Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Tale of Two "Halves"

Under Neal Huntington, the Pirates have spent significant amounts of money on projectable high school pitchers with the hopes of hitting it big on one or two.  The general demographic of those pitchers is as follows: drafted in the 4th through 10th round and given a bonus ranging from 400,000 to 1,200,000 dollars. Names include Quinton Miller, Zack Von Rosenberg, Zack Dodson, Trent Stevenson, Colton Cain, Nick Kingham, Ryan Hafner, Clay Holmes, Tyler Glasnow, Jake Burnette, Jason Creasy, Colton Brewer, and most recently, Jon Sandfort and Hayden Hurst.  

By now, most people know the rhetoric.  The first five names, drafted in 2008 and 2009, have been largely failures.  Miller has done nothing and Stevenson has already retired.  Dodson has been mildly successful, but also got suspended for 50 games. According to some reports, Cain saw his stuff decline from high school, but did at least make it to A+ ball and was part of the Pirates trade for Wandy Rodriguez, producing some value.  Von Rosenberg continues to tantalize with good results from time to time, but his projectable frame hasn't produced the expected and desired effect of increased velocity and that has held him back

Skipping past Kingham and Hafner, both of which were drafted in 2010, the rest of this "class" has had some standouts that have shown promise.  Glasnow and Holmes come to mind first.  However, the first pitcher to give hope to Pirates fans was Kingham.  Kingham managed this feat by pitching 71.0 innings in 2011 at State College.  In those innings, he posted a 2.15 ERA, gave up 63 hits, walked 15 batters, all while striking out 47 of the hitters he faced.

This produced high hopes for 2012 as the Pirates moved Kingham to full season ball and placed him in the West Virginia Power starting rotation.  And then - to speak informally - bad stuff happened.  In his first 18 starts, Kingham posted the following numbers: 78.2 innings, 88 hits, 53 earned runs, 14 home runs, 27 walks, and 73 strikeouts.  That calculates out to the following numbers: 10.0 H/9, 6.06 ERA, 1.60 HR/9, 3.0 BB/9, and 8.4 K/9.  Those are pretty awful numbers, save for a decent K/9.  Kingham looked lost. Hope began to dwindle rapidly.

Then something clicked.  Kingham became a new pitcher in his last 9 starts of the year, showing the potential he displayed in 2011.  In his last 9 starts, Kingham posted the following numbers: 48.1 innings, 27 hits, 9 earned runs, 1 home run, 9 walks, and 44 strikeouts.  That's calculates out to the following numbers,  5.0 H/9, 1.68 ERA, a miniscule 0.2 HR/9, 1.7 BB/9, and 8.2 K/9.  Kingham's strikeout rate dropped slightly, but all of his other numbers improved significantly.  In short, for 9 games, Kingham pitched lights out.  Now, it's not a huge sample size, but it's not tiny either and ultimately it doesn't guarantee Kingham success from here on out.  However, it does raise the bar for expectations regarding Kingham, at least for me, and I'm excited to see him start out in Bradenton next year.  If he can avoid an awful first half (okay, first 2/3rd's) and pitch like he did at the end of the season, Kingham could jump up prospect lists, both Pirates lists and national lists.  If that happens, it might have taken longer than Pirates fans and Neal Huntington wanted, but Kingham could justify the Pirates spending on projectable high school pitchers.