Top Performers: Nick Kingham’s 13 Strikeouts is the Best Start of the Year

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

Nick Kingham posted the top game score of the season on Sunday.
Nick Kingham posted the top game score of the season on Sunday.

Nick Kingham had the best game score of the year on Sunday, beating out Andy Oliver’s 77 last week. Kingham was dominant, striking out 13 in 6 shutout innings, and only needing 81 pitches to make it happen. He also had another start last week where he struck out six and gave up two runs in five innings. That game score ended up north of 50, but outside of the top 10. He also had a game score of 74 last week. Kingham has been on a roll lately, with two earned runs and a 26:1 K/BB ratio over 17 innings in his last three starts.

Brandon Cumpton has struggled all year between Altoona and Indianapolis. He had a strong season in the Altoona rotation last year, but started off slow this year. He was promoted to Indianapolis only because they needed some arms, and not for his performance. The first few starts went about as expected, with Cumpton seeing the same struggles he saw with Altoona. His start this week was considerably better, with seven shutout innings and just two hits allowed.

After a week off, Stolmy Pimentel returned to the top 10. He has been in the top three for three out of four weeks this year. Pimentel dealt with control problems, walking five over six shutout innings, but he also struck out eight. I wrote about Pimentel last week, noting that his stuff was too dominant for Double-A hitters, but that he also has some work to do with his control before he goes to Triple-A.

Gerrit Cole finally made the top ten, having his best start of the year on Saturday. Cole has struggled with control and command issues, and still had some control problems in this start. Cole walked four batters in seven innings, and only threw 57 strikes in 97 pitches.

Joely Rodriguez had been in the bottom five in each of the last two weeks, and had the worst game score in the system last week. This week he bounced back with 5.1 shutout innings, allowing four hits and one walk. Rodriguez has some potential as a left-handed sleeper option, but his control is too inconsistent at this point. When his control is on, he puts up more results like this. When it’s off, he puts up results similar to the last two weeks.

Another left-hander in West Virginia who is making a name for himself is Orlando Castro. This is the fourth week in a row that Castro has ended up in the top ten. On the season he has a 1.67 ERA in 27 innings, with a 22:1 K/BB ratio. Castro is a small lefty with great off-speed stuff and a fastball that can touch the low 90s. Generally I’m skeptical of that type of pitcher, since a lefty with good off-speed stuff in A-ball tends to get these results. He’s a guy to watch, but I wouldn’t trust his numbers or consider him much of a prospect until he’s doing this in higher levels.

Matt Benedict has shown some improvements this year with his off-speed stuff, and he’s starting to get some strong results on the field. His start this past week was one of his best of the season. He dominated with his sinker, getting a 13:3 GO/AO ratio. I recapped the start here.

The lack of starters in Triple-A forced Brooks Brown into a spot starting role this week. He and Ryan Reid combined for seven shutout innings on Sunday. Brown went four shutout on the start, giving up a walk and a hit and striking out three. Another Indianapolis starter who made the top ten was Kris Johnson, who threw 5.2 shutout innings earlier in the week. Finally, Kyle Waldrop rounded out the top ten, striking out eight in six innings this week. The Pirates have seen their pitching prospects depleted at the level. Kyle McPherson is injured, Jeff Locke made the majors, and Phil Irwin is dealing with arm fatigue. They’ve had a lot of their off-season minor league free agents step up in the process, and the results from almost all of those pitchers have been excellent.

The Bottom Five

Andy Oliver has been at the top of the list in two of the last three weeks, but finds himself at the bottom of the list this week. Oliver saw his usual control problems, with five walks in five innings, but added seven hits to those walks. In previous starts he’s had the control issues, but has limited the hits, which negated the damage of the free passes.

Robby Rowland ends up in the bottom five for the second straight week. He dealt with some control issues this week, which isn’t normal for him.

Casey Sadler had two starts last week, and both ended up in the top ten. He wasn’t as fortunate this week, giving up four runs on eight hits in four innings. That was the worst start of the year for the right-hander.

Clay Holmes and Jameson Taillon tied for the fourth worst start of the week. Holmes has struggled with control all year, and that was the case in this start with four walks. Taillon had two starts this week. His second start was much better than the first one, but both were a big change from his three starts this year coming into the week.

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