Late last month, Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals became the third pitcher this season to lose a no-hitter in the ninth inning. It was a heartbreaking play, with Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals rapping a chopper to short with two outs in the ninth, an off-line throw allowing him to sneak in with an infield single.
It was also the 51st start by a Cardinal rookie. Shelby Miller has led the way among St. Louis rookie starters, posting a 3.12 ERA, with a 3/1 strikeout-to-walk rate and a strikeout an inning over 31 starts. Wacha’s near-no-no dropped his ERA to 2.78, with a 2.92 FIP over nine starts. Tyler Lyons (eight starts), John Gast (three starts) and Carlos Martinez (one start) have also represented the Cardinal first-years. That puts the Cards in rare company.
50-Plus Starts by Rookies on a Playoff Team (Since 1969)
|1984||Royals||63||Mark Gubicza (29), Danny Jackson (11), Bret Saberhagen (18), Frank Wills (5)|
|2003||Giants||60||Kurt Ainsworth (11), Kevin Correia (7), Jesse Foppert (21), Jerome Williams (21)|
|2007||Yankees||52||Tyler Clippard (6), Matt DeSalvo (6), Sean Henn (1), Phil Hughes (13), Kei Igawa (12), Jeff Karstens (3), Ian Kennedy (3), Darrell Rasner (6), Chase Wright (2)|
|2008||Dodgers||52||Clayton Kershaw (21), Hiroki Kuroda (31)|
|2012||Orioles||51||Wei-Yin Chen (32), Miguel Gonzalez (15), Steve Johnson (4)|
|2012||Athletics||101||Travis Blackley (15), Graham Godfrey (4), A.J. Griffin (15), Tommy Milone (31), Jarrod Parker (29), Dan Staily (7)|
The 2003 Giants went 100-61, and took first place in the National League West. But their Pythagorean record was 93-68, and their offense consisted of one hitter, Barry Bonds, whose OPS (1.271) was 77% greater than that of the rest of his team (.718). Jason Schmidt and Kirk Rueter anchored the pitching staff, but the rookies on the staff started a lot of games. Unfortunately for the Giants, the 2003 rookie starters didn’t hold the promise, or the future performance, of Clayton Kershaw or the 2012 Athletics.
Kevin Correia, a 2002 fourth-round draft pick who had all of 37-and-two-thirds Northwest League innings under his belt when he was called up to San Francisco, was not even expected to be there. After all, the Giants had tons of pitching prospects who were both better regarded and at more advanced levels than Correia — Boof Bonser, Noah Lowry, Jeff Clark, Ryan Hannaman, and Francisco Liriano among them. That Correia was the one who ended up getting the call in July says as much about the tough season suffered by the Giants’ pitching prospects as it does about Correia. He should have been commended for responding well to being thrown in the fire, but there was little in his record that screamed star potential.
Jesse Foppert started 2003 as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, only to arrive in the majors in April showing disappointing velocity. He showed flashes of brilliance during the season, but his overall numbers were not what you’d like from a top prospect. To top off his fall from grace, he tore his ulnar collateral ligament in September while recovering from a nerve problem in the same elbow, and missed almost all of the 2004 season following Tommy John surgery. He started two games for the Giants in 2005 before he was traded with Yorvit Torrealba to the Seattle Mariners for Randy Winn.
Kurt Ainsworth‘s stock had fallen some, although he pitched adequately in 2003. But he spent much of the year sidelined with a freak injury — a fractured shoulder blade. He was the key to the Sidney Ponson trade with the Orioles in July, and would pitch all of 33 innings for Baltimore over the next two seasons.
Jerome Williams should have been a strong Rookie of the Year candidate, but his season was overshadowed by the outstanding campaigns of fellow rookie starters Brandon Webb (winner of the Internet Baseball Awards RoY) and Dontrelle Willis (the BBWAA winner). Williams didn’t have overpowering stuff — he lived in the high 80s most of the year — but he had a broad repertoire and a willingness to throw any pitch on any count. He would pitch well for the Giants until in-season shoulder surgery in 2004 and a rocky start to 2005 caused the Giants to trade him to the Cubs in May 2005, where he would pitch well for another season.