It's Not How You Finish, It's How You Start: April's Breakout Pitchers

Every year someone has a good start to the season that was not expected.  Whether it be a rookie, a second or third year player who had not lived up to expectations, or a veteran that had either appeared to lose it or never had it to begin with.

The truth is, one month is not a long time in baseball.  Anybody who makes it to the professional ranks is capable of having one good month.  Even Willie Bloomquist is entitled to a good month.  However, when it happens in April, the entirety of your hot streak is magnified to show your "Season Stats" as only that hot streak.  If you had the same month in September, your season long efforts would overshadow your one good month at the end of the year.

But baseball is a game of patience.  Heck, think about how long one game can feel.  A player can pitch 6 innings in a game.  Or 30 innings in a month.  Or 200 innings in a season.  Is that a long time?  It might feel like a long time, but truthfully when you think about it, Scott Kazmir has pitched 1022 innings in his up-and-down career.  So how could you judge a pitcher just on 35-40 innings in a single month?

You can't really.  But you can take a look at perhaps the adjustments made, or the change in leagues or ballpark, or simply that what didn't work before is now working. 

So which of Aprils breakout pitchers are for real? 

Here are a few:

Matt Garza, 27, Chicago Cubs

I have already summed up most of what you need to know about Matt Garza here.

In his one start since that article, he went 8 innings against the Diamondbacks, struck out 10, walked 2, picked up the win, and lowered his ERA to 3.96. 

Garza is a better pitcher partly because he has moved to the NL, and mostly because he has changed the way he pitches which has led to a drastic drop in flyballs and a dramatic increase in groundballs.  It's a simple fact that groundballs don't turn into home runs.

Without a doubt, Garza is a solid candidate for Breakout Pitcher of the Year.

Rick Porcello, 22, Detroit

The Tigers for some odd reason decided to throw caution to the wind with their top pitching prospect when they made him a full-time starter after having 1 season in the minors, never pitching above high-A.

His "success" as a 14-9, 3.96 ERA rookie, overshadowed his 4.77 FIP.  Porcello uses low-90 heat to strike out nobody, relying heavily on his defense and a little bit of luck.  So when he didn't get as lucky in 2010 (despite what was really a better season) his ERA ballooned to 4.96 and the world gave up on Rick Porcello a little bit.

This season he's realizing that maybe his heat isn't so hot and thus far has increased his change-up usage from 9.4% to 17.4% and his 6.98 K/9 is the highest of his career, including his 1 season in the minors. 

Hitters are having a harder time making contact against Porcello, so his groundball inducing ways combined with a decent ability to strike hitters out could have the 22-year-old (still SO far away from his peak) back on the right path.

Bud Norris, 26, Houston

I talked about Norris here in my Ricky Nolasco All-Stars article. 

There's not much else to say other than "I Told You So" now that everyone else is noticing Norris.

Bartolo Colon, 37, New York Yankees

Color me shocked, yes.  I mean... this is not a "Breakout" in the classical sense, but this is something to watch and monitor as the season goes along.  Colon is striking out a batter per 9, which would be the 2nd highest total in his career.  He's pitched 26 innings, given up 23 hits, and walked 6.

His 2.79 FIP and 2.91 xFIP basically match his low ERA.  What I like about Colon is that he pitches for the Yankees, which means if he held a rotation spot all year long, he could haul in 15 wins.

What I dislike about Colon is that he's pretty much the same pitcher he has been for a long time; throw a lot of fastballs and don't walk a lot of guys.  Will that work again for him, unlike what it had been doing for year?  He's also got just 2 starts under his belt.  So its a wait and see approach.

Ricky Romero, 26, Toronto

Is this finally what we have been waiting for from "RR Cool Jay"?  The former #6 overall pick has shown flashes of being an above-average major league pitcher, but his results this season so far might be the culmination of all of that for the 26-year-old.

Romero was very good last season, but many people felt he could be a lot better.  This year, he has been a lot better.  His K/9 is up a full 2 batters of his last season (9.46 in 2011) his walks per 9 is a career low 3.  It all adds up to 3.00 ERA/3.21 FIP.

He's increased usage on his 92 MPH fastball, and so far its paying off.

Michael Pineda, 22, Seattle

Sometimes the wait for a "breakout" is so short that it doesn't exist at all.  Don't forget, not every pitcher goes through growing pains.  Sometimes, you are just ahead of the curve.  It happened with Valenzuela.  It happened with Gooden.  It happened with Clemens.  It happened with King Felix.

Sometimes you've got something in your arsenal that's just so good, that its major league ready before your age is major league ready.  I've been following Pineda's minor league career, start to start, for 3 years.  The only thing that stood in his way was injury.  Other than that, he was always ahead of the curve.

Understand that Pineda still has a lot of work to do to get better.  His slider and his change-up need to get better.  So far in his starts, almost all of the hits he has given up have been to lefties (though they haven't done much off him yet either)

However, his fastball is just so darn good, already one of the best in baseball, that he's so far been mostly unhittable.

Pineda has control (working on command) and a deadly fastball that has easily carried him over into the major league ranks.  The hitters will try to adjust to him as the season goes along, and he will try to re-adjust to them and get used to lefties, but for now Pineda is one of the games best 50 starting pitchers at the ripe age of 22.

The bad news for fantasy owners is that Pineda might not pitch in September.  If he keeps up at his current pace, he could reach an innings limit by the end of August (I'm assuming around 175-180 innings at most) and they WILL shut him down.  The good news is that until then, you can enjoy the ride.

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