Sunday, June 22, 2008

AA Rotation

At the beginning of the season, we sent three starting pitchers to AA San Antonio whom Baseball America had ranked among our top 30 prospects: Steve Garrison #6, Will Inman #7, and Matt Buschmann #21. All three have lived up to expectations, and another pitcher has forced himself into the group.

Right now four members of the San Antonio rotation rank in the top six in ERA in the Texas League. Will Inman is 2nd (3.00 ERA) , Steve Garrison 3rd (3.09 ERA), Stephen Faris 5th (3.46 ERA), and Matt Buschmann 6th (3.48 ERA). They have combined to pitch 302 innings while yielding 270 hits and striking out 282 batters. What's even more impressive, though, is what they have done in the month of June. Here are the splits:

Inman 2.01 ERA, 22.1 ip, 15 h, 10 bb, 21 k
Garrision 1.44 ERA, 25 ip, 20 h, 4 bb, 28 k
Faris 1.08 ERA, 25 ip, 18 h, 1 bb, 27 k
Buschmann 2.05 ERA, 22 ip, 19 h, 11 bb, 16 k

That's a 1.62 ERA in 94.1 innings. It looks like we have a good race for pitcher of the month.

What is particularly interesting about this foursome is that despite sharing a similar level of success, they are very different pitchers.

Will Inman is a 21-year old right-hander who was drafted out of Tunstall High School in Virginia. Over the course of his career Will has been a strikeout pitcher, posting 454 k's in just 395 innings. Though he doesn't have overwhelming velocity, he combines command, deception, and an excellent curveball to rack up the strikeouts. Furthermore, Will's feel for pitching belies his age, as he has an advanced feel for disrupting the timing and comfort of hitters. Inman had ERA's of 1.91, 1.71, and 1.72 in rookie ball and the two A-ball levels, respectively.

Though Steve Garrison is like Inman in that he's also just 21 years old, was a high school draft (from the Hun School in New Jersey), and came over to the Padres from the Brewers in the Linebrink deal, Garrison is the only left-hander among the four. Unlike Inman, Garrison hasn't been a strikeout pitcher per se during his minor league career, though he strikes out plenty of hitters. Rather, Garrison has a four pitch mix (FB, CB, SL, and CH) that he throws for strikes (has allowed just 2.1 walks per in his career) to keep hitters on the defensive. Very consistent, Garrison has allowed more than three earned runs in a start just twice this season while allowing zero or one run six times.

Stephen Faris is a 23-year old whom the Padres drafted out of Clemson in the 12th round of the 2006 draft. Always a good strikethrower, Stephen made a big jump this year to the Missions. Last year he spent the bulk of the season in low class A Fort Wayne, but Grady Fuson felt he could join the rotation in AA this year. He certainly hasn't disappointed, as his walks and hits allowed have gone down while his strikeouts have jumped. His moving fastball and command have stymied the Texas League so far, especially in June.

The oldest of the group at 24 (and the biggest at 6'3") Matt Buschmann was drafted by the Padres in the 15th round of the 2006 draft out of Vanderbilt. Matt features a sinker/slider combination that helped him post a 2.89 ERA in 149 innings last year as a starter at High-A Lake Elsinore. Though all four of these guys have impressive strikeout-to-walk ratios, Buschmann's is the best at 3.79 for his career.

These guys may all do it a little differently and with different pitches, but they are all very good strikethrowers just like our three young guys in AAA: Josh Geer, Cesar Ramos, and Wade LeBlanc. Hopefully, all four of these guys can continue to challenge each other and eventually make their way here to Petco.

21 comments:

161 said...

Great blog. I have two questions for you.

1) How much involvement does the manager have in callups and roster manipulation? I expect the GM calls the shots, but the GM wouldn't want to bring people up that the manager refuses to use, or use properly.

2) How far out to you project players statistics? I would assume years?

sherman said...

Why is it that with baseball, as opposed to other sports, players need to spend so much time in the minors before they're ready to compete at the MLB level?

field39 said...

Being as the subject of the day is minor league pitching. What is the story on Latos?

Mike said...

Paul,
Thanks for the post on Decker, and especially for your status report on the AA rotation. Given the apparent organizational focus on command over stuff (obviously both would be preferable), is there concern among the player development staff and front office that the philosophy will yield guys who have success and miss bats in the low minors, but as they ascend the ladder, suffer from a much higher rate of attrition due to pedestrian heat and breaking stuff?
Obviously, ALL pitchers find it harder to succeed as they rise the ladder, but with the profile seemingly targeted by the club in the draft and through trades, is the problem exacerbated?
Also, the member of the AA rotation most ML-ready for a fill-in start would be, in your opinion?

Andrew Stebbins said...

The way you described Inman he sounds like a Tyler Clippard...not neccesarily with his arsenel but with his advanced feel and K/9 ratio. But I have to wonder, would the Padres have been better off taking a few draft picks after letting Linebrink walk?

David Coleman said...

One quick question on ERA with pitchers: do teams look much at things like ERA+, putting a minor leaguers performance in the context of the league he plays in?

Tom said...

Re: Andrew Stebbins

You're almost always better off taking prospects instead of draft picks, especially when the prospects are at or near AA ready. There's a lot of attrition between signing that pro contract and AA. Not only are the prospects more projectable, they're often going to have more trade value (for a while, anyway) than players you get with supplemental picks.

Clippard's not a bad comp for Inman. He was always young for his leagues, too. He's still young, come to that.

Tom said...

Sherman: This is just my two cents, but amateur football and basketball is way more advanced than amateur baseball. Big college football programs are a lot closer to the talent of pro football teams than big college baseball programs, and the gap between high school baseball and the pros is huge.

Baseball teams also don't have to be in a hurry, because they control draftees for a long time.

Paul DePodesta said...

field39,

Latos is currently on the DL with a strain in his side. He's only been able to pitch 25 innings so far (second stint on the DL with the same injury), but he's posted a 3.28 ERA.

Paul DePodesta said...

mike,

As you've said, we prefer both stuff and command, which is why we went way over slot to sign a guy like Latos. Unfortunately, those guys are really hard to find. In our system currently, we have the whole spectrum - guys with command but very little stuff to guys with great stuff and very little command. Usually, the command guys as a group have a lot more success. It's more rare to have a stuff guy gain command, but it doesn't happen some of the time.

The four guys in this post all reside on slightly different areas of the spectrum. Importantly, none of them has "stuff" issues that would prevent ML success. For instance, none of them throw 85 mph. Again, each one is a little different, but there is definitely some plus stuff in the group along with command, which is probably why all of them are enjoying so much success currently.

Christopher said...

Paul,
When Peavy made the jump from AA to the majors, I remember hearing Towers comment that a good pitcher in AA doesn't always need to play in AAA. I could especially see this applicable if the pitcher is already 24.{Peavy and Perez in 2001 I assume were an exception}

First, do you ascribe to that theory?

Second, do you think any of these four starters could come up, or is there simply enough depth at AAA that such a jump at this time is unnecessary?

By the way, if you ever want a summer intern to push paper for you--I would be willing!

Mike said...

Paul,
Thanks for the response. Monitoring player development is one of my favorite aspects of being a fan, particularly with a club like the Padres, whose long term success is tied to their ability to develop from within.
I was hoping you could give us a little more insight as to the organization's hopes for Will Inman. His track record of amateur and professional success has me pretty jazzed at his prospects. One of the more favorable comparisons I have heard is Peavy as a minor leaguer, given that they are both undersized righties with plus command and mound presence. The caveat in the comp was that Inman's stuff is a little shorter than Peavy's at the same stage. Without putting unfair expectations on the fiery Virginian, does this comparison hold water for you?
Also, don't know if you missed this question or chose not to answer, but which member of the AA rotation would be called up (in your opinion, purely theoretical) for a one game starting assignment?
Thanks Paul.

colin said...

Andrew - As a Brewers fan, I'll say that most of us were unhappy with the Linebrink trade, due to the players we gave up. The picks ease the pain somewhat, but I'd still rather have Inman & Garrison. Both were pretty highly rated among those fans who follow the minors closely. I wasn't a huge fan of Joe Thatcher, but I really liked the others.

Paul DePodesta said...

mike,

Inman had another great start last night- 7 ip, 3 h, 2 bb, 11 k's.

Your two questions:

1) I wouldn't want to say which one we would call upon to make a big league start right now. I will say this, given the command and the success, I think any of them could do it. From a pure experience standpoint, Inman, despite his age, has the most time and innings in AA.

2) I hesitate to compare anyone to Peavy, or any Cy Young winner for that matter. That said, you are correct that their respective careers have mirrored each other pretty closely through AA. They both were in Low-A at 19 years old. Inman allowed 8.1 baserunners per nine and struck out 10.9. Peavy allowed 10.8 baserunners and struck out 11.0. They both pitched in High A (and some AA) as 20-year olds. Inman allowed 9.0 baserunners per nine and struck out 11.2, while Peavy allowed 9.3 baserunners and struck out 12.3. As 21 year olds in AA, Inman has allowed 10.6 baserunners and struck out 9.7. Peavy allowed 10.7 baserunners and struck out 10.0 before getting called up to San Diego.

Obviously, the stats I cited don't tell the whole story, but I can see why you drew the comparison.

Paul DePodesta said...

christopher,

I do think that these guy have the ability, though as you mention, we have three young guys in AAA who are capable as well. I obviously don't know exactly how it will all turn out, but it's nice having seven starters in AA and AAA who are 25 or younger and have had success.

In a previous post I mentioned how important the month of June was for young players who were pushed to a higher level. Well, we pushed Wade LeBlanc to AAA despite only having 57 innings in AA last year. The result: over the first two months Wade had a 7.88 ERA with a WHIP of 1.71 and 7.09 k's per nine. In June? He has a 3.41 ERA with a WHIP of 1.00 and 12.1 k's per nine.

Alex said...

The comment on stuff versus command is always an interesting debate and teams constantly search for the best combination of both (but as you said, it's quite rare to find both).

Personally though, I've always felt command pitchers were undervalued because with a control pitcher, he can be helped by a great defense because he will allow more balls in play (while preventing walks). In that same breath, he could potentially be hurt more by a bad defense, whereas a stuff pitcher with a high K rate isn't as dependent on defense.

However, if you are a team that has built an efficient defense, it is likely that any pitcher will helped by the defense, but the pitcher with less K's will be helped even more because he is more dependent on defense. This allows a team to buy one pitcher at a lesser value but get equal production because of the impact of a good defense.

My personal research has led me to believe that it takes at least 2.5 extra K's per 9 to make up for 1 extra BB/9. That's the ratio I feel pitchers should stick by when considering to "give up stuff for command". Although, I've read many publications that value K's over walks at a rate lower than 2.5 for every walk prevented

Paul DePodesta said...

andrewstebbins,

I think your question about the trade is a fair one. After all, it's always nice to have draft picks, and we've aggressively acquired a bunch over the last few years.

In this particular case, let's look at just two choices: 1) keep Linebrink and allow him to leave via free agency or 2) trade Linebrink to MIL for Thatcher, Inman, and Garrison.

If we had done #1 we would have secured picks #35 and #54 in compensation for our loss (though we couldn't have predicted the exact picks until after Linebrink had signed elsewhere). Furthermore, we would have had Linebrink for the final two months of last season. As it turned out, Linebrink posted a 3.55 ERA in 25 innings of work over that time. That would not have been a bad outcome. In fact, that's the course we've taken with the majority of our free agents over the past few seasons. Good performance, two good picks.

Nevertheless, we still felt as though making the deal was the right thing to do last July. Why? The first reason is a matter of development time/risk. Every level of baseball eliminates a portion of risk when projecting the player's future. In other words, we'll be right more often on guys in AAA than on guys in college. So, the opportunity to have three players (one in AAA, one in AA, and one in High A) was certainly attractive for that reason. It would have been more attractive had some of the players been big leaguers, but it was still more predictable than draft picks. Not only are these players less risky, but they have the chance to help our Major League team quicker than 2008 draft picks. As it stands now, Thatcher has already pitched for us, and Inman and Garrison are both in AA, so the trio is currently far ahead of the two draft picks. That certainly doesn't mean that they'll be better than the picks (in fact, Milwaukee has done an excellent job in the draft), but they should get here sooner, which is worth something.

Another reason to consider is cost. The two picks would have cost us roughly $1.75 million in signing bonuses. Instead, Thatcher, Inman, and Garrison were already signed - total up front cost of $0. Also, keeping Linebrink on the team for the remainder of the year would have cost roughly another $750k, whereas Thatcher, who took his place, was about $125k. So, option #1 would have cost us somewhere around $2.4 million more. We certainly were not in money-saving mode last July - in fact, we added payroll - but all things being equal, I'd rather have the money to spend on other players than not have it.

Forunately for us, the players we received have performed well, because that, after all, is the bottom line. Thatcher posted a 1.29 ERA in 21 innings of work down the stretch in 2007 before struggling early in this season (fortunately, he currently has a 1.15 ERA in AAA and seems to be back on track), so he actually did as well as Linebrink during that critical time. Further, we have him for the next five years. As noted in the post, Inman and Garrison are 2nd and 3rd in the Texas League in ERA. My guess is that we'd be ecstatic if the picks turned out that well.

So, in the end, by foregoing option #1 (which was to keep Linebrink) we:

1) received similar performance down the stretch from a player who will be with us for a number of years
2) acquired two 21-year old starters who are already performing well in AA (less risk) instead of the #35 and #54 picks in the 2008 draft
3) saved $2.4 million

Because Linebrink is such a valuable pitcher, the reality is that we were in a no-lose situation. Either way should have helped us somehow, but we are pleased with how the deal has turned out for the club.

field39 said...

Meanwhile back at the ranch. The Padres' season is quickly disappearing down the porcelain fixture. How do you balance the desire to win every night, with the need to look at the big picture, and start preparing for 2009?

Gavin said...

Paul,

While we're on the subject of trades, has the club had serious discussion concerning when the right time might be to "cut the cord" and start putting players on the trade block? Although the NL West has proven to be a division ripe for the picking, I think its fairly clear that the current Padres team (even if it were to somehow win the division) is not built to succeed in the playoffs. As a true fan I am more concerned with the team's future well-being than the current season. The team seems to have fallen behind the D'Backs and Dodgers, not only in the standings, but also in terms of overall impact talent - this might be an opportunity to invest in subsequent seasons. I know you can't comment on specific players, but at least 3 come to mind who would have high value on the market. I realize that you also have to weigh the value of possible compensation picks if they leave after the season as free agents.

Are these decisions based on some magic number (i.e. 10 games back on July 15) or more based on feel?

thepadfather said...

Paul,
When does the organization feel like they should move players up to a higher minor league program? For instance last year Matt Antonelli played in class a for 82 games. Is roughly half a season maybe more maybe less enough to evaluate a players game and give them an opportunity to produce at a higher level? Should we be looking forward to players such as Hunter, Sogard, Blanks, Huffman, and the 4 pitchers listed in this blog to get an opportunity to move up through our minor leagues before the end of the season?

Steven said...

Any news on M.Bush? How's his recovery process going?

Love the blog.