Big 12 Pitching Prospects 2020 Review
The 2020 Big 12 Baseball season, like sports everywhere, came to an unceremonious end a few weeks ago after just a month of games. Such a shortened season makes evaluating player performances from that season tricky because of a few factors, particularly for pitchers.
First, the small sample size that we have to work with. The most innings any pitcher in the Big 12 threw in 2020 was 26 IP and the most batters faced was just 124.
Second, when the season was canceled, teams were still finishing up nonconference play, meaning that they hadn’t faced off against very many marquee teams with similar talent levels. That large disparity between Big 12 talent levels and their opponent’s talent level skewed the “end of season” statistics and records.
However, things continue and we can use the short 2020 season to evaluate players in a few ways, as long as we’re aware of the issues that this season presents to forming solid conclusions.
Using available stats, pulled from d1baseball.com and individual team websites when necessary, I created a profile for each “qualified” player in the Big 12. For pitchers, the cut off ended up being 17 innings pitched.
From the 29 qualified pitchers, I got the conference averages for the stats that I calculated and used to evaluate these pitchers. Here are those averages, along with the 2019 averages that I have:
Here we can see that the 2020 averages are lower than all of 2019 averages (except for K/9) which indicates improvement. I believe that this is due to the lower level of competition that teams and players were facing in nonconference competition. It’s important to note this because there are some players who had absolutely fantastic “seasons” that would not have been sustainable as Big 12 began, or even as they pitched more innings.
Some of these stats are pretty standard, but I want to take a moment to explain the others that may be unfamiliar to some people.
We’ll start with FIP, Fielding Independent Pitching. It’s similar to ERA in that they’re tracking runs that a pitcher is responsible for, but FIP isolates a pitcher’s performance by what they can control and is based on HRs, BBs, and Ks. It provides us with a way to see how a pitcher performed on their own; if the difference between ERA-FIP is positive, then the pitcher in question had a bad defense behind them that hurt their run prevention. If ERA-FIP is negative, the pitcher benefited from a good defense that prevented more runs for them.
Next is BABIP, Batting Average on Balls in Play. BABIP is exactly what it sounds like; a measurement of how many times a ball in play went for a hit. The equation is pretty simple and reliable.
I’m also using wOBA allowed by each pitcher, or the weighted on-base average allowed. It’s very similar to on-base percentage and assigns different weights to hits, extra-base hits, walks to give credit to outcomes that are more favorable. OBP treats all times on base as equal when, in reality, they aren’t. In terms of evaluating with wOBA, it uses the same scales as OBP, meaning that a good OBP number is also a good wOBA number and vice versa.
Calculating wOBA weights gets really complicated with run expectancy matrices and linear weights, stuff that I frankly don’t know how to do right now. So, I chose to take the coefficients for the 2019 MLB season from FanGraphs.com, which can be found here. Thus, the formula for wOBA came out to this:
This isn’t a perfect way to evaluate college baseball players but with the lack of accessible advanced stats for college baseball, I had to manufacture my own with the tools at my disposal. The small sample size and the lower level of competition are things I want to stress again because I believe that they had an impact on the higher-level performance in the short 2020 season versus 2019. As long as we acknowledge that, we can still proceed with Big 12 Baseball evaluations.
For the hitters, I went through school by school because we had 64 qualified hitters, about 7 per school and that worked. For the pitchers, with 29 eligible, I’ll be ranking them as MLB Draft Prospects. Of course, not every pitcher is Draft eligible, but this is how I’ll look at them.
So, without further ado, let’s get started with prospects 21–29.
20. Everhett Hazelwood — Kansas
Everhett Hazelwood, a JUCO transfer, had the least defensive help in the conference in 2020, resulting in an ugly 5.23 ERA. But he sported a 2.55 FIP, better than average, indicating that he controlled what he could. Part of the reason for that drastic split is the 9.58 H/9 that Hazelwood allowed, along with his unsightly 5.66 BB/9. Neither of those numbers are particularly good, but it indicates that he did a good job of limiting hard contact, allowing 0 HRs in his 20.2 IP, resulting in his wOBA allowed of just 0.236, better than the conference average.
Being able to limit that hard contact is a good (even if it’d be better to allow less contact), and so is his ability to blow the ball past hitters at the plate, producing 11.76 K/9. That’s a tool and ability that you can work with to make Hazelwood a good, productive pitcher.
The chasm between Hazelwood’s ERA and FIP indicates that he performed better than his 5.23 ERA indicates, but I don’t think he’s truly a 2.55 FIP guy, given the H/9 and BB/9 rates. The strong K/9 is a good sign, but Hazelwood has some adjustments to make in his approach if he wants to maintain a low 3s FIP.
19. Brett Standlee — Oklahoma State
Brett Standlee got better from 2019 to 202, but his statistical profile doesn’t really inspire a lot of confidence in me long-term. He managed a great FIP of 2.16, only a smidge higher than his ERA of 1.83, indicating that his defense was helping him out in the run preventing sphere.
He allowed a wOBA of 0.275 on a BABIP of 0.345, which is much higher than conference average, as is his H/9 of 8.70, which is an improvement from his 2019 mark of 10.90. He also started cutting down on his BB/9, only walking 1.83 hitters, while increasing his K/9 up to 7.78, however that K/9 is still about 2 strikeouts per 9 IP below the conference average. What this all indicates is that Standlee lacks true swing and miss stuff and really relies on deception and inducing weak contact to succeed. It’s an approach that can work, but it’s a fine line to tread that really depends on your BABIP and the defense that you have behind you.
18. Johnny Ray — TCU
Johnny Ray, a JUCO transfer, had a pretty successful first season with the Horned Frogs, posting a 2.43 FIP and 2.53 ERA. His K/9 of 8.86 and BB/9 of 3.38 were a little below the Big 12 average, but he did only allow 5.49 hits per 9 IP.
Ray is more of a successful college guy than anyone who profiles as a great prospect at the next level. There’s some value in his ability to limit contact, but that’s a fine line to walk and probably aided by the lack of premier competition that is faced during nonconference play.
17. Haylen Green— TCU
Haylen Green was a middling reliever last season for the Horned Frogs, but took a huge leap forward statistically in 2020, his senior season. In 17.2 IP, he didn’t allow a run, which resulted in a 1.97 FIP. In 2019, what killed him was his WHIP of 1.43 and allowing 10.13 H/9, a mark that was one of the higher ones in the conference.
Yet that plummeted in 2020. Green only allowed a WHIP of 0.68, the second-best mark in the conference because he slashed his H/9 allowed down to a miniscule 3.57 which is the best mark in the conference. His BB/9 didn’t change much, only decreasing from 2.70 to 2.55, right at the Big 12 average. But another promising sign is Green’s slightly increased K/9 of 9.68. Unfortunately, I think that’s more a result of the nonconference competition though, rather than better swing and miss stuff from Green.
With his BABIP of 0.179, Green is clearly more of a pitch to contact guy who succeeded at inducing a lot of weak contact in 2020. Given the drastic drop in H/9 allowed, I believe that Green is a better pitcher than he was in 2019, but he’s probably not as good as his short 2020 stats would lead you to believe. Being a lefty may draw some interest professionally, but the middling strikeout numbers may hinder his ceiling.
Another part of why he ranks low is that he’s a senior and one of the few guys who hit the innings qualifier that isn’t a starter. There’s not much room for a middling collegiate reliever in the pros.
16. Connor McCullough — Kansas State University
Connor McCullough had a fantastic 24 IP to start his collegiate career, posting a FIP of 1.86 and a WHIP of 1.04. However, he did allow a wOBA of 0.254, which is slightly higher than what the conference average was. Part of that looks to be due to his high BABIP of 0.309; if that BABIP decreased, which everything in McCullough’s profile indicates that it should, that wOBA allowed should go down, reflecting McCullough’s effectiveness.
One of the best signs in McCullough’s profile is his K/9 of 10.88, which is above average and a great mark for a freshman pitcher. He does have a slightly elevated BB/9 rate of 3.00, but considering his WHIP of 1.04 is still better than average, I’m not too worried about it. McCullough has a bright future ahead, but it will be interesting to see how his velocity/strikeout numbers fare in the future with his slightly smaller frame.
15. Pete Hansen — Texas
As a freshman, Pete Hansen turned in a spectacular start to his collegiate career, throwing 17 scoreless innings. Of course, he’s not THAT good, his FIP was a more believable, but still fantastic 1.51. He posted a WHIP of 0.65, one of the best marks in the conference, and only allowed a wOBA of 0.165, meaning that most of the 4.76 hits he allowed per 9 IP were just singles.
He also did well in the two benchmarks that I look at for freshman hitters, K/9 and BB/9. He struck out 9.53 hitters per 9 IP and only walked 1.06 per 9 IP, both phenomenal marks for a freshman.
Hansen limited baserunners extremely well and never gave hitters a chance to make strong contact. The only question for the future is his usage. Hansen acted primarily as a reliever for the Longhorns, coming in whenever the situation demanded, but if he can stretch out and maintain a similar vein of performance, he’ll catapult into rarified air as a prospect, displaying good swing and miss stuff with great control.
14. Ryan Bergert — West Virginia
Primarily a reliever for West Virginia in 2019, Bergert got the chance to start in 2020 and did fairly well. Produced a 2.92 ERA and 2.71 FIP, both of which are a smidge below average. However, he had a WHIP of 1.01, better than average.
He allowed a league average wOBA of 0.251, but I think that’s the result of some poorer batted ball luck since he had a BABIP allowed of 0.260, despite his batting average allowed of 0.171. To me, this indicates that he rarely allowed batted balls, but, when he did, the hitters hit them for extra bases. His K/9 of 10.95 helps back that up.
Bergert was making the transition from the bullpen to starting in 2020, which is not an easy transition. Despite that, he continued to miss bats at an above-average rate, although his BB/9 nearly doubled to 4.01. His profile indicates that there was still room for Bergert to improve and I would have been really interested to see how he fared in Big 12 competition as a starter.
13. Dane Acker — Oklahoma
Dane Acker had one of the more exciting seasons in the Big 12, topped with his no-hitter against #11 LSU. Like his teammates, Acker pitched better than his ERA of 3.51, producing a conference average FIP of 2.69. He wasn’t quite as good as fellow aces Cade Cavalli and Levi Prater, but he wasn’t too far behind.
His WHIP of 0.78 was one of the best in the conference because he did an excellent job of limiting hits, only allowing 5.26 per 9 IP. Acker didn’t get hit with the BABIP bug that Prater and Cavalli did, making his wOBA allowed of 0.230 much more believable and representative.
Acker doesn’t quite miss as many bats as his teammates, only striking out 9.82 hitters per 9, but also only walked 1.75 hitters per 9, marks that are either at or better than average. Acker avoided all the bad luck that plagued his teammates, making his season much more representative of who he is as a pitcher.
12. Ty Madden — Texas
In 2020, Ty Madden was a full-time starter for the Longhorns after splitting time between starting and coming out of the bullpen in 2019. In 4 starts, half his start total from 2019, Madden accumulated 25 innings of stellar pitching, transforming into a very strong Saturday starter behind Bryce Elder for Texas.
The biggest improvements that he’s made this season are an increased K/9 and a lowered BB/9. Last season, both those numbers were below average for Madden, sitting in the 36th and 15th percentiles respectively. This season, he looked much better, averaging 9.36 K/9 and only 1.44 BB/9. The K/9 is a smidge lower than what the qualified Big 12 pitchers averaged in the short season, but 9.36 is a good mark for a pitcher and that BB/9 of 1.44 is stellar, enabling his WHIP of just 0.88. He was also limiting hits extremely well, allowing 6.48 H/9 on a batting average of 0.196.
A key figure in both of those numbers is that he did a great job of getting ahead in the count against hitters. Against Cal State Fullerton, his last start before the season ended, Madden faced 20 hitters and threw 14 first-pitch strikes, good for a 70% first-pitch strike rate. That sort of control has allowed him to keep runners off the bases this season to the tune of a 0.88 WHIP. Even in his rockier start against CSUF, Madden still only allowed 1 BB; much of the Titans’ offense was driven by a 4th inning error and the fallout of that play.
He added about 15 pounds heading into the 2020 season, bringing him up to 6’3”, 215 lbs, allowing him to generate more velocity on his pitches. In 2019, he sat about 89–91 MPH on his fastball. Against Cal State Fullerton, he was primarily 92–93 MPH on the fastball, touching 94 to get a swinging strikeout in the 3rd. His slider was around 81–83 MPH, mixed in with a few curveball-type pitches in the 75–77 MPH range.
Those three pitches, plus a solid changeup in the low 80s, gave Madden a strong arsenal of pitches. Against CSUF, he accumulated 11 swings and misses, on 70 pitches. And that was one of his worst starts of the season.
All that being said, Madden did have an average FIP of 2.72, above his ERA of 1.80, indicating he was helped out a bit by stellar defensive play behind him. The biggest culprit of that and his average wOBA allowed of 0.250 was his HR/9 rate of 0.72, which was worse than the 2020 average, but even with the 2019 average.
It’s a weakness, but one that isn’t a deal-breaker. With his WHIP of 0.88, there was rarely someone on-base to knock in, limiting the damage allowed. It happens and it doesn’t diminish Madden or his progression in my eyes.
The velocity uptick was critical for Madden in terms of taking the next step and being even more effective. He started throwing faster, striking out more batters, and limiting his walks and hits allowed. That’s a recipe for success and a very good pitcher.
11. Parker Scott — Oklahoma State
The 2020 season was supposed to be Parker Scott’s first full collegiate season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018 and working his way back in 2019. Unfortunately, he won’t get the opportunity to have a full season, but in his 25 innings of work, he looked even better than he did in 2019.
His FIP of 1.40 was one of the best in the conference, as was his WHIP of 0.92. He did an overall good job of limiting hits, only allowing 6.48 H/9 and a 0.200 batting average, but when the opponent hit the ball, they had a BABIP of 0.310. Some of that could be due to defensive placement and some bad luck, which is possible because his FIP was lower than his ERA, indicating some poor defense behind him, but it’s also possible that he was giving up hard contact when hitters hit the ball. I’m inclined to favor the first option and blame the defense because of Scott’s HR/9 rate of 0.00.
One improvement that Scott made from ’19 to ’20 are the jumps in his K/9 and BB/9. He struck out 11.16 batters per 9 IP, one more than he did in 2019, and only walked 1.80 hitters per 9, one fewer than in 2019. That’s a stellar K:BB ratio and one of the best in the conference. There’s a lot to like about Scott’s collegiate production, but the only concern is that he’s on the smaller side at 6’1”, 173 lbs. I’d love to see velocity numbers for Scott as that would answer a lot of questions about his production and future outlook, but at least his production is excellent.
10. Wyatt Olds — Oklahoma
In 2019, acting primarily as a reliever, Wyatt Olds profiled as a boom or bust guys, with a high K/9, but a high WHIP as well. But in 2020, Olds was lights out, posting a 1.90 ERA and 1.49 FIP in 19 innings. He dropped his WHIP from 1.70 down to 1.16; his H/9 fell to 6.63 and his BB/9 down to 3.79. That’s still a little higher than you’d prefer, which didn’t help his wOBA allowed of 0.256, just higher than league average, but you can live with it, especially when he upped his K/9 to 13.74 from its already high 12.04 mark in 2019.
I mentioned Olds’ higher wOBA and WHIP, but it appears that some of that may be due to poor batted-ball luck and a defense that wasn’t helping him out as his BABIP of 0.412, the second-highest mark in the conference behind his teammate Cade Cavalli (in fact, Cavalli, Olds, and OU teammate Levi Prater have the 3 highest BABIPs in the conference). With time, I’d have expected that BABIP to fall, evening out Olds’ wOBA and WHIP numbers, but I don’t think much else would’ve changed.