Future Minor League Callups? Triple-A Starting Pitcher SwStk% Leaders — NL

Yesterday, I perused the Triple-A SwStk% leaderboard and listed and discussed the AL starting pitchers who were at the top. Now let’s flip over to the NL, which unfortunately is a far less exciting group.

NL SwStk% Leaders
Name Team Age IP 2021 Org Rk K% SwStk%
Blaine Hardy MIL 34 24 27.4% 16.2%
Kyle Muller ATL 23 31.1 7 28.9% 15.7%
Beau Sulser PIT 27 29.1 24.8% 14.7%
Cory Abbott CHC 25 31.1 33.8% 14.6%
Cody Ponce PIT 27 24.1 23.9% 14.0%

Blaine Hardy has shuffled between the rotation and bullpen, but has spent the majority of his innings as a starter. Hardy is no prospect — the 34 year old has amassed 289.2 MLB innings, and has made 13 starts. He has never been a strikeout pitcher in the Majors, compiling just an 18.6% career mark and 9.5% SwStk%. But he’s shown strikeout and whiff ability in the minors, so this year is right in line with what he’s been doing for years now. With a sub-90 MPH fastball, it’s possible his collection of offspeed stuff is strong enough to succeed in the minors, but not so in the Majors.

Kyle Muller appeared on Tuesday’s strikeout rate leaderboard as well, so it’s always good to see it backed by a strong SwStk%. As I noted in my original blurb, a inflated walk and fly ball rate is a scary combination. Despite all the whiffs, I’m not interested here unless at least one of his walk or fly ball rates improve.

It’s always find to find a player with no articles mentioning him and no organizational rank, but that’s the case with Pirates starter Beau Sulser. What’s interesting here is he had spent the majority of his career in a relief role, only starting 12 games in 87 games, but he’s started seven games this year in seven appearances. It’s not often you see a reliever transition into a starting role in the minors, as usually it’s the reverse. Sulser has enjoyed a massive spike in both strikeout rate and SwStk% this year versus his Double-A performance in 2019, and he continues to display excellent control. He’s pretty old for a prospect, but this is only his first stint at Triple-A, so it’s not like he’s toiled in the minors for many, many years. You would think the Pirates would give him a chance at some point this season.

Cory Abbott is another strikeout rate leaderboard appearer. The extreme fly ball rate would make anyone nervous, especially combined with his current double digit walk rate at Triple-A. In a vacuum, I don’t necessarily mind an extreme FB% as it could really suppress BABIP, but it needs to be paired with lots of strikeouts and good control to avoid allowing so many multi-run homers.

Cody Ponce made his MLB debut last year, showing poor skills and inability to generate whiffs. He was recalled for a spot start this season about three weeks ago before being demoted back to Triple-A, but once again failed to impress. Ponce has posted mid-20% strikeout rates during each of his short minor league stints since 2019, but his SwStk% suggest the possibility of a bit better. His GB% has really bounced around, from sub-40% to above 50%, so it’s difficult to guess what his true underlying skills are when it comes to batted ball distribution allowed. At least he’s never posted a double digit walk rate, but they have generally been in “fine” territory recently rather than good. I don’t think his overall skill set is exciting enough to be worth monitoring.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Hardy succeeded in the Majors for 4 years with a sub 90 fastball. His performance proves your assessment to be incorrect.