Putting Charlie Furbush’s Debut in Perspective
By John Parent
Last night marked the major league debut of Tigers left hander Charlie Furbush. Furbush entered the game when starter Phil Coke turned his ankle with one out and two on in the fourth inning, and the Tigers trailing by a run.
Furbush battled his nerves pretty well, but wound up walking the first man he faced when a 3-2 offering was ruled low. It looked like a strike to me (and to the Tigers dugout), but it goes down as a walk in the scorebook so that is what it is. Now with the sacks drunk, Furbush stood tall and proceeded to fan the next two batters and escape the jam.
That lead-off walk would be the only one he allowed (though he did hit a batter) in an outing that lasted through the seventh, encompassing 3.2 frames. He added one more strikeout to his total and yielded two hits. It was an impressive performance that earned him a victory.
But where does this debut rank with other Tigers hurlers since Jim Leyland took over?
In the current era of Tigers baseball (“the Leyland age” 2006-present, which followed the dark age of 1988-2005), there have been a dozen pitchers who made their major league debut for the Tigers and worked at least two innings in that debut.
What the above table shows us is that Furbush’s game was already fairly unique in that only four pitchers have gone a minimum of two innings in relief in their debut games under Leyland. Furbush was only the third to win his debut game, joining Figaro, who pitched very well, and Bonine, who did not. In that Bonine game, Brad Penny allowed seven earned for the Dodgers.
Beyond that, only Furbush, Fien, and Alburquerque ended their debut games without allowing an earned run to score. Fien did so while stranding three inherited runners, Furbush stranded two runners he inherited.
What really blows me away when I look at the above chart is that there were a lot of really bad lines. Even the Lambert game, which doesn’t look terrible, is worse when you consider that he allowed six runs in total, but only two were earned. The combined ERA for the above dozen hurlers comes in at 5.92, but the guys that started games saw that number jump to 6.93. The four relievers who are included in the list allowed a total of three earned runs (all by Tata) in 11 combined innings of work.
Is there anything we can learn from Furbush’s successful debut? I’m not sure. The list is littered with guys who have had varying levels of success in the major leagues. Fien, for example, has been released four times since he made his sparkling debut. Figaro was tremendous in his first appearance, but never again pitched nearly so well and is now in Japan. Jurrjens, who didn’t pitch well in his debut, has gone on to become very good for the Braves and Porcello has also had success despite a rough first outing. Oliver was pretty good in his debut, but struggled badly after that last season (certainly the jury is still out on him.)
But others, like Bonine, Vasquez, Tata, and Lambert had rough starts and followed those up with rough careers to this point. It’s very much a mixed bag.
Can we determine that Furbush is the real deal based solely on one big league appearance? Of course not. But his minor league track record suggests a guy that can get strikeouts at high volume despite a less-than-overpowering fastball. His delivery is deceptive and he uses his lankiness to his advantage, hiding the ball in a wave of arms and legs, making it difficult for the hitter to pick up the ball.
I will say that I am much more excited about seeing Furbush pitch well last night than I was when Figaro made his debut a few years ago. The future is bright as far as the arms are concerned.
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