What a revelation Kyle Middleton has been in the Oakland organization.
A former organizational filler type in two organizations that aren't exactly known for talent, Middleton drifted to independent ball in 2009, was signed by the A's, and has done nothing but dominate in the Oakland system, posting a 2.69 ERA in Double-A last year and 2.73 in Triple-A this year.
The 2.69 ERA in Double-A at age 29 was hardly noteworthy (though I thought Middleton was a nice option for the Oakland rotation this spring), but his continued success in the hitter-friendly PCL certainly makes Middleton a player worth considering as a possible major leaguer.
Is he up to the task?
None of Middleton's numbers, ERA aside, jump off the page. He's struck out 53 and walked 33 in 79 innings, which aren't exactly the most stellar rates. To put that in context, Fernando Hernandez's K/9, BB/9, and K/BB are all much better, and his ERA is 5.80 for Sacramento.
Middleton does keep the ball down, allowing just five homers all year, and just three in 60 1/3 last year. He gets a good amount of grounders, but nothing earth-shattering, as he's usually between 43 and 50 percent.
His stuff isn't incredible either; he was in independent ball last year for a reason, after all, so Middleton pretty much is what he is.
On one hand, the middling walk and strikeout numbers make him much likely to post ERAs higher than 3.00—his FIP suggests it should actually be higher than 4.00. On the other hand, Middleton has a good plan on the mound, knows his limitations, and keeps the ball down, so you can't discount that he's got some skills.
Pitchers tend to pick up some velocity and some strikeout numbers when moving to relief, so I wonder if that might be the best option for Middleton. Plenty of pitchers with fringy repertoires and poor strikeout rates have flourished when switched from starting to relieving—take Tim Stauffer of the Padres, who allowed one earned run in 23 1/3 innings of relief this year after being a borderline fifth starter in years past.
Like Stauffer, Middleton could be a useful "sixth starter" type who takes the ball, throws strikes, lets the opponents put the ball in play, and hopes for the best—sort of like what the A's hoped they were getting when they signed John Halama out of independent ball this year. Middleton's certainly better prepared for that role than Halama. When not needed in the rotation, Middleton could be a serviceable bullpen guy, although I'd give a bullpen role to another indie league vet, Mchael Benacka, before I'd give one to Middleton.
Middleton could be used down the stretch to keep some mileage off of the A's young major league arms while giving the team a sense of what role, if any, he can play. Despite the shiny ERA, his underlying stats suggest that he's not a guy to count on for 200 innings of quality pitching, but there's enough skill there that he could well have some major league value, which is more than anyone could have expected this time last year.
By The Numbers: Kyle Middleton
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