Curiosity is a wonderful thing. This time of year, like everyone else, I spend a lot of time looking at mlbtraderumors.com to see what is going on in the baseball world. A little blip about Brad Peacock in a recent post caught my eye and made me curious. The little blip said the following:
“Jason Collette of Fangraphs examined the transformation that Astros righty Brad Peacock made after being sent down to the minors midway through the 2013 campaign. Peacock adopted a slider that made a world of difference for his repertoire, and as Collette notes, the changes were obvious to GM Jeff Luhnow, manager Bo Porter and catcher Jason Castro.”
I took my curiosity and went and poured over Peacock’s numbers, particularly in the second half and found some pretty surprising things. I then read Jason’ Collette’s piece and came away with the conclusion that the Astros just may have gotten some value after all in Peacock as part of the trade with the Astros for Jed Lowrie.
When you first arrive at Brad Peacock’s player page at baseball-reference.com, 2013 was not a pretty sight. He made 18 appearances and 14 starts and it all led to zero rWAR, an ERA of 5.18, a WHIP of 1.380 and 1.6 homers per nine innings. There is no way to slant those numbers to make them pretty. According to Fangraphs.com, his RA9-WAR was -0.2. Ugh.
It is only by going to the splits that you see what Collette, Luhnow, Porter and Castro were talking about. But let’s go a little bit further back than last year and take a broader look at Peacock’s history.
Brad Peacock was born in Palm Beach, Florida, which is pretty cool because that is where my mom lives. He must not have been that highly touted a high school prospect because he ended up going to a community college in that same community. Scouts could not have rated him that highly there either because he was not drafted until the 41st round (by the Nationals) in the 2006 draft.
Peacock then spent four years trudging through the low minors in unspectacular fashion. And then he suddenly had this magical year in 2011 that saw him combine a 15-3 record with a 2.39 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. He got called up to the Nationals at the end of 2011 and went 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings that included three appearances and two starts. A 17-3 season with those ERA numbers were impressive enough to rank him as the 37th top prospect before the 2012 season by Baseball America.
He was then traded to the Oakland A’s as part of the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals. And his 2012 was not good at all. He spent the entire year in Triple-A in the PCL, a difficult place to pitch and everything fell apart. His ERA for the season topped six. His WHIP went over 1.5, his strikeouts dipped slightly and his walk rate rose.
Despite his bad season, the Astros, probably influenced by Kevin Goldstein, who was always high on him as Collette mentions, asked for him in the trade that sent Lowrie to the A’s. Despite his poor Triple-A season, the Astros invited Peacock to Spring Training and he made the opening roster for 2013.
It could not have gone worse for Peacock in the early part of the 2013 season. He made five straight starts to open the season and lost three out of four decisions. His games scores for those starts (with 50 being average) were 51, 49, 47, 17, 26. He then was banished to the bullpen and made four outings more out there.
By the time he was sent down to the minors at the end of that run, his ERA was 8.07. His WHIP was 1.759. His strikeout to walk ratio was only 1.32. And he was getting hammered by homers. All batters combined to have an OPS against him of .998. Oy! It now seems obvious in hindsight that he was a pitch short of being a Major League pitcher.
The Astros did the right thing and sent him back down to the minors. And he was a pitch short, which he admitted as Collette mentioned in his article. The evidence is in his swing and miss rate. Even in his brief time with the Nationals in 2011, he only had eight swinging strikes in those twelve innings he pitched. And he only missed 26 bats in his first 138 batters he faced in 2013.
According to Collette, Peacock discovered a slider down in the minors and he must have done so fairly quickly upon turning up there. He made fourteen appearances for Oklahoma City in the PCL and thirteen of those were starts. He went 6-2 with a 2.73 ERA. His WHIP was very good at 1.101 and his strikeout to walk ratio was 3.85. Something obvious had changed.
The Astros brought him back in early August and he came back with a bang (granted, it was against the Twins) and struck out ten batters in his first start back. His missed 13 bats in the outing. He had never before topped eight swinging strikes in his brief career.
August ended up a pretty good month for him. His ERA was still a bit high at 3.94. But his OPS against was a much better at .673.
What I really want to focus on is September. Brad Peacock was really good in September. His OPS against in four September starts was .622. His ERA in that month was 3.28 with a FIP of 2.80. His strikeout to walk ratio was 4.17 and his home run rate plummeted. Most impressively, his strike rate was over 64% in the month of September.
If you look at his pitch type and at his PitchF/X totals, he did not throw a slider in the Majors until he returned from the minors in August. And yet that pitch was valued at 2.6 runs above average. He has found a real weapon to miss bats. As Collette mentions, he was more aggressive in the strike zone which allowed him to put away batters at a rate he had not achieved before (25%).
Brad Peacock came back in August as a different pitcher. Now, two months do not make a career. I understand that. And we will have to see how he builds on it from here. But Brad Peacock is not getting any love from projections like Oliver and Steamer. But he could be a real sleeper and, if he stays healthy and does what he did at the end of 2013, could be a real good pitcher for the Astros in 2014. Remember his name because Brad Peacock could show bright colors in 2014.