Obscure Stats & Sleeper Prospects: Rainy Lara

Rainy Lara posted an outstanding 2.91 ERA for the Cyclones in 2012. - (Photo Credit: Chris McShane)

Digging a little deeper to uncover underrated prospects for 2013.

I've made no secret of my opinion that the minor league community here at Amazin' Avenue is the best of any on the Internet. What began as a loose collection of a few rabid followers (Meddler, anyone?) has evolved into a robust group of fans whose knowledge of the farm system is surpassed only by their fervor for future Mets.

However, from where I'm sitting this can be sort of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's outstanding to be able to rely on the collective to organically push the high-water mark in terms of quality discussion and debate. On the other, it's really hard to get anything by you guys. Specifically, the more everybody knows about the system, the harder it is to pluck out sleepers.

Don't get me wrong; that doesn't mean we can't find a few. It just means we have to dig a little deeper into the numbers in order to do so. Over the course of the next few days we'll see if we can't uncover a handful of statistical outliers that point us in the directions of sleeper prospects for 2013.

Rainy Lara

As many of us know, the just-turned 22-year-old Lara starred in the Brooklyn Cyclones rotation in 2012 -- posting a very strong 2.91 ERA in 12 starts. However, as impressive a number as that was it was still only the fifth-best ERA on his own staff. With guys like Hansel Robles, Luis Mateo, Gabriel Ynoa, and Luis Cessa all posting outstanding results, Lara has sort of been the odd man out.

In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a 2013 Mets prospect ranking that didn't place Lara below the other four starters, if not leaving him out entirely. Guys like Robles and Mateo grabbed attention with plus, major league-cailber fastballs. Ynoa posted results on par with almost anyone in the New York-Penn League -- as a teenager. Cessa was another younger pitcher (20) who impressed in terms of stuff as well as results, made more impressive when one considers that the convverted-infielder was in only his second season of pitching.

Lara didn't have anything that made him stand out from the rest. Except for his performance, that is. We've already touched on his good, not great ERA. However, in recent stories about Mets minor league park factors as well as how to evaluate pitching performances in short-season baseball, we've learned that ERA isn't always the best indicator for future success. Instead, in the latter piece we found that statistics that speak more to a pitcher's stuff were more instructive when it comes to projecting a pitcher's future.

Specifically, the stats I ended up on were opponent average and strikeout percentage. And that is precisely where Lara shined:

Player Opponent AVG
Strikeout %
Hansel Robles
.184
23.8
Luis Mateo
.210
29.2
Gabriel Ynoa
.213
21.2
Luis Cessa
.241
14.9
Rainy Lara
.211
28.4

Obviously Robles was on another level as he dominated the NYPL in opponent average -- there's a reason he was placed on the 40-man roster immediately following the season. Yet Lara ranked ninth in the league* in that statistic (Mateo was eighth). Then if you shift over to strikeout percentage, you see that it was Mateo and Lara who carried the torch. In fact, those two placed first and second, respectively, in the NYPL in that statistic; there wasn't another pitcher above 25%.

Mateo and Lara were among only 16 starting pitchers in minor league baseball to post a strikeout percent mark at or above 28% in 2012.

It is also worth noting that among starting pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched, those two posted two of the three highest strikeout percentages in Brooklyn Cyclones history -- behind only Brad Holt's absurd 32.4 mark in 2008.

Additionally, it's interesting to note that Mateo and Lara were among only 16 starting pitchers -- again, with at least 60 innings pitched -- in minor league baseball (Class-A or higher) to post a mark at or above 28% in 2012. Here's the rest of the list, accompanied by level and Minor League Ball's prospect guru John Sickels 2013 Top 20 prospect rankings:

Player Level Sickels 2013 Ranking (Org)
Dan Straily
Triple-A
#3 (OAK)
Trevor Bauer
Triple-A
#1 (CLE)
Dan Straily*
Double-A
#3 (OAK)
Tony Cingrani
Double-A
#3 (CIN)
Wilmer Font
Advanced-A
#14 (TEX)
Cody Buckel
Advanced-A
#4 (TEX)
Nathan Karns
Advanced-A
#6 (WAS)
Yordano Ventura
Advanced-A
#3 (KCR)
Adam Morgan
Advanced-A #2 (PHI)
David Holberg
Advanced-A #5 (ARI)
Jose Fernandez
Single-A
#1 (MIA)
Kyle Smith
Single-A #4 (KCR)
Alex Meyer
Single-A #6 (MIN)
Noah Syndergaard
Single-A #3 (NYM)
Henry Owens
Single-A #6 (BOS)
Luis Mateo
Short Season-A
#10 (NYM)
Rainy Lara
Short Season-A N/R (NYM)

As the only unranked member of this list, you can see why I consider Lara underrated. Obviously John's annual top 20 rankings aren't necessarily a scientific measuring stick; however it's pretty clear that strikeout ability is something of a common thread among top ten starting pitching talent around baseball.

More importantly, this is not a statistical oddity. Lara isn't undersized. He is not old for his league. Nor does he feature an overly quirky motion or sidearm delivery to deceive low-level hitters. The long, lanky righty is the picture of projectability at 6'4", 180 lbs. He turned 22 less than a month ago, making him almost perfectly league-average age for the NYPL in 2012 (21.1). Additionally, Lara features a fastball that often sat at 93 MPH in 2012, complemented very nicely by a surprisingly well-developed change-up.

In short, Lara is a damn good pitching prospect -- one that deserves a lot more attention.

*among starting pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched

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