Many baseball writers will tell you that the rarest – and possibly most valuable – asset in baseball is a top-calibre young starting pitcher. Rare because even the best pitchers do not necessarily dominate from the moment they reach the majors, and valuable both because of their performance and because of the extortionately high cost of good starting pitching on the free agent market.
But who are these young avatars?
To find out, I took a list of the starting pitchers who (a) will be younger than 25 on opening day 2015 and (b) who pitched at least 100 innings in 2014. I then looked up the Steamer projections for their wins above replacement (fWAR) for 2015 to produce a “top 10” (which turned out to be a “top 11” as there was a tie for 10th). Note that this is a list of players already in the majors, and so does not include pitchers like Carlos Rodon or Dylan Bundy … or Aaron Sanchez or Daniel Norris.
Toronto Blue Jays
The results may surprise you.
But first, a caveat. I have been accused of being a worshipper at the shrine of Steamer. Not so – I consider baseball prognostication far more of an art than a science, and I frequently disagree with Steamer’s projections. But they represent probably the best known, most respected and most objective source for baseball player projections. I fully appreciate that not everyone will agree with their estimates for these young pitchers, and accordingly with the ranking below. All the better for discussion! Personally, I find many of their projections to be conservative – but, much like an umpire with an unconventional strike zone, as long as they are consistently wrong, the competition can be considered to be fair.
First, the 2014 results (with thanks to fangraphs). There were 18 players who met the two requirements above. Many were familiar names – Sonny Gray of the A’s had an excellent year, and players like Julio Teheran, Gerrit Cole, and Kevin Gausman have been discussed as potential future aces for some time. There were also a few surprises. I did not think that Henderson Alvarez was young enough to make this list, as he started pitching with the Blue Jays back in 2011. But he turns 25 two weeks into the 2015 season, and so meets my criteria above.
Each of these 18 pitchers had a Steamer projection for 2015. Steamer being Steamer, in most cases the projection for 2015 in terms of fWAR was less than the actual performance in 2014. This is in part because Steamer is inherently conservative, and in part because it is often difficult for a new pitcher to maintain the same level of success in their second year, when opposing teams have had an offseason to study their strengths and to better instruct their hitters.
As with the 2014 stats, the 2015 Steamer projection “Top 11” list contains both the expected and some surprises. For the Jays, the results are very positive. First, Steamer projects Marcus Stroman to be – by far – the best of the 2015 class, with an fWAR almost a full win higher than Sonny Gray (who Steamer expects to regress). Second, and perhaps even more pleasing, Steamer believes that Drew Hutchison‘s 2014 was no fluke, and projects him at a fWAR of 2.0, the 6th highest value on this list. With the first and sixth position, the Jays are one of only two teams with two players in the top 11 (Atlanta being the other, with 5th and 10th).
This result is doubly gratifying when you consider that this list only considers pitchers with 100 mlb innings already under their belt. So not only do the Jays dominate, but they dominate without taking into consideration Sanchez and Norris, much less Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, Roberto Osuna and the other pitchers one step behind.
The bottom line? If their young pitchers represent the future of Blue Jays baseball, the Jays are looking very good indeed.