With their 6th round pick in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft the Cincinnati Reds selected right-handed pitcher Graham Ashcraft out of UAB. He was the 174th overall draft pick last season – making him the highest player ever selected from the school – edging out 2009’s Ryan Woolley, who also went in the 6th round (Braves, 178th overall pick – he didn’t sign).
Graham Ashcraft had an interesting journey through college. He began his career at Mississippi State. As a freshman he went 2-0 with a 5.63 ERA, splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation – throwing five games in each, totaling 24.0 innings where he walked 16 batters and struck out 25. He would transfer following the season, sitting out – but also dealt with a hip injury in 2018. In 2019 he was a redshirt sophomore with UAB, and once again he split time between the rotation and bullpen. With the Blazers he pitched in 17 games, with nine coming from the rotation and the other eight out of the bullpen. His ERA was identical to the one he posted back in 2017 – 5.63. This time, though he did so in 56.0 innings while allowing 39 walks and striking out 53.
A quick sign, inking a deal a little under slot value, the right-handed pitcher was sent to join the Reds advanced-rookie level affiliate in Greeneville, Tennessee. In his first start as a professional he allowed four earned runs in 4.0 innings with a walk and three strikeouts. He followed that up with perhaps his best start of the season – 5.0 shutout innings on just two hits with no walks and five strikeouts. You can watch some of that outing below.
But it was the third start of the season that really damaged his overall numbers on the season. Let’s call in the Bronson Arroyo special, as Arroyo was known to have one start a year that just completely got away from him. For Graham Ashcraft that start came in Johnson City on July 2nd when he allowed 10 earned runs in 2.0 innings.
The then 21-year-old rebounded well after that, allowing just one earned run in his next three starts combined. The final two starts of July were a bit rough, giving up seven earned in 7.2 innings pitched. August, though, as a big rebound as Ashcraft made five starts and allowed just five earned runs in 22.0 innings. That led to a 2.05 ERA during the month that featured 25 strikeouts, just one homer allowed, and eight walks.
For the season with Greeneville he posted a 4.53 ERA in 13 starts. That July 2nd start against the Cardinals was responsible for the difference between that ERA and a 2.96 ERA in the other 12 starts on the year.
2019 Season Stats
Fun with the statistics
We’re dealing with a rather small sample size of just over 50.0 innings, so there’s not exactly a ton of statistical significance in terms of value to place on them. It’s certainly possible that there could be something behind why the stats are the way that they are – but with the sample size, it doesn’t necessarily mean that, either.
With all of that said, let’s dive in and talk about a few things. Graham Ashcraft had a few different interesting splits on the season. His home/road splits were pretty big. At home he held hitters to a .159/.286/.220 line in six starts (1.88 ERA). On the road hitters put up a .297/.362/.414 line against him (6.67 ERA). There are some real reasons that happened, too. First, there was a huge difference in BABIP – at home it was lower than you would expect, coming in at .255. On the road it was much higher than you would expect, coming in at .367. But another big reason for that split was the rate at which he struck hitters out. In Greeneville he struck out 33% of opposing hitters. When he was on the road he struck out just 20% of opposing hitters.
There were less dramatic, but still noticeable splits against left and right-handed hitters. Left-handed hitters hit .259/.357/.365 against him. Right-handed hitters had a line of .232/.312/.320 on the year. The difference there pretty much comes down to walk and strikeout rates. When facing right-handed hitters he struck out 28% of them and walked just 7% of them. But left-handed hitters walked 11% of the time and struck out just 21% of the time.
During the season he only allowed two home runs. A big reason for that was his ability to generate a lot of ground balls. His 55% ground ball rate during the year trailed just Luis Mey’s 56% and Tejay Antone’s 55.3% ground ball rate during the 2019 season among players in the farm system. The Major League ground ball rate in 2019 was 42.9% – though it should be noted that as players climb the ladder the ground ball rate for pitchers tends to see a slight decline each step of the way.