Last week I turned the readers' attention to Major League Baseball's recent commercial narrated by Buck Showalter, celebrating the current slate of players and personnel. The premise of the ad is that we are currently witnessing the golden days of baseball and we need not look to the past to romanticize the game we love. If you haven't seen it, you should check it out.
Following the premise that we are living in a golden era of baseball, I took a look at MLB's ‘25 and Under' lineup. The list includes players who have played at unprecedented levels for their age (like Mike Trout) and players who personify the global nature of the game (like Yasiel Puig and Jose Altuve). The point of my piece was not to show that MLB is doing a great job marketing to younger fans (there is still work to be done to address the aging demographics) but rather to highlight the incredibly talented hitters who are entering the prime of their careers. The lineup I presented would form quite the formidable all-star team and today I will be looking at the other side of the game by examining pitchers who are ‘25 and under'. There are numerous young pitchers who can complement our ‘Golden Age of Baseball' lineup but first I would like to put into context the current state of pitching.
Before diving into the league's best ‘25 and Under' pitchers, it is necessary to note that most of MLB's best pitchers are between 26 and 30. There are a number of reasons for this including injury, development time and bust rate. Tommy John Surgery (TJS) is increasingly more common at all levels of baseball, which sets players back in their development due to the lengthy time lost in the recovery process. Jose Fernandez is an example, who at only 22 years old has already made a huge major league impact and then missed over a season due to his recovery from TJS.
Additionally, it takes pitchers longer to harness their skills and to stretch out their arms to the point of being effective and durable players. Even when a young player bursts onto the scene at the Major League level, pitchers are on innings limits and generally do not ascend to the 200 inning goal in their first season or two. Third, pitchers generally bust at a higher rate than positional players.
With these caveats in mind, it is not surprising that within the top 30 projected starting pitchers by ZiPS, only Gerrit Cole is under 26 years old. In fact, the top ten pitchers by projected fWAR (per ZiPS) have an average age over 32! This is quite different from the positional players whose top ten includes Trout (23), Giancarlo Stanton (25), and Yasiel Puig (24).
|Top 10 Projected SP by ZiPS||Age|
*Wainwright tore his Achilles and is out for the remainder of the season
Despite the projected top pitchers in baseball being fairly well seasoned, there is still myriad young pitchers that should excite fans around the country and around the world. The top ten starting pitchers 25 and under contains a World Series MVP (Madison Bumgarner, 2014), a National League Rookie of the Year (Jose Fernandez, 2013), and several teams' number one starter.
Here they are:
|Position||Player||Age||2014 fWAR||2015 Project fWAR*|
|SP||Madison Bumgarner||25 y 8 m||4.1||3.9|
|SP||Gerrit Cole||24 y 7 m||2.3||3.3|
|SP||Alex Wood||24 y 3 m||2.7||3.1|
|SP||Trevor Bauer||24 y 3 m||1.3||3|
|SP||Sonny Gray||25 y 5 m||3.1||2.8|
|SP||Julio Teheran||24 y 2 m||3.5||2.5|
|SP||Jake Odorizzi||25 y 1 m||2.2||2.4|
|SP||Jose Fernandez*||22 y 8 m||1.6||2.3|
|SP||Yordano Ventura||23 y 10 m||2.4||2|
|SP||Nathan Eovaldi||25 y 2 m||2.9||1.5|
*Missed part of 2014 and 2015 due to TJS
There is some diversity on the list, as many of the players on the above list were first round picks with significant prospect flair, while others went later in the draft and several are international signees. Much like the young position players, MLB is ripe with young pitching talent from around the world.
Madison Bumgarner was the tenth overall pick in 2007 and leads the list of ‘25 and Under' starters in projected fWAR for 2015. He posted a 4-Win 2014 campaign and threw as dominant an October as we've seen in recent memory. In his young career Bumgarner has thrown over 1,000 regular season and postseason innings and despite his youth, has already helped the Giants win three championships. He has ascended rapidly from the tenth overall pick in the 2007 draft to become the frontman of the Giants rotation. I'm also proud to say that Beyond the Box Score was onto Bumgarner before October.
Trevor Bauer: Gutter to the grail
In his first 3 starts of the season, Trevor Bauer has dazzled, allowing just two runs over 19.1 innings. Has he turned to corner and become the ace Cleveland hoped they traded for, or has the precocious pitcher just benefited from some good fortune early in the season?
Gerrit Cole,Trevor Bauer, and Sonny Gray were all drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft. Cole was selected by Pittsburgh with the number one overall pick, Arizona nabbed Bauer at three, and Oakland selected Gray with the eighteenth pick. Cole and Bauer are the most similar as each has significant swing and miss stuff. Gray has already contributed more to his parent club than the other two combined, having been an effective part of the Oakland rotation. He contributed in the playoffs in 2013 when he tossed 13 strong innings.
2015 presents potential breakout for Cole and Bauer who have yet to show real dominance at the major league level despite impressive raw tools and sexy name value. It is not inconceivable that they both throw 150 innings and strike out at least 150 batters which would be a welcome addition in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Alex Wood joined the Atlanta rotation last season and surprisingly tossed over 170 innings posting a 2.7 fWAR. Wood has funky mechanics but has been effective in Atlanta. He struck out 170 batters last season and finished the season with an ERA that was 18 percent better than league average.
(Woods' funky mechanics. H/T to Carson Cistulli)
Jake Odorizzi is the only player on our list who was drafted directly out of high school. The 25 year old was a generally overlooked part of the Wil Myers / James Shields trade but may end up with the most value. Odorizzi has started four games already in 2015 and has been excellent giving up only five earned runs in 27 innings and posting an ERA 57 percent lower than league average.
The Yankees decided to invest in Marlins draftee Nathan Eovaldi, giving up versatile infielder Martin Prado. While I did not like the move for the Yankees due to their aging roster, in a vacuum, Eovaldi is a good young addition to their rotation. Eovaldi has power stuff that to date has not translated into a significant amount of swings and misses. He'll be someone to watch as he perfects his craft in the Bronx and represents an excellent back of the rotation starter for the ‘25 and Under' team.
On the international side there is a youth movement. Yordano Ventura is only 23 years old, Julio Teheran is 24, and Tommy John survivor (hopefully) Jose Fernandez is only 22. Fernandez was the cream of the pitching crop before he went down with his UCL injury last season. All three of these players are hopefully going to continue to get better as they age and have already demonstrated their ability at the major league level.
|RP||Kelvin Herrera||25 y 3 m||24.00%||77|
|RP||Trevor Rosenthal||24 y 10 m||31.40%||76|
|RP||Ken Giles||24 y 7 m||35.10%||27|
In addition to the starters, there are three relievers of note who qualify for the ‘25 and under' team. Kelvin Herrera (when he's not throwing 100 MPH fastballs at batters' heads) is one of the most dominant middle relievers in the game. As one third of the Royals three-headed-reliever-monster, he was a critical member of Kansas City's pennant winning squad in 2014.
The Cardinals have a propensity for always having good pitching, some of which is derived from unlikely sources. Trevor Rosenthal was drafted in the 21st round of the 2009 draft and has been a shutdown reliever in their bullpen since 2012. Since his call-up, Rosenthal has put up ERAs at least 28 percent better than league average.
No one will argue the Phillies are an aging, non-competitive team but one bright spot is young reliever Ken Giles. Giles finished in the top ten in strikeout rate for all relievers who threw at least 40 innings last season, and posted the 14th best reliever fWAR despite throwing 20 innings fewer than nearly all the relievers ahead of him.
There is a significant amount of young talent on both sides of the ball for fans to enjoy. The true ‘Golden Age of Baseball' can certainly be the one in front of us. Between the youth and the seasoned veterans on the mound, the current era of pitching is unlike anything witnessed in the past forty years. Despite the volatility and difficult road for young pitchers, there are plenty of exciting ‘25 and under pitchers' in the game. Combined with a lineup full with deep talent, Showalter may be onto something.
Steven Martano is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.