Top Performers: Three International Left-Handers Making Some Noise

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

The Pirates have had a lot of small lefties in their system over the last few years, and the story has been the same with almost all of them. They all feature a fastball in the 80s, and great breaking stuff. The great breaking stuff leads to a lot of success in the lower levels. Then, none of those lefties ever make it past high-A.

This week, Orlando Castro and Eliecer Navarro finished with the top two game scores in the system. Both pitchers could fit the above description. Castro might be an exception, as he has gotten his fastball into the low-90s in the past, and looks better than most of the lefties that have come through the system. His season has been phenomenal, with a 1.36 ERA in 33 innings, and a 29:1 K/BB ratio. It’s still hard to take him seriously as a prospect since he has a good curveball and great control, which is definitely going to look good in low-A. That won’t guarantee success in the higher levels, since those pitchers are used to that combo. Castro threw six shutout innings this week, striking out seven, and being named the SAL Player of the Week.

Navarro doesn’t have the fastball that Castro has, but does have the control and the good breaking stuff. On the season he has a 3.26 ERA in 30.1 innings, with a 27:5 K/BB ratio. This week he had one of his best starts of the year, striking out nine batters in six innings, and giving up one run on two hits. That performance was over-shadowed by seven perfect innings from Drew Gagnon. With both Navarro and Castro, the jury will be out on their future potential until they have success in Double-A.

Stolmy Pimentel once again found himself in the top three game scores this week. Out of the five weeks this season, Pimentel has been in the top three in four of those weeks. Last week he was named our Pitcher of the Month for the month of April. Pimentel made two starts this week. His first start was the third best of the week. He threw seven shutout innings with five strikeouts and a walk. His second start was the 11th best start of the week. He actually gave up runs this time, with two solo homers. The first run snapped a 17.2 inning shutout streak.

Tyler Glasnow had his best start of the year this week, throwing five shutout innings. He struck out seven and walked only two. Glasnow had one other start to match this, throwing five shutout innings and striking out six in week two. He has dealt with control problems at time this year, but when those control issues aren’t there, he’s dominant.

Andy Oliver had his worst start of the season two weeks ago, and ended up with the worst start that week. This week he got back on track, giving up one run in six innings, with seven strikeouts and two walks. That was good enough to tie Nick Kingham for the fifth best score this week. Kingham had an identical stat line, giving up one run on four hits in six innings, with seven strikeouts and two walks.

Out of the three A-ball lefties in the top ten this week, Joely Rodriguez has the most upside.
Out of the three A-ball lefties in the top ten this week, Joely Rodriguez has the most upside.

Joely Rodriguez could fit in the same category as Castro and Navarro. He’s a small lefty with great off-speed stuff. The key difference is that Rodriguez can throw in the low 90s, touching 94, giving him far more upside than Castro and Navarro. As Tom Bragg mentioned on this week’s podcast, Rodriguez has been working in the 91-94 MPH range over the last few starts. He has also been putting up strong results, and ended up with the seventh best game score this week. In his last two starts he has given up one earned run in 11.1 innings, with a 10:1 K/BB ratio. That’s great to see, since his main issue in the 91-94 MPH range has been a lack of control.

Phil Irwin returned to the Indianapolis rotation this week, throwing four shutout innings. Irwin had been sidelined with arm fatigue after his start in Pittsburgh. He picked up where he left off with this start, although obviously he needs to be built back up due to the time off.

John Kuchno had a rough start to the season, giving up ten earned runs in 7.1 innings over his first two starts. Since then he has given up three earned runs in 19.2 innings. His start this past week was his best of the year. It was the first time he went six innings, and he also got away from some control problems that he had in the previous two outings.

Gerrit Cole has had a rough start to his Indianapolis career, but ended up with the tenth best start this week. He went six innings, allowing two runs on four hits. He only struck out two batters, but also only walked two, which was a good sign. So far this year Cole has walked too many batters and hasn’t struck out a lot. Both show that he needs more time against upper level hitting before he’s ready for a promotion.

The Bottom Five

Clay Holmes hasn’t had a good start to the 2013 season, with a 6.00 ERA in 27 innings, along with a 15:22 K/BB ratio. This week he had the lowest game score, giving up eight runs on eight hits in four innings, with three walks and one strikeout. If he continues this into the summer, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go back down to the NYPL to work on his control issues, similar to Ryan Hafner last year.

Matt Benedict had two starts last week, which were the second and third worst of the week. With Zack Dodson returning to Bradenton, Benedict’s rotation spot could be in jeopardy.

Casey Sadler has had some strong outings recently, but his start last week wasn’t one of them. In the podcast this week, John Eshleman talked about how Sadler’s stuff looked in this start, compared to some of the starts where he was having more success.

Adrian Sampson had one of his best starts of the season this week, but it ended up in the bottom five in large part to a bad sixth inning. Sampson was dominant in his first five innings of work, looking better than any of his previous starts, with most of those starts seeing early jitters. He gave up four runs in the sixth, capped off by a three run homer.

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Lee Young

Just watched Sadler pitch a good game tonight in Altoona, albeit against a weak hitting Hbg outfit.

Santos made some nice plays at 3b, but Ngoepe botched a coupla plays at SS. DIckerson hit a monster HR.

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