I’m going to admit something right off the hop here. This blog has been quite Daniel Norris centric through its short lifetime. From our first post to now, Daniel has probably (although not officially measured) garnered the most ink. So, why are we taking more time to talk about him? Well, as per my last entry, there are two young pitchers whom I hope make a similar transition to Vancouver as Norris did last year. Starting the season in Bluefield before getting a mid to late season promotion to help Vancouver threepeat in 2013. Which got me to thinking even further. Why, with such great stuff, has Daniel Norris stunk as a pro so far?
I have to admit, my adulation of his ability has been purely based on the scouting reports I’d read on him, and not personal views. Unfortunately I was unable to catch Norris when he finally did arrive in Vancouver. Ironic, considering how many times I’d called for him to be promoted. All these breakdowns can be found if you google Norris and ‘scouting report’ so won’t go into too much depth here. As a synopsis, I’ll link my ‘go to’ evaluator, Marc Hulet over at fangraphs, as I believe he makes three key points:
1) Despite his ugly counting stats, it is often hard to read too much into the pitching stats in the lower levels. Sometimes you need to dig really deep to see how effective someone was.
2) Norris’ changeup projects as a plus pitch, and is probably his best offering at the moment.
3) He can be susceptible to the big inning which will ruin the start as a whole, similar to how a couple of terrible holes in a round of golf can make your scorecard a lot uglier than it actually was.
Now, the germination of this piece took place prior to Daniel’s last two starts. Both of which have been excellent. But the key points I hope to make remain the same.
One of the reasons it is tough to measure a rookie ball/low-A ball pitchers counting stats is the defense behind him will often skew a pitchers hits, earned runs, etc. Lansing, this year, have been poor defensively. They are tied for second in the Midwest League in errors with sixty-two. If you look at the table below though, Norris hasn’t really given up a ton of unearned runs, the traditional product of errors. What is harder to measure (in the minor leagues at least) is a defenses ability to get to balls they should have, misreads, mental mistakes, etc. I am not going to say with 100% accuracy, as haven’t seen Lansing play at all this season, but you can assume if the Lugs defense has been so bad then there has also been plenty of plays that should have been made and weren’t. That can be somewhat proven by Norris’ abnormally high .371 BABIP. Arguing the other side, it is hard to quantify minor league BABIP. Maybe he is just getting hit hard.
Which leads me to point two. Over twitter I was discussing Norris’ struggles with two that have seen him pitch this year. My old colleague over at Jays Journal, Jared McDonald, who had this to say:
“His FB was more down (but still up a lot), wasn’t burying guys he got ahead on. Working exclusively on mehanics &FB right now, nothing else.”
Throughout the rest of our chat, Jared let it be known that he was actually quite impressed with Norris’ despite his struggles at the time.
My second contact was with Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the radio voice of the Lugnuts. I asked him if what I had heard from Jared was true from start to start:
— Jesse G-S (@jgoldstrass) May 8, 2013
This would definitely go a ways towards explaining some of Daniel’s early season struggles. Despite their youth, hitters at this level are no mugs. If they know what is coming they’ll probably be able to hit it. Add in the fact that the left-hander was struggling to keep the ball down and it was a recipe for a lot of runs.
With the success over his last two starts, I re-visited the subject with Jesse, asking him if the good work was a product of keeping his fastball down or the Lugnuts let Norris use his secondary pitches:
@charliecaskey both, actually!
— Jesse G-S (@jgoldstrass) May 21, 2013
Fastball control, it’s amazing what it can do.
The last point, gleaned from Hulet’s overview, was the scout he had spoken to assertion that Norris is susceptible to the big inning. I knocked up a rough spreadsheet to see if that has been the case this season:
I made the designation that a ‘big’ inning was one where three or more runs were given up. Nothing scientific about that number, just felt it was the appropriate cut off.
As you can see, in just over thirty innings pitched over nine appearances, Norris has given up three or more runs in six innings. Without doing further research, I don’t know how that 20% stacks up against other pitchers in the league. What I do find interesting, however, is the fact that nineteen of his thirty innings were shutouts (SOIPs). That’s good. Any clean inning helps yourself and the team. But the fact he has more innings where he allowed 3+ than where he let in less than three. That’s not good. And definitely an area that Norris can look to improve upon. His LOB% has actually ticked up at every level he’s been at, but he obviously still needs to bear down further to limit the damage a big inning can inflict.
Something that has obviously taken place during his last two starts.
What can we draw from the above? Given his stuff, the fact he’s primarily been working on mechanics and his fastball to begin the season, and, for the most part, Norris gets out of innings without giving up runs, I don’t think we can give up on Daniel as a prospect just yet. Despite my predilection for doing so as the counting stats got worse and worse to start the season. He could definitely command the zone better, as shown by his 12.8% walk rate (and high number of wild pitches and hit batters as per the table above). But that is a common affliction in twenty-one year olds. If he can manage to keep his fastball down, improve upon his already good changeup, and find an effective breaking ball, I still think we are looking at a potential middle of the rotation big league starter at the very least.