Yesterday, the Royals announced that right-handed pitching prospect Christian Binford had been promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Binford’s having a terrific season, posting a 2.40 ERA in 82.2 innings for Wilmington, while striking out 10 batters per 9 innings. He’s also continued to display elite control, walking 1.2 batters per 9 innings. The Blue Rocks’ rotation was going to need an opening soon to make room for Brandon Finnegan, and Binford’s performance certainly merited a promotion. This news came on the heels of Binford being named to the MLB Futures Game, to be played during the All Star break.
Binford is an interesting case of a player getting excellent results without having the kind of stuff that scouts love. Most reports have suggested Binford’s ceiling is more of a back-end starter, simply because the pure stuff isn’t all that exciting. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and his slider only flashes as a plus pitch on occasion. He doesn’t have a great changeup, either, which makes one question how he’s been able to put up such eye-popping numbers.
There are a couple of things at play here. First, as I mentioned, Binford has impeccable control. Baseball America ranked him as the 10th best prospect in the Royals’ system, and that was largely due to having the best control of any pitcher on the farm. As a professional, he’s walked 40 batters in 257.2 career innings. That comes out to a walk rate of 3.8%. That’s Cliff Lee territory, as far as walks are concerned.
He hasn’t walked a batter in over 5 starts, going back to May 25th. Raul Ibanez was an Angel then.
Binford’s control has been a big part of his success, because he’s able to stay so aggressive with hitters. When a pitcher is constantly throwing pitches in and around the zone, batters usually end up in pitchers’ counts. Pitchers’ counts tend to end poorly for batters, particularly in the minor leagues. When Binford gets ahead, he can go to his secondary pitches, and even if they aren’t consistently above average pitches, he can hit his spots well enough to get strikeouts.
But his strikeouts aren’t all the result of perfect command. Of the 9 starts for which we have the necessary data, Binford collected double-digit whiff totals in 6 of them. To generate that many swings-and-misses, a pitcher has to have some kind of stuff and/or deception.
While his command profile has helped his stuff to play up a bit, it also hasn’t hurt that Binford has been pitching in an extremely friendly environment for pitchers. Both his league, and especially his home park, tend to inflate pitchers’ statistics, so moving Binford up to Double-A could be an even bigger challenge.
To this point, Binford’s allowed an OPS of .512 at home, while allowing a .671 OPS on the road. Both of the home runs he’s allowed in 2014 – yes, just 2 of them – have come away from Frawley Stadium. His new home park in Springdale, Arkansas will likely not be as kind to him. Luckily for Binford, his 6’6″ frame does help him get good downward plane on his fastball, which allows him to get quite a few ground balls, and ground balls
almost never get hit out of the stadium.
Binford’s last start came on Sunday, and if they keep him on regular rest, that would put his Double-A debut on Friday at Arvest Ballpark. I’m very excited to see how he performs, because I’m still not totally sold on what his future is. Obviously the command is great, but I want to see how his stuff plays in a tougher environment against more advanced hitters.
In Wilmington, it’s easier for a pitcher to get away with a mistake, but the margin for error shrinks as a guy like Binford progresses through the system. It’s going to be difficult for him to maintain the torrid pace he’s been on so far, but Binford now has an opportunity to prove to the rest of baseball that he can be more than just a back-end starter.