I spend a lot of time on Twitter–probably too much actually. It’s fun, interactive, and incredibly addictive. When I’m not having random, childish debates with Mark Smith (follow him) of IIATMS and the Platoon Advantage about whether cake or pie is better (Cake! Pie is for fascists and those who hate freedom, kittens, and rollercoasters), I try to participate in intelligent baseball conversations with those I’m following and those who follow me. (Follow me! Yes, I’m an attention whore.) Occasionally, a conversation arises that compels further thought and occasionally stimulates me enough to write something about it.
You know who’s having a bad year? #RedSox prospect Stolmy Pimentel. 19 Starts, 8.76 ERA, 0 wins, 12 losses, 3.2 IP per GS”
And he followed it up with this nugget.
“Bad news for #RedSox prospect buffs: Drake Britton and Stolmy Pimentel are a combined 1-22 with a 7.85 ERA in 38 GS. 3.4 IP per GS. Wow.”
Thanks Satchel. Way to twist the knife a little bit before ripping it out of our collective body. I kid, of course. Satchel’s a good guy and a hell of a writer, and it’s not like he’s being vindictive or telling us something we don’t already know. Still, those stats are pretty startling; especially coming from pitchers who were considered to be two of the organization’s best pitching prospects coming into the season. Here’s how they stacked up on a few of the prospect lists during Spring Training:
- Sox Prospects – Britton #4, Pimentel #5
- Keith Law – Britton #3, Pimentel #6
- John Sickels – Britton #2, Pimentel #5
Since that time, both prospects have struggled mightily (as Satchel showed), and regretfully, there doesn’t appear to be any easy fix in sight for either. So what happened? It’s difficult to say.
For Pimentel, he looked like he was really getting into a groove last year. While his 9-11 record and 4.06 ERA for A+ Salem last season were nothing to write home about; scouts raved about not only the refinements he’d made with his secondary pitches and pitch selection, but also his poise on the mound. These improvements ultimately lead to him being invited to pitch in the “Futures Game” during the 2010 All-Star festivities.
This season, his world’s been flipped upside down. He’s seen his strikeout totals plummet; walk totals rise; and his home runs allowed totals have skyrocketed. (He’s given up 10 home runs in 61-2/3 innings despite giving up only 23 in 246-1/3 innings during the prior two seasons.) Needless to say, you don’t need a degree in DIPS-theory to understand why his ERA is approaching 9.00.
On the batted ball side of the equation, he’s not fairing much better. To date, he’s allowed an astounding 13.4 hits per nine innings, after allowing a rate around 8.5 during his previous three minor league seasons. Unfortunately, since we don’t have pitch f/x data for minor league pitchers, and minor league batted ball data is nearly impossible to find; I can’t identify the root cause of his struggles with any certainty. (If anyone knows where I can find that information, please leave a comment in the section below.) The .350 batting average he’s allowed on balls in play suggests that poor luck and/or defense has played a role. Still, I don’t believe either his luck or the defense behind him has been that bad. Considering his spotty command and elevated home run rate, I tend to believe he’s leaving balls over the heart of the zone; thus allowing line drives at a higher than normal rate. Again, I don’t have the data to back my opinion up; only my powers of deductive reasoning.
The key to Pimentel turning it around is regaining his command. Provided he’s not injured or suffering a catastrophic mechanical issue (see Dontrell Willis), he should be able to right the ship. It just may not be until 2012 (if at all) before it happens.
As for Britton, it’s been just as wild of a ride this season. After missing nearly all of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery, Britton came back strong last season posting very solid peripherals for single-A Greenville. He was kept on strict pitch and innings limits last year, it’s fair to say that more was expected out of him once he was allowed to stretch his wings a bit.
“Britton missed almost all of 2009 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but came back strongly in 2010 and saw his velocity move upward as well. Britton worked in the low 90s all year but would touch 95-97 within outings at the end of the summer. His curveball and changeup both improved as well, although he still needs to refine his curve. He’s also worked on his tendency to rush through the end of his delivery, which the Red Sox hope will lead to improved command.
He’s aggressive and will throw strikes, if not always the quality strikes he needs, and his arm works well. He threw only about 90 to 95 innings in 2010, including work in spring training, so he’ll remain on a fairly low innings cap in 2011 and is probably a good three years out, with the chance that he’s a Jon Lester Lite down the road.”
While he maintains there’s only a “chance” Britton becomes a Jon Lester-lite down the road, that’s still pretty high praise; especially coming from a guy who’s pretty stringent in his prospect assessments.
Unfortunately, since being promoted to high-A ball in Salem this season, he’s undergone the same unfortunate transformation as Pimentel. While he hasn’t been victimized by atrocious luck or defense on batted balls; his home run rate has more than doubled, and his strikeout and walk totals are trending in the wrong direction. Again, I can’t without the aide of pitch f/x data or batted ball rates, I can’t say for sure what’s ailing him, but it appears that his poor command is the primary culprit of his struggles.
While he displayed relatively good command in 2010, it’s not unusual for a Tommy John patient to take a step back with their command a year after their fully recovery before returning to form. It’s possible, his inconsistency is just the manifestation of the recovery process. Then again, it’s possible he may’ve fallen back on old habits, and has been rushing through his delivery. Though his issues are likely fixable, it’s certainly set back his ETA in Boston at least six months to a year.
The good news is both Pimentel and Britton are only 21 years old. They’re relatively young for the levels in which they’re pitching, and still have projectable major league quality pitches in their respective repertoires. In the long run, their struggles this season could work out in their favor. For example, it certainly appears that the struggles Clay Buchholz experienced in 2008 were vitally important to his evolution as a pitcher. Still, there are no guarantees. For the time being, let’s hope they’re experiencing growing pains, while remembering that there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.