At Fangraphs on Wednesday Carson Cistulli looked back through past Baseball America Handbooks at the best tools in each organization. He went on to compile the numbers for the players, though not in the best way in my personal opinion, to test out the accuracy of the listings. I thought it was a good idea to look back on just the Reds farm system through their rankings of the best tools to see exactly how it all panned out. I was only able to go back to the rankings after the 2004 season (through the current Baseball America site and archived pages on Archive.org – it seems when BA updated their site that some of their links didn’t transfer over with them) and I only went up to the rankings after the 2010 season (in order to give players the time to reach the Majors and begin to mature), so the sample size is clearly small and of course with prospects some guys were never able to make it to the Majors. Still, I thought it would be a fun exercise to look back at and talk about. Last Friday I looked at the offensive and defensive tools, so if you missed that one be sure to check it out.
Players listed: Homer Bailey, Josh Roenicke, Brad Boxberger and Aroldis Chapman.
All of these guys have turned themselves into Major Leaguers. While a lot of the fastball rankings are about velocity, there is more to it than that. With all of these guys being Major Leaguers in order to see if they turned their top fastball into a success I am going to use the fangraphs leaderboards where we can look at both the Pitch FX values and the Baseball Info Solutions values for each guy. Homer Bailey has positive value from his fastball for his career, with the 2013 season being his best year with an 18.7 value (6th best in baseball). That makes for an easy win for Baseball America. Josh Roenicke has tossed 220.1 career MLB innings with a majority of them coming in the last two seasons. His velocity averaged 95 MPH in his first season and has dropped to 91.5 MPH last season, so it has certainly lost plenty since he was given the top fastball in the system. That shows up in the pitch rankings where his fastball has been below-average for his career with just one season where it was positive. I would mark this one as a negative on the Baseball America ledger. Brad Boxberger only has 49.2 innings in the Majors, coming over the 2012-2013 seasons. In a clearly limited sample size, his fastball has been an overall negative. For now at least, this is a negative on the Baseball America side. Aroldis Chapman has thrown the fastest pitch ever recorded. As Reds fans I know this may shock you, but Aroldis Chapman has had a positive value fastball each year of his career, with a best of 20.3 in the 2012 season (which is downright incredible given that Homer Bailey had an 18.7 as a starter and it was the 6th best in baseball last year – and this is a counting stat, so the more you throw the more value you can get). This, much like Homer Bailey, is an easy win for Baseball America.
Players listed: Homer Bailey, Kyle Lotzkar and Mike Leake.
Two of these guys have turned themselves into Major League starting pitcher and Kyle Lotzkar has yet to make it. Homer Bailey struggled with his curveball early in his career and wound up scrapping it for times in favor of a slider and then brought it back in a bit tighter break. For his career his curveball has been below-average and in the few seasons it wasn’t below-average it was about as average as you can be. This one goes as a negative for Baseball America. Mike Leake is an interesting case. From 2010-2012 his curveball was below-average each year, but in 2013 it was a very valuable pitch and was so good that it brought his career totals above-average. While it could simply be a blip on the radar in terms of positive value, with his age and how he was thrust right into the big leagues, I am willing to give Baseball America a win here. For now.
Players listed: Richie Gardner, Zach Ward, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Smith, Mark Serrano and Aroldis Chapman.
A lot of guys made this list, but only three guys have turned their slider into a Major League appearance. Richie Gardner fell victim to inuries and topped out in AAA, last pitching in 2008. Zach Ward topped out in AA, last pitching in the minor leagues back in 2009. Mark Serrano will be 28-years-old this season and is coming off of a strong 2013 campaign but has yet to make his MLB debut. Jordan Smith saw 62 innings between 2010 and 2011 with the Reds. While the sample size is limited to just 62 total innings, his career slider value is below-average. I would mark this as a loss against Baseball America. Johnny Cueto has established himself as one of the better starting pitchers in the game when he can take the mound. He is an interesting case as his Baseball Info Solutions data has his slider as below-average with the exception of 2011. The Pitch F/X values though have his slider as an above-average pitch, with that same 2011 season being the best. I favor the Pitch F/X values over the BIS values, so I am marking this down as a win for Baseball America. Last but most certainly not least is Aroldis Chapman. Each year his slider has ranked as an above-average pitch and among the best in the game. Easy win for Baseball America.
Best Change Up
Players listed: Steve Kelly, Travis Wood, Ramon Ramirez and Ismael Guillon.
Travis Wood is the only player here that established himself as a Major Leaguer, though Ramon Ramirez did toss 39.1 innings with a 2.97 ERA between 2008 and 2009 with the Reds. Travis Wood made the best change up list four times. At the big league level though his change up has been a below-average pitch twice and average twice with an overall negative value for his career. I would make this down as a negative for Baseball America. Ramon Ramirez, in a very small sample size, turned in positive values with his change up at the big league level. Without much to dispute the data, this goes down as a win. Steve Kelly topped out in Triple-A. Ismael Guillon has not pitched beyond Low-A, but he still is being talked about as having one of the best change ups in all of baseball.
Players listed: Richie Gardner, Bobby Basham, Johnny Cueto, Robert Manuel, Matt Maloney and Kyle Lotzkar.
Johnny Cueto is the only player in this group that turned himself into a regular Major Leaguer. Matt Maloney has the second most innings on the list with 91 split over 4 seasons. Maloney has a career K/BB ratio of 3.28 and his walk rate was a career worst in 2010 with 2.2 walks per 9 innings, so in a limited sample size, this was an easy win for the guys at Baseball America. Robert Manuel only has 17 innings in the Major Leagues, so his sample size simply isn’t big enough to look at. Gardner, Basham and Lotzkar have not made the Majors. Johnny Cueto has a career K/BB rate of 2.52 and his career walk rate is 2.8. His walk rate in 2012 was a career best 2.0, which is outstanding, but in the other three years from 2010-2013 it was 2.7, which is solid but not great. This is a tough call as I don’t see it as a win or a loss.
Having the best fastball in the system seemed to be good for the four guys who were listed as all have become Major Leaguers. The rest of the categories though were very hit and miss. Unlike the offensive tools, the pitching ones didn’t seem to find as much success as a group overall outside of the fastball tool. Of course the fastball tool is the most important one since pitchers use it at least 60% of the time (well, 90% of guys do at least), so it is easily the most important pitch that you need to be successful. Having the best control didn’t help out some of these guys, though injuries did come into play for several players who took that crown home. Pitchers are much more volatile to predict than hitters are and this exercise backs that premise up pretty well.