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Friday, September 03, 2004

I've been defending Neal Cotts for most of his time in the Big Leagues. Today I sat down and compared his performance so far this season to that of the average AL pitcher and to those in his peer group (AL Rookies under age 25) to get a better understanding where he ranked.

Here is the league average for pitchers in the AL, and how they compare to Neal. (NC = Neal Cotts.)
LG   ERA    RA   H/9  BB/9  SO/9  HR/9   WHIP    AVG   OBP   SLG

AL 4.64 5.04 9.45 3.34 6.37 1.16 1.422 0.271 0.337 0.435
NC 4.78 4.96 7.34 4.44 7.35 1.19 1.310 0.224 0.324 0.385

Neal compares favorably in almost every category versus the league average. His ERA has been hurt all season by the relievers behind him. (I'll explore this in depth later.) Keeping that in mind, his ERA+ of 97 is very respectable, especially considering I didn't compensate by including park factor in the equation(not that I know how anyway). His OPS against is .710 compared to a league average of .782. OPS is most often the stat used to indicate offensive production, I turned it around here to illustrate how Neal has been at preventing offensive production.

All of this becomes more impressive when you remove the lone game that he started. Normally I don't advocate dropping a game from statistics in order to make them look better, but Neal's role on this team is that of a reliever. That also appears to be his role on the team in the near future, as KW has indicated that he has every intent of signing another top of the rotation starter this off-season. Cotts' ERA becomes a respectable 4.29 when you only factor in his outings from the pen.

inherited runners/bequeathed runners
This has been the paradox of Neal's season. He has been among the best in the Majors at preventing inherited runners from scoring(25 inherited/5 scored). Conversely, an inordinate amount of his bequeathed runners have been allowed to score, skewing perception of his effectiveness.

On the season, Neal has left the game with 16 men on base for the next pitcher to deal with. Those runners have been allowed to score 9 times. The biggest culprits have been Mike Jackson, and Billy Koch. Jackson inherited a total of 7 runners for Neal, 6 of which scored. Billy Koch, fared just as badly but with fewer opportunities, inheriting 2 runners, both of whom scored.

The months of June and July were a direct illustration of why Neal has been undervalued. His ERA for those two months was 8.68 and 9.45, respectively. However, over those two months Neal did not allow any of the 11 inherited runners he received to score. Conversely 9 of the 11 runners he bequeathed were allowed to cross home plate, further skewing his ERA.

With that in mind, I put together a little chart that compares Neal to others in his peer group. (AL Rookies under age 25)(minimum 30IP)
Player, Team        IP   H  ER   ERA K/BB   K/9  G/F WHIP HR/9  BAA  OBP  SLG  OPS

F. Francisco, Te 45.2 32 16 3.15 2.2 10.84 0.55 1.25 0.6 .196 .311 .276 .587
D. Bush, Tor 66.1 72 27 3.66 2.94 6.38 1.13 1.33 0.82 .277 .320 .400 .720
Z. Greinke, KC 115.1 115 54 4.21 3.8 5.93 0.85 1.17 1.80 .257 .296 .478 .774
V. Chulk, Tor 45 46 23 4.60 1.61 7.4 1 1.53 1 .264 .352 .420 .771
D. Cabrera, Bal 126.2 125 66 4.69 0.93 4.62 1.04 1.54 0.93 .260 .350 .393 .743
K. Tadano, Cle 46 51 24 4.70 2.24 7.43 0.84 1.48 0.98 .276 .343 .422 .765
E. Bedard, Bal 131.1 141 69 4.73 1.7 8.02 0.92 1.6 0.82 .269 .359 .402 .761
N. Cotts, CWS 52.2 43 28 4.78 1.65 7.35 1.46 1.31 1.21 .224 .324 .385 .710
D. Waechter, TB 50.2 44 28 4.97 1.28 4.09 0.47 1.22 2.87 .229 .308 .526 .834
E. Rodriguez, Ba 41.1 36 23 5.01 1.28 8.06 0.47 1.57 1.09 .240 .376 .413 .790
C. Gaudin, TB 33.1 48 19 5.13 2.18 6.48 0.79 1.77 0.82 .348 .395 .522 .917
M. Wood, KC 69.2 76 47 6.07 1.41 4.00 1.87 1.41 1.43 .283 .339 .491 .830
C. Nageotte, Sea 36.2 48 30 7.36 0.89 5.89 2.21 2.05 0.75 .324 .427 .412 .839
M. Riley, Bal 34.1 46 32 8.39 1.5 9.44 0.9 2.04 2.11 .313 .410 .510 .921
F. Diaz, CWS 32.2 48 33 9.09 2 6.06 0.69 1.81 3.07 .348 .385 .667 1.051

The first thing you'll notice is there's not a lot of them. Only 15 guys in the AL meet this criteria. Of that group, only 3 have logged a serious amount of innings. Yet, they all fall short of qualifying for the ERA title. That speaks to how difficult it is to stick in the big leagues as a young pitcher.

A couple of things jump out at you from all of those stats. #1)Frank Francisco, who we lost to Texas in the first Carl Everett trade, has been great. He's been head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the group. #2) Felix Diaz has been bad.

Neal has fared well in comparison to the others in the group, ranking second to Francisco BAA, SLG, and OPS; and third in WHIP. I included HR/9 as a stat because of this post by Bryan Smith over at Wait 'til Next Year, illustrated that the one thing that successful rookie pitchers seem to have in common is an ability to avoid the longball. Sadly, this does not appear to be a trait that our very own Felix Diaz possesses.

So what does the future hold for Neal Cotts?
Supposedly, due largely to his success from the pen, Neal is headed back to the bullpen. I see him in the bullpen next season, but long-term I can see him as a good #3-4 starter.

What role will he be playing out of the pen?
Neal's splits versus lefties are, surprisingly, not as good as his spits versus righties. That, coupled with his ability to induce groudballs, double plays, and prevent inherited runners from scoring, may indicate that he's headed for a role as a set-up man or long reliever. Either way, expect him to log more innings next season.

What kind of numbers can we expect out of Neal next season?
If Neal throws exclusively out of the pen, I'd project him for a line something like this:
75IP 3.65ERA 1.22WHIP
I'd expect the BAA to go up a little bit, as his control improves slightly, but I expect his walk totals to come down.

In the event that he ends up in the rotation next season, (which I feel is likely, given this organization's past history) I'd expect a line similar to that of Jon Garland. I can hear you cringing on the other side of the computer screen, but if Cotts is filling in as a 5th starter, a Garland-like performance is not a bad thing. I'd expect his ERA and WHIP to be slightly better than league average, about 4.50 and 1.38 respectively.

Every year teams have young guys who go through the year with their efforts overshadowed by others, or in Neal's case where the numbers don't tell the whole story. A year or two later they come through in a big way, like Aaron Rowand this season, and people are wondering where their performance came from. Well be on the lookout for Neal Cotts. Mike Jackson and Billy Koch are gone, and his ERA is benefiting(2.30 ERA in 15.2IP in August). He might just sneak up on you next season.