DIGGING DATA: 2018’s Strawberry Start Studs

Back in the halcyon days before Baseball Farm was born, Chip Bourne created a methodology for determining which hitters and pitchers at each MiLB level had the best performances on the prior day. Tweaking the pitching performance data to determine the ‘best’ starts proved to be surprisingly tricky. So Chip came up with a formula which we have christened the “Strawberry Start Ratio” (SSR).

The SSR is inspired by Baseball HQ’s work on the PQS system. Basically, a pitcher gets credit for hitting certain benchmarks during the course of a start. The benchmarks for our SSR system are:

  1. 6 or more IPs
  2. Less hits allowed than innings pitched
  3. More than 5 strikeouts
  4. More than 12 strikeouts
  5. Strikeout to walk ratio is equal to or greater than 3.0
  6. 0 HR allowed

Then, the raw “strawberries” are converted into a ratio relative to the rest of the league (the SSR). A league average pitcher has an SSR of 1.0. A pitcher with an SSR of 1.10 is 10% better than the league average pitcher, as an example.

Here are 2018’s SSR leaders (minimum of 15 starts):

And here’s how SSR leader Patrick Sandoval’s average start compared to an ‘average’ MiLB starting pitcher in 2018. This gives you the idea of the scale in the difference between the skill level of the top guys compared to the rest of their peers.

 

 

Patrick Sandoval – 1.44 SSR

 

Sandoval pitched so well for the Astros organization in the first half that he got himself traded to the Angels for C Martin Maldonado. Sandoval made at least 3 starts for 4 different clubs last season, and he was lights out at every stop. Sandoval is a lefty with a fastball that sits low-90s, but can reach 94. He’s got an above-average, high-spin, 12-6 curveball and a changeup that’s developing, but there are concerns among many scouts that he will be able to repeat his command due to a strange delivery and vertical arm slot, according to FanGraphs Eric Longenhagen.

I think Sandoval did a lot to enhance the chances that he lands as a back-end rotation piece in the MLB with his 2018 performance. Leading the MiLB in SSR last year suggests to me that, despite the delivery concerns, he was probably the most consistently strong starter in the minors last season. Crafty lefty, consistently strong starts, 12-6 curveball? Sounds like a Mark Buehrle to me!


Michael King – 1.42 SSR

 

Michael King burst onto the scene by being consistently good all season long in the Yankees organization. King, 23, earned 2 promotions this season, ending the year with 6 starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the International League. Now, he’s been granted a Non-Roster Invite to the Yankees spring training this spring. 2080 Baseball’s Adam McInturff got a look at King at the end of July. He pounds the zone with command, utilizing a heavy fastball that sits 92-93. He flashes both an average slider and changeup as well. While McInturff views him as a future swingman, I wouldn’t be surprised if King’s command and pitchability allow him to carry his arsenal to an MLB back-end rotation role. His 2018 SSR agrees.


Zac Lowther – 1.36 SSR

 

What’s that? Another crafty lefty? Lowther was a CBB pick out of Xavier University in 2017, and has now posted 2 consecutive successful seasons of professional baseball, with a career 2.02 ERA in 178 innings of work in the minors. According to FanGraphs David Laurila, he has ‘vexing funk’. Lowther has above-average extension and above-average spin, allowing his low-90s 4-seam fastball to accomplish more than it should. Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball had his fastball velo as low as 86 mph by the end of the season. Which shows just how well Lowther uses his pitch-mix, spin rates, control, and command to be a really effective SP. We are looking forward to seeing if he can repeat the trick as he rises up the minor league ranks.


Parker Dunshee – 1.36 SSR

 

This 7th round pick of the Athletics in the 2017 draft is now a non-roster invitee for spring training. Why? Dunshee’s dominant 2018 performance across 2-levels is a big part of the equation. Dunshee pitched really well in the hitter-friendly environs of the A+ California League, and then turned it up another notch with Midland of the AA Texas League, where he posted a 2.01 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 12 starts. Dunshee’s fastball sits in the lower-90s as well. So how did he accomplish this feat?? You guessed it! High spin rate, great control, command, and pitchability according to Alex Hall of Athletics Nation. I think he gets a shot this spring to repeat the trick and potential become part of a very thin Oakland starting rotation.


Brandon Bailey – 1.36 SSR

 

Do you want to guess what I’m going to tell you first about Brandon Bailey? “He has a high spin rate that allows his fastball to play up.” Well done! You’ve been paying attention!

Bailey’s spin rate prowess was so well known that the Astros sought him out in the Ramon Laureano deal at the end of 2017. He’s an undersized (5’10”, 175) kid from a small school (Gonzaga) who has just pitched fantastically throughout his minor league career. He now sports a 2.98 career MiLB ERA in 256.1 innings of work. Brandon pairs a FB that he can get the most of despite it sitting 87-90 mph with a cut-version of the same fastball to keep hitters off balance. It sets them up for his calling card: a high-spin curveball that Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball calls a “big league breaking ball” with “tight rotation, consistent bite and 11-to-5 depth.” Now with the Astros organization guiding him, I would not be surprised to see them mold Bailey into a big league rotation piece or a 100-inning swingman type of hurler.


Joel Payamps – 1.36 SSR

 

Confession time. I spend way more time looking at baseball prospects than any sane person should. I had never heard of Joel Payamps before writing up this piece. Payamps is a Dominican hurler who was first signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2011! He was eventually released, then re-signed by the D’backs to a minor league deal in 2015. It’s awesome to see how well he did last year, which was his 7th season toiling in minor league professional baseball. This offseason, Matt Thompson from Prospects Live ranked Payamps as the #21 overall player in the Arizona organization heading into 2019. If Payamps can bounce back from his rough time at AAA Reno last summer (7.18 ERA in 5 starts), then SSR is buying the idea that Payamps could contribute at the Major League level in 2019. We are all definitely rooting for his years of hard work in the minors to at least lead to a cup of coffee.


Jake Dahlberg – 1.35 SSR

 

Dahlberg is an unheralded left-hander from Vancouver, Washington who played his college ball at UIC. Dahlberg was stretched out to a starter after working all of his 2017 pro debut out of the bullpen. The results were fantastic. Dahlberg’s 1.35 SSR shows his knack for limiting damage by limiting HRs and free passes (he only allowed 2 HR and 19 BB in 97.1 IP). Sure, Dahlberg was old for his level. But we love to see him having the success he’s had, and are looking forward to see if he can repeat his SSR performance in 2019.


Matt Manning – 1.35 SSR

 

Now, we pair the SSR ‘effectiveness’ with some highly tuned prospect pedigree. While the other names on this list are great names to know in deeper dynasty leagues, Manning is a name to know in any league. In his “Crop Rotation” piece on Manning, our own Brenden Gorzelski took a great deep dive into Manning’s arsenal. Brenden points out that Manning’s curve has improved to be one of the best secondaries in the minors when it’s on. Brenden also saw Manning throwing plus changeups at times on film. The feel and command for the secondaries might not be all the way there yet, but I think that Manning’s 1.35 SSR score across 3 levels last season really shows the progress he’s made.

One thing that has puzzled me this offseason is how Manning has been left off a couple major top prospect lists. Both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America leaving him off their overall Top-100 lists this offseason. The Manning owner in your league might be operating off this information. Do your due diligence and ask if he’s available in trade!


Cristian Javier – 1.34 SSR

 

Another Astros arm on the list. They have like a tree growing high spin-rate arms behind the complex in Palm Beach. Javier is a 6’1″ righty out of the Dominican who was promoted to the A+ Carolina league after shredding the competition in the Midwest League last summer. Ralph Lifshitz of Prospects Live ranked Javier as the #9 player in the Astros system this offseason. Ralph says, “I really dig what Javier brings to the table, three pitches with above average or better feel, as well as excellent understanding of sequencing and deception.” Sounds like a lot of other guys on this list as well!


David Parkinson – 1.33 SSR

 

Parkinson is a lefty out of Ole Miss who was literally all over the site all season long in 2018. His performance in 2018 earned him nominations on our Farmhand of the Week, Month, and Year Teams. Parkinson posted a minuscule 1.45 ERA last season. Since 2005, only 3 other MiLB starting pitchers have posted a lower single-season ERA: Jon Duplantier, Blake Snell, and Justin Verlander. Two of those guys have Cy Young awards…


Dustin Beggs – 1.33 SSR

 

Dustin was a 16th round pick out of the University of Kentucky in 2016. He’s a right-hander who compiled a 2.12 ERA across 3 stops in the minors last season. Beggs has slowly worked his way into Marlins top prospect discussions, but he’s a guy that you’re going to have to believe the results as opposed to the scouting on. But if you are digging around for pitchability, then SSR is the metric to use. A big part of Dustin’s success in 2018 was in his ability to limit damage: he issued just 20 walks and allowed 8 HRs in 110.1 IPs while striking out a batter an inning.


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