marc rzepczynski was sent down earlier this week, either because the club had serious reservations about how he was walking fewer guys than usual or because john mozeliak had resolved to demote somebody from the bullpen and marc happened to be tunelessly humming in the clubhouse just at the wrong time.
the selection of his replacement, seth maness, caught many cardinal fans by surprise. first, because seth pitches with his right hand, not his left hand; since marc mostly pitched left-handed (at least as best as i've been able to observe, but i haven't, you know, been keeping track). second, because most people didn't know seth maness was in the cardinal organization or that he pitched as opposed to playing right field or possibly coaching at first base for the peoria chiefs.
well, that is too bad, because seth maness stands out in a farm system stacked with talent as the weirdest talent in the bunch.
why is he weird? nothing that would jump out at you. he's got good general numbers, but doesn't compare to shelby miller; his career ERA in the minors is 2.80 which is quite good, but not shocking. he doesn't throw with absurd velocity like trevor rosenthal. he doesn't really strike out a ton of guys.
here's where the magic happens. this is seth maness's career K/BB rate in the minors: 9.56.
take a second. let that sink in for a moment.
for every one walk.
that's an extraordinary number. last year, the biggest K/BB ratio in the majors was cliff lee with a 7.38 K/BB ratio. nobody else even put up a 5.
"well, maybe," i hear you say, "maybe this is just something that's easy to do in the minors." let's look. in his longest stop at any level of the minors, he put up a 9.22 K/BB rate in springfield.
here's the last time somebody did that in the Texas League: . . .
as far as i can tell, nobody has put up a comparable K/BB rate in the Texas League. i looked all the way back to 1972. before that year baseball-reference won't tell me K/BB rates.
unlike some guys with high K/BB rates, maness keeps his rate so low by being disturbingly stingy with walks. he walked 18 guys in 247 minor league innings. james mcdonald of the pirates has walked 20 guys IN THE LAST MONTH; gio gonzalez has walked 18 in that time.
that gives him an average of 0.7 walks for every 9 innings. maness walks about one guy every two starts.
now, i have no idea what this means for his long-term prospects. it's completely possible that being a preposterously good control artist in the minors does not translate into good results in the majors.results in the majors. and it's dangerous to cull people just by their K/BB rates.
and it's dangerous to cull people just by their K/BB rates. the first analogous K/BB numbers that i see elsewhere in the minors is a 9.30 K/BB from jered weaver as a 23-year-old in the PCL. but he did that with exceptional strikeout rates (10.1 K/9) and a great, but not absurd walk rate (1.2 BB/9). a reasonable person would expect different results from a pitcher who strikes out guys at a touch below average rate while walking guy at a rate one-third of league average. maness's skillset is just very different from other guys with elite K/BB.
in AA, almost everyone is in their mid-20's and still developing; there, high K/BB rates are unusual. the PCL, by contrast, has a long list of guys who never walk anyone, but they're mostly 30-year-olds who have simply acquired the ability to find the strike zone in AAA without being good enough to miss bats in the majors.
one name which continually comes up as a comp to seth maness is brad thompson. i'm resistant to that comp. thompson had a career 4.11 K/BB ratio in the minors, never reaching the elite control that maness has shown. in the majors, thompson's control in the minors never manifested in the majors. he put together a below average 1.57 K/BB once he graduated to the majors.
it's entirely possible that maness's one trick pony routine won't sustain into the future. but i am incredibly curious as to see how it plays out. i think of him as being the fun-house mirror reflection of another of my favorite cardinal prospects, mike o'neill, who poses much the same question on the position player side as maness does on the mound. how far can an absurd amount of talent for a single skill (control for maness and getting on base for o'neill) allow these strange prospects to progress? we will see this season and next.