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.
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Jesse
Jesse
3 years ago

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… Read more »

DANIEL
DANIEL
3 years ago

You should consider a table comparing Gore to Paddack from last year.

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