As the Knights settle into a familiar spot as the worst pitching staff in the International League, it begs two questions: Are there any arms of note in Charlotte not named Davis Martin? And how much of these pitching issues are the result of an insanely hitter-friendly ballpark?
There are a few Knights hurlers who are off to nice starts in 2022, but it has been a struggle for the bulk of them. Unlike hitters, however, several of whom are already over 100 at-bats, innings and starts totals at the one-quarter mark of the season don’t paint a very clear picture. Fortunately.
To recap the brilliant season of Davis Martin, I’m simply going to quote Jack McMullen, the voice of the Indianapolis Indians, of all people. Why? Because McMullen has a brilliant baseball mind, is the most recent FutureSox podcast interviewee and his analysis of Martin is as good as we’re going to find anywhere.
After Martin’s brilliant spot start in Chicago, McMullen decided to take a closer look at the young pitcher and was able to obtain data on velocity, pitch mix and spin rates. And he was blown away by the results.
According to McMullen, Martin features a high-spin fastball (2400-2500 rpm), that pairs well with a changeup, along with two solid breaking pitches, a slider and a power curve. McMullen is especially effusive about the changeup, which he says has good movement to go along with Martin’s great command.
To which I’ll only add that I’ve talked to Martin twice since his arrival in Charlotte and am impressed by his maturity and composure. He is all the rave right now but I don’t sense that the moment is too big for him.
How Big Of A Factor Is Truist Field?
After Tuesday’s game in Durham, Charlotte stood last in the International League in ERA, at 5.90, and had given up the most home runs and hits of any pitching staff.
But Truist Field is a veritable launching pad, where routine fly balls often find their way over the left- and right-field fences. So I took a quick look at road and home splits to see just how much of the Knights’ poor pitching stats were due to the home ballpark.
It turns out the staff’s road results are not much better.
The team is worst in ERA both home and away. No surprise, the team has surrendered 50 home runs in 24 home games, 10 more than the next highest team. Although it has “only” given up 25 homers in 19 road games, the per-game average is still among the highest in the 20-team International League. Oddly, the Knights’ WHIP and batting averages against are actually a bit better at home, though still well below league average.
I should note that three six-game road series, plus one game, is a crazy small sample size, and one or two really bad games can sharply skew the results, nor does this “analysis” account for opposing ball parks and teams. Nevertheless, it paints a disappointing picture.
There’s an iota of good news. The team’s 156 walks allowed is seventh lowest in the league. But that includes 92 bases on balls at home, which is seventh-worst, and compounded by the inordinate number of home runs that occur in Truist Field.
It is still early in the season, pitchers will improve, struggling pitchers will be replaced by free agent acquisitions and promotions from Birmingham, and pitching coach Matt Zaleski has a proven track record.
Starters Not Named Martin
It has been a lost season thus far for hard-luck pitcher Jimmy Lambert, who, like Martin, is on the White Sox 40-man roster and is typically a guy in line to make spot starts. Because of Covid in the preseason and a precautionary trip to the IL recently, Lambert has logged just 8⅔ innings and will likely need a couple of weeks until he’s stretched out again.
Just like Mike Wright in 2021, it is a less-heralded starter, Wes Benjamin, who has been the most successful member of Charlotte’s rotation. Or maybe has been should be had been, because Benjamin recently opted out of his deal in Charlotte to pursue opportunities in the Korean Baseball League.
The numbers are not pretty for two holdovers from 2021, John Parke and Kade McClure. They’re saddled with ERAs of 6.92 and 6.94, and batting averages against of .292 and .313, respectively, but they’ve only made 11 starts between them and there have been a couple of strong starts amid the poor ones. Charlotte’s Truist Field makes pitchers pay a steep price for their mistakes (hence the lousy numbers) but Parke and McClure are improving and there’s still plenty of time to find the consistency that has thus far eluded them. McClure came out of the bullpen Tuesday night with two shutout innings, a move that may suggest a new role, at least temporarily.
After an excellent season in Birmingham last year, Emilio Vargas joined the Charlotte rotation in 2022. He endured a rough introduction in April, but he’s looked much more comfortable in four appearances in May, with a .224 batting average against and a 1.25 WHIP. Seven walks (and 14 strikeouts) and three homers in 16 innings have resulted in a 5.06 ERA.
A starter throughout his minor-league career, free agent signee Brody Koerner appears to be moving into the rotation to fill a void. A 17th round pick of the Yankees in 2015, Koerner has some solid minor-league numbers, including a 3.94 lifetime ERA.
Having spent large chunks of the season with the White Sox, Banks, Burr and Crick are known quantities and will no doubt find their way back to Chicago as the season slogs on.
Conversely, Severino has looked lost since his demotion to Charlotte, though I’m betting Zaleski will get him turned around (remember the masterful job Zaleski did with Reynaldo Lopez last year?).
As for the non-40-man guys, Zach Muckenhirn has been a pleasant surprise. In 12 appearances and 14⅔ innings, he’s surrendered just one home run and three walks — a pretty amazing feat for anyone who toils in Truist Field.
Similarly, Andrew Perez has yet to give up a home run in 18 appearances and 20⅓ innings, to go along with eight walks and 22 strikeouts. Will Carter and JB Olson have also had their moments this season.