Let's talk Fernando Abad

As Astros fans we've spent a lot of time talking about the pitchers in the lower levels of the minor league system, plus Bud Norris, but one pitcher who has flown mostly under the radar is Fernando Abad.  Now that's he's been converted into a starting pitcher and placed on the 40-man roster, he's been getting a little more attention, and rightly so.

Abad's peripheral stats are eye-popping, and although he's slightly old for his level, he may prove a dark horse candidate to fortify the rotation sometime in 2010 and/or 2011.  Let's take a closer look at the 23-year old left-hander from the Dominican Republic.

Abad has flown so far under the radar that I haven't even been able to find a solid scouting report on him, which is unusual given his numbers.  Baseball America does list him as the pitcher with the best control in the farm system, but he doesn't crack the top ten prospects--whether due to his age, lack of interest on the part of the scouts, or his actual ability, it's hard to say.  If anybody has watched him pitch, please offer impressions in the comments; I'd be very interested to hear anything you have to say.

So lacking first-or-second-hand visual evidence, we turn to the stats.  According to MinorLeagueSplits, over his minor league career, Abad has pitched 234 innings for a 3.35 FIP.  His K/9 rate was 9.41, while his BB/9 rate was a microscopic 1.46 (hence Baseball America lauding his control).  That comes to a 6.44 K/BB rate, by the way; truly ace-like numbers.  It's that low walk rate which has resulted in a 1.09 career WHIP.

And let's not forget that 82 of those innings were at Lancaster, notorious for being one of the worst hitter's parks in professional baseball.  Adjusted for park and luck, Abad's FIP drops from 3.35 to 2.94.

Since Abad has spent much of his professional career as a reliever, one might question whether he was used as a left-handed specialist.  Happily, this is not the case; the vast majority of batters he faced were right-handed, and his FIP against right-handed batters is actually better than against left-handed ones.

His ERA, though, has not always been as excellent as his other numbers.  At Lancaster this year, it was 4.14; part of this is due to park effects, but not all of it.  Through his career, his Left On Base percentage has been unusually low, hovering around 60%.  One wonders whether he has trouble pitching out of the stretch.  If this is the case, it may be the primary thing he has left to work on before he is big league ready.

Another issue left for Abad is that he simply doesn't have much experience as a starting pitcher.  He's pitched in long relief numerous times throughout his career, but his longest total outing was a 6-inning shutout he pitched starting for Corpus Christi at the end of the 2009 season.  He hasn't been stretched out much as yet, and it remains to be seen whether he can maintain his excellent performance over longer appearances.

Yet all statistical evidence suggests that Abad has a very good chance to be a productive big leaguer, whether he does it in the bullpen or the rotation.

EDIT: Note also that Fernando Abad has been working on his conversion to starter in the Venezuelan Winter League.  He's posted a 3.27 ERA there in 44 IP (nine starts), but his strikeout and walk rates have not been as good as his career levels; he has struck out 30 and walked 15.  Some drop should be expected in the conversion from reliever to starting pitcher, but it's hard to say whether this is his true talent level in such a small sample size.

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