At The Hardball Times, Harry Pavlidis writes an article titled, “Pitching prospects who might be keepers.” With that title, it’s tough not to read. Harry examines minor league players using four criteria: strikeout rate, walk rate, groundball rate, and home runs per fly ball + line drive. Since those represent four important pitching skills, you might imagine that Harry’s analysis spits out the very best in minor league arms. Alas, this does not appear to be the case.
To get the most contextual look at each pitcher, Harry weighs each stat against the pitcher’s league average. This way he can compare someone pitching in AAA to someone pitching in A ball — or, just as important, comparing someone pitching in the International League to someone pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He puts everything on a scale of 100, like OPS+ and ERA+, so you can see how far each pitcher ranks above league average in each category.
Among the 29 names on Pavlidis’s list sits Zach McAllister, the 22-year-old sinkerballer who figures to start the season in AAA. Despite the label, however, McAllister didn’t induce many more groundballs than a league average Eastern League pitcher. That means more fly balls and line drives than other sinkerballers, but this is where McAllister registers well above league average. He keeps balls in the park on hits in the air, no small accomplishment. He also ranks well above league average in walks.
While McAllister does have some impressive numbers, his inclusion on this list does not necessarily mean he’ll find success in the big leagues. Of the 29 on Pavlidis’s list, 13 have seen major league action and none have overly impressed. Lenny DiNardo stands out. His walk rate ranks well above league average, but in the majors he walked way, way too many hitters. His just above average strikeout rate translated into well below league average in the majors, and even his home run to fly ball plus line drive ratio dipped.
Still, given McAllisters numbers, both in this analysis and in more general analyses, the Yanks could get use out of him in the back of the rotation. He’s not the kind of pitcher who will win a job during Spring Training — not with the Yankees, at least. But if the team faces an injury or two, he could certainly get his chance in the rotation. Perhaps his skills in throwing strikes and keeping fly balls in the park will translate into major league success. At this point, I think that’s a better gamble than trading him in for a major league spare part with much less potential future value.