by Trevor Whenham - 05/26/2006
The media seems to be head over heels in love with the young pitchers that are developing in baseball these days. Every young stud that comes along is referred to as the greatest prospect with the nastiest stuff we have ever seen. Sports fans eat up the hype, but do the pitchers live up to it? Here's a look at eight pitchers who are 25 or younger and the value they offer bettors:
Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay - It may still be too early to tell for sure, but Scott Kazmir could be part of the most lopsided trade in baseball history. It's in the top ten, anyway. In exchange for Kazmir, the Mets received Victor Zambrano. Since then, Zambrano has gone 10-14 in parts of three very uninspiring seasons, while Kazmir has turned into one of the best young pitchers in the majors. The lefty just turned 24, but he has a 19-14 career mark, including 7-2 with a 2.39 ERA this year. For the Devil Rays. His team is 8-2 in games he starts, compared to 13-25 when he is on the bench. A bet on the Rays every time he starts is the most profitable of any pitcher in the Majors this year. He's allowed one earned run in his last three starts and doesn't seem to fear anyone. Definitely worth the hype.
Dontrelle Willis, Florida - He's been around so long that it's hard to believe that he is only 24. After an incredible season last year, he has struggled to a 1-5 mark so far this year. Of course, his team is awful and, outside of Miguel Cabrera, most fans would struggle to name another Marlins player. Willis offers no value as a bet for now, but he is still very worth watching. As a live arm on a team that has clearly given up, Willis will almost certainly be traded as the season heats up. On a new team, and in an environment that isn't so hopeless, Willis will immediately make an impact. No matter how bad his record is before he leaves Florida, he'll start chalking up the wins once he gets out of the state that baseball forgot.
Rich Harden, Oakland - The 24 year old Canadian right hander has been out with a strained back muscle since the end of April, but the way he was pitching before he got hurt will make bettors long for his return. He had posted a 3-0 record and the team was 5-0 in his starts. He's yet another product of the Oakland pitching factory, and he's been reliable and competent since he broke in late in the 2003 season. He was due to be out for 3-6 weeks, so he should be back soon, and he should continue to be worth a look with every start.
Felix Hernandez, Seattle - As a 20 year old last year, Hernandez was crowned King Felix. The coronation may have been a bit early. He was almost unhittable last year - opponents batted just .203 against him. This year it has been rough. He's 3-5, his ERA is an ugly 5.84, and his confidence looks to be completely shot. He's allowed 17 earned runs in his last 10 innings, and the Seattle media is suggesting that he might benefit from a stint in the minors. He's not worth a bet now, but if he can keep his head together, Hernandez is going to become a solid starter for a lot of years. He's just not the king yet.
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota - Liriano won't be 23 until after the season ends, but he's pitching like a man. He's started in the bullpen late last year and began there this year, too, but now he's getting the ball to begin games. In his first start he looked like a veteran, allowing just two hits and one earned run in five innings. He'll be the fifth starter for the Twins for now, and he doesn't have the track record to let us know for sure how he'll do, but the signs certainly are positive and he's definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Justin Verlander, Detroit - If I had told you before the season that the Tigers would have the best staff in baseball, you'd have rightly thought I was an addict on a trip. The Tigers are 33-14, and Verlander, a 23-year-old right-handed rookie, is a big part of the reason. He's 6-3 and leads the league with a 2.70 ERA. One thing I love to see is that he has a decision in every start, showing me that he doesn't flame out early. That's a great habit to get into early in a career. Everything the Tigers touch turns to gold these days, and Verlander hasn't allowed an earned run his last two times out, so he's definitely worth a hard look whenever he gets the call.
Jeff Francis, Colorado - Another Canadian, the giant 25-year-old lefty is 3-3 with a team-leading 3.07 ERA, despite toiling in the pitcher's graveyard of Colorado. The surprisingly solid Rockies are 5-4 when he starts. His record isn't as flashy as some on this list, but two things stick out about him. First, he's 3-1 in his last four starts, allowing just 2 runs in the three wins. That shows he's getting it together. More significantly, though, is the improvement he has shown over last year. He's cut his ERA way down from 5.68 last season, and he had a winning record then. He's getting more run support and better defense, so he's one to watch in my book.
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia - When 22 year old Hamels was called up at the beginning of May, you'd have thought he could walk on water by the way people were writing about him. His first start was impressive - five scoreless innings with 7 K's against the Padres. The second time wasn't the charm though. Milwaukee roughed him up and left him with soreness in his shoulder that has landed him on the DL. He has given up too many walks, but it's too early to be concerned about that. It's also too early to give him any betting attention, but he has the hype, and seemingly the stuff, to win us some money for years to come.