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The Next Zack Greinke?

Brad Pinkerton of The Sporting News writes in a recent article about identifying aces that breakout stars Zack Greinke, Josh Johnson, and Felix Hernendez had three statistical barometers in common in ’09: H/9 below 8.0, BB/9 below 3.0, and K/9 above 6.0. In fact, it was the first time they’d each accomplished all three in one season. Coincidence or causality? He claims this Holy Trinity of pitching peripherals points to clear success, and because they are all under 30, this success can be linked to future stardom.

I am inclined to agree with Pinkerton’s analysis, and he does a good job of pinpointing the key stats that lead to good W, ERA, and WHIP. So what pitchers were on the verge of stardom?

Scroll through the table below to take a look at the pitchers under 30 who met two of the three barometers Pinkerton identifies (20 pitchers in total). Maybe one of them will emerge this season.

Under 30, Accomplished 2 of 3 in 2009

Pitcher
Age (Opening Day)
H/9 (< 8.0)
BB/9 (< 3.0)
K/9 (> 6.0)
Verlander, Justin278.22.410.1
Wainwright, Adam288.32.58.2
Jurrjens, Jair247.83.16.4
Lester, Jon268.22.810.0
Jimenez, Ubaldo267.63.58.2
Weaver, Jered278.42.87.4
Kershaw, Clayton226.34.89.7
Jackson, Edwin268.42.96.8
Gallardo, Yovani247.34.69.9
Baker, Scott288.62.27.9
Hanson, Tommy237.43.28.2
Floyd, Gavin278.32.87.6
Garza, Matt267.83.58.4
Nolasco, Ricky279.12.19.5
Shields, James289.82.16.8
Niemann, Jeff279.22.96.2
Harden, Rich287.84.310.9
Sanchez, Jonathan277.44.89.8
Hammel, Jason2810.32.16.8
Slowey, Kevin2811.21.57.4

(use arrows to scroll)

Specific Players to Note in 2010

Adam Wainwright was a Cy Young contender last season, finishing a very close 3rd behind Tim Lincecum and teammate, Chris Carpenter. Although he has already emerged as a top fantasy starter, Wainwright is poised to remain one of the most reliable pitchers in the game. Verdict: Wainwright is already there.

Justin Verlander rebounded from a disappointing 2008 to finish 3rd in Cy Young voting in 2009. He lowered both his H/9 and BB/9 to new career bests and raised his K/9 to a career-high and league-leading 10.1. Chances are he will at least come close to repeating his success, but the 240.1 innings he threw in 2009 is a bit worrisome. Remember what happened to Cole Hamels last year after throwing 227.1 innings in the regular season plus 39 in the playoffs. Verdict: He’s been there before (’07) but don’t put all your eggs in his basket.

Jair Jurrjens shocked many fantasy owners last season when he lowered his ERA over a whole point to 2.60, but this was most likely an anomaly. One of the most telling stats about a player’s performance is BABIP (batting average on balls in play). The league average every season hovers around .300. Anything that varies greatly from that indicates a little bit of luck was probably involved. Well, Jurrjens BABIP in ’09 was .274 which means more balls put into play were converted into outs than normally occurs (for reference, Greinke’s BABIP was .307 and Lincecum’s was .288, so quality of the pitcher is excluded from the stat). What am I getting at? Jurrjens’ BB/9 and K/9 remained almost unchanged from 2008 to 2009, but his BABIP was much lower (.307 in 2008) which accounts for the drop in H/9 from 9.0 in 2008 to 7.8 in 2009. Oh, and to counter any other excuses, Atlanta was 14th in fielding percentage last season so it wasn’t that his team was so great behind him. Verdict: Reliable pitcher, but not likely to repeat his stellar ’09 campaign.

Jon Lester decreased his H/9 from 8.6 in 2008 to 8.2 in 2009, but his BABIP actually increased from .300 to .314! Coupled with his staggering 10.0 K/9 and the Red Sox’ focus on defense this season (Bay out, Cameron in, Lowell probably out, Beltre/Adrian Gonzalez probably in) and you have a recipe for a Cy Young season. Verdict: Don’t wait on Lester as he will finish as an elite Cy Young contender.

Yovani Gallardo stumbled through 2009 to a 13-12 record and a 3.73 ERA. His BB/9 unexpectedly rose to 4.6 despite a career average of 3.0 in 134.1 innings. With an already good H/9 and an exceptional K/9, expect his BB/9 to fall back to his career average. After all, he posted a BB/9 of only 3.2 in his minor league career (396.1 IP), so the rise in 2009 is nothing to worry about. Verdict: Prepare for the 24-year old to take his next step toward stardom.

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About the author: Bryan is the co-founder of Baseball Professor and works as a consultant specializing in operational metrics and efficiency analysis. When he’s not working, blogging, or tending to basic human needs, he enjoys pondering the vastness of the universe, rewatching episodes of Breaking Bad, and avoiding snakes. (@BaseballProf)

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