At the big league level, the Milwaukee Brewers became a team known for pitching in 2017. The club featured the most single-season 2.00+ WARP pitchers in franchise history, thanks to strong campaigns by Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Corey Knebel, and Jimmy Nelson. Between June and July, the club mostly hovered between 162-game paces for 25-to-50 runs prevented, and by the end of August the Brewers arms were squarely in that 50 runs prevented range (or better) over a full season.
This is a fascinating development for a franchise that has not been known for pitching, and fans and analysts may have to get used to this scenario: the arms are ahead of the bats across the system. In 2017, while consecutive first round draft picks Corey Ray and Trent Clark backpedaled, pop-up pitcher Corbin Burnes posted a phenomenal year and saw his stuff tick ahead after noted mechanical adjustments in his delivery. But the pitching development hardly ends with Burnes, who exemplifies the current stock of middle-to-back end rotation starting pitching prospects that grade out as thoroughly solid quality within that role; reports cooled on Cody Ponce, but he had a ho hum innings building season, as did Luis Ortiz at Class-AA; Freddy Peralta was chasing Burnes for most impactful pitching season within the minors; his trademate Carlos Herrera took a big step forward in full season ball; and behind these quality depth options, Trey Supak, Josh Pennington, and others still had quite fine seasons.
2017 Brewers Minors: Bats
There is a type of depth with these pitchers that simply cannot be matched by the current bats in the Brewers system. Currently, the bats feature multiple risk factors, especially in terms of developing hit tools. This profile not only suits graduates Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips, but also the aforementioned Clark and Ray, among others. Perhaps the selection of Keston Hiura in the 2017 draft is most important to counteract this risky trend, although Hiura simply reapplies that risk in a different area of the game. If the Brewers bats currently fit the profile of “could be big tools impact” / “might not make it out of a bench role,” the arms are quite the opposite, with no true top-end pitching prospect in the system. It’s a beautiful thing: not one ace. But among those non-aces, perhaps a number of starters that could prove as “boring” as Zach Davies, or have question marks answered like Chase Anderson or even Jimmy Nelson.
One gets the sense that these Brewers arms could be plugged in the rotation any which way, which should be considered an exciting affair given the recent hype of pitching coach Derek Johnson’s blank-slate, situational-personal coaching approach. It should also be mentioned that in an era of velocity, the top Milwaukee arms are hardly flamethrowers, which adds an interesting question about whether the Brewers are exploiting undervalued aspects of the game (I know that’s a played out question by now, but still…), or simply whether the Brewers have found a profile of arm that fits their system or organizational approach.
To accompany the statistical index of 2017 Brewers minor league bats, I have prepared an index of statistics for the 2017 arms in the affiliated ranks. To provide basic consistency with the survey range for the bats, I translated the initial scale of 50 batting PA to 16.7 pitching IP for assessing seasons. This largely produced a similar number of players across leagues, which also means that league median statistic figures should have a solid range to reflect statistical context.
|Median (16.7+ IP)||Players||DRA||oppOPS||Park||Age|
|Pacific Coast (AAA)||354||4.835||0.771||101||26|
|Carolina (Advanced A)||179||4.055||0.7005||97||23|
It should be noted that I calculated the index in a different way for pitching prospects in order to remain consistent with the batting index. This means that an overall index greater than 1.00 suggests that a pitcher’s OPS-allowed was better than the average contextual indicators in the league, and that an index below 1.00 means that pitcher was below average given the context of the league. In order to provide additional context to an index that only weighs age, park factor, and opposing OPS alongside OPS-allowed, I added a Deserved Run Average (DRA) index so that readers can compare outcomes and reflect on the validity of the OPS-allowed index.
This index is slightly different than the batting index, since there are different OPS values for pitchers and their opponents (for example, a batter is facing tougher opposition if the opposing OPS is lower; for pitchers, tougher opposition means higher OPS from opponents). For this reason:
+1.00 Age Index means “younger” than league average age.
+1.00 oppOPS Index means better than average opponents (compared to the league).
+1.00 Park Index means hitter’s park.
This index should not be read as a significant, be-all / end-all assessment of pitching performance. Instead, it should be read alongside other statistics and scouting reports as an indicator of the context in which the pitcher performed, as well as how their advanced performance (via DRA) compared to the league.
A few observations:
- Like the batting index, the “non-prospects” immediately dominate this pitching index. Trey Supak has been a deep cut since the Brewers acquired the projection-upside play in the Jason Rogers trade, and the righty worked what finally would be his first full season….at age 21. Taylor Jungmann is hardly even old for Class-AAA Colorado Springs as an organizational depth option. Quiet relief prospect Bubba Derby, a member of the Khris Davis trade, worked a season that matches the “contextual” aspects of Corbin Burnes or Supak (his trademate Jacob Nottingham also had a fine season on the batting index). Freddy Peralta looks like loads of fun, bringing numerous fastball and off-speed / breaking ball offerings and a funky delivery to keep hitters off balance. In this case, the command aspects (and delivery repetition due to a crossfire set-up) of the scouting report should be read alongside the index to round out future role and expectations, but it is undeniable that Peralta placed himself on the radar of quality organizational depth (at worst) in 2017.
- Cody Ponce had quite an interesting year in terms of DRA deviating from his other contextual factors. In terms of OPS, age, and park factors, Ponce scored well in both Carolina and Biloxi. Yet, the righty’s DRA did not stack up against either league, with DRA index of 0.86 and 0.97 in both assignments, respectively. The big righty is making his way up the organizational ladder, however, and it’s tough not to dream on that cutter or fastball at least helping Ponce secure a solid bullpen role of some sort.
- BP scouting team member James Fisher provided a detailed description of Jordan Yamamoto for last season’s midseason prospect feature, noting that delivery refinements and stuff progression drove the righty’s stock. Yamamoto continued to build on that 2016 notice with an excellent 2017 campaign, arguably putting together the most interesting pitching season in the organization (Burnes received the hype, but Yamamoto could have defined a role).The righty was extremely young for the Carolina League, and if the progression continues, the youngster could be primed to expand on a 140+ IP floor during his age-22 season at Class-AA Biloxi. It is worth noting that Yamamoto did not face tough competition in Carolina, although the funky park factors and his age did mightily correct for that indicator. If you’re skeptical about the index, DRA likes Yamamoto even more.
- Additional potential 2018 pop-ups / projection guys who posted better than average contextual index and DRA scores: Zack Brown, Josh Pennington, Braden Webb, and Thomas Jankins. Keep an eye on: Parker Berberet (!!!), Luis Ortiz, Jorge Lopez, Matt Ramsey, and Jon Perrin.