Projecting prospects by 'stuff'

Using Futures Game Pitch F/x data to determine who's ready for MLB

Originally Published: July 18, 2013
By Jared Cross | ESPN Insider

Eddie ButlerBrad Penner/USA TODAY SportsColorado's Eddie Butler opened a lot of eyes at the Futures Game.

The Futures Game is one of the highlights of the baseball year. The top prospects in the minor leagues face off against each other and give us a brief glimpse of their potential. Best of all, the game is played at a major league stadium equipped with Sportvision's Pitch F/x pitch-tracking system.

For many of the pitching prospects, this provides the first publicly available data on the speed and movement of their pitches. This in turn gives us an opportunity to build pitching projections based on "stuff" in addition to minor league numbers. Information is information, after all, and we'd be remiss not to use everything we have.

To quantify "stuff," we will use a mathematical model that projects pitcher performance based on the speed and movement of a pitcher's pitches as well as the frequency with which he uses each pitch. Futures Game velocity is not the same as major league velocity, however. Julio Teheran threw 96.5 mph in the 2010 Futures Game and averages 92.8 mph in the majors; Matt Harvey, on the other hand, is throwing 2 mph harder than he did in the 2011 Futures Game.

In general, pitchers bring a little extra heat (1.3 mph on average) in the Futures Game, either due to the big stage or simply because they know they will pitch only one inning. When quantifying "stuff," we adjusted Futures Game pitch data to account for this extra juice.

To gauge the strength of each pitcher's statistical performance this year, we used minor league equivalents, which adjust minor league stats to account for the level of competition. When forming the combined ERA projections, shown in the stats/"stuff" columns below, stats were given relatively more weight for pitchers who have more data and who have pitched at higher levels of the minors.

Three important disclaimers:

1. The "stuff" projections are based on the limited amount of pitch data available (roughly one inning per pitcher) and therefore need to be taken with a sizable grain of salt.
2. These aren't long-term projections but rather a look at where they stand for 2013.
3. Our "stuff" doesn't include a pitcher's ability to command his pitches, repeat his delivery, keep hitters off balance or pitch deep into games -- it's one component of pitching ability.

With those caveats, here are the 10 pitchers who showed the best "stuff" at the 2013 Futures Game.

Eddie Butler, Colorado Rockies

Butler's "stuff" was the best -- even Keith Law was impressed -- and included a fastball that averaged 97.8 mph, sinkers and changeups featuring terrific arm-side run and a hard slider. It's worth noting that these projections are park-neutral, so you shouldn't expect Butler to be good for a 4.39 ERA while playing half his games at Coors Field.