Atlanta’s Shocking Triple-A Soft-Tossing Pitcher

If you take a look at the leaderboards on FanGraphs for all triple-A pitchers this year, you’ll find a surprising pitcher in the lead in FIP who is above two Rays pitchers, MVP of the Futures Game Brett Honeywell and Yonny Chirinos, along with surprising pitcher Buck Farmer. It’s Andrew Albers, with a 2.58 FIP in triple-A in 77.1 IP, 20 appearances, and 11 starts, with a less impressive 3.61 ERA, along with a sterling 2.77 xFIP.

What’s driving this 2.58 FIP? A strikeout rate of 9.54 per 9, with a measly 1.40 walks per 9 and .58 homers per 9, which is shockingly low, even for him. The home runs will likely increase as he isn’t getting too many ground balls; 46.2% is all right, but not elite. He is also getting a ton of infield pop-ups, with a shockingly high 21.9%. He has had very high infield pop-up numbers in the minors before, which make it easier to do as well as he had, although some negative regression should be expected.

Why his ERA is too high: He generally runs a high BABIP as it has usually been above .330 in the minors since 2015. This year his BABIP is a ridiculous .372 which is inflating his numbers above where can can truly perform at. It should regress to normal levels, maybe even a .320 BABIP perhaps, since minor-league defenses are worse than big-league defenses are (even the A’s pitiful defense).

His strikeout and walk rates are exceeding previous levels; last year in triple-A his walk rate was a good but not great 2.17 per 9, while his strikeout rate was a disappointing 6.08 per 9. I think he’ll likely negatively regress in his K/9 to around 7.5 per 9, walks to around 1.9/9.

But, there’s a chance that Albers could just be a second coming of Jamie Moyer, which could be useful for a big-league team looking for a cheap player to be their fifth starter, since he wouldn’t cost much on a minimum MLB contract or in prospects, and for all intents and purposes is a poor man’s Jason Vargas, who has been surprisingly good this year and is a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. It seems like Albers has made a serious adjustment in performance. Quite an interesting buy-low opportunity for a playoff hopeful that is tight on prospects (Angels, Royals), or tight on cash (Brewers, Rays, Twins, Royals). The Braves should have an extra selling chip that they didn’t know about before. Granted, they might get a lottery-ticket prospect for him, but the Braves are rebuilding, so they need prospects to try out at the big-league level eventually since a lot will flame out. Another pitcher who is similar to Albers is Wade LeBlanc, who I feel should be a starting pitcher for the Pirates, especially considering their rotation issues. But it seems like the thought of him starting is scarier to them than being in a saw trap.

It’s an idea that teams like the ones above should use to get underrated players cheap, while teams that have players like that should sell them for more value than they invested in the player. His best comp is of a right-handed pitcher who is with the Blue Jays: Marco Estrada. They have similar velocities, similar lack of performance till they got older, and get lots of pop-ups. Essentially, he is a left-handed version of Marco Estrada, and Marco Estrada received $26 million over two years after the 2015 season — quite an interesting thought. Especially considering his unimpressive stats in the majors so far. Let’s see if anyone will be willing to give him a chance as a swingman, as he could be an amazing fit on the Nationals; way better than Jacob Turner, and he could start in place of Joe Ross if he performs the way he has so far.

All stats from FanGraphs as of 7-13-2017. I do not own any stats or pages used to help me write this article.

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I'm an avid baseball fan who is a red sox fan, I wouldn't expect many articles on the red sox as other things should be looked at before looking at them or the Yankees.

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