Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Breakout Pitchers in 2010

June 1, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

Unveiling a list like this is entertaining, but it can also be controversial. As a result, let's be clear about who qualifies and what the criteria is.

Casual fans might have trouble recognizing some of the names to come. Pitchers you'll encounter throughout this group may have been standout prospects, but had not yet enjoyed consistent success on the major league level prior to this year. If they are established, then they have catapulted themselves to a higher rung on the ladder.

Without further ado, here we go.

10. Luke Gregerson, San Diego (1-1, 1.63 ERA)

Setup men need love too.

Gregerson, 26, was stolen from the Cardinals as the player to be named later in the Khalil Greene trade. He's beginning to make a name for himself as one of the premier eighth inning relievers in baseball and, in the process, has fortified the bridge to closer Heath Bell.

If you're trailing the Padres after the seventh inning this year, good luck.

In 27 2/3 innings, Gregerson has struck out 32 while walking just two. His 0.43 WHIP is obscene. Although he had his 18 1/3 innings scoreless streak snapped on May 14, he's promptly picked up where he left off and has thrown eight scoreless frames since.

9. Ian Kennedy, Arizona (3-3, 3.38 ERA)

The forgotten man in the Curtis Granderson blockbuster deal is blossoming into the frontline pitcher the Yankees once envisioned him as.

Kennedy, who has recovered from an aneurysm last year, is a victim of poor run support on a last place team. Still, the lack of wins shouldn't overshadow his performance.

Kennedy, 25, has whiffed 57 and walked 23 which equates to a tremendous 2.48 strikeout to walk ratio. He's keeping runners off the basepaths with his 1.17 WHIP and has been conclusively better than both Max Scherzer and Diamondbacks' teammate Edwin Jackson, the other two ballyhooed starters involved in the offseason swap.

The only alarming statistic to monitor is the 11 homers he's surrendered. Of course, if his WHIP rises and he continues to give up the gofer ball at this rate, his ERA is destined to inflate.

8. Mat Latos, San Diego (5-3, 3.08 ERA)

Notice a trend as we advance to our third straight NL West pitcher? Latos doesn't turn 23 until Dec. 9 and that's a scary thought for his division foes.

Amidst a streak of six straight quality starts, Latos is 4-1 with a 1.54 ERA as we close the books on the month of May.

Imposing doesn't do justice to Latos who stands 6-6, 225 pounds. For a power pitcher, he's not suffering through any control issues that you might expect from a youngster (he's walked 15 in 61 1/3 innings).

Posting a .207 batting average against and a minuscule 1.01 WHIP, Latos is demonstrating how
dominant he can be. PETCO Park is a pitcher's heaven and coupled with Latos' nasty stuff, the combination could concoct some epic numbers in the coming years.

7. Ricky Romero, Toronto (5-2, 3.14 ERA)

Romero is one of a few exciting greenhorn pitchers on the Blue Jays' staff. A trio of Shaun Marcum, Romero, and Brett Cecil is the makings of a formidable rotation. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they play in the stupendous AL East where finishing third would be a notable accomplishment.

Marcum is the ace, but Romero is working on closing the gap. He's averaging more than a strikeout per inning and is holding hitters to a meager .230 BAA despite the fast turf in Toronto that often transforms routine grounders on grass into base hits in the Rogers Centre.

6. Mike Leake, Cincinnati (4-0, 2.45 ERA)
The magnitude and rarity of Leake's accomplishments thus far are startling. Leake, who entered 2010 with no professional experience of any kind, is mowing down the opposition like he's done it for a decade.

A 22-year-old right hander, Leake is a huge reason why the Reds are atop the NL Central. The former Arizona State Sun Devil has allowed just four homers on the season and has arguably been the Reds' best starter, even surpassing Johnny Cueto, who's been very good himself.

Leake will have his share of growing pains, but it's nearly unheard of for a pitcher to bypass the minor leagues and have such pronounced immediate success. Manager Dusty Baker will need to exercise caution with the green rookie as Leake's innings mount.

Baker's reputation isn't exactly one of a caretaker, but Cueto has developed under his tutelage.

5. Clay Buchholz, Boston (7-3, 2.73 ERA)

Given Josh Beckett and John Lackey's struggles, Buchholz and John Lester have done a lot of the heavy lifting for the Red Sox starting pitching this year. Boston may have expected such production out of Lester, but Buchholz's newfound dependability is a welcomed scenario.

Buchholz sports a high WHIP at 1.37 due to his penchant for handing out the free pass (28 in 62 2/3 innings), but he's already matched his win total from a year ago and since he's been a hyped prospect for so long, this could logically be a signal of growth from the 25-year-old right hander.

Boston needs him to be this good over the long haul; otherwise their playoff hopes are futile.

4. Jaime Garcia, St. Louis (5-2, 1.32 ERA)

Garcia is yet another Tommy John success story. Since rehabbing from the ligament replacement surgery, Garcia has returned as a godsend to the Cardinals rotation. Tony LaRussa was quoted as saying the southpaw had been his top pitcher and it's been accurate through May.

He's walking a little too many (27 through 61 1/3 innings), but it's a forgivable offense given his .206 BAA and considering he's allowed only one home run on the season.

Despite the fact that the Cardinals will certainly impose an innings restriction on the impressive lefty, he's a stellar addition to a rotation led by perennial Cy Young candidates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

No one in the right mind expects him to sustain his ridiculous ERA over the full season, but rest assured, he's a legitimate pitcher.

3. Phil Hughes, New York Yankees (6-1, 2.70 ERA)

You may remember when the Yankees were touting a rotation including prized prospects Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Kennedy. Now that the dust has cleared, Hughes is the only one left on the starting staff.

It seems like ages ago that Chamberlain was regarded as the better pitcher because Hughes has definitively put that talk to bed for the time being.

Hughes actually stumbled a bit in two of his last three starts, but his overall body of work is eye-opening nonetheless. Displaying a 1.06 WHIP with .201 BAA, Hughes is a good bet to make an all-star appearance.

The Yankees will limit his innings to around 175 simply because he worked almost exlusively out of the bullpen last year and hasn't approached this workload in the past.

Hughes, 23, certainly looks like the first homegrown frontline Yankee starter since Andy Pettitte. Chien-Ming Wang had two great years, but lacked staying power.

2. David Price, Tampa Bay (7-2, 2.57 ERA)

Price was a relative disappointment in 2009 after he burst on the scene to stabilize the Rays bullpen for their World Series run in 2008.

He's an underachiever no more in 2010. While 27 walks in 66 2/3 innings is not great, his 1.14 WHIP and 2.57 ERA are. Pitching for major league leading Tampa Bay, anything less than 18 wins for Price would be surprising.

Rafael Soriano's presence in the Tampa Bay bullpen provides them the impetus they need to realistically contend for a championship and should continue to make most of Price's quality starts stand up.

1. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado (10-1, 0.78 ERA)

Honestly, Jimenez probably doesn't belong in this fraternity since he's proven to be an established major league starter already, but his numbers are too staggering to ignore.

Jimenez is the third pitcher in the history of baseball to win 10 of his first 11 starts with an ERA under one. The fact that he's doing it in the Coors Field setting is all the more dumbfounding.

His ERA is lower than his WHIP. If this dominance continues at anywhere near his current rate, Jimenez deserves the Cy Youngs from both leagues.

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