Wednesday, June 22, 2011

By Andre Castillo - Feature Writer

You know what; it’s hard to write about the Angels when they’re not playing well. So, please excuse my absence last week. However, it is quite a bit of fun to write about them after a game like Sunday’s, a 7-4 Angels victory over the Mets.

Tyler Chatwood looked pretty good, didn’t he? Hailing from my alma mater of Redlands East Valley High School (woo woo), he gave up only 4 hits over 7 IP. He continued to struggle a bit with his control though, posting 4 walks to go with 4 strikeouts.  But overall, it was a high quality start from the young fireballer.

Which reminded me of another young Angels pitcher, Nick Adenhart, R.I.P. I’ve been thinking about Nick and his tragic loss recently and thought it would be interesting to go and look his numbers and see how they compared to Chatwood’s trajectory.

First some history. Nick Adenhart was a star prospect, at one point considered by some to be the best high school prospect back in 2004. He was Eddie Bane’s first pick as scouting director, who plucked him in the 14th round, a fall caused by his undergoing Tommy John surgery. He still came at a price – the Angels signed him for a cool $710,000.

Tyler Chatwood was never rated as high as Adenhart had once been, but he finished much better in the draft. He went in the 2nd round to the Angels, though he signed for less than Adenhart did in the 14th at $547,000

Though I never saw Adenhart pitch, reading their history seems to show that Chatwood’s pitching style is similar to Adenhart’s. Like Adenhart, Chatwood throws a fastball, curve, and change up. While Chatwood’s fastball (97 mph) is a bit harder than Adenhart’s was (93-95 mph), he hasn’t shown the same control Adenhart showed early in his career, either.

*The only piece of information missing that I should mention is their major league home run/fly ball rate. Adenhart’s was 0 and Chatwood’s is 6%.

I think the numbers are interesting. Both did well in the minors, stopping only very briefly at AAA, which neither fared well in.

Chatwood had some wild years in the minors. Look at his Rookie ball year – he posted a K/9 of 11 and a BB/9 of nearly 9! Since then he has calmed down and cut his walk rate, but his strike out rates have fallen with them, from 11.4 K/9 in Rookie ball to 8 in A+, 4.7 in AA, and 4.7 now in the majors. While his strikeout rates have fallen off greatly, his walk rates have only just kept pace, sitting at 4.6 BB/9 right now. 

Adenhart’s walk rates on the other hand moved in the opposite direction, climbing from 2.21 in Rookie ball to 4.6 in AAA (and 8.0 in 18 IP in the majors). In spite of his climbing walk rates, high hopes were placed on the young Nick Adenhart after his strong start in 2009 before he tragically lost his life. Should we have similar hopes for Chatwood going forward?

If Chatwood is like most pitchers, his long term success will be driving by his ability to strike batters out and not give up walks. In other words, his K/9 and BB/9, or K/BB for short. With a K/BB of 1/1, he’s shown the skill of a league average pitcher.

Should we expect it to improve? Unfortunately, while there is always hope, the answer is probably not. According to advanced stats, K/BB rate stabilizes relatively early in a players career. Once a pitcher has faced 500 total batters or so their K/BB rate does not change much over the course of their career, according to research.

Chatwood has faced 351 total batters so far. So, if this pace continues for another 150 batters or so, it is safe to assume that Chatwood’s career K/BB will continue to sit around 1/1.

And if his career K/BB continues to sit around 1/1? Then it is safe to assume that Chatwood will continue to be a league average pitcher, which is more or less what he’s been so far. Now, having a league average pitcher is actually quite good for the #5 slot in the rotation that Chatwood currently inhabits (most teams by rule have below average pitchers in that slot). But will he one day grow into a potential #2 or #3 starter, like we had once hoped Adenhart might, even if Nick may never have done so?

Probably not. And I’m ok with that.
Love to hear what you think!

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