With the 2014 minor league seasons completed, let’s take a look at the leaders in key statistical areas in the White Sox system. In this edition, we’re going to focus on starting pitchers (most or all games as starter). We’ll look at some classic core numbers (ERA, WHIP), but also some peripheral values (H, BB and K rates) that sometimes better reflect performance.
A separate article on hitting leaders was published last week here. Relief pitchers will be next week – we segregated pitchers because the rate numbers skewed results otherwise.
Note: Statistical performance is not the same as prospect ranking or perceived future impact. In fact in many cases, these can be very different things. We’ll touch on that with some notes on each leader board below.
These numbers are from 2014, minor leagues, state-side affiliates only. Lefties marked with an asterisk. For pitchers there is a minimum of 20 innings pitched to be considered…
EARNED RUN AVERAGE
|Frank Montas||Rk, A+, AA||81||1.44|
|Tyler Danish||A, A+||129.2||2.08|
|Brandon Brennan||Rk, A, A+||68||2.91|
|Carlos Rodon*||Rk, A+, AAA||24.2||2.92|
|Mike Recchia||A+, AA||147.2||3.05|
In case you were wondering why Francellis (Frank) Montas made such a big leap up prospect boards this year, the ERA and WHIP lists may give you a clue. Montas threw 81 innings (about 60% of a full minor league season) due to minor surgeries on both knees, but he was flat-out dominant when he did pitch and he’s emerged as one of the top pitching prospects in the system.
While these are all starting pitchers, only two on this list were full time starters for an entire season. One is Tyler Danish, another top arm in the system who had a fantastic 2014. You’ll see his name on nearly every list in this article, as he continues to prove doubters wrong. The other full innings guy was Mike Recchia. This Indy ball pickup from mid-2013 is not among the elite pitching names in the system, but he’s been successful through three levels in 1.5 seasons and is now on the prospect radar.
Chris Bassitt (now in Chicago) and Brandon Brennan were both short on innings recovering from injuries. Bassitt broke his hand (not baseball related) and missed much of the season, and Brennan was in his post-TJ surgery recovery program. While they are in very different situations, both pitchers did better than you might expect after missing significant time.
Carlos Rodon barely pitched enough to be eligible for consideration here, but he’s worth mentioning as the top prospect in the system. His stuff was obviously well above what hitters in the AZL or Carolina League could handle. Andre Wheeler is emerging as a legitimate pitching prospect after a very strong 2014 season all around. Wheeler initially was part of a tandem pair with Jordan Guerrero, but later in the season had his own slot in the Kannapolis rotation.
WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched)
|Frank Montas||Rk, A+, AA||81||0.91|
|Mike Recchia||A+, AA||147.2||1.14|
|Tyler Danish||A, A+||129.2||1.15|
|Tony Bucciferro||A+, AA||165.1||1.25|
|James Dykstra||A, A+||152.1||1.25|
|Brandon Brennan||Rk, A, A+||68||1.25|
It’s interesting (but not entirely surprising) to note that 7 of the best 10 WHIP values for starters are also among the top 10 in ERA: Montas, Valerio, Recchia, Danish, Wheeler, Bassitt, Brennan. Allowing fewer baserunners tends to help the old ERA.
So let’s look at who is on here but NOT on the ERA list. Spencer Adams had a very good rookie campaign in the AZL, and we’ll talk more about his absurd K and BB numbers below. But he’s definitely a strike-thrower, and his very low walk rate and inconsistent but high potential stuff meant he didn’t allow a ton of baserunners.
Tony Bucciferro and James Dykstra are both big time strike throwers as well, as they (with Adams) make up the top 3 in lowest walk rate (we’ll get to that). They both got hit a little bit, but they are in the bend-don’t-break model. Dykstra’s strong 2014 put him in our Top 25 list, and Bucciferro has gotten some attention as well.
|Frank Montas||Rk, A+, AA||81||5.8|
|Carlos Rodon*||Rk, A+, AAA||24.2||7.3|
|Mike Recchia||A+, AA||147.2||7.5|
|Brandon Brennan||Rk, A, A+||68||7.9|
|Tyler Danish||A, A+||129.2||8.0|
Important caveat: hit rates for pitchers in the minors are a dicey proposition, as pitchers are backed up often less than stellar defense (and fields are not always in great shape either). But you can sometimes get a feel for how much swing-and-miss stuff a pitcher has in their arsenal with this stat. It doesn’t tell you about command; more about potential.
A big chunk of this list also landed on the ERA top 10, again not surprisingly. Montas was at the top yet again, followed by other multi-list entries Rodon, Bassitt, Recchia, Wheeler, Brennan, Danish and Valerio. To further illustrate the defense and field character issues with this list, the two names on the ERA top 10 that were not among the best hit rates (Luis Martinez and Zach Thompson) played in rookie ball, the level where these issues are most prevalent.
There are two names that we haven’t seen on a top 10 until now. One is a name Sox fans are familiar with: Andre Rienzo. The Brazilian righty has a low-to-mid 90’s dancing fastball and a major league cutter, and there hasn’t been much doubting his potential. But lack of command and allowing batters to work very long counts has kept him from reaching his potential. Lucas Shearrow missed a lot of bats, but he was also a 23 year old (NDFA) in the AZL.
|James Dykstra||A, A+||152.1||0.9|
|Tony Bucciferro||A+, AA||152.1||1.2|
|Jeff McKenzie*||Rk, A||74.1||1.8|
|Terance Marin||A+, AA||83||2.0|
|Tyler Danish||A, A+||129.2||2.3|
|Chris Beck||AA, AAA||150||2.6|
Remember those three guys we mentioned who were on the lowest WHIP list but not the top 10 ERA list? And how they were pitchers with very good control? There’s your top three in lowest walk rate: Adams, Dysktra, Bucciferro. Danish and Valerio are here as well, adding more top 10 ticks to their resumes.
But this list also has some names not yet discussed. Lefty Jeff McKenzie was too much for the PIO and spent most of his season in Class A, throwing lots of strikes (but also getting hit a bit and not missing many bats). He’s the only lefty among this top 10, and lefties who throw strikes are always worth keeping an eye on. Terance Marin and Dane Stone show up for the first time here. Marin did pretty well after re-tooling in Indy ball mid-season, and Stone was an effective stalwart for Great Falls’ playoff team.
Two true prospects also appear on this list, with varying skills and seasons. Chris Beck came into the season among the top two or three pitching prospects in the system, and he did make the hitters work. But his K rate was much lower than expected, though he did improve in AAA late in the year. JB Wendelken is the poster boy for strong peripherals without the accompanying core results. Not only did he maintain a very strong 2.0 BB/9 rate, you’ll also see him on our next list…
|Carlos Rodon*||Rk, A+, AAA||24.2||13.9|
|Frank Montas||A+, AA||81||8.9|
|Mike Recchia||A+, AA||147.2||8.2|
Strikeout rate, or even better swing-and-miss rate, is often considered one of the better statistical indicators for minor league pitchers. It should be no surprise then that a number of the names on this list are also among the strongest pitching prospects in the system.
Carlos Rodon showed a devastating slider, along with an above average fastball and a surprisingly strong change-up in his brief work and the numbers bear that out. Spencer Adams struck out 12.7 batters per 9 innings against a miniscule 0.9 walks per 9, for the most impressive K:BB ratio in the system by a wide margin. He’s not the fifth ranked prospect for no reason, and even just out of high school was too much for most AZL hitters.
Wheeler, Bassitt, Montas and Recchia all add K rate to their top-performing billets. But a pair of young prospects from the DSL program haven’t been discussed much yet and fooled plenty of hitters: Victor Done and Luis Martinez. It appears the rebirth of the Sox’ LatAm operation (and dramatic increase in spending) is beginning to pay dividends, and these are two arms worth keeping an eye on.
GROUND BALL RATE
|Brandon Brennan||Rk, A, A+||68||5.00|
|Tony Bucciferro||A+, AA||165.1||4.25|
|Chris Freudenberg*||Rk, A||77||3.90|
|Tyler Danish||A, A+||129.2||3.84|
|James Dykstra||A, A+||152||3.51|
|Frank Montas||A, A+||81||3.00|
|Terance Marin||A+, AA||83||2.63|
This isn’t a stat you’ll hear most fans talk about, but it’s worth looking at for a few reasons. One, pitchers with “heavy” pitches that get a lot of ground balls tend to be better than their other stats may indicate, for the same reasons noted above when discussing hit rates. Two, some pitchers who don’t have prototypical swing-and-miss stuff that may still be effective are found with high GB:FB ratios. Third, the White Sox in particular really like pitchers who trend away from fly balls, because the major league team plays in a very homer-friendly park.
There are again some repeat names here – Danish, Bucciferro, Dykstra, Montas, Done and Valerio in particular. Shearrow was on the low hit rate list, and Marin on the low walk rate table. For Montas, Done and Danish, the fact that they generate lots of ground balls AND miss a lot of bats is a very encouraging combination.
Brandon Brennan made the low ERA list, despite being in his TJ recovery year. That plus his very high ground ball rate add further credence to the idea that he shouldn’t be off the prospect radar just yet. Chris Freudenberg was a name discussed some when he was drafted in 2013 and signed over slot, so it’s encouraging to see a standout number from the lefty.
*Next week, we’ll cover relief pitchers*
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Filed under: News and notes
Tags: Andre Rienzo, Andre Wheeler, Brandon Brennan, Carlos Rodon, Chris Bassitt, Chris Beck, Chris Freudenberg, Dane Stone, Francellis Montas, J.B. Wendelken, James Dykstra, Jeff McKenzie, Kelvis Valerio, Lucas Shearrow, Luis Martinez, Mike Recchia, Spencer Adams, Terance Marin, Tony Bucciferro, Tyler Danish, victor done, Zach Thompson