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 some players had 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 more favorable outcomes. 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 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.

29. Eli Davis — Kansas

Eli Davis went from bad to worse over the course of 2019 to 2020. His WHIP climbed to 1.66 as both his H/9 and BB/9 increased, up to 11.29 and 3.63 respectively. His K/9, already far below average, fell further, down to 6 K/9.

His HR/9 rate stayed pretty even at 0.81 as he produced a 0.351 wOBA. Now, one could argue that his BABIP of 0.371 is too high and would’ve fallen over time, but there’s nothing really to back that up. His batting average allowed was equally as high, at 0.318, and he was failing to keep guys from hitting the ball. Nothing is promising in Davis’ profile and it’s hard to see a path to success for him.

28. Evan Godwin — Baylor

While his teammate Dickens was one of the worst pitchers in the conference last season, Godwin might have been the worst. Sporting nearly identical ERA and FIPs of 5.50 and 5.61 respectively, Godwin got a little bit lucky with the defense behind him. His wOBA allowed of 0.360 was the highest in the conference, as were his 2 HR allowed per 9 IP.

There’s not even a whole lot of good things in the rest of his profile. He walked 4 batters per 9 IP and only struck out 8.5 per 9 IP, both numbers coming in below average. The positives are that he’s a 6’2” lefty, freshman who got 18 innings of experience against collegiate hitters. There’s some room for Godwin to get stronger, adding more velocity, but barring improvements in velocity and pitch quality, there’s not a whole lot to work with.

27. Ryan Cyr — Kansas

Ryan Cyr pitched worse in 2020 than he did in 2019, yet somehow managed to lower his ERA from 5.46 to 4.03 with a respectable FIP of 3.81. Based off of his 2019 numbers and some of his 2020 numbers, I think he’s much closer to the 2019 stats than 2020.

Cyr managed his 3.81 FIP for 2 primary reasons. 1) His good BB/9 of 2.82, which is in line with his 2019 BB rate of 2.68. 2) In only 22.1 IP, he allowed just 1 HR, good for a HR/9 of 0.40, better than average. However, he allowed a HR/9 of 1.85 in 2019, which appears much more representative of Cyr’s talent level given the innings disparity between the two seasons (97.1 in 2019 vs 22.1 in 2020).

In addition, nothing else changed for the better for Cyr in 2020. His H/9 shot up to 10.08 from it’s already high 9.34 and his K/9 decreased to 4.43, which is so low it’s hard to do anything with. With more innings, and against the better competition he’d face in Big 12 play, Cyr’s FIP and wOBA, which were aided by a lucky low HR/9 rate, were about to shoot up into untenable territory.

26. Charles King — TCU

In his senior season, Charles King was a below-average innings eater for TCU. He posted a 4.50 ERA and 3.55 FIP, with a WHIP of 1.32. He only struck out 5.32 hitters per 9 IP, a year after posting a K/9 of 5.56, so it wasn’t a fluke. Along the same lines, he improved his already stellar BB/9, dropping from 1.58 to just 0.82 walks per 9 IP.

However, his H/9 increased to 11.05, from an already high 9.35. His HR/9 was 0.82 in 2020, and all of that culminated in a wOBA allowed of 0.306. His BABIP of 0.325 and batting average of 0.293 indicate that there may have been some extra batted ball luck that hurt King, but since he allows a lot of contact, it’s probably pretty accurate.

King displays near immaculate command with his stellar BB/9 rates but looks to lack velocity since he’s never struck out that many people. Presumably, he throws the ball inside the zone a lot, which is why he gets hit hard since he’s not throwing very hard. King doesn’t appear to have a viable professional future.

25. Jake Carr — West Virginia

Jake Carr presents an interesting statistical profile, but there are some promising signs for the freshman lefty for the Mountaineers. In his 23.2 IP, Carr posted a 1.52 ERA, but also a 3.19 FIP, indicating that he benefited from the WVU defense.

He had an excellent WHIP of 0.72, thanks to his superb H/9 and BB/9 rates of 5.33 and 1.14 respectively. Both of those are great signs, but I’m a little concerned about the rest of his arsenal.

Carr only struck out 4.56 batters per 9 IP, less than half the conference average, which is not great. Along with his slight frame of 5'8", 165 lbs, that indicates that Carr is much more of a command guy who relies on inducing weak contact. That’s a workable profile, especially if someone can at least average 7–8 K/9. But Carr only averaged 4.5 K/9. Now, as a freshman, there’s room for him to grow stronger and add velocity, but, as of right now, it’s hard to see Carr as a long-term prospect.

24. Hayden Kettler — Baylor

Hayden Kettler was an average pitcher in 2019 and stayed pretty in line with that in 2020. His ERA of 3.38 is higher than average, but his FIP of 2.95 indicates that some of that was due to the defense behind him, rather than mistakes that Kettler was making.

Kettler profiles as a command guy. His strikeout numbers went down from 2019 to 2020, dipping to 6.75 K/9, far below average. At the same time, his BB/9 also dropped, down to 1.69 walks per 9 IP, which is a great mark. But he still allowed more hits than league average, 8.44 per 9 IP, resulting in a wOBA allowed of 0.283 that is below average. Because he doesn’t strike very many guys out, he still allowed a batting average against of 0.241, about 0.30 points higher than league average despite his BABIP of 0.288 slotting in a smidge better than average.

By virtue of his inability to blow it past hitters, Kettler walks a fine line for success and has to be better than most with his command. His WHIP of 1.13 is fantastic is normal circumstances, but it’s below average considering the competition level he faced. While he did a good job limiting the harder contact allowed early in 2020, I’d only expect his wOBA allowed and H/9 to rise had Big 12 play begun. Kettler treads a fine line but didn’t excel at limiting hits in non-conference play, something he’d have to do to be a realistic prospect.

23. Paul Dickens — Baylor

Paul Dickens profiles as a big (6’5”, 225 lbs), lefty who throws hard, but struggles to command his pitches, resulting in a boom or bust type situation. He accumulated 11.25 strikeouts per 9 IP in 20 innings in 2020, but added on 5.85 BB/9 to that tally, knocking his WHIP up to 1.45, a number far below average.

Dickens managed a respectable 3.15 ERA in 2020 but had a 4.03 FIP. The culprit was the same that plagued him in 2019: his HR/9 rate. In 2019, Dickens’ 1.36 HR/9 was one of the worst in the conference; his 2020 rate of 0.90, which is an improvement, albeit against worse competition, was the 5th worst out of the 29 Big 12 pitchers with > 17 IP in 2020. The HR rate is responsible for his wOBA allowed of 0.333, the 4th worst mark in the conference.

While his K/9 numbers look promising, there’s just no control in Dickens’s profile, and, as a senior, it’s hard to see that spontaneously developing. Lefties who throw hard are always coveted, but Dickens looks more like a liability with his BB/9 and propensity to give up HRs.

22. Justin Campbell — Oklahoma State

Justin Campbell was better than his 4.43 ERA indicates, but his 3.28 FIP was still below average (but pretty good for a freshman). He managed a K/9 of 9.74 and BB/9 of 2.66, both of which are just about the conference average, which is always something I like to see when evaluating freshmen. Everything else can work off of the BB & K per 9, which is why getting those where they need to be is a great sign for a freshman.

However, his batted ball profile indicates that when he got hit, he got hit hard. He allowed a HR/9 of 0.89, more than average, and a wOBA of 0.305. However, some of the wOBA may be inflated by his BABIP of 0.340 which is pretty high. That’s something that can be improved over the next few years for Campbell, but his first 20.1 collegiate innings were promising.

21. Cole Larsen — Kansas

Cole Larsen is another JUCO transfer for the Jayhawks and had an interesting start to his Big 12 career. His FIP of 4.52 isn’t very good, drastically higher than the league average, but he did sport a 1.14 WHIP, which is much closer to league average.

It also looks like Larsen may have had some bad luck on batted balls, with his BABIP of 0.281 being better than average, but his batting average of 0.266 is worse than average, which would make some sense considering that his FIP was better than his ERA, indicating that the defense behind him wasn’t a great help. But what killed Larsen, and spiked his wOBA allowed up to 0.314, was his HR/9 of 2.14 which was one of the higher marks in the conference.

While the HR/9 is troublesome, there are some really good signs in Larsen’s profile, notably his K/9 of 10.29 and BB/9 of 1.29, which results in K:BB ratio of 8, one of the best marks in the conference. He needs to cut down on the amount of contact that he allows or at least limit the hard HR-type hits to be truly effective, but the K/9 and BB/9 make an interesting foundation for a good pitcher. Larsen would have been very interesting to watch throughout Big 12 play, but we won’t get that chance, unfortunately.

Sophomore studying Sport Management and Economics at the University of Texas. Writing about Baseball from an analytical and scouting perspective

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