Monday, May 10, 2010
It is not every season that is going to produce a perfect game and no hitter in the first two months, but the landmark performances by two 26 year olds, Dallas Braden and Ubaldo Jimenez, serve to illuminate the resurgence of pitching in the aftermath of the steroid-stoked home run era and the willingness of major league clubs to allow young pitchers with speed gun potential to mature at the big league level with minimal or no minor league schooling.
It is not so much force feeding as financial common sense. Why waste all those bullets at Triple A when one fuzzy cheeked pitcher after another is proving he can get major league hitters out?
Is there any greater example than Tim Lincecum, you know, the kid next door who claims to be 25, spending less than a year in the minors after leaving the University of Washington and now having won two straight National League Cy Young Awards with the San Francisco Giants and headed for a third at 4-0.
Of course, financial common sense in Lincecum's case has turned into a two year, $23 million contract, but he remains a bargain as long as his dad's orchestrated windup holds together.
"One of the things that I think we've seen happen," said Logan White, assistant general manager and scouting director of the Los Angeles Dodgers, "is that a series of veteran and dominate pitchers of the caliber of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine have all ended their careers at the same time as a lot of these kids have been emerging, so it's kind of underscored the opportunity that these young kids are getting and fact that clubs are willing to give them the chance at a financial saving.
"I mean, it's no secret that clubs are targeting pitching in the (June amateur draft). The price is generally a lot cheaper than trying to trade for a No. 1 caliber pitcher or sign one as a free agent."
Clayton Kershaw, who was Logan's first round selection in 2006, spent less than two years in the minors before making his major league debut and is now emerging as the Dodger ace, having outdueled the then 6-0 Jimenez Sunday in an old-time pitching battle. Kershaw is 22.
Mike Leake is also 22. He skipped the minor leagues completely and is 3-0 as a Cincinnati Red rookie drafted out of Arizona State.
Tommy Hanson is 23, spent barely two years in the minors, and has a major league record of 13-6 as he works in his second season with the Atlanta Braves.
The Washington Nationals, already boasting Ty Clippard, 6-0 as a 25 year old set up man, are salivating at the imminent prospect of calling up starter Steven Strasberg and potential closer Drew Storen, both selected in last years draft and having spent only a few weeks in the minors.
The fact that all those steroid sluggers have passed from the scene hasn't hurt the arrival of all these young pitchers, but, said Logan, everywhere he goes on his scouting missions, he is finding young pitchers throwing in the 90s with impressive arm strength and composure.
"They may not have command of the strike zone or the secondary pitches that they will eventually need, but it's clear that they've received excellent mechanical schooling along the way," Logan said, "and they now pitch in so many showcase events at young ages they they are conditioned to the stage. I mean, the video and technical improvements have helped accelerate their progress."
The list is endless: modestly paid Phil Hughes is emerging as the New York Yankees ace at 23; the San Diego Padres are the surprise leader in the National League West because of the performances of starters Matt Latos, 22, Wade LeBlanc, 25 and Clayton Richard, 26; Felix Rodriguez, 24, has the potential to be a king in more than name if he gets some offensive support in Seattle; Jered Weaver continues to legitimize his first round selection by the Angels in 2004; Zach Greineke, 26, came back from a year off for personal reasons to win the American League's Cy Young Award at 16-8 last year, and Vanderbilt's David Price and Rice's Jeff Niemann, passing tests of another kind, continue to enhance Tampa Bay's swift start in the AL East.
Overall, the major league earned-run average is down about a half run from last year and may sink even more as the average pitching age continues to sink with the arrival of repertoire complete young arms.
It's a trend that Braden enhanced with the highlight emergence of a modest career and only baseball's 19th perfect game, letting A-Rod, in their cross country verbal debate, know who really owns the mound.