Was 2006 a great season for young arms or what?
I don't know if there's ever been a year where so many potentially great pitchers all put themselves on the map:
Our great young ace, Jered Weaver was 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA
Justin Verlander won 17 games and threw 100 MPH
Felix Hernandez, a disappointment after his great 2005 debut, still had close to a 3-1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Cole Hamels struck out 145 in only 132 innings
Francisco Liriano was 12-3, 2.16, outpitching his teammate who happens to be the best pitcher in baseball, until he got hurt.
Matt Cain won 13 games and struck out 179
Jon Papelbon had an ERA below 1.00 as a closer. Now we'll find out how good a starter he can be.
This is far from a complete list, there are many others, including the entire Marlins rotation after Dontrelle Willis.
Are the young pitchers of 2007 capable of having the kind of impact this group had? Here are some possible candidates for the next great pitching story:
Philip Hughes had a 2.16 ERA and 168-34 strikeout to walk ratio last year. He is considered the best pitching prospect in the game according to Baseball America. Hughes should start the season in AAA Columbus, but could be in the Yankee rotation as soon as somebody (I'm looking at you, Pavano) gets hurt. While his talent is considerable, we don't know yet if he can handle the pressure of being a Yankee, and the AL East is the toughest division to be a pitcher in, so he may not be a great fantasy option.
Homer Bailey had a 2.47 ERA in the minors, including 1.59 after a promotion to AA. He seems a bit wild right now, and that could prevent him from making a big impact right away, but young pitchers have been known to make dramatic improvements in their control. If he does, Bailey has the stuff to succeed and pitching in the NL central, a much easier situation than Hughes. I'll be pulling for Bailey to have a Weaver-like debut, because I can already see somebody (probably after making the hour drive from Springfield) hanging Homer Simpson posters from the upper deck after every Homer strikeout. And when the batter swings and misses? A loud D'OH over the speaker system.
Matt Garza dominated the minors last year, but was hit pretty hard in his first 50 innings with the Twins. He should have a job to start the 2007 season, or else he'll replace Ramon Ortiz or Sidney Ponson (the gopher brothers) soon after the season starts. He has the stuff, he also has the control, he just needs to trust his stuff, and build up his stamina.
Anthony Reyes has more than proven himself in AAA, with a 218-45 strikeout to walk ratio in 36 starts the last two years. He doesn't have lights out stuff, but is a good enough pitcher that I'd normally recommend him with a good defensive team like the Cardinals. This year, however, I can't do that. Jim Edmonds may open the season on the disabled list, and there is a possibility that the starting OF will be Chris Duncan, Preston Wilson, and Scott Spiezio. I'm pretty sure someone like Cory Patterson could cover more ground by himself than those three could together. These guys are as bad as the Cardinal infield of Pujols-Kennedy-Eck-Rolen is good. Reyes is a flyball pitcher. If you want a Cardinal pitcher this year, better try a groundballer.
Tim Lincecum was a first round draft pick of the Giants last year. He has 31 professional innings, during which he has struck out 58 batters. He's a little guy, under 6 feet and 160 pounds, but has a truly unique motion and can throw in the upper 90's. I don't know if he'll reach the majors in 2007, but if he does it may take batters a little time to catch up with him, and his home park won't hurt him either.
Last but certainly not least is Dice-K Mazdahonda. D'OH. I mean Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's actually #1 on Baseball America's list, but I wouldn't really call him a prospect. He's a proven commodity, not a might-make-it kid. I'm not saying he shouldn't be eligible for ROY, he should, especially since he'll be younger than Jackie Robinson was when Jackie won the award that now bears his name.
Its just that he belongs in a different discussion than guys like Bailey and Hughes. How good is Dice-K? Well, he's not as good as Johan Santana. Otherwise he's as good as anybody.
Now with all those young pitchers coming up and setting batters down, how come offense jumped so much in 2006? Why didn't they move us back towards 1968? Did all the holdover just pitch like crap? That's a question for another day.