Rookie Revolution
June 22, 2006

One thing that struck me last night as I watched Ricky Nolasco throw a terrific game against the Orioles only to be outpitched by Erik Bedard was that there are a ton of really, really good rookie starting  pitchers this year. 

I totally missed the ball on Nolasco in my book and I don't really know why.  I guess when one is writing profiles about a thousand players there is always the chance that a couple good players will get lost in the shuffle.  I really wish I hadn't overlooked him because he is terrific.  Featuring a fastball that touched 95 mph, he also buckled knees with a very sharp curve and showed a good feel with his change-up.  As was demonstrated last night he won't get a lot of run support and the young defense behind him will make a number of miscues that will cost him wins.  But if he has the mental fortitude to survive the next couple of years, he should mature into a top fantasy starter very quickly. 

Speaking of last night, I don't want to take anything away from Erik Bedard's performance because it was terrific and it might end up as a watershed outing where he finally turns the corner and becomes the ace the combination of his stuff and minor league numbers say he should be.  But he got quite a bit of help from home plate umpire Wally Bell's strikezone.  Both he and Nolasco benefited particularly on breaking balls on the edges of the plate.  Still, 2 hits allowed and 12 strikeouts (with no walks) says a lot about what he can do when he's got everything working.

But back to the main topic, already we've seen spectacular outings from Jon Lester, Matt Cain, Francisco Liriano, Felix Hernandez (OK, technically he's not a rookie but he's so young I'm going to include him), Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen and probably a couple of others that I'm forgetting.  Most of these guys have legit top of the rotation talent and, even though they are just rookies and thus subject to the vicissitudes of inexperience, they should continue to log a pretty healthy number of quality innings.  The one concern with stud rookie starters, however, is not that the league will eventually figure them out.  That sort of obsolescence is already built into their inconsistency.  Their stuff will still occasionally dominate opposing line-ups even after the league gets a book on them.

No, the primary concern is that they have never pitched for a full six month season.  The minor league season is only four and a half months long and most minor league pitchers are on fumes by the time their playoffs and September call-ups come around.  In the majors they will be asked to pitch for another month and a half beyond that.  That can be a tall order, even for the most talented young guns.  Remember Dontrelle Willis' slide during his rookie campaign?  He posted an ERA of 4.60 after the All-Star Break that year with a 6.92 in August.  Before his Rookie of the Year campaign, Jason Jennings was called up in 2001 in August and pitched brilliantly until he hit a wall in September with a 8.84 ERA in his 4 starts that month.  Gustavo Chacin posted ERAs of 5.30 and 4.34 in his final two months last year.  Each of these guys had strong minor league pedigrees but this kind of meltdown is fairly common even with the best pitching prospects. 

So while you still have another couple of months to enjoy their brilliance in their first exposure to the Show, understand that most if not all of these future stars will experience a dead arm period in late August and/or September that could be costly in your fantasy leagues.