The first wave of performances from our pitching prospects this year have been...well, whelming, rather than overly so. Here are the numbers for Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, up through the last-named's start against the Padres this afternoon.
As mentioned in the GDT, it's a good job we weren't relying on Skaggs et al to rescue our season. However, let's take a look behind the numbers, and see what we can determine about their performances to date - in particular, is it time for Tyler Skaggs to join Bauer, and take the rest of the year off?
Now, obviously, they're young. Corbin is the "veteran" of the bunch, having just turned 23; the other two only became old enough to drink legally earlier this year. Such young starters are just not common. Less than twenty in their age 22 seasons or younger have started even a single game in the majors this year, and that's in line with recent seasons. There were 21 last year, 20 the year before, and the number hasn't been more than 28 since 1986. And young pitchers who do well are even rarer. The median ERA+ among this year's crop is just 82, and the only two with 50+ innings of work and an ERA+ of 95 or better, are Corbin and Madison Bumgarner, both at 106.
So, the general struggles of Skaggs and Bauer, are closer to what you'd expect, rather than an exception, being par for the course when it comes to young arms. Of course, the specifics may be different - Bauer's problems with control, Skaggs giving up too many long-balls, especially with men on-board (homers are responsible for 70% of all his runs allowed to date!) - but we need to keep things in perspective. Random factoid in this area: Skaggs has now allowed a homer in each of his first six major-league appearances. Only three NL pitchers ever have started their careers with longer home-run allowed streaks.*
It's probably worth talking a bit more about Skaggs, given this Tweet from Nick Piecoro during the middle stages ot today's game.
Scouts have been wondering if Skaggs should be shut down, given declining velocity. He's been 86-88 mph past couple innings.— Nick Piecoro (@nickpiecoro) September 20, 2012
This was something Piecoro had previously discussed, citing multiple scouts who thought that "Skaggs’ stuff has been down from what they saw from him in the minor leagues" There's no doubt that Skaggs' velocity is off, though less than Piecoro reckons - Tyler's average fastball today was 88.24 mph, topping out at 91. But that is a significant difference from what we saw back in April. The table below shows the speed of his fastball for all Skaggs' starts this season, as well as the "tune-up" game at Chase Field back in April against the Brewers, for which we, conveniently, also have pitch f/X data: The last column is the Game Score, an overall measure of a starter's pitching effectiveness.
This does seem to suggest Tyler's arm has been flagging down the stretch. It's worth noting that between the April appearance and his call-up, he threw 122.1 innings for Mobile and Reno. giving him a total of 151.2 for the season to date. One wouldn't be inclined to think this was necessarily a problem - he threw 158.1 with Visalia and Mobile in 2011. But there's ample evidence to show that Skaggs is a) generally not getting the ball up there as fast as he was, and b) can't reach back for an extra bit of life. His fastest pitch today would have been barely average velocity in that pre-season game, and was almost four mph off his liveliest there.a) + b) = disappointing results, it appears.
It's interesting to compare the approach here to that taken with Bauer. Between the minors, majors and minor-league playoffs, Trevor threw 163 innings before the team decided to call his season over. It's certainly a number not far off Skaggs's workload and, while Bauer did only throw 25.2 innings of pro-ball in 2011, that came after 136.2 innings of work for UCLA. So it's not as if Bauer is being Verducci'd out of action this year, and he's about six months older than Skaggs too. It was reported Bauer's velocity was down in the Triple-A Championship, and GM Kevin Towers explained that decision as follows:
Pitching seven months is difficult and you’re going to need those extra bullets late in the season. Look at where your velocity is now compared to April and May.’ When I saw him in Mobile, it was 95-96. That could be fatigue and what causes fatigue? Those are only questions he could probably [answer] for himself.
Much of what was said there could, it seems, equally be applied to Skaggs. However, there seems possibly to be another agenda with regard to Bauer, as Jess Root wrote about over on SB Nation Arizona, saying "In the case of Bauer, he is not willing to bend at all. His stubbornness gets in the way of his improvement. This is why he is not with the major league club." If so, that may be the difference, and the reason why Skaggs is still here. Though given Skaggs' issues with the long-ball, perhaps he needs to be shaking Miggy off more, rather than less?
* Mike Farmer went seven games in 1996, Chin-hui Tsao eight in 2003 and Steve Engel nine for the 1985 Cubs. Farmer's run is particularly impressive, as those were the only seven games he pitched in the majors - and three of those were in relief. As an aside, Joe Saunders started his NL career with seven in 2010, but of course, he had a lot of AL experience first.