Top Performers: Even Without Taillon and Glasnow, Pirates Get Strong Pitching

Below are the pitching Game Scores* in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. Normally in this weekly article, the top ten scores would be the only ones included in the write-up below. Since this was a shortened week, only the top five starts are broken down below the chart. The rankings include every pitcher who made a start for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, with no limitations on whether the starting pitcher has prospect eligibility.

*Game Score is a stat created by Bill James used to determine how good a pitcher’s outing really was. The formula for game score is simple: Start with 50 points, add one point for every out recorded, add two for each inning completed after the fourth, add one point for each strikeout. Subtract two points for each hit, four points for each earned run, two points for each unearned run and one point for each walk. There tends to be an advantage for pitchers who can go longer in the game, as they have more time to pile up strikeouts, while getting bonus points for extra innings beyond the fourth frame.

In terms of pitching game scores, anything that scores a 65 or better is considered a “gem”. The Pirates farm system had five “gems” in 15 starts during the first week of the season. Eight of their pitchers this week had a score of 60 or higher, which is impressive when you consider that the top two pitching prospects in the system (Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow) currently aren’t pitching.

Nick Kingham threw six shutout innings in his 2014 debut.
Nick Kingham threw six shutout innings in his 2014 debut.

Leading the group this week were Nick Kingham and Jake Brigham, who both had game scores of 69. Kingham threw six shutout innings in his season debut on Sunday, giving up three walks and three hits and striking out six. Brigham made his season debut for Indianapolis on Saturday, and struck out nine batters in six innings, with no walks and four hits.

Between the two, Kingham is the higher rated prospect. His outing was impressive when you consider the events that led up to the outing. Kingham had his first start rained out on Thursday, and the next attempt at that game was rained out on Friday. After taking a day off, Kingham tried again on Sunday. Pitchers usually stick to a strict routine, and the fact that Kingham was able to put up those numbers when his routine was thrown off was impressive.

As for Brigham, what he did was also impressive. He doesn’t have a lot of upside — signed as a minor league free agent over the off-season — although he could be a depth option for the Pirates in the majors this year. He’s got a better shot of reaching the majors as a reliever, since he would need about eight starting pitchers to go down before he would get a shot in the rotation.

Right behind those two was Cody Dickson with a game score of 68. The left-hander was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, and is a big sleeper to watch this year. He started off strong, throwing five shutout innings with three hits, no walks, and seven strikeouts. Dickson has a great breaking pitch, so the strikeouts aren’t surprising. What was surprising was that he went without giving up a walk. One big knock on him is a lack of control at times with his fastball. If he can fix the fastball control, and develop a good changeup, he could be a number three starter in the majors one day.

John Kuchno and Chad Kuhl had strong outings in the Bradenton rotation. Kuchno was drafted in the 18th round of the 2012 draft out of college, and was one of three players who received over-slot money after Mark Appel didn’t sign. He’s a hard thrower who profiles better in the long-term as a reliever, although he will get plenty of opportunities in the rotation in A-ball. Kuchno threw five no-hit innings, walking three and striking out two for a game score of 66.

Kuhl is another college pitcher, taken in the 9th round of the 2013 draft. He’s a sinkerball pitcher who works in the low-to-mid 90s, and has had a lot of success in his early career. He made the jump over West Virginia right to Bradenton this year, and had a great debut, throwing five shutout innings with two hits and two strikeouts for a game score of 65. Kuhl really worked his sinker, getting an 11:2 GO/FO ratio. While Kuchno profiles more as a reliever in the long-term, Kuhl has a chance at being a starter, especially being a sinkerball guy in the Pirates’ system.

  • any update on Glasnow’s back problem?

  • All this young cheap pitching depth but the yinzers still want to extend the historically injured prone and inconsistent Liriano for $40M+. Drives me crazy.

    I’ll take my chances with Kingham and Cumpton for $400k.