Urías’ company: Kershaw, King Felix and the Babe
By Cary Osborne
Baseball Reference’s Play Index tool is a wonderful thing. It can connect players throughout the history of the game. Like Julio Uriás and Babe Ruth. And it can really tell you how special the Dodger phenom was in 2016.
Let’s start with the connection to the Babe. Ruth was a 20-year-old rookie pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in 1915, and Uriás’ rookie year with the Dodgers in 2016 started when he was 19 and ended when he was 20. They are two of only 23 pitchers in big league history 20 years old or younger in their rookie year to have a sub-3.50 ERA, sub-3.25 FIP and ERA+ of at least 110 with a minimum of 75 innings pitched.
Ruth pitched far more innings than Urías — 217 2/3 to 77. And most of the pitchers on the list of 23 — the late José Fernández (172 2/3), Dwight Gooden (218), Fernando Valenzuela (192 1/3) and Bert Blyleven (164) included — did as well. But the point here is that what Uriás did in 2016 put him in special company.
It’s a rarity in itself that a rookie pitcher this young, 20 or under, logs at least 75 innings in his rookie season. It’s happened 120 times.
The names are impressive. Thirteen are in the Hall of Fame:
- Christy Mathewson
- Chief Bender
- Walter Johnson
- Waite Hoyt
- Red Ruffing
- Hal Newhouser
- Don Drysdale
- Catfish Hunter
- Jim Palmer
- Goose Gossage
- Dennis Eckersley
Seven have been some of the most elite pitchers in the game in recent years — Felix Hernández, Fernández, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, Rick Porcello and, yes, Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw and Hernández are the best comps for Urías in a rookie year because of innings pitched. Here’s how they all compare:
Hernández obviously had the best debut of the trio. Urías is in between. If he ends up having a career somewhere in between King Felix and Kershaw, the Dodgers would be over the moon.
Throughout Uriás’ stay in the minors, he was well below the league-average age at every stop. He started last season with Triple-A Oklahoma City, was 8.8 years younger than the league average and had a 1.40 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. Kershaw’s final minor league season was in 2008 at Double-A Jacksonville and he dominated being 4.4 years below the league average to the tune of a 1.91 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. Hernández was 8.4 years younger than the league average in his final minor league stop, Triple-A Tacoma in 2005. He had a 2.25 ERA and 1.25 WHIP (affected by a high walk rate: 4.9 BB/9).
If history gives us any indication, it would appear Urías’ trajectory is similar to both pitchers — as well as some elite names from the past.