That is the latest tweet from Danny Duffy. It’s cool to have him say it, but let’s not over think it.
Danny Duffy, pitching as a 22 year old rookie last year, posted a 5.64 ERA over 20 starts. He struck out over seven batters per nine innings, but walked almost four and one-half. It was a typical, choppy, rookie season. It was not bad enough to get the organization discouraged, but not good enough to lock Duffy in as a member of the 2012 starting rotation.
For fun (and to kill time in the week before the most anticipated spring training opening game in eight years), I thought it might be fun to see what some truly great pitchers did in their rookie seasons. Using Baseball Reference’s career WAR leaders as a starting point, I eliminated pitchers who threw before 1950. I mean, how do you compare anyone to Cy Young, who threw147 innings as a rookie and 423 the next year? Or to Walter Johnson who, between the ages of 19 and 31, never posted an ERA above 2.22?
At any rate, taking the career WAR leaders and eliminating the ‘old guys’, let’s have a look at the rookie years of the remainder of the top twenty.
- Roger Clemens (128.4 WAR) – As a 21 year old rookie, Clemens posted a decent 4.32 ERA over 20 starts, striking out 8.5/9 and walking just 2.0/9. His 9.9 hits per nine innings that year was a career high.
- Tom Seaver (105.3 WAR) – At age 22, Tom was truly Terrific. Over 251 innings, he posted a 2.76 ERA. In fact, from his rookie 1967 season all the way through 1978, Seaver posted ONE season with an earned run average over three.
- Greg Maddux (96.8 WAR) – The Professor threw 31 innings at age twenty in 1986, but in his true rookie campaing at age 21, Maddux threw up an unsightly 5.61 ERA over 27 starts. The next year? Just 249 innings with an ERA of 3.18, due in no small part to walking a full batter and one-half less than in his rookie season.
- Phil Neikro (96.8 WAR) – I can draw no comparison here, as Neikro spent his first four years splitting time between relief and starting. That includes 1967 when Neikro started 20 games, relieved in 26 more and threw 207 innings to the tune of a 1.87 ERA. Is that the best ‘swing man’ season in baseball history?
- Gaylord Perry (96.3) – Like Neikro, Gaylord started just 56 of his first 135 major league appearances. It didn’t keep him from throwing 206 and 195 innings in back to back years despite being just a part-time starter. He posted an ERA north of four in three of his first four seasons.
- Warren Spahn (93.4) – Spahn threw 15 innings at age 21, went to war for three years and then came back to post an ERA 2.94 in 125 innings in what was a delayed rookie campaign.
- Randy Johnson (91.8) – At age twenty-four, Johnson threw an impressive 26 innings (25 strikeouts, 2.42. ERA), but in his true rookie season he was not nearly as effective: 160 innings, 4.82 ERA, 7.3K/9 and 5.4 BB/9. Beginning the next year (1990), Johnson was on his way to being…well..Randy Johnson.
- Bert Blyleven (90.1) – Came up at age nineteen to throw 164 innings with a 3.18 ERA. The following six seasons all came with an ERA of three or below and a silly, crazy amount of innings. Men were men back then, boys.
- Bob Gibson (85.6) – Here’s a fun one. Gibson, at age 23, threw 75 innings (9 starts/4 relief) with a decent 3.33 ERA. However, Gibson walked 4.6/9 and struck out just 5.7/9. The following year (1960), he posted a 5.61 ERA in 87 innings split between starting and relieving. Even in 1961, when Gibson began to be a bonafide front-line starter, he was still walking over five batters per nine innings. From 1962 on, of course, Gibson was a force, but it took him the better part of 350 innings to become that.
- Nolan Ryan (84.8) – We’ll ignore three innings in 1966 and instead start in 1968 when Nolan was twenty-one. Despite walking five batters every nine innings, Ryan posted a 3.09 ERA over 134 innings. The following three seasons were, dare we say it, Jonathan Sanchez-ish: lots of strikeouts, lots of walks, not many hits and so-so numbers (especially for the era). Ryan moved to California in 1972 (age 25) and was that guy from then on.
- Steve Carlton (84.8) – In 1965 at age twenty, Carlton threw 25 innings. He tossed 52 the next year and 193 in 1967. It didn’t matter, Carlton was good from day one and continued to be so until he reached age 41.
- Fergie Jenkins (81.3) – Baseball was different not so long ago. At age 23, a rookie Jenkins started just 12 games, but appeared in 61 total and threw 187 innings! His ERA was a solid 3.32 and the peripheral numbers virtually identical to those he would post in the next six seasons. You know, the six seasons in a row where Jenkins won twenty games.
None of the above really tells us anything about what we might expect from Danny Duffy, but it does show you that great pitchers sometimes take time to develop. Probably, Danny Duffy won’t end up on the top twenty list for career WAR amongst pitchers, so it would hold true that good (as opposed to great) pitchers are probably even more likely to struggle early in their career.
Even if Duffy finds himself back in Omaha in 2012, it does not foretell doom for his future or for the Royals as a whole. It would be nice, though, if Danny Duffy’s legacy as a Royal…hell, let’s just say it…a Royal great begins in 2012.
Bury me a Royal? Why not?