TCN 2015 Cardinals Minors Starter of the Year

Hard-throwing Alex Reyes is The Cardinal Nation's top starting pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system for 2015.

There are many worthy candidates for The Cardinal Nation’s Starting Pitcher of the Year across the entire St. Louis Cardinals organization.

In fact, drawing a line at a very solid 3.00 ERA and just 30 innings pitched, 15 starting pitchers made the grade. They include every level of play from the Dominican Summer League to Triple-A Memphis.

Reyes

I make it clear at every turn in this annual series that these Pitcher and Player of the Year awards are about current-year performance rather than prospect status. As you may have seen, our Relief Pitcher of the Year is a 35th-rounder who was not even his team’s closer.

Despite that, now and then the best prospect has the best season as well. So it is for our 2015 Starting Pitcher of the Year, Alex Reyes. The recently-turned 21-year-old spent most of the season at A-Advanced Palm Beach, finishing the regular season with Double-A Springfield.

Let’s go through how I went from 15 semi-finalists to one.

The process

As you hopefully know, we have already completed the selection process of the eight team-based Starting Pitchers of the Year by level. On Saturday, we announced our winner of the Rookie Starting Pitcher of the Year as well.

Those individuals were included in the pool of candidates for this award, along with every starting pitcher in the system who threw at least 30 innings during 2015.

Over time, I have evolved to drawing the line in terms of minimum innings pitched at 30. I do not want to go so low that the rate stats would be distorted, yet I do not want to set the bar so high that deserving short-season players would be excluded from consideration.

In a reminder of the strong pitching the Cardinals continue to develop, the system had at least 15 qualifying starters who finished the season with an ERA of 3.00 or lower while throwing at least 30 innings.

Batting Average Against, WHIP, ERA and FIP

Our stats-based comparisons begin with batting average against, walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP, a general surrogate for baserunners allowed), earned run average and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP).

In addition to ERA, which is the way the following table is sorted, FIP is included. The latter removes defense from a pitcher’s run prevention and is considered by the sabermetric-inclined to be a more accurate measure of performance. One downside is that FIP is calculated by level. With some of the finalists having pitched for two or three teams during the season, multiple FIP measurements are included. In every case, the second FIP listed is for the level at which the pitcher threw the most innings in 2015.

As it turns out, there is a pretty good natural break at an ERA of 2.50, with seven pitchers making our second cut.

While four of the seven have comparable batting average against marks, the positive outlier is Alex Reyes, whose mark was 24 points better than the next-closest starter. Luke Weaver and Matt Pearce were on the high end of this exclusive group.

The two lowest-level pitchers in terms of team assignments, David Oca (Gulf Coast League) and Franyel Casadilla (DSL) allowed the lowest rate of baserunners per inning. Rookie Ryan Helsley had the worst mark of the seven.

Leading the way in ERA was Oca at 1.45, with Weaver (1.62) the only other starter with an ERA under 2.00.

However, FIP tells a different story. Three of our seven in ERA are eliminated by having FIPs of 3.24 or higher. At the positive end of the spectrum, Reyes’ Palm Beach FIP of 1.75 really singles out his performance as extraordinary.

As it turns out, the four finalists - those with the lowest FIPs - also have the best FIPs from among all 15 semi-finalists. In other words, we seem to have the right ones.

Starter Team IP H R ER K BB AVG WHIP ERA FIP
David Oca DSL/GCL/SC 87 72 24 14 83 18 0.229 1.03 1.45 1.62/2.40/2.32
Luke Weaver PB 105 98 34 19 88 19 0.247 1.11 1.62 2.28
Ryan Helsley JC 40.1 33 13 9 35 19 0.221 1.29 2.01 3.52
Daniel Poncedeleon Peo/PB 119 101 36 28 87 30 0.229 1.10 2.12 3.00/3.43
Franyel Casadilla DSL 79 69 22 19 63 11 0.229 1.01 2.16 2.69
Matt Pearce Peo 144 139 51 39 95 22 0.252 1.11 2.43 3.24
Alex Reyes Spr/PB/GCL 101 70 34 28 151 49 0.197 1.17 2.49 2.32/1.75/2.31
                       
Trey Nielsen PB 111 101 47 32 78 34 0.242 1.22 2.59 3.11
Ian McKinney PB/Peo/SC 87 84 36 25 74 20 0.249 1.20 2.59 -0.17/2.82/3.03
Austin Gomber Peo 135 97 45 40 140 34 0.196 0.97 2.67 3.06
Juan Alvarez DSL 74 77 33 22 46 13 0.271 1.22 2.68 3.13
Corey Littrell PB 130 125 48 39 93 21 0.253 1.12 2.69 2.77
Carson Cross SC 43.1 39 14 13 27 11 0.247 1.15 2.70 3.17
Tim Cooney Mem 88.2 61 32 27 63 16 0.195 0.87 2.74 4.17
Jack Flaherty Peo  95 92 38 30 97 31 0.251 1.29 2.84 2.83

Ground-to-air outs, strikeouts and walks

Here we see the final four, reordered by their FIP as registered on their primary 2015 club.

In the other stats, three of the four starters have their areas of strength. Oca is the most successful at inducing ground ball outs, while Weaver is fly-ball heavy. Though Casadilla has the lowest strikeout rate, his walk count is so low, it propels him into the lead in strikeout to walk ratio.

However, Reyes stands above them all. In addition to his sterling 1.75 FIP over 13 starts for Palm Beach, a half-run per nine innings better than Weaver’s mark on the same club, Reyes’ strikeout rate of 13.5 per nine innings almost lapped the field and overshadows a relatively high walk rate.

Starter Team IP Pri FIP GO/AO K/9  BB/9 K/BB 
Alex Reyes Spr/PB/GCL 101.1 1.75 1.1 13.4 4.4 3.1
Luke Weaver PB 105.1 2.28 0.9 7.5 1.6 4.6
David Oca DSL/GCL/SC 87 2.40 2.2 8.6 1.9 4.6
Franyel Casadilla DSL 79 2.69 1.1 7.2 1.3 5.7

Putting it together

While there were many strong starting pitching performances in the Cardinals system this season, Alex Reyes’ dominance across the board leads to his selection as The Cardinal Nation’s Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year for 2015.

The right-hander began the season hot and never looked back, named the organization’s first Pitcher of the Month, for April. By June, he was a Florida State League All-Star and for July, was named to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Futures Game (though he was held out of both contests due to a minor injury). After joining Springfield, Reyes added a Texas League Pitcher of the Week nod in August.

The best is yet to come.

The potential of the young man who lights up radar guns with triple-digit heat and pitched most of the season at the age of 20 is sky-high. To conclude his successful season, Reyes is currently showcasing his considerable talent in the Arizona Fall League. Triple-A during 2016 seems highly likely with Reyes more than capable of knocking on the Major League door before next season is out.

For more

Link to master article with all 2015 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that includes our selections as the organization’s Relief Pitcher and Player of the Year, the latter up next.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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