Prospect Report: Nick Kingham’s Drop in Velocity and Increase in Walks

Despite finally picking up some of the recognition he deserves, Nick Kingham isn’t letting anything outside of the field affect his game.

“I don’t put any pressure on myself,” Kingham said. “I feel like the game puts enough pressure on you just to go out and do whatever you know how to do, and know your role. Just be yourself out there.”

The 22-year-old prospect started to creep into the national media’s eyesight over the offseason, gaining praise and rankings across the four major prospect publications. Kingham saw average rankings of 5.5 in the organization, and 79.75 overall this offseason. Of the 2 outlets that rank 25-year-old and younger organizational talent, Kingham came in at 7 and 8 from Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus respectively for the Pirates.

Marc Hulet of FanGraphs called Kingham a potential “solid mid-rotation starter capable of chewing up innings thanks to his strong, durable frame”. John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com gave him a B borderline B+ grade, saying he “thrived in High-A and Double-A by throwing strikes with low-90’s fastball, good curve and changeup.” Clearly industry expectations for the 2010 4th round pick were present going into the season.

Tools

Kingham works with a 3 pitch mix, fastball, curveball, and changeup. Baseball America credits him with both the best changeup and control in the system. He has been working most of the year in the low 90’s with his fastball and the low to mid 80’s with both his curveball and changeup.

“I feel like the fastball is the most important pitch,” Kingham said. “I feel like the fastball does more to a hitter than people realize. It’s hard to hit something that is coming in really fast, especially when you mix up pitches. Also, I feel like my fastball has been kind of, my bread and butter this year. Just trying to locate and put it where I want, and just keep it down in the zone to try and get those ground balls.”

While minor league Pitch F/X and Trackman data is unavailable, the following should give an idea of young pitchers in the majors that display similar repertoires to what we should expect to see out of Kingham via Pitch F/X:

FB CB CH OTHER
Kingham (approximate from scouts radar gun) 91 82 85
Alex Wood 91.19 79.37 83.98
Kyle Gibson 92.83 80.85 84.52 92.55 (SINK) 85.05 (SL)
Kyle McPherson 94.75 78.56 85.01 93.71 (SINK)
Rafael Montero 93.06 87.23 93.15 (SINK) 82.89 (SL)
Anthony Desclafani 93.77 81.47 85.36 92.85 (SINK)

The Pitch F/X readings used above were from the pitcher’s most recent year in the majors, Kingham’s from a radar gun. Kingham may add velocity, or break to his pitches as he continues to develop, but this should give somewhat of a visualization as to what he is presently working with.

Reports from 2013 had Kingham touching as high as 96 MPH, sitting 93-95. There is a possibility that he has changed something from last year, as the 90-92 readings suggest that he might have altered his mechanics, or shifted to a two-seamer, although Kingham has stated that he hasn’t changed anything. The apparent drop in velocity from last season is definitely something to keep an eye on.

As all starting pitching prospects ideally should display, Kingham has shown a steady increase in innings pitched. From his first full season in 2011, he has seen a jump from 71 IP, progressing to 127 and 143.1 in 2012 and 2013. Kingham is on pace for approximately 150 innings this year, barring a late year shutdown.

Output

2014 has been somewhat up and down for Kingham so far. Five of his nine starts have come with at least a 15% strikeout rate, narrowly missing a 6th with his May 16 start falling slightly under at 14.8%. However, only three starts have had a walk rate under 10%.

Kingham’s first 50 innings pitched of 2014 have looked incredibly similar to Jeff Inman’s 2012 campaign.

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 oppOBP oppSLUG FIP
Kingham 50 6.66 4.14 0 .325 .361 3.30
Inman 51.2 6.27 3.31 .35 .326 .385 3.42

This is not to suggest that Kingham and Inman are in line for similar career paths. Kingham is 4 years younger than Inman, and still has quite a bit of projection left. Inman’s career has been offset by injury quite a bit as well. This is merely an interesting coincidence, shown to display the type of year Kingham is having.

Throughout his early career, Kingham has been able to maintain a very reasonable distance between his FIP and ERA, and 2014 has proven to be no different. He is maintaining a 3.30 FIP compared to a 3.06 ERA so far this year. That, along with a BABIP hovering just above league average, could tell us that we are seeing a fairly raw representation of Kingham himself, rather than anything luck, or defense driven.

Some glaring outliers from his career norms have popped up upon Kingham’s promotion to Altoona. In his 73.1 innings with the Curve last year, Kingham saw an increase of almost two full BB/9 from where he left Bradenton at, jumping from 1.80 BB/9 to 3.68 in Altoona, and it hasn’t gotten any better in 2014. His drop in control has led to a 4.14 BB/9 rate over his first 50 innings of the year. That is good for 41st among 45 qualified pitchers in the Eastern League. This will absolutely be a concern going forward.

The other big surprise that accompanied Kingham’s jump to Double-A is his home run rate. In 123.1 innings with the Curve, Kingham has only allowed one home run, translating to 0.07 HR/9. He has yet to allow a home run in 2014. This is by all means a very positive sign, however the following graph of the staff’s career home run rates may show a cause behind the difference:

Kinghamchart

Only pitchers with at least 25 IP were used. With the exception of Rodriguez, the staff clearly saw a drop in home run rate upon promotion to Altoona, which may provide some explanation to Kingham’s drastic improvement in the area.

Outlook

Kingham’s outlook and expectations for the rest of the year exude a clear sense of confidence and a desire to reach his potential.

“Nothing new, just trying to really crisp and fine tune my delivery,” Kingham said. “Just trying to work on the little things and try to really crisp those and make them as best as I can.”

The drop in velocity is something to keep an eye on. The walk rate is an issue. But Nick Kingham is still very much a prospect. He is every bit of his 6’5” 220 pound listing. He has a strong history. He has shown some good signs in 2014, both in maintaining and developing. As he stated, he just has to continue to do what he knows how to do.

John Kokales

Author: John Kokales

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, John has been a devoted Pirates fan his entire life. Before joining Pirates Prospects, he worked for STATS LLC, and interned for Perfect Game, utilizing advanced tracking software for analysis and scouting purposes. Along with covering Altoona, John is currently interning for Baseball Info Solutions, and operating pitch tracking software for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Follow John on Twitter, @jkokales

Share This Post On
  • Lee Young

    John….good stuff…I sure hope it isn’t the sign of some shoulder or elbow issues.

    • Andrew

      I had the same worry, Jeff Zimmerman at Fangraphs uses velocity drop and decrease in Zone% or control as indicators for injury.

  • leowalter

    None of these numbers surprise any body who has watched a number of his starts this season after watching him in 2013. I sure am hoping he gets back to the way he produced last season in A+ and in AA.

  • StevePegues

    “Kingham’s outlook and expectations for the rest of the year elude a clear sense of confidence and a desire to reach his potential.”
    ________________________________________________
    I don’t understand what this means. Is Kingham trying to elude a clear sense of confidence? Why would he do that? Or does it mean that Kingham’s outlook and expectations are incapable of projection, i.e., they elude analysis?

    Did you mean “exude” rather than “elude”?

  • johndw28

    KiNgham isnt close to a top 100 prospect right now. This farm system has taken quite a tumble this year.

  • Joe Sweetnich

    Very good article John. I am one who believes that the Pirates are refining the skills of Glasnow, Kingham, Joely, etc. making them work on things that they otherwise may not. Short term struggles that should lead to long term gains.