The Randomness of Debuts

If MLB debuts meant anything, Josh Towers would be a Cy Young winner

 

I’ll be honest.  I am surprised, yet at the same time not surprised, at the reaction I am hearing from people about Kyle Drabek’s debut last night.

Here are some actual quotes I overheard, or read, this morning, either from people I follow on Twitter, or random strangers in a food court:

“That was a bust.  We traded Halladay for that guy?”

“I know it was his first game, but seeing Drabek throw only 60% of his pitches for strikes and walk 3 makes it clear he won’t be of ace-type calibre.”

I’m surprised by the comment, obviously, because the kid has had only one start.  ONE MAJOR LEAGUE START!!!  If he continues to walk three batters a game, struggle a bit with control, and lose games after two years of starts, we can be concerned.

I’m not suprised, however, because this is Toronto, where we seem to get on our players just as bad as Philly or New York.   I remember reading a “What’s wrong with Roy Halladay” column a few years ago after Doc lost back-to-back starts.

For the record, I was impressed by Drabek.  Yes he struggled a bit at first, but that can be blamed on nerves.  He showed resilience and guts by escaping several jams, struck out five, and threw several nasty curves and cutters.

But just for fun, I wanted to have a look at the major league debuts of other pitchers.  I thought I’d see if there is any correlation between performance in a pitcher’s first major league start and how well he did in his career.  I was expecting to find absolutely none.  I did.

So for all of you Drabek haters who think he will go on to little success in his career, keep reading.

Below are four sets of statistical comparisons of pitchers in their first major league start.  The first two are Toronto Blue Jays from years past, the second two are MLB pitchers from other clubs.  See if you can name them:

Comparison 1

Pitcher A – 6.0 IP / 5 ER / 6 H / 2 BB / 5 K / 7.50 ERA / 1.33 WHIP / Loss

Pitcher B – 7.0 IP / 2 ER / 8 H / 0 BB / 3 K / 2.57 ERA / 1.14 WHIP / No Decision

Comparison 2

Pitcher A – 3.1 IP / 2 ER / 6 H / 2 BB / 2 K / 5.41 ERA / 2.40 WHIP / Loss

Pitcher B – 7.0 IP / 3 ER / 7 H / 3 BB / 2 K / 3.86 ERA / 1.43 WHIP / Win

Comparison 3

Pitcher A – 4.1 IP / 5 ER / 5 H / 5 BB / 5 K / 10.39 ERA / 2.31 WHIP / No Decision

Pitcher B – 7.0 IP / 0 ER / 7 H / 2 BB / 1 K / 0.00 ERA / 1.29 WHIP / No Decision

Comparison 4

Pitcher A – 1.0 IP / 4 ER / 4 H / 2 BB / 3 K / 36.00 ERA / 6.00 WHIP / Loss

Pitcher B – 7.0 IP / 2 ER / 4 H / 1 BB / 5 K / 2.57 ERA / 0.71 WHIP / Loss

Here are the answers:

1: A = Dave Stieb (he had a pretty good career), B = Josh Towers (uh…no)

2: A = Jimmy Key (one of the best LHP in Blue Jay history), B = Gustavo Chacin

3: A = Tim Lincecum (2-time defending Cy Young winner), B = Mike Maroth (21 losses in 2003)

4: A = Nolan Ryan (Hall of Famer) B = Steve Trachsel (awful pitcher)

In each case, the crappy pitcher had a much better debut than the All-Star.  I realize the stats could easily be swayed the opposite way, but I wanted to prove two things:

1 – Performance in a debut means nothing, and

2 – Relax.  Drabek will be fine.

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