Projecting Julio Urias

Happy Julio Urias Day to you and yours!

As you’ve probably heard by now, 19-year-old phenom Julio Urias will make his major-league debut against the Mets. Yesterday, lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen provided an excellent breakdown of Urias from a scouting perspective. Go read that if you haven’t already. Today, I look at Urias through a more statistical lens. Urias looks like an elite prospect from that angle, too.

Over the winter, I unveiled KATOH’s top-100 prospect list. The top five players were all hitters, but Urias checked in at #6 with 12 WAR over his next six seasons. He was the cream of the crop among pitching prospects.

It’s easy to see why. Urias recorded an excellent 2.59 FIP and 28% strikeout rate in 13 Double-A starts last year, and was similarly dominant in 2014 while pitching at the High-A level. Most impressively, Urias has managed to outdo himself this year. Across eight Triple-A appearances, he owns a dazzling 1.10 ERA and 2.89 FIP. He’s struck out 30% of opposing hitters. Incorporating his 2016 numbers bumps his KATOH forecast up to 13.8 WAR.

Urias’ stats are great, but it’s his age that really sets him apart. Despite three-plus years of minor-league dominance, Urias doesn’t turn 20 until August. His combination of age and performance — particularly in the strikeouts department — is pretty much unprecedented. No prospect in recent memory has posted such a huge gap between his strikeout and walk rates at so young an age. Not only is he the youngest pitcher in both of these samples, but he also performed substantially better than the few players who are one year older than him. Pitchers who are this good this young just don’t come around. This is what drives Urias’ KATOH forecast.

AA AAA

To put some faces to Urias’ statistical profile, let’s go ahead and generate some statistical comps for the teenage lefty. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis Distance between Urias’ Double-A and Triple-A numbers since the start of 2015 and every season at those levels 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.

Julio Urias’ Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Jerome Williams 10.5 3.7
2 Matt Riley 10.2 0.5
3 Edwin Jackson 10.3 14.8
4 Salomon Torres 11.1 0.9
5 Jeff Suppan 12.9 13.2
6 Pedro Martinez 8.8 48.4
7 Phil Hughes 14.3 16.6
8 Bud Smith 9.2 1.3
9 Roger Salkeld 11.1 0.8
10 Hayden Penn 9.5 0.0

If Urias has one flaw, it’s his height. At just 5-foot-11, he’s substantially smaller than your typical pitching prospect. As Eric noted in his piece, “Urias is physically mature, stocky and devoid of much physical projection.” Conventional wisdom (as well as common sense) holds that taller pitching prospects are better bets. My KATOH research doesn’t disprove this theory, but it does suggest that the importance of a pitcher’s build might be overstated by some. Given two pitchers with identical stat lines, the tall pitcher is more likely to succeed in the big leagues, but not by a wide margin. Height isn’t nearly as predictive as performance.

Despite his extreme youth, there’s little question that Urias is just about ready for the majors. Teenage pitchers in the big leagues are a rarity in this era, but all indications are that Urias is up for the challenge. Scouts say he’ll be really good. The data say he’ll be really good. Julio Urias has a good shot at being really good! Tonight we get to see him scratch the surface of his immense potential.

We hoped you liked reading Projecting Julio Urias by Chris Mitchell!

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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.

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OddBall Herrera
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OddBall Herrera

I can’t wait to tune in tonight for the debut of the next Jerome Williams!