Looking around the league at the starting pitchers Friday night could make a fan of a certain age feel kind of, well, old. A large number of the starters were younger than 25. While this might not seem like a big deal, remember that this puts them well younger than the average age of every MLB roster; the Royals have the youngest average age at 26.2, while the Phillies, they of the Fearsome Foursome, have the oldest average age at 30.7.
Friday night’s starters included three of baseball’s strongest young pitchers (all stats are going into Friday’s games). David Price (5-4, 3.89 ERA) started for Tampa Bay against the Indians, Tommy Hanson (5-3, 2.72) started for the Braves against the Reds and rookie Michael Pineda (6-2, 2.16) started for the Mariners against the Yankees. These highly touted youngsters have a lot in common. All three are big: Pineda stands 6 feet, 7 inches tall, while Price and Hanson are both listed at 6-foot-6. Each has come up through his respective farm system with the same team. All three are routinely clocked in the upper 90s. And they’re all younger than 25.
They weren’t the only young starters on the mound Friday. The Orioles started 23-year-old Chris Tillman against the A’s. Oakland’s starter? Gio Gonzalez, age 25. The Royals started a 23-year-old Rule 5 pick, Nathan Adcock, against the Rangers. Mike Leake, 24, started for the Reds against Hanson. The Angels started 22-year-old Tyler Chatwood against the Twins. And in a delightfully ironic twist that might answer the question of whether age and treachery really can overcome youth and skill, 22-year-old Rick Porcello started for the Tigers against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and the Red Sox. Porcello is half Wakefield’s age.
The Rays definitely seem to have embraced the youth movement. Friday night was the 652nd game in which the Rays’ starting pitcher was younger than 30. The only longer streak was 704 games, set by the 1913-17 Washington Senators. And that streak was broken only because Walter Johnson turned 30. (Because even if you wanted young pitchers, how would you not start Walter Johnson?) Out of all these young arms, Hanson, Pineda and Price seem to be the ones with the most staying power. Each has the potential to be the face of his franchise in the future. It got me to thinking: Which one of them would I want playing for me in five years? In 10 years?
Going into Friday, Pineda had the best ERA at 2.16, followed by Hanson at 2.72 and Price at 3.54. Pineda and Hanson both had 61 strikeouts, placing them 20th in the majors in a five-way tie. Price had 56 strikeouts. Pineda also led all American League pitchers in strikeouts per game (minimum 40 innings pitched) with 9.4. Hanson was at 9.2 and Price at 7.3. In addition, Pineda is a likely candidate for the AL rookie of the year award. From many vantage points, Pineda would seem to be the likely choice as the guy you’d want playing for you five years down the line.
However, if I'm doing the picking, I’d take Price in a heartbeat. I like the way Price sets his pitching rhythm; he doesn’t seem to get rattled or thrown off his game by any batter tactics. And he is dominant, hammering in scary/hard pitches as though he’s hammering the nails into the batter’s coffin. I watched him break the Indians' home winning streak earlier this month and watched him dismantle the Indians' offense again Friday night, shutting them out and logging 12 strikeouts in seven innings. Price also won the 2010 Players Choice Award as the AL Outstanding Pitcher, beating out the likes of CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez. It says a lot when the guys you’ve beaten all season vote for you.
Out of all these young starters, Price also had the best outing Friday. Hanson went only 4 2/3 innings, giving up three runs (two earned). Pineda gave up three runs in five innings with five strikeouts. Adcock was shelled, giving up seven runs in 2.2 innings, and Chatwood didn’t fare much better. And in the age and treachery versus youth and skill department, Porcello gave up six runs in three innings, while Wakefield went seven for the win.
Price has played only two full seasons in the majors (he pitched 14 innings in five games in 2008). The jump he made in productivity between 2009 and 2010 shows a young pitcher who has quickly learned how to dominate major league hitters in a way that others don’t seem to have done. While he lost in his first two starts this season, he’s finding his way back to his 2010 form. Shutting out the top team in the league is another a step in that direction. The fact that he shut out my team merely adds to my respect.
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