Noesi’s Path Easier in Seattle — For Now

For Hector Noesi, cracking the starting rotation with the New York Yankees looked like no easy task. Locked in a death match with the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox for AL East supremacy, the Bombers aren’t in a position to give a second-tier prospect like Noesi a chance to prove his worth in 2012. At most, he figured to toil in middle relief while getting an occasional spot start, much like he did as a rookie this past year.

Noesi’s prospects of piling up important innings changed last week, however, as he was shipped to Seattle as part of the staggering Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero challenge trade. Noesi, 25 later this month, could also eventually be pushed out of the rotation picture with the M’s as higher-upside arms like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker reach the majors. But for now, he has a good chance of winning a spot behind King Felix, Jason Vargas and Japanese import Hishashi Iwakuma. Noesi has garnered a reputation as a quality strike-thrower and will benefit from moving to Safeco Field, but he’ll have to prove he can miss bats with his four-pitch mix to merit consideration in most fantasy leagues.

Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2004, Noesi was waylaid by Tommy John surgery that cost him most of the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The 6-foot-3, 200 pound righty quickly climbed the system’s ranks after that, though, using pinpoint control and command of a low-90s fastball and a hard changeup to make hitters in the low minors look silly. But even while Noesi was rocking a near 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio at High-A Tampa, there were concerns that his so-so slider and curveball would lead to fewer punch outs in the high minors.

As it turns out, those worries were pretty well warranted. Noesi still limited walks as he approached the bigs, but the lack of biting breaking ball took a bite out of his strikeout rate:

Level Years IP K/9 BB/9 GB Pct.
High-A 2009-10 84.1 9.9 1.1 36.4
Double-A 2010 98.2 7.8 1.6 37.7
Triple-A 2010-11 43.1 6.4 2.7 37.2

Looking at it another way, Noesi’s K rate was about 32 percent better than the Florida State league average in 2009 and 2010. In the Double-A Eastern League, it was seven percent above average. Once he reached the Triple-A International League, Noesi’s whiff rate was 14 percent below average (albeit in a smaller sample). That’s a marked decline that doesn’t bode well for a fly ball-slanted hurler.

Noesi did do a better job of registering Ks as a rookie reliever/spot-starter in 2011, striking out 7.2 batters per nine innings in 56.1 frames while still showing decent control (2.86 unintentional walks per nine). If you’re looking for signs of encouragement on the breaking ball front, both his slider and curveball had better whiff rates than the league average:

Pitch Pct. Thrown Whiff Pct. League Avg.
Slider 20 17.7 13.6
Curveball 13.5 14.3 11.6

Source: TexasLeaguers.com

That was almost entirely in relief, however, and it’s par the course for pitchers to miss more bats out of the bullpen. It remains to be seen whether Noesi’s stuff can slip by major league hitters multiple times through a lineup. If we use Tom Tango’s “Rule of 17,” which shows in part that pitchers’ K rates are on average 17 percent higher as a reliever than as a starter, we would expect Noesi to have about 6.1 K/9 in the rotation. That’s a dead ringer for the 6.2 K/9 projection offered by the Oliver forecasting system over at The Hardball Times.

Is that good enough to make Noesi an appealing fantasy option? It obviously depends upon how deep your league is, but Noesi’s mediocre K rate should be supplemented by few walks (a 2.4 BB/9 projection from Oliver), and Safeco (95 home run park factor for lefty hitters, and 82 for righties) is a much better venue for a flyballing pitcher than Yankee Stadium (143 HR park factor for lefty hitters, 115 for right-handers), so homers shouldn’t be a huge problem. An ERA around the league average (4.21 this past year for AL starters) seems about right.

A year from now, Noesi could again find himself on the periphery of the rotation as more highly-regarded prospects vie for starts. But he at least has an opportunity to prove he belongs in Seattle, and he could be a passable AL-only option who doesn’t cause WHIP-related anguish. That’s a better set of circumstances than he faced in the Bronx.



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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


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Congo Hammer
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Congo Hammer

Do you see him having a better 2012 season than Iwakuma? I know Iwakuma’s velocity is a factor in that, but wanted to know who you would draft in a fantasy league if you had to choose now.

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