This Week In The Minors: About That Pitching

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This Week In The Minors: About That Pitching

Chicago Cubs

stanford mark appelAs draft day draws closer, one story to watch will be the Boras vs Everyone subplot. Agent Scott Boras has made it pretty clear that he absolutely hates the new draft rules and penalties, and some think that he wielded the Mark Appel contract situation last season as a club in an effort to beat some sense into Major League Baseball. If that is the case … and that is a huge and largely unsubstantiated if … it stands to reason that he might do the same thing again this season. Could he convince Appel to demand a bonus so high it guarantees that the young Stanford pitcher will be signing his first professional contract in Japan? I wouldn’t rule it out.

But I wouldn’t count on it, either. At the end of the day the agents work for the players. Period. No agent can take actions a player does not like and expect to remain employed by that player. If Mark Appel wants to play Major League Baseball as soon as possible, then he will make sure Boras reaches a deal with the team that drafts him. While agents are powerful, the ultimate authority resides in the draftee. That is also something that needs to be kept in mind as the pre-draft rumor season goes into overdrive.

And speaking of pitching talent, we have some numbers to dig into a little later in this weekend’s article.

Iowa Cubs : 7-13

Iowa does have some road wins now, but this is not a team that looks like it is about to go on a tear. The pitching is in the middle of the pack (in terms of Runs Allowed Per Game), but the offense is third from the bottom. This is still a collection of major league bench spare parts masquerading as a baseball team. That situation should start to change in the second half of the season, but in the meantime this is essentially the Logan Watkins and Ryan Sweeney show.

Tennessee Smokies : 13-9

The Smokies did not have a great week, but they held on to first place. This is the team you want to watch if you want to see what the Cubs future could look like. Tennessee is one of the younger teams in the league, but both the hitting and the pitching are in the top three in terms of Runs per Game. The Smokies lead the league in Steals and Walks, are second in Doubles, and are third in Home Runs. And to top it off, the wave of talent that should arrive from Daytona in the second half of the season should upgrade the total talent level for this team. When the Chicago Cubs get you down, the Tennessee Smokies might just be your cure.

Daytona Cubs : 10-11

The wins are not piling up for this team yet, but things are starting to look generally upwards. Daytona is also one of the youngest teams in the league, and the combination of Jorge Soler and Javier Baez is tough to top in terms of raw upside. Despite the walk-adverse style of Baez, the Cubs are second in the league in that department; thanks in no small part to Baez, they are also second in strikeouts. Overall, though, this offense is putting up the third most runs per game in the league. Unfortunately, the pitching is allowing the second most.

Kane County Cougars : 7-11

The Kane County offense is one of the youngest in the league (are you noticing a trend yet?), but the pitching averages on the older side. So far, at least, that pitching has been the worst in the league. The talent is better than the results, I think, so I would not be surprised to see Kane County go on a run any time now. The offense has been holding it’s own (middle of the pack in the league), but I think it is not quite living up to the talent either. Look for this team to improve as the weather warms up, dries out, and becomes a little more consistent (or as consistent as it ever is in the Midwest).

WHIP Score

As promised, this week I’ll extend the idea of measuring a minor league player’s performance by comparing a key stat (or stats) to the average for that stat in the league in which he plays to pitching. Last week we looked at hitters, and in many ways hitters are easier to study. When looking for summary stats that measure total offensive contribution there are a number of worthy candidates. We can debate which stat is the best to go with, but it is sort of like debating which kind of pie to eat first. Some pies better suit some taste buds, but at the end of the day it is all amazingly delicious.

Pitching also has a number of candidates, but for the purposes of prospect evaluation all of them are badly flawed. Some argue the only thing that matters is K/9; if a guy isn’t striking out minor league hitters, he isn’t worth talking about. I don’t buy into that. My favorite stat is GO/AO, but that’s not really ideal for this study either. ERA is too dependent on defense (and minor league defenses tend to be pretty bad across the leagues) so that one is out. Runs allowed per game is handy, but I generally only use it for teams. SO/BB? Not a bad candidate, but it ignores too much.

Ultimately, for the purposes of this article, I settled on WHIP. WHIP (or Walks plus Hits divided by Innings Pitched) has fallen out of favor among many in favor of many more advanced stats, but I think it does the job well enough, particularly when considering prospects.

First we’ll take a look at the average WHIP for each league and then at the adjusted WHIP for the team leader (min 10 IP) for each of the farm teams. This week I’ll be computing the normalized stat by dividing league average WHIP by the player’s WHIP. An average pitcher should have a WHIP Score around 1.000. Higher numbers are better.

Triple A – Pacific Coast League : 1.495
Double A – Southern League : 1.288
High A – Florida State League : 1.319
Low A – Midwest League : 1.366

Iowa : Yoanner Negin. WHIP: 1.135. WHIP Score : 1.317

At age 29 Negrin is definitely on the old side for this league, but he has pitched well for the Cubs in six appearances out of the pen. His effectiveness is greatly enhanced by his robust 10.9 K/9 rate. Look for him to get a chance in Chicago sometime this summer.

Tennessee : Dae-Eun Rhee. WHIP: 0.581. WHIP Score: 2.217

Rhee has only made two starts this season and his innings total comes in just over the 10 inning minimum I set for this study. In those ten innigsn he has given up just three hits and three walks. Neither of those rates are excessively high, but nor are they all that surprising out of a 24 year old who has seen Double A before. Still, success is success. When it comes to pitching prospects and the Cubs, we’ll take what we can get.

Daytona : Yao-Lin Wang. WHIP: 1.054. WHIP Score: 1.251

Wang has appeared in four games and made one start for Daytona, and so far he has average about a strikeout an inning while being stingy of both hits and walks. This guy is a legitimate pitching prospect who is too often overlooked in the Cubs system, but it remains to be seen if his future in the rotation or the bullpen. He has struck out hitters at every stop of his minor league journey; so long as he can keep that up I think the Cubs will groom him as a potential mid-rotation starter.

Kane County : Felix Pena. WHIP 0.981. WHIP Score: 1.392

And now the benefit of normalizing prospect stats against league averages becomes very apparent. Despite a WHIP that is quite a bit lower than that of Negrin’s, the two have WHIP scores that are quite close. Pena has appeared in three games (two starts) for the Cougars, and his success comes mainly from limiting the damage. He is not a strikeout artist; he just doesn’t put people on base. His K/9 rate is actually one of the lowest on the team. Can he keep up this level of success as the season (and his career) continues? Maybe. For now, though, he has the best WHIP on the team.

With the possible exception of Rhee, odds are good that all of these pitchers have a future in the bullpen. I’d love to see Wang stick in the rotation, but I suspect he’ll be heading for the back of a bullpen sometime in the next year or two. It is early yet and the leaders will likely change as the season progresses, but for now it appears the most successful pitchers in the farm system are working out of the bullpen. That is good news for the future of the team (plenty of cheap bullpen depth is a nice thing for any team to have stashed in the minors), but it also bad news for the future of team (high end, cheap starting pitching is nice too have too).

I’ll repeat these studies as well as other similar examinations as the season progresses. It will be interesting both to see how the numbers change and to see how opinions on some players change in response to those numbers.

Author: Luke Blaize

Luke Blaize is the Minor League Editor at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @ltblaize.