As good as the Lansing Lugnuts’ offense was, their pitching was as bad. It wasn’t a great year despite the promise of a couple of up-and-coming starting pitchers who ultimately spent much of the year injured. While the pitchers who did spend much of the year with Lansing showed glimpses of excellence, the overriding narrative was a lack of consistency that made it a difficult year for the Lugs.
Was Mike Ellenbest, now 23, the best Lansing starter? No, but he did make the most starts. The 24th-round pick from 2016 led the club with 25 starts of his 27 outings, logging 122 2/3 innings with a 6.53 ERA and 1.74 WHIP. Ellenbest struck out 16.7% of batters, up from his 15.3% ratio in Vancouver last year, while walking 10.1%, also up from 6.6% last year. Ellenbest gave up a lot of home runs, leading the club with 17 allowed, good for 1.25 HR/9 innings. If we’re looking on the bright side, Ellenbest had a stronger August, with a 4.26 ERA over 25 1/3 innings, with nine walks and 21 strikeouts but gave up six runs in four innings in his final start of the year in September. Like Tayler Saucedo did last year, Ellenbest seemed to be unable to follow up a good start with another good one but he rarely had two really bad starts in a row. Ellenbest will either repeat Lansing to start next year, or he’ll move up to Dunedin.
When it comes to the rotation, the only pitcher who could come close to matching Ellenbest in terms of starts and innings was Andy Ravel. Ravel, 22, was Ellenbest’s piggyback partner in Vancouver last year and was a seventh-round pick in 2016 out of Kent State. Ravel finished the year with a 7.56 ERA over 114 1/3 innings while putting up a 1.72 WHIP. While Ravel struck out only 14.2% of batters, that was up from his 13.0% rate in Vancouver last year while his walk rate was up slightly to 7.2%, still a solid mark. The main issue was that he was hit hard, giving up 159 hits in his 114 1/3 innings while allowing an almost equal number of fly balls and ground balls. Ravel, like Ellenbest, could repeat some time in Lansing but might also move up to Dunedin.
Osman Gutierrez made 18 starts for the Lugnuts, also finishing the year with a sky-high ERA at 7.56. Over 78 innings, Gutierrez, 22, had a 1.81 WHIP, thanks to 52 walks (a 13.8% ratio) while striking out 18.8% of the batters he faced. Gutierrez was traded to the Miami Marlins for Tom Koehler and finished the season with the Short-Season-A Batavia Muckdogs.
At 20 years old, Dominican righty Yennsy Diaz joined the Lugnuts in June and finished out the season with some solid numbers for a young righty who is still trying to find himself on the mound. Diaz tossed 77 innings over 16 starts, posting a respectable 4.79 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, striking out 24.7% and walking a high 12.4%. Command was Diaz’s weakness as he moved up to a higher level and he really only had a few dominant starts, including a nine-strikeout outing, giving up one run on five hits and walks against Dayton on August 5. With some more consistency, I think we can see Diaz improve on some of those numbers, especially his ground ball rate which, at 35.8% was pretty low. Diaz will likely return to Lansing to start 2018 but could move up around June or July if he’s more consistent.
Our 2017 Lansing Lugnuts Pitcher of the Year, Patrick Murphy, reminds me a bit of another pitcher who’s starting to really make himself known in the Blue Jays’ organization, Ryan Borucki. Borucki, who also has a long history of injuries, rocketed through the organization this year after starting in Dunedin and Murphy could very well follow that same mold next year. While Murphy, 22, is a righty, the 2013 third-round pick has a lot of the same tenacity on the mound with three solid pitches. Murphy started with Lansing and was a bit inconsistent out of the gate but found a rhythm with four solid starts in late May to early June. Injury struck and Murphy was out of action until the middle of July when he made three rehab outings in the GCL, hot giving up a run and allowing seven hits and one walk over nine innings with 15 strikeouts. Back in Lansing, Murphy made five starts in August (including a five-inning, scoreless outing in which he struck out six on August 1) and finished his time with the club with a seven-strikeout performance, allowing a run over 6 2/3 innings on August 22. He moved up to Dunedin where he wasn’t as sharp, giving up seven runs on 14 hits and three walks with five strikeouts in nine innings. Still, on the whole, Murphy’s 2.94 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in Lansing were very strong and, while he only struck out 15.4% of the batters he faced, he walked 8.9% and got 48.7% of his batted balls on the ground. I’ll look for Murphy to start 2018 in Dunedin.
One of my biggest disappointments of 2017 was the face that Justin Maese didn’t get to pitch a full season. After seeing him dominate in spring training, the 20 year old righty from Texas had his ups and downs with the Lugnuts. He gave up 11 runs (seven earned) in a 4 2/3 inning outing on April 18 but also struck out 12 in seven innings on May 24. His highlight was likely a nine-inning complete game, striking out seven on May 11, giving up one run. At the end of May, he went down to injury, getting three rehab outings with the GCL Blue Jays in July where he struck out 22.5% of batters but also had a 5.00 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. He returned to Lansing for two more starts, giving up eight runs in three innings in the first and throwing four scoreless innings but walked four in his second. He was shut down after that August 8 outing in Dayton and didn’t pitch the rest of the season. Overall, the numbers for Maese are mixed. He had a 4.84 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 70 2/3 innings, with a solid 8.4% walk rate and a good 19.4% strikeout rate. Of course, Maese stands out in his ground ball rate, getting 53.9% of batted balls on the ground and only 5.2% of fly balls went out of the park. Maese will probably start 2018 in Dunedin.
Kyle Weatherly is our final starter for the Lansing Lugnuts. The 22-year-old Texan righty made six starts for the Lugnuts, totalling 22 2/3 innings after making four excellent starts for Vancouver. In Vancouver, he had a 2.05 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, striking out 19.8% and walking 7.7% in 22 innings. After moving up to Lansing, however, those numbers turned around as he had a 6.75 ERA and 1.90 WHIP, striking out only 10.2% and walking 12.0%. While he got more ground balls in Lansing (47.0%), he also had more line drives hit (24.1%), and his low .226 BABIP in Vancouver likely tells us that the real Kyle Weatherly is probably somewhere in between the two sets of results. Weatherly’s season was only two months long as he started on June 17 in Vancouver and made his final start with Lansing on August 10, getting shut down due to injury. If he comes back healthy in 2018, I figure he’ll start in Lansing.
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