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Collette Calls: Key Metrics for Minor League Pitchers

Jason Collette

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at theprocessreport.net. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

By nature, I am a stats junkie so when MinorLeagueCentral.com put together its new leaderboards, I was rather giddy with excitement. For years, I have been running those kind of reports manually on my spreadsheet template that my Excel guru buddy put together for me but the new leaderboards just made my work a lot easier.

If I have one complaint, it is that the stats are broken apart by league and it is not easy to look at things by level but a bit of copy/pasting remedies that so that I can take the stats to the comforts of Excel as well as my other favorite statistical tool, InspireData, to get the kind of reports out that I want. This week, we will take a look at the pitchers in Triple-A that are 28 years old or younger and threw at least 50 innings last season. Those filters give us 230 different pitchers from this past season.

Stats are just one part of the equation as we have all been fooled with good minor league numbers that lead to false expectations for fantasy investments, but rarely do we see players get to the majors on bad stats. When I find good stats on certain guys, that's when I start asking the questions from others and doing the homework, and when time permits, the actual game research to watch these guys to see what is creating the stats they are producing.

Strike-throwers: Throwing strike one is still one of the most effective pitches any prospect can throw. The better control artists can throw at least 60% of their pitches within the strike zone and that is measured as zone%. Out of the 230 pitchers in the poll, just 42 pitchers (18%) were able to throw strikes at least 60% of the time. That group includes a few names that were on fantasy rosters by the end of the season such as Blake Beaven, Jordan Lyles, and Brett Cecil. Yet, throwing strikes is just half the game because that list also included Sean O'Sullivan, Andy Sonnanstine, Josh Banks, and Matt Torra. Interestingly enough, it also includes some intriguing late reserve picks in AL/NL-only picks such as Rick VandenHurk, Andy Wilk, and Lance Pendleton.

Swings and misses: If you are going to throw in or near the zone, the most desired outcome is no contact because the only bad result that can come from it would be a wild pitch on a strike three call that would get a runner on base. From the same pool of 230 pitchers, there were 66 pitchers (29%) that had at least 20% of their plate appearances result in opponents striking out and that group was not surprisingly led by Matt Moore who saw 39% of his plate appearances end in strikeouts. That group also included Charlie Furbush (29%), Anthony Varvaro (28%), Dane De LaRosa (28%), Michael Bowden (28%), Alex Cobb (27%), Neil Ramirez (27%), and Josh "The Judge" Judy (26%). It is important to note that the mean K% for this group of 230 pitchers was 19%.

Now, who are those talented pitchers that can combine both skills of living within the strike zone and generate a lot of swings and misses? When we force pitchers to do both, we get just 19 pitchers (7%) that were able to throw at least 60% strikes and get end at least 20% of opponents' plate appearances as strikeouts. That group includes Moore, Judy, Jesse Chavez (who was recently dealt to a wide open Toronto bullpen), Vance Worley, Wade LeBlanc, Furbush, and De La Rosa. De La Rosa, like Chavez in Toronto, has a good opportunity to stick in the ever-changing bullpen situation in Tampa Bay. Kyle Farnsworth is likely back as the closer with Joel Peralta as his setup man, but everything else is an open audition.

Holy Trinity: Let's take the stakes up a bit higher and look at how many pitchers had at least a 50% groundball rate, had at least 25% of their opponents' plate appearances result in strikeouts, and their BB% was under ten percent. With those high requirements, we get just two pitchers out of 230: Alex Cobb of the Rays and Cory Gearrin of the Braves. Cobb's accomplishments are rather well known since he did very well for the Rays until going down with a season-ending rib impingement and Gearrin threw a handful of innings for the Braves who were blessed with a lot of pitching talent this season.

Isolated Power Outages: We know that ISO scores of .200 or higher are nice things for hitters, but rather awful for pitchers and those kind of scores can happen in the PCL. Brett Cecil was awful to start 2011 before the Jays sent him down and he had a rough stretch pitching in Las Vegas and ended up with the fifth worst ISO for a pitcher in Triple-A last season with .239, yet he was still able to come up after his recall and find some success. Pitching in the PCL did not face Luis Mendoza in the Royals' system and his ISO was just .071 on the season thanks to a large spike in his groundball rate. Mendoza came up late and picked up two wins in September for deep AL leagues as well. Aaron Poreda, when he was not putting batters on via frequent walks, was also tough to get extra base hits against as his .075 score was better than Matt Moore's .082. Also better than Moore was Lance Lynn who was at .081 and earned the callup to St. Louis and was a vital part of their second half success. The mean ISO score for the 230 pitchers in the data pool was .145.

SIERA: If you're not familiar with this metric, it is defined as, "Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average. Developed by Baseball Prospectus SIERA accounts for how run prevention improves as ground ball rate increases and declines as more whiffs are accrued, while grounders are of more materiality for those who allow a surplus of runners." Setting the SIERA filter to show us how many pitchers had a SIERA below 3.00 in our player pool gives us just 12 results:

Dane De La Rosa
Michael Bowden
Matt Moore
Charlie Furbush
Drew Carpenter
Scott Maine
Kevin Whelan
Michael Schwimer
Jairo Asencio
Tom Milone
Alex Cobb
Cory Gearrin

Whelan is incredibly too wild to consider for anything, but the other names are intriguing anywhere from active to reserve draft picks depending on the depth of your league.

I highly encourage you to look at the leaderboards at MinorLeagueCentral, but if you would prefer a singular view of all of those stats, here is my own worksheet that I used for this via GoogleDocs.