A.J. Griffin

By Jason Wojciechowski on June 23, 2012 at 11:15 PM

In this comment, pobothecat asks about A.J. Griffin in light of the fact that Brandon McCarthy looks to be headed for the disabled list (again) with shoulder soreness (again). Ben Estes reported that Griffin would likely be the starter on Sunday. (Jason Martinez, I should note, wrote about Griffin on June 19th as someone who is "knocking down the door" and might be a candidate for promotion soon. Always give love to Jasons.)

I will first note that I think it's a little strange to be reaching off the 40-man roster for a starter. Graham Godfrey hasn't pitched well in Oakland, but does have a 1.93 ERA in Sacramento (albeit with an underwhelming strikeout rate) and Brad Peacock has put up strikeout, walk, and homer rates that are well out of step with his 5.67 ERA (in a good way). I've said before and I'm sure you'll hear me say again that it takes scouting to try to nail down where Peacock's .372 BABIP falls on the scale of "bad luck" to "getting hit hard" and I don't have access to any unvarnished scouting opinions. Either way, though, Peacock is a legitimate prospect who's already on the 40-man.

On the other hand, the 40-man isn't currently full, exactly, since Danny Farquhar is a guy you don't even think twice about cutting, and you can probably do the same to Evan Scribner. Even Adam Rosales might be DFA-able (with a small possibility of actually being able to trade him) what with Eric Sogard and Brandon Hicks both playing in the majors ahead of him.

Putting that aside, here's what I know about A.J. Griffin: bupkis.

Ok, that's not entirely true. Here's a more true statement: here's what I know about A.J. Griffin that isn't available from the same sources that anyone has access to: bupkis.

However, I am perfectly happy to summarize those sources.

The first thing that jumps off his stat sheet is his walk rate: in two and a half minor league seasons, he's walked just 53 of the 1126 batters he's faced, a 4.7% rate. He's struck out over five times as many and has mostly kept his homer rate under control. Griffin shot through the Midwest and Cal Leagues last year before stalling out at AA with a rough showing, but "repeating" the level this year,1 he dominated it, striking out over a batter per inning while walking just seven in 43 1/3 frames. The strikeout rate dropped a bit upon moving to AAA, but the walks stayed stable and the resultant ERA (2.81) is still lovely.

On the scouting side, the Baseball America Handbook for 2012 reports a mediocre fastball stuff-wise (89-92, and they don't say a word about movement) that he commands excellently, a good change, and a "solid" curve. The stuff plays up because of his "strong pitching acumen."

The thing about this kind of profile is that you worry about how it translates to the big leagues. Strong pitching acumen with just decent stuff can carry you a long way in the minors against immature and/or untalented hitters. In the majors, when the batter you're facing has stood in against the best stuff and the best sequencing in the world, your tricks might not look so intimidating. I don't actually know of any researching regarding whether pitchers with high strikeout rates but low velocity (like Peacock, Griffin, or 2010-11 Tom Milone) actually do translate worse to the majors than pitchers with similar strikeout rates but high velocity (and a quick Google didn't turn up anything, but I've been reported to be bad at Google), but it's certainly common enough wisdom (and sensible common wisdom, unlike "he's an RBI guy" common wisdom) that it's a caution to keep in mind. (Unless, of course, someone has done the research and I just don't know how to find it. I'd be happy to read anything and update this accordingly if you post links in the comments.)

Even given that lack of stuff, it's hard not to be excited by the results Griffin has pitched to in the high minors and to look forward to his first big-league start. And, as long as I'm looking forward, you heard "Danny Farquhar DFA'd, waived, and claimed by the Blue Jays" here first.

  1. The reason for the scare-quotes around "repeating" is that "repeating the level" typically refers to a player who plays a full season at a level and then starts the next year at that same level. Griffin throwing 40+ innings in Midland at the end of 2011 doesn't constitute enough time to use "repeating the level" with the negative connotation. Thus: quotes and an explanatory footnote.