Top Performers: Andy Oliver Has Been One of the Best Pitchers So Far

Below are the pitching Game Scores* in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The top ten and the bottom five starts are broken down below the chart. 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.

The Top Ten

Andy Oliver was the top starter in the system for the second time in three weeks.
Andy Oliver was the top starter in the system for the second time in three weeks.

Andy Oliver has been one of the most impressive pitchers in the system this year. He tied for the top spot on this list in week one, and finished in the top five last week. This week he topped the list after a dominant performance where he struck out ten in six shutout innings. Oliver is still struggling with his control, but he’s also looking un-hittable. On the season he has a 2.11 ERA in 21.1 innings, with a 29:12 K/BB ratio and just 12 hits allowed. Having 12 walks in 21.1 innings isn’t a good thing, but having 12 hits in that same time frame is great, and counters the walks.

Jameson Taillon finished right behind Oliver after his seven shutout innings this week. Taillon has been impressive this year with Altoona. In three starts he has a 1.00 ERA and a 20:7 K/BB ratio over 18 innings. In his six starts at the level he has a 1.29 ERA in 35 innings, with a 38:8 K/BB ratio. I wrote earlier in the week about how we’ll need to see more from Taillon before talking about promotions or whether he’s the top guy in the system. He had seven dominant starts at the beginning of his high-A career, then struggled for two months after that. He’s off to a great start in Double-A, but hasn’t really had a lot of time for opponents to make adjustments to him. How he responds to those adjustments will say more about his future than these first six starts.

Bradenton teammates Robby Rowland and Nick Kingham tied for the third best score this week in back to back starts against Jupiter. They both pitched six shutout innings, and the only difference between their lines was that Kingham struck out one more batter and allowed one walk. It was a better week all around for the Bradenton pitchers, who have been hurt by poor defense this year. Coincidentally, Alen Hanson wasn’t playing in either of these games. I don’t want to say the defense was all Hanson, since most of the infield defense has been just as poor.

Kyle Waldrop made a spot start in Indianapolis after Phil Irwin was promoted to the majors. Waldrop came up big, throwing 6.2 shutout innings. He’s an extreme ground ball pitcher, and while he doesn’t look like he could start in the majors, he could provide the Pirates with some bullpen depth at some point this year, especially if the bullpen keeps getting overworked like they have been early in the season.

Casey Sadler made two starts this week, and both starts ended up back to back on this list at numbers six and seven. The two starts were almost identical, with one run allowed in seven innings. I’ve been calling Sadler a sleeper pitching prospect since last season when he made the move to the Bradenton rotation. He ended up just outside of the top 30 in this year’s Prospect Guide. So far he’s handling the jump to Altoona well, with a 2.16 ERA in 25 innings, along with a 14:5 K/BB ratio and a ridiculous 2.35 GO/AO ratio.

John Kuchno got off to a rough start to the year in West Virginia, but rebounded nicely in his last outing. Kuchno threw five shutout innings, giving up two hits and striking out two. He was an 18th round pick last year, and one of the guys the Pirates turned to when Mark Appel didn’t sign. Kuchno profiles more as a power reliever, with a mid-90s fastball and a great curveball. The Pirates will give him every opportunity to make it as a starter before making that eventual switch to the bullpen.

Clay Holmes has dealt with some control problems this year. He showed last Monday what he could do when the control problems weren’t around. Holmes threw 5.1 shutout innings, allowing three hits and walking two. Later in the week he walked five in four innings, ending up in the bottom five of this week’s rankings.

Orlando Castro has been very effective in the West Virginia rotation. He throws harder than a lot of the other small left-handers in the lower levels of the Pirates system, giving him more upside. He’s got good secondary stuff, with a very nice breaking ball. Generally I don’t trust small left-handers with good off-speed stuff in the lower levels. That gives them a big advantage that usually disappears when they make it to the higher levels, or if they make it there. Castro has the advantage of a better fastball, but he’s no exception to my rule. Tom Bragg wrote about Castro after his second start of the week on Sunday.

The Bottom Five

Joely Rodriguez ended up in the bottom five for the second straight week. I’ve written a lot about how the Bradenton defense has been poor, but the West Virginia defense has been just as bad. Rodriguez gave up eight runs in 4.2 innings, but only three were earned. That’s still not a good outing, but it can be difficult to have success when your defense is giving away so many outs.

Tyler Waldron has been in the Altoona rotation this year, but has more upside as an eventual reliever. He looks similar to Jared Hughes right now in terms of career path. A few years ago Hughes was struggling in the Altoona rotation, and his career didn’t take off until he moved to the bullpen. Waldron is a different pitcher than Hughes, but could also see an improvement if he eventually moves to relief.

Brandon Cumpton was moved up to Indianapolis due to a shortage of pitchers at the level. He made two starts this week, with the first one ended up in the bottom five. He improved in the second start, giving up three runs in six innings, with eight strikeouts. Cumpton was struggling in Altoona, and was only promoted because Kyle McPherson went down and Phil Irwin went to the majors. He’s another guy who looks to have more upside as a reliever, although he does have a chance to be a back of the rotation starter.

Robby Rowland and Clay Holmes both made the top ten this week, but they also made the bottom five with their second starts. Holmes showed his control issues, walking five in four innings, while only striking out one on Saturday. Rowland didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday, running into a few jams and giving up two solo homers. He did strike out five, which helped him to limit the damage. His defense was responsible for one of the runs, but also saved him from another run when Willy Garcia nailed a runner at the plate with a throw from right field.

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