Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Farm Report, Part III (Lakewood BlueClaws) 

When I was doing some research on how the minor league teams seasons unfolded I was interested to see how well the Phillies affiliates did in terms of pitching: three of the Phillies six teams led their league in ERA. J.P. Schwartz and Top Prospect Alert have ranked the Phillies Top Ten prospects and tabbed seven pitchers vs. three position players as being the Phillies top ten prospects. Baseball America is in agreement. (With the number but not necessarily the players.) We’ll look today at Single-A Lakewood, which won the South Atlantic League (SAL) on the strength of a tough pitching staff that had the league’s best ERA, best WHIP, allowed the fewest home runs and struck the most batters out. This is where the future of the Phillies rotation is being founded.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

...and for the batters ...

Gross Productive Average (GPA): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.

The 2006 Blue Claws won the SAL title, going 84-55 and winning the Championship three games to one, all the while hurling 19 shutouts in 139 games, i.e. roughly one in every seven games. Baseball America rates three of the Phillies top ten prospects as Blue Claw pitchers. Heading the list were Carlos Carrasco (#1), Josh Outman (#6), and Matt Maloney (#9). Baseball America rated Carrasco, Maloney and Outman as being the number five, nineteen and twenty prospects in the entire SAL. Top Prospect Alert agrees, ranking Carrasco and Maloney 1-2, followed by Outman at #9.

Here is how Maloney, Carrasco and Outman did in 2006:

Matthew Maloney: W-L: 16-9; ERA: 2.03; WHIP: 1.14 … Good stats. Here is what is really impressive:

FIP: 3.01
HR/9: 0.27
BB/9: 3.90
K/9: 9.60
K/BB: 2.47

The Phillies third-round pick in the 2005 draft, Maloney got to skip the GCL Phillies last season and jump to Batavia, where he also pitched well: 2-1; 3.89 ERA; 1.43 WHIP …

HR/9: 0.49
BB/9: 3.65
K/9: 8.76
K/BB: 2.40

Clearly Maloney has great stuff. He was named the 2006 SAL Pitcher of the Year and won the Blue Claws the SAL title with a brilliant 5-0 complete game victory over Augusta. In his two playoff starts Maloney was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA with 23 strikeouts and two walks allowed.

Now consider Carlos Carrasco: W-L: 12-6; ERA: 2.26; WHIP: 1.05. Take a closer look at Carrasco’s stats …

FIP: 3.18
HR/9: 0.34
BB/9: 3.67
K/9: 8.98
K/BB: 2.45

You can already see the improvement in Carrasco: in 2005 he began by running through the Gulf Coast League (GCL), hurling five innings before going to Batavia and pitching just fifteen and a third innings. Despite having mediocre numbers at Batavia (0-3, 13.50 ERA), Carrasco went to Lakewood. There, he turned in a rough performance, going 1-7 with a 7.04 ERA. Carrasco’s stats from his 2005 campaign at Lakewood make his ’06 campaign even more impressive:

HR/9: 1.58
BB/9: 4.02
K/9: 6.61

Carrasco had a 1.64 K/BB ratio in 2005, compared to the 2.45 he had in 2006. He had great stuff and clearly put it together in 2006. Looking at the 1-10 mark Carrasco posted in ’05 with the Muckdogs and Blue Claws, I would have assumed that his career was a bust. In the minors things can change quickly … I expect to see Carlos Carrasco playing with the Phillies along with Matt Maloney in the future.

Finally, Josh Outman: 14-6; ERA: 2.95; WHIP: 1.25 … and a closer look:

FIP: 3.25
HR/9: 0.29
BB/9: 4.35
K/9: 9.33
K/BB: 2.15

Outman was the Phillies tenth pick in the ’05 draft. Like Maloney he got to skip the GCL and go straight to Batavia in 2005: 2-1; 2.76 ERA; 1.26 WHIP. He actually posted, in many respects, better stats than Maloney that season:

HR/9: 0.31
BB/9: 4.30
K/9: 9.51
K/BB: 2.21

If you are wondering, Maloney, Carrasco and Outman finished two, three and five in the race for the South Atlantic League’s ERA title. Maloney led the SAL in strikeouts, while Outman and Carrasco were second and third. This was a dominating trio of pitchers. Each one of them pitched strong in 2006. Look at their stats and compare them to the South Atlantic League averages:

ERA: 3.88
HR/9: 0.66
BB/9: 3.46
K/9: 7.56

A few things popped out at me: first, Maloney, Carrasco and Outman each allowed more walks than the league average, and in the case of Outman, it was much higher, so there are some control issues that need to be worked out. Consider also that Maloney, Carrasco and Outman all exceeded, by a wide margin, the league average for strikeouts. Maloney in particular impressed me, wiffing nearly ten batters per nine innings. These guys have great stuff but they need to be refined slightly. Reminds of me the scene in Bull Durham, when the coaches evaluate Nuke LaLoosh’s first outing for the Bulls by noting that he set two Carolina League records, one for striking out eighteen batters and one for walking eighteen. As soon as Maloney, Carrasco and Outman get a good handle on their control, they’ll pitch very well.

With the quick development of Cole Hamels, Scott Mathieson’s uncertain future and the rest of the up-and-coming pitchers in the Phillies system, might the Phillies much maligned pitching staff have a bright future? We’ll see. Certainly the strength of the Blue Claws (and the Muckdogs) in 2006 augers well for the continued development of the Phillies pitching.

As with the GCL Phillies and the Muckdogs, the same cannot be said about the Blue Claws position players. Lakewood ranked eighth in the SAL in runs scored and On-Base Percentage, tenth in slugging percentage, fourteenth in home runs, and seventh in stolen bases. I had complained about the emphasis on small ball with the GCL Phillies and Muckdogs, and I worry the same here. Despite having an average-to-mediocre offense, the Blue Claws still won the SAL thanks to their exceptional pitching.

Any discussion of the Phillies position players in Lakewood has to start with Gregory Golson, an outfielder and the Phillies first-round pick in 2004. This was Golson’s second year at Lakewood. Golson hit just a .199 GPA in 2006, a terrible number largely the product of a .258 OBP. He has some power to his swing (seven home runs), and he’s got speed (23 steals in 30 attempts, which isn’t bad given how little he got on base in 2006), but nobody who strikes out 107 times in 387 At-Bats is going to make the majors. Golson’s ’06 campaign was actually a regression from ’05, when his GPA was a much more respectable .242. Again, Golson displayed a lot of speed that season – 25 steals in 34 tries – but he K’d 106 times in 375 At-Bats. These struggles are remarkable for a player who did well in his debut in the GCL, striking out just five times in 183 At-Bats.

Despite his struggles, the Phillies saw enough potential in Golson to elevate him to the Florida State League and watch him play well there. (More on Golson tomorrow in Part IV.)

Another player to note is C.J. Henry, the shortstop prospect the Phillies took from the Yankees as part of the Bobby Abreu deal. Henry was labeled a “disappointment” by observers of his progress through the Yankees system as he only hit a .237 GPA with the Yankees Single-A affiliate in Charleston before moving over to the Phillies and hitting .243. Big (six foot three, 205 lbs), Henry isn’t a speedster like Jimmy Rollins (fifteen steals in nineteen attempts in 2006, which is good but not great), more like a power shortstop in the mold of Miguel Tejada. If Henry does blossom into a power player in Lakewood or Clearwater, then the Phillies will get a gem and we can say that the Abreu deal was a major success for the Phillies.

Aside from them, the Blue Claws position players really struggled in 2006. While the strength of the Phillies pitching staff is very, very good news for the organization, which clearly needs help in this area, the weakness of the Phillies positions players is a cause for some alarm. The 2009 and 2010 teams could be very weak because of the farm system.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss the Clearwater Threshers and the Florida State League (FSL).

These three guys I have seen and they are for real. They just dominated. This could be 3/5ths of the Phils rotation in 2 or 3 years. I feel they all could be in Reading by midseason if not sooner.
I think so too. These guys all have a big upside, so it will be interesting to see how the Phillies usher them along. Will they rush them to the majors or wait?
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