The Promotion of Zach Stewart

Promoting Zach Stewart is like handing the car keys over to your 15-year-old son, while his 16 and 17-year old brothers look on from the bus stop.

I jest.

By all accounts Zach Stewart is a real talent. But bringing him up now may prove short-sighted. What’s the hurry, considering the Jays have more experienced options?

That he has jumped from the Double-A Eastern League and New Hampshire Fisher Cats does not seem to be a natural progression.

That he has replaced Kyle Drabek, who will now pitch for the Las Vegas 51s of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, seems ironic, since Drabek made a similar jump from the Fisher Cats to the Blue Jays, only to last 14 games in the bigs this season.

While Stewart did pitch last season in Las Vegas, he jumped down a level this season to New Hampshire, which would appear to be a demotion.

Jays management may have viewed it as a lateral move. The EL is thought to provide a better environment for developing young pitchers, although it is not clear what quantifiers bear out this claim.

Cleaner fields? Lighter air? Inferior hitting?

Drabek skipped Triple-A, and he performed inconsistently in the majors.  These two separate facts, concerning his development, should have given management long pause before making the same move with Stewart, who has not dominated in Double-A the way Drabek did. And I know that just because Drabek jumped over the Triple-A stage and struggled in the majors does not mean the former necessarily caused the latter. But one would be hard pressed to say there is no connection.

Much depends on a comparative valuation of the PCL and EL: one has the reputation of a hitter-friendly league, the other of a superior developmental league for pitchers. And yes, there is much more to know.

Drunk Jays Fans relays a quote from Alex Anthopoulos,  revealing some of the thinking that went into the Zach Stewart promotion.

To reach a decision on the when and where of the right league for a highly-touted pitching prospect, coaching staffs and management must make a nuanced evaluation of the individual pitcher, tangible and intangible criteria alike. I have little doubt that Anthopoulos and company did due diligence, I just question how they got there.

Most pitching prospects graduate from Double-A to Triple-A,  and when the stars and their stats align, they get their shot.

But that has not been the path for Stewart or Drabek. So far that path has not been a smooth one for either.

If it is true that the ECL serves as a better developmental league, why aren’t Brett Cecil and Brad Mills developing there, instead of the PCL?

Does a Blue Jays pitching prospect now go to New Hampshire via Las Vegas, prior to landing in Toronto?

Down is up. Up is down. Is Las Vegas just a holding station for potential mid-rotation to back-end starters?

There’ a lot of trial and error in baseball, and even with all the homework and analysis in the world, a magic eight ball would still get to the right answers before some management teams. It is all a bit confusing. But we do have our statistics.

Given its hitter-friendly climate, the PCL tends to inflate pitching statistics somewhat. That does not appear evident in the case of Brad Mills or Brett Cecil, who are 6-5 and 8-2, 3.04 and 5.21, and 1.15 and 1.43 WHIP, respectively.

All of which compares favourably with Stewart’s (4-3, 4.39, 1.42) in the ECL.

If you can’t shake the sight of Cecil’s ERA, consider that without his first Vegas start, a 10-run meltdown, 5.21 shrinks to 4.11.

In an arguably tougher league to pitch, with numbers as good or better than Stewart’s, two starters, who each have major league experience, have been skipped over.

From its tweet bag, Tao of Stieb produces a hunch as to why Stewart got the nod over Mills, whose mechanics could still pose a problem.

Stewart did produce a quality start (7 IP, 2 ER, 4 SO, 1 BB) yesterday, of which Mop-up Duty analyses the positives and negatives, and Mike Wilner summarizes poignantly, reminding us that Drabek’s first start of the season was an even better performance (7 IP, 0 ER, 7 SO, 3 BB).

Without a doubt, Stewart deserves a shot, as Drabek did (and still does), but what is the hurry?

Mills already leads the PCL in ERA, IP, WHIP, and SO. Cecil is the winningest pitcher in that league. The two must wonder just what they have to do to get their next shot.

Check out Bleacher Report’s polling data on which of the three pitchers ought to fill Drabek’s spot.

Maybe Stewart is just in Toronto for a quick look.

But if his confidence gets rocked during that time, or if it does not, where does he go next? New Hampshire or Las Vegas?

By promoting Stewart, what message is sent to Mills and Cecil?

For now, they, along with Drabek, pitch in the weighty air of Las Vegas, waiting for the next plane to Toronto. Whoever may be on it, will there be a layover in New Hampshire?

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2 comments

  1. Pingback: Zach Stewart’s day off « 1977 redux
  2. Pingback: Fall Classic « 1977 redux

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