This year, we are just not going to see a pitcher breakout like R.A. Dickey did last year. We really never have, and we may never again. This time last year he was a 37-year-old with a 41-50 career record on four teams. Few people knew his name. Now he’s a Cy Young winner and a high-priced acquisition for the rising Blue Jays. It’s the ultimate in Cinderella stories.
While there aren’t going to be any old guys creating a new career for themselves this year, there are nonetheless a number of pitchers who are going to explode onto the scene. Last year they showed enough to make me believe that they could take a massive step forward.
Here are five leading breakout pitcher contenders to help with your MLB early-season betting:
Moore is coming off a rookie season that wasn’t overwhelming — 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA. When you look closer, though, there were a few things to really like. First, he has an excellent breaking ball, and he can throw it for strikes — something he got better at as the season progressed. Even better, he has a changeup that is very effective, and he throws it for a strike at a two-thirds rate. Third, he catches batters looking with the fastball at a better rate than any other pitcher. That means he has a strong fastball, an excellent breaking ball, and a dynamite changeup. That’s a lot of tools — so many that the Rays felt that they could get rid of James Shields. Moore has the tools to be a star, and this is the year we should see him move forward in a big way.
The former Notre Dame wide receiver has quietly turned into a very good pitcher — so good, in fact, that he is likely to be the Opening Day starter for the Cubs this year. If he was on a team that wasn’t so lousy, he’d be getting a whole lot more attention. His 9.3 strikeouts-per-nine-innings is impressive, and it’s fueled by a very strong fastball that is tough for hitters to pick up because of his size and delivery. He’s only going to get better, and this year he will leap forward.
Nova has been a big part of the disappointment that has surrounded the Yankees recently. He is a better talent than he has shown, though, and this could be the year that he proves it. His numbers aren’t too bad — 8.1 K/9 and 2.8 K/BB. His 1.46 WHIP isn’t a disaster, either. He has a nice fastball, and he’s only 26, so there is plenty of time for him to figure things out. The biggest strike against him is that he is absolutely horrible at Yankee Stadium with a 6.08 ERA. That’s a result of how many home runs he gives up in that park. It’s a huge problem, but one that the team is obviously going to be working on. Even a minor improvement at home would make Nova a much better pitcher, and there is no reason to think that he can’t improve. It would be great to see him or Phil Hughes break out this year because the Yankees are getting less public love now than they have in years, so there could be some relative value to be had.
It seems like I want to put this guy on my breakout pitchers list every year. There’s something about him that really piques my interest. Sure, he spent some time in Triple-A last year after a rough start, and his 5.96 ERA was ugly. There is some skill there, though - 8.4 K/9, for example. He didn’t pitch well enough to be a star last year, but he also didn’t have much luck — runners scored at an abnormally high rate once they got on base. If he gets better support behind him, and has better luck, he should be a much better pitcher. He won’t be a superstar, but he should be much-improved.
Minor figured out how to pitch right before our eyes last season — his third in the majors. In the first half of the season he had an ugly 6.20 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP. After July 1, though, his ERA fell to 2.21 and his WHIP was a microscopic 0.86. Very good, in other words. His command is impressive, and he has a big toolbox to draw from. There are some areas that need work — he was much weaker on the road than at home, and he is not nearly the pitcher from the stretch that he is when the bases are empty. Both problems are common with younger pitchers, though. Combine some small improvements on both fronts and continued confidence overall, and Minor is going to be a very big part of the Atlanta rotation.
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