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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Better Know a Red #22 - Jon Coutlangus

LHP Jon Coutlangus played a pivotal role in this afternoon's victory over the Imploding Cubs, stopping them 1-2-3 with two strikeouts in the bottom of the fifth following the Reds' 6-run burst in the top of that inning. This got the Reds right back to the plate, which is precisely what you want to do in that situation...even if the Reds' hitters failed to do anything but strike out for the rest of the game. Anyway, it got me thinking that it was high time I did a profile on Coutlangus...

Coutlangus was a 19th round selection by the San Francisco Giants out of the University of South Carolina in the 2003 amateur draft. Originally drafted as an outfielder, Jon hit for two seasons, showing minimal power but decent on base skills and the ability to take a walk. He hit a decent 0.301/0.394/0.392 in his debut season in low-A Salem, but couldn't do much as a 23-year old in high-A ball the next season (0.194/0.293/0.242). Following the 2004 season, with a strong left arm, he converted to a reliever and saw near-instant success. He pitched his first year in high-A San Jose and was excellent, sporting a 3.04 ERA with a 79/29 k/bb ratio in just 77 IP. The Reds claimed him off of waivers on March 31st, 2006. I wrote this at the time:
He just converted over to pitching from the outfield last year after encountering limited success in '03 and '04 as a hitter. While he was a bit old for high-A ball last year, he did extraordinarily well considering it was his first year pitching in pro ball. He had a very high strikeout rate, average walk rates (K/BB = 2.7), and very low HR rates. Overall he looks like a nice pickup that might eventually make the club in the bullpen. I'd look for him to start in AA this year, as he has nothing to prove in high-A ball.
Coutlangus went on to have a good season out of the pen for Chattanooga as a 25-year old, and even had a cup of coffee (if that's possible with a AAA team) with Louisville at the season's end. Most recently, Coutlangus played in the Arizona Fall League, putting together a 2.70 ERA in 12 games (10 IP), with a 12/5 k/bb ratio. His best pitches are reportedly a cut fastball and a slider.

Stats:
Team Age G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP BABIP PERA VORP GB%
2004/SF-Rk 23 1 0 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.00 0.00 3.20 --- --- --- ---
2005/SF-A+ 24 50 0 77.0 9.2 3.4 0.35 3.04 2.78 0.318 4.49 11.5 56%
2006/CIN-AA 25 49 0 63.0 8.0 4.6 0.00 2.86 2.95 0.250 5.06 5.6 59%
2006/CIN-AAA 25 2 0 2.7 6.7 3.3 0.00 0.00 2.83 0.286 3.76 0.2 43%
2007/CIN 26 2 0 1.7 10.6 0.0 5.29 5.40 8.49 --- --- -0.20 ---
The main issue with Jon's performance last year in AA is that his walk rate skyrocketed to unacceptable levels. Otherwise, he did great--nice strikeout rate, and more impressively, he didn't allow a home run all season. In fact, the home run Coutlangus allowed to Jason Bay on April 8th was only the 5th of his career (counting the one given up in the AFL), which now totals 156 1/3 regular season innings (majors and minors). I'm sure his HR rates will increase in the majors, but his GB% (almost 60%!) shows that he's good at inducing grounders and keeping the ball in the park. If that can be maintained in the big leagues, he can be valuable.

His lefty/righty splits looked normal last year for a lefthander, allowing an 0.486 OBP vs. lefty batters and an 0.570 OPS vs. righties (here you can see the effect of the low BABIP, though his k/9 and hr/9 rates didn't hurt here either).

Projecting his performance in 2007

Coutlangus is making the jump from AA to the majors, so we shouldn't get overly optimistic this season. Nevertheless, he seems to have the tools (lefty, high gb rate, decent strikeout rate) to be successful at the big-league level in the future, and clearly impressed enough folks on the Reds staff this spring to put him on the opening-day roster. For reference, PECOTA projects that Coutlangus will have between a 4.10 and 6.87 ERA this season (25th and 75th percentile projections). If he can keep his control issues from last year under wraps, I'd hedge him towards the better end of that range.

Still, I expect that he'll spend a lot of time in AAA this season. Unless there's another injury, or the Reds are successful in trading away Cormier, he seems destined to return to the farm when Bill Bray returns from the DL--which should be soon. Still, I can see him driving back and forth between Louisville and Cincinnati a lot this season, sort of like Brian Shackelford has over the past two seasons.

References:
The Baseball Cube
Baseball Prospectus
Minor League Splits
AFL Interview on MLB.com

Photo credits: Jerry Hale of MLB.com