The pitcher had to meet the following criteria:
- Retain minor league eligibility status, for rankings purposes (not too much Major League experience)
- Be on an active roster in the Cardinals' system at season's end
- More than half of game appearances coming as a starter
These criteria winnowed the list of eligibles down to 29. The 2006 performances of that group were then sliced and diced using both defense-independent statistics such as strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed and more team-oriented ones like Earned Run Average and WHIP. Weight was given to both the level at which the pitcher competed and the time period over which the pitcher competed. There were three other pitchers whose 2006 performances were marginally better than our winner but all three performed at lower levels that he did.
And the winner is….
Blake Hawksworth – Right-Handed Starter – Palm Beach Cardinals/Springfield Cardinals
Blake Hawksworth's 2006 season was the best overall performance in the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league system. After two seasons basically lost to injuries, Hawksworth entered 2006 with a great deal to prove. He needed to stay on the mound, make his starts and produce results. He did just that.
Hawksworth compiled an overall 11-4 record in 27 starts between the Palm Beach and Springfield Cardinals rotation. His 11 wins were third in St. Louis' minor league system in 2006, behind Cory Meacham and Trey Hearne. His four losses tied him for second place in fewest losses among full-season starters. All of this was accomplished over 163-1/3 innings, which was the second-highest innings-pitched behind John Webb.
Hawksworth began 2006 at class A-Advanced Palm Beach. There he went 7-2 in 83-2/3 innings with 75 hits allowed along with 19 walks for a 1.12 WHIP and 2.89 K/BB ratio. He did not allow a home run and held opposing batters to a .247 average and .302 on-base percentage.
Hawksworth made the biggest jump in the minors, performance-wise, on June 23rd when he was promoted to the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. At Springfield, he went 4-2 in 79-2/3 innings with 72 hits and 31 walks for a 1.21 WHIP and 2.13 K/BB ratio. He gave up eight home runs for an average of 0.90 HR/9 IP and held opposing batters to a .248 average and .322 on-base percentage.
One of the more impressive parts of Hawksworth's 2006 season was his improvement with runners in scoring position. He had runners in scoring position about 25% of the time at both Palm Beach and Springfield. Under those circumstances, batters went .288/.379/.301/.681 in Palm Beach and .229/.288/.314/.602 in Springfield. It should be noted, however, that Hawksworth's BAPIP in Palm Beach was a whopping .389 while it was just .273 at Springfield. This indicates that Hawksworth was pretty unlucky on balls in play at Palm Beach and was just a tad lucky by that same measure in Springfield. Still the improvement in his RISP numbers is noteworthy.
Although Hawksworth's numbers declined a bit in most categories when comparing Palm Beach against Springfield, as is to be expected when moving from A-Advanced to Double-A, his Double-A numbers remained solid. His strikeouts improved from just under six a game at Palm Beach to around seven and one-half at Springfield. On the other hand, his control worsened from two walks a game at Palm Beach to three and one-half at Springfield.
When compared to the rest of the group of 29, Hawksworth's 2006 performance was among the most balanced. His strikeout average of 6.7 was 16th overall but his Springfield K rate of 7.46 was second of the eight pitchers that performed at either Double-A or Triple-A in 2006. His 2.75 walks per nine innings pitched average was 12th of 29. Hawksworth's 1.21 WHIP stood eighth in the group while his 2.42 K/BB ratio was tenth. Given his health history, Hawksworth's ranking of second in total innings pitched for 2006 is particularly important.
The Birdhouse staff congratulates Blake Hawksworth on his 2006 season.
Honorable Mentions -
Jaime Garcia – Left-Handed Starter – Swing of the Quad Cities/Palm Beach Cardinals
Garcia was Hawksworth's chief competition for the Pitcher of the Year honors. His professional debut season was noteworthy and Garcia's overall numbers bested Hawksworth, at least marginally, in most categories. However, the main factor that gave the award to Hawksworth was the level at which each pitched. The lowest level at which Hawksworth pitched was the highest level at which Garcia pitched. The differences in their overall rankings did not mitigate that fact. Still, congratulations to Jaime Garcia on an excellent 2006 season.
Adam Daniels – Left-Handed Starter – Swing of the Quad Cities
Daniels notched a good first full season of professional ball. He was sixth in strikeouts per nine innings pitched average with 8.37, fifth in K/BB ratio with 2.91 and second in home runs allowed with just three home runs given up in 137-2/3 innings pitched. Daniels' bid for Pitcher of the Year honors was hurt mainly by the fact that he spent the entire season at class A Quad Cities and his age. Daniels turned 24 in mid-August which makes him a little old for class A, whose average age is just over 22.
Trey Hearne – Right-Handed Starter – Swing of the Quad Cities
Like his Swing teammate, Adam Daniels, 2006 was Hearne's first full season of professional ball. Hearne's 2.25 ERA was the best of the 29 pitchers considered for Pitcher of the Year and his 1.06 WHIP was third behind Matthew Lane and Blake King. Hearne had a 3.12 K/BB ratio, 106 to 34 walks in 128 innings pitched, which was good for fourth place. Also like Daniels, the level at which Hearne pitched factored against him for Pitcher of the Year as did the fact that Hearne did not earn a slot in the Swing's regular rotation until June. Hearne appeared in 31 games for the Swing with 17 of them being starts. Hearne turned 23 in August which put him right at league-average age.
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