The last 11 seasons for the ValleyCats have been fruitful ones; six division championships (‘04, ‘06, ‘10, ‘12, ‘13, '14, with the 2010 and 2013 teams winning it all) have kept the good times rolling up North Greenbush, NY. This season marked the third-straight division title, with the Cats jumping out of the gate with a 31-16 record during June and July.
They rode a solid pitching staff all the way to the final game of the championship series, before losing to a powerful State College group (St. Louis' affiliate). While most of the big-name prospects on the team were position players, it was the Cats' strong, if unheralded, pitching that allowed them to win their division yet again.
The Long-Awaited Breakout
Joseph Musgrove was one of seven players acquired in a huge ten-player trade with the Blue Jays, and though Asher Wojciechowski and Carlos Perez have arguably gotten more prospect pub, I and many others believed him to be the real gem of the deal. Since then, injuries have continued to derail his career.
It was something of a triumph in-and-of-itself, then, that he led the 2014 TC squad in innings pitched, with 77. In fact, only two other pitchers in the entire league had more innings of work under their belts than did Musgrove. He also led the starters in K/BB ratio with a wonderful 6.70; this was the second-best mark on the club (more on #1 in that category to follow).
Throw in a 2.81 ERA, second-best of anyone with at least five starts on the team, and it would be easy to label Musgrove the team's ace for 2014. That is, if he didn't have some competition for the title...
The Unforeseen Underdog
What a run Troy Scribner had for this team. The kid brother of Oakland A's reliever Evan, this un-drafted free agent rampaged through the NYPL for 10 games before the other clubs probably begged Jeff Luhnow for mercy and he was promoted to Quad Cities. In 52 innings (fourth on the club), Scribner posted a 1.38 ERA and struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings.
The Middle Rotation Anchor
While he didn't pitch as many innings as Musgrove, and wasn't as dominant as either Musgrove or Scribner, Austin Chrismon, the 26th-round-re-draft from East Carolina University, provided both innings (68.1, second on the team) and effectiveness (3.69 ERA, 3.27 K/BB) to form a rock-solid 1-2-3 punch at the top of the rotation before Scribner's departure. Not a guy who will dazzle the radar watchers, Chrismon fits a familiar Luhnow archetype; good command, good mentality, and the ability to generate ground balls.
The Back End
Luis Ordosgoitti posted the third-highest IP total on the club with 59.2 innings of work, and his 2.9 BB/9 and 8.0 K/9 would tend to lend credence to his FIP of 3.32, markedly better than his 4.53 ERA.
Francis Ramirez, who's been plying his craft in the lowest levels since 2009, finally seemed to take a step forward this year, posting a 3.62 ERA and 2.14 K/BB ratio in 49.2 innings of work. Walks have always been an issue for him, evidenced by the fact that his mediocre 3.8 BB/9 this season represented a career-best mark (aside from a little four game cup of coffee back in 2011).
Daniel Mengden, the heady fourth-round nab from Texas A&M who signed in large part thanks to Houston being his hometown, pitched just 4.2 innings for the club thanks to that fracture in his back slowing down his debut, but they were really nice innings, as he allowed just one earned run and struck out six batters while walking just one.
Other guys who made at least one start for the Cats: Randall Fant, Brandon McNitt, Bryan Radziewski, Robert Kahana, Blaine Sims, Jay Gause, Sebastian Kessay.
After seven years of following the Astros minor leagues, you'd think I'd have learned not to fall in love with small samples from short-season ball, right? Yeah...but then Derick Velazquez was drafted. 23 innings, I get it, tiny sample, but a 1.57 ERA, two walks and 24 strike outs. That's a 12.00 K/BB ratio. Twelve-to-one. That's almost twice Musgrove's, who was the next closest on the team. WHIP? Team-best 0.870 (alright, Weiland and some other dude were better, but they had eight innings between them, they don't count!). I wouldn't be shocked to see him start the year in Lancaster; this is a pretty good arm.
Interestingly, Ryan Thompson got most of the save opportunities on the club, not Velazquez. He led the team with 12 saves, three times the number of his nearest competition. The 2.96 ERA is strong, and he posted a 3.3 BB/9 and 7.0 K/9. While those are mediocre peripherals, especially for a reliever, he did boast something else of note; a 67.1% ground ball rate (Keuchel was 63.5%, since I know you're wondering for reference).
Though he did make one start, Bryan Radziewski averaged 1.2 innings per outing, so he was a reliever, plain and simple. He could even be considered the most exciting one on the club, and that's even with his 4.4 BB/9. Why is that? How about the combination of a 9.8 K/9 and a 65.2% ground ball rate. Radziewski faced 109 batters this season; 60 of them, or 55%, either grounded out or struck out. To put that into perspective, Felix Hernandez, who is a fairly decent pitcher and is excellent at generating both strike outs and ground outs, was at 52.5%. Yes, that's as a starter and against MLB hitters, but it's also Felix Hernandez. Just to give you an idea about the level of dominance.
Others of Note
Raul Rivera led all TC pitchers who didn't have at least one start in innings with 32, 8th-best mark on the club. 3.09 ERA and 2.91 K/BB meant they were solid innings to boot.
Chris Munnelly posted a 3.38 ERA, but his FIP of 2.99 (thanks to a healthy 3.88 K/BB) indicates even better performance. Matter of fact, Munnelly has two strong years in the system under his belt; his strikeout rate remained very high this year, but his walk rate dropped off significantly, and his two-year FIP is well-under 3.00.
Jordan Mills looks like he might have been nasty, according to the numbers; 1.88 ERA and an 11.2 K/9 in 24 innings. The strike out rate is the best among all players with at least 13 innings pitched for the club.
Other guys who pitched out of the pen for the club: Vince Wheeland, Aaron Vaughn, Kevin Ferguson, Angel Heredia, Kyle Weiland, Krishawn Holley, Zach Davis, Junior Garcia.