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Zach McAllister entered the season as the undisputed #1 Yankee pitching prospect. He received a promotion to Triple-A after a year of expertly handling Double-A hitters, and appeared second or third on the Yankee depth chart, but I’ve sensed that the excitement around him has been diminished by a relatively slow start to 2010. Here are his career statistics:

Year Age Tm Lg Lev ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2006 18 Yankees GULF Rk 3.09 1 35.0 35 14 12 1 12 28 1.343 9.0 0.3 3.1 7.2 2.33
2007 19 Staten Island NYPL A- 5.17 15 71.1 80 42 41 3 28 75 1.514 10.1 0.4 3.5 9.5 2.68
2008 20 2 Teams 2 Lgs A+-A 2.09 24 151.0 133 52 35 9 21 115 1.020 7.9 0.5 1.3 6.9 5.48
2008 20 Charleston SALL A 2.45 10 62.1 59 28 17 3 8 53 1.075 8.5 0.4 1.2 7.7 6.63
2008 20 Tampa FLOR A+ 1.83 14 88.2 74 24 18 6 13 62 0.981 7.5 0.6 1.3 6.3 4.77
2009 21 Trenton EL AA 2.23 22 121.0 98 39 30 4 33 96 1.083 7.3 0.3 2.5 7.1 2.91
2010 22 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre IL AAA 4.33 9 52.0 61 26 25 6 10 37 1.365 10.6 1.0 1.7 6.4 3.70
5 Seasons 2.99 71 430.1 407 173 143 23 104 351 1.187 8.5 0.5 2.2 7.3 3.38

A few weeks ago, I stated my belief in strikeout rates being more important than any other statistic when evaluating pitchers. After strikeout rates, I listed fastball velocity as the next most important indicator of prospect status. McAllister has never had strong strikeout rates, and never thrown particularly hard. He gets by with movement, control, and endurance.

This season, McAllister continued his decline from a ground ball pitcher to a fly ball pitcher. His ERA, hit rate, and home run rate have all risen, but his BB rate has dropped back toward his 2008 breakout level. His FIP has risen to 4.00, largely thanks to the increased home runs. It hasn’t been a great season, but the statistics that have blown up tend to be more luck-based than the ones that have stayed relatively stable, or improved, since his promotion. Basically, there’s a good chance that we’re looking at the exact same Zach McAllister who happens to be suffering from a terrible string of luck. Its most likely that we’re actually looking at a combination of luck and McAllister adjusting to more experienced hitters.

I’m really not all that sure how to augur McAllister’s MLB career. On one hand, he’s pretty much dominated every step of the minor leagues. On the other hand, his low K rate without a groundball tendency to support it is very alarming. The reality is that McAlliser might be heading toward becoming a slightly better version of Jeff Suppan. I think he’s capable of being better than that, but there’s only so much a pitcher can do when he doesn’t strike people out, and doesn’t get loads of ground balls. McAllister does all of that – he throws strikes, keeps hitters off the bases, limits the home run, and stays healthy. But an ace he is not.

McAllister has one very fortunate thing to fall back on right now: he wasn’t added to the 40-man roster this offseason. While Ivan Nova can probably expect to be jostled between Scranton and New York all season, serving as long reliever or spot starter for a few days before being sent down, McAllister gets to breath a little bit. He’ll have time to produce a full workload, gain some confidence, and try to bring his performance back to meet his own lofty expectations. I generally don’t buy a lot of the home-psychology of minor league analysis, but having a little struggle to overcome can’t be bad for Zach McAllister’s performance. Unless he starts dominating his opponents, I would oppose any move to New York this season.

Pundits love to label people “3rd” or “4th” or “5th” starters without really knowing what they are talking about. The reality is that on most teams a 5th starter is a pretty piss-poor pitcher. If McAllister can take the ball every day and pitch 6-7 innings with an ERA somewhere in the 4s, he’s valuable to the Yankees, and should be given a chance. He’s not Matt DeSalvo or Jeff Karstens or Steve White. He has real talent, real experience, and a real shot at a long major league career. My top-30 ranking next week will reflect that.

3 Responses to “Zach McAllister’s Decline Exaggerated”

  1. I don’t have the time to look for it right now, but I seem to recall reading some pretty compelling stuff on baseball prospectus a few years back about HR/9 being as strong an indicator of major league success as K/9.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  2. I hate the “well on most teams the 5th guy in the rotation is garbage anyways” argument. The Yankees play in the MOST competitive division in baseball … i dont care what record the RS are sporting now. Lets not forget that Clay’s already nearly as good as Hughes and Dice-K just 1-hit the Phils. The Rays have got a deep well of better than league average starters, and possibly the best 1-2 young pitching combo in all of baseball in Price and Garza.

    There’s no room for weak links in the future of this rotation. Not sure what this means for McAllister, except there’s alot of season left in AAA so there’s time yet for the kid to lower that WHIP under 1.3.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    EJ Fagan Reply:

    Sure, the Yankees need everything they can get against the Rays right now, but that doesn’t mean that in a hyper-competitive division we couldn’t use a player like McAllister. Think back to the crap 5th starters we rolled out in 2004-2007. McAllister would have been a huge competitive advantage over Sidney Ponson and Jaret Wright, and Shawn Chacon and all the guys that even good teams roll out there every 5th day. Even the Yankees have limited resources, and someone like McAllister allows them to push resources toward a better player.  (Quote)

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