One of the surprise stalwarts for the 2011 Johnson City Cardinals was Kyle Hald. I’ve mentioned his impressive command during his time there last year when he walked just 12 batter sin 53.2 innings. That’s a walk rate around 2 per 9 IP. Hald was old for his level but the command was still noteworthy.
What may have been overlooked was the 2011 work of Seth Maness, which was split between Batavia, Quad Cities and Palm beach. Maness clearly out-controlled Hald during his 53 innings of work walking just 5 batters. Now, Maness finds himself in the midst of a 34 inning walkless streak. (He ended 2011 with 5.2 walkless innings so you can mentally tack those onto the streak if you’d like.)
Maness’ FIP shows the results of the absence of walks. In 2011, his FIP was around 2.00 across all three levels. Heading into 2012, we may be seeing some signs for concern. Maness still has excellent control (have I mentioned he hasn’t issued a walk in 34 innings?) but his strikeout rate has slipped from 7K per 9IP to below 6K per 9IP.
In college, Maness’s control was good. He pitched right around 100 innings each of his four seasons at East Carolina University. From 2008-2011, he walked 20, 18, 16 and 17 respectively. That’s about 1.5B per 9IP. So this control isn’t anything new. His mid-7′s strikeout rate in college made for a nice combination of putting batters away without any freebie passes.
In professional baseball, Maness will need to find a way to do the same. It’s not a good sign to see the strikeout rate slip in his sophomore season. That said, it’s not a death sentence either. In 2011, among qualified starters with a walk rate below 2BB per 9, there were four pitchers with a strikeout rate below 5K per 9IP: Josh Tomlin, Carl Pavano, Jeff Francis and Mark Buerhle. (With a walk rate just over 2, Bronson Arroyo also fits this list.) These players are the exception and not the rule however.
Maness remains an interesting player to watch, and his walkless streak is certainly something we’ll keep an eye on and something he should be proud of, but starting pitchers in the big leagues strike batters out. Pitching prospects in the minor leagues, at least the ones that are considered future MLB players, strike batters out. So while we watch the walkless streak, keep the strikeout rate in the corner of your vision — you bet that talent evaluators are.