By The Numbers: Kane County Pitching Staff

The Kane County Cougars had a terrific first half of the season, so it is no surprise that their pitching staff has put up some impressive numbers. Nathaniel Stoltz takes a closer look at those numbers to see if the actual performance has merited the tiny ERAs.

Anthony Capra has thrown the ball well for Kane County this year. The lefty has gotten somewhat lucky (.250 BABIP) but he's used his fastball-change combo well and is ready to move to High-A whenever there's room in Stockton for him.

Shawn Haviland has actually been better than Capra. He's gotten unlucky on balls in play (.328 BABIP) and with stranding runners (65.6% strand rate). He's also ready for High-A; at 23, he'll need to move quickly, but he's already a 33rd-round steal.

Pedro Figueroa was recently promoted to Stockton, but it was after the Stockton pitchers article I wrote, so I'm profiling him here. Like Haviland, Figueroa is 23, but he's also a very real prospect. His control has improved from a big problem to an asset in the last two years, and he gets plenty of strikeouts and groundballs.

Figueroa celebrated his call-up by throwing seven phenomenal innings in Stockton. He'll need to move up quickly, and he may have to move to relief to stick in the majors, but Figueroa is really boosting his stock.

Kenneth Smalley has been the best starter for the Cougars, and he's not even 22 yet. Sure, he doesn't quite deserve his 2.32 ERA, but his 3.15 FIP is great. He's yet another pitcher on this staff ready for High-A, and if he can find an average breaking ball, Smalley could be a nice #4 guy in a big-league rotation.

Matt Fitts' ERA (5.59) looks pretty brutal, but it's really hurt by his 56.5% strand rate, well below his expected strand rate, which is about 70%. His 4.80 FIP is still nothing to write home about, but Fitts has doubled his K/BB ratio since moving from the rotation to the bullpen, so he's making some progress.

Jamie Richmond was promoted with Figueroa, but again, that was after I wrote the last article, and Richmond merits a comment somewhere. Last year, he had a 3.97 FIP in Kane County, but it morphed into a 4.79 ERA because he only stranded 59.8% of runners (Again, you'd expect a 70-71% strand rate from someone like him normally).

This year, Richmond moved to relief and cut a run off his FIP. It should be noted that studies have shown that pitchers can expect to chop about a run off their ERAs when moving from the rotation to the bullpen, so it's not like Richmond is taking a bigger leap forward than one would expect. However, his recent call-up, in my opinion, was long overdue (although, to be fair, it's a deep system, and to call someone up, someone has to be sent down), and like Smalley, the development of his breaking ball will determine if Richmond ends up in a major league uniform or in Triple-A.

Brett Hunter is quite the enigma. With his stuff (high-90s fastball, knockout breaking ball), Hunter seemed like a great candidate to get to Double-A quickly. However, his mechanics, always pretty messy, really deteriorated, and he struggled to locate the strike zone. His ugly walk rate (10.49 BB/9) obviously portends bad things.

That said, Hunter has struck out the same number of batters as he's walked, and he also has done a great job keeping the ball in the park, so his FIP is only 5.12. That's bad, but for a pitcher who walks 10.49 batters per nine innings, that's as good as you're going to get.

Also of considerable hope is Hunter's recent pitching. In his last four appearances, Hunter has thrown 6.7 innings, walked three, and struck out sixteen. On July 5, he struck out eight of the 11 batters he faced. When you consider that Hunter's K/BB ratio was 38/51 from April-June, his 16/3 ratio in July is extremely encouraging. Hopefully, Hunter will be able to continue his progress. His career path reminds me a lot of that of Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard, and Hunter could be even better.

Scott Deal has spent three years in the Midwest League. It could be argued that he was ready for High-A at the beginning of 2008, after a 4.05 FIP campaign in 2007. However, Deal is yet another victim of the pitching depth of the A's organization. He's a sinker guy, but his GB% (45.6%) is nothing special. Deal has added some strikeout ability since moving to relief, and has gotten more than the standard one-run boost from the switch.

With a 3.44 FIP, Deal still awaits the call-up to Stockton. I have a hunch that he may take well to skipping the level and jumping to Double-A next year, but the A's don't often do that with their prospects. Deal is still 22, so he doesn't need to move up quite as fast as someone like Haviland.

Josue Selenes is what he is. He's got average stuff, a fearless attitude and some control problems. For whatever reason, Selenes has always had low homer rates even though he's a flyball pitcher. With five seasons of pitching to go on, that may not be a fluke, and it helps his bad walk rate (5.40 BB/9) become more playable. Selenes is a nice relief arm in Kane County who is also 23 and needs to move quickly.

Michael Hart is very similar to Selenes, except he only has two seasons of low HR/FB data rather than five. While Hart's ERA is nearly a run lower, his FIP is nearly identical to Selenis'. Right now, they are effectively the same pitcher, although Hart has one huge advantage: he's well over a year younger.

Trey Barham hasn't been 1.59 ERA-good (then again, who ever is?), but he's got a 2.54 FIP, so he's still been great. Stop me if this sounds familiar—he's 23 and putting up great numbers, but can't move up very quickly because of the pitching depth in the organization.

That said, Barham's stellar groundball abilities (53.6 GB%) separate him from the pack somewhat, and if I could recommend one reliever from this team skipping High-A and going to Double-A to start 2010, it would be Barham (for those who are curious, I'd recommend Haviland for the starting pitchers).

Justin Murray was a little bit below average in Stockton to start the year, needing a little more polish before being a plus pitcher at the level. That said, he didn't deserve a 6.04 ERA there—he had a 43.1% strand rate and .348 BABIP. Sent down to Kane County, Murray has seen his BABIP actually rise to .384, but his strand rate has actually more than doubled (if you want proof strand rate is random, there it is) to 87.8%. With a 2.32 FIP, he's ready for Stockton, but at age 22, he might have to wait his turn until all the "veterans" of the staff move up first.

Mickey Storey, another recent promotion who I hadn't written about, is a 23-year-old low-round draft pick who pitched ridiculously well in Kane County (how many of those can one organization have?). He is a very interesting prospect. With a career GB% of 56.6% and strikeout rates in the 12 K/9 range, Storey has excellent potential. On top of all that, he has precise control, leading to ridiculous numbers like his 55/9 K/BB ratio for his short career.

Storey didn't deserve his 0.52 ERA in Kane County, but he deserved a 1.07 ERA, a figure that is pretty much unheard of. His brief performance in Stockton has yielded a 1.78 FIP as well. Keep an eye on Storey—low draft pick or not, you don't see this sort of statistical excellence very often.

Jason Ray, coming back from a bunch of arm problems, quickly blew through Kane County on his way to Stockton (again, he was promoted after the June 24 Stockton article). He was great in Kane County, although I was a bit concerned about his low strikeout rate (6.32 K/9). With a 12 K/9 in Stockton so far, Ray seems to have recaptured his old stuff. He's 25, but he's got great stuff, so he has a very real chance at a career if he can stay healthy.

Chad Lee is another comeback story worth noting. Only just promoted to Kane County, Lee, coming off two years of arm problems, threw 15 one-hit innings in Vancouver before his promotion. I know it takes an .038 BABIP to do that, but his FIP was 2.33, so Lee was certainly excelling. His start for the Cougars went well, and Lee is actually younger than a few of the pitchers on the staff, although he's also 23. He also needs to move quickly, but like Ray, he has the stuff to succeed if his arm can hold up.

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