Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Alex Gillingham Traded to Astros: Scouting Report

The Houston Astros traded Wilton Lopez to the Colorado Rockies for Alex White and Alex Gillingham. The Rockies originally drafted Gillingham out of Loyola Marymount University in the 11th round in 2011. The 6-3 200 pound right-handed starter pitched in A-ball as a 22 year old (now 23 years old).

He is most noted for the perfect game he threw in the Pioneer League in 2011, but he was actually mediocre to average in the league with a FIP .26 better than league average and SIERA .09 higher than league average. In 2012, he threw just 123 innings in 19 starts and had a .040 FIP better than league average and a SIERA .049 better than league average. He had a home run rate well below league average even though he pitched in an extremely hitter friendly park (weirdly, he was better at home than the road). He matched this with a low walk rate (5.7 % in 2011, 5.4% in 2012) but a low strikeout rate (17.7 K % in 2011 and 16 % in 2012). Despite this, he hasn't been really any kind of prospect and scouting reports are extremely hard to find on him. So I went back and watched his start on August 24th against the Greenville Drive (Red Sox A) on MiLB.TV. That is where this scouting report comes from.

It looks like he throws a lot of changeups. The pitch moves both horizontally and vertically rather impressively and armside. His fastball is more of a sinker, as he keeps it low and it moves somewhat downward. Occasionally, it would move like the sinker of Aaron Cook with that kind of soft downward movement and slight horizontal break. His whole approach seems to be to just keep the ball low, which isn't going to produce strikeouts, but it will produce ground-balls. When he does miss, it is usually when he is throwing too far outside to lefties whether intentional or unintentional. His career 57.6 GB % obviously speaks to this. Usually you hear about low strikeout sinker/slider guys, but he is more of a sinker changeup guy. Out of pitchers that threw 100 innings in the big leagues (data according to FanGraphs) and at least 20% sinkers, only 3 threw changeups at least 20% of the time (there were 8 that threw sliders 20% of the time, and that doesn't count the many relievers that do it and the many sinker/slider pitchers that fail in the Majors), two of them lefties (Capuano and Francis) and the other a hard thrower that doesn't throw many strikes (Edinson Volquez). So obviously Gillingham's skill set is odd and one we really don't see in the majors.

It is definitely fair to question whether this stuff and high strike % approach with a low home rate will transfer to the big leagues or even the upper minors. While his home run rate is about the same against both lefties and righties, but he doesn't have a very good strikeout rate against lefties, suggesting that the change, despite its good movement, isn't a swing and miss pitch. He also brought out a soft slider, but didn't throw it until the first inning. He can throw it for strikes, but it doesn't really break horizontally. Like his other pitches, he locates it well, and it seems he throws it almost exclusively against righties. Overall, he keeps the ball mostly out of the middle of the plate. He is a really good control and command pitcher (not like many pitchers who just throw strikes), but the stuff isn't impressive. Obviously the upside is a below average innings eater to help stabilize the back part of a rotation, but the stuff may keep him from reaching the Majors. He certainly isn't a high upside pitcher, but I still like the haul the Astros got for what is an injury prone reliever in Wilton Lopez in a trade between two teams that won't compete in 2013.

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