This week in Aspiring Jays: two talented hurlers who pitch for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Can you guess their names? Of course, they are Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman.
Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman have something in common, other than the fact that they both pitch for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Both these pitchers have posted good strikeout numbers, and have kept their walks in check. But that's not what I'm referring to; I'm referring to their batted ball numbers, specifically their low groundball numbers. On wednesday Stroman gave up more balls in the air than grounders, but he only gave up two runs, both unearned, in five innings, lowering his ERA to 3.25. Yesterday, Sean Nolin gave up three runs in six innings, raising his ERA to 3.00. Nolin couldn't make the hitters hit the ball on the ground, and gave up eight hits, one of them a homer. However, it was just the second (minor league) homer he's allowed this year, whereas Marcus Stroman already has six.
It's hard to tell whether Stroman has been unlucky or if he made some bad pitches, but StatCorner has his expected home run total as 3.5, whereas that of Nolin is listed at 4. Nolin has also pitched 9 more innings though, so it's not exactly an encouraging number for Stroman. Sean Nolin currently has an extremely low groundball rate of 32.8%, and a high number of line drives at 28%. Stroman gets grounders at a 38.1% clip, and has kept the the line drives in check at 19%. So between Stroman's home runs and Nolin's line drives, the type of contact these pitchers have given up isn't exactly encouraging.
With Nolin having experienced a less than stellar debut, and Jake Odorizzi, an extreme flyball pitcher even in the minors, also getting torched by major league hitters, I was wondering whether there was any relation between minor league flyball tendencies and getting hit hard in the majors. Unfortunately, Minor League Central only has data (and therefore leaderboards) from 2011 onwards, and those pitchers have not yet had the time to prove themselves (or not) at the major league level. So I had to look up the numbers through Minor League Splits, which took a lot longer than I hoped, which is why I only have stats for the top AA pitchers (stats wise) from 2006 in the table below. To qualify, the Double-A pitcher needed to meet the following requirements: 50 IP+, K% of 20% or higher, BB% lower than 12%, age 23 or younger.
Failed to pitch at least 50 innings as a starter in MLB: Humberto Sanchez (inj), Davis Romero, Adam Miller (inj), Scott Mathieson (inj), Tyler Clippard, Carlos Marmol, Justin Orenduff, Jose Garcia (inj), Cesar Carrillo (inj), Camilo Vazquez, Sean Thompson, Paul Mildren, Juan Gutierrez, Blake Hawksworth, Chris Lambert.
What is probably immediately apparent is that there are now groundball numbers in the low 30's here (well, except J.A. Happ's AAA numbers). The Odorizzi-type of pitcher, it appears, is not very common. Of the pitchers that are listed here, the more flyball-oriented types don't seem to get hit harder than others when they reach the major leagues. We can also look to A.J. Griffin as a recent example of an extreme flyball-pitcher having some amount of success. And yet, I remain worried that Nolin's and Stroman's flyball tendencies won't play well in the AL East, with its many powerful batters and small ballparks.
Interesting facts you probably didn't know about Sean Nolin's major league debut
-Nolin threw only 7 of his 19 fastballs for a strike
-Nolin did throw all but one of his 16 offspeed pitches for strikes
-Nolin's two-seamer does not sink at all, but it does have the horizontal movement of a two-seamer
Of course, what you already did know is that Nolin's pitches got hit really hard that day. But hopefully, you also did already know that one start is a very small sample to draw conclusions from. I can't imagine that Nolin usually has this much trouble throwing a fastball for a strike. He should be better next time, although it's unclear when that will be.
Other interesting stuff happening in the minors
-Over 7 games in Triple-A, Kevin Pillar is hitting .393/.452/.643. That's the beginning of a nice audition for a major league roster spot.
-In 2 rehab outings, Kyle Drabek has pitched just 4 1/3 innings, giving up 4 runs with 1 walk and 3 Ks. Of course, it's not about the results for Kyle at this point.
-Roberto Osuna has now had two bad starts in a row, raising his ERA to 4.20. He was brilliant in his first two starts after getting shut down, is his elbow hurting again?
-Derrick Loveless is tearing it up in Bluefield. The athletic 20-year-old outfielder is hitting .370/.433/.741 with 2 homers, 3 walks and 3 Ks in 7 games for the Rookie-level club.
-In an even smaller sample, big bonus guy Franklin Barreto has been unstoppable in the Gulf Coast League. The 17-year-old shortstop has a .476/.560/.571 slashline through five games.