MacKenzie Gore Has Been One of the Best Cal League Pitchers of All Time

Credit: EVT Sports/M.Kreg

Credit: Jerry Espinoza/MiLB.com

Taken with the third pick in the 2017 First-Year Player Draft, expectations have always been high for Padres’ 20-year-old lefty pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore. What’s amazing is that he’s surpassed those expectations with his pitching in the High-A California League in 2019. Let’s analyze his statistics to see just how rare this level of pitching truly is in a league that’s been known for being hitter-friendly. 

Gore’s ERA is almost a full run lower than the second-lowest ERA, put up by Edwin Uceta of the Dodgers’ organization, which speaks to how rare Gore’s pitching has been during this season alone. Furthermore, it’s impressive in and of itself that Gore has the lowest FIP in the California League, as shown in the table showing the league leaders in the statistic:

# Name Team Age IP FIP
1 MacKenzie Gore Padres (A+) 20 53.2 2.01
2 Ljay Newsome Mariners (A+) 22 61 2.04
3 Josh Green Diamondbacks (A+) 23 46 3.04
4 Denny Brady Angels (A+) 22 42.2 3.08
5 Cole Stapler Diamondbacks (A+) 24 44 3.30

It’s clear that Gore has been the best pitcher in the league this year while being at least two years younger than every other pitcher in the table above.

However, just looking at his ranks among 2019 pitchers in the California league doesn’t do his performance justice.

Gore’s numbers rate among the best pitchers of all time in the league, when we look back at the numbers posted by those who came before him.

Fangraphs has tracked statistics in the league dating back to the 2006 season. Here are the lowest individual FIPs posted during that time among qualified pitchers:

Rank Season Name Team Age IP FIP
1 2019 MacKenzie Gore Padres (A+) 20 53.2 2.01
2 2019 Ljay Newsome Mariners (A+) 22 61.0 2.04
3 2019 Josh Green Diamondbacks (A+) 23 46.0 3.04
4 2019 Denny Brady Angels (A+) 22 42.2 3.08
5 2008 Tim Alderson Giants (A+) 19 145.1 3.22
6 2013 Ty Blach Giants (A+) 22 130.1 3.23
7 2014 Seth Streich Athletics (A+) 23 114.0 3.24
8 2019 Cole Stapler Diamondbacks (A+) 24 44.0 3.30
9 2015 Anthony Banda Diamondbacks (A+) 21 151.2 3.31
10 2010 Juan Nicasio Rockies (A+) 23 177.1 3.42

Although he hasn’t pitched as many innings as the other pitchers on this list, Gore has been the best pitcher in the California League during the last 14 years, all while being one of the youngest among those same pitchers, once again. Gore has struck out 38 percent of the hitters he’s faced this season, which also ranks as the best among all pitchers in the league dating back to 2006. As if those numbers aren’t astounding on their own, he also ranks as the best in the league in terms of K-BB percentage, opponent’s batting average, WHIP, BABIP, and LOB percentage during the same period.

Let’s talk about where his numbers rank among all qualified minor league pitchers. Here’s how they stack up to all other pro players in affiliated ball:

ERA FIP xFIP K% BB%
1.17(1st) 2.01(4th) 2.18(2nd) 38.0%(3rd) 5.2%(54th)

He’s putting up video-game numbers comparable to pitchers who are older and more highly regarded than he is, such as Brendan McKay and Casey Mize. Those are two pitchers who have already pitched in college, that he’s outpacing in some statistical categories. Remember how he led the Cal league in WHIP? It turns out he’s also leading all minor leaguers in that category.

Credit: EVT Sports

When a pitcher dominates a level like MacKenzie Gore has this season, it’s cause for great excitement regarding their future. It’s something else entirely when a pitcher throws better than any other pitcher in his same league during the last 14 years. While he may not be rated as one of the very top prospects in baseball currently, his performance this season has shown that he should be considered as such. This also brings up the highly important question of when he should be promoted to Double-A. Based on the numbers discussed above, Gore is certainly ready for the next level of the minor leagues.

The question after that becomes: When will the Padres call him up to the big leagues? Considering the Padres’ recent handling of top prospects and use of aggressive promotions with players such as Chris Paddack and Fernando Tatis Jr., it wouldn’t be a surprise for the team to call up Gore at the end of this season. If there’s any GM in baseball which would be willing to call up a prospect aggressively, it’s A.J. Preller. With the Padres just over the .500 mark at this point in the season, it’s clear they need more help to propel them to a potential playoff berth.

Perhaps the greatest pitcher in Cal League history will help out at some point, and further strengthen the emerging Padres franchise. If he’s on an innings limit this season, it’s possible the team utilizes him out of the bullpen, as San Diego’s lefties have not been particularly impressive thus far in 2019. The pitching of the team has been disappointing enough at times, to justify bringing up Gore late this season. Now the question simply is: Will the Padres bring up one of the best young pitchers in their organization in a bid to win now, or play it safe to protect his future?

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Conrad Parrish
A sophomore at Willamette University in Oregon, Conrad is majoring in Spanish but is also a writing center assistant for other students at Willamette. He has been a Padres die-hard his whole life and hopes to bring comprehensible statistical analysis to the site.

2 thoughts on “MacKenzie Gore Has Been One of the Best Cal League Pitchers of All Time

  1. I feel like you kinda alluded to it, but I’d like to just phrase this in my own words to make sure I cover it. Whatever the big league needs are, whatever their window is to win, will determine what they do with their prospects.

    That being said, I don’t think we will see Gore go to AA this season.

    Here’s why… They don’t need him right now, and they won’t risk a once in a generation arm. Here is why they don’t need him to move through fast. Manny just signed a 9 year deal. The move to start Tatis, was basically by Manny. And others yes. But it was his teammates that pushed for it. Not the GM. Paddock was ready. Yet, I still have my concerns for tommy john survivors, long run. Anyway, they have Logan Allen in AAA. Adrian Morejan in AA and they just promoted Balones to AA from A+. Why not move Gore instead? Because there’s no hurry.

    Gore was supposed to embark on his first full year of pro ball last year. Limited and shut down multiple times due to a blister injury. Yet they still felt confident enough to promote him a level and start in High A Lake Elsinore.

    A little off topic but if you haven’t listened to Sean Mccall call a Storm game on 94.5 you’re missing out.

    Anyway, what I remember as time has passed since drafting Gore and Campusano in 2017, is that they really hoped the two would move through the system together. Build a rapport. But a wrinkle was created when 19 year old (now) then 18 Luis Patino started showing signs he might be a really talented pitcher as well came to develop. That’s TWO top tier lefties in High A and Patino won’t turn 20 until after the season. The two have become best friends and they work with each other and no doubt Patino’s improvement is in part because of Gore. Weather it be actual pitching advice or just cultural familiarity. It’s something that you’d be a fool not to tak into account as a GM and deciding on how to promote your young players.

    But there are a few other things to look out for. I can say without a doubt that Gore is 99.99% hands off. They will not trade him for any vet help. Unless it’s Mike Trout or Christian Yelich. The catching situation is something to watch. Austin is not that good. He’s solid caller, decent defender. Nothing special. But his bat is not up to par. They made the move to get Francisco Mejia from the Indians, but have struggled to find him steady time behind the plate nor to add him to the outfield. Neither catcher looks awesome right now. But it’s too early to give up on Mejia, and Hedges might be out. If they feel like either of those 2 will be there for the long future, Lusi Campusano could be trade bait and that would probably lead to a rather accelerated ascension for Gore through the minors and into big league ball.

    They also took Ryan Weathers witht he 7th overall in 2018 another Lefty. And they’ll take their time with him too because they can. They have so many arms, more ready than Gore at the moment. They’ll let him build his confidence. Get a full season, and move him to the Sod Poodles next year. Is my guess.

    I’m with everyone and their mother, that wants to see Gore face better competition. But just as a safety standpoint, I limit his innings this year, make sure he goes 100-120 and shelf him. He’s only going to get better folks. No need to rush things.

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