Developing Pitchers, Not Throwers
It seems like every night when I write up the daily minor league schedule I am writing about a great walk to strikeout ratio with at least one of the Pirates pitching prospects. The system is filled with guys who have a 3:1 SO/BB ratio yet the strikeout totals for the most part aren’t that great so that ratio obviously doesn’t tell the whole story. It is no secret the Pirates have their minor league pitchers work on fastball command but they also want these kids working the inside of the plate, not necessarily hitting batters but making sure they own the inside when they pitch.
Too many times over the years we have seen Pirates pitchers in the majors afraid to work inside and not attack hitters when they have two strikes, trying to get hitters to chase something outside over and over. It is obvious now that they have a plan of attack that they are teaching and it goes on from the VSL to AAA and every level in between.
Pirates minor league pitchers have been hitting batters at a high rate this year, which would normally signify a wild pitcher, but the walk totals seem to tell an opposite story. Here are the numbers that really stand out.
West Virginia- 1st in the SAL in hit batters with 96 and last in walks allowed with 302
Bradenton- 3rd in the FSL in hit batters with 78 (just 2 behind the leader) and last in walks allowed with 311
Altoona- Tied for 4th in the EL in hit batters and next to last in walks allowed with 344
Those three teams make up the best examples of both sides of the equation but they are also the three teams that can be considered the best teams to use for showing the teaching that is going on, because they have the most homegrown pitchers with experience in the system. Indianapolis does have the 2nd most hit batters in the IL but they also have a high walk total in part due to high totals from Brian Burres, Garrett Olson and Sean Gallagher, and not guys who were brought up through the system.
Even in the two lower levels in the states, where a lot of these kids are out of college recently, they still are being taught the philosophy of throwing inside. State College has hit 67 batters this year, 21 more than the 2nd highest total in the league. The GCL Pirates have hit 66 batters with the 2nd highest total in the league being 52. If you take it even further you will see the VSL Pirates hit the 2nd most batters.
In fact, the only team out of the eight affiliates of the Pirates that goes against this is the DSL team, who finished near the bottom in hit batters. If you read the DSL pitchers recap, you would remember that the pitching staff was filled with roster fillers due to delays in the signing of new players. It is possible they really didn’t do too much teaching with all those temporary players, instead working with kids who were at the facility training but not eligible to play.
If you go back to the three main teams, Altoona, Bradenton and West Virginia, you will see the results of the players learning this system. It is what I called the ABC’s of pitching (Altoona, Bradenton and Charleston,WV):
Kyle McPherson- 26 BB/134 K 5.15 K/BB ratio
Phillip Irwin- 18/92 5.11
Zack Von Rosenberg- 22/103 4.68
Brooks Pounders- 14/63 4.50
Jameson Taillon- 20/85 4.25
Eliecer Navarro- 17/71 4.18
Casey Sadler- 15/49 3.27
Brandon Cumpton- 27/88 3.26
Zac Fuesser- 27/88 3.26
Zack Dodson- 20/59 2.95
I’ll also note that 4th round pick from last year, Nick Kingham in his first full pro season, has a 12/42 ratio while the best mark at Indianapolis is Brad Lincoln 21/94 (4.48) and he obviously came up through the Pirates system.
So when you see some pitchers struggling in the lower minors for the Pirates it is important to remember they have a game plan that they plan on sticking to. These pitchers are taught to pound the inside of the plate. Sometimes it may get them in trouble with hit batters in key situations and sometimes throwing all these fastballs for strikes will get them hit hard, but it is much better for them to learn from their mistakes in the minors than it is in the majors. The Pirates are hoping that this leads to a pitching staff of pitchers and not a staff full of throwers.