Baseball has been filled with great pitchers who started their careers with average performances and slowly developed over the course of several seasons. But for a select few hurlers, success came quickly. Here's our look at the best first-year pitchers in baseball history.
1. Fernando Valenzuela, Dodgers, 1981
Fernandomania spread quickly in Southern California, as the young Valenzuela from Mexico dominated NL hitters with his devastating screwball. In the strike-shortened season, the lefty completed nine innings in each of his first eight starts, five of them shutouts. For the season, he twirled eight shutouts, easily leading the league on his way to capturing the Cy Young award. His year continued with five strong starts in the postseason, including a win in Game 5 of the NLCS and Game 3 of the World Series.
2. Neftali Feliz, Rangers, 2010
Feliz, who has since been converted to a starter, established a rookie record with 40 saves (since broken by Craig Kimbrel). Of the 16 runners he inherited, only one scored.
3. Hideo Nomo, Dodgers, 1995
The Japanese League veteran was 6-0 in June with a 0.89 ERA and opponents batted .143 that month. On the season, he allowed 207 baserunners (hits, walks and HBP) and whiffed 236.
4. Mark Fidrych, Tigers, 1976
The Bird was the greatest box office draw Detroit had experienced in years. In the 19 starts Fidrych made at Tiger Stadium, the average attendance was 33,479. The Tigers drew an average of 15,108 in the other 55 home dates. He led the AL with 24 complete games, going 10 or more innings five times, two of those on three days’ rest. The colorful character would talk to the baseball and manicure the mound with his hands.
5. Dwight Gooden, Mets, 1984
In his last eight starts, the 19-year-old Gooden was 7-1 with a 1.17 ERA over 69.0 innings. He struck out 95 while allowing only 49 hits plus walks during that span.
6. Craig Kimbrel, Braves, 2011
Manger Fredi Gonzalez wasn’t shy about using his three young relievers, including Kimbrel, who suffered from overuse. On his way to a record-setting 46 saves, he didn’t allow a run from June 14-Sept 8, a span covering 38 appearances and 37.2 innings.
7. Cy Blanton, Pirates, 1935
Blanton led the NL in ERA, WHIP and shutouts. He made nine starts to begin the season without being relieved, and over a six-day period he had two complete games and a save.
8. Vean Gregg, Indians, 1911
The pride of South Dakota State led the American League in ERA and WHIP, finishing 10th in MVP voting.
9. Don Newcombe, Dodgers, 1949
The 23-year-old led the NL with five shutouts, winning Rookie of the Year honors and finishing eighth in MVP balloting. His first start was a five-hit shutout at Cincinnati with no walks and three strikeouts. On Sept. 24 with the Dodgers just a half game behind the Cardinals, Newcombe pitched a complete game four-hitter over the Phillies on two days’ rest.
10. Kaz Sasaki, Mariners, 2000
A 10-year veteran of Japanese baseball, the 32-year-old converted 37 of 40 save opportunities during his first year in the U.S.
11. Roy Oswalt, Astros, 2001
He had a 2.04 ERA in August and September as the Astros won eight of his last 10 starts.
12. Joe Black, Dodgers, 1952
A veteran of the Negro Leagues, Black broke into the majors at age 28. The rubber-armed righthander once racked up three saves and a win over a four-day period, tossing 8.1 shutout innings.
13. Russ Ford, Yankees, 1910
Somehow his 26 wins, 1.65 ERA or 0.881 WHIP didn’t lead the league.
14. Andrew Bailey, A’s, 2009
Bailey had three wins and two holds before he picked up his first save on May 8. He converted his last 21 save opportunities, with five of them more than three outs.
15. Pete Alexander, Phillies, 1911
The 24-year-old from St. Paul, Neb., led the National League in wins, shutouts, innings and hits/9 IP, finishing third in the MVP race.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)