Sunday, November 6, 2016

Current Man Crush: Trevor Oaks

It's the off season.  Time to think about what the team will look like in 2017 (and beyond).  That means looking at prospects.

MLB Pipeline has their Team Top 30 lists up.  Including their Top 30 by team lists.  Of course, I was most interested in the Dodgers' Top 30.

The usual names are there: Jose DeLeon, Cody Bellinger, Alex Verdugo, Willie Calhoun, Yadier Alvarez, etc...  One of the most interesting names for me was the 30th one on the list - Trevor Oaks.

I started becoming aware of Oaks last season as he started at Rancho Cucamonga and ended the season in Oklahoma City.  All told, he was 14 - 3 with a 2.74 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 18% K rate and 3.5% walk rate.   Solid numbers that were pretty consistent between levels.

He's not a huge prospect because he doesn't have the two tools that make scouts drool; speed and strikeouts.  Per MLB Pipeline's scouting report -
Oaks lived off a sinker that sat around 90 mph in college and has ticked up to 92-93 mph in pro ball, now topping out at 96. His fastball plays better than its average velocity thanks to its heavy life. He has feel for a changeup that can become at least an average No. 2 pitch, and he also can mix in a slider and a cutter that sometimes blend together.Oaks pounds the bottom of the strike zone, and though he doesn't miss a lot of bats, he has what it takes to be an efficient workhorse starter." 
What the scouting report alludes to but doesn't mention is his ability to get ground balls.  Batted ball data in the minors isn't easy to come by, but he did have a 2.44 ground out to air out rate.  That's fantastic.  For reference, Marcus Stroman lead the majors (qualified starters) in 2016 with a 2.40 rate (Orioles reliever Zach Britton was an otherworldly 7.86).

I've always had a thing for ground ball pitchers, so started to get more intrigued and wondered how he might perform in 2017.

The first thing to do in that situation is look at projections

Steamer projections have Oaks projected for a 5.6% BB rate and a 15.8% K rate in the upcoming season.  I looked at starters over the last 3 seasons who
--had a K rate between 12 and 15 percent
--had a BB rate between 4 and 7 percent
--had a GB rate above 45%

There weren't many of them, just 12.  The list included names like: Tim Hudson, Doug Fister, Bronson Arroyo and a guy Dodger fans might have heard of - Zach Lee.  Not exactly world beaters, but guys who were useful members of major league rotations (and some other guys).

These guys combined for the following:
6% BB rate, 14.3% K rate, 51.9% GB rate, 4.11 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 4.09 xFIP, 4.21 SIERA
and 1.3 WAR and 1.4 RA-9 WAR per 180 innings.

That's something like what an average #4 or #5 starter would be expected to produce.  That's not bad.  It's also probably more Oaks' ceiling than an expectation.

There's a better chance he ends up in the bullpen.  He might be useful for the Dodgers there.  We expect Oaks to have a high GB rate, and the Dodgers don't have a guy like that in their pen.  The Dodgers' bullpen had a cumulative 41.1% GB rate last year - that was 28th out of the 30 teams. The leader (out of guys who pitched at least 10 innings) was JP Howell (59%).  He's gone.  Up next was, interestingly, Ross Stripling at 58.8%.  But Stripling had just a 49% GB rate as a starter so I'm skeptical about his 24 inning relief sample.  The highest GB rate of any reliever who's probably going to be a reliever next year was Pedro Baez at 43%.  So, the infield worms can feel pretty safe when a Dodger reliever enters the game.

Trevor Oaks might not crack the Dodgers' starting rotation in 2017 - the Oklahoma City Dodgers' rotation - due to the depth of the Dodger organization's pitching staff.  So it might be ridiculous for me to suggest he's a major league quality starting pitcher - but, he might be.  A more realistic route to the majors might be as a multi-inning ground ball machine.  Here's hoping.