Astros Minor League Review: Tri-City ValleyCats Pitching

The Tri-City ValleyCats finished with a 51-25 in the New York Penn League, and much of that can be attributed to the ValleyCats solid pitching staff. Here's a look at how the ValleyCats rotation and bullpen performed this season.

The Tri-City ValleyCats had a very impressive season this year and finished just one win short of winning the pennant. A big part of their success this season can be attributed to strong pitching from both the starting rotation and relief pitching. Their pitching ranked near the top of the New York Penn League in most statistical categories. Of the 14-team NYPL league the ValleyCats finished 2nd in team ERA with an impressive 2.75. They finished 4th in the league in strikeouts with 602, and 3rd in walks allowed with 201. The ValleyCats also finished 5th in hits allowed with 583 which also gave them an impressive 1.17 team walks and hits per innings pitched mark. The bullpen racked up a total of 25 saves which put them just behind the 27 recorded by Brooklyn for 2nd in the league. The 35 holds that the bullpen recorded was the best in the division.

The ValleyCats also had several individual performances that ranked among the leaders in the NYPL. Aaron West finished 7th in the league in ERA (2.03), Brian Holmes finished 11th (2.57), Brady Rodgers finished 13th (2.89), and Joe Bircher also snuck into the top 20 with an 18th place finish and a 3.32 ERA. Brian Holmes finished 6th in the league in strikeouts with 65, and Aaron West finished 14th with 59. Among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings Lance Day finished 6th in walks allowed with eight, Aaron West was one behind him with nine, and Brady Rodgers finished 13th with 11 walks allowed. Both Aaron West and Brian Holmes tied for 7th in the league in WHIP with an impressive 0.96. Blake Ford tied for 1st in the league in saves with 14, and Kenny Long tied for 1st in the league in holds with eight.

Starting Rotation

The ValleyCats primarily used a six-man rotation this season that was very successful. As a group starter’s posted a 2.86 ERA, averaged 2.51 BB/9, and also struck out 8.56 K/9. We’ll touch base with a few of the higher profile guys (Vincent Velasquez and Brady Rodgers) later in the week as well as the undrafted free agent Lance Day who came out of nowhere to have an impressive season. That leaves us the rest of the group to glance at here and see how their transition from college ball to pro-ball (for most) went this season.

Brian Holmes

Holmes was the Astros 13th round pick from Wake Forest in this year’s draft, and is listed at 6’4’’ and 205lbs. Holmes had a decent amount of success in college for Wake Forest this season and posted a 2.83 ERA and struck out 81 batters in 82.2 innings pitched.

The 21-year old hit the ground running with the ValleyCats and posted a 2.57 ERA in 66.2 innings pitched this season. His FIP was higher than the ERA but was still solid at 3.20. His strikeout rate was a solid 8.78 K/9, and he walked 3.38 BB/9. The biggest outlier within his stats was the fact that he only allowed 5.27 hits per nine innings pitched. He also carried a .205 batting average on balls in play so there’s a good chance that more of those balls in play will fall for hits next season. He also only posted a groundball percentage of 33.7% with the Valley Cats this season. He was equally as successful against right-handed hitters this season as he was against left-handed hitters. He allowed a .180/.255/.240 line against lefties, and a .160/.242/.241 against righties.

Aaron West

West has already been talked about quite a bit here at TCB after getting off to a very impressive start in pro-ball with the Valley Cats. In college for the Washington Huskies West struggled through his first three seasons before putting up very impressive numbers in 2012. Here’s the link to his college stats if you want to check them out.

The 22-year old pitched 61.2 innings for the ValleyCats this season, and this was in addition to his 96 innings that he had pitched in college. He had a very nice 2.04 ERA and also posted an FIP of 2.50. He posted an impressive strikeout rate of 8.61 K/9, and a very impressive walk rate of 1.31 BB/9. His groundball percentage was also solid at 47.1%. The strikeouts and ability to generate groundballs at a good clip are skills needed to be successful at Lancaster and may be enough to have him skip Low-A ball and have him start in High-A, though that is purely speculation. West was also good against both lefties and righties and allowed a .198/.223/.319 line against left-handed hitters and a .232/.277/.319 line against right-handed hitters.

Joe Bircher

David profiled the tenth round 2012 draftee here, so I won’t get into much of Bircher’s back story. The 22-year old lefty came as advertised and threw strikes (only walking 2.75 BB/9), but also did not miss many bats and only struck out 5.64 K/9. His groundball rate was also below average at 34.5%. Still, he posted an ERA of 3.20 in 59 innings pitched, but his FIP (4.23) and his SIERA (4.78) were much higher. His biggest problem this season was that he was hittable, and allowed 10.68 hits per nine innings pitched. He was better against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters and recorded a 3.86 FIP against lefties with a 7.24 K/9 while recording a 4.35 FIP against righties with a 5.16 BB/9.

The Bullpen

Jeremiah Meiners

Meiners was drafted in the 40th round in 2010 and pitched the majority of last season in Greeneville before getting a cup of tea in Lancaster. This season he pitched exclusively with the ValleyCats and appeared in 20 games and logged 40 innings. He posted a very impressive ERA of 1.98 and an FIP of 2.22. He averaged 9 K/9 and 2.41 BB/9, and also only allowed 6.59 hits per nine innings. He posted a groundball percentage of 43.8%, which was just slightly below the league average of 45.60%. The left-handed pitcher was more effective against lefties (1.82 FIP, 9.49 K/9, 0.73 BB/9) than righties (2.40 FIP, 8.79 K/9, 3.14 BB/9), but still he was pretty good against both.

John Neely

John Neely was drafted in the 30th round of the 2012 draft, and the 21-year old righty also got his professional career started off on the right foot. Neely posted a 3.35 ERA in 40.1 innings pitched, and had a solid FIP of 2.90. He was slightly above average at generating groundballs (46.5%) and posted an 8.26 K/9 and 2.45 BB/9 rate. The righty posted a .222/.280/.444 line against lefties, and a .310/.352/.407 line against righties. He also recorded four saves and five holds this season.

Travis Ballew

Ballew was drafted in the 23rd round of this year’s draft, and the 21-year old posted a 1.66 ERA in 38 innings pitched this season for the ValleyCats. He averaged 10.18 K/9 and allowed 4.03 BB/9. His groundball percentage was also above average at 48.9%. He only allowed 5.45 hits per nine innings. When the right-hander did struggle this year it came against left-handed pitching. He posted a .286/.444/.571 line against lefties and only a .147/.237/.167 line against righties. Ballew only allowed six extra base hits this season, and four of them came against lefties.

Blake Ford

Ford was drafted in the 44th round of the 2011 draft from Lamar University. He pitched in 26 games for the ValleyCats this season totaling 26.2 innings. He recorded 14 saves for the Valley Cats. He also seemed to be used as a closer last year as he recorded eight saves in 18 games for the GCL Astros. He had a good year and posted a 2.36 ERA and 3.28 FIP this year. His strikeout and walk rates weren’t as good as some of the other relievers for the Valley Cats. He posted a 7.76 K/9 rate and a 4.73 BB/9 rate. His groundball percentage was below league average at 40.8%. Like Ballew when he struggled it usually happened against lefties as lefties hit .254/.353/.356 against him and righties hit .236/.309/.311 against him. He posted a 4.67 FIP and 5.40 K/9 rate against left-handed hitters and a .288 FIP and 8.44 K/9 rate against right-handed hitters.

Conclusion

The ValleyCats had a very impressive season and their strong pitching, both starters and relievers, had much to do with that. It will be interesting to see how aggressive the new regime will be with the placement of the Valley Cats pitchers this season as most all of them were college pitchers who experienced a good bit of success in the NYPL.

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