2012 minor league leaders in predictive FIP (Part 1)

I don’t write about prospects very often. Actually I write about prospects hardly ever. I typically stick to what I know, statistics for major league baseball players. I do my best to stay away from wading into the dark and murky waters of minor league statistics.

I find the study of scouting, projecting and evaluating prospects to be absolutely fascinating. It’s just not my area of expertise.

However just recently, I found myself inspired to delve into some uncharted territory.

My inspiration came from the fantastic 2013 Hardball Times Baseball Annual. Within the book’s pages are a series of interesting (different) leader boards provided by FanGraphs’ Carson Cistulli.

One of these is a 2012 minor league kwERA leader board. kwERA (or strikeout and walk ERA) is an ERA estimator based solely on strikeouts and walks; which I’ve been fascinated with for some time.

I’ve done a lot of work with the predictive strength of kwERA, and that work led to the development of my own ERA estimator, predictive FIP (pFIP).

In the THT Annual, Cistulli grouped all minor league levels together into an all-encompassing top-10 (minimum 550 batters faced). Cistulli was confined to just two pages in the annual, which left some room for improvement/expansion off of his idea.

Thus, I’ve decided to make some leader boards for each level of the minors (Triple-A through Rookie ball) for the 2012 season, with two little tweaks on Cistulli’s original methodology:

First, I used pFiP rather than kwERA as my metric of choice. Second, I used a minimum of 80 innings pitched (~320 batters faced) rather than 550 batters faced, to get a broader scope.

Disclaimer: Predictive FIP works really well at projecting ERA at the major league level. I have yet to test how well it works when translating minor league numbers into major league equivalents. It’s something I have been working on, but it is a daunting task. These leader boards are meant solely to be interesting and to possibly shed light on prospects that could be underrated.

Also, pFIP is an ERA estimator that ignores balls in play; which works great at the major league level, but the further away you go from that the more valuable batted ball information becomes. But I’ll delve into that issue in much greater detail in Part 2 of this series. Please take all of the leader boards with a grain of salt, but at the same time, enjoy!

Triple-A

The minor leagues’ highest level is broken up into just two leagues, the Pacific Coast League (PCL) and the International League (IL). It would be an understatement to say the run environments in these two leagues are distinct. The PCL boasts some parks that really promote offense, such as Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Salt Lake, Tucson and others. Given the differing environments, I broke the Triple-A top 10 into two separate top-fives for each league.

Notes: The individual home run numbers for each pitcher were adjusted using multipliers posted at Baseball Think Factory for the years 2009-2011. Also, for reference: For pitchers who threw at least 80 innings at Triple-A in 2012, the average pFIP was 4.31.

PCL

Pitcher 2013 ORG Age ERA pFIP
1. Trevor Bauer Indians 21 2.85 3.49
2. John Ely Astros 26 3.20 3.52
3. Tyler Lyons Cardinals 24 4.28 3.60
4. Yusmeiro Petit Giants 27 3.46 3.63
5. Wade LeBlanc Marlins 27 3.74 3.69

Interestingly, the PCL’s two leaders in pFIP were both traded this offseason.

Mega-prospect Trevor Bauer posted the top pFIP in the PCL, while also spending time in Double-A and the majors. Bauer posted a fantastic pFIP at Double-A (3.27) before being promoted to Reno.

In four major league starts, he was hampered by control issues, but Bauer, 21, isn’t the first top prospect to have trouble finding the strike zone in the bigs at such a young age. Surprisingly, Arizona moved the right-hander to Cleveland this offseason in a three team swap that included Cincinnati.

Also this offseason, John Ely was traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Houston Astros for Rob Rasmussen. Despite pitching in a hitter-friendly Albuquerque, Ely was able to post really good peripherals and had great results last season. It will be interesting to see if Ely gets a chance to have success in the Astros’ rotation next season. He has 115.1 career major league innings with a 5.70 ERA and 4.46 FIP

Tyler Lyons is a left-handed starter in the St. Louis Cardinals system who has moved quickly up the ladder after his 2011 pro debut. In 2012, Lyons not only posted a 3.60 pFIP in 88.1 Triple-A innings, but he also had an above-average pFIP (4.00) in 64.1 Double-A innings. Viva El Birdos ranked Lyons as the Cardinals’ eighth-best prospect for 2013.

Yusmeiro Petit debuted in the majors all the way back in 2006 with the Marlins. He’s spent time in the minors/majors with Arizona and in the Mariners system, as well as in Mexico. Petit’s career major league numbers are uninspiring, with a 5.54/5.45 ERA/FIP in 234 career innings. However, Petit was dominant in his first season with the Giants organization in 2012: He posted a 3.63 pFIP across 166.2 innings. He’s currently on the Giants’ 40-man roster for the 2013 season.

Wade LeBlanc has spent a good deal of time in the majors. The left-hander debuted with the Padres, the team that drafted him, in 2008. He was a serviceable starter for San Diego across four seasons before being traded to the Marlins prior to the 2012 season.

LeBlanc spent the first three months of 2012 in Tiple-A, where he was very good, posting a 3.69 pFIP in 96.2 innings. He was called up at the beginning of July and pieced together a solid 3.64/4.04 ERA/FIP in 68.2 innings between the rotation and bullpen. LeBlanc should start 2013 in the Marlins’ rotation.

IL

Pitcher 2013 ORG Age ERA pFIP
1. Chris Tillman Orioles 24 3.63 3.58
2. Chris Archer Rays 23 3.66 3.61
3. Bryan Morris Pirates 25 2.56 3.63
4. Corey Kluber Indians 26 3.59 3.65
5. Dylan Axelrod White Sox 26 2.88 3.69

Chris Tillman was a Mariners prospect who came to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard/Adam Jones swap. The right-handed starter began 2012 in Triple-A after three rough stints in the Orioles’ rotation across 2009-2011.

Tillman may have figured it out in 2012 though, as his 89.1 Triple-A innings were the best in the International League, according to pFIP (3.58) and he posted a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts at the major league level for Baltimore. Tillman is expected to begin 2013 in the Orioles rotation.

Chris Archer is one of baseball’s top prospects. Archer was ranked in Baseball America’s top 100 coming into 2012. The Rays right-hander built off that ranking with a great season in Durham; which led to his major league debut.

Archer posted a 4.60/3.40 ERA/FIP in 29.1 big league innings last season. He will have a shot to make the Rays’ rotation in 2013, but even if he ends up back in Triple-A, the righty seems to have a bright future.

Bryan Morris is the only reliever on this list. Morris pitched in 46 games at the Triple-A level for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His pFIP could benefit from coming out of the bullpen, as relievers tend to have higher strikeout rates than starters.

Morris made five major league appearances in 2012, striking out six batters and allowingjust two runs (one earned). Morris is currently on the Pirates’ 40-man roster.

Corey Kluber started 21 games (125.1 innings) for the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate, Columbus, posting a very good 3.65 pFIP. He also started 12 games at the major league level. Kluber’s xFIP (3.99) and SIERA (3.87) show that he may performed much better than his 5.14 ERA would indicate. It’s possible that Kluber could join Bauer in the Indians’ rotation in 2013.

White Sox right-hander Dylan Axelrod, has been superb in back-to-back seasons in the International League. His brief stint in the majors in 2011 indicated that he could translate his Triple-A success in the majors, but he struggled in 51 major league innings in 2012 (5.47/5.04 ERA/FIP). Axelrod is currently on the White Sox 40-man roster, but most signs point to him not starting the season with the big league ball club.

Double-A

The Double-A leader board is, again, based on predictive FIP. All the numbers are adjusted for park using the same multipliers that were used for the Triple-A leade rboards. However, I did not separate the three leagues into different sets of top pitchers, as previous research has shown that the Double-A leagues have similar run environments (although the Texas League is slightly more hitter-friendly).

Below are the top 10 pitchers based on pFIP with at least 80 innings at Double-A in 2012 (for reference, the average pFIP for this sample was 4.21):

Pitcher 2013 ORG Age ERA pFIP
1. Daniel Straily Athletics 23 3.38 3.06
2. Justin Grimm Rangers 23 1.72 3.36
3. Chris Heston Giants 24 2.24 3.41
4. Matt Magill Dodgers 22 3.75 3.42
5. Tony Cingrani Reds 22 2.12 3.48
6. Zack Wheeler Mets 22 3.26 3.51
7. Hiram Burgos Brewers 24 1.94 3.58
8. Jose Cisnero Astros 23 3.56 3.60
9. Eddie Gamboa Orioles 27 3.33 3.64
10. Daryl Maday Giants 26 3.43 3.68

The 2012 season was nothing short of incredible for Oakland’s Dan Straily. His pFIP was by far the best on this list, thanks to his incredible 108 strikeouts (to go with only 22 walks) in just 85.1 Double-A innings.

Straily’s success continued in his 66.2 innings at Triple-A, with 2.85 pFIP that would’ve led the leaderboards there had Straily gotten just 10j more batters out. Straily was given the chance to pitch at the big league level, where he had some struggles, in 39.1 innings, with control and the home run ball. I’d argue that Straily was the best pitcher in the minors in 2012, and that he deserves a spot in the Athletics’ 2013 rotation.

Justin Grimm, like his AL West counterpart Straily, reached the majors in 2012. Grimm pitched extremely well with the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate, Frisco. His numbers at Triple-A (4.35 pFIP in 51 IP) weren’t nearly as good, though.

His 9.00 ERA in 14 innings with the Rangers does not look so great, but that sample size is minuscule and his 2.81 FIP was anything but horrible. Grimm is on the Rangers’ 40-man roster and could start the year in their bullpen.

The Giants’ Chris Heston struck out a ton of batters (135) at Double-A in 2012 while giving up just two home runs across almost 150 innings. The word on the righty is that he does not have great stuff, despite his shiny numbers. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to be successful with below-average stuff and eventually reach the majors.

Coming into 2012, right-hander Matt Magill was ranked as just the Dodgers’ 45th best prospect. I’ve got to think that his 2012 age-22 campaign had to have helped that ranking; he led all of Double-A in strikeouts (168). Los Angeles also seems to be impressed with the numbers he put up Chattanooga, as Magill is currently listed on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster.

All Tony Cingrani has done since his 2011 professional debut is strike batters out, and 2012 was no different.

He spent some time dominating, with the Reds’ high-A affiliate, where he posted a 1.11 ERA and a 32.3 percent strikeout percentage before being moved up to Double-A. Cingrani struck out over a batter an inning there and actually made his major league debut last season. The lefty struck out nine batters in five innings with Cincinnati. Cingrani is on the Reds 40-man roster and could start the year in their bullpen.

Most baseball fans have heard of Zack Wheeler, as he was famously traded to the Mets for Carlos Beltran just two seasons ago. Wheeler was very good in High-A in 2011 and he picked up right where he left off in 2012.

Wheeler was promoted to Triple-A near the season’s end and posted an above average pFIP (3.90) in 33.1 innings. The Mets expect big things from their top prospect, who will most likely begin the year back in Triple-A. His major league debut should come sometime in 2013.

The Brewers’ Hiram Burgos was nominated for Minor League Pitcher of the Year by MiLB.com, for good reason. The righty was very good at High-A, Double-A, and Tfriple-A in 2012. Like many others on these leader boards, Burgos is on his team’s 40-man roster.

Jose Cisnero was not ranked as one of Astros’ top- 0 prospects in a recent listing at Baseball Prospectus. Cisnero reached Triple-A as a 23-year-old last season, and posted a 4.12 pFIP in almost 40 innings there. Cisnero is on the Astros 40-man roster.

A 27-year-old who is only at Double-A is not usually anything to write home about. A 27-year-old in High-A is even worse. But for whatever reason, Baltimore’s Eddie Gamboa pitched two games in High-A last season.

His pFIP at Double-A was one of the best of the season, mainly because he gave up very few home runs while keeping walks low. This success led the righty to reach Triple-A for the first time in his career. Gamboa has career minor leaguer written all over his profile.

Daryl Maday joins Heston as the second member of the Giants’ organization on this top 10. Maday came primarily out of the bullpen in 2012, starting just three games. He, like Gamboa, probably will never make the majors, but found his way onto this list because he was able to keep walks and home runs low, while striking out a few guys at Double-A in 2012.

Part 2 and Google Docs

In the coming weeks, I’ll post the second of this series, where I hope the discussion will become more interesting, as pFIP may be less relevant at the lower levels of the minors. My main focus will be how I attempted to account for this fact in those leaderboards.

For a full list of 2012 pFIP numbers for Triple-A click here.

For a full list of 2012 pFIP numbers for Double-A click here.

References & Resources
All data comes courtesy of our friends at FanGraphs.

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Comments

  1. studes said...

    Great job, Glenn.  Plus, I had totally lost track of Yusmeiro Petit. It’s always fun to see someone like that pop up again.

  2. Jon Roegele said...

    Nice Glenn, I can imagine this would take awhile to dig up all the minor league numbers.

    I’m looking forward to Straily’s 2013 season. Still a little scared about whether Tillman has really improved for good or not….have to watch that fastball velocity early in the season.

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