Image credit: (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)
In part one of this series we examined how all 30 major league farm systems ranked based on advanced statcast hitting data. Through rigorous analysis we move to the pitching side of things to examine which organizations minor league pitching groups rank the best when looking at a variety of advanced metrics.
Statcast data allows us to look beyond performance and subjective analysis of prospective major leaguers. Pitch-level data allows us to add context to the difference between two pitches at the same velocity that may generate very different results. Understanding how each pitch moves to the plate and the traits that impact the ball’s flight allow us to more properly assess the quality of that pitch. In turn, this allows us to get a more accurate understanding of how that pitch will translate against major league hitting.
Here’s how every farm system stacked up in 2023 across a variety of Statcast metrics.
Examined below is a combination of pitch-level data and pitch-by-pitch performance metrics. Our goal was to more accurately understand which organizations have the highest quality of overall pitching talent. This study also provided valuable insights into the types of traits certain organizations target in the draft and in international free agency.
For each organization, team-level metrics such as xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average) were calculated by aggregating the metrics of each pitcher in the organization, weighted by the number of pitches thrown in 2023 by each pitcher. The xwOBA stat measures how hitters are expected to perform statistically against these pitches based on their batted ball data
The overall Stuff+ number is a blended metric of each organization’s STF+ (based on our internal model), per pitch Run Value, xwOBA, and pitch quality metrics such as in-zone whiff% and chase %. The resultant number was then scaled on a wRC+ scale where 100 is average and a standard deviation is 10 points. In other words, an organization with an overall Stuff+ number of 90 is one standard deviation worse than a league-average organization.
Players between the ages of 17 to 26 years old were included in this study. Any pitcher older than that was eliminated to minimize the impact of older pitchers on rehabilitation stints or older veterans who make up a great deal of the Triple-A pitching staffs. We are trying to view the developing pitching talent in each organization, not the team’s ability to stock quality MiLB free agents into Triple-A bullpens.
We also removed all players who spent the entirety of their season at the complex level. There’s less reliability within the data at that level and its impact on overall performance could cloud the final results.
Organizational Pitching Statcast Ranking
- It comes as no surprise that the top five in overall score also rank in the top six in whiff rate and the top 10 in opponents’ xwOBA.
- The Dodgers and Rays both rank highly in a variety of fastball metrics, but their overall strengths shine across all pitch types.
- The Dodgers rank in the top five for velocity across five of the six pitch types, ranking first in four-seam fastballs, sliders, and curveballs. Changeups are the lone pitch type that is outside the top five, ranking ninth.
- The Rays stand out for their swing and miss abilities across all pitch types throughout their farm system. The Rays rank first in slider in-zone whiff rate, fourth for four-seam fastballs and curveballs and sixth for changeups.
- The Yankees stand out for their broad based performance across all metrics. They rank second in overall in-zone whiff rate and overall chase rate, and third in XWOBA. They’re the only team to rank within the top three across all performance metrics.
Here are the top five teams in each metric.
In-Zone Whiff Percentage
- Blue Jays
When it comes to xwOBA, the Rays and Orioles are the standard and show strengths across a variety of pitch types. The Orioles have the lowest xwOBA against four-seam fastballs and the second lowest against sinkers. The Rays stand out for the quality of the organization’s breaking balls. They have the lowest xwOBA against their sliders and curveballs.
The Blue Jays are the surprise at sixth overall, but when you look under the hood there’s sound reasoning behind it. The Blue Jays rank first in chase rate across all pitch types and sixth in xwOBA against. They rank first in curveball chase rate, third in four-seam fastball chase, fifth in sliders and eighth in changeups. Their pitchers also throw the flattest four-seam fastballs of any organization, ranking first in vertical approach angle. That hints at a possible characteristic Toronto targets.
The Mets perform well across all metrics. They rank fourth for in-zone whiff, sixth in chase rate and ninth in xwOBA against. They have some interesting traits under the hood, they rank first in extension, sixth in four-seam fastball xwOBA, third in slider in-zone whiff and fourth in changeup in-zone whiff. They also throw the fourth most amount of sliders of any organization.
Nobody throws more cutters than the Yankees. They outpace second place Milwaukee by over 500 cutters and third place Atlanta by over 1,000.
The Mariners throw more breaking balls than any organization. They rank first in slider usage and fourth in curveball usage.
The Rockies threw roughly 1,500 more two-seam fastballs than any other organization. The Mariners, Tigers, Cardinals and Giants round out the top five in that order.
The bottom of the rankings are an equally interesting study. The Athletics and D-Backs rank above the average in fastball velocity, but each rank poorly in terms of desirable movement and release traits. This manifests itself in poor results, as the Athletics and D-Backs rank in the bottom third in overall in-zone whiff rate, chase rate and XWOBA. In fact, the Athletics and D-Backs rank 29th and 30th in overall xwOBA against.
The Marlins are interesting because they were impacted by a few factors. Their best pitching prospect entering the season, Eury Perez, pitched a majority of his season in the major leagues. Former first rounder Max Meyer also missed the entirety of the season. It’s not all bad, though. Recent draft picks Noble Meyer and Thomas White could give the system a boost in 2024 as two young potential standouts on the pitching side.
The Nationals perform especially poorly across multiple pitch types when it comes to in-zone whiff. The Nationals rank last for in-zone whiffs against four-seam fastballs, second worst in cutter in-zone whiffs, fifth lowest in changeup in-zone whiffs and seventh worst in slider in-zone whiffs. This might be do to a lack of stuff across pitch types, as the Nationals rank last in fastball velocity, second to last in cutter velocity and eighth worst in slider velocity. The Nationals ranked 28th in overall stuff+ when factoring in all pitch types.
The preponderance of righthanders stand out. Teams that have the best righthanded pitching produce ranks that correlate very well with the overall top rankings. Here are the top five in terms of righthanders and lefthanders presented below.
- Blue Jays
PITCH RUN VALUES
When looking at run value by itself, these are the top five teams. Only the Guardians rank outside the top 10 in overall Stuff score.