Without finishing my last statistical analysis on comparing
Isolated Power or SlgA-BA to HR/9 innings as a preferred compliment to K:BB in evaluating the expected performance of pitchers,
I’ve started a new statistical analysis.
When is the optimal time to acquire a protectable pitcher?
The chart I’ve made so far, doesn’t really go that far, but it does take an interesting picture of a pitcher’s
minor league stats, his earliest trials as a major league starter, and his resulting career stats. I have codes lifted from
the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers indicating which pitches they throw. I record
how old they were when they were given a decent shot (8 starts), and I have a wide free form column full of my own abbreviations
indicating innings pitched at which ages, injuries, role changes, and miscellaneous notes. My aged stained copies of Baseball America provided whatever pitch descriptions the Neyer/James book does not.
To be semi-scientific about it, I included only pitchers
who had their first season of 8 starts in 1991. Charles Nagy and Joe Grahe had 8 starts in 1990, so they were not included.
I did include Cal Eldred, but he should only be looked at when I continue the list for 1992. 1991 was chosen because it was
the year my oldest perpetual league began and there has been time to fully assess how that class of pitchers has developed.
Eight starts was chosen as the cut-off because it seems any fewer is just filling in for someone else or a September call-up.
Eight starts is a significant, although brief, trial. There is one other entry which should be saved for years later: Paul
Abbott. I didn’t know what to do about a guy who had 6 or 7 Major League starts for about five years in a row before
disappearing into the minors, returning years later as a reliever, had a few more starts, then finally having his first 8
starts all in one season at the age of 32 – when he began to start full-time.
With only the 22 players assessed so far (24 including
Eldred and Abbott), I am excited to notice a few things already. (Caution: some of my findings are very very preliminary.
Act on them at your own risk.)
The Yankees were terrible around this time. I remember they had a dry spell with the Tigers, Blue Jays, Orioles,
and Red Sox shutting them out from division titles, but I didn’t remember they had become a terrible team. They actually
had losing records four years in a row from 1989 to 1992. Don Mattingly was the team leader / Derek Jeter of those times.
He was a consistent .300 hitter. Fortunately for Don, few fans measured players by OBA plus SlgA back then, because over those
four years, it would have been about .335 + .410: not even .750! Steve Sax was the expensive free agent purchase who had a
similar hitting style of high average, low walks, and little power. Alvaro Espinoza may have been one of the worse shortstops
of my lifetime to hold a full time job for three years (then a half-time job for another four years after that thanks to the
Indians). His OBA+SlgA was generally around .600 with consistently one of the worse shortstop ranges in the league. Perhaps,
third base was an even bigger hole. Mike Pagliarulo flopped there hitting .197 with only 19 walks. They tried catcher Jim
Leyritz, and utility middle infielder Pat Kelly. Meanwhile, Randy Velarde was buried on their bench since 1988 and remained
there until he finally signed with the Angels for 1996. Neither Lou Piniella, Billy Martin, Dallas Green, Bucky Dent, Stump
Merrill, nor Buck Showalter saw fit to give Velarde a full time position. Al Leiter was traded for Jessie Barfield to go with
Roberto Kelly and Mel Hall as the Yankees’ less than stellar outfield. Far more futile were the aging Steve Balboni
and the never really blossomed Kevin Maas as the DHs during that era. Don Slaught didn’t work out at catcher, so they
re-purchased free agent Rick Cerone who was now old and injured. Bob Geren filled in until the Yankees traded for Matt Nokes.
Then there was the pitching. Oi, the pitching! Was Steinbrenner trying to save a few bucks by signing in succession to be
their ace: Andy Hawkins, Tim Leary, and Scott Sanderson or was George suspended
or in jail during this time? I could name more names, but you probably won’t remember them, because they were so forgettable.
They did resign Tommy John who was now 46 in 1989! Dave Righetti in the autumn of his career was about their only respectable
pitching presence at the turn of the decade. Finally, in 1992 the Yankees purchased a good hitter: Danny Tartabull and traded
for a good pitcher: Melido Perez. However, even those players brought with them enough annoying baggage to make their stays
York more of a headache than they were worth.
We all know it wasn’t the Athletics famed trio of pitching prospects Van Poppell, Dessendorpher, and Slusarski
who became stars. The Orioles quietly had Mike Mussina, Arthur Rhodes, and Jose Mesa to give their first shots at starting
at the same time. Although, it would be awhile before Rhodes and Mesa
established themselves as the outstanding relievers they became, Mussina was an instant and long lasting success. Considering
the up and down and deferred excellence of the group, the only other pitcher of the 22 in the study who would have been worth
owning on a standard perpetual Scoresheet team was Juan Guzman who put in three good seasons. Those were followed by two lousy
seasons before he returned to form again. In his 30s, which came next, he was rarely better than mediocre and often on the
DL. Kenny Rogers was not a big success the year he first had 9 starts in the Majors. However, he was an fine reliever and
became a fine starter two years later.
Most Major League pitchers have a different repertoire than most others, but the most common arsenal is primarily
a four seam rising fastball with a large breaking curve and a standard change-up. It seems that because this is such a common
grouping, a pitcher has to be really outstanding in one of them to be any good at all. Having your fastball as your primary
pitch is best. Being average in all three will not be sufficient to stay in the Majors. Comparing Scott Lewis (Angels) to
Arthur Rhodes would be the best example. Lewis was average with all three pitches. He had an average slider, too. Rhodes had less control, but he had (has?) a nearly un-hittable fastball and eventually gained enough
control to be effective. It’s easier to gain control than speed. Virtually all of the starting pitchers from the class
of ’91 who made a nice career for themselves in the majors (Mussina, Rogers, Mesa,
Rhodes, Guzman, and even the more mediocre Mark Leiter, Willie Blair, and Scott Kamieniencki) had either a four seam or two
seam fastball as their primary pitch. Mussina has command over more fantastic pitches than anyone in the last I-don’t-know-how-many
decades, but his primary pitch is a two seam fastball. Brian Bohanon might be the exception to this rule. (A 5.19 ERA isn’t
so bad when you consider his best years were with Colorado.)
His best pitch was a change-up, but he still mixed it up with a generous number of four-seamers.
There is no discernable correlation with ERA, walks, or length of service in the minors to success in the majors.
For example, three of the five pitchers in the study with the most minor league innings (Abbott – if you include him,
Mesa, and Kamieniecki) had decent careers, while three of the four pitchers with the least time in the minors (Gerald Alexander,
Jeff Johnson, and Mark Gardner) did not help out significantly in the majors. The best pitcher of the group, however, did
spend the least number of innings in the minors: Mike Mussina. Of the stats I tracked, only strikeout rate had some discernable
correlation. Pitchers with less than seven and a half strikeouts per 9 innings in the minors appear quite less likely to cut
it. A pitcher’s chances seem to rise from there. In the study six out of eight pitchers with a 7.5 minor league K/9
or higher “made it”, while only four of the remaining 14 could say the same.
There is far more of a correlation with the ERA of a pitcher in his first year’s tryout as a starter than
there is with all his time in the minors. For example, Denis Boucher, Wade Taylor, and Jeff Johnson each had low minor league
ERAs around 3.00. When they got their shot in the majors, their ERAs doubled. Juan Guzman, Mark Leiter, and Kenny Rogers each
had ERAs over 4.00 in the minors, but reproduced that or better when they had their chance in the show.
Some pitchers have a little bad luck, then nobody wants them. If they have a little fortune, teams will stick
with them much longer than they should. Using those badly managed 1991 Yankees as an example, Jeff Johnson and Scott Kamieniecki
were two pitching prospects who came up at the same time. If anything, Johnson was the superior prospect. He had superior
minor league stats, he was younger, and he had a better scouting report. Kamieniecki didn’t even make Baseaball America’s top 10 Yankee prospects. In the majors, Kamieniecki gave up fewer runs. He walked more
batters, but more of Johnson’s balls in play fell for hits than Kamienecki’s. Using the formula (H-HR)/(Ing.*3+H-HR-SO)
Kamieniecki had a beautiful 26% rate his first year. Johnson’s was 31%. He was returned to Columbus
where he blew away AAA batters, recalled but was, perhaps, so shaken by his earlier stint in the Bronx,
he fared even worse. Neither the Yankees nor any other team gave Johnson another chance.
Some of these conclusions need further study. I’ll
do my best to follow-up with more pitcher profiles as time permits. There are many other ways to tackle these issues, and
I’m interested in hearing about them. Please, write email@example.com.
Other sources not mentioned above:
The Sports Encyclopedia
Baseball (Neft, Cohen, & Neft)
in Baseball (various issues, but mostly 1993 for this report)