Below are the pitching Game Scores* in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The top ten scores are highlighted in the write-up below. The rankings include every pitcher who made a start for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, with no limitations on whether the starting pitcher has prospect eligibility.
*Game Score is a stat created by Bill James used to determine how good a pitcher’s outing really was. The formula for game score is simple: Start with 50 points, add one point for every out recorded, add two for each inning completed after the fourth, add one point for each strikeout. Subtract two points for each hit, four points for each earned run, two points for each unearned run and one point for each walk. There tends to be an advantage for pitchers who can go longer in the game, as they have more time to pile up strikeouts, while getting bonus points for extra innings beyond the fourth frame.
1. Adrian Sampson – It might be too early to say that Adrian Sampson is having a breakout season. However, the numbers so far have been impressive. He has a 2.26 ERA in 55.2 innings, with a 43:16 K/BB ratio. That’s a surprise at the Double-A level, considering the fact that he had a 5.14 ERA in 140 innings in High-A last year. A big difference for Sampson has been his changeup. He didn’t have much of a changeup going into the 2013 season, and spent the entire year developing the pitch. He did finish strong, with a 3.02 ERA in 41.2 innings over his final seven starts. This year the changeup is much better, which has been a big factor in his success. John Kokales wrote more about Sampson last week.
2. Orlando Castro – Castro has been impressive this year in the Bradenton rotation, putting up a 2.91 ERA in 55.2 innings, with a 41:7 K/BB ratio. He had two of the top ten starts this week, combining for two runs in 12.2 innings, with 12 strikeouts and no walks. His best start saw 6.2 shutout innings, with four hits and six strikeouts. Castro is repeating the same path he took in West Virginia. He didn’t have the best results in his first half season in low-A, then came back the next year to dominate in the rotation. He didn’t have good results last year in half a season in Bradenton, and is now dominating in the rotation. If he keeps this up, he could be moved up to Altoona by the end of next month, much like his progression from West Virginia to Bradenton last year.
3t. Brandon Cumpton – Brandon Cumpton earned his promotion to the majors in his final start with Indianapolis. Cumpton threw eight innings, giving up one run on five hits, with two walks and six strikeouts. It’s not that he hadn’t previously earned the promotion. Cumpton had a 1.35 ERA in 40 innings, with a 21:10 K/BB ratio with Indianapolis this year. Last year he had a 3.32 ERA in 122 innings, with a 90:44 K/BB ratio. He now has an opportunity to grab a rotation spot for the long-term. With Jameson Taillon out for the year, there is no pitcher better than Cumpton expected to arrive in Pittsburgh in 2014. The Pirates have three rotation spots open in 2015, so Cumpton could claim one of those spots if he does well the rest of the year.
3t. Joely Rodriguez – One disappointing thing about the 2014 season for Rodriguez has been a lack of strikeouts. He has just 24 strikeouts in 46 innings this year. A few of his recent starts have been encouraging on that front. Last week he struck out seven in five innings of work. This week he made two starts, with his best one seeing five strikeouts in six shutout innings. He also had an outing earlier in the week where he only struck out two in 5.2 innings. Rodriguez has a 4.11 ERA in 46 innings of work. He’s getting a lot of ground ball outs, with a 1.84 GO/AO ratio. He’s probably going to need an entire season in Altoona to adjust to the upper levels. He could need a bit more than that if he doesn’t show strong progression in the second half. Rodriguez still has a lot of upside, but he’s not adjusting to Double-A as quick as you’d hope.
5. A.J. Morris - Morris has been a pleasant surprise this year in the Altoona rotation. He has a 1.34 ERA in 33.2 innings as a starter, with a 21:9 K/BB ratio. This week he threw seven innings, giving up one run on four hits, with no walks and three strikeouts. He’s 27-years-old, so his performance comes with the disclaimer that he’s a few years too old for the Double-A level. He could end up this year’s version as David Bromberg — putting up strong numbers in the upper levels of the minors, only to leave as a free agent at the end of the year.
6. Shane Carle – Carle has been hot lately, with a 2.64 ERA in 30.2 innings during the month of May. He continued the hot streak with two good starts this week, combining for three earned runs in 13 innings, with a 5:2 K/BB ratio. His best start was on Sunday, when he threw seven innings, giving up a run on five hits. Carle doesn’t strike out too many batters, with just 30 strikeouts in 52.2 innings this season. He does get a lot of ground ball outs with his sinker, posting a 1.74 GO/AO ratio this year.
7. Chad Kuhl – Kuhl had a nice start this week, giving up one earned run on four hits in 6.1 innings, with two strikeouts and one walk. He’s been inconsistent this season, and has really struggled against left-handers. He has a .308 BAA versus lefties, and a .265 BAA against right-handers. Kuhl is a sinkerball pitcher, and his focus this year has been working on his extension fastball and changeup, which are the two weapons he uses against left-handers. He gets a ton of ground ball outs, with a 2.00 GO/AO ratio, but needs to find a way to handle left-handers in order to remain a starter for the long-term.
8t. Casey Sadler – Sadler made two starts this week, with his first one being much better than the second one. The first start saw him give up two earned runs on six hits in seven innings, with no walks and five strikeouts. On the season, he has a 2.66 ERA in 50.2 innings, with a 36:9 K/BB ratio. The Pirates could turn to Sadler at some point this year for a spot in the rotation. However, he’s down on the depth chart due to his lack of experience in Triple-A. I’d guess that Jeff Locke and Vance Worley would be ahead of him.
8t. Orlando Castro - Castro’s second start this week saw him give up two runs on five hits in six innings, with no walks and six strikeouts. See above for more on the lefty.
10t. Zack Dodson - Dodson showed some encouraging progress at the end of the 2011 season with West Virginia. Since that point, he has dealt with injuries, along with a suspension, and has had poor performances throughout the process. His performance this year has been good, with a 2.66 ERA in 23.2 innings. He’s still dealing with injury concerns, and it’s a small sample size, but it’s good to see from a guy who was said to have the upside of a middle of the rotation starter in 2011. He might not have a shot at being a middle of the rotation guy anymore, but he could have a chance at reaching the majors as a starter, and definitely could have the upside as a reliever with a fastball that can sit low 90s, and a big breaking curveball.
10t. Jason Creasy - Creasy has had a good season in Bradenton, with a 3.86 ERA in 44.1 innings of work, along with a 31:10 K/BB ratio. He has actually been performing better against lefties than right-handers this year, with a .227 BAA versus lefties, compared to a .324 against right-handers. This week he gave up one run on five hits in five innings, with no walks and five strikeouts.