Baseball BeatJanuary 30, 2007
Categorizing Minor League Pitchers: Part Two - Low-A
By Rich Lederer

Yesterday's Categorizing Minor League Pitchers focused on starters at all levels other than Rookie and Short Season. Today's article is the first of four follow-ups, covering more than 300 pitchers who performed in Low-A (also referred sometimes as A- or even A) last year.

The graph below includes strikeout and groundball data for every pitcher in the Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues with 50 or more innings. The x-axis is strikeouts per batter faced (K/BF) and the y-axis is groundball percentage (GB%). There are four quadrants with the mid-point equal to the average K/BF of 19.92% and the average GB% of 47.71% and for relievers.

The following table shows the breakdown by strikeout and groundball rates from Low-A all the way up to Major League Baseball. The MiLB GB percentages are slightly understated due to the fact that bunted balls were included in the balls in play totals. If bunted balls were excluded, the GB% would be approximately 1-2% higher across the board.

Not surprisingly, the K/BF and GB% generally decline as the competition stiffens. Hitters at advanced levels put the ball in play more often and tend to get greater lift by hitting more line drives and flyballs.

                K/BF      GB%  
Low-A          19.92%    47.71%
High-A         19.10     45.79
Double-A       19.13     45.32
Triple-A       17.91     44.61
MLB            16.83     43.63

I found it interesting that the strikeout and groundball rates flatten out between High-A and Double-A, whereas they drop by approximately one percentage point at each of the other jumps.


A total of 73 pitchers ranked in the northeast quadrant. The list below includes those in the top half, ranked by K/BF.


PITCHER            TEAM   LG    K/BF     GB%
Todd Doolittle     FLA    SAL   34.96%   48.48%
Michael Zagurski   PHI    SAL   33.19%   48.48%
Dave Davidson      PIT    SAL   32.43%   54.55%
Brent Leach        LAD    SAL   32.06%   51.75%
Andrew Barb        PHI    SAL   29.82%   48.18%
Ricky Steik        DET    MDW   29.30%   47.83%
Matt Davis         CLE    SAL   29.26%   48.92%
Johnny Cueto       CIN    MDW   28.57%   52.36%
Mark McCormick     STL    MDW   28.51%   53.72%
Blake Jones        FLA    SAL   28.45%   47.86%
Jo-Jo Reyes        ATL    SAL   27.91%   49.23%
Wade Davis         TB     MDW   27.82%   48.25%
Justin Vaclavik    PIT    SAL   27.70%   48.18%
Matthew Trent      STL    MDW   27.62%   51.41%
Noe Rodriguez      CWS    SAL   27.31%   47.74%
Michael Bowden     BOS    SAL   27.09%   51.10%
David Patton       COL    SAL   26.99%   53.97%
Greg Dupas         TB     MDW   25.99%   50.00%
Chi-Hung Cheng     TOR    MDW   25.84%   49.48%
Anthony Claggett   DET    MDW   25.78%   49.32%
Jaime Garcia       STL    MDW   25.72%   60.37%
Brandon Nall       NYM    SAL   25.70%   61.90%
Aaron Walker       TB     MDW   25.53%   48.68%
Joey Newby         OAK    MDW   25.24%   59.85%
Carlos Carrasco    PHI    SAL   25.21%   48.23%
Jose Marte         TEX    MDW   25.00%   47.98%
Ronald Hill        PHI    SAL   24.89%   55.41%
Jonathon Niese     NYM    SAL   24.67%   48.84%
Cory Wade          LAD    SAL   24.35%   53.15%
Kraig Schambough   KC     MDW   23.92%   55.81%
Nick Adenhart      LAA    MDW   23.80%   50.85%
Kevin Guyette      BOS    SAL   23.72%   52.03%
Russ Savickas      TOR    MDW   23.68%   61.90%
Eduardo Baeza      ARI    MDW   23.66%   50.96%
Thomas Fairchild   HOU    SAL   23.61%   58.69%
Eddie De La Cruz   TB     MDW   23.36%   49.46%
Ryan Tucker        FLA    SAL   23.33%   47.99%

Other than Brent Leach (who started all 11 of his games at Low-A before becoming a full-time reliever at High-A), no starting pitcher had a K/BF rate over 30%. Four starters (Johnny Cueto, Mark McCormick, Michael Bowden, and Jaime Garcia) qualified for the 25-50 club. The 5-foot-11, 174-pound Cueto, 21, was a combined 15-3, 3.00 with 143 SO and 38 BB in 138 IP in the MDW (A-) and FSL (A+). McCormick, a 23-year-old hard-throwing RHP out of Baylor, has walked 72 batters in 105 innings the past two seasons. Bowden (20, RHP, 6'3", 215) had the sixth-highest K/BF rate among all starting pitchers in the minors with above-average GB results. As I noted in the comments section yesterday, Garcia, a 20-year-old LHP, put up sensational stats in Low-A but wasn't quite as special once he moved up to High-A (15.76%/58.65%).

Baseball America named Nick Adenhart, 20, as the top pitcher in the Midwest League and Carlos Carrasco, 20, as the top pitcher in the South Atlantic League. Garcia and Wade Davis, 21, also ranked among the top 10 players in the MDW. Although not shown, Sean West (20.82%/50.70%), a 21-year-old LHP, placed in the top 10 in the SAL.

Other notables:

Jo-Jo Reyes, 22, had a combined 12-5 record with a 3.51 ERA in Low-A and High-A but his K and GB rates declined after his promotion. The 43rd overall pick in 2003, Reyes had Tommy John surgery in 2004, tore his ACL in 2005, and bounced back to become the starting pitcher in the SAL All-Star Game in 2006. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound lefthander has a Sid Fernandez-type body and a deceptive delivery to boot.

Chi-Hung Cheng, who turns 22 in June, pitched for Lansing in the Midwest League for the second consecutive season. The lefthander from Taiwan tore his labrum and underwent surgery during the off-season. He isn't scheduled to pitch again until the middle of the year. Cheng, who has struck out more than a batter per inning at each stop in his minor league career, throws a plus curveball but lacks command of an average fastball. His road to the majors may be as a reliever.

A total of 81 pitchers ranked in the southeast quadrant. The list below includes those in the top half, ranked by K/BF.


PITCHER            TEAM   LG    K/BF     GB%
Ryan Aldridge      LAA    MDW   36.32%   43.80%
Osiris Matos       SF     SAL   35.06%   38.19%
Will Inman         MIL    SAL   32.06%   40.98%
Alexander Smit     MIN    MDW   31.97%   33.46%
Jacob McGee        TB     MDW   30.92%   41.49%
Brad Kilby         OAK    MDW   30.67%   46.53%
Ryan Doherty       ARI    MDW   30.04%   41.10%
Donald Veal        CHC    MDW   29.55%   34.52%
Brandon Erbe       BAL    SAL   29.42%   35.25%
Eduardo Morlan     MIN    MDW   29.41%   34.47%
Clay Buchholz      BOS    SAL   29.40%   44.23%
Matt Avery         CHC    MDW   27.84%   45.35%
Scott Mitchinson   PHI    SAL   27.78%   42.96%
Ruben Flores       SEA    MDW   27.60%   38.89%
David Quinowski    SF     SAL   27.54%   36.11%
Kevin Lynn         TB     MDW   27.51%   45.03%
Samuel Gervacio    HOU    SAL   27.50%   36.62%
Jason Rice         CWS    SAL   26.88%   35.19%
Raymar Diaz        HOU    SAL   26.82%   37.93%
Hunter Jones       BOS    SAL   26.81%   40.77%
Yohan Pino         MIN    MDW   26.76%   42.58%
Derek Miller       MIL    SAL   26.52%   38.49%
Paul Moviel        CWS    SAL   26.50%   47.12%
Harold Williams    SEA    MDW   26.41%   41.99%
Justin Rayborn     CHC    MDW   26.37%   47.28%
German Marte       NYM    SAL   26.18%   43.87%
Billy Carnline     TOR    MDW   26.09%   43.26%
Matthew Maloney    PHI    SAL   25.97%   44.64%
Chris Nicoll       KC     MDW   25.93%   34.82%
Joshua Outman      PHI    SAL   25.43%   45.59%
Ismael Casillas    BOS    SAL   25.14%   35.32%
James McDonald     LAD    SAL   25.00%   44.33%
Jason Ray          OAK    MDW   25.00%   41.95%
Thomas Cowley      CLE    SAL   24.90%   38.17%
David Hernandez    BAL    SAL   24.72%   36.88%
Sean Stidfole      TOR    MDW   24.45%   45.31%
Donald Julio       ARI    MDW   24.36%   43.37%
Sergio Romo        SF     SAL   24.03%   36.07%
Marlon Arias       LAD    SAL   23.85%   43.45%
Jeff Kamrath       TB     MDW   23.73%   39.84%
Daniel Griffin     SF     SAL   23.72%   37.50%

Ryan Aldridge, a 23-year-old righthanded reliever, had the highest K/BF rate of any pitcher with 50 or more innings at Low-A. He recorded 24 saves while limiting opponents to a .169 BAA.

Will Inman, 20; Alexander Smit, 21; and Jacob McGee, 20, had K/BF rates over 30%. All three pitchers were featured in yesterday's article.

Baseball America named Inman and Brandon Erbe, 19, among the top ten players in the SAL, and McGee and Donald Veal, 22, among the top ten in the MDW. Although not shown, Matthew Walker (20.24%/47.41%), a 20-year-old RHP, placed in the top ten in the MDW.

Other notables include Ryan Doherty, a 7-foot-1, 255-pound relief pitcher from Notre Dame. An intimidating force on the mound, the 23-year-old righthander won 9 games out of the bullpen while posting a 2.59 ERA with 5 saves and 76 SO in 62.2 IP. Eduardo Morlan, 21, was 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in his final four starts (22 IP, 12 H, 6 BB, 26 SO) and could be a sleeper for 2007.

Clay Buchholz, 22, had a combined record of 11-4 with a 2.42 ERA in the SAL and CAR, striking out 140 batters in 119 innings, including 23 in 16 frames at the more advanced High-A level. Matthew Maloney, 23, was the SAL Pitcher of the Year. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound southpaw led the league in W (16-9), IP (168.2), and SO (180), and was second in ERA (2.03).

A total of 81 pitchers ranked in the northwest quadrant. The list below includes those in the top quartile, ranked by GB%.


PITCHER            TEAM   LG    K/BF     GB%
F. Jimenez Angulo  CHC    MDW   14.48%   68.27%
Garrett Patterson  NYY    SAL   17.26%   65.16%
Blake Maxwell      BOS    SAL   16.21%   64.56%
Justin Blaine      PHI    SAL   14.40%   63.30%
Brad James         HOU    SAL   13.86%   63.27%
Jean Garavito      PIT    SAL   17.47%   62.90%
Eric Brown         NYM    SAL   17.81%   62.22%
Ryan Shaver        SF     SAL   14.23%   61.32%
Anthony Cupps      ARI    MDW   12.59%   61.21%
Jeramy Simmons     NYM    SAL   18.88%   61.05%
Chris Hayes        KC     MDW   16.14%   60.19%
Kyle Waldrop       MIN    MDW   14.06%   59.67%
Burke Badenhop     DET    MDW   18.13%   59.59%
Jake Stevens       ATL    SAL   18.82%   59.26%
Chris Volstad      FLA    SAL   15.58%   59.15%
Dane Renkert       MIL    SAL   19.68%   58.30%
Jason Cairns       STL    MDW   16.23%   58.21%
Julian Cordero     TEX    MDW   17.01%   57.94%
Brok Butcher       LAA    MDW   13.11%   57.92%
Cory Meacham       STL    MDW   12.91%   57.72%

The Cubs acquired Fabian Jimenez Angulo and Joel Santo (who had the second-lowest K/BF ranking in the dreaded southwest quadrant) from the Padres for Scott Williamson last July. Although Angulo has been a groundball machine, the 20-year-old lefthander from Columbia has allowed 336 hits in 284 minor league innings while surrendering 163 walks vs. 154 strikeouts.

Chris Volstad, who I covered in more detail yesterday, is the most highly regarded prospect in the northwest quadrant. The 20-year-old righthander was listed among the top two pitchers and top ten players in the SAL by Baseball America.

A total of 70 pitchers ranked in the southwest quadrant. The list below includes the bottom six in terms of K/BF, sorted in ascending order.


PITCHER            TEAM   LG    K/BF     GB%
Zachary Simons     COL    SAL   11.82%   37.59%
Joel Santo         CHC    MDW   11.95%   44.14%
Ryan Rote          CWS    SAL   11.96%   47.03%
Ryan Schreppel     ARI    MDW   12.00%   38.87%
Scott Taylor       CHC    MDW   12.48%   35.95%
Waner Mateo        NYM    SAL   12.60%   45.16%

The six pitchers in the above table would be better labeled as suspects than prospects. I'm not sure how Scott Taylor and Waner Mateo pulled off ERAs in the 3s but the other four all had ERAs in the 5s and 6s.

I will continue my five-part series tomorrow, breaking down the 2006 K and GB rates for High-A pitchers, followed by Double-A on Thursday, and Triple-A on Friday.

Once again, I extend a special thanks to Jeff Sackmann of Minor League Splits for gathering the raw data and David Appelman of FanGraphs for providing the graphs.


In your study of major league relievers you posted their average ERA by quadrant and concluded that GB % didn't really matter for them (unlike starters). Can you do the same for the minor leaguers? I'm guessing a high GB % won't help them much either because of inferior defense. Isn't a low BB rate much more important?

I did not break down the quadrants by ERAs but would expect a similar dispersion as what we found in MLB. A low BB rate is not as important as a high K rate but, yes, more important than a high GB rate.

From the reports i heard Jaime Garcia's dom dip upon his promotion was due to the fact he was falling too in love with his curve and was becoming 1 dimensional. I'd expect his k's to go back up next year, though I don't think he's going to be a big power pitcher in the majors. with that GB rate and command, i don't think he'll need to be.