When we all got to see Zach Britton pitch so well on the MASN telecast Monday night, many O’s fans may have been thinking the same thing: I hope this is a glimpse at a future when young pitcher after young Orioles pitcher takes the mound and shuts down another American League East opponent.
Despite the fact it was just an exhibition game, you probably got excited also watching Britton buzz through Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira on just 13 pitches in that first inning.
Whenever I write about or talk to Britton, fans invariably want to know the answer to one key question: When will he make his much anticipated major league debut?
Some think his super 2010 season proves Britton is ready for the majors now. Others are not against him getting more seasoning. Of course, there is also the business aspect of all this, with the club’s ability to likely deny Britton the chance for Super Two arbitration status and delay his future free agency if he is not in the O’s rotation before Memorial Day.
Well, we can all debate when that debut will or should come. But how well will Britton do when he finally gets the call and will he have initial struggles as many young pitchers do?
Over the last two seasons, the Orioles have had six young pitchers join their starting rotation and get their shots. Here is how those pitchers fared over their first 10 big league starts.
2009 - Chris Tillman went 2-3, 4.50
2009 - Jason Berken went 1-7, 6.44
2009 - Brad Bergesen went 3-2, 4.04
2009 - David Hernandez went 4-4, 3.81
2009 - Brian Matusz went 5-2, 4.63
2010 - Jake Arrieta went 3-3, 5.47
Please note that Matusz made eight starts in 2009 and I added on his first two of 2010 to get his first 10 starts.
Not surprisingly, that is a mixed bag of results. When to bring a young talent to the majors is one of the toughest decisions an organization has to make. They want to put that player into the best situation to succeed; that is part of the job for team management.
Andy MacPhail has said it’s better to wait a month too long rather than bring up a player a month too soon.
Britton’s talent, maturity and success at top levels of the minors seem to tell us he could hit the ground running and put up good numbers almost from the start.
But the game’s history also tells us many top young talents struggled at the start of their careers - remember Cal Ripken Jr. - and this will always be a part of the game.
Gauging someone’s first 10 starts is a small sample, of course, and not a predictor of future results. It is just interesting to look back and see the wide variety of results you get when you introduce a player to his first go-around at the highest level.
What is your take?: Can Britton buck the trend and pitch better in his first few starts than the other O’s hurlers did?