Continuing the theme this week of sleeper prospects who have made good, we turn our attention to Los Angeles Angels rookie right-hander Matt Shoemaker. Through 64 innings this year, Shoemaker has a 4.38 ERA with a 7-2 record, a 62/15 K/BB and 70 hits allowed. That may not look so hot, but his FIP (3.78) and especially his xFIP (3.38) are better than the ERA.
If you look at his game-by-game outings, he had one horrible start on June 27th against the Royals, giving up eight runs and 11 hits in four innings, but has otherwise been reasonably effective. Take that game out and you get a 3.75 ERA with a 60/14 K/BB and 59 hits in 60 innings, which is not Cy Young material but makes his ERA better than league average and more in line with the rest of the components.
Of course that bad game does count. However, if you add in the five-inning shutout game he pitched in his major league debut last September, you get a career 4.06 ERA in 69 career innings with a 67/17 K/BB and 70 hits allowed. Not great, but not bad either.
Among rookie pitchers with 50 or more innings to their credit this year, Shoemaker ranks 12th out of a group of 22 with a 0.7 WAR, ranking right between Trevor Bauer (0.8 WAR in 73 innings) and Brandon Workman (0.5 in 52 innings). Bauer and Workman were well-known prospects entering the season, but Shoemaker wasn't.
Signed as an un-drafted free agent out of Eastern Michigan University in 2008, Shoemaker has seldom ranked on prospect lists but has done a good job eating innings and throwing strikes. He had a great year in Double-A in 2011 (12-5, 2.48, 129/35 K/BB in 156 innings) but the environment at Triple-A Salt Lake in the Pacific Coast League was more difficult. He posted unattractive 5.65 and 4.64 ERAs in '12 and '13, although in both campaigns he posted strong K/BB ratios (124/45 and 160/29 respectively), while averaging 180 innings per year.
Inning-eating and strike-throwing has value, but Shoemaker didn't show up as a big rookie investment candidate due to his age (he is a 27 year old rookie), lack of consistent plus velocity (his best fastball is 94 MPH and he averages about 90) and the fact that non-drafted free agents always face some skepticism. What he does have, however, in addition to the durability and control, are a decent slider and curve and a really good split-changeup as noted by Carson Cistulli at Fangraphs.
Bottom line: Shoemaker isn't going to turn into an ace, but he can start or relieve, throws strikes, stays healthy, and is capable of league-average (or slightly better) performance when things are going well. That's a nice thing to find on the non-drafted free agent market.