The Mets have just finished playing eight road games against the Braves and Phillies and went 5-3 in the process. Ordinarily this would be cause for celebration but in a season mismanaged nearly all the way around, it hardly merits a “woo-hoo!” With fans joining management in punting the 2013 season, instead we look ahead to the future.
Our first glimpse of Zack Wheeler has definitely gotten the troops excited for more. We dream of Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard following close on his heels. We lament the injury to Travis d’Arnaud but are excited about the recent hitting exploits of Ike Davis, Wilmer Flores and Cesar Puello. But flying nearly invisible is the performance of Cory Mazzoni.
Part of Sandy Alderson’s first draft in 2011, Mazzoni was a second-round pick who has never received much in the terms of prospect buzz. A quick look at his Double-A stats and we see a pedestrian 3-2 record with a 3.99 ERA. Yet those numbers don’t paint the full picture of how well Mazzoni has performed this year, despite being slowed by an elbow injury earlier this season, which caused him to miss a month of action.
If we look at his FIP, we see Mazzoni has a 2.98 mark, a full run better than his ERA. This comes about thanks to a 9.79 K/9 and a 4.15 K/BB ratio. To complete the FIP picture, Mazzoni has allowed 4 HR in 49.2 IP, with all four homers surrendered in home games.
Minor league strikeout rates do not correlate directly to major league rates. However, nearly all successful pitchers in the majors enjoyed good strikeout rates while down on the farm, even if they did not develop into strikeout machines in the big leagues. Even noted soft tosser Jamie Moyer had 42 Ks in 41 IP at Double-A the year he made his major league debut.
Mazzoni had very good strikeout numbers in limited action after being drafted in 2011. But his K-rate in 2012 was just 6.79 in Hi-A and it dropped to 6.25 after a promotion to Double-A. With that as our backdrop, it makes Mazzoni’s 9.79 mark this year stand out even more. In his last four games, he has 34 Ks and 6 BB in 24.2 IP.
Obviously, it takes more than lots of strikeouts to make a good pitcher. As evidenced by his walk rate, Mazzoni has excellent control, too. The one red flag has been his elevated BABIP. This year he has a .348 mark, one that would rank next-to-last in the Eastern League if he had enough innings to qualify.
We cannot treat minor league BABIPs the same way we do in the majors, as there’s such a big difference in talent level. But of the 10 pitchers for Binghamton to throw at least 30 IP this season, Mazzoni has the second-highest BABIP. For a comparison, his teammate Montero posted a .277 mark before his promotion to Triple-A.
This could certainly be a sample-size issue yet we saw .300+ BABIPs from Mazzoni last year, too.
The good news is that Mazzoni should get the rest of the year to work on things at the Double-A level. There’s no pressure on him to fly through the system to get to the majors in September. If anyone has that burden, it would be Montero. Instead, we will get two more months to evaluate Mazzoni to see if he can keep up his strikeout rate and to see if any regression comes with his hits allowed.
Mazzoni’s ultimate value to the Mets may come as a trade chit. That is a key function of the minor league system – to develop enough talent to trade pieces to bolster the major league team elsewhere. It would be wonderful if one day the Mets’ staff included Mazzoni, Montero and Wheeler. But if Mazzoni ends up being a key piece to bring back an impact bat, that would be great, too.
Either way, Mazzoni has flown under the radar of most Mets fans up until this point. Yet if he keeps up the strong performances from his last four outings, it will be hard for people to ignore him for much longer, especially now with Wheeler in the majors. With fellow 2011 draftee Michael Fulmer missing all of the season so far due to injury, Mazzoni could join Jack Leathersich to be the first Alderson-era Mets draft picks to make an impact for the major league club.