JFtC continues to dive deep into the numbers to find the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays’ MiLB All Stars
In two recent posts, I examined the position players and starting pitchers who were statistical standouts for the Blue Jays’ minor league affiliates in 2019. Today, I wrap the series up by looking at the system’s best performing relievers this season.
Baker and Tice both started the season at AA New Hampshire and finished the season at AAA Buffalo. Along the way, they each produced very similar overall performances, with Baker posting a 3.45 FIP and Tice posting a 3.27 mark. They each struck out more batters than most—Baker’s 2019 strikeout rate was 30.6%, while Tice’s was 25.5%—walked more batters than most—Baker walked 15.5% of opposing batters, while Tice walked 11.6% of them—and limited homers better than most—Baker gave up 0.5 homers per nine innings, while Tice gave up 0.31 HR/9.
Splitting their Double-A and Triple-A performances does highlight one difference between the two: while Baker performed similarly at the two levels (3.36 FIP at AA, 3.58 FIP at AAA), Tice was very good at Double-A (2.40 FIP) and okay at Triple-A (3.93 FIP). Another difference is their height—Baker is 6’6″, while Tice is 5’9″—though that hasn’t stopped Tice from matching Baker’s mid-90s fastball.
For both pitchers, the big question heading into next season will be whether they can continue limiting home runs as effectively as they did in 2019—at both stops, both pitchers maintained lower-than-average home run-to-fly ball ratios. Better limiting walks will also be top-of-mind, with both pitchers posting double-digit walk rates at Triple-A (16.2% for Baker, 14% at Tice).
In 2018, Fishman had a strong season with High-A Dunedin, posting the level’s ninth-best FIP (2.65) among 71 pitchers who cracked 50 innings and started no more than five games. 2019 saw Fishman keep up that quality of performance—the 2.79 FIP he posted over a full season with AA New Hampshire was the level’s 13th-best mark (among 74 pitchers who met the criteria above). He posted strong underlying stats across the board, striking out plenty (27.5%, 24th-best), walking very few (6.7%, 10th-best) and rarely giving up dingers (0.57 HR/9, 30th-best).
Impressively, he excelled in terms of two important and varied skills (generating grounders and swinging strikes), finishing the season with the level’s 11th-highest groundball rate (50.9%) and 15th-highest swinging strike rate (14.4%). Only one Double-A pitcher (Danny Dopico of the White Sox) outdid Fishman in terms of both stats.
After spending his age-21, -22 and -23 seasons pitching for short season affiliates, Jimenez has been moved through the Blue Jays’ system at a much faster pace over the last two years. He showed some potential last season by striking out 29.2% of opposing Class A batters while pitching for Lansing. While his high home run rate led him to produce an unimpressive 4.19 FIP, his 2.86 xFIP suggested that he may have been unlucky in giving up 1.42 home runs per nine innings.
His performance in 2019 completely corroborated that idea. He started the season pitching for High-A Dunedin and improved upon his Class A numbers across the key metrics: more strikeouts (43.9% vs. 29.2%), fewer walks (8.4% vs. 8.8%) and fewer homers (0.71 HR/9 vs. 1.42 HR/9), leading to a better FIP (1.69 vs. 4.19) and xFIP (1.21 vs. 2.86).
That led to a mid-June promotion to AA New Hampshire. While he didn’t best his High-A numbers, he did pretty well there. His mix of an excellent strikeout rate (34.3%) and an average walk rate (9%) resulted in one of the best K-BB% (25.4%) among Double-A relievers (11th-highest among 204 pitchers with 30+ IP and no more than 5 starts).
While his home run rate was a bit high (1.07 HR/9), his HR/FB at Double-A was very similar to his High-A mark (12.1% vs. 11.8%). As such, while his 3.14 FIP only ranked a solid 68th-best among Double-A relievers, his 2.56 xFIP ranked a very strong 14th-best.
Snead’s numbers don’t jump off the screen to the same extent as his fellow relief all-stars, but don’t let that fool you, he had a promising 2019 season. First off, keep in mind that he spent most of the season at Triple-A (52 IP). As such, he is only one step away from the majors. Moreover, the MLB ball used at the level led to a lot more homers.
So, while Snead gave up 1.04 homers per nine innings, he posted the 34th-lowest homer rate among the 80 Triple-A pitchers who cracked 50 innings with five or fewer starts. Combine that home run rate with a slightly-below-average strikeout rate (23.5%) and a better-than-average walk rate (8.3%) and the result is a 4.43 FIP that ranked in the middle of the pack (38th-best).
That said, Snead’s performance may have been negatively affected by bad batted ball luck, given his sky-high 17.6% HR/FB at Triple-A. As such, he ranked much better in terms of xFIP, with his 4.12 mark the level’s 15th-best.
An undrafted free agent singing in 2018, Rees jumped onto the prospect radar by producing the best numbers among relievers at Blue Jays affiliates this season. He was no match for Class A hitters, striking out nearly half of opposing batters (47.8%!!!), while walking only 4.4% of them and giving up zero homers over 25.1 innings. The result: by far the best FIP (0.45) among Class A relievers.
Those phenomenal performances led to an early June promotion to High-A Dunedin, where the good times continued to roll. He maintained a strong 30.6% strikeout rate that ranked 34th among the 193 High-A relievers who cracked 30 innings with five or fewer starts. His walk rate (7.6%) was comfortably better than average (54th-best), as was his home run rate (0.25 HR/9, 33rd-best), resulting in a FIP (2.23) that was among the level’s best (17th). Importantly, it was well-supported by his 2.46 xFIP, the level’s 12th-best mark.
Like Fishman, Rees was exceptional at generating both grounders (58.4% GB rate, 6th-best) and whiffs (16.6% SwStr%, 13th-best). Unlike Fishman at Double-A, no High-A pitcher managed to outdo Rees in both categories.
If Rees was the best statistical performer among relievers in the Blue Jays system, Wilson was likely #2. Wilson spent the first three months of the season pitching with High-A Dunedin, before a promotion to Double-A at the all-star break.
At High-A, Wilson actually outdid Rees’ strong performance across the key pitching metrics. Wilson posted the level’s 25th-best strikeout rate (32.2%), 35th-best walk rate (6.6%) and joint-best home run rate (0 HR/9), which powered him to the third-best FIP (1.68) among High-A relievers. Given his lack of home runs surrendered, it is not a surprise that Wilson’s xFIP (2.37) is meaningfully higher than his FIP. Nevertheless, it was the eighth-best mark in the level.
Wilson made 11 relief appearances (18 IP) for AA New Hampshire. Like some of the others on this list, while he saw his numbers decline some after his promotion, he remained an effective producer—he produced a 3.00 FIP (152nd-best out of 440 AA pitchers with 10+ IP and five or fewer starts) and a 3.10 xFIP (121st-best). It’s also worth mentioning that Wilson, in his age-22 season, was younger than over 90% of the Double-A relievers in the aforementioned group.
Like Rees, Rackoski joined the Blue Jays as an undrafted free agent in 2018, started 2019 with Class A Lansing, finished the season with High-A Dunedin and was effective throughout.
He was at Class A until late July, accumulating 47 innings pitched at the level. While his strikeout and walk rates were almost exactly average—he posted a 25.3% K rate (71st-best among 142 Class A pitchers with 40+ IP and five or fewer starts) and a 9.3% BB rate (76th-best)—he excelled at avoiding homers, conceding only 0.19 HR/9 (21st-best). Whether in terms of FIP (2.79, 22nd-best) or xFIP (3.14, 29th-best), Rackoski’s strong overall performance at Class A is evident. Moreover, like Rees and Fishman, Rackoski racked up both grounders (56%, 12th-best) and swinging strikes (17.1%, seventh-best). Like Rees, no other pitcher at the level produced both a better groundball rate and swinging strike rate than Rackoski.
His subsequent performance over 15.2 High-A innings was very promising. He actually improved upon both his strikeout (29.5%) and walk rates (3.3%), posting a 26.2% K-BB% that ranked 48th among 445 High-A pitchers with ten or more innings pitched and five or fewer starts. His home run rate did shoot up to 1.15 per nine innings—limiting him to a FIP of 3.05—but that seems due to an elevated HR/FB (16.7% from 2.8% at Class A), given that he continued to rack up the grounders (50% GB rate) after his promotion. His xFIP at the level speaks to his promise, with his 2.02 mark ranking 17th among High-A relievers.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.