Johnson City Cards Starter of the Year: 2009

Jesse Simpson, the Cardinals 40th round pick in the June First-Year Player Draft, is our Johnson City Cardinals Starting Pitcher of the Year.

With the tandem (piggy-back) starting pitching system utilized at Johnson City this year, there were twice as many "starting pitchers" in the mix for Pitcher of the Year.  Hopefully this report will help give readers an idea of which of the tandem starters performed the best in the Appalachian League this year. 


The best pitchers will likely begin as starters in the lower minor leagues in 2010 while the pitchers that struggled may either return to the Johnson City tandem system next year or become relievers. 


This report will review who was eligible for the Pitcher of the Year award, will provide end-of-the-year statistics and discussions for each starter, and will break down the statistics in a way that will support the ranking of the best six starting pitchers. 


Starting Pitcher Roster Changes and Injuries


The roster saw a total of fourteen starting pitchers during the 2009 season.  Six of those starters (John Durham, Anthony Ferrara, Reynier Gonzalez, Chris Notti, Randy Santos, and Michael Thompson) played exclusively for Johnson City.  Durham was dropped from the tandem starting pitcher system after his August 6 start and made four appearances as a reliever. 


Two of the eight starters that played for more than one level were promoted from Johnson City to Batavia just past the middle of the Johnson City season (Justin Smith and Jesse Simpson).  Since most of their innings pitched (IPs) were with Johnson City, they were both eligible for Johnson City Pitcher of the Year honors.


One of the eight starters that played for more than one level was promoted from Johnson City to Batavia at the end of the Johnson City season (Andrew Moss).  Since most of his IPs were with Johnson City, Moss was also eligible for the Johnson City award.


Two of the eight starters that played for more than one level were promoted from the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Cardinals to Johnson City at mid-season (Cale Johnson and Zach Russell).  Most of Johnson's IPs were with Johnson City so Johnson was eligible for the Johnson City award.  Most of Russell's IPs were with the GCL Cardinals so Russell competed for GCL Pitcher of the Year honors.


One of the eight starters (Pablo Ortiz) started out at Johnson City (five games, 13.1 IP) but missed his scheduled start on July 20 due to weakness in his shoulder and elbow.  Ortiz rehabbed in Jupiter, FL, was bumped down to the GCL, and made one appearance for the GCL Cardinals on Friday August 28.  Ortiz allowed one run on two hits and a walk over one inning pitched.  Since most of Ortiz's IPs were with Johnson City, he was eligible for Johnson City Pitcher of the Year honors.


Two of the eight starters that played for more than one level were promoted from the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Cardinals to Johnson City near the end of the season (Angel De Jesus and Pat Daugherty).  Most of their IPs were with the GCL Cardinals so they were eligible for the GCL Pitcher of the Year award.


Pitchers Eligible for Johnson City Pitcher of the Year (11):  John Durham, Anthony Ferrara, Reynier Gonzalez, Cale Johnson, Andrew Moss, Chris Notti, Pablo Ortiz, Randy Santos, Jesse Simpson, Justin Smith, and Michael Thompson. 


Injuries:  Only one starter lost playing time due to injury during the season (Pablo Ortiz).   


Tandem Starting Pitchers


Listed below were the pairings for Johnson City in 2009.


RHP Reynier Gonzalez and RHP Andrew Moss

RHP Cale Johnson (replaced RHP Pablo Ortiz) and RHP Angel De Jesus (replaced RHP Jesse Simpson)

RHP Chris Notti and RHP Zach Russell (replaced RHP Justin Smith)

LHP Anthony Ferrara and RHP Michael Thompson

RHP Randy Santos and LHP Pat Daugherty (replaced LHP John Durham)


Starter Team Statistics and Summary


The 11 starters combined for a 22-22 record over 390 IP (69% of the team's total IPs).  As a group, they averaged 9.8 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 2.7 BB/9, 8.2 SO/9, and 3.0 SO/BB.  They combined for a 1.39 WHIP and 4.45 ERA.  They caught 20% of the possible base stealers.  Andrew Moss finished first in the league in ERA while Michael Thompson finished first in the league in holds. 


It was clear from statistics and from watching games that seven starters performed well in more than one game for Johnson City (Simpson, Notti, Ferrara, Smith, Moss, Ortiz, and Gonzalez) and that four starters struggled to put together more than an inning or two of good performance (Johnson, Santos, Thompson, and Durham). 


Pitcher Statistics


Listed in the table below are some of the key statistics for the top seven Johnson City tandem starters in 2009.  Each acronym is defined at the end of this article.  "Rank" is how the top seven starters were ranked.  This ranking was based on a combination of statistics, first-hand observations, and the potential for the starter to continue to be a starter in 2010 and beyond. 


Starting Pitcher Jesse Simpson Chris Notti Anthony Ferrara Justin Smith Andrew Moss Pablo Ortiz Reynier Gonzalez
Rank 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Age 22.7 yr 21.1 yr 20.1 yr 21.6 yr 22 yr 21.3 yr 20.9 yr
W 3 4 4 1 1 2 2
L 0 1 1 1 2 0 5
ERA 1.24 3.83 3.24 3.7 1.32 6.75 6.08
G 8 12 13 7 13 5 13
GS 4 8 9 3 6 3 8
GF 1 0 0 1 3 0 1
SV 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
BS 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
SV% 0% NA NA NA 100% NA 0%
HLD 0 2 1 1 2 0 0
IP 29 42.1 50 24.1 54.2 13.1 40
H 18 49 49 18 38 13 49
R 5 30 21 12 14 12 40
ER 4 18 18 10 8 10 27
HR 1 2 1 5 2 0 3
BB 7 6 17 7 17 7 15
SO 28 32 40 37 48 17 37
HBP 2 0 4 1 3 5 9
WP 3 3 6 3 2 3 6
BF 112 185 211 100 216 67 196
SB 3 8 4 1 5 1 10
CS 1 1 2 0 2 0 3
PO 1 1 5 0 0 0 0
CS% 25% 11% 33% 0% 29% 0% 23%
E-T 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
E-F 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
E-MC 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
E-PO 1 0 2 0 1 0 0
WHIP 0.86 1.3 1.32 1.03 1.01 1.5 1.6
BAA 0.176 0.277 0.263 0.198 0.196 0.241 0.293
Inherited 2 0 0 0 2 0 0
Scored 1 0 0 0 2 0 0
IS% 50% NA NA NA 100% NA NA
GO/AO 2.35 1.68 1.28 0.8 1.64 1 1.35
H/9 5.6 10.4 8.8 6.7 6.3 8.8 11
HR/9 0.3 0.4 0.2 1.8 0.3 0 0.7
BB/9 2.2 1.3 3.1 2.6 2.8 4.7 3.4
SO/9 8.7 6.8 7.2 13.7 7.9 11.5 8.3
SO/BB 4 5.3 2.4 5.3 2.8 2.4 2.5


The Rankings Explained


#1 Jesse Simpson:  Simpson dominated hitters prior to his August 2 promotion.  He was the oldest of the seven finalists, however he easily outperformed his slightly younger co-starters and pitched much better than his 40th round pick selection would predict. 


Simpson indicated prior to the season that his four-seam/cut fastball and slider were his two best pitches.  Whatever he threw, Simpson proved to have the best sinking action, a key organizational emphasis, on his pitches (2.35 GO/AO).  Simpson led the starters with 0 L, 0.86 WHIP, .176 BAA, and 5.6 H/9.  Of the 11 tandem starters, Simpson had the second lowest home run rate (0.3 HR/9), the third lowest walk rate (2.2 BB/9), and the fourth best strikeout rate (8.7 SO/9). 


Simpson saw his statistics decline a bit with Batavia in the New York-Penn League.  However, Simpson (0-1, 2.78 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .213 BAA, 11.9 SO/9, 1.92 GO/AO in 22.2 IP) significantly improved his SO/9 and finished third for Batavia.  Simpson would seem to be in the mix for becoming a starter with a full season team sometime next year. 


#2 Chris Notti: It was a tale of two seasons in one for Chris Notti.  Notti was one of the team's worst pitchers through his first six games (June and July).  Notti had a .369 BAA and 1.89 WHIP when one of his starts was skipped in late July during a string of rainouts.  Notti came back to finish the season with six outstanding games. 


Notti indicated at the start of the year that his best two pitches were a four-seam fastball and either a curveball or forkball (depending on the night).  In late July he "found his sinker", according to pitching coach Doug White, and Notti pitched better than any other starter in August (3-0, 0.37 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 0.0 HR/9, 6.6 H/9, 7.8 SO/9, 1.1 BB/9, 7 SO/BB, 2.33 GO/AO, .194 BAA).  Although his yearly stats do not support a ranking of the second best pitcher, his August stats clearly support it.  Notti had excellent control all year.  He led the seven finalists with the lowest walk rate (1.3 BB/9) and the best strikeout to walk ratio (5.3 SO/BB).  Notti also led the starters in wins (4) and was a full year-and-half younger than Simpson. 


The only down side with Notti is that he is very deliberate on the mound and he struggles with preventing stolen bases (8 SB, 1 CS, 1 PO, 11 CS%).  Notti seemed to perform much better from the wind-up than he did from the stretch as he recorded a 0.70 ERA and .221 BAA with the bases empty.  If Notti can repeat his August performance in 2010, he will almost certainly be starting for a full season team before the end of the year. 


#3 Anthony Ferrara:  Ferrara is the youngest of the 11 starters and is left handed.  Ferrara still showed a bit too much inconsistency to be ranked higher and he had spells of a lack of concentration that could arguably send him lower on the list.  Ferrara is as polite and as well spoken as just about any player can be.  His two best pitches are a four-seam fastball and a curveball.  While it is interesting only to me, two years ago, he pitched against the high school in central Florida that my niece was attending. 


Ferrara was most impressive at keeping the ball in the ballpark (0.2 HR/9, 1 HR, 50 IP, 40 IP in HR friendly Johnson City).  Ferrara led the starters in wins (4) and pick-offs (5).   Ferrara left a very good impression over his last two starts (2-0, 1.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 9 SO/9).  Ferrara needs to improve against left-handed hitters (.368 BAA).  Ferrara, since he is still quite young, may start for a short season team next year however; expect him to make it to a long season team as a starter before the end of the year. 


#4 Justin Smith:  Smith has the best hard slider of all the starters although he ranks his four-seam fastball as being a better pitch.  He probably profiles to a major league set-up man or long reliever but his strikeout rate as a starter (13.7 SO/9) was the best of all 11 starters and was even better than all six of the relievers! 


Combine that with good control (5.3 SO/BB) and few base runners (.198 BAA, 1.03 WHIP, 6.7 H/9) and the Cardinals will likely try Smith as a starter for another year or two.  The thing that will work the most against Smith is his lack of pitching to contact with a good sinker (0.80 GO/AO, 1.8 HR/9).  Smith had the worst GO/AO and HR/9 of all 11 starters AND all six relievers in Johnson City. 


Smith saw most of his statistics get a little bit worse at Batavia in the New York-Penn League.  Although Smith (0-3, 4.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, .236 BAA, 12.2 SO/9, 0.76 GO/AO in 20 IP) saw no improvement in his GO/AO, he led Batavia in SO/9 and reduced his HR/9 from 1.8 to 0.4 in seven games.


#5 Andrew Moss:  Moss was the most consistent starter this year for Johnson City.  That consistency is likely what led to his end-of-season promotion to Batavia.  Moss indicated before the season began that his slider was his best pitch and that his curve was his next best pitch however, I think his curve was his best pitch this year.  Moss is a very fast worker and is a joy to watch and to play behind.  Moss was the only Johnson City Cardinal this year to be born in Missouri and be a lifetime St. Louis Cardinal fan.  


Moss led all pitchers with 54.2 IP and was the most effective at working within the low-pitch-count tandem starting pitcher system.  Moss led the seven finalists with 13 G, 3 GF, 1 SV, 2 HLD, and 216 BF.  Moss was second out of the seven with 1.32 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, .196 BAA, and 6.3 H/9.  From a purely statistical analysis, Moss was the best pitcher on the team and was one of the best in the league. 


Moss got a loss in a rough, end-of-season, New York-Penn League debut with Batavia.  Moss allowed eight hits and seven earned runs over 4.2 IP (.421 BAA).  Moss is very hittable if he doesn't keep his pitches down but his plus curve will keep him in the running for a long-season starting pitcher slot in 2010. 


#6 Pablo Ortiz:  This was the toughest ranking for me.  Ortiz only had 5 G and 13.1 IP before missing about 75% of the year due to weakness in his shoulder and elbow.  Ortiz was impressive when healthy.  He never allowed a HR and limited batters to a .241 BAA.  Ortiz was second among the 11 starters with 11.5 SO/9 but was a bit wild; leading the 11 starters with 4.7 BB/9.  This ranking is on upside potential.  Ortiz rehabbed in Jupiter, FL and made his first appearance for the GCL Cardinals on August 28.  He allowed one run on two hits and a walk over one inning pitched. 


#7 Reynier Gonzalez:  Gonzalez was an enigma this year and is probably the biggest opponent of the tandem pitching system.  Gonzalez spent part of last year with Johnson City so a second full season without a promotion is a concern.  Gonzalez had the biggest reliever/starter splits of any pitcher in the tandem system.  Starter:  2-2, 3.73 ERA, 1.58 GO/AO, .244 BAA.  Reliever:  0-3, 14.5 ERA, 0.78 GO/AO, .417 BAA. 


Gonzalez didn't get much help behind him (team high 13 unearned runs allowed) and often seemed to lose concentration when the defense let him down.  His control seemed to elude him almost at the drop of a hat.  He led the team with 9 HBP.  This ranking is also on potential.  Physically, Gonzalez has what it takes to remain a starter.  His mental make-up seems to need some refinement.   


John Durham:  Durham has the advantage of being left-handed however; he never could get much positive going this year.  His best performance was against left-handed hitters but even that wasn't that good (.294 BAA).  Look for him to become a reliever trying to make a statement against lefties. 


Cale Johnson:  Johnson replaced Ortiz just before the middle of the season and never could really put together consistently good outings.  Johnson has two very good things going for him though.  He led all 11 starters in inducing groundball outs (3.36 GO/AO) and in walk rate (1.1 BB/9).  Johnson seems a little bit raw on the mound and could show a big improvement in the future.  He will need to cut down on the hits (13.1 H/9) and improve the strikeouts (4.4 SO/9). 


Randy Santos:  Santos spent his second full season with Johnson City this year and really didn't show much (if any) improvement over last year.  Santos, much like Gonzalez, seemed to go from good to bad very quickly and seemed to do it when the defense let him down.  Santos led the team with 15 WP (more than twice as many as any other pitcher).  Santos doesn't have a good sinker (0.94 GO/AO) or a good strikeout pitch (7.4 SO/9).  It may be the end of the line for Santos as a player in professional baseball with the Cardinals. 


Michael Thompson:  Thompson has real potential as a reliever or perhaps even a closer.  His strikeout rate was the third best amongst the 11 starters (11 SO/9).  Thompson was second on the team with 44 SO.  On the "needs improvement" side, he led the team with 6 HR allowed.  The experiment as a starter may last one more year with Batavia given the very good strikeout rate but it probably won't be long before he becomes a reliever if he can't improve his HR and H rates.  


Starting Pitcher Fielding


As a team, Johnson City finished fifth in team fielding percentage (.960).  They committed 100 errors in 67 games.  The starting pitchers combined for 13 errors, although the top seven pitchers combined for just seven errors (four pick-off errors).  The starters caught base stealers at a very meager 20% rate and were well below the league average (32%). 


Starting Pitcher (Top Ten) League Leaders


Andrew Moss:  1st in ERA (1.32), 4th in WHIP (1.01), 10th in HLD (2).

Michael Thompson:  1st in HLD (5).

Zach Russell:  10th in HLD (2).

Chris Notti:  10th in HLD (2).

Angel De Jesus:  10th in HLD (2).



Glossary (Statistical Acronyms Defined) 


BAA is batting average allowed.  The lower the better.  A number of .200 or below is very good.   


BB is a walk.  The fewer the better. 


BB/9 is walks allowed per nine innings pitched.  The lower the better.  BB/9 = 9*BB/IP.


BF is batters faced.


BS is a blown save.  The fewer the better. 


CS is the number of base runners caught stealing while the pitcher was pitching. 


CS% is a calculation of the percent of base runners caught stealing while the pitcher was on the mound.  Although catchers typically have more control over CS% than pitchers, the higher this is the better.  CS% = 100*CS/(SB + CS). 


E-F is a fielding error.


E-MC is a missed catch error. 


E-PO is a pick-off error. 


E-T is a throwing error. 


ER is earned runs allowed.  A run is "earned" if bad fielding defense didn't contribute to the run scoring. 


ERA is earned run average.  ERA is calculated as nine times the earned runs allowed divided by the innings pitched.  ERA = 9*ER/IP. 


G is the number of games appeared in. 


GF is the number of games the pitcher finished.  A tandem starter has to be very efficient with their pitch count and pitch very well in order to finish a game. 


GO/AO is ground out per air out.  With the Cardinal organizational preference of pitchers "pitching to contact" with a good sinker, the bigger the GO/AO, the better.   A pitcher with a GO/AO of two or greater relies heavily on a sinker such as a slider, cut fastball, or 2-seam fastball. 


GS is the number of games started (the first inning).  This was higher for the tandem starters that pitched in the Cardinals organization last year.  


H is hits allowed.  The fewer the better.


H/9 is hits allowed per nine innings pitched.  The lower the better.  H/9 = 9*H/IP. 


HBP is hit by pitch.  This can be a good or bad stat.  The bad side is that it leads to a base runner.  The good side is that it shows that a pitcher is willing to pitch inside. 


HLD is a hold.  The more the better.  However, don't read too much into this stat.  A pitcher can pitch poorly and still record a hold.


HR is home runs allowed.  The fewer the better.


H/9 is home runs allowed per nine innings pitched.  The lower the better.  HR/9 = 9*HR/IP.


IBB is intentional walks.  None of the tandem starters had one this year. 


Inherited is the number of runners that were on base when a pitcher entered a game.  The tandem starting pitcher system usually had the second starter begin an inning.  However, this was not always the case. 


IP is innings pitched.  To be considered a league leader in the Appy League, a pitcher needed to maintain a minimum of 0.8 IP per team-game.  That corresponds to roughly 53 IP.  With a piggy-back or tandem starting pitching system, the maximum number of IP is roughly 59 for a starter.  The maximum number of IPs for a Johnson City reliever was 30.2


IS% is the percentage of inherited runners that scored.  The lower the better.  A pitcher with a low IS% is more likely to be inserted in a game during an inning (rather than starting his own inning).  IS% = 100*Scored/Inherited. 


L is losses.  The tandem starting pitcher system would often go a long way to let the first starter get his pitches in.  The result is a few more losses. 


PO is a pick-off.  Left-handed pitchers typically have more than right-handed pitchers and this was certainly true this year with the tandem starters (6-of-9). 


R is runs allowed.  The fewer the better.


RISP is runners in scoring position (second or third base).  


SB is stolen bases allowed.  The catcher typically has more control over this stat however; a big number is not good for a pitcher. 


Scored is the number of inherited runners that scored.  The fewer that score the better. 


SO is a strikeout.  The more the better.


SO/9 is strikeouts per nine innings pitched.  The bigger the better.  SO/9 = 9*SO/IP.


SO/BB is strikeouts per walk.  The bigger the better. 


SV is a save.  The more the better.


SV% is save percentage.  SV% is calculated as 100 times the saves divided by the sum of saves and blown saves.  SV% = 100*SV/(SV+BS). 


W is wins.  Due to limited pitch counts for the tandem starters, it was very difficult for the first starter to go five innings and get a win. 


WHIP is walks plus hits per inning pitched.  The lower the better.  1.0 and below is considered very good.  WHIP = (BB+H)/IP. 


WP is a wild pitch.  Catchers can have a big impact on this stat however, in general, the more WPs, the less control the pitcher has of his pitches.  Therefore, the fewer the better. 



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