SweetSpot TV: Ranking best young pitchers
August, 8, 2013
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
We have a great matchup Thursday afternoon between rookie starters Jose Fernandez of the Marlins and Gerrit Cole of the Pirates. Tristan Cockcroft discussed that matchup and some great young pitching combos in the majors in this edition of SweetSpot TV.
I thought I'd also rank my top 10 young pitchers, based on predicted long-term success. I considered rookies or guys with limited exposure before this season, so I included Matt Harvey (he just missed rookie eligibility) but not Patrick Corbin (more than 100 innings last year) or Trevor Rosenthal (a reliever, for now).
One interesting note: Nine of the 10 are National Leaguers.
1. Matt Harvey, Mets
Repertoire: Fastball (average velocity: 95.8 mph; max: 100.1), slider, curveball, changeup.
Fun fact: Harvey's average fastball velocity is tops in the majors among qualified starting pitchers.
What makes Harvey so tough is that four-pitch offering, all quality pitches, all thrown with command. He will hang the slider from time to time and I wonder if the curveball eventually becomes his No. 2 offering after his great fastball. He leads the majors in lowest OPS allowed -- better than Clayton Kershaw. The reason I like him more than Fernandez is primarily the age difference; Harvey is four years older and a better bet to stay healthy. Fernandez, even if handled carefully, still has to get through those precarious age 21 to 23 years.
2. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
Repertoire: Fastball (average: 94.8; max: 99.0), curveball, slider, changeup.
Fun fact: In 81 plate appearances ending with his slider, batters have six hits, 49 strikeouts and no walks.
Fernandez doesn't quite have Harvey's command yet, but he's just as tough to hit. In 21 starts, he's allowed just 21 extra-base hits -- 11 doubles, two triples and eight home runs. Compare that extra-base ratio to, say, Mike Minor, who is a pretty good pitcher. Minor has allowed 53 extra-base hits. Fernandez's curveball and slider are both proving to be wipeout pitches. Check out the heat map below:
ESPNJose Fernandez is 8-5 with a 2.54 ERA thanks to a curveball and slider that batters can't touch.
That's a lot of blue. Batters are hitting just .127 against those two pitches -- with 89 strikeouts, 11 walks and two home runs. If Fernandez gets ahead in the count with his fastball, batters basically have no chance. Right now, he throws his curve about twice as often as the slider; both pitches have big movement and that slider reminds me of the one a young Kerry Wood threw, sweeping across the plate, nearly impossible to make contact with.
3. Shelby Miller, Cardinals
Repertoire: Fastball (average: 93.7; max: 97.9), curveball, changeup.
Fun fact: Among pitchers with 100 innings, the only ones with a higher percentage of fastballs thrown are Bartolo Colon and Juan Nicasio.
Miller has basically been a two-pitch guy -- fastball, curve. If he can refine that changeup, he'll be even tougher against left-handed batters.
4. Julio Teheran, Braves
Repertoire: Fastball (average: 91.9; max: 95.7), slider, curveball, changeup.
Fun fact: Since getting roughed up in his first three starts, Teheran has a 2.38 ERA since April 23, fifth best in the majors.
Teheran has made the slider his No. 2 offering and essentially ditched the changeup he used in the minors (he's throwing it just 5 percent of the time). He may need to eventually bring back that pitch, however, as left-handed batters have an .804 OPS off him.
5. Gerrit Cole, Pirates
Repertoire: Fastball (average: 95.8; max: 101.0), slider, curveball, changeup.
Fun fact: Cole has thrown the fastest pitch of any starter this year.
Cole's velocity is as good as any starter in the majors, but right now his fastball isn't a swing-and-miss pitch; it's straight and batters see it pretty well. Among pitchers with at least 10 starts, Cole's swing-and-miss percentage on his fastball (11.8 percent) ranks 106th out of 153 pitchers. He's shown good command of it, but it will be the development of his off-speed stuff that determines whether he'll be an ace or settle in as a No. 2 or No. 3 guy.
6. Chris Archer, Rays
Repertoire: Fastball (average: 94.9; max: 98.8), slider, changeup.
Fun fact: In eight starts from June 23 to Aug. 2, he went 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA and .185 average allowed.
Archer was on a roll, commanding his fastball after some shaky outings after his June recall from the minors, but he left Wednesday night's start with a tight forearm. Obviously, let's hope he's OK. Archer primarily uses that explosive fastball and wicked slider; his changeup hasn't yet proven to be an effective pitch. You can get by with being a two-pitch guy, but he'll get more strikeouts if the changeup develops.
7. Zack Wheeler, Mets
Repertoire: Fastball (average: 94.5; max: 98.4), slider, curveball, changeup.
Fun fact: The five picks ahead of him in the 2009 draft: Stephen Strasburg (Nationals), Dustin Ackley (Mariners), Donavan Tate (Padres), Tony Sanchez (Pirates), Matt Hobgood (Orioles).
There's no denying the upside talent here, but he's a long way from being a polished pitcher. While he brings it in the mid- to upper-90s, his fastball hasn't yet been a dominating pitch. He's allowed seven home runs off it in nine starts with 27 strikeouts and 22 walks. He's thrown the changeup only 32 times, so that remains a pitch to work on, as well. For Wheeler, it's all about command. We'll see if he gets there.
8. Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers
Repertoire: Fastball (average: 90.1; max: 94.6), changeup, slider, curveball.
Fun fact: He's 5-1 with a 1.83 ERA at home.
At 26, he's the oldest guy here, but he's proven to be the polished left-hander the Dodgers believed they were getting when they brought him over from Korea. His fastball may not match up with the guys above him but he's a four-pitch guy who commands his pitches and keeps the ball down in the zone.
9. Tony Cingrani, Reds
Repertoire: Fastball (average: 92.1; max: 96.3), curveball, slider, changeup.
Fun fact: Among those with at least 10 starts, Cingrani's swing-and-miss percentage against his fastball is sixth best in the majors.
Cingrani basically throws high fastballs, relying more on deception than velocity. He throws the fastball 81 percent of the time -- even more often than Miller -- but hasn't reached 100 innings yet. Some believe hitters will eventually catch on to him, and he'll always be a little prone to home runs, but I think it's a package that can still work, especially if the other offerings improve.
10. Jeff Locke, Pirates
Repertoire: Sinking fastball (average: 90.2; max: 94.8), curveball, changeup.
Fun fact: Locke has seven starts allowing zero runs. Only Hiroki Kuroda with eight has more. (Miller and Yu Darvish also have seven.)
Locke has his skeptics, due to his fastball velocity and poor strikeout rate. It's possible the skeptics could be right -- he's allowed 27 hits in 16 1/3 innings in his past three starts. But he does keep the ball down in the zone (only seven home runs allowed). You can win without racking up big strikeout totals but he'll have to find that balance between issuing too many walks (4.2 per nine) and throwing too many hittable pitches to maintain long-term success. I like his chances more than most, but I understand the reasons not to believe in him.