Top Pirates Minor League Pitching Performances: Week Ending 8/26

Below are the top ten pitching Game Scores* in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The rankings include every pitcher who made a start for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, not including DSL teams, and 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.

Pitcher Team Date IP H R ER BB K Game Score
Rick VandenHurk Indianapolis 8/21 7.1 2 1 0 2 8 78.65
Jameson Taillon Altoona 8/26 6.0 1 0 0 0 7 77
Kyle McPherson Indianapolis 8/25 7.0 2 0 0 2 5 76
Kris Johnson Altoona 8/25 7.0 3 0 0 2 5 74
Jeff Locke Indianapolis 8/24 6.0 4 0 0 1 6 69
Kyle Kaminska Bradenton 8/22 7.0 6 1 1 0 6 67
Mike Jefferson West Virginia 8/20 6.0 3 1 1 0 4 66
Phil Irwin Indianapolis 8/23 6.0 5 1 1 1 9 66
Kris Johnson Indianapolis 8/20 5.1 2 0 0 0 1 65.65
Jameson Taillon Altoona 8/21 5.0 4 0 0 0 6 65
Jhonathan Ramos Bradenton 8/25 6.0 3 1 1 0 3 65

Rick VandenHurk makes this list every week, and this week he was at the top of the list. VandenHurk struck out eight batters last Tuesday, while throwing 7.1 innings without an earned run. He has struck out seven or more batters in six of his last eight starts. In his time with Indianapolis this year he has a 3.07 ERA in 117.1 innings, with a 107:35 K/BB ratio. VandenHurk could be an option for the Pirates in September.

Both of Taillon’s Double-A starts ended up in the top ten this week.

Jameson Taillon’s jump to Double-A couldn’t have gone better. In his two starts at the level he combined for 11 shutout innings, while giving up five hits, no walks, and striking out 13. His debut was the tenth best start of the week in the system, and his follow up from last night was the second best start of the week. Pirates Prospects had live coverage of both events, with my report from his debut, and reports from John Eshleman and Matt Bandi from Sunday night’s game.

Another player making a strong jump to the next level is Kyle McPherson. In his third start in Triple-A, McPherson threw seven shutout innings, giving up two walks and two hits, while striking out five. In three starts at the level he has a 0.98 ERA in 18.1 innings, with a 17:4 K/BB ratio. In most cases I feel a player would need more time in Triple-A, but there’s very little for McPherson to work on. With his stuff, he’s the type of guy who could breeze through Triple-A and go right to the majors with no issues.

Kris Johnson is an organizational guy in the upper levels, and filled that role this week. With McPherson and Justin Wilson in the majors during the early part of the week, Johnson made a start in Triple-A. After those two returned to the minors, Johnson went back to the Double-A rotation. Both of his starts ended up in the top ten during the week.

Jeff Locke continues to put up strong starts, raising the question as to why he’s in the minors with guys like Erik Bedard struggling in the majors. In his last ten starts, Locke has a 1.82 ERA in 59.1 innings, with a 52:24 K/BB ratio. That doesn’t include the time he spent in the majors, where he threw 4.1 shutout innings, giving up one hit. Since being sent back down to the minors he has given up two runs on eight hits in 12 innings, with an 11:2 K/BB ratio.

The Pirates added Kyle Kaminska in the Gaby Sanchez deal, and so far in Bradenton he’s had two impressive starts. Last week he threw six no-hit innings, with one walk and five strikeouts. He followed that up with one earned run on six hits in seven innings this week, while striking out six. His numbers come with the disclaimer that he’s 23 years old, and has spent a significant amount of time in the Florida State League in each of the last three seasons. They’re impressive numbers, but they’d be more impressive if they came in Double-A, where Kaminska hasn’t had much success.

Mike Jefferson has ended up on the “Bottom Five” list the last few weeks, but had a pair of impressive starts this week. In two starts, Jefferson combined to give up four runs, three earned, on ten hits in 12 innings, with a 9:0 K/BB ratio. The first start, which came last Monday, ended up in the top ten. Jefferson is a left-handed pitcher, but surprisingly he has had a .228 BAA against right-handers, with a .313 against lefties.

Phil Irwin made his second start with Indianapolis, and now has a 2.70 ERA in 10 innings over two starts at the level, with a 17:3 K/BB ratio. Irwin profiles more as a back of the rotation starter, but it’s hard to ignore the numbers he’s put up. In previous years he relied on his four seam fastball, which he got up to 93 MPH. Last year he added a sinker in high-A, and relied on the pitch heavily in Double-A. He pounds the strike zone with good control, and uses a big breaking curveball to get strikeouts. This year he’s put up a high ground ball rate (1.58 GO/AO) and 106 strikeouts in 119.1 innings, showing that the sinker/curve combo is working. He also throws a good changeup, making it possible to remain in the rotation.

Jhonathan Ramos made a start for Bradenton after Jameson Taillon was promoted to Altoona. Ramos has spent time in high-A and Double-A, and is looking more like an organizational player. He’s a left-hander who throws mid-to-upper 80s. Typically those players don’t make it past high-A, although Ramos did have a 2.61 ERA in 20.2 innings in Altoona, with a 14:6 K/BB ratio. For now he should get more starts with Taillon no longer in the Bradenton rotation.


Short-Season Leagues

The players in the short-season leagues are usually limited. Pitchers in the GCL usually don’t go beyond three innings, while pitchers in State College are usually between four and five innings. Because of the limited innings, these players don’t post as high of Game Scores as players in the upper levels who can pitch beyond the fifth inning. Here were the top five from the short-season leagues over the last week.

Pitcher Team Date IP H R ER BB K Game Score
Axel Diaz GCL 8/20 4.0 1 0 0 0 3 63
Clay Holmes State College 8/25 5.0 2 0 0 1 1 63
Colten Brewer GCL 8/26 4.0 1 0 0 1 4 63
Luis Heredia State College 8/24 5.0 3 1 1 0 4 61
Dovydas Neverauskas GCL 8/23 4.2 4 1 1 2 4 55.35

Axel Diaz has come out of nowhere to put up some decent numbers this year. His overall numbers aren’t as impressive, with a 4.81 ERA in 39.1 innings, although a lot of his individual starts have been good. This past week he made two starts, combining for one run on four hits in eight innings, with seven strikeouts and one walk.

Clay Holmes got back on track this week, throwing another five shutout innings. In eight of his 12 starts this year, the 2011 9th round pick has gone five innings without giving up an earned run.

Colten Brewer, another 2011 prep pitcher, had a great performance in the one game first round matchup in the GCL playoffs. Brewer finished his first season with a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings, along with an 18:9 K/BB ratio. He threw four shutout innings yesterday to help lead the GCL Pirates to a 1-0 victory over the GCL Cardinals, sending them to the GCL Finals.

Luis Heredia had some of his worst outings of the year recently, combining for nine earned runs in 13.1 innings in his last three starts heading in to this week. He threw five innings this past week, which was the ninth time in 12 starts that he has gone five innings.

Dovydas Neverauskas is a sleeper in the lower levels. The 19-year-old out of Lithuania throws in the low 90s, and has touched 94. His problem coming in to the year has been control related, although he made some good strides this year. Neverauskas has 18 walks in 35.1 innings this year, with ten of those walks coming in his first three appearances. Since then he has walked eight batters in 24.2 innings.


The Bottom Five

The following were the worst game scores by a starter in the Pirates’ minor league system over the last week.

Pitcher Team Date IP H R ER BB K Game Score
Eliecer Navarro Bradenton 8/23 4.0 8 5 5 2 4 28
Colten Brewer GCL 8/21 3.0 4 3 2 1 0 38
Tyler Glasnow GCL 8/24 0.2 0 1 1 4 1 38.35
Clario Perez State College 8/22 4.0 4 4 4 3 5 40
Zac Fuesser West Virginia 8/22 5.2 7 4 4 2 3 41.35

Brewer had one of the best starts of the week in the lower levels with his playoff performance, but the start before that was one of the worst this week in the entire system. That was mostly due to a lack of strikeouts and a limited amount of innings. The short-season guys are penalized in the Game Scores since they rarely go over four innings. So seeing someone like Brewer on this list isn’t the same as seeing someone like Eliecer Navarro or Zac Fuesser on the list, since they’ve got a better chance of going deeper in to the game in full season ball. Tyler Glasnow struggled with control and reached his single inning pitch count this week. Prior to this start he made two straight starts with four no-hit innings each, with both outings ending up on previous top ten lists.

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