starts, he's allowed one or no runs 10 times. His somewhat jerky motion is a little deceptive, but he's pretty simple in his approach: He's thrown his fastball over 65 percent of the time, gets ahead of the hitters, paints the outside corner to left-handers and tries to get righties to chase his slider low and away. He does a great job holding runners (he's allowed just two stolen bases all season, and both of those came in one game). Maybe he's been a little lucky in his home run percentage on flyballs, but there's nothing that indicates his season is a total fluke. And it will be interesting to see who Charlie Manuel gives the ball to as his No. 4 starter in the playoffs, Worley or Oswalt.

So, yes, Kimbrel has all the saves. But Worley, who has pitched nearly 40 more innings, deserves top rookie consideration.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.