ELDS Preview: Binghamton Rumble Ponies vs. Trenton Thunder | Astromets Mind

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

ELDS Preview: Binghamton Rumble Ponies vs. Trenton Thunder

Breaking down the matchup for the Rumble Ponies first playoff series

Rumble Ponies in the Playoffs? #LetsRumble

            Starting tonight, the top-two teams in the Eastern League will square off in the opening round of the Eastern League playoffs. As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to watch, local fans have the added draw of bragging rights on the line, because this is the Double-A version of the Subway Series: Yankees prospects vs. Mets prospects. And the cherry on top for baseball fans came when the Yankees announced they were sending a pair of major league rehabber’s – Clint Frazier and Garrett Cooper – to the Trenton squad for at least the beginning of the series.
            Below I review how these two teams made it to the Eastern League playoffs, how they matchup statistically, and the starting pitching matchups announced so far for this series.

How the Thunder got here

            At 92-48, the Thunder made the playoffs with one of the best records in pro baseball this year. Every Major League team would be happy to finish a season with Trenton’s franchise-best 92 wins this year, and the Thunder reached that total in just 140 games. Considering the turnover in the Yankees system throughout the year, especially at the Double-A level – check out the final page of their game notes for all 208 transactions (!) made this year – the Thunder’s record is that much more impressive.
            Looking at the numbers, there are two obvious reasons for the team’s success: great pitching and the benefit of 47 games combined against Portland (21), New Hampshire (19), and Bowie (7). Trenton’s 2.84 team ERA is better than the league’s average 4.03 ERA by more than a run, and the team went 37-10 in those 47 games. Sure, they went a still impressive 55-38 against the rest of the league, but that pace would’ve left them in second place with 83 wins. Getting back to the first point, the Ponies were the only other team with an ERA under 3.67 in the EL this year, and the league average ERA jumps more than a tenth if you don’t include the Thunder’s stats.
            As far as workload is concerned, the Thunder pitching staff has been led by Justus Sheffield (93.1 IP) and Cale Coshow (41 G, 54.1 IP) – Yefry Ramirez had led the team in IP before his trade. Coshow was promoted to Scranton at the end of the season, which leaves Colten Brewer as the most experienced reliever on the squad. Overall, the Thunder have had 21 different pitchers throw at least 25 IP this year, so you can’t really point to one player alone being the difference. That said, Ronald Herrera did go 8-0 in 9 starts,with a 1.13 ERA over 56 IP.
            While pitching has been the anchor for this team, the offense has been no slouch either. Thairo Estrada (.745 OPS over 495 AB and a Postseason All-Star) and Zack Zehner (.764 OPS over 431 AB) have been the regulars in the lineup, but Trenton has had some of the top talents in the minors playing for them this year: Gleyber Torres spent 32 games here before his promotion and injury, Jorge Mateo spent 30 games before his trade, and Miguel Andujar spent 67 games here before his promotions. Additionally, Jhalan Jackson joined the squad on 7/1 and he’s posted a 0.906 OPS in 29 games with Trenton. This Trenton team is patient, doesn't strikeout a lot, and has good extra base hit potential, although they haven't big homerun threats this year. Of course, they didn't have Clint Frazier and Garrett Cooper in the lineup all year either.

How the Rumble Ponies got here

            At 85-54, the Rumble Ponies made the playoffs with the second best record in the league and a comfortable lead over third place. The Ponies didn’t spend the entire season in second place, as Reading charged ahead of them briefly mid-season, but they finished the season with a run that should have Trenton trembling. After finishing July on a 7-2 run, Binghamton’s 23 wins in August was best in the EL (and one shy of tying a franchise record for a month), and then they went 3-0 in September. All together, that’s a 33-11 streak to finish the season, which is good for a .750 winning percentage! The only team Binghamton didn’t finish the season with a better than .500 record against is Trenton, as the two teams split six games, but they have a chance to remedy that this series.
            The Rumble Ponies are the modern version of “Pitching and Defense wins championships.” The Ponies finished second in the EL with a 3.20 team ERA, but while the team had some strong starting pitching throughout the year (especially from Corey Oswalt), the bullpen really stood out. The Ponies pen combined for a ridiculous 2.81 ERA over 388 IP this year, with just 333 H allowed and a very good 380 K: 132 BB ratio. The pen’s performance actually improved considerably down the stretch too, after the midseason additions of flamethrowers Tyler Bashlor, Drew Smith, and (eventually) Adonis Uceta: 1.65 ERA over 92.2 IP, with 70 H allowed and a 97 K: 27 BB ratio over the final month.*
As for the defense, errors aren’t everything, but Table 3 below shows just how efficient the Ponies were at making outs, and the Ponies feature several players known for their defense at key up the middle positions. Luis Guillorme’s defense reputation has only grown this year while splitting time between SS and 2B, and he was arguably the team MVP for Binghamton. The Ponies coaches gave that award to David Thompson, who finished just percentage points behind Josh Fuentes for best fielding percentage at third base, as he committed just 12 errors in 129 games while making several huge plays at the hot corner. Tomas Nido has been getting great reviews for his defense behind the plate again this year, and he threw out an impressive 45% of potential base stealers for Binghamton. Binghamton had Juan Lagares (7 games), Champ Stuart or Patrick Biondi (both are plus runners and defenders) play center field in all but one game this year, and often had two of those three patrolling the outfield. Guilorme’s double play partner was most commonly Gustavo Nunez, a 29-year old roaming middle infielder who did a good job providing consistent defense. Not to be forgotten, backup catcher Colton Plaia was having another strong year behind the plate before going down with an injury, L.J. Mazzilli made some sparkling plays at second base and while playing right field for the first time in his pro career, Kevin Kaczmarski was the Ponies Iron Man in the OF and also came up with some huge catches, and finally Matt Oberste was as reliable at first base as he’s ever been, finishing the year with a .997 fielding percentage while playing a career-high 103 games in the field (previous high was 70 in 2016).
            While the Ponies may have the modern pitching and defense game down pat, Binghamton’s offense is from a different era. The team lacks power – see all the power rankings in Table 1 below – as several guys are more interested in slashing the ball the other way to get on than selling out for power. David Thompson put together a nice homer binge at the end of the season to push his total to 16, and both he and Matt Oberste have been top-10 in doubles most of the season, but the rest of the lineup lacks a consistent punch. Tomas Nido was close to the average, but only Thompson finished with an above EL average ISO. The good news for Binghamton in this respect is that Peter Alonso was promoted for the final two weeks and appears to have quickly adjusted to the league.
The lineup did excel in one area though: controlling the strike zone. They led the league in walks drawn and struck out less than any other team. Champ Stuart struck out in nearly 1/3 of his PA, but Matt Oberste had the second highest strikeout rate among ‘regulars’ (150+ PA), and his 20.5% K-rate was barely above the EL average of 19.7%. Additionally, eight of those eleven ‘regulars’ had a BB/PA-rate above 10%, and both Luis Guillorme and Kevin Taylor finished the year with more walks than strikeouts.

(*Bullpen data gathered from game notes.)

How the two teams matchup

Table 1 – Offensive team ranks

Statistic (EL Average)
659 (2)
582 (9)
4.71 (2)
R/G (4.32)
4.19 (8)
1202 (t-4)
1159 (8)
237 (5)
222 (11)
44 (1)
20 (11)
103 (8)
66 (12)
492 (2)
503 (1)
935 (3)
918 (1)
79 (8)
111 (2)
.264 (t-2)
AVG (.259)
.260 (6)
.339 (2)
OBP (.330)
.337 (3)
.403 (6)
SLG (.397)
.363 (12)
.741 (4)
OPS (.727)
.700 (t-10)
28 (11)
Sac Bunts
35 (5)
48 (3)
Sac Flies
47 (4)
111 (4)
110 (5)

Table 2 – Pitching team ranks

Statistic (EL Average)
Rumble Ponies
1211.1 (4)
1176.2 (10)
2.83 (1)
ERA (4.03)
3.20 (2)
20 (t-1)
20 (t-1)
47 (1)
41 (3)
1057 (1)
1079 (2)
92 (3)
86 (2)
1160 (1)
990 (7)
429 (5)
365 (1)
2.70 (3)
K/BB (2.26)
2.71 (2)
1.23 (t-1)
WHIP (1.37)
1.23 (t-1)
53 (7)
31 (1)
50 (2)
Wild Pitches
53 (4)

Table 3 – Defensive team ranks

Statistic (EL Average)
116 (t-8)
Errors (109)
68 (1)
.977 (t-7)
Fielding Percentage
.986 (1)
77 (5)
Stolen Bases Allowed (84)
58 (1)
38% (t-4)
42% (3)
7 (1)
Passed balls
23 (12)

The matchups

In Binghamton

Game One

Wednesday at 6:35 PM
RHP Dillon Tate (1-2, 3.24 ERA) @ RHP Corey Oswalt (12-5, 2.28 ERA)

Game one features a matchup of the EL Pitcher of the Year, Corey Oswalt, and the fourth overall pick from the 2015 draft, Dillon Tate.
       -       The Yankees acquired Tate in the Carlos Beltran trade last year and he has elite velocity (96+ MPH fastballs), as well as a nasty slider and developing changeup. He joined Trenton in August and was solid over his first four starts, but he did walk four batters in two of those appearances, and this Ponies lineup is capable of wearing pitchers out that way.
       -       After two starts to adjust to Double-A, Oswalt was consistent all season, allowing more than three runs in just two of his final 22 starts, and more than two runs in just six of those starts. After starting the All-Star game, Oswalt posted a 1.53 ERA in the second half while holding the EL to a .591 OPS. His ~22% K-rate for the season doesn’t stand out, but he struck out ~27% of batters faced over his final seven starts and improved his walk rate during that stretch.

Game Two

Thursday at 6:35 PM
RHP Brady Koerner (6-3, 4.08 ERA) @ RHP Ricky Knapp (1-0, 2.00 ERA)

Game two features a matchup of two guys who went opposite directions this.
       -       The Yankees drafted former Clemson standout Brody Koerner in the 17th round back in 2015. He started this season on the DL and then spent a month in the FSL before joining Trenton. He combined for 13.1 scoreless innings over his first two Double-A starts, but his starts were 50/50 good/not good after that.
       -       Knapp started his year in Triple-A and struggled with big innings in the first half. He appeared to be adjusting to the league in the second half, but then the Mets unexpectedly added him to the Rumble Ponies rotation in August (not long after moving P.J. Conlon to the pen). He’s excelled in three of his four Double-A starts this year, and he’s capable of going deep into games if the Ponies give him a lead.

In Trenton

Game Three

Friday at 7:00 PM
LHP Justus Sheffield (7-5, 3.18 ERA) vs. RHP Marcos Molina (3-7, 3.67 ERA)
Game three features a matchup of two pitchers who initially became prospects of note in 2014.
       -       The Yankees acquired Justus Sheffield last year in the Andrew Miller trade, but he was one of the Indians first round picks in 2014 (taken 31st overall). Sheffield has had a very strong season for Trenton, but he did miss six weeks with an injury and this will be just his fourth appearance back off the DL (and two were in the GCL), so even if he’s going well the Thunder will likely need to rely on their bullpen a lot in this game.
       -       After signing with the Mets in 2012, Marcos Molina burst onto the scene in 2014 as one of the top pitchers in the NYPL. Injuries derailed his 2015-16 seasons, but Molina is once again emerging as one of the top pitching prospects in the Mets system. His velocity has been creeping back towards the pre-injury days, and he can still make hitters look batter with an assortment of sliders and cutters.

Game Four (if necessary)

Saturday at 7:00 PM
No starters announced

Game Five (if necessary)

Sunday at 5:00 PM
No starters announced

       One pitcher of note not listed among the starters is P.J. Conlon, which means he’s likely slated to keep pitching out of Binghamton’s pen this week. It’s possible he’s first in line for a long-man outing, if needed. Knuckleballer Mickey Jannis could also be given that role, but he’s likely on deck as the potential game four starter after his strong season. If it goes to five games, the Ponies will likely send Casey Delgado out there on a short leash. Delgado has had some of his best Double-A starts down the stretch, and he held the EL to a 3.64 ERA over his final 94 IP this year, but walks can become a slippery slope for him, and it will be the final game of the season.


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