WTNYAugust 17, 2005
Sample Size Pitching
By Bryan Smith

Any precinct of the small sample size police will tell you the same thing: pitching is easier to judge on a short-term basis than hitting. If a scout decides he must observe a hitter, it might take 3-5 games for the scout to witness enough swings to make the necessary judgment. However, with a pitcher, it only takes so many repetitions of a pitcher's delivery to develop an understanding of their velocity, control and arsenal.

I have said this before of course, particularly dealing with the Futures Game. In a contest that allows most pitchers to throw no more than one inning, hitters are near impossible to judge. The most disciplined will make the teenage phenoms throw a ton of pitches, only swinging at one or two. The toolsiest will make pitchers beat them with their best pitch. But no matter what, seldom do we see any hitter take more than five cuts at the baseball.

Pitching is different, however. Even in short spurts, we can get a feel for the pitcher. With just one inning, I was able to develop an understanding of Francisco Liriano:

All hard stuff. Southpaw with a mildly clean delivery mixes in mid-to-high 90s fastball with high 80s to low 90s slider. Also has solid feel for mid 80s change. Shows best control with fastball and uses slider as strikeout pitch.

This is, of course, the backbone philosophy of the Cape Cod League. It takes many swings for scouts to develop an understanding of hitters, but as few as one outing to do so for pitchers. Relievers like Brooks Brown and Steven Wright gained exposure this season pitching in late-inning roles, while pinch hitters or even starting position players were exempt of such analysis.

Not only is hitting so hard to scout, but the Cape Cod League was dominated with good pitching this season. It's truly the year of the college pitcher, with five good enough to be in the top ten, and at least five more that are first round worthy. A short list of the top pitchers in the CCL:

1. Andrew Miller (LHP) - North Carolina: Truly the best pitcher in his class, posted insane strikeout numbers with increased control. If his ceiling can be accepted as Major League ace, his basement is that of a dominant left-handed reliever. Throws two plus-plus pitches, and it's only a matter ot time before he's one of the game's best.

2. Dallas Buck (RHP) - Oregon State: One of the game's best, Buck took a while to get acclimated to CCL life. A late joiner because of a mid-summer change to start playing baseball, Buck's first few starts were unspectacular at best. However, the player Peter Gammons once mentioned as a possible #1 overall pick got in a groove from there, ending as one of the state's best in his age group.

3. Daniel Bard (RHP) - North Carolina: Needed a big summer, and undoubtedly fulfilled all of his agent's wishes. Bard would win the CCL Cy Young if such an award existed, and truly was the league's most consistently dominant starter all year long. Of course he'll need to show such dominance in a tough ACC schedule next year, but it looks good for a second-time Big Tener that has little else to offer.

4. Derrick Lutz (RHP) - George Washington: The reliever of the summer, Lutz posted Craig Hansen-ish numbers. He cemented the opportunity to become George Washington's closer this year, making them a candidate for an upset or two during the season. Lutz should be the best of a deep crop of college closers, considering his summer was far better than the rest of the crop.

5. David Huff (LHP) - UCLA : Currently enrolled in one-too-many years at UCLA, Huff should become the Friday Night pitcher for a program that has been lacking a dominant starter for years. Huff is not that, but instead a rich man's version of Abe Alvarez, the Long Beach State ace from a few years back.

The rest of the top 13, all in order, withholding comments:

6. Tim Lincecum (RHP) - Washington
7. Wade Leblanc (LHP) - Alabama
8. Brett Sinkbeil (RHP) - SW Missouri St.
9. Jared Hughes (RHP) - Long Beach St.
10. Brad Lincoln (LHP) - Houston
11. Brooks Brown (RHP) - Georgia
12. Jeff Manship (RHP) - Notre Dame
13. Steven Wright (RHP) - Hawaii

That's the best the current crop has to offer, with somewhere from 5-8 spots making the first round. And a good summer is all they needed, of course, because scouts needed very little else to realize what was happening around the next bend.