Categorizing Minor League Pitchers: Part Four - Double-A
The series on categorizing minor league pitchers by strikeout and groundball rates makes its way to Double-A (also known as AA) today. Double-A comprises three leagues: Eastern, Southern, and Texas.
Based on the 2006 pitching means for the three circuits, the Southern League would appear to be the most pitcher friendly and the Texas League the most hitter friendly. However, the numbers are skewed by the fact that the Southern and Eastern Leagues had a number of quality arms, while the Texas League experienced a down year in terms of top-tier pitching prospects.
STARTERS RELIEVERS ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 | ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 EL 3.97 6.94 3.08 0.82 3.60 8.18 3.53 0.67 SL 3.45 7.26 3.11 0.65 3.51 8.16 3.83 0.67 TEX 4.54 6.49 3.37 0.98 4.16 7.91 3.93 0.85
The graph below includes strikeout and groundball data for every pitcher in Double-A with 50 or more innings. The x-axis is strikeouts per batter faced (K/BF) and the y-axis is groundball percentage (GB%). The graph is divided into four quadrants with the mid-point equal to the average K/BF of 19.13% and the average GB% of 45.32%.
Sixty-three pitchers out of a total of 316 (or approximately 20%) placed in the northeast quadrant. The following list includes the top half, ranked by K/BF.
NORTHEAST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG K AND GB RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB% Paul Estrada HOU TEX 37.33% 54.01% Jorge Vasquez PIT EL 33.46% 47.68% Philip Hughes NYY EL 31.44% 50.72% Humberto Sanchez NYY EL 31.39% 50.00% Connor Robertson OAK TEX 30.31% 47.29% Carmen Pignatiello CHC SL 29.84% 56.13% Mark Worrell Jr. STL TEX 29.76% 46.30% Homer Bailey CIN SL 28.73% 46.78% Mike Pelfrey NYM EL 28.31% 48.28% T. J. Nall LAD SL 28.17% 46.61% Carlos Vasquez CHC SL 27.52% 55.38% John Hudgins SD SL 26.96% 46.32% Chris Hernandez PIT EL 26.79% 46.15% Joe Bateman SF EL 25.84% 50.25% Adam Miller CLE EL 25.61% 53.92% Anibal Sanchez FLA SL 25.48% 46.94% Jeff Kennard NYY EL 25.00% 53.25% Sean Gallagher CHC SL 24.86% 48.90% Travis Foley CLE EL 24.71% 48.26% Mitch Talbot TB SL 24.41% 50.68% Davis Romero TOR EL 24.39% 52.74% Ron Chiavacci PIT EL 24.26% 47.89% Charlie Manning NYY EL 24.25% 46.49% Jack Cassel SD SL 24.04% 64.25% Jason Pearson BAL EL 23.83% 51.63% Kason Gabbard BOS EL 23.45% 59.30% Justin Pope NYY EL 23.33% 46.10% Carlos Villanueva MIL SL 23.05% 47.57% Jentry Beckstead COL TEX 22.96% 52.22% Jean Machi TB SL 22.37% 51.50% Matthew Wilkinson ARI SL 22.35% 50.82%
Philip Hughes, who was profiled on Monday, and Humberto Sanchez dominated Eastern League opponents. Both righthanders struck out over 30% of the batters they faced and kept half of the batted balls on the ground. Thanks to a trade with the Tigers, Sanchez is now employed by the same team as Hughes. The former was the starting pitcher for the World in the Futures Game. He didn't fare too badly in his only inning of work, striking out Stephen Drew and Alex Gordon and getting Howie Kendrick to ground out to short.
As I pointed out in yesterday's article, Homer Bailey actually improved his K and GB rates when he went from High-A Sarasota of the FSL (27.92%/43.48%) to Double-A Chattanooga of the Southern League (28.73%/46.78%). Like Bailey, Adam Miller is a hard-throwing RHP - another in a long line of fireballers from Texas. He added a two-seamer last summer and was virtually unhittable in the second half of the season, going 7-1 with a 1.09 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and a 4:1 K/BB ratio.
Anibal Sanchez made the leap from the Southern League to the Florida Marlins last summer and wound up pitching a no-hitter in his rookie season while fashioning a 10-3 record with a 2.83 ERA. Not surprisingly, the soon-to-be 23-year-old's strikeout and groundball rates declined once he reached the Show but his MiL tendencies did an excellent job of foretelling his potential at the highest level.
Mike Pelfrey, 23, pitched at four different levels in 2006. The 6-foot-7, 210-pound righthander started the season at A+ (2-1, 1.64), jumped to AA (4-2, 2.71), then AAA (4-2, 2.71), and even started four games with the New York Mets (2-1, 5.48). The ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft, who was 33-7 with a 2.18 ERA during his three-year career at Wichita State, relies on a plus fastball in terms of speed and command but needs to develop his secondary pitches to realize his full potential.
The Devil Rays stole Mitch Talbot and Ben Zobrist from the Astros for Aubrey Huff and cash considerations last July. Talbot pitched in AA all year, first with Corpus Christi of the Texas League (6-4, 3.39 w/ a 25.40% K/BF and 50.58% GB), then with Montgomery of the Southern League (4-3, 1.90 w/ 22.96% K and 50.82% GB). The 23-year-old RHP also struck out 24 over 18 scoreless innings in two postseason starts, earning MiLB's Double-A Playoff Performer of the Year Award.
Ninety-five pitchers (equal to 30%) landed in the southeast quadrant. The top third can be found below.
SOUTHEAST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG K AND BELOW-AVG GB RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB% Dan Smith ATL SL 35.39% 30.53% Tony Sipp CLE EL 33.47% 38.89% Brandon Knight PIT EL 32.82% 35.90% William Lamura CWS SL 31.75% 26.72% Matt Garza MIN EL 30.36% 38.46% Scott Elbert LAD SL 29.57% 29.45% Carlos Marmol CHC SL 29.39% 43.26% Ubaldo Jimenez COL TEX 29.35% 41.42% Marcus McBeth OAK TEX 29.02% 38.19% Yovani Gallardo MIL SL 28.81% 39.68% Bill White ARI SL 28.25% 42.77% Cory Doyne STL TEX 28.06% 42.50% John Danks CWS TEX 27.99% 34.58% Jesse Chavez TEX TEX 27.89% 42.95% Brian Rogers DET EL 27.82% 45.18% Judd Songster COL TEX 27.76% 32.74% Scott Mathieson PHI EL 27.50% 38.75% Jeff Niemann TB SL 27.45% 42.00% Tracy Thorpe TOR EL 27.31% 30.66% Carlos Guevara CIN SL 27.30% 43.93% Tyler Clippard NYY EL 27.09% 42.35% James Happ PHI EL 27.00% 38.66% Glen Perkins MIN EL 26.91% 37.38% Justin Olson MIN EL 26.42% 34.40% Thomas Diamond TEX TEX 26.27% 38.32% Calvin Medlock CIN SL 26.02% 44.07% Michael Bumstead TEX TEX 25.81% 41.67% Joshua Newman COL TEX 25.75% 38.69% Francisley Bueno ATL SL 25.69% 32.61% Dan Kolb WAS EL 25.63% 38.57% Joel Hanrahan LAD SL 25.28% 42.17% Ian Ostlund DET EL 25.27% 42.25%
After being converted to a starting pitcher late in the season, Dan Smith put up a 2.27 ERA over eight starts with a 12.0 K/9. The 23-year-old lefthander, who stands 6-foot-5 and tips the scales at 250 pounds, could earn a spot in Atlanta's bullpen next season if he continues to progress as he did last summer.
Like Pelfrey, Matt Garza was a first-round draft pick in 2005 who jumped from High-A (5-1, 1.42) to Double-A (6-2, 2.51) to Triple-A (3-1, 1.85) and to the majors (3-6, 5.76) in 2006. The 23-year-old righthander was USA TODAY's Minor League Player of the Year last season when he posted a combined record of 14-4 with a 1.99 ERA and a 4.8 K/BB. Mature beyond his years, Garza has developed a four-pitch repertoire, including a fastball that sits in the low-90s and a curve and slider that he needs to learn to trust at the highest level.
Although Scott Elbert, Yovani Gallardo, and J.A. Happ were covered in parts one and three, other prized prospects such as Ubaldo Jimenez, John Danks, Jeff Niemann, Tyler Clippard, Glen Perkins, and Thomas Diamond deserve a nod.
Eighty-four pitchers fell in the northwest quadrant. The top quartile is presented in the table below.
NORTHWEST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG GB AND BELOW-AVG K RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB% Julio DePaula MIN EL 15.41% 65.09% Shawn Hill WAS EL 16.08% 62.35% Chris Russ STL TEX 16.08% 59.58% Brock Till CIN SL 15.69% 58.95% Brian Henderson TB SL 14.07% 58.90% Aaron Laffey CLE EL 13.32% 58.56% Preston Larrison DET EL 10.93% 58.45% Kevin Ool STL TEX 12.61% 57.95% Shane Youman PIT EL 17.30% 57.93% Kevin Cave FLA SL 17.62% 57.83% Adam Harben MIN EL 13.94% 57.14% Chris Begg SF EL 13.84% 56.94% JR Mathes CHC SL 17.48% 56.61% Tyler Lumsden KC SL 14.60% 56.04% Billy Buckner KC TEX 18.92% 55.27% Matt Childers NYY EL 18.55% 55.15% Cody Smith KC TEX 16.71% 54.98% Levale Speigner MIN EL 15.16% 54.55% Bryan Edwards NYM EL 14.52% 54.36% Rich Rundles STL TEX 12.74% 54.33% Marc Kaiser COL TEX 10.88% 54.23%
Aaron Laffey is a typical finesse-type lefty who competes by throwing strikes and inducing groundballs. He went 12-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 153.2 combined innings in the CAR (A+) and EL (AA). The 6'0", 180-pounder, who doesn't turn 22 until April, is one of many highly regarded pitching prospects in the Cleveland organization.
A highly touted southpaw out of Clemson, Tyler Lumsden was taken by the White Sox in the supplemental round as the 34th overall pick in 2004. He underwent elbow surgery the following January and missed the entire 2005 season. Lumsden bounced back and pitched 159 innings in 2006 (split between the Sox and Kansas City AA teams as a result of a late summer trade between the two clubs), recording an 11-5 mark with a 2.77 ERA. At 6-4, 215 pounds, Lumsden has a good pitcher's build plus quality stuff and enough polish to compete for a spot in Kansas City's rotation this spring.
SOUTHWEST QUADRANT (BELOW-AVG GB AND K RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB% Chris Hunter LAA TEX 8.38% 43.58% R.D. Spiehs SF EL 9.82% 44.26% Steven Register COL TEX 11.54% 44.58% Daniel Davidson LAA TEX 12.35% 41.85% David Maust WAS EL 12.35% 37.35% Miguel Pinango NYM EL 12.64% 40.27%
Let's take a look at Chris Hunter. He is a poster boy for why looking at K and GB rates works so well. I will admit that I had never heard of the guy before I dove into this project and only became aware of him because he had the absolute lowest K/BF rate of any minor league pitcher last year. Well, suffice it to say that I wasn't surprised in the least when I learned that the 26-year-old righthander had a 4-14 record with a 7.45 ERA. He allowed 168 hits and walked 69 batters while striking out only 49 in 125.2 innings for a WHIP of 1.89 and a K/BB ratio of 0.71. Good grief!
The five-part series will conclude tomorrow with a focus on Triple-A pitchers.