2012 MadFriars Northwest League Pitcher of the Year

BY foxsports • September 20, 2012

Summary: Eugene again had a solid team. Though they compiled the best overall Northwest League record, a change to league rules this year cost them a spot in the playoffs. A very strong pitching staff dominated for the Emeralds, posting a league-best 3.00 ERA and 647 strikeouts. The staff was well balanced with impressive performances from both starters and the bullpen.

Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards. Wherever the player appeared the most is where he is eligible. For the top prospect, we took into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.

Level: The Northwest League has existed in various forms since 1901. It features a mix of college talent acquired in the current draft, as well as high school and Latin American prospects who worked their way up from rookie ball. Pitchers are generally ahead of hitters in this circuit since the batters must transition from metal bats to wood. The league saw a decrease in overall talent this year because changes in the draft led a number of teams to take lower-ceiling college players in the top 10 rounds to free up money for other signing bonuses.

David Jay
Pitcher of the Year: LHP Juan Marcano - 3.03 ERA, 62K, 13BB in 65.1 IP
Although his innings and strikeout totals were second on the team to Justin Hancock, Marcano gets the nod here. His FIP, calculated based on the "three true outcomes" pitchers can generally control, came in at 2.89, below Hancock's. The Venezuelan lefty originally signed with the Yankees as a 16-year-old in 2006, but was released after missing most of his two stateside years with arm injuries. The Padres signed him in January and he responded with a strong performance. He relies on his breaking ball for strikeouts and will need to improve fastball velocity if he is going to move up.

Runner-Up: LHP Chris Nunn - 0.57 ERA, 45 K, 19BB in 31.1 IP
When people talk about posting "video game numbers," this is what they mean. The big lefty, a 24th-round pick out of tiny Lipscomb University in Nashville, struck out a third of the men who came to the plate against him and didn't allow a run in his first 18 appearances. Obviously, the walk rates are unsustainable going forward, but an ERA that only has digits to the right of the decimal deserves some love.

John Conniff
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Justin Hancock - 1.61 ERA 72.2 IP 66 K 23 BB
While I like FIP, like all statistics, it measures some things better than others; specifically it will undervalue a pitcher like Justin Hancock who thrives on mishits to induce weak ground outs. The opposition only hit .203 against him as compared to .280 against Marcano and Hancock gave up significantly fewer hits (52) than innings pitched as compared to David's choice. After posting an ERA of 4.26 in June, Hancock's ERA in July and August (60 innings) was 1.05. A big factor in his improvement was his ability to master the two-seam fastball that enabled him to have the success that eluded him in Fort Wayne earlier in the year.
Runner-Up: LHP Chris Nunn
I agree with David on this pick. The biggest numbers that jump out to me are the innings ratios, with 18 hits and 45 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. Most impressive of all is only allowing two earned runs all year. The 6'5" Tennessean has good size and the type of funky delivery that teams love to have coming out of the bullpen as the left-handed set-up man. The former high school basketball star from Memphis is the type of player that could fly through the system.

Ben Davey
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Justin Hancock
No offense to David's pick, but I think it is nearly impossible not to go with Justin Hancock. Justin led the team with 14 starts, 72.2 innings pitched, H/IP (52 H), 66 strikeouts, and was second on the team in wins with five. If you are starting at any level and lead the team in these categories and post a sub 2.00 ERA, it's hard to get the nod as the pitcher of the year.

Runner-Up: LHP Chris Nunn
I was debating whether to go with Nunn, Joe Ross, or Marcano for the runner-up. In the end I remember spending the better part of a month trying to figure out when Nunn would finally allow an earned run. In fact, Nunn's first eighteen appearances out of the Em's bullpen he allowed well… none. He became a little shaky at the end with eight hits and nine walks in his final 8.1 innings but his overall performance was still good enough to give him the nod.

Others of Note: RHP Joe Ross pitched better with the Emeralds than with the TinCaps after coming back from extended spring in Arizona giving up only six earned runs in 26.2 innings pitched. Closer RHP Roman Madrid saved 13 out of 17 save opportunities and led the team in wins with seven. The former Central Florida Knight had a 44/11 K/BB ratio and a 2.89 ERA in 37.1 innings. The Padres drafted Tennessee Tech's Matt Shepherd in the 31st round in 2012, the fourth player San Diego drafted from the Tennessee area, and the big righty had a nice debut season with a 42/17 K/BB ratio and a 2.70 ERA in 40 innings. Lefty Brandon Alger, a 26th-round pick from the equally-obscure Indiana Tech, put barely more than one man on base per inning worked and racked up a 2.32 ERA in the process. A move to a swing role is likely going forward.

MadFriars' 2012 NWL Pitcher of the Year: Justin Hancock

Top Prospect: RHP Joe Ross
Although the year was not what Ross -- or the Padres -- might have hoped it would be, the 2011 first round pick definitely flashed his upside in Eugene. After struggling a bit as an 18-year-old in Ft. Wayne at the start of the year, and then a two-plus month layoff with a small injury, Ross came back to throw eight strong, if pitch-limited games. When he wasn't striking out Northwest League hitters, he was inducing them into a 62% ground ball rate. He will probably open next season back in Fort Wayne, but it would be surprising to see him finish the year there.