By The Numbers: Midland Pitching Staff

The Midland Rockhounds pitching staff currently ranks in the middle of the Texas League in ERA. Nathaniel Stoltz takes a closer look at the individual pitchers on the Rockhounds' staff to see whose ERAs are an accurate assessment of their performance thus far this season, and whose are misleading.

This article continues the look at the system's pitchers that I began last week in examining the staff of the Sacramento River Cats. Here is a look at all the Midland pitchers with significant innings (excluding Kristian Bell, who was recently demoted to Stockton, and Jason Glushon and Justin Dowdy, who were recently released).

Stats good through Monday, June 1

Graham Godfrey has done a nice job for the Rockhounds this season. There isn't much luck at all, good or bad, in his statline, so his 3.94 ERA is well-deserved. The righthander doesn't have any one stat that jumps out as a big plus, but he rates as average or above-average across the board. His strong showing puts him in line to possible get a Triple-A look by the end of the season and perhaps be a back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever down the line.

Jason Fernandez has been a serviceable member of the Midland rotation as well, although he hasn't been as good as Godfrey. Fernandez's only problem is his mediocre K/BB ratio (1.64). He can expect better luck on balls in play going forward (.325 BABIP) and his homer-to-flyball rate is a little high (12.2%) especially given his strong groundball rate (52.1%), a career high. Overall, his 4.37 ERA is an accurate picture of how well he's pitched. Fernandez needs to get that K/BB ratio closer to 2/1 before he'll be ready to move up to the River Cats.

Travis Banwart's 3.40 ERA is superficially impressive, but he hasn't been as good as it indicates. Banwart has a troublesome strikeout rate (4.85 K/9), although he at least has a very low walk rate (2.43 BB/9). The big righty could probably succeed with that if he got a lot of groundballs, but he doesn't, with a GB% of just 43.4%. He has a fluky 5.1% HR/FB ratio as well. Banwart has shown strikeout ability in the past (8+ K/9 at each of his first three minor league stops), so he eventually should at least get his strikeouts up to the 6-7 K/9 range. If he can do that while keeping the low walk rate, Banwart will be ready for Triple-A, but not until then: he currently deserves an ERA in the mid-4s.

Angel Garcia has also been lucky to have a good ERA (3.73). The towering righty has a slightly above-average strikeout rate (6.89 K/9), but a terrible walk rate (6.32 BB/9), leading to a K/BB ratio of just 1.09. While he has only allowed 1 home run in 31.3 innings pitched, it appears to be largely luck, as his HR/FB is just 2.4%. As a pitcher with spotty command and flyball tendencies (41.1 GB%), Garcia doesn't look anywhere near big-league ready, although his career HR/FB (5.5%), suggests that he can prevent homers better than most flyball pitchers. Garcia deserves an ERA of approximately 5.00. He needs a dramatic decrease in his walk rate to have an MLB future.

Michael Benacka has continued his strong performance since being signed out of independent ball in 2008. At first glance, it appears the righty has been lucky, with a .269 BABIP and no homers allowed in 29.7 innings, despite just a 40.8 GB%. However, there is a bit of a wrinkle with Benacka, which is his delivery. Scouting reports on the right-handers generally agree that his delivery includes better than average deception, which makes it harder for hitters to pick up the ball. Statistically, it's been shown that pitchers who share this trait (Mariano Rivera and Dontrelle Willis, for two examples) can sometimes sustain lower BABIPs and HR/FB rates. Indeed, Benacka's BABIP in 2008 was .273, similar to this year's .269 mark, so it could be that he can keep BABIP in the .270 range. His flyball tendencies also keep his BABIP low. Benacka's walks are a bit high (4.25 BB/9), but that's not a problem as long as he keeps his strikeouts up (9.71 K/9). With Benacka's incredible deception and plus-plus changeup, he could fit in nicely in the major league bullpen some day. My preseason comparison to Edwar Ramirez of the Yankees still holds. A more mainstream comparison would be a poor man's Trevor Hoffman. Benacka's ERA shouldn't be 2.12, but it should be below 3.00; he's ready for Sacramento.

Rocky Roquet's 6.66 ERA far exaggerates the former Cubs prospect's problems. Roquet's .412 BABIP is the cause of his inflated ERA, and once that corrects, his ERA should come down over two runs. Roquet needs to trim his walk rate (5.18 BB/9) which has been a problem dating back to his Cubs days, but at least he strikes out batters (8.51 K/9). His ERA should be in the mid-4s, but he needs improved command to have a major league future.

Bobby Cramer has been the best pitcher in Midland's starting rotation despite a pedestrian 4.74 ERA. Cramer's .408 BABIP, like Roquet's high mark, inflates his ERA by about two runs. He actually deserves a mark below 3.00. Cramer combines good command (3.14 K/BB) with strong groundball tendencies (58.5 GB%), which is always an excellent combination. The lefty also pitched well in Sacramento early in the season; a .485 BABIP took the sub-3.00 ERA he deserved and inflated it to a whopping 6.75. As a lefty groundball pitcher who doesn't allow many walks or homers and struck out a batter per inning in Triple-A, Cramer has the tools necessary to succeed in the majors; he just needs a chance.

In the last column, I mentioned how Gio Gonzalez needed to improve his very high walk rate, but also explained "it says a lot about his strengths that he has a pretty legitimate 4.70 ERA with all the command problems." James Heuser has a similar statistical profile. With even worse control than Gonzalez (7.25 BB/9), it would seem that Heuser would deserve an ERA up above 6, but thanks to his excellent strikeout rate (11.69 K/9), and good homer rate (.81 HR/9, with average HR/FB luck), Heuser actually deserves an ERA lower than his current 5.24 mark. The sidearmer's control has deteriorated with increased bullpen usage (2.38 BB/9 in 2007 as a starter, 5.76 BB/9 in 2008 as a swingman, 7.25 this year exclusively in relief), but his strikeout rate has trended upward with the change as well (8.54 K/9 in 2007, 9.72 in 2008, 11.69 this season). If Heuser can recapture his 2007 control while keeping his 2009 strikeout rate, he could have a major league career. If he can't cut down on the walks, however, he'll probably top out in Triple-A.

Chris Farley's 8.18 ERA obviously is a bit inflated, but even after accounting for his .358 BABIP, his 59.5% strand rate, and 17.4% HR/FB, all of which are just bad luck, the righty's ERA should stand just below 6.00. The problem for Farley has been command; like Heuser, he has walked far too many batters (6.95 BB/9), but unlike Heuser, he hasn't gotten many swings and misses (4.09 K/9). While Farley has shown decent groundball tendencies (49.4%), it's basically impossible to succeed with an 0.59 K/BB ratio. He's currently on the DL, so it's possible that his problem was injury-related, as he usually gets much fewer walks and many more strikeouts than this. If Farley can't at least reverse his walk and strikeout rates, however, he won't stick around much longer.

Sam Demel looks like the A's closer of the future. His solid strikeout (8.31 K/9) and walk (3.32 BB/9) rates lead to a quality K/BB ratio (2.50), which, when coupled with his extreme groundball tendencies (59%) make for a pitcher who could make a real impact in the major leagues. Demel's 0.83 ERA is partially due to a low BABIP (.240), but he deserves an ERA around 3.00 and is ready for Triple-A. Like Benacka, Demel features a deceptive delivery. Demel and Henry Rodriguez are probably the two top righty relievers in the system, and could be a great tandem at the back of the A's bullpen for years to come.

Arnold Leon's 4.37 ERA is slightly lucky, but he deserves one only a fraction of a run higher. While his .337 BABIP is bad luck, it's tough to have an above-average ERA with a walk rate of 4.70 BB/9. If Leon can get his walk rate back toward the 2.86 BB/9 rate of 2008, he'll be ready to move up. Keep in mind that the short righty is only 20 and is a decent Double-A pitcher already. If Leon continues to progress, he'll be a good major league pitcher at some point. Given his four-pitch arsenal, the A's might want to see if he can start at some point; he can always be moved back to relief if it doesn't work.

Carlos Hernandez has deserved ERAs near 4.00 both in Stockton and Midland (just above 4 in Stockton, just below 4 with the Rockhounds), so his Double-A ERA is a better indication of his true value than his High-A one was. While he's had some bad luck in his two starts (.333 BABIP, only 63.2% of runners stranded), Hernandez needs to quickly improve his 0.83 K/BB ratio to maintain his success. He does get a nice amount of grounders (48.2% between two stops this year, 51.9% career), which would make a mediocre K/BB rate more acceptable, but Hernandez's needs to be double what it is for him to rate as a prospect. He posted excellent K/BB marks last year in Vancouver (5.43) and Kane County (4.14), and a decent enough one in Stockton this year (1.78), so it's certainly possible that the bad Midland rate is a product of small sample size. Given that he's only 22, Hernandez will be a back-of-the-rotation/situational relief prospect if he can improve the K/BB ratio.

Jonathan Hunton was unhittable in the Cal League (his 1.80 ERA was only slightly lucky), and he has continued to dominate in Midland (his 2.25 ERA is only slightly lucky). Of course, Hunton's only thrown eight innings in Double-A, but he's got a 3.00 K/BB with no homers allowed thus far. The towering righty may be carving a similar path to Benacka, who has blown hitters away at Stockton and Midland in less than a year after being signed out of independent ball. Hunton has the size and stuff to eventually be a nice middle reliever, similar to the Diamondbacks' Jon Rauch, but at 26, he doesn't have much room for error.


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