Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
Before reviewing the best prospect performances of 2012 in the Angels' system, I thought it might be interesting to look at a few guys who posted outrageous rate stats, even if their cumulative contributions did not add up to enough WAR to make the best performance list.
Let's start with the pitching:
Seventeen year old Eduar Lopez led the Dominican Summer League in K percentage, striking out 37% of the batters that he faced over 11 starts. The DSL is huge - we're talking 35 teams worth of qualified pitchers - so Lopez really accomplished something here. Moreover, no other pitcher in the top ten for K% is under 18 years of age.
In addition to the K's, Lopez induced pop-ups on 15% of the balls put in play against him, which is the third best rate in the Angels' organization. While there's volatility to the stat, pop-ups can indicate two things: first, Lopez pitches forcefully up in the zone; and second, the pop-up skill - if it remains a skill - should help him to suppress hits down the road.
The rest of Lopez' numbers were more human, especially his homerun rate (for the DSL, yikes), so he coughed up enough runs to miss the 2 WAR cutoff for this year's top performance list. He's also a six-foot-nothing rail of a kid, so he doesn't have the projectable frame scouts dream big on. Still, all of those k's are an outstanding marker, pointing to one or two big-time pitches, so we're going to keep an eye on him.
Another 17 year-old in the DSL, Eduardo Paredes, also showed a knack for missing bats, posting a 31% K-rate. At 6'1", he's a little bigger than Lopez, and he gets a few more groundballs. In a system strapped for high upside arms, these teens' first professional seasons offers the Angels a glimmer of hope.
Reid Scoggins, last year's fifteenth round draft pick out of Howard JC in Texas, actually out-k'd Lopez and Paredes by striking out 43% of batters he faced, albeit over just 20 innings. It's a bit of a head scratcher as to why the twenty-one-year old lingered on the draft board so long, because despite undergoing TJ surgery in 2011, Scoggins hit triple digits on the gun in 2012 and had some helium entering draft day. That kind of arm strength doesn't usually get overlooked. Weird. His mediocre amateur ERA and 20%+ walk rate in a first look at pro hitters are red flags, but his ceiling is higher than most any other guy the Halos drafted last June.
Strikeouts are fun. What follows is a distinctly non-fun discussion, so if you instantly tune out when you see or hear the term "FIP," read no further.
K-rates are the most commonly used marker for evaluating minor league arms, usually for good reason. Many stat sites (fangraphs.com, firstinning.com, minorleaguecentral.com) also post Fielding Independent Pitching, or "FIP," for minor leaguers. I've been dismissive of the stat in the past, especially for the minor leaguers, but after this excellent and curious David Cameron piece, I've thought a lot about the descriptive power of FIP, and am a little more open now to thinking about the ways in which it disaggregates the different skills of pitching.
First, a quick explanation of FIP: the quintessential stat-head algorithm assigns weights to K's, BB's and HR's, plunks them into a ratio, and then scales the resulting number to league ERA. By boiling down a pitchers' contributions to just "the things that they can directly control," proponents see FIP as a better measure of most pitchers' true talent than a single season's ERA, and with considerable statistical justification. Many sites, including Fangraphs, use FIP instead of runs allowed to calculate WAR. All manner of analysts, fantasy baseball fiends, and precocious teenagers use it to identify under- and over- valued arms at the major league level. ***
However, if you rate minor league pitchers by FIP, then you're going to get weird results. For example, according to FIP-based WAR, Matt Shoemaker was the Angels' fourth most productive pitcher (and twelfth most productive player) on the farm in 2012, responsible for 2.7 wins above replacement. This, despite getting slapped around the PCL to the tune of a 5.65 ERA over 176+ innings. In total, FIP credits Shoemaker with nearly two full wins more than an actual runs-allowed calculation does.
On the one hand, that's a neat nugget of information, because it reminds us that Shoemaker remained basically the same guy in 2012 that he was in that magical 2011, 6 WAR season in Arkansas, a guy who pitches around the strike zone while not coughing up too many homeruns.
On the other hand, it's very hard not to see the 76 point jump in 2012 BABIP and 67 point jump in isolated power as pretty damning statements regarding the quality of Shoemaker's pitches (not to mention the run-suppressing qualities of the Little Rock park). These data points coincide neatly with the scouting line on Shoemaker, which has always questioned whether he has the stuff to get advanced hitters out consistently.
Similarly, Ryan Crowely put up a 2 WAR season using a FIP based calculation, despite having negative value according to runs allowed. That's thanks to a .399(!!) BABIP in the California League over 62+ innings, which comes out to a .342/.397/.507 slash line for the opposition. Basically, he turned A-ball hitters into Mike Trout, minus a few dingers and walks, while all the while posting above-average K/IP and K/BB ratios and a reasonable homerun rate.
I have a difficult time writing that off as bad luck.
Interestingly, both Shoemaker and Crowley bring average fastball velocity and average to above-average control to the table. They also both have a potential out pitch: Shoemaker can get anyone to swing over his splitter when he locates it properly, and Crowley's curve is tough on righties and lefties alike. That helps them post respectable K-rates. However, in 2012 they simply could not limit the damage when they put their fastballs over the plate, and a pitcher has to do that in order to get ahead in counts.
Other guys with good FIP's who coughed up way too many actual runs? Orangel Arenas, Jairo Diaz, Manuarys Correa, Bryant George, Eric Hurley, Ryan Brasier (he allowed a 27% linedrive rate!), and Aaron Newcomb. For comparison's sake, here are the guys who outperformed their FIP: Ariel Pena, Johnny Hellweg, Nick Maronde, Greg Smith, David Pauley, Barry Enright, David Carpenter, and AJ Schugel.
Which group would you want in your system?
So the lesson here isn't a new one for HH: FIP blows chunks when it comes to giving a straightforward evaluation of minor league talent. However, it does expose patterns that are worth some further exploration.
****There are of course outliers - some very important outliers - at the MLB level who are either very good or very bad at suppressing batting average on balls in play, usually by inducing weak contact in the air or by getting hitters to "roll over" and hit weak GB's to their pull side. Often, but not always, that kind of pitcher is also better than average at stranding base runners over very large sample sizes. Jered Weaver is exactly that kind of pitcher. Joe Saunders is another one of those guys. They're gamers. Grinders. Morally superior beings to the rest of the pitchers out there. So attentive Angels' fans have good reason to scoff at FIP, even at the MLB level.