Friday, June 15, 2012

Zach Lee has been great this season for the Quakes in the California League

The word "great" is thrown around a lot in sports and life in general. Far too much, actually. I try to be conservative when using the word.

Well, Zach Lee has been great this season.

I had some concern with Lee pitching in the California League this season -- something that can be said for pretty much any good prospect in the hitter's haven.

Allen Webster, oddly enough, dominated the league last season (2.33 ERA, 7.7 H/9, 10.3 K/9) in 54 innings before struggling in the Southern League (but he has pitched better of late).

Lee, however, has handled himself quite well in the league, even after battling a groin injury last month.

The "bad"

His 4.30 ERA isn't going to get him acclaim, but it's better than the league-average of 4.46. His 1.2 HR/9 is high, but the league-average is 0.9 and he hasn't given up a home run in his last five starts. Last season, he gave up nine in 109 innings (0.7). His 9.46 H/9 is just a touch more than the league average of 9.41.

Left-handers are getting to him a little more than righties (.288/.333/.411), which isn't uncommon. But he actually has a higher slugging percentage allowed to righties (.449).

The good -- the really good

His FIP is 3.52. The league-average is 3.89, so that's great to see. His SIERA is 3.08, which is eight-tenths better than league-average (3.88).

Lee is dominating right-handers (save the higher-than-normal slugging percentage): 1.11 WHIP, 1.0 BB/9, 10.54 K/9, 10.25 K/BB, 3.14 FIP, 2.22 SIERA. Wow.

What might be most impressive are the next few categories. Lee's control and command have been excellent this season. He has only walked nine batters in 52 1/3 innings, good for a 1.5 BB/9 (that's Roy Halladay territory).

His 8.9 K/9 is up from last year's 7.5. I'm not exactly sure what to attribute it to because he's facing advanced hitters in a hitter's league. I've heard he's been working in the high-80s to low-90s with his fastball, so he's not going to just blow pitches by hitters on a regular basis. His secondary offerings -- cutter, curveball, changeup -- are solid.

The one statistic that makes me really happy is his 5.78 K/BB. The league-average is 2.54 and Lee's rate last season was 2.84. That's a massive improvement.

The guy obviously knows how to pitch. He's not just a thrower (not that he's ever been just a thrower). This should give Dodger fans a lot of hope.

He's been awesome since returning from injury:
  • 3 GS, 12 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10 K
With talk of the Dodgers wanting to acquire a bat and arm before July 31, they had better do one of two things with Lee:
  1. Don't trade him (preferred)
  2. Trade him for an impact/star bat, not pitcher
If the Dodgers trade Lee without getting a star-quality player in return, it will be a colossal mistake.

The guy has everything needed to be a great pitcher in baseball. He's just 20 years old and posting these impressive numbers against competition that is roughly two-plus years older than him -- that cannot be overlooked.

Chris Reed, Lee's former (and probably future) teammate has already been promoted to Double-A. The 2011 first-round pick is 22 years old. Lee could easily be joining him sometime in the next month. The Dodgers have been known to be aggressive with their pitchers (Chad Billingsley, Nathan Eovaldi, Edwin Jackson, Kershaw, Webster), so seeing Lee in Chattanooga at age 20 wouldn't be a surprise to me.

The Dodgers drafted Corey Seager last week. Some probably wondered if Seager would slot in as the Dodgers' top prospect (assuming he signs). For me, absolutely not. But that's not a knock against Seager. That's how much I like what Lee has done and how much hope there is for him in the future. He's not going to be another Clayton Kershaw (not many of those out there), but I could easily see him being the Dodgers' No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the next five years.

Thanks to Minor League Central for the in-depth statistics

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Feelin' Kinda Blue

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