I have a reader who insists that Yankees minor league pitcher Jeff Marquez is hands down better than Red Sox minor league pitcher Justin Masterson. Usually I'd say, "who cares"? But given the importance of both pitchers in any potential Johan Santana deal, this may actually be of some relevance. And since there's no important news today, why not discuss it?
Justin Masterson is a 22-year-old right handed sinkerball pitcher in the Red Sox minor league system. He was drafted out of San Diego State in 2005, and he finished last season at Double-A Portland in the Eastern League.
Jeff Marquez is a 23-year-old right handed sinkerball pitcher in the Yankees minor league system. He was drafted out of Sacramento City College in 2004, and he finished last season at Double-A Trenton in the Eastern League.
So far, the pitchers are rather similar. Masterson is a bit younger, and has developed a bit faster. Two years removed from college, he's pitching at the Double-A level. In contrast, Jeff Marquez was pitching at the Rookie level when he was two years removed from college. But other than that, they're pretty similar. That is, until you consider how they've fared over their minor league careers.
Masterson last year pitched 58 innings in the Eastern League. Over that time, he allowed 7.60 hits, 2.79 walks and struck out 9.16 batters for every nine innings that he pitched. In that same league, Marquez pitched 155.1 innings. Over that time, he allowed 9.62 hits, 2.55 walks and stuck out 5.45 batters for every nine innings that he pitched. At the same level Marquez had the better ERA and BB/9. Masterson had the better WHIP, H/9, HR/9, K/9 and WHIP. And Masterson was better in all of those categories, with a year less of minor league experience.
Now, in the face of this evidence, I have a feeling how a Yankees fan might respond. "But Marquez is a sinkerball pitcher, his hit and strikeout rates don't have to be low to be affective. Look at Chien-Ming Wang." That ignores the fact that Masterson is also a sinkerball pitcher, but I'll entertain it anyways. Why not?
Sinkerball pitchers don't necessarily have to strike out batters. And since they pitch to contact, their hit rates are typically higher. What a sinkerball does need to do, however, to be affective, is induce ground balls. So let's take a look at ground out to fly out ratios. Marquez last year had a GO/FO of 1.36 last year. Decent, but not even half as good as the GO/FO ratio of 3.52 which Masterson posted in the same exact league.
Still not satisfied that Marquez isn't the better pitcher? Perhaps you'll be swayed when I tell you that over the entirety of their minor league careers, Masterson has posted a better WHIP, H/9, HR/9, BB/9, and K/9 than Marquez. He's also done with less time to develop. And his numbers have been better even though he pitched most of his innings in Lancaster, which could seriously be the most hitter-friendly ballpark in professional baseball.
So, I've yet to see a reason to believe that Marquez is the better pitcher. They both throw hard mid-90's sinkers and both have decent mastery of their secondary pitches. But if anyone thinks they have an argument as to why Marquez is the better pitcher, feel free to share it.