by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The Pirates’ Nick Kingham broke into our Top 10 Prospects on the Cusp last week, and rightfully so. Sure a quick look at his 1-7 record at Double-A makes you wonder, but we’ve all learned that wins are a fickle stat (see Jeff Samardzija, for instance). Kingham has pitched well overall, with a 3.04 ERA (though also an unimpressive 1.38 WHIP) in 71.0 innings and has since impressed at Triple-A (0.34 ERA over 26.2 IP).
The Pirates rotation has hardly been as impressive as expected, with names like Brandon Crumpton and Vance Worley getting starts and Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano pitching to bloated ERAs. There would appear to be opportunities to be had and, with Kingham on the doorstep, it’s worth investigating to see if he could make an impact.
Drafted in the fourth round in 2010, Kingham owns a career 3.10 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He has not shown big time strikeout stuff, with a 7.8 K/9, instead using good control (2.5 BB/9). Is the latter really enough, though? The strikeouts have dipped this season, with a 6.8 K/9, and since 2011 he owns just a 42.9% groundball rate.
Solid control, but a strikeout regression and not elite groundball stuff? So far the allure just doesn’t seem to be there. However, scouting reports heading into the season gave a far different impression.
Rich Wilson of Prospect 361 (click here for the Pirates’ Top 10) said:
“Kingham has a really nice three pitch mix with a four-seamer that sits 92-93 MPH and can touch higher, a really nice change-up that showed some nice fad in a game I saw him in July, and an above-average curve that I think can be a real knock-out pitch down the road. There’s also a lot to like with Kingham’s mechanics as well. At 6-foot-5, he stands tall with good posture and gets excellent downward plane on his fastball. He works down in the zone but will elevate his fastball to get batters to chase. He also gets very nice extension as he produces excellent momentum to the plate and that makes his plus fastball play up even better.”
Baseball America said:
“Kingham features an enviable combination of velocity, command and control. He throws downhill with a fastball that usually sits at 91-93 mph and can reach 95, and he can throw it for strikes to all four quadrants of the zone. His hybrid curveball stands out for his ability to locate it with good power at up to 85 mph. He knows how to use his changeup, which helped him limit lefthanded hitters to just two home runs in 229 plate appearances. Kingham has a good feel for pitching and has been adept at pitch sequencing and attacking hitters’ weaknesses.”
Both of those are extremely positive reports, so it makes you wonder where the strikeouts have gone this season?
Maybe he’s working on different things, because he did show strikeout stuff in 12 starts (14 appearances) at Double-A in 2013 (8.5 K/9). In other words, it’s not simply a jump in level causing the regression. There has to be something more to it.
Since 2011 he also hasn’t seen a dramatic split between righties and lefties:
- vs. Righties – .234/.280/.369
- vs. Lefties – .244/.326/.336
While there is some concern with the drop of strikeouts, let’s not forget that the same concerns were there for Gerritt Cole prior to his recall. We aren’t about to compare the two, but it’s not always as easy as simply looking at the surface number.
Kingham isn’t likely going to be a star, but he brings enough upside potential that makes him worth monitoring. Let’s consider him a mid-rotation MLB starter, making him an option along the lines of an Ian Kennedy (with fewer Ks than this season) or Josh Beckett (with a little less control). For fantasy owners, that should be more than enough.
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Sources – MILB.com, Baseball Reference, Minor League Central, Prospect 361, Baseball. America