As Tim noted recently, Jameson Taillon was touched for a couple of long balls in his most recent start. Since I recently examined how pitchers who cracked Baseball America’s Top 20 prospect list had fared, I also began to wonder about how those aces performed when they were in high A.
So I did some digging at baseball-reference.com. I also wondered if any of theses leagues were considered hitter friendly or pitcher friendly. Thankfully, Baseball America has done some research on the subject. The data doesn’t go back as far as when the pitchers in question were hurling at this level of the minors. But I assume that the data is directionally correct. That is, I doubt that the California was the toughest high A league to score in ten years ago when it is the easiest high A league to score in more recently. It is quite possible that I’m wrong about that. But that is my assumption.
Looking at the data below, most of the pitchers that I regarded as top of the rotation pitchers in the Majors were dominant at high A. Taillon has made 15 starts at high A this year. Half these guys blew through the league quickly, making less than 15 starts, and the other half made 15 or more starts (Halladay, Hamels, due to injuries, Hernandez, Sabathia, Wainwright).
Six of the ten aces were 18 or 19 when they made their high A debut. Lincecum, Oswalt and Verlander were the old men of the group, with their high A season coming when they were 22. Verlander made his MLB debut the same season and Lincecum and Oswalt were in the Majors by the age of 23. In fact, all ten of these guys were in the Show by the age of 23.
The only pitchers who struggled to the same degree that Taillon has are Sabathia and Wainwright. Sabathia was younger and Wainwright wasn’t really struggling as much as he wasn’t as dominant as the other guys were. Both Wainwright and Sabathia had issues with their command, giving them higher WHIP and lower a SO/BB than what Taillon has had so far. Out of the ten, Sabathia was the only one to struggle enough to repeat the league on that basis. Sabathia was not crazy/dominant in the mid-minors. In his age 19 season his ERA was near 3.50 combined between A+ and AA when the Indians put him in their Major League rotation.
I also thought it’d be interesting to see how Taillon compared to the two Pirate pitchers who cracked Baseball America’s Top 20 list – Kris Benson and Bobby Bradley. So, their data is also included. Bradley had elbow surgery in June 2001 and then had Tommy John surgery that October, causing him to miss all of 2002. He was back in high A in 2003, but the data below only includes his first stint.
I know that this is a small sample size. I know there are plenty of factors that I’m oblivious to that already have or might come into play. Taillon is still very young at 20 and might be able to quickly put it together. And I certainly hope he does. But this set of data does not make me feel very good about Taillon’s future as a front of the rotation pitcher.
EDIT: I squeezed the FIP data into the table, which I got from fangraphs.com. Their minor league data doesn’t go as far back as I needed it to. So, I calculated the FIP using their standard equation and using 3.20 as the constant. This adds some more data that puts Halladay in the same company as Sabathia and Wainwright in terms of not clearly being among the best of the best at high A. But this doesn’t alter my conclusion – this data doesn’t make me feel like making a gentlemen’s bet (or a more serious wager) regarding Taillon’s future.