Image credit: Andrew Painter (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)
Not often does a minor league pitcher control what he can control quite like righthander Andrew Painter did this season.
The 19-year-old Phillies prospect recorded a 1.56 ERA, the result of allowing 18 earned runs in 103.2 innings. Painter allowed 25 walks and five home runs in 22 starts. He struck out 155 batters.
Painter didn’t lead the minor leagues in strikeouts. He didn’t lead in walk rate or home run rate either. He didn’t even lead in ERA, but he would have come close had he pitched enough innings to qualify.
That distinction went to the Dodgers righthander Gavin Stone, who took the title with a 1.48 ERA in a season he finished at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
But what Painter did qualify for was one of the best seasons by a pitching prospect in the modern history of the minor leagues. His achievement stands out even more sharply when factoring his youth.
Considering only his strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed—the outcomes over which a pitcher exerts the most control—Painter recorded a fielding-independent pitching ERA of 1.68 this season. While that FIP is higher than his ERA, it is actually one of the lowest in the modern history of the minor leagues.
The ranking of top 10 FIPs recorded by pitchers with at least 100 innings in full-season minor leagues since 1963 looks like this:
|LoA, HiA, AA
|Source: Baseball-Reference.com. Baseball age is listed.
FIP estimates what a pitcher’s ERA would be independent of his defense. Home runs count against him—but not hits in the field of play. Strikeouts are a credit and walks a demerit. This approach makes a good deal of sense for evaluating pitching prospects simply because of the uneven quality of defenders, field conditions and even umpires in the minor leagues.
The FIP leaderboard above encompasses 60 seasons of data and is topped by Tom Wegmann, Joseph Jeran and Eric Cyr, three pitchers in their early 20s who carved up Class A competition. The same is true of Kevin Bearse, who was a changeup-oriented college lefthander who shined in Low-A.
A 26-year-old Rich Hill excelled at Triple-A and was only beginning to get a handle on the dominant curveball that would keep him in the big league leagues into his early 40s.
That Painter was so young, so inexperienced and so dominant makes his performance stand out from the crowd. He and Cole Hamels and Madison Bumgarner are the only teenagers to rank in the top 10 for FIP since 1963.
Hooton was 21 when he carved up Triple-A competition in 1971 in what was his only minor league season. He made three MLB appearances for the Cubs that year and was a rotation regular in 1972 on his way to a 15-year big league career that included 151 wins and a 3.38 ERA.
Burnett “put together one of the great pitching seasons in recent memory” in 1998 in his first year in the Marlins organization after they had acquired him from the Mets for Al Leiter. Burnett was drafted out of a small Arkansas high school and spent three years building up in short-season leagues. He would go on to a lengthy and occasionally brilliant 17-year big league career.
No matter the age group, it’s rare for a minor league pitcher to strike out batters while simultaneously limiting walks and home runs over a sample of at least 100 innings like Painter did this season. And that’s a testament to his work ethic, athleticism and command he exhibits for a four-pitch mix headlined by a 96-98 mph riding fastball and a sweepy low-80 slider.
Painter opened the year with Low-A Clearwater then moved to High-A Jersey Shore in June and to Double-A Reading in August. That trajectory puts him firmly on the radar to pitch MLB innings for Philadelphia as a 20-year-old in 2023.
As correspondent Jim Salisbury notes, that would be par for the course for Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who similarly brought 20-year-olds Jeremy Bonderman and Rick Porcello to the big leagues in 2003 and 2009 when he ran the Tigers.
After what Painter accomplished in 2022, that does not seem like an outlandish outcome for the 6-foot-7 righthander who was drafted 13th overall out of a Fort Lauderdale high school in 2021.
In fact, it could be only the beginning of a standout career.