Morning Report: Just How Important Are Strikeouts For a Minor League Pitcher?

While doing the write-up for the Clayton Richard trade yesterday, I pointed out how good his ERA was for Indianapolis, but also noted just how low his strikeout total was for the amount of innings he pitched. Most people see strikeouts as a sign of how dominant a pitcher is in the minors, and for the most part, it’s a good indicator of future success, but it’s not everything.

You can go back to 2009 in the Pirates’ system and look at players that should be done with their minor league time by now, even if they were at the lower levels. It’s also a group that includes more pitchers that weren’t leftovers from the previous regime than the 2008 season when the new front office first took over.

The pitchers that put in at least 80 innings and had the best strikeout rate were Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Smith, Jeff Sues, Rudy Owens, Harrison Bishop and Ramon Aguero. Two of those players have something in common, Gorzelanny and Owens, in that they both made the majors. Gorzelanny was actually working his way back to the majors that year. The other four had something in common, they were too old for the level they were at in 2009 and they didn’t make the majors. It shows you that strikeouts are important, but you also have to look at where the pitchers should be at that point as well.

In 2010, using the same cutoff, the top strikeout pitchers were Ronald Uviedo, Kyle McPherson, Jeff Locke, Phil Irwin, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson. Uviedo just made the cutoff with exactly 80 innings and he was considered a good enough prospect at one time that the Pirates added him to the 40-man roster. His trade for Dana Eveland caused an uproar at the time, but it was basically just him losing his roster spot for someone Major League ready(sort of) and Uviedo never made the majors. They other five pitchers all made the majors with the Pirates and with various degrees of success. You could look at this year and say that strikeouts were a great indicator of future success, even with Uviedo in the group.

In 2011, the top six were Jameson Taillon, Jeff Locke, Eliecer Navarro, Zack Von Rosenberg, Zac Fuesser and Kyle McPherson. I’m not sure what to think of this group. Taillon, Locke and McPherson are obviously a different class and Navarro was an older control lefty in the minor leagues, who didn’t throw hard, but those soft-tossing control lefties are the ones we always warn you about and they usually get weeded out at AA. Fuesser had good control, a lefty that touched 90, and he made most of his appearances in relief, so that last part probably helped. Von Rosenberg had a 5.73 ERA, so he’s a good example of looking past the strikeouts to make sure everything else checks out.

The 2012 season is the last I’ll do because it basically supports strikeouts being important, at least for now. The top six were Gerrit Cole, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Jeff Locke, Nick Kingham and Phil Irwin. Rick van den Hurk was also in there, but he was 29 and had too much Major League time in already. That is a pretty good six to put together.

But what if we go back and look at the bottom half of the strikeout charts? For this, I split the amount of pitchers in half for the team that year, then looked for future Major League players in that bottom half of the strikeouts per nine innings.

Going in reverse order, the 2012 group had Rudy Owens, Casey Sadler, Hunter Strickland, Brandon Cumpton and Kris Johnson, all players that were on their way up. That’s a decent amount of players that weren’t racking up strikeouts, yet advanced through the system to the majors.

In 2011, the list includes Justin Wilson, who was first on the second half list. Plus it also includes Jared Hughes, Brandon Cumpton, Rudy Owens, Aaron Thompson and even Nick Kingham was on the list, though he only pitched 71 innings.

In 2010, Charlie Morton, Brandon Cumpton, Hunter Strickland and I’ll throw in Daniel McCutchen, only because he had minimal Major League experiences in 2009.

Finally, the 2009 group has a lot of names, but not a lot of success. Still it shows that you can work through the minors with a low strikeout rate. The list includes Bryan Morris, Hunter Strickland, Nate Adcock and Kyle McPherson, plus cameo pitchers Eric Hacker, Michael Crotta and the always popular, Daniel Moskos. There are also numerous players with prior MLB experience. As good as the 2012 group showed strikeouts were important, the 2009 group shows that they aren’t the only thing.

When judging prospects, you of course look at strikeouts, but age/level are just as important. The success of the pitcher is important as well, plus stuff always helps. You also look at a pitcher like Brandon Cumpton and realize that he wasn’t striking anyone out, but he got a lot of ground balls and he had better than average pitches. Some pitchers are more willing to embrace the “pitch the contact” teachings of the Pirates. While other pitchers get a man on first and they think they need three strikeouts to get out of the inning.

The Pirates basically reworked Richard with his mechanics, so while he has a lot of prior MLB experience, they were also starting fresh with him and molding him into a pitcher that tries to get outs on three pitches or less. Whether he will be able to carry over his success into the majors, that’s another thing, but there are plenty of recent examples that show that a low strikeout rate doesn’t automatically mean he won’t be able to have success. Many of those pitchers above were working their way through the minors with those rates, yet they still made it. So there is no reason someone with MLB experience and some success can’t get it back by throwing quality strikes and pitching to contact as well.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

The Pirates trail by six games in the division to the Cardinals. They have a 2.5 game lead for the top wild card spot.

Indianapolis is 7-3 in their last ten games. They have a six game lead in their division.

Altoona is 2-8 in their last ten games and they are now trailing by 3.5 games in their division.

Bradenton and West Virginia did not win their first half title. The second half began last Thursday for both teams and the second half records are included below in the schedule.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 5-2 to the Indians on Friday night. Jeff Locke will go today in game two of the series. He has allowed a total of five earned runs in his last three starts combined. The mound opponent will be Cody Anderson, who will be making his third career start. He has allowed one run over 15.2 innings so far, with both of his starts coming against the Tampa Bay Rays

In the minors, it’s a big day for prospects. Adrian Sampson and Tyler Glasnow go at the top two levels, and we should see Clay Holmes either in the GCL or with his first start at Bradenton. No starter has been announced for the Marauders yet, but if Holmes pitches in the GCL, then expect Luis Heredia to make the start for Bradenton. All-Star Yeudy Garcia goes for the Power and Bristol will throw Neil Kozikowski during today’s doubleheader. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (45-34) vs Cleveland (38-41) 4:05 PM
Probable starter: Jeff Locke (4.55 ERA, 33:64 BB/SO, 83.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (49-32) vs Louisville (39-42) 6:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Adrian Sampson (3.76 ERA, 22:79 BB/SO, 93.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (43-36) vs Harrisburg (39-42) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tyler Glasnow (2.45 ERA, 12:36 BB/SO, 33.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (38-41, 6-3 second half) @ Jupiter (39-40) 6:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD

Low-A: West Virginia (44-34, 7-2 second half) vs Delmarva (39-38) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Yeudy Garcia (2.55 ERA, 22:58 BB/SO, 60.0 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (6-8) vs Batavia (3-11) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (3-6) vs Johnson City (4-5) 1:00 PM DH (season preview)
Probable Starter: Logan Sendelbach and Neil Kozikowski

GCL: Pirates (7-3) vs Braves (3-8) 10:00 AM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (12-18) vs Brewers (12-17) 10:30 AM (season preview)


Here we have video of Stetson Allie’s 12th homer. He only needed to clear the yellow line about eight feet up on the huge outfield wall in Trenton, but he easily cleared the wall.

Recent Transactions

7/3: Pirates sign Kevin Sanchez and Samuel Inoa.

7/3: Pirates trade Clayton Richard to Chicago Cubs for cash considerations.

7/2: Chris Volstad sent outright to Indianapolis.

7/2: Pirates sign Larry Alcime Jr and Kyle Simmons.

7/1: Alen Hanson activated from disabled list. John Holdzkom and Hunter Morris placed on disabled list.

7/1: Paul Brands assigned to GCL Pirates from DSL.

6/30: Corey Hart sent on rehab to Indianapolis.

6/30: Jose Tabata outrighted to Indianapolis.

6/29: Jeff Inman and Gift Ngoepe promoted to Indianapolis.

6/29: Pirates sign Daniel Zamora.

6/28: Jose Tabata designated for assignment. Gorkys Hernandez added to Pirates roster.

6/28: Chris Volstad designated for assignment. Steve Lombardozzi added to Pirates roster.

6/28: Clario Perez promoted to Altoona. Wes Freeman activated from disabled list.

6/28: Kawika Emsley-Pai retired.

6/28: Hunter Morris activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

6/27: Junior Lopez promoted to Bradenton. Dovydas Neverauskas activated from West Virginia disabled list.

6/26: Tyler Glasnow assigned to Altoona.

6/26: Deolis Guerra added to Pirates roster. Rob Scahill placed on disabled list.

6/26: Wilkin Castillo activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

6/25: Robert Stock added to Bradenton roster. Jordan Steranka placed on disabled list.

6/24: Casey Sadler placed on disabled list. Brad Lincoln and Josh Wall added to Indianapolis roster.

6/24: Corey Hart placed on disabled list. Chris Volstad added to Pirates roster.

6/23: Pirates sign Shane Kemp. Assigned to Bristol.

6/22: Andy Otamendi assigned to Morgantown.

6/21: Marek Minarik and Luis Paula sent to Bristol.

6/20: Pirates release Edgar Munoz

6/20: Pirates sign Garrett Russini as a non-drafted free agent.


This Date in Pirates History

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date , plus a famous manager was born on this date as well. Going quickly through the players, as bios of each can be found in the link. Starting with the most recent first we have 2010 relief pitcher Brendan Donnelly, left fielder Wayne Nordhagen, who played for the Pirates on June 19, 1982. We also have pitcher Jim Minshall(1974-75), pitcher Jim Nelson, who was a member of the 1971 world champs, 1929 pinch runner Mel Ingram, 1912 right fielder Stump Edington, and 1906 pitcher Lou Manske. Ingram was a four-sport star at Gonzaga and was signed to a unique contract, one that started on June 18th and guaranteed he would be released by September 1st so he could return home to his job.

Chuck Tanner was born on this date in 1928. He managed the Pirates from 1977 until 1985, leading them to their fifth World Series title. Tanner was a Major League outfielder for eight years, but he is better known for his work as a manager. He was managing the Oakland A’s when the Pirates traded Manny Sanguillen and cash to Oakland for Tanner. In his nine seasons in Pittsburgh, which included the dreadful 1985 season, he had a 711-685 record. He led the Pirates to one title and three second place finishes. Tanner finished with 1352 career wins.

The link above also contains a noteworthy trade from 1905, plus a recap of a doubleheader from the 1902 season, when the Pirates were the most dominant team in baseball.





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Thanks john.


Loved Chuck Tanner and miss him. If I remember correctly he also hit a home run in his very first at bat in the major leagues.


John…Soooooo…..are you saying that we just traded the Wild Card to the Cubs? 🙂 🙂

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