Over the next two months we’ll be looking at Case Studies of players who spent time in the Mets Minor League System. For October, we’ll be focused on pitchers and then next month we’ll look at some hitters.
The purpose of these studies is to delve into the differences between pitching in each level of the minors and to find a correlation in player development. Since these case studies take place over a number of years we aren’t exclusively comparing apples to apples but we will do our best.
Case Studies Pitching:
The first thing this exercise made apparent to me was the reason that fans of this blog ridiculed me for putting such faith in deGrom being better than Montero. There were outings that made me believe in deGrom and I’d seen his stuff live but, on paper, Montero was clearly the better prospect. I guess this was at least one case where the gut proved a better guide than the brain.
Ignoring things like, losing out on players we traded foolishly. Dunn) and McHugh rank highly on that count. What can we glean from looking at the evolution of a player?
Lesson 1: Rookie League Stats are Meaningless
Often, you don’t have enough innings pitched to learn very much, but when you do you often see aberrant numbers that are caused by the league’s dispersant player pools. A good example is Oswalt. While he never becomes a star as he progresses through the minors or when he reaches the majors, he was pretty awful in the rookie leagues and you would wonder how a player with those numbers would reach the majors at all.
The rookie leagues (GCL and APP for high school players and NYP for college ones) are a level where the most important thing that a player does is simply to pitch and become familiar with the professional ballplayer life. On occasion, you see very high K/9 rates which are caused by young hitters who haven’t been coached into patience. You also see inflated ERA numbers as pitchers are still experimenting with the arsenal that their coaches will look to develop.
Lesson 2: Inconsistent Ballparks Make Some Levels Harder to Judge
If you look at Syndergaard when he reaches AAA and compare him to Gonzalez you have to note that they did not play in the same league or stadium within the minor leagues. Pitchers who came up while the Mets were trapped in Las Vegas and the PCL saw inflated numbers that may have made them look better or worse.
In this case, the numbers that shine through are the K/9 and BB/9 rates which hold up at upper levels as the pitchers are still facing the same quality of hitting but may be dealing with positive or negative stadium factors.
Lesson 3: Don’t Put Stock in the ERA
Is a pitcher’s ERA important? Indubitably but, you cannot form an opinion on ERA alone. Even superior statistics like WHIP can fail you. How do you look at a player like Kay, Szapucki or Fulmer and tell if they are going to succeed? You need to follow them game by game. Whole cloth stat blocks will not tell you the full story as a single bad outing can make a player’s season look grim when they might be pitching pretty well.
If you need to look at stats at the end of the year, try to stick to WHIP, K/9 and the number of innings pitched per game played. These will paint a slightly clearer picture.
Lesson 4: Expect Trends
With the exclusion of deGrom (Whose minor league stats don’t support his major league brilliance) or Fulmer (who seemed to struggle with the FSL), a pitcher’s K/9 tends to drop as they develop and their BB/9 will rise. This has more to do with the hitters they are facing than themselves. As batters become more patient, pitchers have less success getting players to chase pitches out of the zone and more working deep into counts.
Lesson 5: Prove Your Worth by AA
I think this exercise mostly showed me that the pitchers who really made it as pros showed their merits by the time they reached AA. With the inconsistencies between the INT and PCL and the way teams stash veteran backups in AAA it seems that AA is the level where a prospect really proves they have what it takes.