If you can, think back to a warm afternoon in June of 2006 when a young Dayton Moore was announced as the next general manager of the Kansas City Royals. Think of the hope that day brought, and think about the warmth you felt when he talked about how the parade would be on the Plaza (still waiting). And now think about the other meaningful thing he said on that day. He told us at that time that pitching is the currency of baseball. Boy did we eat that up in June of 2006. Of course we know how that’s worked out during Dayton Moore’s tenure. For a long time, the only pitcher developed by him and his regime to start a game for the Royals was Danny Duffy. Duffy’s since been joined by others, most notably Yordano Ventura. And now, the two of them are two of the best young starting duos in all of baseball.
Using the criteria that the pitcher has to be 25 or under, I looked at all the starters who had thrown at least 60 innings this season (with young pitchers, callups and bullpen time have to be taken into account). I learned a few things when doing this exercise. The first thing I learned is that Jose Quintana is somehow only 25 years old. And, of course, when I mention Quintana, I am contractually obligated to tell you how wrong I was about his development as he’s become a pretty solid big league pitcher. Something else I learned is that the teams in Florida have lots and lots of good, young pitchers. And the biggest thing I learned is that nine teams have pitchers who fit the criteria of under 25 and 70 or more innings pitched.
So that makes the sample small and the victory potentially hollow for the Royals to have one of the best young duos in baseball right now, but the fact remains that the Royals stake a claim to two very good pitchers who have potentially not even reached their prime. They are two of baseball’s most valuable assets. There are probably 25 and under pitchers who haven’t even thrown a pitch this season who might have bigger futures than either of the Royals two young guns. A guy like Matt Harvey or even his teammate Zack Wheeler could potentially have bigger futures than Ventura or Duffy, but since Harvey didn’t pitch this year, we can’t say that they have a better duo at this particular moment. Maybe that’s hedging and curating an argument to help the Royals cause, but that’s the criteria I chose.
The beauty of having Ventura and Duffy step up this season is that it does seem to make the Royals window for contention a little easier to stay open. Prior to the season, the rotation was James Shields, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie and a lot of questions. Duffy had such a bad spring that he was sent to AAA and Ventura was impressive, but you never know with a rookie. Looking ahead to 2015, what did the Royals have? It was Jason Vargas and his likely average numbers, Jeremy Guthrie a year older and then even more question marks. Now, though, the Royals seem to have four of five rotation spots accounted for and can use their limited funds left (and yes, even with money coming off the books, they’ll have limited funds) to help the offense. As Rex Hudler would say, it’s a beautiful thing.
It’s nice to have good, young starters for a change. I could get used to this.
Without further ado and without you even asking, I will rank my top five young duos (or more) this season:
1. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, White Sox – I sometimes forget how young Chris Sale is. The two of them each have a FIP under 3.00, which is fantastic. They both limit walks, they both get strikeouts, they both limit homers. Sale is the obvious star between the two of them, but he has a legitimate sidekick for now and the next few years in Quintana who has become a legitimate number two starter this season, much to my surprise.
2. Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi, Marlins – Neither pitcher walks anybody, both have FIPs of 3.51 or below and both can light up a radar gun. The strikeouts haven’t translated yet for either of them, and they may never for Alvarez as he’s a ground ball specialist, but in time, I think Eovaldi is going to be one of the elite pitchers in Major League Baseball. What’s scary is that this doesn’t even include Jose Fernandez, who might be the best pitcher in baseball. When he comes back, the top three of the Marlins rotation will be terrifying to face.
3. Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, Braves – Even with a rough outing yesterday, Julio Teheran is one of baseball’s best young starters and was given a contract last year that the Royals might look to mimic with Ventura this off-season. Alex Wood is interesting in that he’s worked between the bullpen and the rotation, but he’s been just as good as a starter than as a reliever. I have my doubts about him long-term, but right now, he’s one of the best young starters out there and I’m not necessarily tied down to thinking he might struggle long-term. This duo is pretty darn good.
4. Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy, Royals – To me, there’s a big gap between one and two on this list, and from two through five, you could really order them any way. I like the duo of Ventura and Duffy because both of them seem to have really learned how to pitch this season. Take last night for example. Ventura didn’t have his best. He was having trouble with command and was constantly in trouble. In the end, he gave up just two runs in six innings and got eight strikeouts while walking just one. Danny Duffy has learned how to control his emotions and he’s really made great strides with his pitch efficiency issue. Not counting his first start this year (which was just to get him stretched out), he’s averaged just under 16 pitches per inning as a starter this year. That’ll play.
5. Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, Rays – That splitter that Odorizzi added has turned him into a different pitcher and is the reason that Chris Archer has a partner on this list. I’ll be interested to see how the league handles Odorizzi once that splitter is seen and the league gets multiple shots at him. He had some similar issues to Duffy that the new pitch does seem to have helped. Chris Archer has been even better than I expected, and I think has a chance to make a jump in the next couple years beyond what he’s already done. Like I said, you could make an argument for any of the two through five in any order, so we’re splitting hairs here.
There are other duos in consideration here with Trevor Bauer/Danny Salazar in Cleveland, Dylan Bundy/Kevin Gausman in Baltimore and Michael Wacha/Shelby Miller in St. Louis. For this year, though, I’m pretty happy that the Royals have one of the best duos. I think they’re a pretty good bet moving forward too.
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