Reds Rookie Tom Browning Takes NL by Storm


A year ago, Reds rookie left-hander Tom Browning was struggling through a 12-10 season with the AAA Wichita Aeros, not sure when or if he’d ever see a game from atop a big league pitcher’s mound. Today, he’s the undisputed ace of the first-place Cincinnati Reds, and the leading candidate for the National League’s Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards.

Why has Browning been so effective?

“He’s a good pitcher because he stays ahead of hitters,” says Atlanta manager Bobby Wine. “He consistently throws strikes and that’s the whole key to pitching in this league.”

Adds teammate Dave Parker, “At this stage, he’s a very polished young pitcher. I think he has the potential to turn into a pitcher like Fernando Valenzuela because he knows exactly what he’s doing.”

The Valenzuela comparison is apt. Browning and Valenzuela are both lefties, and both rely on the wily screwball as their “out-pitch.” As a rookie in 1981, Fernando took the National League by storm, igniting “Fernandomania” in Los Angeles and becoming a cult hero along the way.

Though there has been no hint of “Browningmania” in Cincinnati, this rookie pitcher has indeed taken the National League by storm. But, believe it or not, the Valenzuela comparison ends not because of the lack of a cult following – rather, it’s because Browning’s first 12 starts don’t compare to Valenzuela’s.

Browning’s have been better.

Compare win/loss record after 12 starts: Browning this year: 10-1, Valenzuela in 1981: 9-2
Compare ERA: Browning 1.55, Valenzuela 1981: 1.90

In 1981, Valenzuela won the Rookie of the Year award and the Cy Young Award as the league’s top pitcher, too. That feat was accomplished again last year by New York’s Dwight Gooden, a 24 year-old-flame thrower from Tampa, Florida.

Gooden has been good enough this year, posting a 1.73 ERA, good for second-best – behind Browning. Gooden’s won/loss record is mediocre at 7-6, but don’t blame the right-hander for that. He has received the least run-support of any starting pitcher in the NL this season. The Mets are averaging only 2.79 runs per game when Gooden starts. By contrast, the Reds have offered Browning 6.17 runs per start.

The season is not even half-way over, and compelling stories are already developing in the National League this season. This Cy Young race, especially, should be a good one.

Below are the statistics for the top 16 National League ERA leaders through June 16, 1985.

Click on the table to view at full size.

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