Projecting Mark Appel by Chris Mitchell December 14, 2015 Last week, I wrote a piece about Derek Fisher, who was supposedly part of the package going back to Philly in exchange for super-reliever Ken Giles. Now that the dust has finally settled on that trade, we’ve learned that Fisher wasn’t actually involved. So I basically wrote about Derek Fisher for no reason in particular. Instead, the Astros included former first-overall pick Mark Appel. A couple of guys named Arauz — Harold and Jonathan, going to Philly and Houston, respectively — were also included. It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Appel since he went first overall back in June of 2013. Between 2013 and 2014, he pitched to a 5.93 ERA and 3.86 FIP over 121 innings, with most of his work coming in A-Ball. His ERA and FIP converged last season, when he put up a 4.45 ERA and 4.30 FIP between Double-A and Triple-A. All told, Appel’s struck out 20% of opposing batters, and has walked 8% over the past two and a half years — roughly the same as an average minor leaguer. Those numbers aren’t terrible when taken at face value. But from a highly-touted college draftee, you almost always see a lot more a lot sooner. For comparison, Aaron Nola and Carlos Rodon were also recent college draftees, are over a year younger than Appel, and posted sub-4.00 ERAs in the big leagues last year. While Appel was putting up mediocre numbers in the minors, those guys were succeeding in the big leagues. When KATOH looks at Appel, it sees a 24-year-old who’s been consistently mediocre in the minors. Every organization has several of those. So, as a result, KATOH pegs him for just 0.7 WAR through his age-28 season. Appel’s 2014 numbers yield a similar forecast of 1.1 WAR. Of course, stats aren’t everything. And Appel feels like one of those cases where the stats are missing out on some hidden upside. Appel has a mid-90s fastball, along with a plus slider and changeup. Many big league starters have succeeded with similar repertoires, while many more have succeeded with much less. But while Appel has the stuff of a front-line starter, he’s yet to parlay it into on-field performance. I could just give you a list of Appel’s crappy statistical comps and call it a day. But that wouldn’t be very insightful. Aside from his unspectacular minor league numbers, Appel would have very little in common with most of the pitchers on that list. For example, James Houser would have been Appel’s top comp, and Houser topped out at 86 mph in his lone big league appearance. That’s a far cry from Appel, who can run it up to 95 or 96. To weed out the James Housers of the world, I filtered the list to include only guys who appeared in Baseball America’s top 100 list at some point. So that leaves us with the pitchers who performed similarly to Appel, but whose stuff was still good enough to win over the folks at Baseball America. Mah Dist denotes Mahalanobis distance. A lower figure represents a more similar comp. Mark Appel’s Mahalanobis Comps Rank Mah Dist Name 2015 Age IP WAR 1 0.13 John Maine 34 593 5.7 2 0.18 Clint Nageotte 34 42 -0.1 3 0.43 Homer Bailey 29 1,010 13.1 4 0.43 Jesus Colome 37 426 -0.4 5 0.47 Greg Gohr 47 183 0.5 6 0.50 Christian Friedrich 27 167 1.1 7 0.55 Jeff Granger 43 32 -0.7 8 0.57 Mark Hutton 45 190 -0.2 9 0.61 Ed Yarnall 39 20 0.0 10 0.63 Allen Webster 25 120 -1.1 11 0.63 Julio Santana 42 479 0.3 12 0.67 Albie Lopez 43 841 5.7 13 0.67 Chuck Lofgren 29 0 0.0 14 0.69 Justin Miller 37 376 0.9 15 0.70 Aaron Myette 37 154 -0.3 16 0.70 Wade Davis 29 733 10.7 17 0.70 Matt White 36 0 0.0 18 0.77 Jake Arrieta 29 795 15.0 19 0.77 Kyle Drabek 27 178 -0.3 20 0.78 Wade Miller 38 894 12.6 As these things always are, this list is a mixed bag. It includes guys like Clint Nagoette and Jesus Colome, who had good stuff but never quite pieced it all together in the big leagues. But there are also examples of pitchers who did find ways to make it work. Homer Bailey became one of the better pitchers in baseball. Wade Davis, Jake Arrieta and Wade Miller also didn’t look all that different from Appel in the high minors, and wound up pitching successfully in the show. This is all to say that it’s not too late for Appel to turn things around. The list above includes examples of pitchers who had good stuff, but mediocre minor league performance, and still succeeded in the majors. Pitchers are fickle creatures, and it’s not at all uncommon for breakouts to occur with little notice. As of this writing, though, we’re still waiting for Appel to break out. The Phillies are hoping this year’s the year it finally happens, and it very well might be. Maybe a change of scenery will help. But considering he turns 25 next summer, Appel’s running out of time.