The Improving Outlook of the Las Vegas 51s Rotation | Astromets Mind

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Improving Outlook of the Las Vegas 51s Rotation

With some recent promotions, and more likely on the way, the Las Vegas 51s rotation is about to be crowded, and there are some interesting young arms in the mix. Taking a look at how these starters fared in the first half and if they can help the Mets some day.

            We’ve reached the All-Star break of the 2014 season and the Mets farm system has had a very exciting and successful first half, with all of their full-season teams at least 14 games over .500 on July 15. The Las Vegas 51s success has been driven by a combination of their league-best offense (6+ R/G) and middle of the pack pitching staff. The 51s pitching staff was one of the PCL’s best when the big three of Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero and Jacob ∂eGrom were pitching effectively for them early in the season, but ∂eGrom has since graduated to the majors and Montero had an injury flare up after returning from his ML debut. Since ∂eGrom and Montero left the rotation, Carlos Alvarado, Joel Carreno and Greg Peavey have combined for a 7+ ERA over 27 appearances (Carreno was bounced between the pen and starting before hitting the DL) in their place. And the rest of the rotation has not done much better, as Thor has had a 7.00 ERA since mid-May, while Darin Gorski and Logan Verrett have had 5+ ERA’s over that time.
Fortunately, changes have already begun to be made, as Matthew Bowman and Tyler Pill were promoted shortly before the break, a reward for their improving performances throughout the first half with Binghamton – Bowman looked pretty good over his first two appearances and Tyler Pill was cruising until he suddenly couldn’t get out of the 4th in his AAA debut. Additionally, Cory Mazzoni has progressed fine in his rehab/spring training tour of the Mets minors, and Rafael Montero started his rehab touon July 9th. On the sidelines, the return of Frank Viola as pitching coach could be very important for the development of some of these young arms. That is not at all a knock on previous pitching coach Tom Signore, who went back to that role with the Cyclones and has a good reputation as a pitching coach himself, but an appreciation of what Viola can offer these guys. Signore has a stronger mechanical reputation, which is important at all levels, and it sounds good to have him working with young guys like Marcos Molina (reputation for poor mechanics already) and Casey Meisner (6’ 7”, not yet 200 pounds) early on in Brooklyn. Viola has a stronger reputation for working with pitchers on their approach, something I think will especially benefit Thor right now – for example, according to Russ Langer, Viola told Thor that he needed to throw his fastball inside more.
Looking ahead to the second half, there’s a good chance all 7 pitchers covered below will make starts for the Las Vegas 51s. As of now, only Thor and Montero are guaranteed spots if healthy (and not in the majors) – Mazzoni’s spot should be safe too, once promoted, unless the Mets front office decides to move him to the pen. The rest will have to fight for their spot in the rotation, or they will end up starting back in AA or relieving in the AAA bullpen.

League averages for comparison:
AAA – 18.6 K%/9.0 nB%, 18.8 LD%/44.2 GB%/28.4 FB%/6.4 IF%
AA – 17.4 K%/8.5 nB%, 15.6 LD%/44.7 GB%/31.1 FB%/6.8 IF%
Note, nB% considers unintentional walks + HBP, percentages listed below are BB%
Statcorner has league averages available for FIP as well, but they use a different constant than the more common Fangraphs FIP listed below – for example, they credit Noah Syndergaard with a 3.32 FIP while Fangraphs has him at 3.98 FIP (0.66 difference). Since Statcorner has AAA league average FIP at 4.23, Fangraphs should be 4.89. Similarly, AA average FIP should be 4.31.

Noah Syndergaard
21 years old, 2010 1st round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays
AAA: 7-4 record with a 5.31 ERA (3.98 FIP) – 16 GS, 79.1 IP, 97 H, 52 R (47 ER), 23 BB (6.6%), 82 SO (23.5%), 9 HR, HBP, 23.5 LD%/45.7 GB%/24.7 FB%/5.3 IF%

Serious Syndergaard has serious stuff

            The Mets prospect known as Thor has had a mixed season so far – he’s not had great results in terms of hits/runs allowed, but he’s still shown two plus pitches (a 94-97 MPH Fastball that has hit 99 MPH some this year and a 77-80 MPH Curveball) and an average third (a 84-88 MPH Change-up), and had strong K% and BB% rates with that arsenal. He’s allowed 9 HR, but that works out to 1.02 HR/9 IP, which isn’t terrible, especially for a 21 year old in the PCL – the PCL has some of the highest R/HR environments in pro baseball, like Vegas. Also, not to make excuses for him, but he’s allowed 3 HR’s (that come to mind) at Cashman Field when there were 20-30+ MPH wind blowing to the outfield at start time.
Considering all the hits allowed, he’s obviously going to have a high BABIP against, and recent pitch coverage results indicate his Fastball has allowed the highest BABIP of his pitches – note that the season results could change significantly with the first ~2/3 of his starts charted. His Fastball is a plus pitch that hitters are going to have a tough time squaring up, initially. When he doesn’t mix it in well with the rest of his arsenal, hitters can start sitting dead red and good ones will eventually square it up – this has happened on several occasions this season. His lack of experience (~375 pro IP) is his biggest weakness, but something that can only improve with time, and hopefully the guidance of pitching coach Frank Viola helps.
Personally, I think Thor should be considered untouchable, as few pitching prospects in baseball have his upside.

Rafael Montero DL (Rehabbing)
23 years old
AAA: 4-2 record with a 3.75 ERA (3.93 FIP) – 11 GS, 50.1 IP, 43 H, 29 R (21 ER), 24 BB (11.2%), 49 SO (18.5%), 3 HR, 17.7 LD%/41.1 GB%/31.2 FB%/7.1 IF%
MLB: 0-2 record with a 5.40 ERA (6.32 FIP) – 4 GS, 20 IP, 21 H, 13 R (12 ER), 11 BB (12%), 17 SO (18.5), 5 HR, 23 LD%/32.8 GB%/44.3 FB% (11.1 IFFB%)

            It was mixed results early in 2014 for Montero, as he was still relatively effective for Las Vegas to start the year, but saw his walk rate nearly double compared to last year. Known for above average control and aggressively attacking the strike zone coming into the season, Montero became more of a nibbler in April, and hadn’t righted himself by the time he was called up to the majors. Perhaps the oblique injury was something that had been bothering Montero for longer than he’s willing to admit, or perhaps something else was going on, but I'd like to see him get back to being the aggressive control pitcher I saw in 2013.
The biggest surprise in his results at the major league level was the huge bump in HR-rate. The five homeruns allowed accounted for more than half of the runs scored against him, and is a rate more than four times greater than at any stop since he burst onto the prospect scene in 2012. The walks in the majors didn’t help, but the homeruns burned hm. Still, it was only 20 IP, and he gave up 4 HR to lefties – he also faced more lefties (48) than righties (44).
That lefty/righty split was significant, as he only allowed 2 XBH to righties for a .298 wOBA, while lefties managed 7 XBH and a .450 wOBA against. It’s something to keep an eye on if he continues to struggle in the starter role, especially considering the rumors about the Mets using Montero out of the bullpen earlier in the season. Montero has kept lefties in check in the minors (.644 OPS in 2012, .658 in ’13, .747 in ‘14), but has done better against righties (.439 OPS in 2012, .549 in ’13, .736 in ’14), although he wasn’t particularly special against either for Las Vegas in 2014.
I imagine a lot more fans are willing to see the Mets trade Montero for help now than they were before the season started, but it seems like that would be a sell low move considering the disappointing start to his 2014. Assuming his control returns to form, he will likely help the Mets in some capacity over the next few seasons, it's just yet to be determined if that's as a starter, reliever, or trade chip.

Cory Mazzoni
24 years old, 2011 2nd round pick of the New York Mets
GCL/St. Lucie Mets: 0-1 record with a 4.85 ERA (0.89 FIP GCL, 2.35 FIP A+) – 3 GS, 13 IP, 16 H, 7 R, 4 BB (6.9%), 16 SO (27.6%), 10.7 LD%/39.3 GB%/39.3 FB%/7.1 IF% (St. Lucie only)
AA: 2-0 record with a 4.50 ERA (2.78 FIP) – 2 GS, 12 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 4 BB (8%), 10 SO (20%), 16.7 LD%/38.9 GB%/33.3 FB%/11.1 IF%

            There isn’t much to say about Cory Mazzoni’s season to date, because he’s really just getting started. A triceps/lat injury in spring training knocked him out of the first two-plus months of the season, but he’s come back strong so far. Mazzoni’s final start of the first half was a good example of his smart approach, as he attacked the lineup with a good Fastball/Change-up combination and a show-me breaking ball. He kept hitters off balance by changing speeds and location – eye level and inside/outside – throughout the at-bat, inning and game.
As good as he looked with this approach in one start against AA competition, there are still concerns about his future as a starter. While not always true, it is generally believed that a pitcher needs three usable pitches to get through a lineup 3-4 times, like a starter is asked to do. Right now, Mazzoni still lacks a good third pitch to rely on, although he has good control of his first two options. His change-up was very effective in the start I watched, getting ~20% swinging strikes, including 5 to record a strikeout.
Looking ahead, Mazzoni should be with the Las Vegas 51s not long after the break. Considering the potentially crowded rotation, it’s possible the Mets start the transition to the bullpen soon, but Mazzoni has more upside than the guys below him on this list, so they would likely be worked around Cory. I hope he gets the chance to prove he can’t start first, because it shouldn’t take much time to transition him to the bullpen if he can’t, and he gets more experience in the mean time either way.

Matthew Bowman
23 years old, 2012 13th round pick of the New York Mets
AA: 6-5 record with a 3.50 ERA (3.47 FIP) – 14 GS, 79.2 IP, 85 H, 39 R (31 ER), 22 BB, 77 SO, 6 HR, 4 HBP, 19.4 LD%/58.2 GB%/17.3 FB%/3.4 IF%
AAA: 1-0 record with a 2.79 ERA (2.63 FIP) – 2 GS, 9.2 IP, 13 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 8 SO, 23.5 LD%/55.9 GB%/11.8 FB%/2.9 IF%

            I recently heard Bowman tell Tim Heiman that he tweaked his hamstring a little back in Spring Training, and it messed up his mechanics early in the year; you wouldn’t be able to tell from the results, as Bowman has allowed 2 ER or less in 12 of 16 starts this season. That said, Bowman’s stuff has looked noticeable better in June/July than the one start I saw of him back in late April. (It’s not great to make comparisons based on such small sample sizes, but it’s all I have in my memory vault.) There wasn’t much life on his fastball or movement on his secondary pitches when I first saw him, and hitters were waiting for him to bring his middling stuff over the plate – I think he got one batter to chase out of the zone that day. Now, his Fastball has some life and movement at the top of the zone, and his secondary stuff has been more consistent than it was that day, both in movement and location at the bottom of the zone.
Also, looking beyond ERA, Bowman’s K% has been much more consistent since the last day of May – 35 SO in 40.1 IP (20.2%) before May 31 and 42 SO in 39.1 IP for AA after (25%). And that doesn’t tell the whole story, as that before total is inflated by two big strikeout performances (11 SO in start 2, 12 SO in start 6, 13 IP combined), and he had a 9.9 K% in the other 6 starts. Bowman had two starts shortened by rain, but pitched into the 6th inning in 11 of his other 14 starts, and told Heiman that his goal was 7 IP every start.
Looking ahead, Bowman’s spot in the AAA rotation should be safe. The most interesting part of Bowman’s game is his elite groundball rate, which has been near 60% throughout his pro career. If he could keep it in the 50-60% range at the highest level, then he’d have one of the best rates in the majors. That and above average control would give him a chance to at least be a good 5th starter, with an outside chance of being a little more.

Tyler Pill
24 years old, 2011 4th round pick of the New York Mets
AA: 6-5 record with a 4.12 ERA (3.56 FIP) – 15 G (14 GS), 83 IP, 83 H, 40 R (38 ER), 21 BB (6.1%), 75 SO (21.7%), 7 HR, 2 HBP, 16.7 LD%/44.4 GB%/32.9 FB%/4.3 IF%
AAA: 1 GS, 4.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 4 SO

Before his first AAA start

With a polished approach and good control, Tyler Pill coasted through the lower minors in his first year plus as a pro. Unfortunately, he lost almost all of last season with a Bennett’s lesion in his shoulder. He’d slide right back into Binghamton’s rotation this year, but things did not look good in April, as he had a 7.58 ERA with a .922 OPS against for the month. Astromets Mind covered his April 28 start and saw that polished approach on display, as Pill was very in control after walking the first two batters of the game that day. Since that game, Pill has had a 3.00 ERA with a  .639 OPS against and 67 K: 16 BB (24.2 K%: 5.8 BB%) in 69 IP. Astromets Mind had him as the top Mets minor league pitcher for the month of June.
Pill is not going to blow hitters away with plus stuff, but when he keeps his pitches down, he gets good results. Although he was impressive over his last dozen starts for AA, he ultimately profiles as a better version of Logan Verrett. This is not a bad thing as far as AAA starter depth is concerned, just not exciting as far as prospect status/future upside. That’s not to say that he won't have success in the majors, but his upside should probably be considered 5th starter/relief pitcher. An interesting development in 2014 has been his reverse platoon splits, as righties have hit Pill with more power so far. Pill was equally strong against both lefties and righties during the 2012 season, so this may just be a blip, but either way, his success against lefties is useful moving forward. Looking ahead, I think he’ll probably spend the next few seasons as starting depth at AAA.

Darin Gorski DL
26 years old, 2009 7th round pick of the New York Mets
AA: 4-2 record with a 2.22 ERA (4.11 FIP) – 9 GS, 52.2 IP, 41 H, 16 R (13 ER), 12 BB (5.8%), 54 SO (26%), 8 HR, HBP, 10.6 LD%/32.6 GB%/41.1 FB%/13.5 IF%
AAA: 2-3 record with a 5.10 ERA (5.11 FIP) – 9 G (8 GS), 42.1 IP, 54 H, 30 R (24 ER), 17 BB (8.8%), 42 SO (21.8%), 7 HR, HBP, 25.7 LD%/25.7 GB%/32.7 FB%/10.6 IF%

            A personal favorite, the lefty flopped in his first AAA chance, which was April of the 2013 season. He’d bounce back and spend the rest of 2013 demolishing AA, but the Mets were slow to promote him to AAA in 2014, even though he was again pitching well for Binghamton, and the 51s starting pitching was struggling – tells you something about how the front office views him. He was beat up for eight runs (seven earned) on eight hits over 2.1 IP in his final start for Vegas before the break, and was then placed on the DL (per this Roster.pdf, accurate as of July 12). I haven’t heard anything about a Gorski injury yet, and the 51s needed to add players for the weekend, so it was probably just a roster crunch move, but we’ll find out when he’s eligible to come off the DL next week.
            He excelled at AA in 2013 with the help of a .202 BABIP against RHB, but he hasn’t shown that kind of split advantage against righties in any other season. He showed a lefty-platoon advantage earlier in his career, but has settled into to average OPS production allowed against lefties since 2013. His Achilles heel has been the homerun, as he’s allowed 15 homerun’s in 95 IP this year (1.42 HR/9 IP), although 13 have been solo blasts – he’s also allowed 13 to righties.
            Looking ahead, Gorski’s spot in the rotation is definitely in jeopardy. As a 26-year old having his first taste of success in AAA, he really has a limited upside. A journeyman career in the mold of Pat Misch or Dana Eveland seems likely, which means he should at minimum provide depth as a lefty starter/reliever. It’s always possible that he excels as a reliever, and it seems likely he’ll be used that way at times in the second half with the 51s.

Logan Verrett DL
24 years old, 2011 3rd round pick of the New York Mets
AAA: 7-2 record with a 4.71 ERA (3.96 FIP) – 19 GS, 105 IP, 149 H, 70 R (55 ER), 21 BB (4.4%), 74 SO (15.5%), 8 HR, 4 HBP, 23.5 LD%/45 GB%/25.4 FB%/2.4 IF%

            After a successful start against Reno before the break (6 IP, 2 ER), Verrett was moved to the DL the next day, which is the same day that Tyler Pill was added to the 51s roster for his start. Statistically, it’s a little hard to judge some of the stats considering the offensive environment he plays in, but that is a lot of hits allowed. He doesn’t have strikeout stuff, as evidence by his below average K% with Las Vegas this year, so a good defense (which the 51s don't have) is important. He gets by on good control and keeping the ball out of the ballpark – .69 HR/9 IP this season. When he’s on, he gets a lot of groundballs by keeping the ball down.
One positive about Verrett’s season is his effectiveness early in his starts – he has a 2.13 ERA after 2 IP and a 2.74 ERA after 4 IP, but that shoots up to 3.50 after 5 IP and 4.56 after 6 IP. If he fails to adapt to pitching deeper into games, he should at least offer the possibility of a long reliever. In my mind, the difference between Pill and Verrett is that Verrett’s stuff is flatter, and he’s more hittable as a result. Verrett may not give up many homeruns in AAA, but major league lineups are another class compared to what he’s has been facing in the PCL.
Looking ahead, Verrett’s spot in the rotation is likely in jeopardy too, although he’s been one of the most effective 51s starters thus far. I think his spot is in jeopardy because his upside is limited and the Mets may want to look at other options. Of course, there are plenty of other moves that could open up a spot in the rotation, but he hasn’t done much to impress in the first half. I think he’ll stick around Vegas over the next few seasons, bouncing between the pen and the rotation until the Mets have a need to fill at the major league level.

            These are the seven main starters that the Las Vegas 51s have to choose from for their second half rotation, which may end up a 6-man rotation. Of the guys mentioned, Thor is still the jewel of the system and the only one with #1 upside. With his stuff, he’s not far from helping in the majors. Montero and Mazzoni separate themselves from the rest, although Bowman is a sleeper to be in their class. Those three are more likely to have success at the highest level than the last three on the list. The last three guys mentioned (Pill, Gorski and Verrett) should be competing for the 1-2 leftover rotation spots, and performance might end up being the deciding factor among them. All three have #5 starter upside, though might never get more than spot starts in that role. I think all three could succeed in the bullpen, and that the bullpen will be their best route to the majors. They’re not all going to contribute or have success for the Mets, but I can’t remember the last time the Mets had this much young starting pitching talent at their AAA level, and more is on the way. Two of the top pitching prospects in the Mets system, Steven Matz and Gabriel Ynoa, were recently promoted to AA and are succeeding at the new level. They will have their names in the mix for the 51s opening day rotation, but they seem like long shots to get the bump in 2014.

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