Bob Feller? Herb Score? Yu Darvish and Matt Moore haven’t just been good. They’ve been historically good.
In American League history, the top two rookie pitchers in terms of strikeouts have been Bob Feller and Herb Score. In 1936, Feller averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings. He was 17 years old at the time, which is almost beyond belief. If you’ve got a couple of free minutes sometime, check out Feller’s career statistics. In the four years before World War II, he averaged 309 innings and 252 strikeouts a season. He started 148 games and finished 103 of them. He missed three full seasons to serve his country, and when he returned, averaged 276 innings and 174 strikeouts over the next six seasons. Yes, Sandy Koufax and Walter Johnson and Bob Gibson were phenomenal, but Feller’s career stands alone in so many ways.
As for his teammate Herb Score, he averaged 9.70 strikeouts per nine innings during his rookie season of 1955. He struck out 508 in his first two seasons, but on May 7, 1957, he struck in the head by a line drive. He was 23 at the time, and although he made 57 more starts over the next five seasons, he was a shadow of what he had been. If he was ever bitter about any of this, he never showed it. During his 34 years as an Indians broadcaster, he became admired and respected in a way few men ever are.
Big I digress. To have one’s name mentioned in the same breath as Bob Feller and Herb Score is to be in very special company. Yet that’s what’s happening this season for a couple of rookie pitchers. First, there’s Rays rookie Matt Moore. He’s the guy who came late last season and made an immediate impact in the Rays improbable run to the postseason. He was so good that the Rays rewarded him with a five-year contract worth almost $14 million.
He has not sailed through his rookie season. He won just one of his first six starts and had a 5.71 ERA. Still, there was no question the talent was there. His stuff was absolutely electric, and it was a matter of the Rays getting him to calm down. In his last start, he has tossed 34 innings with 15 walks and 43 strikeouts. After striking out nine in a six-inning victory over the Marlins Saturday night, he has 71 Ks in 68 2/3 innings. That’s an average of 9.30 per nine innings, which would put him close behind Feller and Score if he maintains it over a full season.
And there’s Yu Darvish. He has been slightly better than Moore, averaging 9.53 strikeouts per nine innings (77 sKs in 72 2/3 innings). Like Moore, his stuff is electric. Both of them have had some trouble with control, either because they’re too keyed up or they lack confidence to throw their stuff in the strike zone.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has reminded his young guy, Phil Hughes, on several occasions that he has to trust his fastball, that it’s plenty good enough and that as important as it is to have secondary pitches, “if you can command your fastball, you’ll win at this level.” His unspoken probably would be that if a pitcher can’t command his fastball, he probably isn’t going to get by on off-speed and breaking stuff.