Numbers Can Deceive With Marlins' James

On the surface, it looks like Chad James isn't having a particularly successful first full season.

The lefty's record with low Class A Greensboro is an unsightly 3-7. He hasn't won a start in just over a month since beating Rome on July 1. His ERA stands at 4.67 in 81 innings. But a deeper look shows the news isn't that bad for James, and the tools that made him the Marlins' first-round pick in 2009 are still there.

The biggest factors in James' favor are that he's showing he can still miss bats and, when he doesn't do that, he's able to get batters to put the ball in play on the ground. His strikeout rate stands at exactly 9.00 strikeouts-per-nine, with 81 punchouts in 81 innings, and his groundout-to-fly out ratio clocks in at a solid 1.69—a critical ingredient for success considering Greensboro's home park is a noted bandbox (the Grasshoppers' hitters lead the South Atlantic League with 104 homers in 108 games).

"He's just scratching the surface," Greensboro manager Andy Haines said. "For a guy that had basically zero pro experience to come out here and do what he's done, we always say he's really close to being on his way. You can see all the physical ability is really obvious. He's a big, strong lefthanded pitcher. They don't grow those guys on trees."

James' draft stock picked up as he got stronger heading into his senior year at Yukon (Okla.) High last year. He went from throwing in the high 80s as a high school junior to showing 90-92 mph velocity heading into the draft, and he's continued heating up radar guns as a pro. James held his fastball at 93-94 mph, with the ability to reach 95 when he's really got it going.

Like his fastball, James' curveball was just mediocre as a high school junior, but it's continued getting better and his changeup has been an effective weapon against righthanded hitters, who have hit .240/.355/.323 in 254 at-bats. The problem for James, who was out of action for a month in April and May with shoulder tendinitis but he hasn't missed a start since, has been control.

The 19-year-old has handed out 51 walks and thrown 14 wild pitches in his 81 innings. That wildness has led to higher pitch counts and, in turn, shorter outings. James has completed five innings in just 10 of his 18 starts. From Haines' point of view, the problem comes down to James' needing to be more aggressive.

"When he doesn't trust his stuff, he gets behind the count," Haines said. "It's not command. For a young kid, he has great command. It's just, he nibbles early in the count and gets behind when it's not necessary at all."

"He's a power arm. When he's aggressive and he realizes how that stuff plays and how tough he is on hitters, that's when he has good outings."

A byproduct of James' groundball rate is the fact that he's allowed only two home runs all season, a stat that jumps off the page when you consider his environment. The second of those dingers just came Tuesday night in Kannapolis. Before that, James hadn't given up a long ball since April 14, his second start of the year. He's given up just 14 other extra base hits all season, and opponents are slugging just .318 against him in 302 at-bats.

"There's not guys getting three and four hits in a row off of him," Haines said. "It's usually a couple groundball hits, he walks a guy, hits a guy and then something crazy happens and they've got two runs on the board.

"(He's) getting acclimated to the environment and the workload, the amount of throwing you do, the conditioning, everything that entails. You could say that for everybody, but that's the biggest thing he's become. He's become a professional."