Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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First Look: Kevin Gausman

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Kevin Gausman made his MLB debut on 5/23/13 just a year after pitching in the SEC. Photo unk via orioles-nation.com

With no Nats game on Thursday 5/23/13, and with a vested interest in newly promoted Orioles starter Kevin Gausman (my vested interest being that I was considering nabbing him in my fantasy league), I watched his first start against Toronto.

First thoughts; Wow.  I know Gausman’s line wasn’t that great last night, but I just pulled up his  Pitch F/X data on the night and am impressed.  He threw 63 fastballs on the night with an AVERAGE speed of 97.26.  By way of comparison, right now Stephen Strasburg leads the majors in average fastball velocity at 95.4.  This kid was holding that average velocity through 60+ fastballs and 90 pitches on the night.  That’s some serious heat.  His mechanics were clean, the arm action easy, and he easily kept his mechanics while pitching from the stretch.  Gausman has good size (6’3″ 190) and has raced through the minors to make this debut in 2013, only the 3rd guy out of last year’s draft to do so (Mike Roth, Paco Rodriguez).

He has a fantastic change-up with reverse action away from left-handed hitters (this was what his scouting report said too): 84mph average.  That’s a 13mph delta between his 4 seamer and his change up.  That’s just silly.  In a recent post I posted a table of average velocities for the pitches of some of the league’s top pitchers; the best fb-ch delta out of that group of hard-throwers was Samardzija‘s 11.6 mph delta.  Strasburg’s is only 7.4mph difference and he’s considered to have a completely unhittable change up.  Gausman’s change is almost too slow; hitters sitting on 98mph may actually have enough time to re-adjust to his change.  Though that being said, he got a lot of strikes and some silly swings on the change on the night.

He didn’t really use his curve that much; 11 times out of his 89 pitches (pitch f/x gives him both a slider and a curve, but the speeds look the same and the speed delta has to be a curve; his slider would be nearer 91mph).  At one point he threw 4 straight changeups, which directly led to a walk b/c the hitter (Colby Rasumus) knew what was coming and laid off.  I bet this kid has never thrown four straight changeups in his entire life.  Wasn’t a fan of that At-bat nor the pitch calling from Weiters.  He may need to develop a 4th pitch, or at least work on his curve, despite how plus his firs two offerings may be.

The hits he gave up were a combination of legitimate and lucky.  Later on Rasmus laced a 2-0 fastball that he could sit on (he’s a dead-red fastball hitter who got a fastball in a fastball count, another poor job of calling that at-bat again from Weiters).  Lind wristed an 0-2 pitch for a hit on a hanging curve.  He gave up at least two other 2-strike hits when he missed his spot.  Lawrie bunted and Chris Davis misplayed the play, calling off the pitcher only to let the ball try to go foul and it didn’t.  That led to a bases-loaded no outs situation in the 4th and he was lucky to get out of that with only one run.  Even the 5th inning homer he gave up seemed weak; Arencibia didn’t seem like he got it all; it was an inside pitch that he wristed out.  He hit the ball 369 feet as it turns out; Toronto is an easy place to hit down-the-line homers like this.  Hittracker classified the homer as being “plenty long” and it would have been out of 22/30 parks in the league, so maybe it wasn’t as lucky as I’m characterizing it.

I was slightly surprised to see Gausman get yanked after 5innings.  He was through the meat of Toronto’s order and was facing 8-9-1 in the 6th on only 89 pitches. Looking at the score, yes you’d understand him getting pulled.  Looking at his stuff and what had transpired?  I’d have given him another inning with a short leash (one baserunner and you’re out).   Showalter had seen enough though, brought in a couple of relievers who promptly conspired to give up a grand slam to Encarnacion and blow the game.  Loss for Gausman in his MLB debut.

Final line: 5ip, 7hits, 2 walks, 5 Ks and 4 earned runs. 89 pitches 58 strikes for a 65% clip.   He had a 49/5 K/BB ratio in the minors this year, an amazingly good ratio for someone with 99mph heat, so the two walks were uncharacteristic.    Very much looking forward to his next outing.

College World Series Preview/Regionals Recap

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(note: you must visit www.d1baseball.com, your absolute best resource for all things college baseball).

With the completion of the final Super Regional games yesterday, including the exciting last game of Super Regionals where Arkansas scored in the top of the 10th to beat #4 seed Baylor 1-0, the 2012 College World Series (CWS) field is set.  Four of your top eight national seeds made it to Omaha (Florida, UCLA, Florida State and South Carolina).  First, a recap of the Regional action

Regional Recap

Regional winners.

  • #1 Florida
  • #16 NC State (in a slight “upset” over SEC power house Vanderbilt)
  • Unseeded Oklahoma (over #9 seed UVA and ranked team Appalachian State)
  • #8 South Carolina
  • #5 Oregon
  • Kent State (over #12 Purdue and highly regarded Kentucky; see more below)
  • Arkansas (over #13 Rice, probably slightly overrated as they always seem to be)
  • #4 Baylor
  • #2 UCLA
  • TCU over #15 Texas A&M
  • Stony Brook over #10 Miami and 20th ranked UCF
  • #7 LSU
  • St. Johns over #6 seed UNC
  • #13 Arizona
  • #14 Stanford
  • #2 Florida State

10 of the 16 teams went chalk in the regionals.  The 16 Regional tournaments featured only one “major” upset, with #6 national seed Chapel Hill getting upset by the unheralded St. Johns.  Local favorites UVA (the #9 national seed) went up against a tough region and came out short, falling early to Appalachian State before Oklahoma took the regional.  Other “seeds” that lost in the Regional round were #12 Purdue (to Kent State), #13 Rice (to Arkansas), #10 Miami (to Stony Brook) and #15 Texas A&M (to TCU).

Of these lower seeds, clearly Miami was over-rated (BA ranked #23 but getting a 10th seed) and went up against what most people called “the best #4 seed in the history of the tournament” in Stony Brook, a team that boasted the best record in the nation and was at the bottom end of the BA top 25 rankings at season’s end.  Texas A&M was probably well seeded but had a pretty non-descript record against fellow top-25 teams and wasn’t a surprise to get upset.  Lastly the Purdue regional; lots and lots of press about how Kentucky was “screwed” out of a top seed (BA ranked #11, 12-6 against top 25 teams and clearly playing in a tougher conference than Purdue).  However, as with the infamous UVA/San Diego State/UC Irvine regional a couple years ago, all that complaining went for naught as a surprise team (Kent State) ended up winning the regional.  Both Stony Brook and Kent State eventually showed they were no fluke … as we saw in the Super Regionals.

Super Regional Results/Recap

  • #1 Florida d #16 NC State
  • #8 South Carolina d Oklahoma
  • Kent State d #5 Oregon
  • Arkansas d #4 Baylor
  • #2 UCLA d TCU
  • Stony Brook d #7 LSU
  • #13 Arizona d St. Johns
  • #2 Florida State pounded #15 Stanford

Baseball America had great previews of the super regionals in two parts here and here.

The three best teams in the land (Florida, Florida State and UCLA) each advanced with some ease.  Florida State in particular pounded two of the better college pitchers out there in Stanford’s Mark Appel (#8 overall drafted) and National’s 3rd rounder Brett Mooneyham en route to two blow-out wins.  They look tough.

#8 national seed and two-time defending champion South Carolina advanced to the CWS for the 3rd straight year but fall on the side of Florida, who cruised through their regional and played most of their season against ranked opponents (18-10 on the year against BA top 25 teams).  This looks like it will be a dog fight, as South Carolina ace Mike Roth continues to defy the odds and get wins despite not having top-of-the-draft stuff.

The greatest stories out of College Baseball though belong to Stony Brook and Kent State (Stony Brook was featured today in a story by SI’s Joe Lemire).  Both teams not only made their first super regional appearance but also make their first ever College World Series appearance.   To have two such teams in the CWS is great for the sport and is reminiscent of the great Fresno State run to the title a few years back as a similar #4 seed.  By way of comparison; a #4 regional seed winning it all is somewhat akin to a #13 or worse seed winning the entire NCAA basketball tournament.  We all go nuts when a mid-major makes the final four … as GMU did as “only” an #11 seed.  The highest ever seed to WIN the NCAA tournament was #8 Villanova in a cocaine-driven upset of Georgetown.  I think both cinderellas will meet their match in the CWS, but its still a great story.

CWS Predictions

Group 1: Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Kent State

Group 2: UCLA, Stony Brook, Arizona, Florida State

Top Half: I think Florida will outlast South Carolina in the upper half.   Arkansas isn’t to be counted out though; they beat Florida 2/3 AT Florida this season, but lost two of three against South Carolina.  I’m guessing South Carolina handles Arkansas before showing up depleted and getting run over by the #1 team in the country.  Kent State continues to just be happy to be there.

Lower Half:  Florida State has already shown it can bombard a Pac-10 team (UCLA lost 2 of 3 at home to Stanford in the regular season), whil Arizona and Stony Brook seem like also-rans.

Final: All things considered, an all-Florida, ACC/SEC challenge for the title is fitting, since those are easily the two best conferences.  Florida rides its extensive experience against top teams and wins the title.

Written by Todd Boss

June 13th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

What are non-MLB associated baseball league talent equivalents?

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We all know how good Yu Darvish’s stats are in Japan, but how good is the competition? Photo unknown via beatofthebronx.com

Editor’s Note: this post was originally published in January of 2012: I have updated it as I have received new information several times since.  But some of the information and statements may be dated based on when it was initially written (like the Yu Darvish comment in the intro).  Over the years I’ve also added in more leagues and more details on existing leagues, including Wood bat leagues and Independent leagues.


 

I’ve always wondered, since we hear so much about players’ tearing up winter leagues or hear wonderful stat lines from players coming over from foreign countries (as we are now in the Yu Darvish mania).  So what is the talent-equivalent of the various leagues outside of the conventional MLB-AAA-AA-A-rookie levels?  I did a bit of digging around, asking questions and came up with the following approximations.  Feel free to debate if you think otherwise.

Foreign Pro Leagues

  • Japan: the Nippon Professional Baseball League rates, by various accounts, as a mid AAA-level talent league.  Baseball Prospectus’ Clay Davenport did a stat-heavy analysis in 2002 and concluded that the NPB was at least AAA level, perhaps close to MLB level.  However, the prevalence of mediocre players from the US going to Japan and being super-stars seems to indicate that Japan is no better than AAA, and may be a bit weaker.  And, not to claim this is about talent levels per race, but there have only been a very small number of Japanese-born players who were really impact players upon arriving here.
  • Cuba: per Dave Cameron (mentioned in a chat, need the link) the “general consensus” is that the Cuban pro league is about a High-A level of talent.  I wonder if it isn’t higher though, given the immediate impact that a number of Cuban ex-patriots have had immediately upon their arrival in the US (Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu being exhibits 1 and 1-a).  I wonder if this will start rising now that the embargo has eased and the Cuban government has begun allowing its players to legally play elsewhere.
  • Taiwan/China: Taiwan had its own thriving baseball league for a bit, but merged it into the main Chinese league in 2003.  Given the small numbers of Taiwanese-born players who have made it to the majors, and the fact that the league serves mostly as a feeder into the Japanese league, its safe to say that the Chinese league is no better than a high-A level of talent.
  • Korea: As with the Chinese leagues, Korea mostly feeds into the Japanese league.  High-A talent levels.  Might be on the rise though, as more and more 4-A/AAA veterans decamp for Korea instead of Japan.  That may be driven more by money than by competition though.
  • European Leagues: Believe it or not, there are thriving baseball leagues all throughout Europe.  They even have multiple levels of play in certain countries (the Netherlands in particular).  However, based on the levels of talent of players that typically play in Europe, its hard to put the talent levels at anything close to our own Rookie leagues.  In fact, I’d suspect that most European pro teams are no better than a low division 1 college baseball program (such as GW or Catholic U’s teams).
  • Mexican Summer League: listed as a AAA-quality league in places like Baseball-Reference, but studies have shown it isn’t anywhere close.  A-level talent.
  • Leagues elsewhere: there’s leagues just about every where else; wikipedia searches turn up baseball leagues in Australia, Asia, the far pacific.  I didn’t do any research here, assuming that these leagues are one slight notch above amateur leagues in the US.

Winter Leagues

Davenport also did a bit of analysis on the various winter leagues in 2004; I’ve taken his recommendations and adjusted them based roughly on observation over the past few years, since the winter leagues have been shifting in terms of talent attracted in recent years.

Most players who go to winter leagues fall into one of three categories:

  1. Natives of the country looking to provide support for their home town teams and home leagues (the Nats own Ramos, Flores, Pudge, Severino and Perez being good examples)
  2. Players looking to get in additional work after an injury-filled year curtailed their seasons.
  3. Players looking to work on a new pitch, a new swing or some other experimental part of their game.

So, the talent levels in these various leagues are usually all over the road.

  • Dominican Winter League: Seemingly the “best” winter league, having the most ex-patriots playing in the US.  Davenport’s studies from earlier in the decade showed that the talent level is roughly equivalent to AAA talent, an opinion that I still maintain.  Our own Yunesky Maya tore up the DWL last winter, but struggled to be just a serviceable pitcher in Syracuse all year.
  • Puerto Rico Winter League : seems to be the 2nd strongest Winter League, but with slightly fewer MLBers than in the DWL.  So we’ll call it AAA level, but weaker.
  • Venezuela Winter League: The talent levels have dropped for a while, ever since political turmoil has taken over the country.  This is highlighted especially close to home in 2011 with the Wilson Ramos kidnapping case.  However, Nats farmhand Ryan Tatusko was kind enough to provide his opinion on the talent level and calls it “AAA talent.”   I think at best its a low AAA, as the league is clearly lower quality than Puerto Rico.  This last season’s version of the VWL seemed to be more talented that past versions though; perhaps this league is looking to challenge the DWL for pre-eminence in the winter leagues.
  • Mexican Winter League: Its really hard to tell; the winter leagues are quite a bit better than the summer league, at least per Davenport’s studies.  Now?  I’d guess the MWL has degraded a bit and is probably on a par with Venezuela in terms of talent.  AA-level at best.

Other US-based Professional Leagues

  • Arizona Fall League: the AFL rates somewhere between a AA and AAA level by and large, though for several reasons it rates as a very heavy hitter-league (pitcher workloads and ball-parks mostly).  Most of your pro teams send their top prospects from levels below AA and a number of AA and AAA (and even some guys who have MLB experience).  All told, that equates with a “good” AA league.  And since AA leagues are morphing into being populated with a team’s best prospects while AAA leagues are becoming repositories for “spare parts” for the MLB team, more and more the lines are blurred between AAA and AA in terms of “which team could really beat the other.”  Nationals fans saw this pretty clearly during Stephen Strasburg‘s minor league career; he was hit in AA but absolutely dominated AAA teams that seemed to be populated with backup catchers and backup infielders.
  • Independent Leagues: generally rates somewhere around an A-ball or slightly higher equivalent, depending on the league.  They’re usually full of guys who got cut from the MLB rosters and a collection of older veterans trying to hang on.  So, the younger players are (arguably) below rookie-league/short-A levels but the veterans are probably in the AAA level, bringing an average to somewhere in the A-ball range.  Maybe that’s overrating the talent level in these leagues: if the guys typically playing there were that good … they’d still be on affiliated low-A and/or rookie league teams.   Here’s some quick estimates by league:
    • Atlantic League: High AA
    • American Association: High A
    • Can-Am League: High A
    • Frontier League: Low A

College Leagues

  • Regular NCAA Division I College Teams are probably not even as good as a Rookie league team, when balancing the entirety of the roster’s depth.  I had this debate with my father recently, noting that the best Div-1 team in one recent year (South Carolina) was led by a pitcher (Mike Roth) who was a 31st round draft pick in 2011.  College teams only have 11.7 scholarships to use to field a team.  A good chunk of college teams are guys on partial scholarships or are complete walk-ons.  Good college teams may each have a number of pro prospects, but usually only 1 or 2 legitimate prospects.  On the flip side, even a rookie-level team is ENTIRELY comprised of players who were drafted, and will include high school players who signed in lieu of going to college because they were considered good enough at the time to risk signing.  A college team may use a hot pitcher to beat a pro team in a theoretical 3-game series every once in a while, but a team full of professional hitters are eventually going to utterly dominate typical college bullpens, Sunday starters and mid-week players.
  • Top end NCAA Division 1 College Teams, as in teams that are populated with a ton of future Pro talent, are likely the equivalent of the Advanced Short season Short-A leagues like the NY Penn league.  The absolute best Div-1 teams (like a friday night match-up between nationally ranked SEC teams) may broach the equivalent of low-A teams, as discussed in this 2015 Kiley McDaniel chat here.   When a college junior is highly drafted, most scouts advise that they go to at least high-A as a first stop, often saying that they’d be wasting their time in Low-A.  Does this imply that high-end Division 1 teams are more the equivalent of Low-A teams?  It seems so, at least at the upper cream of the crop level.  Consider the talent level on the 2014-2015 Vanderbilt team with multiple first round picks, or the 2018 Florida/Oregone State teams (each of which had 3 first rounders); I’d guess that team on a whole could easily compete with some short-league teams comprised mostly of 20th and 30th round college draftees and perhaps higher.  (Post publishing update May 2016: this question came up in quora.com and LA Dodger’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy provided a great answer not to terribly different from mine here.  He thinks the best Div-1 teams would have a chance in a 7-game series against a low-A team, but would probably fall short due to pitching depth.
  • Juco, Division II, Division III: Generally speaking a notch below the low-end Division I teams for obvious reasons.  Perhaps you could make an exception for some of the higher-end Juco leagues out there (like the league that Bryce Harper played in for one year to establish draft eligibility) and claim they’re of a low-division I quality, but that might be a stretch in the grand scheme of things.  So if these leagues aren’t even as strong as a low Division I team, they’re not even close to a pro-level quality.  (Post-publishing update Apr 2016); read the excellent commentary from former Juco player James  Pidutti, who gives some great context for the wide variety of talent in the Juco ranks these days).

 

Summer Wood-Bat Leagues

We have a thriving college wood bat league industry going on, with college players scattering all over the continent to play summer league baseball with wood bats.  Some of these leagues are better than others; you can write a whole analysis just to try to rank the leagues (in fact, I have, but I’ve yet to publish it because I’m not sure I have it exactly right), so I’ll just use general groupings to try to rank these leagues.

  • Cape Cod League: By far the most dominant wood bat league.  These teams are basically Division I all star teams of players, and the numbers speak for themselves.  1100 alumni have played in the majors (about one out of every seven current major leaguers).  More than  half of the first round draftees last  year were Cape Cod players.  They are the self-proclaimed “greatest amateur league in the world” and there’s no argument.  So how would a Cape Cod team fare when stacked up against a pro league?  I’d put these a step above the best division 1 teams and say these are High-A equivalent teams.
  • Northwoods League: After a step down from Cape Cod is Northwoods, who just had their 141st alumni debut in the majors.  The calibre of players is significantly lower than in the Cape: a quick gander at the rosters for 2015 found just a handful of players from “power conference” teams on each roster.  So I’m putting these teams at the same level as a “run of the mill” Division I team, or below a Rookie League team.
  • The next tier of collegiate leagues, including Coastal Plains, New England Collegiate, West Coast, California Collegiate and the Alaska League: less talent than in Northwoods and thus even further away from any pro level.
  • There are many more college leagues not mentioned here that probably rate as having even less talent than the already named leagues.  That includes our local leagues the Cal Ripken League and the Valley League.

Semi-Pro and Amateur Teams

I’m guessing that when the old Class-B/Class-C/Class-D leagues died out in the 50s, those players then began percolating into what we now see as an improved and thriving College baseball industry, Semi-Pro leagues scattered around the country, and the (now) official Indy league designation.  I always attribute the death of these low-class leagues to the advent of Television, which replaced the (usually) one source of nightly entertainment for small towns across America, which before the mid 50s would have been baseball.

Here in the DC area, there’s a “semi pro” league that is the combination of two long-standing leagues (the “Industrial League” and the “Credit Union” league) that features very good baseball.  Ex division-1 players, ex Pros, good baseball.  Back in the 50s this probably was a class-D level league (assuming that class-B was what has become the rookie leagues and class-C has morphed into the Independent leagues).

Summary

Here’s a table summarizing the above data, along with some clarifications from the comments after-the-fact, in order of best to least quality.  (Note; the cut-n-paste below is from 2012; see the descriptions above for some updates to league talents…).

League US Pro Equivalent Estimate
Japan (NPB) Mid AAA
Dominican Winter League Mid AAA
Puerto Rican Winter League Mid-Low AAA
Venezuelan Winter League Low AAA/High AA
Arizona Fall League Low AAA/High AA
Mexican Pacific (Winter) High AA
Atlantic League (Ind) High AA
Mexican Summer High-A/Low AA
Cape Cod League High-A
Cuba High-A
Taiwan/China High-A
Korea High-A
American Association (Ind) High-A
Can-Am League (Ind) High-A
Frontier League (Ind) Low-A
Top Division I (SEC) Short-A
Other Independents Rookie Ball
Division I run of the Mill Below Rookie Ball
Northwoods League Below Rookie Ball
European (Dutch, Italian) Low Division 1
Other upper Tier Wood Bats Low Division 1
Other Foreign (eg Australia) Div II/Div III
Juco Div II/Div III

Do you agree/disagree with these ratings?  Please feel free to comment and discuss.