San Diego Padres starting pitcher Tyson Ross had some control problems in his last start on Friday, August 15th, walking four men in six innings in a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. However, his 2014 season has been a success overall: he has a 2.70 ERA in 26 starts, with a 162/60 K/BB in 167 innings, 3.27 FIP, 2.2 fWAR and an 11-11 record for a 57-64 team.
I've had a couple of requests recently for a Prospect Retrospective for Ross, so let's do that right now.
Tyson Ross was a starting pitcher for three seasons at the University of California, 2006 through 2008. His freshman (3.19 ERA in 85 innings, 85/41 K/BB) and sophomore (2.49 ERA, 120/39 K/BB in 116 innings) were quite good and positioned him for an early selection in the 2008 draft. His junior draft season was actually the weakest: he ran up a 4.25 ERA in 78 innings with a 66/33 K/BB, limited to 12 starts by some nagging minor injuries and mechanical troubles. This hurt his draft stock slightly but he still went in the second round, drafted by the Oakland Athletics.
This is the report I wrote on him entering 2009:
At his best, Ross features an excellent slider, along with a 92-95 MPH sinking fastball and an effective changeup. His command is usually good. However, for much of the spring Ross had trouble with his control, and his velocity also fluctuated. Scouts worry that his mechanics stress his arm too much, and that he would be better-served used in relief rather than as a starter. His pro debut in the Midwest League was reasonably successful, and he posted a 2.55 GO/AO ratio, granted the sample size is small. Ross could end up as an inning-eating sinkerball starter, or he could end up as a power reliever, or he could end up getting hurt and turning into nothing. I’d like to get a larger pro sample size before going higher than Grade C+
Ross spent most of 2009 with Stockton in the High-A California League, posting a 4.17 ERA with an 82/33 K/BB in 86 innings. Promoted to Double-A Midland, he generated a 3.96 ERA with a 31/20 K/BB in 50 innings. I saw a couple of his Midland starts in person, which led to the following report:
Ross has one of the best arms in the Oakland system, throwing a hard sinker clocked as high as 95 MPH, though 90-94 is his usual range. He also has a nasty slider, and will occasionally show a good changeup to round out the arsenal. His pitches have a ton of movement, perhaps too much for his own good: his control is often poor, and he sometimes lacks a clear idea where his pitches are going. His mechanics are deceptive, but they also look awkward and rather stressful on his shoulder. Statistically, Ross’ most intriguing number is his 2.08 GO/AO ratio, reflecting the sinking action on his pitches, but his K/IP and K/BB marks are mediocre, reflecting his command problems. I have mixed feelings about Ross. I respect his stuff, and he reminds me of a young Scott Erickson. At the same time, I’m concerned about Ross’ command, and his mechanics make me worry about his arm. If he can improve his location within the strike zone, Ross could take a big step forward in 2010. Grade B-.
Ross split 2010 between Triple-A Sacramento (3.55 ERA, 30/13 K/BB in 25 innings) and the major league roster, used as both a starter and reliever by the Athletics, resulting in a 5.49 ERA in 39 innings with a 32/20 K/BB. He also missed time with a sore elbow, but he still had rookie eligibility so I wrote up one more report for 2011:
Ross unexpectedly made Oakland’s major league roster out of spring training last year and spent much of the year in the bullpen, although not enough to lose prospect eligibility for this book. He made six starts in Triple-A at mid- season with good results, but was shut down early with a sore elbow. Health problems are not unusual for him: he’s also had shoulder trouble in the past, and many observers (including me) think his mechanics stress the arm. At his best, Ross has a power sinker that hits the mid-90s, along with a nasty slider and an average changeup. He is a strong ground ball pitcher and will need a good defense behind him. He could develop into a number three starter if he stays healthy, although it wouldn’t surprise me if the bullpen is his eventual destination. Grade B
As you know, Ross bounced around between the major leagues and Triple-A in 2011 and 2012, never finding his footing in the Show. After a 6.50 ERA and 96 hits given up in 73 innings in 2012, Oakland cut the cord and traded him to the Padres.
It was, says Ross, "the best thing to ever happen to me."
His results have been completely different in San Diego: 3.17 ERA with 119/44 K/BB in 125 innings last year, and the aforementioned strong pitching this season. Why? August Fagerstrom at Fangraphs ran down the reasons last month. There are two main differences between the present and the past: he is using his slider a lot more than he did in Oakland, and he is throwing his two-seam sinker more often than his four-seam fastball. Ross credits pitching coach Darren Balsley for helping him make these changes.
What about the future? The pitching environment in San Diego is certainly friendly which helps. I still think health and durability are the key concerns here; his 167 innings this year are already a career-high so it will be interesting to see if he loses steam as the season progresses or if he has physical problems next spring.
What about the Scott Erickson comp? In some ways this has panned out exactly: Erickson had a career ERA+ of 98. Ross's current career ERA+ is....98! Through 440 career innings, Ross has a fWAR of 4.8. Through his first 440 innings, Erickson's fWAR was a little over 5.0. On a per-inning basis they have been very close.
However, the ways they went about getting there were very different: Erickson had big league success immediately: he already had those 440 innings by age 24. He faded in his late 20s before a rebound; at age 27 (where Ross is now), Erickson already had over 1,000 big league innings and 16 fWAR. As noted in his history, Ross struggled at first before taking his step forward at age 26.
Erickson finished with 2361 career innings and a 30.5 fWAR; it remains to be seen if Ross can last nearly that long.