Will Braves prospect Newcomb make it in the majors? What the numbers say

Braves prospect Sean Newcomb gets his first crack at the big leagues on Saturday. (Photo by Jason Getz)

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Braves prospect Sean Newcomb gets his first crack at the big leagues on Saturday. (Photo by Jason Getz)

The Braves plan to call up left-hander Sean Newcomb to make his major-league debut on Saturday. Nothing about his future in the majors will be determined by that one start, obviously, but are there any clues about Newcomb's chances for success based on his statistics in the minor leagues?

First thing is first: Scouts have more information than just statistics. They watch prospects on a daily basis and can measure things like velocity and observe pitch movement. Scouts can tell if, for instance, a pitcher is simply overpowering lesser minor leaguers or if the numbers are telling the real story.

(Also, as always, a reminder that projecting prospects is difficult, especially for pitchers, and that most top prospects don't make it in the big leagues.)

That said, there is a projection system that attempts to correlate minor league statistics with probability of major league success: KATOH, developed by Chris Mitchell. His system has identified the statistics that are significant for each level. At Triple-A, they are: age (younger is better), games started, strikeout percentage, base on balls percentage, home run percentage, and height (taller tends to be better.) KATOH includes adjustments for sample sizes, but not ballparks.

Writing recently at FanGraphs, Mitchell identified Newcomb as one of the most improved pitching prospects this year, with KATOH projecting that he will compile 3.2 Wins Above Replacement over his first six seasons. Writes Mitchell:

KATOH's always been skeptical of Newcomb due to his high walk rates and age relative to level. Those concerns remain, as Newcomb's walked over 13% in his age-24 season, but he's also upped his strikeout rate this year at Triple-A. Newcomb has his warts, but he's proven he can miss near-big-league bats.

(Note: Mitchell wrote this before Newcomb's last start, in which he allowed two earned runs over six innings with seven strikeouts and three walks.)

Newcomb’s walk percentage has always been his weakness, statistically speaking. But his impressive strikeout percentage (29.7) is starting to offset that. Notes Mitchell: “Strikeout rate matters more than walk rate for pitchers, but only slightly.” According to KATOH, Newcomb’s height (6-5) is a plus and so is his college background (college pitchers have an edge over high schoolers).

As noted, Newcomb’s strikeout percentage at Gwinnett is very good, his walk percentage (13.3) is not good and so the difference between the two (16.5) is just OK (though getting better). But Newcomb’s fastball velocity reportedly is 94 mph, which is very good and bodes well for his chances of success if he can improve his control.