Johnson City Cards Starters of the Year: 2008

Tandem starters Deryk Hooker and Scott McGregor take our award as the top starting pitcher pair on the St. Louis Cardinals Appalachian League club in 2008.

As discussed in yesterday's Reliever of the Year article, the Johnson City Cardinals used what is known as the "piggyback" starting system this year.  The piggyback or tandem starting system pairs two pitchers together as a unit for a game.  This year, Johnson City had five piggyback pairs of starting pitchers. 

 

The piggyback system - with no personnel changes, no schedule changes and no injuries - would ideally give each of the ten piggyback starters a chance to both start and relieve about seven games during the year.  Since the piggyback system pairs two pitchers together to pitch the majority, if not all, of the innings in a game, it seems only fair to name a pair (two pitchers) as the "Johnson City Piggyback Starting Pitchers of the Year".     

 

Johnson City actually had seventeen piggyback starting pitchers this season.  Relievers Samuel Freeman and Joel Pichardo each made one middle inning start during the year due to injuries to the normal starters.  Andres Rosales made three starts for Johnson City (11 IP as a starter) but he had more innings with Quad Cities (14 IP).  Miguel Flores and Eric Fornataro each made two late season starts for Johnson City after being promoted from the Gulf Coast League Cardinals.  Freeman and Pichardo qualified as relievers for Johnson City, Rosales qualified as a starter for Quad Cities, and Flores and Fornataro qualified as starters for the Gulf Coast League. 

 

Jose Mateo, a reliever for Johnson City at the start of the year, saw more innings as a piggyback starter (22 IP) than as a reliever (12.2 IP).  Mateo was also a piggyback starter for Johnson City in 2007.  Scott McGregor, a midseason promotion to Johnson City from the Gulf Coast League, was originally penciled in as a piggyback starter in Batavia; however an injury sent him packing to Florida for a short-term rehab assignment.  Mateo and McGregor added to the ten original piggyback starters on opening day gives a total of twelve pitchers (six pairs) in consideration for the Johnson City Piggyback Pitchers of the Year. 

 

The starters averaged 1.94 appearances per game while pitching seventy-seven percent of the innings.  Why not exactly two appearances you ask?  Doubleheaders would split the pair into two actual starters since the games were only seven innings so the average was slightly less than two. 

 

The starters slightly outperformed the relievers this year in that they allowed fewer walks, hits, runs, and home runs on average.  Their walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) was 1.31 while they strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) was 9.45.  The starters averaged 6.93 IP per game.  The starters finished with a 3.99 earned run average (ERA) and a 21-24 overall win-loss record. 

 

The starters garnered fifty-eight percent of the team's wins and eighty percent of the team's losses while pitching seventy-seven percent of the team's innings.  One starter, Scott McGregor, finished with a perfect 4-0 record and one starter, Carlos Gonzalez, failed to get a win as a starter (0-2).  Reynier Gonzalez was the only starter to appear in the maximum number of games (14). 

 

The list below shows the starter's names, number of games pitched as a starter, walks plus innings pitched (WHIP) as a starter, innings pitched as a starter, strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) as a starter, and number of walks per nine innings (BB/9) as a starter.  The list is ordered from top to bottom by the number of games pitched as a starter.   

 

Starter Games WHIP Innings K/9 BB/9
Reynier Gonzalez 14 1.45 53.2 8.89 5.2
Randy Santos 13 1.21 46.1 9.91 4.08
Mike Blazek 13 1.40 46.1 9.13 3.11
Deryk Hooker 11 1.22 42.2 11.6 2.95
Matt North 10 1.28 42.1 8.93 2.55
Jon Bravo 10 1.29 35 12.3 2.57
Brett Zawacki 10 1.69 34.1 9.44 3.67
Kevin Thomas 10 1.24 34 7.15 2.12
Adam Veres 8 1.28 22.2 12.7 2.78
Jose Mateo 7 1.18 22 7.77 1.64
Carlos Gonzalez 7 2.05 20 11.7 4.5
Scott McGregor 6 0.77 26 6.23 1.04
Andres Rosales 3 0.91 11 9.82 0.82
Miguel Flores 2 1.09 7.1 4.91 2.46
Eric Fornataro 2 1.14 7 7.71 3.86
Samuel Freeman 1 0.33 3 9 0
Joel Pichardo 1 1.63 3.2 2.45 2.45

 

With the piggyback starting pitcher system, the starters were sometimes entering the game in a save or hold situation.  The starters were able to garner only three saves and seven holds in those situations.  The starters had two blown saves for the year (compared to seven last year). 

 

I will pair each of the twelve qualifying starting pitchers above in reverse order of how I would pair them for the award (best pair first).  All the statistical rankings are relative to the twelve qualifying starters and are for pitching as a tandem starter only (i.e. not as a reliever). 

 

6th Pair – Brett Zawacki and Carlos Gonzalez

Carlos Gonzalez really struggled this year but it wasn't all bad news for the just-turned 20-year-old from Panama.  He featured a two-seam fastball and curve ball that, when located properly, was a pretty good strikeout combo.  Carlos was third in K/9 (11.7).  However, the statistical rankings go rapidly downhill from there.  Gonzalez was last in ERA (10.35), WHIP, and wins.  He simply didn't locate his pitches well.  He allowed four home runs and was eleventh in BB/9.  Gonzalez was dropped from the piggyback starter system about halfway through the season.  He will look to improve next year, most likely in a long relief role. 

 

Brett Zawacki seemed to have one situation in almost every start where everything kind of fell apart.  The really good news is that he is still very young (19 years and 5 months) and he has good velocity on his fastball (low 90s).  His foot injury early in the year certainly didn't help him maintain any consistency through the year.  He seems to struggle much more with runners on base (.365 batting average allowed) than with the bases empty (.273 BAA).  In two years, he still hasn't totaled 40 innings pitched yet.  Zawacki will be starting next year and will be competing with many others in spring training for a long season assignment.  A repeat with a short season team to get more innings and to work on his pitching success from the stretch seems more likely.     

 

5th Pair – Randy Santos and Reynier Gonzalez

Randy Santos started the season pitching as well as any starter, however much like Zawacki, he began to have one tough spot in almost every start that he just couldn't work out of without giving up several runs.  Santos had the third-best WHIP and fifth-best K/9 but he also was tenth in BB/9 and eighth in ERA (4.08).  He just turned 20-years-old last month and will look to improve his control and take his high 80s two-seam fastball to a higher level next year. 

 

Reynier Gonzalez' success is all about control.  He didn't have enough this year and finished last in BB/9 with 5.2.  He had good enough control in back-to-back appearances toward the end of the year to take an Appy League Pitcher of the Week award but he just couldn't locate his pitches consistently.  Gonzalez was able to keep his pitches down.  He allowed only one home run while leading the team in innings pitched (53.2).  Just like Zawacki, he seemed to struggle most with runners on base.  He was tenth in WHIP and ninth in ERA (4.36).  He will turn 20-years-old next month. 

 

4th Pair – Mike Blazek and Matt North

Mike Blazek started the year as well as any starter but when he injured the fingers on his pitching hand while fielding a groundball, it took him a month to return to his early season success.  He had a very good June, a bad July, and a very good August.  His bad July really impacted his rating.  Blazek could have been much higher with a more consistent year.  He will be 20 years old next March and his upside looks very good.  Blazek may be the Nick Additon from last year's team. 

 

Matt North has three pitches and when he can spot all three in good locations and stay healthy while doing it, he is as good as any starter on the team.  He just couldn't put all of that together consistently.  North led the team in home runs allowed (5) and had to return to Florida late in the season for a "tired arm".  His problems with durability may limit his future as a starter.

 

3rd Pair – Jose Mateo and Jon Bravo

Jose Mateo is a groundball machine who has pitched well when he is a piggyback starter.  He is your prototypical "pitch-to-contact" pitcher.  His secondary pitches need work but his slider is a plus pitch.  Mateo has only allowed three home runs in just over 100 innings pitched.  He had the second-lowest BB/9 and WHIP and the fourth-best ERA (2.86).  He was a starter last year for Johnson City and was promoted to Palm Beach late in the year to provide a spot start and to help rest the Palm Beach staff for the playoffs.  Mateo has had some very dominating low pitch count outings as a starter.  He is 22 years old and was the third oldest starter.  His future appears to be as a long reliever.     

 

Jon Bravo doesn't look anything like a starting pitcher but he lets his left arm paint a different picture.  The 5'7" 22-year-old was second in K/9 (12.34).  He will pitch inside (seven hit batters and only 10 walks).  He has good low 90s velocity on his fastball however; his curveball was his primary strikeout pitch. He was very good against left-handed hitters (.192 BAA).  His best attribute may be his ability to pitch better with runners on (.189 BAA) and with runners in scoring position (.116 BAA) than he does with the bases empty (.328).  He missed a few starts this year with a "tired arm".  His future may be as a reliever.

 

2nd Pair – Adam Veres and Kevin Thomas

Kevin Thomas lost almost a third of the season to shoulder soreness but he was a very good pitch-to-contact performer when he was healthy.  His two-seam fastball and slider produced the best groundball-out to fly ball-out ratio of all the starters.  He only allowed one home run in 34 innings pitched.  He had the third lowest BB/9 and ERA (2.65) and the fifth lowest WHIP.  He was the oldest starter at 22 years old so the organization will likely look to challenge him with a full-season position in 2009.

 

Adam Veres, a 49th round pick out of St. Petersburg College in Florida, may be one of the low round gems of the 2008 draft.  He led the team in K/9 (12.7) while making only eight starts in the piggyback system.  He only allowed one home run in 34 innings pitched while recording the second lowest ERA (2.38).  He was promoted to Batavia near the middle of the season where he made six starts in their piggyback system.  His best performance of the year was in the New York-Penn League (NYPL) playoffs where he tossed a career-high seven innings while leading Batavia to a win in the deciding game of the NYPL semi-finals. 

 

Veres will turn 21 years old just before spring training gets started next year and he should get a close look next year for a return to a starting pitcher position.  His .276 BAA was a little high and he still only has 43 innings in exclusively short season levels so the next two years will go a long way to determine what the Cardinals really have in Veres.

 

Johnson City Piggyback Starting Pitchers of the Year – Deryk Hooker and Scott McGregor

Deryk Hooker (right), as you might expect from his name, uses his curve ball to record the majority of his strikeouts.  He had the fourth best K/9 (11.6) and was absolutely dominating on the mound when he could throw his curve consistently for strikes.  He is the youngest starter at just 19 years and three months.  His last outing was the best of the year for Johnson City.  He went five innings and 74 pitches while allowing just one hit, no runs, and no walks and recording eleven strikeouts.  Hooker was promoted to Quad Cities after that performance and continued his streak of quality starts by going five innings or more in all four of his Midwest League starts.  He recorded a 1.61 ERA with Quad Cities and a .240 BAA over both levels combined.  Hooker will likely have a good shot at a full season starting pitcher position next year given his 2008 performance.  

 

Scott McGregor's statistics at Johnson City were nothing short of spectacular.  McGregor only allowed one earned run in 26 IP to handily lead the team in ERA (0.35).  He also led the team in WHIP (0.77), BB/9 (1.04), wins (4), and home runs allowed per nine innings (0.00).  The fact that he had the worst K/9 (6.23) will quickly illustrate his "pitch-to-contact" approach toward hitters.  McGregor consistently had the lowest pitch counts of any starter and finished with a .172 BAA in the Appy League.  He was promoted to Quad Cities after just seven games and six starts in the piggyback system.  McGregor's three relief appearances in the Midwest League were good but not nearly as dominating as his Appy League performance.  He recorded a 2.84 ERA and .321 BAA with Quad Cities with most of the damage being inflicted in the last (meaningless) outing of the year.  McGregor will likely get a good look at a full-season starting pitcher position next spring.  

 

 

Note: Master article with all 2008 Scout.com Cardinals Minor League Players of the Year and the schedule for daily announcements: link. (This link is also permanently located at the lower left of The Birdhouse home page.)

 

 

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