Baseball BeatFebruary 01, 2007
Categorizing Minor League Pitchers: Part Four - Double-A
By Rich Lederer

Part One: The Starters
Part Two: Low-A
Part Three: High-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.


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.


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.


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.

Seventy-four pitchers (or roughly 23%) wound up in the southwest quadrant. The bottom half dozen as measured by K/BF rates are listed below.


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.


What can you tell me about the 3 Pirates found in the "good" quadrant?

Hughes once again beats Bailey, as he does everywhere except in a few stupid list makers' minds.

What can you tell me about the 3 Pirates found in the "good" quadrant?

You must be referring to Jorge Vasquez, Chris Hernandez, and Ron Chiavacci, all of whom placed in the northeast quadrant. Vasquez is the best of the bunch although I just learned that he is no longer with the Pirates. The 25-year-old relief pitcher was signed by the Mets in December. I find it odd that he has now been employed by four different clubs since 2004 and never made it to big leagues after toiling in the minors for eight years given his outstanding 10.47 K/9 over the course of his career.

Hernandez is another RHP reliever. The Pirates drafted him in 2003 and he was assigned to the club's short season team in Williamsport. He has jumped one level each season and seems to be making steady progress. The 26-year-old has always been a year or two older than his level of competition so I think you have to discount his 10.32 K/9 rate a bit, but it appears as if he might have what it takes to work out of the back end of the bullpen within the next year or so.

Chiavacci is not a prospect. He is already 29 years old and has spent his entire nine-year career in the minors. The righthanded starter/reliever looks like a lifer to me and, at best, what is known as a AAAA pitcher.

OK, thanks.
I knew some of Chiavacci's background because he came through Harrisburg while he was in Montreal's system, but didn't know the other two were also a bit old for the level.
So that's just great!! Three Pirates in the NE Quadrant and still nothing to write home about!

Am I missing Andy Sonnanstine for Montgomery? Led the league in innings and 3rd in era in the Sourthern League. I don't know what his GB rate was, he struck out 21.0% of the BF's.

Great series!

Jay: Sonnanstine fell into the southeast quadrant. His strikeout rate (21.58%) was 2.45 percentage points above average and his groundball rate (43.67%) was 1.65 percentage points below average.

Andy was 67th in K/BF among all pitchers (starters and relievers) in the SE quadrant. I only presented the names of the top 32. He would have profiled better had I included a third dimension - walks - in the study.

As you know, Sonnanstine can throw strikes and get ahead of hitters with the best of 'em. Among minor leaguers, he seems like a Kevin Slowey-type command and control pitcher. Sloweys's K (21.94%) and GB (38.29%) rates at the same level (Eastern League) were comparable to Sonnanstine's. Unlike others, I would hesitate to compare Andy to Greg Maddux at this point but his K and GB rates were similar to Zack Greinke in the Texas League, another command/control pitcher who has pitched in the big leagues.

It will be interesting to see how far his average stuff and outstanding command take him. Maybe you could fill us in from time to time.