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The WAR Room: The 2014 Carolina Mudcats season in review

Merritt's banner season highlights the 2014 Mudcats pitchers

The WAR Room: The 2014 Carolina Mudcats season in review
The WAR Room (Graphic courtesy of Brittany Chay)
September 7, 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 coming to an end, today we start bringing you seasons in review, starting with the 2014 Carolina Mudcats. This week we will focus on the Mudcats' pitchers before recapping the hitters next week.

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 Carolina Mudcats pitchers. Next week we will do the hitters. For the full stats, go ahead and click here.

Ryan Merritt Indians (A+) 22 160.1 3.0 5.0
Cole Sulser Indians (A+) 24 125.0 2.3 -1.0
D.J. Brown Indians (A+) 23 123.2 1.6 0.6
Michael Peoples Indians (A+) 22 101.2 1.6 0.7
Adam Plutko Indians (A+) 22 97.0 1.2 1.6
Shawn Morimando Indians (A+) 21 96.1 1.0 2.0
Dylan Baker Indians (A+) 22 46.2 0.4 0.5
Michael Clevinger Indians (A+) 23 20.2 0.1 0.1


Josh Martin Indians (A+) 24 64.2 0.7 1.3
Louis Head Indians (A+) 24 20.1 0.6 0.6
Grant Sides Indians (A+) 25 54.0 0.4 1.3
Jacob Lee Indians (A+) 24 72.1 0.3 1.2
Elvis Araujo Indians (A+) 22 29.0 0.3 0.0
Benny Suarez Indians (A+) 22 56.2 0.3 0.5
Rob Nixon Indians (A+) 25 48.2 -0.1 -0.7
Luis DeJesus Indians (A+) 22 1.2 -0.1 0.0
Clayton Cook Indians (A+) 23 40.1 -0.1 -0.7
Ben Heller Indians (A+) 22 16.0 -0.2 0.3
Carlos Melo Indians (A+) 23 10.2 -0.3 -1.0

Notable Starters

Ryan Merritt (Photo: MiLB)The top Mudcat pitcher in 2014 was left-hander Ryan Merritt, who was also named the top pitcher in the league by the Carolina League. Merritt’s 3.0 FIP-based WAR in 160.1 innings rates him as a good starter, but where the 22-year-old really stands out is in his 5.0 RA-based WAR. Based on his 2.58 ERA (66 ERA-), Merritt put up an MVP-level season as he established himself as a priority guy going forward. Merritt may not be a big strikeout guy (20.1 percent strikeout rate, 102 K%+), but his command-control approach and 4.0 percent walk rate (47 BB%+) should play well going forward as he looks to make the jump to Double-A in 2015.

Though he did not put up quite the same season as Merritt, fellow left-hander Shawn Morimando put together his second consecutive solid High-A season, this time earning a callup to Akron. Morimando was also better when rated by ERA than FIP, posting 1.0 FIP-based WAR, 2.0 RA-based WAR in 96.1 innings, but more importantly, the left-hander improved his control. After posting a 13.0 percent walk rate (139 BB%+) in 2013, Morimando cut that rate to 8.8 percent (102 BB%+) in 2014. Morimando is still not a big strikeout guy (he has back to back 90 K%+ seasons), but he graduated from High-A at 21 years old and definitely has a bright future ahead of him.

Morimando was on his way up to Akron as the year progressed, while right-hander Adam Plutko, on the other hand, made his way up to Carolina from Lake County. Plutko finished his first professional season with the Mudcats, posting an above-average 1.2 FIP-based WAR and 1.6 RA-based WAR in 97.0 High-A innings. Plus, given that Plutko’s high 1.02 HR/9 (173 HR/9+) is likely to regress, the right-hander’s true talent level is probably even higher than simply being above-average in High-A. Plutko pours pitches into the strike zone -- his 19.7 percent strikeout rate (100 K%+) and 4.5 percent walk rate (52 BB%+) are essentially identical to Merritt’s rates -- and could make a similar jump in 2015.

Hopefully the injury right-hander Cole Sulser’s suffered late in the season while with the Akron RubberDucks does not turn out to be serious, as he was having a surprisingly good 2014 season to that point. Sulser’s 5.62 ERA (143 ERA-) and -1.0 RA-based WAR in 125.0 High-A innings point to someone likely headed for a demotion -- either to the bullpen or Lake County -- but the 24-year-old’s 3.52 FIP and 2.3 FIP-based WAR both stand out as quite good. Considering Sulser’s biggest problems came from a fluky, low 51.4 percent strand rate (75 LOB%+) and he had a solid 22.1 percent strikeout rate (112 K%+) and 6.5 percent walk rate (76 BB%+), it is possible Sulser’s FIP is the more correct number and his ERA will soon reflect that.

Notable Relievers

Louis Head (Photo: MiLB)Carolina’s best reliever this season was right-hander Louis Head, who got the call up to Akron after 20.1 dominant innings. Head’s 0.6 FIP-based WAR and 0.6 RA-based WAR in that time established the 24-year-old as a reliever pushing his way toward Cleveland. Though Head probably will not strike out 42.0 percent (213 K%+) of batters over the rest of his career like he did in Carolina this season, the right-hander has shown an ability to overpower opposing hitters and be a back-end option in the bullpen.

Head was Carolina’s most dominant reliever, but due to his promotion, right-hander Josh Martin passed him for the lead in FIP-based WAR. Martin put up a strong 0.7 FIP-based WAR and 1.3 RA-based WAR in 64.2 innings thanks to a 24.8 percent strikeout rate (126 K%+) and decent 8.0 percent walk rate (93 BB%+). The right-hander may not have been as dominant as Head this season, but he did put up some nice numbers and earned a late-season callup to Akron.

Left-hander Elvis Araujo shifted to the bullpen in 2014, and while he did not find immediate success in Carolina, the 23-year-old did earn a trip to Akron. Araujo’s 4.03 ERA (103 ERA-) was replacement level -- leading to his 0.0 RA-based WAR -- but the left-hander’s 3.31 FIP (84 FIP-) yielded a 0.3 FIP-based WAR in 29.0 innings and his callup. He still needs work on his control (10.3 percent walk rate, 120 BB%+), but with a 23.0 percent strikeout rate (117 K%+) and the advantage of pitching from the left side, Araujo has the chance to make some waves in 2015.

One of the best stories of the year was the comeback of right-hander Clayton Cook, who returned to the mound after missing over two years due to shoulder surgery. The 24-year-old may not have pitched particularly well in his return, but the more important thing is that Cook is finally back on the mound. Plus, while Cook’s 6.02 ERA (153 ERA-) and -0.7 RA-based WAR in 40.1 innings is unsightly, the right-hander’s 4.53 FIP (115 FIP-) and -0.1 FIP-based WAR are better. Cook is not getting great results, but as he gets further removed from his surgery, he could get better.

Quick Hits

A freak ankle injury robbed right-hander Dylan Baker of valuable developmental time, but the 22-year-old did put together an average 0.4 FIP-based WAR and 0.5 RA-based WAR in the 46.2 innings he was on the mound. He will get a chance to log more time in 2014 with a trip to the Arizona Fall League.

Michael Clevinger (Photo: MiLB)Right-hander Michael Clevinger also did not get much time on the mound while with the organization, coming over in August in the Vinnie Pestano trade. Clevinger was not great in Carolina, posting 0.1 FIP-based WAR and 0.1 RA-based WAR in 20.2 innings, but Cleveland will hope 2011 fourth round pick can get back to full health after Tommy John surgery and pitch effectively.

Both right-hander Michael Peoples and D.J. Brown had their FIP exceed their ERA, posting matching 1.6 FIP-based WARs (in 101.2 and 123.2 innings, respectively). The two took wildly divergent paths to reach that figure with Peoples often keeping the ball out of play (22.7 percent strikeout rate, 115 K%+; 9.4 percent walk rate 109 BB%+) and Brown often letting hitters make contact (15.2 percent strikeout rate, 77 K%+; 6.0 percent walk rate, 70 BB%+). Both did well enough in 2014, though, that they should get a chance to keep starting next year.

Both right-handers Grant Sides and Jacob Lee put up very strong RA-based WAR results without being as good when rated by FIP in 2014 (Sides: 0.4 FIP-based WAR, 1.3 RA-based WAR in 54.0 innings; Lee: 0.3 FIP-based WAR, 1.2 RA-based WAR in 72.1 innings) before getting called up to Akron to fill spots for the RubberDucks’ playoff run. Right-hander Rob Nixon got the same callup, though his results (-0.1 FIP-based WAR, -0.7 RA-based WAR in 48.2 innings) were less impressive.

Right-hander Ben Heller dominated in Lake County before getting the call to Carolina, but the 23-year-old stumbled a bit during his time in High-A. Though Heller’s 2.25 ERA (57 ERA-) and 0.3 RA-based WAR in 16.0 innings is strong, the right-hander will need to improve his control (18.6 percent walk rate, 216 BB%+) and his 5.21 FIP (133 FIP-) and -0.2 FIP-based WAR in order to keep climbing the minor league ladder.

Though he was a little under the radar in 2014, right-hander Benny Suarez did put up a strong 0.3 FIP-based WAR and 0.5 RA-based WAR in 56.2 innings. Right-hander Carlos Melo struggled, however, posting -0.3 FIP-based WAR and -1.0 RA-based WAR in 10.2 innings before being sent down to Lake County.

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.

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