The Holmberg era begins

Pitching prospect David Holmberg will make his debut for the Diamondbacks tonight at Chase Field. We're excited for that. But how excited should we be?

Personally, I think I'm restraining my enthusiasm to a certain degree, following the hype that was Trevor Bauer last year. Of course, that had significantly more novelty value - it's the first time I've ever seen large crowds turn up at Chase to watch a starting pitcher do his warm-up exercises. But the results, both short- and long-term, were nothing special to write home about. While I still sense a notable volume of interest, it seems to me at a significantly lower degree: less Bauer, and perhaps more on the level of Jarrod Parker, when he made his first (and last) appearance for the Diamondbacks, late in the 2011 season.

To update a chart published at the time of Bauer's debut, here are the game results for the 18 starting pitchers who made their major-league debuts in that role for the Arizona Diamondbacks [the chart excludes both Brandon Webb and Max Scherzer, who took their bows out of the bullpen]

Rk Player Date Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc
1 Geraldo Guzman 2000-07-06 HOU W 2-1 GS-8 ,W 8.0 4 1 1 1 3 0 93 61 72
2 Micah Owings 2007-04-06 WSN W 7-1 GS-5 ,W 5.0 1 0 0 3 6 0 96 54 68
3 Enrique Gonzalez 2006-05-28 CIN L 4-5 GS-6 6.0 3 1 1 1 4 1 86 53 65
4 John Patterson 2002-07-20 SDP W 7-1 GS-6 6.0 3 1 1 2 4 1 85 52 64
5 Jarrod Parker 2011-09-27 LAD W 7-6 GS-6 5.2 4 0 0 1 1 0 73 50 61
6
Tyler Skaggs
2012-08-22 MIA W 3-2
GS-7, W
6.2 3
2
2
5
4 1 99
54
59
7 Barry Enright 2010-06-30 STL W 4-2 GS-5 ,W 5.0 4 1 1 4 5 0 101 55 56
8 Cesar Valdez 2010-05-03 HOU W 9-1 GS-5 ,W 5.0 5 1 1 3 2 0 96 59 52
9 Dustin Nippert 2005-09-08 PIT L 7-8 GS-5 5.0 5 3 3 2 2 0 70 48 45
10 Trevor Bauer
2012-06-28 ATL
W 3-2
GS-4 4.0 5 2 2
3
3
0 74 42 44
Patrick Corbin 2012-04-30 MIA W 9-5 GS-6 ,W 5.2 8 3 3 3 6 1 99 61 44
Nelson Figueroa 2000-06-03 TEX L 3-4 GS-7 ,L 6.1 7 4 4 1 2 1 93 57 44
13 Bryan Augenstein 2009-05-13 CIN L 3-10 GS-7 ,L 6.1 8 5 5 2 3 0 95 64 38
Edgar Gonzalez 2003-06-01 SDP W 10-4 GS-6 ,W 5.2 10 3 3 3 4 1 101 61 38
15 Wade Miley 2011-08-20 ATL L 1-8 GS-5 ,L 4.0 7 5 5 2 5 1 76 52 31
16 Nick Bierbrodt 2001-06-07 LAD W 13-9 GS-2 2.0 5 6 6 3 3 1 66 39 22
17 Lance Cormier 2004-06-19 TBD L 4-11 GS-2 ,L 1.1 6 7 7 1 0 1 41 21 13
18 Casey Daigle 2004-04-09 STL L 6-13 GS-3 ,L 2.2 10 8 8 0 0 5 49 35 6

I think one of the key factors to take away from this chart, is that you can generally tell very little about a pitcher's longer-term prospects for success from their first start. Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin, for example, both had worse debuts than, say, Barry Enright or Micah Owings, but I doubt anyone in Diamondbacks' fandom would care to trade those players' subsequent career trajectories. Not that I suspect this will stop some from either throwing Holmberg under the bus, or anointing him the next Cy Young, on the basis of what he does tonight, because kneejerk reactions are always so accurate.

Skaggs might actually be the closest parallel in terms of hype and circumstance, not least because like Holmberg, he was born in July 1991 (Tyler is the older, by less than a week). He was also called up for a spot start in late August - caused by a rescheduling double-header against the Marlins - though Skaggs stuck around in the rotation the rest of the way, which seems less likely for Holmberg. Interesting to compare the minor-league numbers for Skaggs last season and Holmberg this year, before they were called up. They're not strictly comparable, because Skaggs split his time between Mobile and Reno, while Holmberg has only seen Mobile, but here you go:


W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO
Skaggs 2012 9 6 2.87
22
122.1
112 49 39 12 37 116
Holmberg 2013 5 7 2.66 25 152.1 130 56 45 12 47 115

Not too dissimilar numbers: Skaggs allowed some more homers (probably Reno helping there), but had a better K:BB rate and, of course, was also a year younger at that point in his career. Speaking of which, know how many pitchers younger than Skaggs made even five starts in the majors this year? One: the Marlins' Jose Fernandez. At 22.8 years old, the average pitcher for our A-ball affiliate in South Bend this year is older than Skaggs. Bear that in mind with regard to his performance this year, the writing off of Tyler I've seen in some quarters - which seems premature to me - and Holmberg's performance tonight.

Indeed, at the time of my original piece, I concluded, "Treat this article as the textual equivalent of a paper-bag to breathe into. Yes, it's very exciting to see one of our top prospects starting their first game for the team. However, I'd be happy if he delivers us a quality start, something managed by only 36% of debuting starters over the past three-plus major-league seasons. Anything beyond that will be icing on top of a very tasty cake." The same caution should be applied tonight. If Holmberg pitches well, great. If he doesn't? He'll still be part of the impressive roster of pitching prospects on which the team can build going forward.

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