Minor Musings April 25

Radhames Liz P Orioles – He’s the talk of the high Single-A Carolina League right now posting a 33/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in just three starts and 15 innings, allowing a trio of runs on seven hits.

Many are touting him as the next uber pitching prospect ala Felix Hernandez with “electric stuff.” He does have a live arm throwing in the mid-90s with great life but honestly the assessment is a bit over the top. The fastball is not in question breezing through stints in the New York Penn and South Atlantic Leagues in 2005 with a 137 strikeouts and 42 walks in 94 and a third innings. I hate being the voice of dissention but he was 21 years old through that trial, now 22. He has a reported plus curve but is a bit behind in his development as an overage signing from the Dominican Republic. He isn’t struggling as a mature player and you’d have to think this year’s eye-popping totals is an indication he’s having success developing his secondary pitches, but we’ll see how he handles the high minors before making any wild prognostications. A Daniel Cabrera comparison might be more apt as Hernandez is already in the majors and two years younger.

A pitching prospect can post great numbers in A-ball with a two-pitch repertoire but it usually causes a bump at Double-A or Triple-A. Liz needs a changeup and reports are he has a slider in the works as well. If these don’t come to fruition he’ll gain the future closer tag. I always take issue with “electric stuff,” in reference to one pitch. Matt Anderson, former Tigers No. 1 and dismal flop, always comes to mind when I hear it in the one-pitch context.
I believe the future is bright for Mr. Liz and I’m anxiously anticipating his promotion to Double-A so I can get a look, at the very least on MiLB’s television coverage (The Carolina League is just a bit out of my Pacific Northwest zone). But I’ve seen many of these types flame out at the higher levels or get injured. Of note is a scouting report that says it’s in a fluid motion, a good indicator the latter is less of a factor. I’m hoping he’s all that but I’ll need convincing at a level of his peers. 

Movement
Cole Hamels (Phillies) gets promoted to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barrie. I wrote on him last week in this blog and the level jump shouldn’t come as a surprise. I mentioned injuries have hurt his development but it may not matter that much. His short time at Double-A last year (three starts) was good, but don’t be surprised if he struggles a bit initially. The International League is full of older hitters, and many have been major league bench players. It’s a big leap from dominating the Florida State League.

Angel Guzman (Cubs) gets promoted to the majors and may start on Wednesday. I like him more than most feeling he’ll be a solid major league pitcher.  He shouldn’t suffer with the same nibblitis that plagued Jerome Williams, who lost his trademark confidence and has faltered since. The best thing for him would be the same success he had in the Pacific Coast League as a 21-year-old.

With Kerry Wood on the mend I’m not certain how long Guzman’s stay will be. A successful start on Wednesday could go along way in determining the length. Long term I think he fits into the back of the Cubs rotation for a couple of years, and has the makings of a good major league pitcher, if not an excellent one.

Howie Kendrick (Angels) gets promoted to the majors after lighting up the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in April with a .386/.403/.586 performance , 13 RBI in 16 games.
He is the best second base prospect without question, but I’m not sure of his role with Adam Kennedy hitting well at present. I think he’s ready for the majors but don’t see him being anything more than a platoon player with the current Angels’ roster. It seems the Macier Izturis hamstring injury might be a long one, and I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to have the 22-year-old Kendrick sitting and not getting regular at-bats somewhere.

Minor Annoyance
I continue to harp on Internet baseball analysis in the area of statistical evaluations. Today’s rant is again on plate discipline and the strikeout-to-walk ratio. The K/BB ratio is directly related to the issue of plate discipline but is one measure and not the most important one; a result of, not the actual means of measurement.  The true measure of plate discipline is in the pitches per plate appearance. The notion of plate discipline is not simply to take a lot of pitches looking for a walk, but rather to take pitches waiting for the pitch to hit. The old school truism –- waiting on a pitch you can drive — reveals itself in new age stat analysis. The more pitches taken increases the likelihood of a mistake pitch coming your way. Statistics 101 — the probability calculations.

A low walk rate combined with a high strikeout rate and a high volume of pitches taken does not infer a lack of discipline. It can mean a host of things including just being an example of who is hitting around you. More often than not it’s a symptom of aggression in power hitters, a stereotypical example of young sluggers with strong plate discipline skills. The walk totals rise for these types with more experience. Also of note is the aging power hitter who has begun to lose reaction time. He starts to take more pitches, knowing what he can get to and what he can’t, but generally this leads to a greater number of walks and strikeouts. It’s a decent stat for determining when a player has begun the inevitable age-slide.   
There should be a basic stat-skill test for writers posing as analysts. Stop condemning players and making dispersions based on things you know nothing of. Not only would it help address the accountability/responsibility issue, but also my heart rate would remain stable and my quickly escaping hairline might last another season.

Dan Quon

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