SweetSpot: Andy Benes

Mat Latos is already a pretty good pitcher. You know the résumé: Young, throws hard, good strikeout rate, pretty good control, succeeded in a great pitcher's park in San Diego.

What the Cincinnati Reds are hoping, of course, is that they acquired a No. 1, an ace to front their rotation. Did they? Time will tell, but let's do a little study to see the pitchers Latos compares with. Via the awesomeness of the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index, I looked for pitchers in the past 20 years with the following attributes: (1) 23 years old; (2) thrown at 350 innings in the majors; (3) averaged at least 6.5 strikeout per nine innings; (4) had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of at least 1.75.

This gives us 21 pitchers including Latos, a pretty good comp list of young power pitchers who showed early success in the majors.



So, what happened to those guys after they entered their age-24 season? Since the Reds have control of Latos for the next four seasons, let's see how they did from ages 24 to 27 (or as many seasons as applicable). We'll rank the pitchers in order of ERA+ (ERA adjusted for park and league context, scaled to 100), with their average innings pitched per season over the applicable years in parenthesis.

1. Pedro Martinez, 173 ERA+ (226 innings)
2. Rich Harden, 140 (90)
3. Felix Hernandez, 137 (242)
4. CC Sabathia, 134 (221)
5. Matt Cain, 132 (221)
6. Jake Peavy, 127 (201)
7. Carlos Zambrano, 126 (211)
8. Tom Gordon, 110 (154)
9. Andy Benes, 103 (204)
10. Ramon Martinez, 101 (185)
11. Mark Prior, 101 (105)
12. Ismael Valdez, 99 (162)
13. Chad Billingsley, 98 (192)
14. Scott Kazmir, 89 (150)
15. Oliver Perez, 89 (137)
16. Dontrelle Willis, 88 (122)
17. Scott Olsen, 88 (115)
18. Jeremy Bonderman, 85 (107)

OK, not surprisingly, we see a range of outcomes, from success stories to guys who stagnated or regressed to guys who developed arm problems.

The biggest positive I see about Latos is he has the third-best SO/BB ratio on the list, behind Mark Prior and Brett Anderson. His strikeout rate is seventh, although two of those ahead of him are Oliver Perez and Scott Kazmir.

Latos' adjusted ERA through age 23 isn't that impressive, since he's been pitching in San Diego. However, it's worth noting that in his career he's pitched 244 innings on the road, 185 at home. He does have a better ERA at Petco (3.11 to 3.57), but his peripherals remain strong on the road.

It's also worth noting that Latos doesn't have a lot of wear on his arm. He only pitched 184 innings in the minor leagues, missing time in 2008 with a strained oblique and sore shoulder. He also began the 2011 season on the disabled list with an inflamed bursa sac in his right shoulder but only missed one start. While the minor shoulder issues certainly raise a red flag, there are no signs of extraneous workload like you can point to with Prior or Kazmir.

Latos' character and cockiness have been questioned in the past, but I'm not concerned about those issues; heck, Pedro Martinez wasn't exactly the most well-liked opponent either.

If there's a direct comparison to make, it could be two to other towering pitchers. Like Latos, Andy Benes stood 6-foot-6 and threw hard. He also came up with the Padres. Benes remained a solid pitcher (155 wins) but never took his game to the next level. So Reds fans can perhaps hope for the CC Sabathia career path. Through age 23, Sabathia had already pitched four seasons in the big leagues, with a 4.12 ERA. He improved his strikeout and walk rates at age 24, improved even more at age 25 and won a Cy Young Award at age 26.

On deck: Weaver vs. Weaver

June, 19, 2009
6/19/09
11:00
AM ET
If, as planned, Jeff Weaver faces Jered Weaver Saturday night, according to the Los Angeles Daily News:
 Jered Weaver
 Jeff Weaver
    It will be the first time brothers have faced each other in a big-league game since 2002 when Alan Benes of the Cubs faced Andy Benes of the Cardinals. Brothers have squared off against each other 20 times in history, with Joe and Phil Niekro matching up nine of those times. In 1996, the Dodgers' Ramon Martinez faced his brother Pedro of the Expos.
Cool. I've already set my DVR. But the one thing I want to know, I don't yet: which set of brothers will the Weavers be? The Niekros, the Beneses, and the Martinezes account for at least 11 of the 20 previous matchups.

Because you pay good money (not) to read this blog, I did a little research of my own, and discovered that:

Virgil Barnes and Jesse Barnes faced off for the first time in 1924, and would meet three more times;

• Greg and Mike Maddux met twice, first in 1986 when both were rookies, and then again two years later;

• by special arrangement, Pat Underwood's major league debut in 1979 was against his brother Tom (and what a matchup it was!);

• the Underwoods, the Martinezes, and the Beneses faced off just the once,

• as did Gaylord and Jim Perry, in 1973.

So that's the whole list, right? Wait, let me run through the math ... Nope, still missing one. We've got seven sets of brothers accounting for 19 matchups: the Niekros nine times, the Barneses four times, the Madduxes twice, and four other sets once apiece. Nineteen. Assuming that I didn't miss a game for one of the aforementioned pairs, a lovely No-Prize goes to whomever can identify the eighth brothers and drop them into the comments.

Postscript: For a long time the most famous pitching brothers -- until the Perrys and the Niekros, I guess -- were the Coveleskis, Stan and Harry. Stan's in the Hall of Fame, and Harry was notorious as "The Giant Killer" after beating John McGraw's New York Giants three times in the last two weeks of the 1908 pennant race. As Stan later recounted to Larry Ritter in The Glory of Their Times:

    "Giant Killer" Coveleski they called him after that. They say McGraw never forgave Harry for that. A lot of nonsense. They also say that the Giants ran Harry out of the league next season. Something about harmonicas or bologna or something. Supposed to have gotten Harry's goat. What a load of bull that story is.

    Nobody ever ran Harry out of any league. What happened is that he got hurt the next season. Went back down to the minors for a few years. But his arm came back later, and he came back up with Detroit and did fine. He was with Detroit when I was with Cleveland. They always wanted us to pitch against each other, but we refused. Wouldn't do it. And they never forced it. Hard to say what would have happened if they had.

That was nearly a century ago, and managers had a great deal of leeway with their starters, who might pitch after one day of rest or six days, depending largely on the opponent of the day. So if a pitcher simply refused to pitch for a personal reason, it wasn't any great imposition to accomodate him ... except that teams in those days were always looking for ways to draw a crowd, and Coveleski vs. Coveleski would have been a good draw.

Apparently it never happened, though.

Post-Postscript: If you've hung around for all this historical claptrap, you deserve a nugget ... One of my all-time favorite little baseball factoids ... Joe Niekro pitched in the majors for 22 seasons and came to the plate nearly 1,200 times ... and homered just once ... against his brother. And it wasn't a meaningless home run, either. In the seventh inning of a tight game, Joe's homer made the score 2-2 and he eventually won, 4-3.

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