Now that we are two months into the baseball season, let’s examine the four full-season minor leagues to find out who the best pitcher in the minors has been so far in 2013.
For this exercise, the primary sorting method will be FIP. Unfortunately there is no wRC+-esque statistic for pitchers; FIP- is probably closest, but is not available for the minors. Therefore league adjustments will not be possible in the sorting method. Still, FIP is about as close to ideal as possible. Additionally, there will be a minimum 40 innings pitched requirement. This will eliminate relievers, which is conflicting. On the one hand it is unlikely that the best pitcher will be a reliever; unless someone is just destroying their league, the additional value gained from being a starting pitcher typically outweighs the superior performance. On the other hand, it is entirely possible for the best pitcher in a league to be a reliever, and very unlikely at this point that they would have accumulated the necessary innings.
That said, AAA will be the first league examined:
Nobody obviously stands out here. Pomeranz and Stauffer both have reasonable major league track records, so their candidacy is questionable. Castro is just a depth player, as is O’Sullivan. Torres and Gibson are fringe prospects at best.
Gray and Smith have the age advantage, but Gray is walking a lot of hitters and benefiting mostly from a very low home run rate. Smith and Alvarez are the best candidates, then, but Alvarez edges Smith on K/BB and WHIP – the latter is influenced more by having a BABIP 100 points lower than the slightly reduced walk rate, but it’s never a given that an extreme BABIP is luck. Alvarez is also on his first tour of AAA, while Smith has been there before – given their ages, that’s not totally in Alvarez’s favor, but Smith’s experience should lead to a better performance.
Hopefully AA will have some more interesting pitchers:
Ah, much better. Wood and Gausman are both in the majors, so they’re eliminated from consideration. Among the remaining candidates, De Paula and Buchanan can be cut for low strikeout rates, while Meyer and Ventura can go for walk problems. After that, the best pitcher becomes pretty clear, if it wasn’t already; Rafael Montero outclasses everyone else – Workman is the only one with a slightly higher K%, but has nearly double the walks, and Montero leads the remaining potentials in that category anyway. A+ is next:
There are a two non-prospects here in Cornelius and Greene, which is a shame since Cornelius’ 0.00 HR/9 is pretty impressive. Gagnon and Desclafani are on the bubble for age as well, but Gagnon’s relatively poor walk and strikeout numbers eliminated only him.
Escobar’s been a strikeout machine, but his walk rate is concerning. He does eliminate Syndergaard and Black by having more punchouts and fewer walks, making him the youngest possibility left. His San Jose Giants teammate Ty Blach gets rid of some more competition in Desclafani, Jensen, and Baxendale by having similar strikeout rates and far fewer walks. But Escobar’s crazy-high 30% K%, youth, and FIP knock off the other left-hander and make him the best pitcher in A+ so far.
Once again, A-ball rounds out the leagues:
Yes, that is a different Jose (Rafael) De Paula. This one plays for the Yankees; the other one is a Padre.
Robert Stephenson knocks off a few competitors with better strikeout and walk rates; Edwards, Cose, Mecias, and Johnson all fall. Rainy Lara takes out Hanson and Bacus in a similar fashion. Unsworth’s value is coming mostly from a ludicrously low walk rate, and while that is fine, his strikeout rate leaves a lot to be desired. De Paula has a similar problem with walks; a 40% K% is insane, but at the cost of an 11% BB% leading to a K/BB just under 4.
After getting rid of De Paula’s incredible strikeout rate, Stephenson emerges as the clear best pitcher; Lara has half the walk rate, but many fewer strikeouts, and is two years older.
The final list of candidates:
Alvarez can go first; he is at the highest level, but has the lowest strikeout rate and worst FIP, plus he’s two years older than Montero but only one level higher.
Escobar is the next cut; though he has the second-highest strikeout rate, he’s also walking more people than Montero or Stephenson, and his low FIP is being driven primarily by a miniscule 0.20 HR/9, which is the least reliable of the three true outcomes.
Stephenson and Montero is a decent battle, but Montero takes it without much trouble. Losing almost half the walks is worth a slightly lower strikeout rate, and Montero backs that up with the highest K/BB and lowest FIP of anyone in the sample. Normally pitching in the Eastern League would be cause for caution, as the league tends to be pitcher-friendly, but this is not the case so far in 2013.
With Matt Harvey carving through major league hitters, trade acquisition Zack Wheeler due to be called up any day now, Rafael Montero perhaps not far behind, and Noah Syndergaard (third on the A+ list) making serious noise in the low minors, the Mets could have an extremely strong young rotation as soon as Opening Day 2014.