"Pitching has got to be the foundation in the organization. Everybody wants a good pitcher. The more pitchers we have, the stronger our organization will be."
- Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals General Manager

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

a tale of two sox

Jack Egbert: My Name ain't Plain, but How's my Game?

year level age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
2005 A 22 147 6.55 2.93 .31 3.12
2006 A+/AA 23 161 8.04 3.02 .11 2.68
2007 AA 24 152 9.36 2.54 .18 2.89

What’s not to love? His K rate is over 9 (and rising). His BB rate is under 3 (and falling). His HR rate is miniscule, and his ERA reflects all of the above. Even better than that, he's a workhorse.

What do I notice in this line? His K rate being over 9 means that he strikes out more than a batter per inning. This is important because, when it comes to detecting whether a pitcher with borderline stuff can succeed at higher levels, more than a K per inning can mean that it is safe to promote him. His K/BB ratio is better than 3:1, which is a good approximation for how efficient he's been. Again, his homerun rate is miniscule. And he's passed the AA litmus test with flying colors.

Reading Egbert’s profile in last year's Baseball America prospect handbook, I see a scouting report that I love. His fastball sits in the high 80s with good movement. His changeup is plus. He throws his curve in all counts, and for strikes. Plus he played his college ball in the northeast, which should have limited his innings during those three years.

He looks like the perfect back of the rotation starter.

Gavin Floyd: White Bread; Force Fed

year level age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
2005 AAA/MLB 22 163 6.29 4.53 .88 6.79
2006 AAA/MLB 23 169 6.34 3.73 1.22 5.22
2007 AAA/MLB 24 145 7.45 2.86 1.43 4.16

So, this is what improvement looks like? He has made good strides in reducing his walk rate, which absolutely killed him his first two years bouncing between AAA and MLB. His strikeout rate has also improved this season, likely as a result of finally having a consolidation year in AAA.

The scouting report on Floyd is that he's got a straight, hard fastball, and a tight, if inconsistent curve. His changeup lags behind both pitches in both movement and control.

I love everything about Jack Egbert; from his control, his effectiveness, and his groundball tendencies, to his stamina, his performance, and his scouting report. At the same time, and at the same age, everything about Gavin Floyd screams overrated to me. His control is mediocre (but improving), his stuff is not dominating, and he gives up a TON of homeruns as a result of his flyball tendencies. From the fact that he used to be a top prospect to the fact that he still has a workable fastball/curve combination, there is very little that fits the mold of a pitcher that i want on my team.

Here is where the two stories intersect in my mind: I think Gavin Floyd will have a better career that Egbert. I don't think it will even be close.

Intellectually, there is little reason for me to have this belief. I can find no hole in Egbert's game, and at the same time, I can find no solid ground in Floyd's. But I feel as though Jack Egbert's career has peaked. He has passed the injury nexus that is described in this baseball prospectus column, but there is another theory that I have about pitchers passing through this age.

It is my completely unresearched, completely empirical opinion that a pitcher's raw stuff peaks from ages 18-25. That is not to say that those are a pitcher's peak years, but it is, in my opinion, the time at which your fastball is the hardest, and your breaking ball is your sharpest. That says nothing about a pitcher's control, command, pitchability, or health, but it does say that if your stuff is mediocre at age 24, it's not likely to take a great leap forward.

Which brings me back to Jack Egbert. If this theory holds true and his stuff is at its peak while he's in AA, which I think is the case, that doesn't speak all too well for his future.

I love the pitcher that Jack Egbert is right now. I just don't think he will be able to maintain his stuff long enough to succeed at the major league level next year, or any subsequent year.

As for Gavin Floyd, so long as he maintains his fastball-curve combination, he'll have a job. He has had no success in the major leagues to this point in his career (147 innings, 6.97 era, 65 ERA+), but i feel that has been more because of misuse, rather than because of inadequacy. He’s been jerked around almost constantly over the last 4 years, first by the Phillies organization, and this year by the White Sox organization. His role has gone from starter, to long man, back to starter, then to middle reliever, and now back again. And that's just this year. He’s been moved from AAA to the majors, and back, too many times to count since his first promotion to the big leagues.

The Canary in the Coal Mine

One last point that needs to be made about Floyd is that his HR rate is exceptionally high. It is only a slight worry in my mind because of his tendency to give them up in bunches, but i'm not overly concerned about it because it's not a problem that is easily, or even possibly fixed. He throws a hard, straight mid 90s fastball, and there are always going to be hitters that can catch up to it, and send it 450 ft. He also throws a curve, but no matter how well he throws it, he's going to hang it every once in a while, which will also leads to 450 ft. bombs. He will also throw his next few years in a ballpark that plays very unfavorably for pitchers with homerun issues. as a result of this, he's going to get lit up every once in a while.

Earlier this year, I made known my preference to keep Floyd in the AAA rotation for the rest of this season, followed by a move to the bullpen at the start of spring training next year. I believed this was best for him because he had been jerked around so much in the preceding years, that I felt he needed a consolidation year in AAA to figure out what he wanted to do on the mound, and how he wanted to do it. But, instead of leaving him at a single level, allowing him to get a full year of success under his belt, Floyd was again made to ride the shuttle between AAA and the majors, and most of the success he's had at AAA has been overshadowed by the truckload of homeruns he's allowed in the majors.

I still think that a move to the bullpen is a necessity for Floyd because of his homerun tendencies, and I’d like to see it happen sooner, rather than later.

It is WAY too early to call Floyd a bust, considering the stuff that he continues to display. at the same time, it would be irresponsible to pencil Floyd into next year's white sox rotation considering the wholly inconsistent nature of his performance at the major league level.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

dan meyer on the comeback trail

he's a little too old to be a top prospect. he's a little too green to be expected to dominate. he's got too long an injury history to project to be a workhorse. but beyond that, this former top prospect is a pretty good bet to be a solid starter.

for those who don't know the dan meyer backstory, this article does a pretty good job of going through it:
Dan Meyer rolled into the operating room thinking he was having a simple exploratory surgery.

When he woke up, the doctor had some startling news for him.

"Your career might be over," Meyer was told...

"It was tough, but you've got to keep strong," Meyer said Thursday before the A's 8-5 win in 10 innings against the Chicago White Sox. "Doubt creeps in there, but you've really got to push it out of your mind. You can't let it overcome you. It really does make a man out of you...."

his career wasn't over, and on friday night, dan meyer made his first major league appearance since 2005. his fastball ranged from 88 to 94, his changup sat around 80, and he wasn't in the game long enough to show much of anything else.

what i was expecting from someone in meyer's shoes was more walks than strikeouts, more hits than innings pitched, and at least one homerun. that being the case, and those expectations ringing true, watching the game on MLB.TV, i can't fault or criticize him too much for his effort.

dan meyer is not a traditional power lefty. while his mid 90s fastball has good life, his breaking ball is very soft, and his changeup is indistinguishable from it.

i'm fairly lax when it comes to pushing a pitching philosophy, but from what i've seen, the safest way to go about developing a pitcher is to find ones in high school that have decent velocity on their fastballs and quality changeups that can keep hitters off balance. ideally, from that point, an organization would evaluate both pitches, and have a coach work with the pitcher to develop a breaking ball whose velocity would be near his better pitch.

for instance, if a certain left handed pitcher's fastball has low to mid 90s velocity, plus lateral movement, while his changeup flashes competance, but is inconsistant overall, i would suggest a breaking ball that is nearer in velocity to his fastball. either a power slider or a splitfinger fastball would be ideal.

instead, meyer throws a slurvy breaking ball in the low 80s that fools noone and sets up nothing.

while this negative has a fairly easy solution in theory (teach meyer a splitter), in practice, teaching him a new pitch after he's had so much arm trouble could be an uphill battle from a purely psychological perspective.

as i've been writing this article, i've had a webpage open in another tab that i wanted to look at, but resisted because i wanted to give my own opinion, first, so i could see where i came out against someone who's closer to the situation than i am. this article, written by nico at athleticsnation.com, has a fairly similar scouting report, but comes to a slightly different conclusion:
Meyer is late-cutting action (on his fastball) away from being an Andy Pettitte protegĂ© in delivery and arsenal—and potential, if he can stay healthy.

i'm not going to say that my suggestion is better, but what do you think:

which solution is best for dan meyer
split-fingered fastball
his breaking ball is fine

Monday, August 6, 2007

thoughts on justin masterson

i know that justin masterson is kind of out of the scope of what this blog is supposed to focus on, but with the two pieces that i'm planning to write (a graduated rookie list, which would rank all players who will have lost their rookie eligibility this season, and a top young pitchers list, which would rank the top 200 or so pitchers under the age of 25), i think i'm preparing to enter the nexus between prospects and young veterans.

i went to the harrisburg senators, portland sea dogs game on sunday, august 5 for the express purpose of watching justin masterson with my own eyes. i had read a lot of information that i liked about masterson, and i wanted to see if he was as good as advertised.

he was, but at the same time, he wasn't.

after he was promoted to AA, and while he proceeded to tear it up, i had heard a few things about him that i wanted to see for myself. i had heard that he throws with a low 3/4 arm delivery (true), which gives his fastball sick lateral and downward movement (true). i'd heard that he could also run his fastball up in the zone up to 98 MPH (i did not see this). his slider was described as a plus pitch (it wasn't), but it showed great promise when he threw it at josh whitesell's back foot, resulting in a swing and miss strikeout.

masterson's warm up before the game seemed cursory, at best, but it's possible that he threw and stretched before he came out to left field. he tossed with the catcher for about 5 minutes, then threw about 15-20 pitches off the mound in the left field bullpen before going into the dugout. i'm not going to criticize this, or suggest tweaking his warm up regimen, but he did start the game off wild, and threw 22 of his 81 pitches in the first inning.

masterson's fastball is as good as advertised, even though it was not as fast as advertised. it kept hitters off balance all game, and it was not driven once. it looked as if harrisburg hitters were afraid to even swing at it because they knew that all they could do was pound it into the ground.

his changeup was fairly mediocre, and he still could improve by refining it, but i don't think that'll be a necessity until he gets 4 or 5 starts in at the major league level. i don't think it will be exposed until that time.

of the sliders, there was only 1 that impressed me. in his final inning, against josh whitesell, the best hitter, by far, on harrisburg's roster, masterson got the count 1-2 with 2 FBs and a change. he threw a purpose pitch fastball inside of the plate, that was called a ball. masterson then buried whitesell with a backfoot slider that he had no chance to hit.

i don't know why he was taken out after 81 pitches, but he was hit in the right leg with a batted ball in the 3rd inning. the trainer came out to see if he was okay, but masterson waived him off, and completed the inning, and another 3.

there has also been talk of moving him A)to the bullpen or B)to AAA, so either of those are possibilities. i did not see him on the field at the end of the game when portland came out to celebrate their extra inning victory, so along with his leg swelling up, those are two possibilities for him being gone at that time.

the following is video that i shot of him with my cameraphone, out in the bullpen when he was warming up before the game. the quality is fairly mediocre, but it's good enough to get the point across.

pitch data summary:

total (strikes/pitches): (56/81) 23 batters faced
fastballs: 55
sliders: 8
changeups: 17
curve: 1

vs. LHB: (29/45) 13 batters faced
fastballs: 32
sliders: 3
changeups: 10

vs. RHB: (27/36) 10 batters faced
fastballs: 23
sliders: 5
changeups: 7
curve: 1