All Things Baseball

Young Arms Stealing the Show — Part 2 of 2-part series (see: Old Aces Resurrected)

Baseball fans of the past 20 years remember well the dominance that aces like Tom Glavine, Kenny Rogers, and Curt Schilling have had over opposing hitters.  Now that the amazing careers of these three are ending, there are many new pitchers that are baffling hitters and putting together spectacular rookie campaigns.  Of the 10+ rookie starting pitchers who are having break-out seasons, the four that stand-out are Justin Verlander (Tigers), Francisco Liriano (Twins), Josh Johnson (Marlins), and Jonathan Papelbon (Red Sox). 

Justin Verlander has perhaps the most electric “stuff” of the three, sporting a 100-mile-per-hour fastball, and a devastating 12-to-6 curveball that has been described as “super-plus” by scouts.  He is the first rookie to reach 10 wins, and as I mentioned in Part 1, he has been a big part of the Tigers’ ascent to the top of Major League Baseball.  Two things have shaped Verlander’s success as a rookie; one is of course his natural ability, but the other comes from having Kenny Rogers, a veteran ace, to mentor him.   

Francisco Liriano has been dubbed “mini-Johan” by Minnesota Twins fans, and with good reason.  He looks almost identical to his Cy Young winning teammate Johan Santana, using the same tremendous fastball and baffling changeup to strikeout batters at an MLB-leading rate.  With his record at 8-1 and his ERA at a spectacular 2.21, Liriano has been the best of the rookie class of starting pitchers.  The “Twins” (as they’be been named) Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano form what is probably the MLB’s best 1-2 punch, and similar to the Tigers’ Rogers and Verlander duo, Santana’s mentoring has been a huge part of Liriano’s rise to the top of the class of young arms.

Josh Johnson is the forgotten rookie, in that he’s talked about much less than all the other young pitchers, partly because he plays for the Florida Marlins, who are not expected to make a big impact this season.  Despite this, Johnson’s presence on the baseball field is hard to ignore; not because of his 6-foot-7 frame, but rather because he throws three high-caliber pitches that confuse opposing hitters and make them look foolish.  Johnson leads all starting pitchers in ERA at 2.20 (just 0.01 lower than Liriano), and his record stands at 7-4.  Unlike Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander, Josh Johnson has no veterans to mentor him because the Marlins are the MLB’s youngest team, however the success of fellow rookies Scott Olsen and Ricky Nolasco drives him to pitch well.  And by the way, don’t count the Marlins out yet, as they’re hot right now, and if the division-leading Mets have a bad stretch, that 11.5 game difference in the NL East could go away. 

Although he is not a starting pitcher, no rookie has been more dominant this season than the Red Sox Jonathan Papelbon.  Forced into the closer role because of inconsistency and injuries to Keith Foulke, Papelbon has converted 24 of 26 save opportunities and has been a rock at the end of the Boston bullpen.  Lil Papi, as he’s been dubbed by Red Sox fans (David Ortiz is Big Papi), has compiled a ridiculous 0.46ERA (allowing just 2 runs), to lead the MLB in that category.  His presence at the end of the bullpen gives the Red Sox confidence that they lacked in 2005, and Papelbon is the clear front-runner for the Rookie of the Year so far this season.

As the aces of the last 20 years fade away, pitchers like Francisco Liriano, Justin Verlander, Josh Johnson, and Jonathan Papelbon are developing into stars that will be known for many seasons to come.

See part 1 of this series “Old Aces Resurrected”–


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