The Houston Astros have summoned David Paulino from the minor leagues to make his big-league debut against the Indians today. Paulino was utterly dominant in the minors this year. Splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A, the 6-foot-7 righty whiffed 29% of batters faced on his way to a 2.00 ERA and 2.24 FIP. Somewhat quietly, Paulino put together one of the best seasons in the minors in 2016.
Paulino had shown flashes of excellence in the past, but his triumphs in the low minors have been regularly interrupted by injury. He put up a 2.63 FIP across three levels of A-ball last year, and was missing bats in rookie ball as far back as 2011. But his 2016 campaign marks the first time he’s logged anything resembling a full season, and the first time he’s had the opportunity to prove himself against advanced hitters.
KATOH loves Paulino’s 6-foot-7 frame and lofty strikeout rates. My system pegs him for 5.3 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method and 6.0 WAR by KATOH+, which integrates Baseball America’s rankings. KATOH had Paulino as a mid-top-100 prospect on their mid-season list. To help you visualize what his KATOH projection entails, here is a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Paulino’s first six seasons in the major leagues.
To put some faces to Paulino’s statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps for the tall righty. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis distance between Paulino’s performance this year and every Double-A and Triple-A season since 1991 in which a pitcher faced at least 350 batters. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.
Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun
Paulino has tantalizing stuff. He throws in the mid-90s while also mixing in two potentially plus breaking pitches. Now that he’s proven he can use that stuff to get out high-minors hitters, there’s little reason to doubt he’ll have similar success in the big leagues. He’ll almost certainly help the Astros in their quest to snag a wild-card berth from one of the AL East teams ahead of them.
Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.
I know I am missing something, but 5.3 WAR over 6 seasons seems a bit low for a starter with Paulino’s talent and success in the minors.
5.3 WAR over 6 seasons is Jeff Locke level production, and I think I speak for all Pirate fans when I say that is not the level of production one would tend to see as meaningful.
Ivan Nova has posted 7.7 WAR over his last 6 seasons, which by my (probably incorrect) calculation is 32% greater than the 5.3 WAR projected for Paulino. If in reality, Paulino is 32% less productive than Ivan Nova, I do not think Astro fans will think very highly of him.
Look at the distribution of probabilities again. There is a 40% chance he does NOTHING (after all… he’s a pitcher). There is a 7% chance he tops 20 WAR. That would mean he’d be in the 15 man group that begins with Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg… and ends with David Price and Clayton Kershaw. (over the last 6 years)
5.3 is the most likely area. Not a bad area… guys like Rich Hill, Trevor Bauer, Ken Giles are there… granted they’ve pitched differing amounts, over different # of seasons in the past 6 seasons… there are a lot of ways to get to 5.3 WAR. Some are good. Some are Juan Nicasio.
I’d be ecstatic to have a guy with a 7% chance to become one of the top 15 pitchers in the game over the next 6 seasons break in for my team. True, 93% chance he doesn’t… but at least he has a shot.