Luke Weaver (© Butch Dill / USA TODAY Sports Images)

Evaluating the St. Louis Cardinals starting pitchers to select the top system-wide performer this season.

A dream season for right-hander Luke Weaver led to his MLB debut and The Cardinal Nation’s nod as the top Starting Pitcher in the minor league system in 2016.

Just as in 2015, there were many worthy candidates for The Cardinal Nation’s Starting Pitcher of the Year honors across the entire St. Louis Cardinals organization.

However, just like last year when Alex Reyes took home the award, a top right-handed pitching prospect clearly stands above the others.

So it continues in 2016, with Luke Weaver our winner.

http://www.scout.com/player/179139-luke-weaver?s=321

Let’s go through how I went from 40 starting pitchers down 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.

Our pool of candidates for this award began with every starting pitcher in the system who made at least 10 starts in 2016, 40 in total.

However, even drawing that line excluded some notables, including The Cardinal Nation’s Rookie Starter of the Year, John Kilichowski (nine starts) and our top member of the Dominican Summer League Cardinals, Johan Oviedo (seven starts).

To further narrow the 40 candidates down to seven, I selected our finalists as those who posted an ERA better than 3.00. With the exception of the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, seven of the eight levels of the system are represented.

 

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 four of the seven finalists having pitched for two teams during the season, multiple FIP measurements are included. In every case, the second FIP listed is for the higher level at which the pitcher performed.

As you can see, Weaver is the only finalist to allow less than one baserunner per inning and to have an ERA under 1.60 (at 1.30). FIP further cements Weaver’s leadership as the right-hander’s 2.04 mark at Springfield was again best of the best.

Our Peoria Starter of the Year, Ryan Helsley, had the “misfortune” of performing so well in Weaver’s “dream season.” The 21-year-old trailed only our winner in all three measures, WHIP, ERA and FIP.

http://www.scout.com/player/200626-ryan-helsley?s=321

Pitching primarily at Palm Beach, the organization’s co-Pitcher of the Year for 2015, Austin Gomber, also had a very low WHIP and his FIP was the closest to his ERA. Our only left-handed finalist is continuing to pitch in the Arizona Fall League.

http://www.scout.com/player/185111-austin-gomber?s=321

At the other end of the spectrum is Jordan Hicks. The right-hander had an inflated WHIP of 1.43, primarily due to walks, and a FIP at both levels, Johnson City and State College, well above his ERA.

http://www.scout.com/player/200621-jordan-hicks?s=321

Starter Team IP G GS H R ER K BB WHIP ERA FIP
Luke Weaver Spr/Mem 83 13 13 65 23 12 92 12 0.93 1.30 2.04/3.39
Ryan Helsley Peoria 95 17 17 77 22 17 109 19 1.01 1.61 2.22
Noel De Jesus DSL 59.2 13 10 53 18 13 48 15 1.14 1.96 2.62
Derian Gonzalez Peoria/PB 100 19 19 81 33 24 94 44 1.25 2.16 3.10/2.64
Frederis Parra JC 64 11 10 68 33 18 36 7 1.17 2.53 3.61
Austin Gomber* PB/Spr 127 21 21 102 42 38 116 33 1.06 2.69 2.76/3.03
Jordan Hicks JC/SC 60.2 12 12 58 28 20 42 29 1.43 2.97 4.56/3.60
* left-handed                        

 

Strikeouts and walks

The story here is similar, with Helsley actually having a slightly better strikeout rate than Weaver, but the former still comes out a step behind Weaver due a walk rate a tick higher. The two still stand out above the other finalists.

http://www.scout.com/player/169593-frederis-parra?s=321

It is worth noting the best walk rate of the group comes from Frederis Parra. Our Johnson City Starter of the Year issued just seven free passes in 64 innings of work this season.

http://www.scout.com/player/201629-noel-de-jesus?s=321

The other two finalists include the youngest of the group, 19-year-old Noel De Jesus from the Dominican Summer League, and Derian Gonzalez, who had a fine and consistent year between Peoria and Palm Beach, but was often overshadowed by top prospect teammates.

http://www.scout.com/player/179660-derian-gonzalez?s=321

Starter Age Team IP K/9  BB/9 K/BB 
Luke Weaver 22 Spr/Mem 83 10.0 1.3 7.7
Ryan Helsley 21 Peoria 95 10.3 1.8 5.7
Noel De Jesus 19 DSL 59.2 7.2 2.3 3.2
Derian Gonzalez 21 Peoria/PB 100 8.5 4.0 2.1
Frederis Parra 21 JC 64 5.1 1.0 5.1
Austin Gomber* 22 PB/Spr 127 8.2 2.3 3.5
Jordan Hicks 19 JC/SC 60.2 6.2 4.3 1.5
* left-handed            

The winner

While there were many strong starting pitching performances in the Cardinals system this season, Luke Weaver’s dominance across the board leads to his selection as The Cardinal Nation’s Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year for 2016.

It was a whirlwind of a season for the 23-year-old. Weaver’s season began a full two months late, but not due to suspension like Reyes. Weaver suffered a wrist injury during spring training and did not make his 2017 debut until June 5, with Double-A Springfield.

As St. Louis Cardinals fans know, just three months later, Weaver had pitched his way into the major league rotation as injuries hit St. Louis hard down the stretch. However, this award is for his results at Springfield and his lone start at Triple-A Memphis.

In between, Weaver was the Cardinals organization’s Pitcher of the Month for June, the Texas League’s June Pitcher of the Month, TCN’s co-Starting Pitcher of the Month for July and was named to the exclusive Texas League post-season All-Star Team, just one of eight pitchers recognized by the Double-A circuit.

Congratulations to Luke Weaver, The Cardinal Nation 2016 Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year.

 

Prior years’ winners

Our honorees over the last decade-plus follow.

  TCN Starter of the Year    
2016 Luke Weaver Spr/Mem AA/AAA
2015 Alex Reyes Spr/PB/GCL AA/A+/rk
2014 Rob Kaminsky Peoria A
2013 Zach Petrick Springfield AA
2012 Trevor Rosenthal Mem/Spr AAA/AA
2011 Shelby Miller Spr/PB  AA/A+
2010 Brandon Dickson Memphis AAA
2009 Lance Lynn Mem/Spr/PB AAA/AA/A+
2008 Jess Todd Mem/Spr/PB AAA/AA/A+
2007 P.J. Walters Spr/PB/QC AA/A+/A
2006 Blake Hawksworth Spr/PB  AA/A+
2005 Anthony Reyes Memphis AAA

 

For more

Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That will include our selections as the Rookie Player of the Year, followed our choice as the top manager.

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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