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Prospect Retro: Rob Dibble

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Prospect Retrospective: Rob Dibble

Doing a Prospect Retrospective on Rob Dibble might seem a bit strange. But I have a reason. I did a brief interview with Dibble and Kevin Kennedy yesterday on XM Satellite radio, and Rob mentioned that he visits occasionally here at Minorleagueball. That got me thinking about when Dibble first came up to the Majors back in the late 80s. For nostalgia purposes, I went back and looked at his career numbers. I noticed that Dibble's minor league career is rather interesting, and illustrates a point I've tried to make occasionally about the relationship between velocity, pitching success, and strikeouts.

Dibble was a first-round pick in the secondary phase of the 1983 June draft. Assigned to Billings in the Pioneer League, he posted a 7.82 ERA in 12.2 innings, allowing 18 hits, 13 runs, with a 7/11 K/BB ratio. Moved up to Eugene in the Northwest League, he pitched a bit better, going 3-2, 5.73 in 7 starts, but with a still weak 17/18 K/BB in 38 innings.

The following season for Tampa in the Florida State League, he went 5-2, 2.92 in 64.2 innings, allowing 59 hits. His K/BB was 39/29. Note the low strikeout rate and weak overall K/BB. Despite having great velocity, he wasn't striking people out. His ERA was pretty, but the underlying K/IP ratio was a warning.

Velocity and strikeouts are not the same thing; it is K/IP that is the best indicator of future potential, not just the number on the radar gun. A guy with an impressive fastball but a low strikeout rate is often disappointing compared to a guy with a mediocre fastball but an excellent strikeout rate, provided that the guy with the weaker fastball maintains his strikeouts as he moves up. If the strikeouts start to decline for the finesse guy, that's a big red flag. This is the Allan Anderson effect (the subject of our next prospect retro tomorrow). But on the other hand, if the strikeouts start to increase for the hard-thrower, it's a sign that he is figuring out his craft.

Dibble went 5-5 with a 3.84 ERA for Class A Cedar Rapids in '95, converting to relief and saving 12 games. His K/BB was 73/28 in 66 innings. Note the strong improvement in his K/IP, a sign that he was starting to live up to the potential inherent in his arm strength. The question would be if he could maintain this progress in Double-A.

For Double-A Vermont in '86, Dibble posted a solid 3.09 ERA and 10 saves, but his K/BB was 37/28 in 55 innings, as his strikeout rate took a tumble. Caution flag! Moved up to Triple-A Nashville for '87, he pitched mostly in middle relief and did not do particularly well, with a 4.72 ERA. He allowed 72 hits in 61 innings; his K/BB was 51/27. The K/IP improved, but he still needed better command.

In '88, things clicked. Dibble increased his strikeout rate dramatically, fanning 41 in 35 innings for Nashville, while also showing improved control. He saved 13 games, posted a 2.31 ERA, and earned a promotion to Cincinnati, where he was a major relief force down the stretch. Dibble won 10 games with a 2.09 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 99 innings in '89, establishing his credentials as a Big League fireballer.

In 477 career Major League innings, Dibble fanned 645 men and posted a 2.98 ERA. This was much better than his minor league aggregate numbers: 294 strikeouts in 354 innings, with a 4.24 ERA.

In Dibble's case, you can see the direct relationship between strikeouts and effectiveness. He didn't really thrive in the minors until his second year in Triple-A, when he suddenly gained a modicum of command and started striking more people out. Velocity helps a pitcher, but it does not make a pitcher.

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