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Misch Mash

After a long ceremony consisting of chanting and sacrifice, our intrepid robe-clad bloggers continued to talk about the Giants minor-league system. Included in the chat are Tom and Rob(Fogball), Steve (Giants News Diary), Martin (Biased Giants Fanantic), Alex (El Lefty Malo), Doug (Westwood Blues), and myself.

Part 1, a discussion of David Aardsma, can be found on Fogball. Part 2, a lively round of banter on Brad Hennessey, who had an excellent start last night, is at El Lefty Malo.

Steve: So far we have discussed David Aardsma and Brad Hennessey. Let's turn our attention towards Pat Misch. The Baseball America Prospect Handbook ranks him as the Giants #11 prospect. I suspect there is a lot of sympathy to rate Misch higher. He posted a very solid line last year. He was exceptional from late April to mid-July, during which time he had an outstanding 82/10 K/BB ratio. The rest of the year, his K/BB was merely 41/25. Misch is a finesse lefty. His best pitches are his changeup and curveball. He can throw his 86-89 mph fastball and his slider to all corners of the strike zone.

Tom: Misch is just the type of guy that I can really get behind. K/BB rate that is very strong--6.76 to 2.02 as a pro (91% better than his AA league average). He went from Western Michigan University to AA in a year basically and ALL of his peripherals were very strong. I love his control and his ability to get strikeouts with mediocre stuff. He controls homers decently and seems solid. An 86-88 MPH fastball is a little pedestrian but if two from his arsenal of curve, slider and changeup are plus pitches and the control stays good this guy could bring it in the majors.

Only caveat is that he's not really on the young side for his league, so the interesting thing will be to see what happens this coming year in AA/AAA. Is he going to set the world on fire? Of course not! But Joe Blanton and Danny Haren are going to have better ML careers than Erick Threets, if you know what I'm saying.

Grant: This is where the amateur in me comes out. I look at the stat line, and think, brother, that is a sweet line for someone making the jump to AA a year after Western Michigan. But what does that really mean? I wish I had a pimply-faced intern armed with a database and Red Bull, to tell to print out a list of pitchers who reached AA in their first full professional season. Group them by age, K/BB, K/9, and get me some fancy pie charts on the side. I think his success is impressive after the rapid promotion, but without proper context will hold off on going nuts.

I do know he uses a changeup, and at the very real risk of repeating myself until you all vomit, I loves the changeup. That, combined with the control, makes him a brighter star in my eyes than Hennessey.

Steve: Tom mentioned Misch's age. Misch may seem older because he ended up returning to Western Michigan for his senior year after negotiations with the Houston Astros broke down. The Astros had made Misch a 5th round pick in 2002 and then were hesitant to sign their top picks for fear of a strike. They never reached an agreement, and Misch returned to college. So far, that move has been to the Giants' benefit. Had Misch signed a pro contract shortly after the 2002 draft, he may not have reached Double-A until the start of the 2004 season anyway after spending most, if not all, of 2003 in High-A.

To compare Misch and Hennessey with their raw stuff, here is how I think they might rate on a traditional 20-80 scouting scale (where 50 is average):

  • Hennessey: fastball 55, slider 70, changeup 45, command 55
  • Misch: fastball 45, changeup 65, curveball 55, command 65
This ignores Misch's slider as his 4th pitch. I am also omitting any comments about a pitcher's makeup. How do we weight the various factors? Off the top of my head, I might suggest weights of 35% fastball, 25% best off-speed pitch, 15% third pitch, 25% command. I hope I am not showing my ignorance of the scouting world with these comments, but maybe this will aid us in our discussion of what we like most in a pitching prospect. Tom mentioned earlier that he looks first at the K/IP and K/BB stats, which are also the first stats at which I look. How do we integrate the scouting report and the stats?

Tom: According to Clay Davenport's Future Pitching Davenport Translations, Pat Misch's performance in 2004 was good for second most impressive by a pitcher in the Eastern League last year.

Grant: Whoa. Chris Begg sighting on that link. At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, could he be our indie-league Bobby Madritsch?

Steve: To summarize, in the Eastern League last year, Misch's RAR ranked 2nd. Begg was 5th and Cain 13th among other Norwich starters. Begg and Cain had a very similar amount of playing time, so it is not like Begg benefited from more playing time than Cain in this regard. I saw Begg pitch twice last year. Two very different games: the first time he allowed 7 H, 2 BB and 5 ER in 2.1 IP for Fresno; the second time he allowed 4 H, 0 BB and 1 ER in 8.0 IP, along with 9 K for Norwich. Begg's a sinker-slider guy who got out of whack while with Fresno, getting his pitches up in the zone. I don't think Begg has the same potential as Madritsch, but Begg is still a couple years younger.

FWIW, Begg was not the only successful Norwich starter who really struggled after a promotion to Fresno. LHP Jack Taschner had an even higher ERA with Fresno than Begg did. Begg was demoted to Norwich after six starts with Fresno (and later missed about a month of the minor league season to play in the Olympics). Taschner was moved to the Fresno bullpen. The talk about finesse pitchers if often whether they can survive the jump from High-A to Double-A. Does the experience of Begg and Taschner indicate that we should be at least as worried about the jump from Double-A to Triple-A? What should we expect from Misch in Fresno in 2005? Looking further ahead, do people think that in 2006 Misch is likely to be at least as effective as Rueter?

Alex: A question: Steve, you cite "RAR" above. What is it and why is it important?

Tom: RAR is just Pitching Runs Above Replacement. Essentially how many runs a replacement level pitcher would have given up in the specific pitcher's playing time, league, and (I believe) stadium. I'm not totally confident that this park adjustment is made for minor league players.

Alex: As for Misch v. Rueter, I'm not sure how apt the comparison is. According to the scouting repor! ts you guys are providing, Misch has better off-speed stuff and throws harder than Rueter, who tops out around 86 but usually lives in the 82-85 MPH. Rueter's best stuff is definitely not his change and curve, as Steve notes is the case with Misch. (With his 90% sinker-on-the-outside-corner repertoire, Woody is like a poor-man's Glavine and Maddux. It would have been interesting to see Woody all these years as a member of the Leo Mazzone/Braves staff.)

Just by raw stuff and minor-league career so far, it seems Misch is more comparable to Lowry, no? I hadn't realized, by the way, that Lowry's numbers with the Giants were nearly identical to AAA, with the season split almost evenly down the middle. Slightly fewer K/9, but that was offset by slightly fewer BB/9. It's almost like he was on automatic pilot no matter who was standing in the batter's box.

One final oddball thought: if indeed the experience of facing Misch and Lowry is similar, would the Giants hesitate to p! ut them both in the same rotation? Would facing Lowry then Misch two days later, or vice-versa, give big-league hitters a better "feel" for the speed, assortment and rhythm of their pitches? Or would it be enough to alternate them with hard-throwing righties?

Steve: I would say that Misch is more similar to Lowry than Rueter, but I don't really think Lowry is that dissimilar from Rueter. Yes, Lowry has the changeup, but they are still finesse lefties. As for the similarity between Lowry's minor league and major league stats last year, I would cite two things as part of the explanation: first, I don't think Lowry had the quality changeup we saw in the majors until mid-May; second, PCL hitters are presumably not as good as NL hitters, but the hitter-friendly nature of the PCL will tend to mask that difference statistically. Here is a split of Lowry's 17 PCL starts last year:

  • first 9 starts: 45.0 IP, 46 H, 14 BB, 34 K, 6 HR, 5.20 ERA
  • last 8 starts: 44.1 IP, 52 H, 14 BB, 39 K, 3 HR, 3.05 ERA
I don't have the data, but I had the impression that Lowry used to give up a lot of extra base hits. This is merely an anecdote, but I recall once thinking he had a fairly nice game when I first looked at the box score until I looked through the game log and found that all but one of the hits were doubles.

If you want to compare Lowry and Misch, I don't know that I could do it better than what John Manuel said in his Fogball interview: "[Lowry] got so much better with his changeup in '04, which I was glad to see.... That said, Misch's numbers in Double-A were a lot better than Lowry's, as was his stuff, frankly; he's got a plus changeup at times, and he has shown better command. At the same stage, he's a better prospect, but Lowry got a lot better over the last year, and Misch will have to as well to be a big leaguer."

Tom: Lowry is quite a bit more advanced than Misch considering his age.

Alex: I'm not sure what you mean "considering [Lowry's] age." Lowry's a year older than Misch, and Misch is arguably on the same path Lowry was on one year ago.

  • Lowry logged a decent AA season and was promoted to AAA and the bigs just before he turned 23.
  • Misch completed an excellent AA season (statistically superior to Lowry's AA season) soon after turning 23.
The only difference is that the Giants promoted Lowry from Norwich to Fresno and then to the bigs all in the span of a month or so, but they let Misch finish the year at AA. If Misch starts in AAA this year and is called up, he'll be on the exact same age-track as Lowry.

Tom: I was looking at the ages from Baseball Cube and they count his 2004 Norwich stats as his 23 year old year. Since his birthday was after the official baseball date cutoff (June 1) his Norwich season is technically his Age 22 year.

So according to their BASEBALL AGE their progression is something like this:

  1. Lowry moves from AA to AAA; Misch spends the whole season at AA
  2. Lowry has half season at AAA and posts a RA+ of 120 in the majors; Misch we dunno yet.
It looks like Baseball Cube is using some sort of end of season age... Since Misch has an August birthday and Lowry was born in October doing a birthday check in late September will show Misch and Lowry to be the same age. Of course, in actuality, Lowry is 10 months older. If you use "Baseball Age," Misch is a step behind Lowry. Considering their actual age, and especially considering their age when drafted and how much minor league experience they have had, it would seem that Misch is on the same pace if not a touch ahead.

Martin: Yes, they are definitely using end of season age at Baseball Cube. I was pulling data on the Sally League and, though most discussions of Schierholtz and Ishikawa have their age as the same, because Ishikawa's birthday is at the end of the season, he was 21 last season while Schierholtz was 20.

I just found my Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster 2005 (lots of interesting research). Aardsma, Cain, and Hennessey made their Top Prospects list. Since it is targeted to fantasy league players, I assume they are ranking the odds of the player contributing at the MLB level.

Obviously none of the position players made that list, which included 27 prospects on each of the position and pitching lists. Cain was around the middle, Hennessey a bit below the middle, and Aardsma was at the bottom of the pitching prospect list, which, based on the comments I read, seem to be related to him being a reliever. In any case, they see Hennessey as no more than a #5 starter or middle reliever, which I have no problem with.

Out of the five pitchers who are considered our top pitching prospects and have played in AA or above - Aardsma, Cain, Hennessey, Misch, Valdez - Misch is close to good or above (as determined by Shandler's research) in most categories of evaluation used by the book (WHIP, Opposing OBP, BB/9, K/9, K/BB, HR/9, BABIP, and strand rate, which measures the number of baserunners stranded by the pitcher and any relievers), 6 of 8. Cain and Aardsma is also 6 of 8. Aardsma is the only one of these three performing at or above the good level for all 6 - Cain is close on two, as is Misch. Hennessey was 4 of 8, with 3 good, but poor or near poor in 3 categories.

For comparison, Williams was close or above in all 8 categories, 5 above, 3 close, in 2003 and Lowry was 5 of 8, 3 above, 2 close, in 2004, an increase over his 3 of 8, 2 above, 1 close, in 2003 plus 3 categories that were bad or borderline bad in 2003 (he still had 2 in 2004).

In addition, there were also 3 pitchers at or above for 4 or 5 categories in 2004: Munter, Sadler, and Urban. Munter had 4 above and 1 close, and the other two had 3 above and 1 close. However, all three were close to poor performance in WHIP, a bad thing for a reliever and were poor in other key categories, such as BB/9, K/9, and BABIP. Probably would yield more info if each category was weighted to how relatively important that category is for starter vs. reliever.

From what I've read, others concur that Lowry is a good comparable for Misch, with Misch performing better than Lowry did in AA, which was confirmed by the analysis above. Seems to me, from all this, that Misch is a better prospect than Hennessey right now because his ceiling seems higher than #5/middle-reliever.

Alex: Has anyone seen Misch live or on TV, either last year or this spring? Any eyewitness reports on what his stuff looks like? Does his fastball sink? Tail? Is his curve a Zito/Estes hammer or a Rueter/Lowry slurve?

Steve: I have seen Misch pitch, but it was in 2003. At that time, he seemed to me like an effective but not an impressive pitcher. In particular, I thought his K/IP was sub-standard. He had 61 K in 86.0 IP in 2003. Most of your better prospects in the NWL will have close to a strikeout per inning. For me, one of the most encouraging things about Misch in 2004 was how his K/IP improved despite skipping two levels. I recall in 2003 hearing the Salem-Keizer radio broadcaster say something to the effect that Misch's strikeout total was not higher because he had not always had sharp break on his curveball that summer.

At this point, we should probably move the discussion to Merkin Valdez. (Coming soon ...)