2012 minor league leaders in predictive FIP (Part 2)

Two weeks ago, I wrote the first part of a series of 2012 minor league leader boards. In that piece, I ranked pitchers who threw at least 80 innings in Triple-A and Double-A in 2012, based on my predictive FIP (pFIP) statistic.

My original thought was to do the same for the lower levels of the minor leagues, but then I ran across an interesting interview that changed my mind.

About a month ago, former Hardball Times writer Mike Fast, currently an analyst for the Houston Astros, gave an interview to the “What the Heck, Bobby?” blog. You can read the full interview here. But for the purposes of this article, I’d like to focus on a specific quote that hit home with me and is the most relevant to this piece:

One thing that I would be careful with, with those advanced pitching metrics … just looking at batted ball outcomes and whether it fell in for a hit or not is sort of a poor way to get an idea over the course of a season of a pitcher’s talent. That’s pretty true at the major league level. It’s less true in the minor leagues.

The ability to prevent hits is a pretty good indicator of talent in the minor leagues. The farther you get away from the major leagues the more important that is. One way to think of it is that, at the major league level, pitchers who get there have sort of been screened for their ability to prevent good contact, so if you’ve got a guy who gets hit hard, he’s never going to make the majors. The guys who come to the majors are all at least pretty good at that. And there may be some differences between them but they’re all pretty good at preventing good contact because their stuff moves or they throw hard or they mix their pitches well, know how to locate, whatever. They’ve got some skills in that. And that’s less true particularly in the lower minors.

If you have a pitcher in the low minors that just gave up a ton of hits, I don’t know that I’d be so quick to ascribe that to ‘Oh, he’s got bad luck or he had bad fielders behind him.’ That might be true, but it’s also quite likely that the batters are just saying this guy’s stuff is not that hard to deal with.

There’s a lot in this quote to digest. I think Fast makes a really interesting and convincing point that I had never heard before.

I typically work with major league statistics andtalent evaluation, so I typically consider hit prevention to have more to do with luck than defense or actual skill. However, Fast’s argument is that all major league pitchers have some hit prevention skills, which means in the minors (especially in the lower levels) having the ability to suppress hits is important.

What Fast said made me think that pFIP leader boards for the levels below Double-A may not be relevant or informative at all for readers.

In the next paragraph of the interview, Fast suggests that using a combination of strikeout rate and WHIP (walks + hits/IP) would be a good place to start when using statistics to evaluate lower level pitchers.

Using K-rate and WHIP in tandem made me think of an ERA estimator that is based solely on strikeouts and walks known as kwERA . Carson Cistulli’s minor league kwERA leader board in the THT Annual was the inspiration for this series; kwERA has been shown to be a powerful predictor at the major league level. However, kwERA, considering only strikeouts and walks, ignores a pitcher’s hit prevention skills.

Based on Fast’s suggestion, I decided a version of kwERA that included the number of hits a pitcher gave up could be interesting for lower level minor league leader boards.

Below is the typical kwERA equation and the modified version used in this exercise that includes hits allowed:

kwERA = 5.40 – (12*(K-BB)/BF))

kwhERA (with hits) = 5.40 – (12*(K-BB-H)/BF))

For this piece, I listed the top five pitchers in terms of kwhERA at each lower level (minimum 80 innings pitched for High-A/Single-A and minimum 50 innings pitched for Short Season-A/Rookie), in 2012. I also listed each pitcher’s pFIP and where it ranked in the league for a comparison in the differences between the two metrics.

Note: kwhERA was made up specifically for this exercise and has not been shown to have any predictive ability on a player’s ability in the majors or chance of reaching the big league level. The same can be said for pFIP. I’d also like to mention that many very smart baseball people do not use statistics at all at or below the Double-A level.

High-A


Pitcher 2013 ORG Age ERA kwhERA pFIP (rank)
Adam Morgan Phillies 22 3.29 2.69 3.06 (1st)
Wilmer Font Rangers 22 4.11 2.89 3.36 (3rd)
Tyler Wilson Orioles 22 3.49 2.99 3.51 (9th)
Jerry Sullivan Padres 24 4.2 3.04 3.50 (8th)
Burch Smith Padres 22 3.78 3.07 3.43 (5th)

All five of these pitchers also ranked in the top 10 in pFIP; which was a theme across the four leader boards in this piece, as only one pitcher failed to reach the top five in kwhERA and top 10 in pFIP.

Phillies left-hander Adam Morgan ranked first in both kwhERA and pFIP. He was also recently listed as the Phillies’ third-best prospect by Baseball Prospectus. In 2012, Morgan reached Double-A, where he performed well, and he should begin the 2013 season there.

Rangers right-hander Wilmer Font was dominant in High-A ball in 2012. which led to a promotion to Double-A and eventually a major league debut. John Sickels of Minor League Ball wrote a glowing prospect review of Font’s ability late in the 2012 season.

Tyler Wilson, a righty in the Orioles system, is not known as much of a prospect. That idea may change during the coming years; as Wilson struck out 114 batters while walking just 19 in 111 innings last season.

The next two players on this list are members of the Padres organization and, like Wilson, have not been known as prospects.

Jerry Sullivan struggled as a starter in 2011, but he was very effective coming mainly out of the bullpen in 2012. Sullivan is a little old for never having reached the Double-A level, but he’ll be a non-roster invitee to spring training in 2013.

Last year was Burch Smith’s first full professional season and he was very impressive. The righty struck out 137 batters and walked just 27 in over 125 innings. Sickels suggested that Smith could end up as a mid-rotation guy someday.

Single-A


Pitcher 2013 ORG Age ERA kwhERA pFIP (rank)
Clayton Blackburn Giants 19 2.54 2.76 2.97 (1st)
A.J. Cole Nationals* 20 2.07 2.89 3.27 (7th)
Noah Syndergaard Mets* 19 2.60 2.89 3.02 (2nd)
Jose Mavare Rangers 22 3.57 2.92 3.21 (5th)
Mason Radeke Indians 22 3.29 3.02 3.47 (11th)

Again for this list, the pitcher who led in kwhERA also led in pFIP: FanGraphs recently ranked 19-year-old righty Clayton Blackburn as the number two prospect in the Giants’ system. Blackburn struck out 143 batters and walked only 18 while giving up just three home runs in over 130 innings on the hill.

Quite interestingly, the next two pitchers on this list were both traded this offseason.

A.J. Cole was originally drafted by Nationals and was one of the highest-ranked prospects in their system before he was included in the package Washington sent to Oakland in exchange for Gio Gonzalez. Cole put up impressive numbers for Oakland’s Single-A affiliate in 2012. He was recently traded back to Washington as part of a three-team deal that included Seattle, and looks to again be one of the top prospects in the Nationals system for 2013.

Noah Syndergaard was involved in the highest-profile trade this offseason, part of the prospect haul the Mets received from the Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey swap. Syndergaard was originally ranked as Toronto’s number two prospect for 2013, but is now slotted as New York’s number three prospect in a loaded system.

Jose Mavare is the second member of Texas’ organization to find his way into this article. Mavare spent this entire season in the bullpen and projects to pitch out of the ‘pen going forward. He has only two career professional starts.

Mason Radeke split time between starting and relief roles in the Indians system last season. He struck out more than a batter an inning at Single-A before his eventual promotion to Double-A. Radeke was recently ranked just outside the top 20 Indians prospects.

Short-Season A


Pitcher 2013 ORG Age ERA kwhERA pFIP (rank)
Luis Mateo Mets 22 2.45 2.49 2.81 (1st)
Rainy Lara Mets 21 2.91 2.58 3.15 (5th)
Javier Avendano Blue Jays 21 1.27 2.82 3.02 (2nd)
William Cuevas Red Sox 21 1.40 3.04 3.30 (8th)
Aaron West Astros 22 2.04 3.09 3.31 (9th)

Luis Mateo is probably not brought up enough in discussions of the Mets system, which is a testament to wealth of pitchers they boast. Mateo ranked first in both pFIP and kwhERA on this list and was ranked as the number one prospect on the rise in the Mets’ system going into 2013. Over 70 innings of work in 2013, he struck out 85 batters while walking nine and giving up only two home runs.

Rainy Lara is also a member of the Mets system. He is not thought of nearly as high as Mateo though; ranking as their 35th best prospect. Lara, like Mateo, struck out a ton of batters in 2012 and it’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to do so as he moves up their system.

Javier Avendano, mainly as a starter, had a shiny ERA (1.27) to go along with strong peripherals at Low-A last season and was named the MVP of the Vancouver Canadians. Toronto then promoted Avendano to Single-A, where he continued to put up strong numbers out of the bullpen in 30.1 innings of work (1.78 ERA, 3.60 kwhERA, 3.23 pFIP). I have yet to find Avendano show up on any list of Toronto’s top prospects, which makes me guess that his stuff may not project at the big league level.

William Cuevas split time between the bullpen and rotation for the Red Sox’ affiliate, Lowell. Cuevas kept walks and home runs low, while striking out almost a batter per inning last season.

The Houston Astros drafted Aaron West in the 17th round of the 2012 draft. The righty did not disappoint. West started 12 games (61.2 innings pitched) and struck out 59 batters while walking just six and giving up only three home runs. West was recently ranked as the Astros’ 22nd best prospect going into 2013.

Rookie


Pitcher 2013 ORG Age ERA kwhERA pFIP (rank)
Sam Selman Royals 21 2.09 2.13 2.44 (1st)
Spencer Patton Royals 24 6.32 2.72 3.02 (2nd)
Miguel Sulbaran Dodgers 18 2.51 2.81 3.07 (3rd)
Thomas Lee Cardinals 22 4.03 3.00 3.26 (5th)
Yorfrank Lopez Tigers 21 2.28 3.02 3.26 (6th)

Two members of the Royals organization led Rookie ball in both kwhERA and pFIP in 2012. The first, Sam Selman, was drafted in the second round of 2012 and was dominant in his first taste of professional baseball; striking out 89 batters in 60.1 innings. Baseball Prospectus ranked Selman as the number one prospect on the rise in the Royals’ system and FanGraphs ranked him as their eight best prospect for 2013.

Spencer Patton spent his second straight season in Rookie ball and will turn 25 next month without ever playing above that level. He struck out a ton of hitters last year (84 in 57 innings), but his .435 BABIP and 6.32 ERA are serious signs of concern.

The Dodgers’ lefty Miguel Sulbaran was extremely good in Rookie ball before his eventual promotion to Single-A last season. He’ll turn 19 before the start of the season and you could see his name fly up the charts on any prospect list for Los Angeles.

Thomas Lee was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. There is almost no information on him, other than that he went to Sonoma State University and that he struck out 57 batters in 51.1 innings last season.

Yorfrank Lopez spent his third straight season in Rookie ball in 2012. The right-hander split time between relief and starting appearances and put up some impressive strikeout numbers.

Other top prospects and Google Docs

Two names, Dylan Bundy and Jose Fernandez, were nowhere to be found on these leader boards.

Bundy, quite famously, is the top prospect in the Orioles’ system and Fernandez is currently the top prospect in the Marlins’ system, both among the top rated prospects in baseball.

Bundy did not throw enough innings at any particular level to qualify for these boards as he flew through the Orioles’ system and made his major league debut in 2012. I would still like to note that across a total of 103.2 minor league innings Bundy posted a 2.75 kwhERA and a 3.08 pFIP.

Fernandez missed qualifying for the Single-A leader board by just one inning because of his promotion to High-A. Fernandez pitched a total of 134 innings across those two levels. His kwhERA was 2.65 and his pFIP was 2.81.

I expect both of these pitchers to become household names in future years. Bundy may have already reached that status.

Below I linked Google Docs with a list for each level. I hope the readers found this at least half as interesting and informative as it was for me:

pFIP and kwhERA numbers for High-A
pFIP and kwhERA numbers for Single-A
pFIP and kwhERA numbers for Short Season A
pFIP and kwhERA numbers for Rookie

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

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Comments

  1. rubesandbabes said...

    Glenn,

    You seem like a nice person, but I am not at all convinced you have done anything in this series except try to build a rocket ship on top of the strikeout stat.

    Suggest go back and run your pFIP numbers minus the top 15% of the pitchers in the sample and then compare the results again. In other words, quit padding your R-Squared results with Clayton Kershaw.

    It will only take you 5 minutes, but it will be very revealing. I am on your side and hope the results will support your pFIP idea, but it is doubtful to me.

    If the results play out, I will eat my words and add the pFIP stat to my fantasy spreadsheet, but it’s not like I will be joining the legions who have already done so.

    When the study of pitcher independent stats makes home runs allowed not relevant, it’s time to ask questions.

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