Where were the league’s best pitchers at age 24?

The RAB Radio Show: November 17, 2010
Open Thread: Taking back the comments

He might not have finished with the sexiest numbers, but Phil Hughes had quite an eventful 2010. In his first full season as a starter he made his first All-Star team and started his first playoff game. He also crossed his personal innings ceiling. In 2006 he threw 146 innings, but barely topped 100 in the following three seasons. In 2010 he threw 176, plus another 15.2 in the postseason. But it wasn’t all positive. Hughes did struggle at times, especially with the home run. It makes it difficult to project him going forward.

Thankfully for him, the home run problem is a new development. It might not even be a big concern going forward. For starters, seven of his 25 homers came against the Blue Jays, and six of those came in just two games. Furthermore, 12 of those 25 game during an eight game stretch during which Hughes struggled mightily. It’s the kind of stretch that many pitchers his age experience.

Before: 11 GS, 69.2 IP, 56 H, 21 R, 21 ER, 20 BB, 68 K, 4 HR

During: 8 GS, 47.2 IP, 53 H, 33 R, 32 ER, 14 BB, 34 K, 12 HR

After: 10 GS, 59 IP, 53 H, 29 R, 29 ER, 24 BB, 44 K, 9 HR

While he did recover a bit after the homer barrage, he still did struggle at times. Is that a concern the Yankees should have going forward? I tend to say no, since he those last 10 starts were innings he hadn’t pitched in four years. But it still has to be a concern that Hughes started off so well and tapered at the end.

This got me wondering where the best pitchers in the majors this season were at age 24. It is, after all, still a young age for a pitcher. Many guys come along slowly, and considering his past injuries and journey through the bullpen, Hughes could certainly rank among them. Here are the top 10 by FIP, and where they were at age 24.

Josh Johnson: Pitched just 87.1 innings because of injury. He had Tommy John surgery and pitched only 15.2 innings in his age 23 season.

Cliff Lee: 3.61 ERA and 4.35 FIP in just 52.1 innings. He wouldn’t be a full-time starter until the next season, during which he had a 5.43 ERA and 4.97 FIP.

Francisco Liriano: After missing his entire age-23 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Liriano pitched well enough in 2008, but managed just 76 innings.

Adam Wainwright: Basically doing the same thing Hughes did at age 23, pitching out of the Cardinals bullpen. Hughes actually might have been better at it, too. But all the same, he threw just 75 innings that season before transitioning to the rotation and throwing 202 as a 25-year-old.

Just to note, that’s the top four pitchers, per FIP, this season, and Hughes threw far, far more innings than any of them — the closest was 90 IP away.

Justin Verlander: Absolutely rocked, pitching 201.2 innings to a 3.66 ERA and 3.99 FIP in a super follow-up to his AL Rookie of the Year Award season.

Mat Latos: Yeah, he was only 22 this year.

Roy Halladay: He was actually very good, a 3.16 ERA and 2.34 FIP. But he pitched only 105.1 innings, because he was so bad in his age-23 season that Toronto had to send him all the way down to the bottom of the minors to start over.

Yovani Gallardo: 2010 was his age-24 season, and he managed just nine more innings than Hughes. He was pretty good, though, a 3.84 ERA and 3.02 FIP.

Felix Hernandez: He was also 24 in 2010. We need not make the comparison.

Jered Weaver: The Angels passed on Hughes in the 2004 draft in order to take Weaver. In 2007, his age-24 season, Weaver threw 161 innings and had a 3.91 ERA and 4.06 FIP. Those are pretty Hughes-like numbers.

If you want to add in some ERA leaders who were not FIP leaders:

Clay Buchholz: The Red Sox kept Buchholz in the minors in 2009. In the majors he threw 92 innings to a 4.21 ERA and 4.69 FIP. So Hughes threw more and was better.

David Price: Another age-24 pitcher in 2010. He was considerably better than Hughes.

Roy Oswalt: He was a stand-out 24-year-old.

Tim Hudson: Hudson pitched 202.1 innings in his age-24 season, but managed a Hughes-like 4.14 ERA and 4.33 FIP.

Ubaldo Jimenez: 198.2 IP, 3.99 ERA, 3.83 FIP.

There were plenty of pitchers who were already stars at age-24, but there were plenty who didn’t even spend a full season on the major league roster, or, in Wainwright’s case, were in the bullpen. Phil Hughes’s season might not have blown us away, but his 2010 performance certainly bodes well for his future.

The RAB Radio Show: November 17, 2010
Open Thread: Taking back the comments
  • Slugger27

    excellent piece, very interesting.

    im sure rob will be out in full force with his usual antics

    • http://twitter.com/dpatrickg Dirty Pena

      He got blocked. Hallelujah!

      • Poopy Pants

        Down with freedom of speech!

        • http://twitter.com/AndrewLeighNYC Andrew

          Are you going to bring it to the Supreme Court on Rob’s behalf since his First Amendment rights were so egregiously violated? Otherwise, yawn.

        • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

          RAB is a private entity. They can do what they want.

          • Poopy Pants

            That’s a perfectly healthy outlook. Please don’t have kids or run for office.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

              Rob’s constitutional right of free speech has in no way, shape, or form been abridged today. He’s perfectly free to say whatever the hell he wants about any topic he wants on every single corner of the country except for this one small, private blog unaffiliated with the United States Government.

              Lighten up, Francis.

            • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

              So you’d never kick anyone out of your house for being obnoxious? You’d just let them keep prattling on? Hey, freedom of speech. You have to let him have his say, right?

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          We didn’t ban him because we disagreed with his opinions. He was banned because he hijacked every single thread and turned it into a rant about how awful the Yanks are at developing pitchers. I asked him to stop, and he kept going. We don’t ask you guys to walk on water with our commenting guidelines, they’re basic courtesies.

        • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com bexarama

          You’re Flanderizing yourself.

      • Slugger27

        theres confirmation of this?

        • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com bexarama

          Mike said it on Twitter.

          • Slugger27

            heh, thats funny.

            bravo, RABbis.

  • mbonzo

    Sabathia- 4.03 ERA, 1.256 WHIP, 104 ERA+
    Hughes- 4.19 ERA, 1.248 WHIP, 102 ERA+

    So if Hughes wants to be an ace he should put on 100 lbs and change his skin color.

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com bexarama

    I’d say this is total Rob-bait only he got banned. Great write-up, though.

    • http://www.twitter.com/brandonholley B-Rando

      Was going to make a very similar comment, but you’ve obviously got that covered.

      Let’s just let the kid keep developing and see where it ends up!

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      Cash-douche passed on Buchholz and Lester WHY ISN’T LESTER LISTED HERE


      Bears. Beats. Battlestar Galatica.


      • FIPster Doofus

        Fact: Bears eat beets.

  • Chris

    David Price: Another age-24 pitcher in 2010.

    David Price is 10 months older than Hughes. Using the June 30 cutoff for season age he was a year older than Hughes, but it’s probably more accurate to compare his 2009 with Hughes 2010. In 2009 Price pitched 128.1 innings with a 4.42 ERA and 4.59 FIP – slightly worse than Hughes. He also had an elevated HR rate that year that dropped this year.

  • Jimmy McNulty

    You guys forgot Jon Lester and Steve Carlton.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Ivan Nova will be 24 in a few months. He is healthy. 42 innings in 2010. Me likey. There is still hope.

  • Nick!

    You also have to consider strength of competition. I guarantee a number of the NL guys, especially the NL Central guys, have worse numbers in the AL East

  • http://www.twitter.com/jordansmed JGS

    Great post, Joe. Here are some more:

    Mike Mussina, 1993–167.2 IP, 4.46 ERA, 3.98 FIP
    Tom Glavine, 1990–214.1 IP, 4.28 ERA, 3.80 FIP
    Pedro Martinez, 1996–216.2 IP, 3.70 ERA, 3.27 FIP
    John Lackey, 2003–204 IP, 4.63 ERA, 4.64 FIP (that was his first full season too)
    Jason Schmidt, 1997–187.2 IP, 4.60 ERA, 4.13 FIP
    Mark Buehrle, 2003–230.1 IP, 4.14 ERA, 4.10 FIP

    • cano is the bro

      haha why is lackey in that group

  • pete

    I’m not sure I understand this post. Are you implying that a player’s performance at age 24 may not be the final barometer of his performance for the rest of his career? Because that’s what it sounds like.

    • Sayid J.

      I believe they are saying that Hughes performed comparably at age 24 to a lot of the game’s best pitchers. hence, we have reason to look forward to his future development.

      • Sayid J.

        I’m not sure, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

  • CS Yankee

    Great article

    All things seem to point to Hughes becoming a solid #2 pitcher with an extreme outside chance of becoming an ace (or only being a #4 guy).

    This is where i would think most of imagine that his skill set would place him.

    The kid will be Phil-thy Rich, but not Philt-Lee Rich

    • vin

      I must’ve read and re-read your last sentence 10 times.

      My head hurts.

      • CS Yankee

        Just having some fun…

        I think Phil Hughes could get a big contract some day 4/40 or whatevs, while the big aces like Cliff Lee (CC, Johan, etc) get the 6/120 or whatevs contracts.


        • vin

          Got ya. We shall see I guess.

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    Perspective is a wonderful thing.

  • http://twitter.com/kschmidt2 Kiersten

    Hughes is not as good as Felix Hernandez? That’s it, trade him for Upton!

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Or Edwin Jackson!

    • http://www.twitter.com/jordansmed JGS

      Hughes is not as good as Felix Hernandez? That’s it, trade him for Upton Hernandez!


  • vin

    To me, the most promising thing about Hughes’ season was his flashes of dominance. At times he was filthy – hard to square up, overpowering FB.

    I’d rather have a 24 year old who still has promise than a similarly aged guy with better results but a limited ceiling.

    We haven’t yet seen the best of Hughes… not by a long shot.

  • YankeesJunkie

    Hughes had a solid season season this year that was really helped out by an excellent first two months of the season. He put up a solid 7.5 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 and he pitched as well as the numbers he put up would suggest with similar ERA, xFIP, and FIP. Obviously, Hughes has something to build upon being this is the first time he will have gone over 150 IP so you hope that he can build off that and learn to become more efficient with pitches and also have better command of the curveball and the change up. It would be great to see Hughes go out and have 30 starts with a 3.8 FIP with the corresponding numbers.

  • Reggie C.

    I’m no longer going to refer to Hughes as a front-of-the-rotation pitcher till … he actually becomes a front-of-the-line rotation pitcher. Till then, Phil Hughes is an actual, viable back-of-the-rotation starter on a championship contender. That in itself is valuable when one realizes that he’s dirt cheap and only 24 years old.

    This “front-of-the-rotation” gets overused anyway, and in Hughes’s case it might simply be an overreach. Watching Hughes develop his efficiency in putting hitters away will be a whole lot easier to watch with a more measured expectation.

    • YankeesJunkie

      Considering that this was Hughes’s first full season of starting since 2006 he did a damn good job in the rotation for the Yankees. Last year I would argue Hughes pitched more like a #3/4 starter rather than a #4/#5 back end guy and if he continues to stay healthy there is very good chance he develops into a quality #2 type pitcher on any team that is competing for the title. I think the Yankees will be expecting that Hughes gets better as he ages into his prime and as he adds innings and I don’t think that is unreasonable.

      • Shaun

        Hell he already is a 3 type starter right now, him being a #2 starter is very very real, and becoming an him becoming an ace is honestly much closer than we give credit for.

        but only if Hughes

        -Learns to throw that beautiful curve, for strikes
        -Throw the damn changeup more than twice a game
        -Mix those pitches
        -Not become over reliant on the FB’s
        -Put guys away (if he discovers that out pitch, he is going to be unbeatable)

  • theyankeewarrior

    It would be easier for me to root for him if he stopped trying to get with my girlfriend. (I’m being serious)

    Phil, stop working on my girl and focus on your fastball command and change-up.

    • Sean C

      If she’ll be the muse to Hughes like Kate Hudson was to A-Rod’s 2009 postseason, you need to stop being so selfish and let nature take its course.

  • Sweet Dick Willie

    To take the next step, Hughes has to learn to put batters away.

    It was very frustrating watching him get ahead 0-2, only to lose the batter on a 7 pitch at-bat.

    That 3rd pitch has to be better than the 1st 2, something the batter can’t hit a) at all, or b) well.

    I know, easier said than done, but that’s what the big boys do.

  • MikeD

    He did have trouble at times putting away batters, even when he was up 0-2. Yet I view that as more of a positive than a negative. Seems to indicate he is one adjustment away from moving from being a good pitcher to a potentially dominating pitcher.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Yeah, I’d be more worried if he was 2-0 on everyone.