The Pirates’ Minor League Pitchers and Learning Control

When I was writing up my prospect lists last week, I noticed that I was writing a variation of one thing over and over again: “This guy has good control for his level,” or “For his age, his control is very advanced.” That’s what makes Nick Kingham such an interesting prospect despite not pitching in a full season yet. That’s what makes Jameson Taillon’s debut season a success, even if some of his other numbers weren’t as good as people were expecting. It’s what leaves hope for Zack Von Rosenberg and why Zack Dodson and Zac Fuesser are becoming better prospects than initially expected. 

So, I asked myself, do the Pirates’ pitching prospects really have better control than most other teams? Let’s go through and do a league-by-league look at how the Pirates’ minor league affiliates stack up in terms of control. First, the International League

Tm Aff PitchAge ERA H R HR BB ▾ IBB SO HBP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
Charlotte Knights CHW 26.8 4.25 1196 634 120 517 6 1121 76 1.386 8.7 0.9 3.8 8.2 2.17
Norfolk Tides BAL 27.3 4.35 1319 686 129 512 21 846 70 1.434 9.3 0.9 3.6 6.0 1.65
Gwinnett Braves ATL 25.5 3.33 1160 541 106 505 21 1223 48 1.318 8.3 0.8 3.6 8.7 2.42
Indianapolis Indians PIT 26.3 4.08 1227 629 101 500 22 989 79 1.352 8.6 0.7 3.5 7.0 1.98
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees NYY 26.4 3.80 1195 551 122 483 7 997 62 1.364 8.7 0.9 3.5 7.3 2.06
Toledo Mud Hens DET 25.0 4.27 1277 655 147 480 20 1064 57 1.391 9.1 1.0 3.4 7.6 2.22
Buffalo Bisons NYM 28.2 4.36 1259 669 133 467 22 1013 65 1.396 9.2 1.0 3.4 7.4 2.17
Durham Bulls TBR 26.7 3.89 1226 620 129 461 10 1135 38 1.340 8.8 0.9 3.3 8.1 2.46
Pawtucket Red Sox BOS 28.6 3.57 1113 546 123 459 10 1118 61 1.257 8.0 0.9 3.3 8.0 2.44
Louisville Bats CIN 26.6 4.04 1318 641 110 431 7 995 45 1.366 9.3 0.8 3.0 7.0 2.31
Columbus Clippers CLE 24.9 3.94 1270 622 118 417 17 1142 40 1.346 9.1 0.8 3.0 8.2 2.74
Lehigh Valley IronPigs PHI 28.3 3.68 1253 563 110 401 9 1126 44 1.325 9.0 0.8 2.9 8.1 2.81
Rochester Red Wings MIN 26.3 4.76 1347 728 145 401 22 1009 46 1.415 9.8 1.1 2.9 7.4 2.52
Syracuse Chiefs WSN 26.3 4.18 1279 598 108 379 14 1079 48 1.363 9.5 0.8 2.8 8.0 2.85
League Totals 26.6 4.03 17439 8683 1701 6413 208 14857 779 1.361 9.0 0.9 3.3 7.6 2.32

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/27/2011.

OK, so Indianapolis’ control wasn’t great this year. They also harbored quite a few guys on their roster that walked quite a few people that weren’t really prospects, but were mostly there for organizational depth. So, undeterred, I decided to dig deeper. To the Eastern League! 

Tm Aff PitchAge ERA H R HR BB ▾ IBB SO HBP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
Binghamton Mets NYM 24.0 4.45 1286 699 116 491 16 1010 82 1.454 9.5 0.9 3.6 7.4 2.06
New Britain Rock Cats MIN 24.0 4.94 1317 755 106 491 8 950 86 1.485 9.7 0.8 3.6 7.0 1.93
Erie SeaWolves DET 23.9 4.40 1216 667 127 478 6 1056 65 1.372 8.9 0.9 3.5 7.7 2.21
Trenton Thunder NYY 25.0 4.06 1287 667 105 472 16 1001 58 1.434 9.4 0.8 3.5 7.3 2.12
Akron Aeros CLE 23.5 3.73 1176 589 84 471 7 1132 59 1.338 8.6 0.6 3.4 8.3 2.40
Portland Sea Dogs BOS 24.1 4.80 1294 732 136 469 12 1076 74 1.462 9.7 1.0 3.5 8.0 2.29
Richmond Flying Squirrels SFG 24.4 3.46 1160 557 85 467 20 1096 52 1.301 8.3 0.6 3.4 7.9 2.35
Reading Phillies PHI 24.9 3.96 1198 615 121 429 12 1133 65 1.309 8.7 0.9 3.1 8.2 2.64
New Hampshire Fisher Cats TOR 25.4 3.70 1129 557 97 415 9 1100 43 1.255 8.3 0.7 3.0 8.0 2.65
Bowie Baysox BAL 25.7 3.65 1145 577 101 406 6 1014 61 1.262 8.4 0.7 3.0 7.4 2.50
Harrisburg Senators WSN 25.4 3.63 1172 563 96 365 26 1187 47 1.254 8.6 0.7 2.7 8.7 3.25
Altoona Curve PIT 24.4 3.95 1225 607 105 364 6 886 67 1.283 8.9 0.8 2.6 6.4 2.43
League Totals 24.6 4.06 14605 7585 1279 5318 144 12641 759 1.350 8.9 0.8 3.2 7.7 2.38

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/27/2011.

Well, hey, look at that. No one walked fewer batters in the Eastern League than the Curve, and besides the Nats’ affiliate there was a pretty big gap. On to the Florida State League. 

Tm Aff PitchAge ERA H R ER HR BB ▾ IBB SO HBP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
Charlotte Stone Crabs TBR 22.9 3.83 1140 593 521 76 514 13 958 83 1.350 8.4 0.6 3.8 7.0 1.86
Palm Beach Cardinals STL 22.4 3.65 1121 542 484 64 490 13 1064 75 1.352 8.5 0.5 3.7 8.0 2.17
Brevard County Manatees MIL 22.5 4.72 1243 700 616 99 478 6 927 83 1.465 9.5 0.8 3.7 7.1 1.94
Jupiter Hammerheads FLA 22.6 3.67 1232 600 498 81 469 36 1010 49 1.393 9.1 0.6 3.5 7.4 2.15
Fort Myers Miracle MIN 22.9 4.58 1327 702 605 102 464 4 883 68 1.506 10.0 0.8 3.5 6.7 1.90
Daytona Cubs CHC 22.7 3.84 1186 616 508 95 423 10 1063 74 1.351 9.0 0.7 3.2 8.0 2.51
Clearwater Threshers PHI 22.3 3.52 1099 529 475 83 405 10 1117 69 1.239 8.1 0.6 3.0 8.3 2.76
St. Lucie Mets NYM 23.2 3.86 1222 606 507 82 383 10 989 63 1.359 9.3 0.6 2.9 7.5 2.58
Tampa Yankees NYY 22.7 3.99 1253 605 536 92 382 17 970 59 1.351 9.3 0.7 2.8 7.2 2.54
Lakeland Flying Tigers DET 23.6 3.93 1213 606 519 95 381 5 915 55 1.340 9.2 0.7 2.9 6.9 2.40
Dunedin Blue Jays TOR 23.9 3.87 1223 590 521 103 356 15 1026 47 1.302 9.1 0.8 2.6 7.6 2.88
Bradenton Marauders PIT 23.5 3.81 1147 606 497 83 345 12 855 89 1.270 8.8 0.6 2.6 6.5 2.48
League Totals 22.9 3.94 14406 7295 6287 1055 5090 151 11777 814 1.356 9.0 0.7 3.2 7.4 2.31

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/27/2011.

No one in the FSL walked fewer batters than the Bradenton Marauders, and except for the Blue Jays’ affiliate, it wasn’t particularly close. What do you think we’ll find in the Sally League?  

Tm Aff PitchAge ERA H R ER HR BB ▾ IBB SO HBP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
Hickory Crawdads TEX 21.1 3.77 1106 586 498 85 546 4 1199 63 1.390 8.4 0.6 4.1 9.1 2.20
Charleston RiverDogs NYY 21.8 4.27 1190 705 577 110 518 0 1171 64 1.405 8.8 0.8 3.8 8.7 2.26
Rome Braves ATL 21.5 4.51 1280 760 619 82 517 19 1053 87 1.453 9.3 0.6 3.8 7.7 2.04
Delmarva Shorebirds BAL 22.1 4.74 1318 760 649 106 516 6 988 79 1.489 9.6 0.8 3.8 7.2 1.91
Asheville Tourists COL 21.7 5.28 1396 829 716 127 507 6 1025 90 1.559 10.3 0.9 3.7 7.6 2.02
Lakewood Blue Claws PHI 21.4 3.52 1091 564 470 74 470 20 1094 49 1.297 8.2 0.6 3.5 8.2 2.33
Augusta Greenjackets SFG 22.3 3.71 1171 611 506 66 455 6 962 74 1.325 8.6 0.5 3.3 7.1 2.11
Greensboro Grasshoppers FLA 22.9 4.31 1216 659 580 113 437 15 1039 97 1.364 9.0 0.8 3.2 7.7 2.38
Savannah Sand Gnats NYM 22.4 3.27 1070 521 445 76 428 11 1058 70 1.223 7.9 0.6 3.1 7.8 2.47
Kannapolis Intimidators CHW 22.6 3.68 1154 598 493 81 399 14 1025 76 1.288 8.6 0.6 3.0 7.7 2.57
Lexington Legends HOU 21.1 4.65 1295 731 614 136 385 6 1001 53 1.413 9.8 1.0 2.9 7.6 2.60
Greenville Drive BOS 21.7 3.97 1230 635 545 107 364 3 1131 82 1.290 9.0 0.8 2.7 8.2 3.11
Hagerstown Suns WSN 21.9 4.13 1225 649 554 90 358 10 1047 84 1.310 9.1 0.7 2.7 7.8 2.92
West Virginia Power PIT 20.9 3.98 1199 605 542 124 337 0 1012 103 1.252 8.8 0.9 2.5 7.4 3.00
League Totals 21.9 4.13 16941 9213 7808 1377 6237 120 14805 1071 1.361 9.0 0.7 3.3 7.8 2.37

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/27/2011.

Well, hey! No one in the Sally League walked fewer batters than the West Virginia Power, and it wasn’t particularly close. This is even more impressive because the Spikes’ pitchers were a year younger, on average, than almost every other teams’ pitchers in the league. Does the trend continue to State College, home of Stetson “Ricky ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn” Allie?   

Tm Aff PitchAge ERA H R ER HR BB ▾ IBB SO HBP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
Lowell Spinners BOS 20.3 4.51 584 386 320 42 326 3 546 55 1.425 8.2 0.6 4.6 7.7 1.67
Staten Island Yankees NYY 21.4 3.52 597 307 251 36 292 0 644 43 1.384 8.4 0.5 4.1 9.0 2.21
Aberdeen IronBirds BAL 21.2 4.80 675 403 345 43 275 4 537 34 1.468 9.4 0.6 3.8 7.5 1.95
Auburn Doubledays WSN 21.8 3.71 596 308 268 19 263 3 512 50 1.322 8.3 0.3 3.6 7.1 1.95
Jamestown Jammers FLA 21.2 4.45 653 364 324 36 263 6 531 61 1.398 9.0 0.5 3.6 7.3 2.02
Vermont Lake Monsters OAK 21.6 3.71 601 319 261 39 259 3 542 43 1.359 8.5 0.6 3.7 7.7 2.09
Mahoning Valley Scrappers CLE 21.4 3.62 613 320 267 38 252 2 574 41 1.301 8.3 0.5 3.4 7.8 2.28
Tri-City ValleyCats HOU 21.9 3.78 643 343 269 36 250 0 614 46 1.393 9.0 0.5 3.5 8.6 2.46
Hudson Valley Renegades TBR 21.1 3.25 563 312 231 30 249 1 527 51 1.268 7.9 0.4 3.5 7.4 2.12
State College Spikes PIT 20.4 4.32 696 381 317 31 243 2 426 71 1.422 9.5 0.4 3.3 5.8 1.75
Williamsport Crosscutters PHI 21.2 2.98 609 277 220 28 234 1 533 45 1.269 8.3 0.4 3.2 7.2 2.28
Batavia Muckdogs STL 21.8 3.78 619 336 272 32 222 2 507 37 1.299 8.6 0.4 3.1 7.0 2.28
Connecticut Tigers DET 21.5 3.06 579 285 220 32 216 3 500 37 1.230 8.1 0.4 3.0 7.0 2.31
Brooklyn Cyclones NYM 21.5 3.06 608 261 218 30 192 3 582 30 1.247 8.5 0.4 2.7 8.2 3.03
League Totals 21.4 3.75 8636 4602 3783 472 3536 33 7575 644 1.342 8.6 0.5 3.5 7.5 2.14

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/27/2011.

Not quite. But there’s a but! The Spikes’ pitchers were the second youngest in the league and they were a good bit younger than most of the other teams. And they still finished in the bottom half of the league in walks. The trend does not include the GCL Bradenton Pirates, but I’m going to brush that off because it’s practically high school at that point (the Pirates pitchers in that league were 19.5, way younger than everyone else except the Twins). 

So the Pirates’ minor league pitchers, particularly the ones drafted by Neal Hutington and raised mostly on the Kyle Stark/Jim Benedict program, have excellent control. The young ones, in particular, have excellent control. You can see from the lists, though, that they don’t strike out a whole heck of a lot of batters, though. Altoona, Bradenton, and State College were last in their respective leagues in strikeouts by pretty wide margins and West Virginia was 11th of 14. 

You can teach control. The Pirates are doing it. That leaves a bit of hope for a guy like Steston Allie, I think. The question, though, is once you teach a pitcher control through the rather extreme methods that the Pirates use (how many other teams limit young pitchers’ arsenals the way the Pirates do? I’d bet it’s not many), can they go back and re-learn how to miss bats, as well? Control is obviously important, but it’s also not the only important thing that young pitchers need to learn. 

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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