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The WAR Room: 2014 Lake County pitchers season in review

Brown, Plutko, Lugo form a strong trio of starters for the Captains

The WAR Room: 2014 Lake County pitchers season in review
The WAR Room (Graphic courtesy of Brittany Chay)
September 21, 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 Lake County Captains. This week, we focus on the Captains' pitchers, including their strong trio of starting pitchers in Mitch BrownAdam Plutko, and Luis Lugo.

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 look at the 2014 Lake County pitchers. Next week we will move to their hitters. For the full stats, go ahead and click here.

Mitch Brown Indians (A) 20 138.2 2.1 2.8
Adam Plutko Indians (A) 22 52.2 1.9 0.7
Luis Lugo Indians (A) 20 126.1 1.6 0.1
Jordan Milbrath Indians (A) 22 125.1 0.8 1.4
Dace Kime Indians (A) 22 136.1 0.8 -0.3
Zach McAllister Indians (A) 26 4.1 0.1 0.0
Sean Brady Indians (A) 20 2.2 -0.2 -0.3


Anderson Polanco Indians (A) 21 50.2 1.1 1.2
Trevor Frank Indians (A) 23 54.2 1.0 0.9
Robbie Aviles Indians (A) 22 84.2 0.8 1.3
Ben Heller Indians (A) 22 37.0 0.7 1.0
Justin Brantley Indians (A) 23 41.1 0.4 1.6
Kenny Mathews Indians (A) 20 17.2 0.2 0.3
Justin Garcia Indians (A) 21 8.2 0.2 -0.1
Matthew Whitehouse Indians (A) 23 32.2 0.1 -1.0
James Stokes Indians (A) 23 14.2 0.0 0.4
Brian Ruiz Indians (A) 21 1.0 0.0 0.0
Cody Ferrell Indians (A) 24 0.2 0.0 -0.1
Luis DeJesus Indians (A) 22 13.1 -0.1 -0.5
Carlos Melo Indians (A) 23 27.1 -0.2 -0.5
Kerry Doane Indians (A) 23 16.1 -0.2 -0.4
Wander Beras Indians (A) 25 67.1 -0.6 -1.4
Caleb Hamrick Indians (A) 20 99.0 -0.8 -2.7
Alexis Paredes Indians (A) 22 68.1 -1.2 -1.6

Notable Starters

Mitch Brown (Photo: MiLB)It did not start out that way, but by the end of the season, right-hander Mitch Brown found his stride and began to rebuild his prospect value. The 2012 second round pick had a rough go of things last year, but this season, he rebounded for a 2.1 FIP-based WAR and 2.8 RA-based WAR in 138.2 innings. There is still plenty of work ahead for Brown, especially considering his value was driven in part by a probably unsustainable 0.39 HR/9 (65 HR/9+). Pairing a roughly average 22.2 percent strikeout rate (106 K%+) with a high 9.6 percent walk rate (116 BB%+) will not work long term, but for now, the fact that the 20-year-old Brown is getting good results for the first time in his professional career is a great first step.

Brown led the Captains in WAR by the season’s end, but that is in part because right-hander Adam Plutko got called up to Carolina after only 52.2 innings. Plutko’s 3.93 ERA (104 ERA-) and 0.7 RA-based WAR in that time are average overall, but the 22-year-old’s 1.97 FIP (52 FIP-) and 1.9 FIP-based WAR are quite impressive. Though Plutko’s 0.17 HR/9 (28 HR/9+) would have regressed toward the mean if he had stayed with the Captains, the right-hander’s 30.3 percent strikeout rate (145 K%+) and 5.5 percent walk rate (66 BB%+) left him as a dominant pitcher in the Midwest League and earned him a midseason callup to High-A.

While Brown’s breakout made headlines down the stretch and Plutko’s performance earned him a callup, left-hander Luis Lugo’s strong season goes a little more under the radar due to his 4.92 ERA (131 ERA-) and 0.1 RA-based WAR in 126.1 innings. Just based on that ERA, Lugo’s season is not very good. But luckily for the 20-year-old, his 3.86 FIP (102 FIP-) and 1.6 FIP-based WAR point to a pitcher doing much better than his ERA and RA-based WAR would suggest. Lugo can strike hitters out (27.1 percent strikeout rate, 129 K%+) and get the ball over the plate (7.4 percent walk rate, 89 BB%+), and assuming Lugo’s 1.14 HR/9 (189 HR/9+) regresses back to normal (like it should), he should be in line for another nice performance in 2015.

Right-hander Dace Kime’s story is similar to Lugo’s; in Kime’s case, however, his 0.8 FIP-based WAR and -0.3 RA-based WAR in 136.1 innings are both worse. Going forward, Kime will need to improve his 17.7 percent strikeout rate (85 K%+) and 9.2 percent walk rate (111 BB%+), as both are below-average for a pitcher. One season’s performance in Low-A does not tell us everything about a player, especially one in his first full professional season like Kime, but the improvements will need to come soon. It is possible Kime is simply following Brown’s path of needing time to settle in -- which would point to a breakout next season -- though only time will tell if that is what comes to pass.

Notable Relievers

Anderson Polanco (Photo: MiLB)Left-hander Anderson Polanco ends up in the reliever category due to logging over half of his appearances out of the bullpen, but the 22-year-old looks like a starter long term. Polanco impressed in his 50.2 innings, posting 1.1 FIP-based WAR and 1.2 RA-based WAR, giving a taste of what to watch in the future. The left-hander rode a 30.9 percent strikeout rate (148 K%+) to success in 2014, a rate that was able to balance out his pedestrian 8.5 percent walk rate (103 BB%+). Polanco’s results will slip as his 0.18 HR/9 (30 HR/9+) and .256 BABIP (84 BABIP+) rise, but the left-hander has established an ability to pitch at a high level that should withstand that regression.

Like Polanco, right-hander Robbie Aviles spent a significant amount of time in the rotation before ending up as a reliever. Aviles’ presence in the bullpen was due to another injury for the 22-year-old, an unfortunate reality of his career to date. With only 202.0 innings in his four professional seasons, the clock is starting to tick on Aviles’ development, something that might see him in the bullpen for good in the future. Aviles can get results (his 0.8 FIP-based WAR and 1.3 RA-based WAR in 84.2 innings) despite his 14.5 percent strikeout rate (69 K%+) thanks to a miniscule 3.2 percent walk rate (39 BB%+), but in order to keep him on the mound, pitching as a reliever may be the best course of action.

In terms of pure relievers, the most dominant during his time in Lake County was right-hander Ben Heller. In just 37.0 innings, Heller racked up 0.7 FIP-based WAR and 1.0 RA-based WAR thanks to an insane 43.2 percent strikeout rate (206 K%+). Heller did not always get the ball over the plate (10.8 percent walk rate, 130 BB%+), but when you are striking out over two-fifths of the batters you face, you can get away with that. The 23-year-old stumbled upon his callup to Carolina, but his early-season performance in Lake County proved he can dominate; now he will try to bring that to High-A in 2015.

Thanks to staying in Lake County all season, right-hander Trevor Frank passed Heller in terms of WAR. Frank’s 1.0 FIP-based WAR and 0.9 RA-based WAR in 54.2 innings may not have been on the same level of dominance as Heller, but Frank was still very good in his own right. The combination of a 29.4 percent strikeout rate (140 K%+) and 4.3 percent walk rate (52 BB%+) shows Frank’s ability to both throw strikes and get swings and misses, results the 23-year-old will attempt to take to a more age-appropriate level in his second full professional season next year.

Quick Hits

Justin Brantley (Photo: MiLB)Right-hander Justin Brantley did not start the year with the Captains, but the 23-year-old put up some impressive numbers in limited time. Brantley’s 0.4 FIP-based WAR in 41.1 innings is likely a better indication of his true talent level than his 1.6 RA-based WAR, but either way, the right-hander put himself on the map this season.

After starting the year red-hot, right-hander Jordan Milbrath faded a bit as the season went on. Milbrath ended up with 0.8 FIP-based WAR and 1.4 RA-based WAR in 125.1 innings, a decent season for the 2013 35th round pick. The 23-year-old needs to work on improving his 14.3 percent strikeout rate (68 K%+) and 9.1 percent walk rate (110 BB%+) going forward, but this was still a productive full season debut for Milbrath.

The 2014 season did not go according to plan for right-hander Caleb Hamrick, who posted -0.8 FIP-based WAR and -2.7 RA-based WAR in just 99.0 innings. But while Hamrick struggled to strike batters out (13.5 percent strikeout rate, 64 K%+) and avoid walks (10.9 percent walks (132 BB%+), the 20-year-old is still young enough to use 2014 as a learning experience and get back on track.

Making his Low-A debut, right-hander Alexis Paredes ran into issues for the first time in his professional career. Paredes’ -1.2 FIP-based WAR and -1.6 RA-based WAR in 68.1 innings are clearly not good, with a good deal of his problems stemming from the home run (1.32 HR/9, 219 HR/9+). Like Hamrick, though, the 22-year-old Paredes is not out of time at this point and could rebound in the future.

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

User Comments

September 22, 2014 - 4:32 PM EDT
I have a hard time keeping Lugo out of the top ten. For me, Lugo has surpassed Cody Anderson.
Jim Piascik
September 22, 2014 - 12:15 PM EDT
I agree. You can't see it from just looking at the ERA, but Lugo had one of the better seasons for a pitcher in the organization. Definitely very encouraging.
tony caballero
September 21, 2014 - 10:42 PM EDT
i think that lugo"s season was very encouraging....he threw 126 inns in his first full season, he kinda missed too many pitches up in the zone ....most of the time with men in scoring position and paid the Price.. but....overall he made some positive strides on his way to be a solid starter.......not a finished product, he"s definely a work in process....with a real chance to become a special starter at some point on his career

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