A Minor Phenomenon

(Photo: Tony Dejak/AP)

Take two minor league players and compare their numbers prior to reaching the majors. What do you come up with? You come up with something that's not an exact science, but can provide some interesting fodder for comparing the two.

Two left-handed pitchers' minor league records, at the point wherein they made their respective major league debuts…

  W-L G IP H BB K ERA WHIP
A 14-4 35 195 114 72 273 1.42 .954
B 18-9 55 265 196 116 297 2.55 1.177

From reviewing just these numbers, it should be clear that, while both were excellent minor league pitchers, "A" was the better of the two. Not only did he have better control than the average young lefty, but he struck out almost four times as many batters as he walked, had a WHIP under one and allowed just 5.26 hits per nine innings. Furthermore, what these stats don't show is that he gave up just two home runs in the minors (both to right-handed hitters) before his major league call-up, and that his only appearance in Triple A produced 36 strikeouts and one walk in 23 innings. It is also worth noting that "A" made his major league debut in May 2006 at the age of 22 years and four months, while "B" is making his debut Tuesday night at the age of 23 years, eight months – another indication that "A" is/was a relatively better prospect.

Both pitchers' records were compiled during three minor league seasons, and parts of a fourth, and in the same organization, which might lead to some observant spectators to speculation as to why "A" averaged just nine games a year in the minors, especially since he was clearly a minor phenomenon. That's because he's Cole Hamels, the current NLCS and World Series MVP, and he spent most of his minor league career battling various injuries, certainly a lot more than he was battling the opposition. Hamels, if healthy, would have been in the majors well before May 12, 2006, when he overmatched Ken Griffey and the Reds as badly as he'd been overmatching minor league hitters.

At this point, Hamels' developmental years are old news, except maybe in comparison to "B" who is, as noted, making his debut Tuesday night, pitching for the Phillies against the Padres. He's Antonio Bastardo, and, if Hamels is the best pitching prospect to come out of the Phillies' minor league system since Robin Roberts, then Bastardo may well be the best Phillies pitching prospect since, well, Cole Hamels. But, just how good is he? Projecting the future of 23 year-old left-handed pitchers is as risky (and maybe as foolish) a business as playing the lottery… to paraphrase that noted philosopher, Joaquin Andujar, you just never know what numbers will turn up.

This uncertainty is accentuated in Bastardo's case by the fact that he was barely on the radar last year – Baseball America only rated him the Phillies' 11th best prospect, which just goes to prove that; A) Baseball America isn't always accurate in its ratings, and B) no one else is, either. This, despite the fact that Bastardo went undefeated in 2007, running off a 10-0 record with a 2.14 ERA in A ball, striking out 110 in 97 innings and only allowing 68 hits. In 2009, Bastardo has managed to leap over Carlos Carrasco, Drew Carpenter, et al, to become the Phillies' top prospect, going 3-2 with a 1.90 ERA split between Double A and Triple A…

  W-L G IP H BB K ERA WHIP
2009 3-2 11 47 32 10 51 1.90 .887

Bastardo's two Triple-A starts haven't been too bad, even though they don't match Hamels' three 2006 beat downs of International League competition; 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA, 12 Ks, 3Ws and 11 hits allowed in 13 innings.

Nonetheless, it is not fair to expect Bastardo to be the next Cole Hamels. First of all, as noted, he's more than a year older than Hamels was when he made the majors – and Hamels would have been there sooner if not for his physical issues (some of which weren't baseball-related.) Second, and maybe more importantly, Bastardo is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, a fastball and a change-up. That's what Hamels came out of the minors with, but his change-up is in the Trevor Hoffman class, and he was in the process of picking up a killer curve ball as well, since very few pitchers can succeed on the major league level for long without a good breaking pitch of some kind. Think Al Orth, The Curveless Wonder of the turn of the last century who had a good change and a good spitter, Walter Johnson (he didn't need a good curve), Satchel Paige, who, according to Bill Veeck, didn't have a good curve until he was pitching for Miami in the minors in the mid-50s, and maybe a few others.

With Brett Myers out for the rest of the season, and the 2009 trading deadline still two months away, the Phillies have been linked with every conceivable starter who might be available, and even a few who aren't (why would the Jays trade Roy Halladay or the Reds Aaron Harang?). And maybe they will indeed play Let's Make a Deal. After all, they've swung mid-season deals for pitching help in each of the last three years – Jamie Moyer in 2006 (that turned out pretty well), Kyle Lohse in 2007 (everyone makes mistakes) and Joe Blanton, without whom they probably wouldn't have won the World Series, in 2008. Note though that none of these deals was a blockbuster of the C.C. Sabathia caliber (though it continues to be rumored that they were second in the C.C. Sweepstakes last year), in all three cases, they were looking for incremental improvement. That may or may not be the case in 2009, when; A) they have a World Series trophy to defend, and B) they have one less year to win with the 28 to 30 year old nucleus of the current team. Given both those situations, it's still possible that Bastardo may get several starts for the Phillies. And, it's possible he may pitch pretty well. But it seems unlikely that he's due for an extended stay in the Philadelphia rotation. He's only 5' 11", 170 pounds, his stuff is more like that of a reliever, he's only made two starts above Double-A, and he's not Cole Hamels. But, then again, very few are, and it may be that the Phillies will shoot that high in the trade market

Next up… are the 2009 Nationals really as bad as the 1962 Mets? And, why are really bad teams really bad?


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