Pirates Notebook: The Success of the 2009 Spikes

I know, it’s hard to call a 12-10 record a “success”, but considering State College went 18-56 last year, a 12-10 record is looking fantastic. Yesterday I went in to detail about the failure of the 2008 Spikes, and the successful impact of the innovative development process for the pitching staff. If you missed it, I’d check it out before reading this.

After reading yesterday’s post, you know that the problem with the 2008 Spikes lies on the pitching staff. This is mostly because the 2008 pitchers relied on the fastball, throwing it almost 90 percent of the time, working on control and command. I asked John Perrotto via Twitter if State College was going with the same approach this year. His response:

@buccofans Basically the same philosophy at the lower levels this year, fastball command.

So it looks like the 2009 Spikes are also going with the heavy fastball approach. Unlike last year, the team isn’t getting shelled almost every game. The 2008 Spikes allowed 461 runs, easily a New York-Penn League worst. The 2009 Spikes have allowed 91 runs, which isn’t magnificent at fifth worst in the NYPL, but a much better result than last year.

So why is the 2009 team much more effective than the 2008 team, using the same approach? You saw the 2008 breakdown yesterday. Here’s the 2009 breakdown:

Neal Huntington Players: 2.93 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.2 HR/9 in 98.1 IP

Dave Littlefield Players: 3.70 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9 in 87.2 IP

Huntington has 11 of the 18 pitchers who have pitched for the Spikes this year. The ERA looks much better, although the rest of the ratios are similar. Now let’s look at the players who were on the 2008 State College team, versus the players who weren’t on the 08 roster:

2008 Team: 3.09 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 0.2 HR/9 in 84.1 IP

Non-2008 Team: 3.45 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9 in 101.2 IP

The big difference was the BB/9 ratio, which is doubled for the non-2008 pitchers. This explains the higher WHIP. Breaking down the non-2008 Spikes in to Neal Huntington and Dave Littlefield players:

NH Non-2008 Spikes: 2.81 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 0.2 HR/9 in 51.1 IP

DL Non-2008 Spikes: 4.11 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9 in 50.1 IP

For the most part, the guys in the Neal Huntington category are guys we drafted this year, like Jason Erickson, Marc Baca, and Victor Black. Similar ratios, although the Huntington group allows fewer homers, which may explain the lower ERA. This is probably due to Huntington’s apparent preference for ground ball pitchers.

In summary, the returning members of the 2008 team are doing a much better job, and the combined 1.7 BB/9 ratio indicates that the strategy of focusing on fastball control seems to have paid off.

As for the guys who weren’t on the 2008 team, the Neal Huntington acquisitions are performing much better as far as ERA goes, despite having average control and similar ratios overall to the Dave Littlefield players. This is probably because Huntington has shown a tendency to target ground ball pitchers, and the players he has acquired all have low home run ratios, which suggests they’re good at keeping the ball down.

In short, it looks like the approach the Pirates are taking in developing control with their lower level pitchers is a success. The next step is seeing how that translates to the upper levels, and the first player to show us results will likely be Rudy Owens.

Other Stuff

-The Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch for 7/10 is up.

-Jim at North Side Notch has been going over his top ten prospects in the Pirates system. Yesterday was #9 Chase D’Arnaud. Today is another Lynchburg player, #8 Jeff Locke.

-There were trade rumors earlier this week that the San Francisco Giants offered Jonathan Sanchez for Freddy Sanchez and the Pirates turned the deal down. Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no hitter tonight, which might take him off the trading block.

I’m a fan of Sanchez, and have said in the live blogs a few times that I wouldn’t mind the Pirates trading for him at the right price. Before the no-hitter, I didn’t think Sanchez for Sanchez was even, with the Giants getting the better end of the deal. My opinion doesn’t change with the no-hitter. It was impressive, but one game doesn’t wipe out the rest of his season, or his main problem: a lack of control. He was on tonight, but that shouldn’t increase his trade value any more than Freddy Sanchez hitting for the cycle, for example.

-Peter Gammons posted a very vague comment in a blog post yesterday that suggested the Pirates had a deal with fourth round pick Zack Dodson, but MLB wouldn’t approve of the deal because it was above slot. Frank Coonelly denied that a deal exists with Dodson, saying the commissioner doesn’t have the authority to reject a deal because it is over slot. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if MLB is putting pressure on teams to delay their above-slot signings. It seems too coincidental that the biggest above-slot deal so far is about $50,000 above slot. We know a lot of teams will eventually go above slot for their players, and it only makes sense that MLB is trying to delay those signings.

-Ryan Doumit was activated off of the DL today, and Robinzon Diaz was sent to AAA. The 25-Man Roster page is updated, and the 40-Man Roster/Payroll page is updated with the amount Diaz made while in the majors.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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