The Fast-Moving And Frustrating Youngsters

CINCINNATI - Mike Leake #44 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the game against the Chicago Cubs. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Three polished hurlers were chosen in the first round of the draft between 2008 and 2009, and they're all pitching on Thursday. Here's how they've done so far this year.

It's easy to get lazy with the draft comparisons. Every skinny kid from the Dominican with a change-up is compared to Pedro Martinez, every slappy left-handed hitter with speed is the next Juan Pierre, and every pitcher with 12 fingers is the next Antonio Alfonseca. It's how our brain works -- we have a catalog of around 1,000 baseball players in our brains, and when we want to make a comparison, we rifle through the database. That allows for imperfect, lazy comps.

But if player-to-player comps aren't your thing, you can work on the generic descriptions. My favorite:

Polished college left-hander

You have an image already. A guy who can give you innings. Might not win a Cy Young or anything, but neither did David Wells or Mark Buehrle. Helps a team win right away. Doesn't need a lot of time in the minors, what with the polish and all.

On Thursday night, three polished college left-handers -- each of them recent top-ten overall picks who haven't spent a lot of time in the minors -- are starting for their respective teams. A rundown of how they're doing:

Edit: I got excited when I saw Minor and Matusz were starting, and I forgot Leake was a right-hander, and I tried to tie them in together, and I screwed up something fierce, and boy oh boy was I stupid. If I had remembered that Leake was a rightie, I still would have written this, just with a different intro. Pretend I did that! I'll pay you!

Brian Matusz

His fastball is back in the 90s, where it was when he first came up to the majors. More importantly, he's left his hellish 2011 behind. The walks are down. The strikeout-rate is up. And he isn't allowing a home run on every third pitch, which was something of a minor concern last year.

In his first three starts, he extended his streak of starts with four or more runs allowed to 13, which is the second-longest streak in history. Defense systems were moved up to LEFTCON 2. But he snapped out of it, with six quality starts out his last eight. He's getting more swinging strikes than he was at any point last year, and he's getting hitters to chase more. But he's still very much a work in progress.

Mike Leake

Matusz blazed through the minors. Leake never stopped there before making the rotation out of spring training in 2010, but after his embarrassing shoplifting incident last year, he was demoted for two starts. After returning from the demotion, though, he was kind of a badass.

This year? More bad than badass. His strikeouts are about the same, as is his home-run rate, but he's walking more hitters (in a small sample, of course) and getting hit hard. Hitters are hitting .289/.339/.480 against him, which is akin to a pitcher throwing against a lineup of Nelson Cruzes or Hanley Ramiri.

Like Matusz, his trend has been encouraging, with encouraging starts in three of his last four outings

Mike Minor

He's the one pitching for his job, locked in a steel-cage match with Randall Delgado. Let's see what's going on with him.

Strikeout rate
2011: 21.3 percent
2012: 20.2 percent

A little lower. Still okay. Not a big deal.

Walk rate
2011: 8.3 percent
2012: 8.3 percent

Exactly the same. This isn't the problem.

Average allowed
2011: .282
2012: .278

Huh. This isn't it, either. And his batting average on balls in play is .307, way down from the unlucky .350 mark from last year.

Home runs per nine innings
2011: 0.76
2012: 2.02


My goodness. That's twice the league average, and it's why Minor leads the league in home runs allowed. It's also why he is one of the worst in baseball in left-on-base percentage. When runners get on against Minor, they score. Usually on a dinger or six.

You're probably tired of these newfangled PITCHf/x stats being used to explain why pitchers are unlucky. I get that. But if you think that Mike Minor is suddenly the greatest home-run artist in the history of pitching, you're probably in for a pleasant surprise. The homers will drop. And he'll be perfectly fine.

The point of linking these three? To highlight that polished college left-handers are still subject to the same foibles and mishaps as the rest of their rosin-juggling brethren. The Orioles, Reds, and Braves probably thought they knew what they were getting when they drafted these three pitchers and sped them through the minors.

And in a way, they were right. They got a bunch of young pitchers. Polished college lefties are an interesting sub-genre, but in the end, they're still just young pitchers. That's the only description you need to worry about.

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