Midseason Report: Wisconsin Pitchers

In the first of a series of articles analyzing the Mariners full-season minor league teams, Seattle Hardball publisher Scott Sepich looks at the top four Wisconsin Timber Rattlers pitchers and what their numbers mean so far.

In the first in a series of mid-season reports, we look at select members of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers pitching staff. The Rattlers play in the Midwest League, which has a league ERA of 3.60 as of June 30th. The average game features 8.46 runs, but games at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute are only averaging 7.70 runs. Because of this, pitching numbers are skewed and look quite a bit better than they should, which should be kept in mind when analyzing the Rattlers' pitchers.

Travis Mortimore, P, High Desert-Wisconsin

23 G, 35 IP, 14 H, 2 ER, 14 BB, 27 K, .129 BAA, 63% GB, 0.51 ERA, 1.41 PERA

Mortimore, who was just promoted to High Desert, has been successful this season largely due to a very high ground-ball rate, which in turn helps to keep down the number of hits he allows. Mortimore has had some luck on his side, with a .156 BABIP overall. This is sure to increase due to a variety of factors, but here's four that are not on his side:

1) Luck is likely to start evening out. It's unusually rare (actually, pretty much impossible) for a .156 BABIP to hold up over a long period of time, even with the small sample size of a reliever.

2) The Mavs have committed 121 errors this season. While errors don't influence earned runs, they are an indicator that the team may not have great range in the field and may have difficulty turning less-than-routine plays into outs.

3) The air be thin in that thar desert. The Mavericks play at 2900 feet in a ballpark where the wind is usually blowing somewhere between 20 and 40 miles per hour, usually away from home plate. This can turn routine fly balls to left field into 450-foot moonshots. While Mortimore's ground-ball rate has been great this year, last year it was only 52%. Will he regress toward that number or is he becoming a true ground-ball pitcher?

4) Mortimore doesn't strike that many people out for a guy with this low of an ERA (see BABIP discussion above). His K rate is not horrible, but it's more difficult historically to strike batters out in Adelanto (three-year park factor of 94 for strikeouts) than in Grand Chute (108).

Now, my point here is not to turn this into a criticism of Mortimore, but more to note that it is very unlikely that he'll continue to pitch this well. The promotion to High Desert was deserved, but I hope an inflation in numbers there doesn't make people think he's suddenly a worse pitcher or that he "can't handle" the promotion. He has been very good. With his peripherals (which assumes a more normal BABIP), his expected ERA is 1.40, so it's not like it's all smoke and mirrors for him.

Ed. Note: After I wrote this but before I posted it, Mortimore got shellacked in his first start with High Desert, giving up 11 hits in 3 1/3 innings, including five ground ball singles, two deep fly ball doubles, and a home run. And, as expected, an error in the first inning led to three unearned run that scored after the third out should have been recorded.

Michael Pineda, P, Wisconsin

14 G, 9 GS, 63 IP, 47 H, 10 ER, 4 HR, 19 BB, 51 K, .203 BAA, 50% GB, 1.43 ERA, 2.98 PERA

Pineda is another guy who has pitched very well this year, but probably won't be able to keep the numbers up. Pineda's BABIP is .232, which can help account for his lower-than-expected ERA. What appears to be another culprit is Pineda's dominance with runners on base. He's only allowed nine of 62 baserunners to score. His BAA, already solid at .203 overall, falls to .120 with runners in scoring position. It's possible that Pineda is simply a better pitcher out of the stretch. We'll have to see where these numbers go in the second half of the season. If he keeps up these peripherals, though, Pineda should see his season ERA stay somewhere around 2.20 when all is said and done, which is a nice season for a 19-year-old in A ball.

Juan Ramirez, P, Wisconsin

15 G, 14 GS, 78.1 IP, 70 H, 37 ER, 4 HR, 26 BB, 68 K, .237 BAA, 56% GB, 4.25 ERA, 4.00 PERA

Ramirez came into the year with much more hype than anyone on the staff other than Phillippe Aumont, and he's been OK, though maybe not what observers would've hoped. His BABIP is .278, which is low but not absurdly so. His peripherals don't really suggest he should be getting results all that much different from his actual numbers. His normalized ERA of 5.34 (Wisconsin is a death trap for offense this season) shows that he's far from being ready to move up. He hasn't been good in June (5.40 ERA, .290 BAA). If he can get back to the form he had in the first two months, he'll numbers will start to look better. His walk rate is much better this year (3.0/9 this year vs. 5.3/9 last year) while his strikeout rate has fallen slightly and his hit rate has increased slightly. That's the best news about Ramirez right now, and he's still only 19 so there's no reason to panic.

Phillippe Aumont, P, Wisconsin

12 G, 6 GS, 44.2 IP, 36 H, 13 ER, 3 HR, 13 BB, 43 K, .214 BAA, 59% GB, 2.62 ERA, 3.33 PERA

Aumont is still a work in progress and it's much too early to tell exactly how good he'll be. His numbers are skewed by one awful start back on June 9th when he gave up seven hits and six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings at Burlington. Take out that start and his ERA is 1.46. With it, his ERA is 2.62. So it would be unfair to claim that Michael Pineda has really been that much better than Aumont (especially considering the small gap in their PERAs, which is, again, inflated a bit for Aumont because of that bad start). Aumont hasn't pitched since the debacle of June 9th, landing on the DL with the infamous "sore elbow" that the Mariners insist is nothing serious. One somewhat alarming trend is that lefties are hitting a decent .267 off of Phillippe.

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