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The WAR Room: 2014 AZL pitchers season in review

A quintet of starters headlined by Sheffield and Hockin highlights the Arizona League season

The WAR Room: 2014 AZL pitchers season in review
The WAR Room (Graphic courtesy of Brittany Chay)
November 16, 2014
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The WAR Room is back again, bringing you the 2014 advanced stats for every Cleveland minor leaguer. With the minor league seasons at an end, we continue bringing you seasons in review, with today's featuring the 2014 Arizona League pitchers.

The list of previous season in reviews are below:

Of course, it is always important to keep context in mind, just like with scouting. A pitcher who is old for his level using that experience to succeed against young, inexperienced hitters must be taken with a grain of salt; the same goes when looking at these WAR totals.

But it is a useful tool to put each player's performance into context and look at where they sit in regard to the rest of the league.

For reference on how I computed WAR, a reminder on the problems inherent in the stats, and everything else you need to know, click here. For a refresher on WAR and what it is, click here.

As a reminder, a 0.0 WAR per 162 games is replacement level -- otherwise known as the kind of performance an average player from the level below could offer -- a 2.0 WAR per 162 games is average, and a 5.0 WAR per 162 games is All-Star level.

Also note that pitchers have FIP-based WAR -- which is based on peripherals like strikeouts, walks, home runs, etc. -- and RA-based WAR -- which is based on runs allowed.

One more thing, all "+" stats are averaged at 100. Anything over 100, like 110, is higher and means that player is 10 percent better than the league average. Anything under 100, like 90, is lower and means that player is 10 percent worse than the league average. In the case of any "-" stats -- when lower is better, like with ERA -- a 90 ERA- means that player is 10 percent better than the league average.

Today we begin our look at the Arizona League team with the pitchers before moving to the hitters next week. Keep in mind that for the short season leagues, the projection of each player features heavily into the equation, not just the raw stats. For the full stats, go ahead and click here.

Name Team Age IP SP FIP WAR SP RA WAR
Shao-Ching Chiang Indians (R) 20 45.2 1.0 0.6
Thomas Pannone Indians (R) 20 45.0 0.9 0.8
Casey Shane Indians (R) 18 46.1 0.7 1.1
Justus Sheffield Indians (R) 18 20.2 0.6 -0.1
Grant Hockin Indians (R) 18 21.0 0.4 0.6
Dylan Baker Indians (R) 22 5.2 0.2 0.3
Mason Radeke Indians (R) 24 2.0 0.1 0.1
Shaun Marcum Indians (R) 32 2.0 0.1 0.1
Mike Rayl Indians (R) 25 5.0 0.0 0.1
Kenny Mathews Indians (R) 20 1.2 -0.1 -0.3
Matt Capps Indians (R) 30 5.0 -0.1 -0.1

 

Name Team Age IP RP FIP WAR RP RA WAR
Erick Algarin Indians (R) 19 31.0 0.3 1.1
Cortland Cox Indians (R) 19 15.0 0.3 0.5
Yoiber Marquina Indians (R) 18 21.0 0.3 0.0
Jared Robinson Indians (R) 19 22.0 0.3 0.7
Francisco Lopez Indians (R) 20 12.1 0.2 0.2
Argenis Angulo Indians (R) 20 15.0 0.2 -0.3
Ping-Hsueh Chen Indians (R) 19 16.2 0.2 0.4
Trey Haley Indians (R) 24 4.2 0.1 0.2
Sam Hentges Indians (R) 17 13.0 0.1 0.5
Johan Puello Indians (R) 20 26.2 0.1 0.0
Naoki Hashimoto Indians (R) 24 1.0 0.0 0.1
Randy Valladares Indians (R) 19 24.1 0.0 0.1
Ramon Rodriguez Indians (R) 20 5.0 0.0 -0.1
Juan Romero Indians (R) 21 1.0 0.0 0.1
Jordan Dunatov Indians (R) 21 9.0 -0.2 0.1
Micah Miniard Indians (R) 18 12.0 -0.2 -0.2
Leandro Linares Indians (R) 20 39.0 -0.7 -1.2

Notable Starters

Though the stats are of lesser quality for draft picks in their draft year, left-hander Justus Sheffield’s 4.79 ERA (119 ERA-) and -0.1 RA-based WAR in 20.2 innings is still a little disappointing. Luckily for Sheffield and the organization, however, the 2014 first round pick’s peripherals were much better, with his 2.68 FIP (67 FIP-) and 0.6 FIP-based WAR foreshadowing what should be a bright future for the 18-year-old. Much of Sheffield’s high ERA is wrapped up in his .436 BABIP (139 BABIP+) -- a figure that will definitely fall in time -- and the left-hander’s impressive 30.9 percent strikeout rate (135 K%+) is a much more important stat for him going forward. The 9.6 percent walk rate (103 BB%+) could use a little work, but as long as Sheffield keeps striking batters out, that walk rate will play going forward.

Sheffield’s ERA may mask some of his greatness in 2014, but right-hander Grant Hockin does not have any of those issues. The 2014 second round pick put up an All-Star caliber 0.4 FIP-based WAR and 0.6 RA-based WAR in his first 21.0 professional innings, giving Cleveland two highly-drafted pitchers who hit the ground running. Hockin was league-average with his strikeout rate (22.4 percent strikeout rate, 98 K%+), but where the 18-year-old truly excelled was with his walks. Thanks to a 4.7 percent walk rate (51 BB%+), Hockin was able to survive in Arizona and flash the ability that should make him a prospect to follow in the years to come.

A sixth round pick in 2013, right-hander Casey Shane struggled in his immediate exposure to professional ball in Arizona (6.52 ERA, 6.8 SO/9, 5.0 BB/9 in 29.0 innings). Shane turned things around in his first full professional season, however, posting 0.7 FIP-based WAR and 1.1 RA-based WAR in 46.1 innings before getting called up to Mahoning Valley. The 19-year-old (who pitched most of this season at 18 years old) did not strike out all that many batters (20.9 percent strikeout rate, 91 K%+), but more importantly, he cut his walk rate all the way down to 7.9 percent (85 BB%+). Shane still has room to grow, but given he has already taken one huge step forward, it is not inconceivable he will keep growing with more time in the organization.

Although it took right-hander Shao-Ching Chiang a few years to get going -- he signed for $250,000 back in October 2011 -- the recently-turned 21-year-old finally got a shot in game action. After throwing just 2.0 total innings in 2012 and 2013, Chiang tossed 45.2 innings this past season and put up 1.0 FIP-based WAR and 0.6 RA-based WAR in that time. Chiang’s 4.53 ERA (113 ERA-) and 18.7 percent strikeout rate (82 K%+) were not much to look at, but the right-hander’s 3.16 FIP (79 FIP-) and 1.7 percent walk rate (18 BB%+) were more than impressive. The right-hander has long been a raw prospect being developed in extended spring training, but now Chiang’s talent is starting to become apparent in organized action.

Left-hander Thomas Pannone got off to a rough start to his career last year, allowing an earned run per inning and 23 hits in 16.0 innings, but the 2013 ninth round pick was much better this season. Pannone posted 0.9 FIP-based WAR and 0.8 RA-based WAR in 45.0 innings, an above-average result that bodes well for the 20-year-old. The left-hander still needs to work on controlling where the ball is going (12.1 percent walk rate, 130 BB%+), but with a 31.2 percent strikeout rate (137 K%+), Pannone can get away with a little wildness. He will not survive walking that many batters as he climbs the ladder, however, and whether Pannone can gain some control while maintaining his strikeouts will be a big factor in his development.

Notable Relievers

After signing for a $950,000 bonus in July 2013, right-hander Leandro Linares made his organizational debut in 2014 with the Arizona League club. Unfortunately for Linares, the debut did not go well, with the 20-year-old putting up -0.7 FIP-based WAR and -1.2 RA-based WAR in 39.0 innings. Obviously, rookie ball stats are not the be-all, end-all for a prospect, but Linares’ struggles are concerning. He struggled to throw the ball over the plate (15.3 percent walk rate, 165 BB%+) and, more importantly, looks slated to start 2015 repeating in Arizona. That would put Linares roughly two years behind the normal development curve for pitchers, and while the right-hander could move get his feet under him in his second full professional season, starting that far behind is definitely less than ideal.

Not many Arizona League relievers really stood out in 2014, but right-hander Erick Algarin pitched pretty well and led the way for the bullpen. The 19-year-old made his stateside debut this past year, posting 0.3 FIP-based WAR and 1.1 RA-based WAR in 31.0 innings thanks to some strong control. Though a 26.4 percent strikeout rate (116 K%+) does not pop for a reliever, Algarin succeeded with it thanks to a 6.4 percent walk rate (69 BB%+). Pitchers throwing out of the bullpen as far down as rookie ball do not project particularly well, but if they succeed like Algarin did in 2014, they can make a name for themselves.

Another reliever who did decently this past season was right-hander Jared Robinson, a very raw 11th round draft pick in 2014. Robinson’s inexperience on the mound did not show in games, however, as the right-hander put up 0.3 FIP-based WAR and 0.7 RA-based WAR in 22.0 innings. Some of Robinson’s value came from an abnormally low .230 BABIP (73 BABIP+) and not allowing a single home run, but the right-hander’s 21.8 percent strikeout rate (95 K%+) and 8.1 percent walk rate (87 BB%+) were nothing to sneeze at. Plus, while those rates are fairly middle of the road, Robinson is more of a projection guy who should see those rates improve as he gains experience.

One of the fun things to watch in rookie ball is a player going from a hitter to a pitcher. Such was the case with right-hander Yoiber Marquina, who was originally brought into the organization as a catcher. Marquina is a pitcher now, however, and did pretty well in his first action on the mound, posting 0.3 FIP-based WAR and 0.0 RA-based WAR in 21.0 innings. Predictably, Marquina was a little wild (12.4 percent walk rate, 134 BB%+), but the 18-year-old struck out 29.9 percent of batters (131 K%+) as well, showing off his raw ability. Marquina will need to refine his game in time, but right now he is flashing his big tools and certainly looks good year one into his transition to the mound.

Quick Hits

The Arizona League is where plenty of prospects make their debut, including four pitching 2014 draft picks who were all at least moderately successful in a small sample: fourth round pick left-hander Sam Hentges (0.1 FIP-based WAR, 0.5 RA-based WAR in 13.0 innings); eighth round pick right-hander Micah Miniard (-0.2 FIP-based WAR, -0.2 RA-based WAR in 12.0 innings); 12th round pick right-hander Jordan Dunatov (-0.2 FIP-based WAR, 0.1 RA-based WAR in 9.0 innings); and 19th round pick Argenis Angulo (0.2 FIP-based WAR, -0.3 RA-based WAR in 15.0 innings). Though there were a few sub-replacement level performances in that bunch, most importantly, these four pitchers got their feet wet heading into their first full professional season.

Similarly, plenty of international signings make their stateside debuts in Arizona, including four pitchers in 2014. Those pitchers included a finally healthy right-hander Ping-Hsueh Chen (0.2 FIP-based WAR, 0.4 RA-based WAR in 16.2 innings), right-hander Francisco Lopez (0.2 FIP-based WAR, 0.2 RA-based WAR in 12.1 innings), right-hander Johan Puello (0.1 FIP-based WAR, 0.0 RA-based WAR in 26.2 innings), and left-hander Randy Valladares (0.0 FIP-based WAR, 0.1 RA-based WAR in 24.1 innings). Just like the four draft picks, all four of these pitchers have time ahead to improve upon their first experiences and grow heading into 2015 and beyond.

Finally, the only pitcher who logged significant time not mentioned above was right-hander Cortland Cox, who repeated in Arizona before moving up to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in mid-August. That promotion kept Cox from putting up too much value, but more importantly, his 0.3 FIP-based WAR and 0.5 RA-based WAR in 15.0 innings got the 2013 32nd round pick moving up the minor league ladder.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@gmail.com. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

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