Developing Young Starting Pitchers Isn't Impossible ... But It's Close

Tonight, a hard-throwing left-hander named Danny Duffy makes his major-league debut, starting for the Royals against the Rangers. I have written about Duffy, John Sickels has written about Duffy, and Royals Review has written about Duffy. This is just a wild guess, but I suspect that if Danny Duffy's your favorite nephew and you just can't get enough, someone else has written about him, too.

So this isn't about Danny Duffy.

Rather, it's about skepticism and unrealistic expectations and the brutality of the numbers (and maybe, just a little bit, about Danny Duffy).

It's not impossible to develop young pitchers who win, year in and year out.

But it's almost impossible.

How do we know? The numbers.

As you know, teams "control" players for six major-league seasons. Six-plus, actually. But we'll say six, just to keep things simple. If a starting pitcher is reasonably healthy and reasonably effective in a season he'll probably win at least 10 games. Six seasons times 10 wins equals 60, but we'll make it even easier on them and assume that a club has developed a winning pitcher if he graduates from the farm system -- of the franchise that drafted or signed him as an amateur -- and wins at least 50 games for the franchise.

Oh, there's one more reason for these criteria ... ESPN.com's David Schoenfield has already published the research and it's sort of shocking.

How many 50-game winners -- again, for them -- have the Red Sox developed in the last 25 years?

One. Jon Lester.

How many 50-game winners have the Tigers developed in the last 30 years?

Two. Justin Verlander and Mike Henneman. And Henneman was a relief pitcher (in the days when relief pitchers might get lots of decisions).

How many 50-game winners have the Twins -- the Twins -- developed in the last 20 years?

Two. Scott Baker and Brad Radke.

The Rays have developed one 50-game winner (for them): James Shields.

The Marlins have never developed a 50-game winner. Josh Johnson who signed with the Marlins nine years ago, has won 48 games for the franchise and will be the first.

So, it's hard. The Royals are loaded with pitching prospects. Duffy might be the best of them, and he's the first to join the big club's starting rotation. Aaron Crow's one of those prospects, but he's become a reliever. Nate Adcock joins the rotation this weekend, but wasn't actually considered a prospect before the season (whether that says more about Adcock or the people who rate prospects, we'll know in a month or three).

There are others. Which is a really, really, really good thing. Because if the Royals are going to be the team everyone's expecting over these next few years, they're going to need more pitchers than Danny Duffy and Nate Adcock. Given the historical success rate of young pitchers for their original teams, they're going to need a lot more.

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