What are his strengths?
His mental approach is good. His ceiling is high because of his strengths. Three quotes follow:
He is intense, teammates say, when it comes to his craft, studious with video and serious about the mental approach to the game. — Will Sammon, Mississippi Clarion Ledger, May 2018
Despite being a college junior, Pilkington was 20 years old when the White Sox drafted him [in the third round]. The profile on him then was that he could have three solid or better pitches, with a fastball sitting in the low 90s to go along with a changeup and slider. Pilkington has the additional advantage of throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, which makes him really tough on lefties.
… he’s the best pitching prospect in the system nobody is talking about. — Jake Mastroiani, SB Nation, June 2021
As Pilkington became more comfortable in the big leagues, I saw him trusting the deceptive delivery of his fastball a little more and finding some additional command, both of which are absolutely crucial for his potential as a major-league starter. — Quincy Wheeler, SB Nation, February 2023
How did the Diamondbacks acquire him?
On 26 April, the Guardians DFA’d Konnor Pilkington to make room for Tanner Bibee, who immediately joined their rotation. Tanner Bibee was largely hidden from view because he did not participate in spring training. I’m not sure that their decision to promote Bibee will work out well for them. In his first three starts, Bibee’s ERA was worse than Konnor Pilkington’s (4.30 vs 3.75 ERA).
On 1 May, the Diamondbacks acquired Konnor Pilkington for cash. This type of trade is common at the start of the season. From 30 March to 8 May, out of the 19 trades listed in SpoTrac, 14 were for cash, 3 were for future considerations, and only two were player swaps. Though the type of trade was common, the Diamondbacks were intending to acquire a gem pitcher at a bargain price.
If Konnor Pilkington joins the rotation and pitches average or better, then the Diamondbacks won this trade! That outcome has a real chance of happening for two reasons:
- In 2023, the Diamondbacks only have three starting pitchers with an ERA+ of at least 100 (Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and Drey Jameson). Drey Jameson was optioned to the minors to continue his development.
- Konnor Pilkington is capable of pitching with an average ERA+. In 2022 for the Guardians, his ERA+ was 99 (11 games started and 4 games as reliever).
What will be his role on the Diamondbacks?
Konnor Pilkington and Drey Jameson are in the minors and they have a very good chance of being (again) called up this season. Let’s compare them. This season, Pilkington pitched 2 innings in the Majors, while Jameson pitched 17 innings. To avoid a small sample size comparison, the following comparisons combine 2022 and 2023 seasons (through 13 May).
- ERA in Majors. Jameson had the better ERA (2.40 vs 3.75).
- As a starter, strikeouts per batter faced (SO/BF). Jameson had the better SO/BF (.230 vs .190).
- As a reliever, strikeouts per batter faced (SO/BF). They were roughly equivalent (.235 vs .229).
- Whiffs per pitch. They were roughly equivalent (.133 vs .131). Note that these whiff rates are outstanding.
My conclusion is that Jameson will likely join the rotation before Pilkington. When that happens, Pilkington could be a depth starter and called up to start in an emergency. On the other hand, with his outstanding whiff rate, and with a fastball that averages about 93 MPH, Pilkington might be called up for the bullpen.
In his small sample of 60 innings, is there an indication of his potential?
By ignoring the gaps between innings pitched, let’s look at his 266 batters faced to discover his ratio of good streaks (3 or more consecutive batters fail to reach base) to bad streaks (2 or more consecutive batters reach base or hit homers). A high ratio could show that a batter getting on base is an isolated event. The more that getting on base is an isolated event, the bigger positive impact that coaches can have by encouraging a minor adjustment or tweak.
The following list shows the ratio of good streaks to bad streaks for four Diamondbacks:
- 2.38 Zac Gallen in 2023 through 12 May (gold/platinum standard), 19 good streaks and 8 bad streaks.
- 1.77 Drey Jameson in 2022 and 2023 through 12 May (very high standard), 23 good streaks and 13 bad streaks.
- 1.05 Konnor Pilkington in 2022 and 2023, 20 good streaks and 19 bad streaks.
- 0.55 Madison Bumgarner in 2023 (DFA standard), 6 good streaks and 11 bad streaks.
His ratio shows that the potential for a minor adjustment or tweak to make a positive improvement for Konnor Pilkington is roughly at the midpoint between Drey Jameson and Madison Bumgarner. That possibility for Pilkington to improve is encouraging.
His potential to improve seems higher than Madison Bumgarner. Although Brent Strom said something like highly successful people sometimes resist change, perhaps Madison Bumgarner recognized that he needed much more than minor adjustments and tweaks.
The Diamondbacks acquired Konnor Pilkington knowing his intensity and mental attitude would likely enable him to leverage his strengths to reach his full potential. His role could be either emergency starter or a bullpen arm. His potential to improve is high, ranking somewhere between Drey Jameson and Madison Bumgarner. It’s likely that he will succeed with the Diamondbacks.