March 2, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA;Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Kyle Lobstein (31) throws the ball to first for an out during the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
RA9 — total runs allowed per nine innings — isn’t the best stat to judge pitchers by (at least not in the small samples we’re talking about), but it is perhaps the most simple stat to understand: at what rate did opponents score while each pitcher was on the mound. It’s not worried about earned runs, strikeout rate, or BABIP. It simply describes what happened.
Bearing that in mind — that RA9 makes a better descriptive stat than a predictive one — here are various RA9 leader boards for Detroit Tigers minor league pitchers last season (stateside).
First, players who made the majority (more than 50%) of their appearances as the starting pitcher, regardless of number of innings pitched (*denotes left-handed pitcher):
An interesting mix of names here. Duane Below is familiar to most Tigers fans. He was designated for assignment early last season when the Tigers decided to give Jose Valverde one more go. Below spent the rest of the year in the Miami Marlins organization (where he finished with a 2.55 ERA in AAA), but he has re-signed with the Tigers this offseason.
Jonathon Crawford was the Tigers’ top draft pick this past June out of Florida. He wasn’t pushed very hard (after a full college season and all that), but he did make eight starts in the New York-Penn League (typically going only two or three innings per start). He’ll probably go to Lakeland to begin the 2014 season for his first full year in pro ball. Baseball Prospectus ranked Crawford as the #2 prospect in the organization.
David Paulino was an interesting young name in the GCL. He struck out a ton of batters (and didn’t really walk anyone) in his 20 innings, but the Tigers ended up sending him to the Houston Astros as the player-to-be-named in the Jose Veras deal.
Joe Mantiply was a 27th round pick in the June draft as a college senior. He’s not a prospecty guy right now, but you could do worse in the 27th round than finding a solid organizational-type pitcher. There’s always a chance that a late round pick could turn into a valuable piece, but after one year of short-season ball isn’t the time to declare that. He’s going to have to prove himself as he goes.
Jose Alvarez, of course, had a very nice season in AAA for the Toledo Mud Hens and became the Tigers’ de facto sixth starter. He might be in the mix to make the bullpen out of spring camp, but it’s much more likely that he begins the season back in the AAA rotation (with Duane Below).
And here’s the same list, but limiting the search to starting pitchers who had thrown at least 100 innings:
Jose Alvarez says, but we get four new names on the end of the list. I had the pleasure of seeing Jordan John two or three times last year in West Michigan, and, although he never wowed me with his raw stuff, he always seemed to get outs (including a surprising number of strikeouts for a guy who thew in the upper 80’s).
Wilsen Palacios has been around the organization for a while now, and he’s had a fair bit of success while remaining relatively anonymous. He’s been maybe slightly old for the level at each stop, but nothing crazy. For now he’s at least a solid piece of organizational depth.
Kyle Lobstein split his season between the AA and AAA levels, but he didn’t really let his numbers dip when he made the jump. Detroit originally acquired him in the Rule 5 draft from the Tampa Bay Rays a year ago, and he turned in an impressive year on the farm. He’s not a top prospect by any means, but he could carve out a career at the back of a rotation, and he might be in the mix for that sixth starter spot in 2014 (along with Below, Alvarez, and perhaps Robbie Ray).
Off all the guys in this second group, Drew VerHagen is drawing the most prospect attention; Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the #7 prospect in the Tigers’ system. VerHagen jumped up to AA to finish the year and turned in some impressive stat lines. He wouldn’t be a Top 10 prospect in every organization, but he’s a guy with good stuff that certainly warrants keeping an eye on in 2014 (and beyond).