By Nathan Desai
With the school strikeout record and a National Pitcher of the Year Award under his belt, Stanford alumnus Mark Appel ‘13 has been proclaimed by many to be a future MLB star. It is apparent why the Houston Astros selected him with the first overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Over a year has passed since his selection in the draft, with Appel currently pitching for Double-A Corpus Christi. Although he was the first overall pick and pitched superbly at Stanford, Appel did not start the season in Double-A. Rather, he began at Single-A Lancaster and has struggled so far this year.
On July 24, Appel recorded a quality start for the first time all season. In fact, it was the first time this year that he had pitched more than five innings in a game. Allowing just five hits and two runs in six innings against Single-A Stockton — Oakland’s affiliate — Appel won his second game of the season and was immediately promoted to Double-A.
Appel made his first start for Corpus Christi on July 30 against San Diego affiliate San Antonio. The game featured a no-hitter, but unfortunately for Appel, it was thrown by San Antonio. However, the former Cardinal pitcher had a solid performance as well, giving up just two hits and no runs in five innings.
Given Appel’s background as a strong collegiate pitcher, it would seem that his call-up might have not garnered much attention. However, there was quite a bit of buzz around the transaction due to Appel’s performances in Single-A this year.
Before his win on July 24, Appel had a 10.80 ERA and 2.09 WHIP for Lancaster in 11 starts. He was also allowing over two home runs per nine innings, with opposing batters notching a .377 average against him. Despite his blatant struggles, he was promoted to Double-A after just one quality start in Single-A.
However, there are some favorable statistics from his time at Lancaster. In those first 11 starts, he allowed just 11 walks and struck out 33 batters in 38.1 innings. In addition, many identify the California League — which is where Lancaster plays — as a hitting league. Astros GM Jeff Luthrow even called Lancaster a hostile pitching environment.
Appel’s 9.74 Single-A ERA may look appalling, but a look at his walk and strikeout numbers shows that he has actually been pitching well. In his 12 Single-A starts, he averaged less than a walk a game and just under a strikeout per inning. Therefore, his control has been great, but the problem is that a lot of batters were making contact with his pitches.
Appel may have had a 9.74 ERA in Lancaster, but his FIP (Field Independent Pitching) registered at 5.33, which may be unimpressive, but is still much better than his earned run average. FIP is adjusted annually to be brought onto the ERA scale, and is calculated by multiplying the number of home runs allowed by 13, adding it to the number of walks and hit batters times three, then subtracting the number of strikeouts times two, dividing all that by innings pitched and then adding a constant to bring it to an ERA scale.
FIP assumes that pitchers don’t have much control over balls in play, while focusing on things that pitchers can control, like home runs and strikeouts. Though 5.33 is still an atrocious number, it shows that a large part of Appel’s struggles in Lancaster were due to factors that were out of his control.
Ultimately, what is remarkable is that no one would have been pointing fingers had Appel started the season at Double-A Corpus Christi. Therefore, in spite of his struggles at Lancaster, Appel’s promotion to Double-A is nevertheless justifiable and logical.
*Stats accurate as of July 31
Contact Nathan Desai at thegreatnate97 ‘at’ gmail.com.