Last week I looked at where the hitters in the Cincinnati Reds system excelled and struggled. This week I will look at the starting pitchers and next week I will wrap things up by looking at the relievers. To distinguish between the starters and the relievers I simply looked at the pitchers start percentage (GS/G) and categorized everyone at 50% or higher as a starter and everyone under that as a reliever. Pitchers also needed 30.0 innings to show up. I also only included players who participated in the United States this season (the Reds have two Dominican Summer League teams). That left us with a sample of 26 starting pitchers to look at.
Strikeout and walk ratios
Pitchers strikeout and walk ratios are the most important things that they have control over. Typically speaking, pitchers can’t control whether a ball in play turns into a hit or an out, just whether or not the ball is put in play (strikeout rate) or whether they give someone a base for free (walk). While you want as many strikeouts as possible the key is to have the highest rate of strikeouts-to-walks as possible as it will help limit the number of base runners. The more strikeouts a pitcher has the more leeway he has in giving up walks. Ideally you want a pitcher to have a strikeout-to-walk ratio of at least 2.00, but the higher it is the better. Below I’ve charted the starting pitchers strikeout percentages and walk percentages and marked off an ideal area in gray.
When looking at the chart we see most of the top prospects inside the gray area, which of course is a good thing. We also have the top prospect coming into the season, Robert Stephenson, well on the outside of the area. While his strikeout rate is the second highest among the group his walk rate keeps him on the wrong side of things. As with all of these charts the age and level of a player needs to be considered and Stephenson was among the youngest pitchers in his league all season long.The higher and further to the left of the chart, the better. Daniel Wright stands out the most on this chart as he had good strikeout numbers and a very low walk rate. For data on all of the starters you can view it at the bottom of this article.
Home Run Rates
This is important for pitchers as home runs are the easiest way to score in the game and pitchers do have some say in how many home runs they allow (it’s usually a function of their contact rate and fly ball rates combined with the ballparks they pitch in). However I left this data out because of how different the minor league parks are when it comes to allowing home runs. Pensacola for example saw the entire pitching staff allow 60% more home runs at home than they did on the road. Bakersfield and the California League are extreme home run friendly places. Pitchers in those two parks being compared to pitchers in Louisville where things are rather neutral doesn’t really do us much good. For that reason I am simply leaving it out.
Ground Ball Rates
Ground balls are good for a pitcher. First, they never go for home runs. Secondly is that they go for doubles and triples less frequently as well and limiting power helps limit run scoring. Ground balls do however go for hits more than fly balls do. The trade off tends to work out because of the limiting of extra bases. The average ground ball rate for a Major Leaguer in 2014 was 45%. Below I charted the pitchers ground ball rates against their strikeout rates.
Like with the other things there are more than one way to succeed as a pitcher and there are very successful fly ball pitchers in the big leagues. Of the Top 10 pitchers in WAR at Fangraphs for the 2014 season only three of them had an above-average groundball rate. They were all big strikeout pitchers. On this chart the higher and further to the right, the better. Johnny Cueto for example would be almost directly above Robert Stephenson, but between his dot and the cluster of four red dots. So you can be very successful without being in an ideal spot on this chart because strikeouts are far more important than what kind of batted ball ratio you have. Still, the more ground balls, the better. Jacob Constante stands out on this chart as a huge groundball pitcher. With that said, he was in rookie ball and threw a very limited number of innings, barely making the innings limit to be included. Wyatt Strahan, Mark Armstrong and Sal Romano all were at 55% groundball rates or better to go with a 20% or better strikeout rate.
While we looked at strikeouts, walks and ground ball/fly ball rates today, the most important thing is found in the top chart with the walks and the strikeouts. Those rates will make or break a pitcher just like they do with a hitter. The ground ball rates are just icing on the cake.
Guys that miss bats in the lower levels don’t always carry that forward with them, which is why scouting reports on guys is just as important with the minor leaguers. Having an outstanding offspeed pitch and a mediocre fastball can dominate in the lower levels but may not work so well at the upper levels as hitters can handle the adjustment to offspeed stuff. Likewise, guys with low walk rates may not carry those forward as they move up and guys with higher walk rates may lower them as the mature. The development of pitchers is a strange beast that teams are still trying to get a good grasp on, though they have gotten much better at it over the the last 10-15 years when it comes to keeping guys healthy. Advances in surgery techniques have also helped bring guys back that didn’t always come back even 20 years ago.