The Curious Case of Aaron Thompson

What would you think if I told you the following: there is a player in the midst of his sixth minor league season – with his second organization – who has played at every level from rookie ball to Triple-A. This player, a left-handed starting pitcher drafted in 2005, has never won more than half of the games he has started in a full season at any of his myriad professional stops and has a career win-loss record of 25-45. He has only once posted an ERA below 3.50 (3.37 in 2007 in High-A ball) and has a lifetime ERA of 4.22 and 1.48 WHIP. His K/BB ratio is just 2.25:1 and in five seasons opponents have hit .310, .270, .266, .323, and .265 against him.

Fast forward to 2010. After being acquired by his second professional organization in a straight-up swap for arguably the team’s most attractive trade chip, he began the season and made 11 starts in Double-A. In those appearances he was 2-8 with a 6.87 ERA, a 1.69 WHIP, and opposing teams batted .336 against him. Yet in his lone start in Triple-A earlier in the season, this player recorded a win, lasting five innings and allowing just one run on five hits; however, he soon returned to Double-A.

The player? Washington Nationals’ minor leaguer and current Harrisburg Senator Aaron Thompson.

Questions abound with regard to Thompson’s career. Why has a player with such unspectacular lifetime numbers continually advanced throughout the minor leagues (though he has yet to make a major league appearance)? Why were the Nationals content with a trade that returned Thompson in exchange for on-base machine Nick Johnson? Why did he make only one Triple-A start when he seemed to perform well?

In his first stop in the Gulf Coast League in 2005, Thompson was 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in eight starts, after which he was promoted to the Marlins’ low-A squad. There, while going just 1-2 in five starts, he lowered his ERA to 3.10, though his K/BB ratio decreased by nearly 2.5. The 2006-2007 seasons progressed more logically, when a .500 record and 3.63 ERA in A-ball led to a promotion to High-A where Thompson logged a 4-6 record and 3.37 ERA all while lowering his WHIP over 0.3. Beginning the 2008 season in Double-A, Thompson struggled for the next two seasons. From 2008-2009 (all of which was spent in AA, albeit between the Marlins and Nationals organizations), the lefthander was 7-17 with a 4.54 ERA.

Not surprisingly, Thompson began the 2010 in Harrisburg with the Nationals’ Double-A club. After struggling in his first start, Thompson had two superb outings in which he allowed a combined seven hits and four walks while recording eleven strikeouts and holding opponents scoreless over twelve innings. This earned him a promotion to Syracuse where he was fine in one start but quickly returned to Harrisburg. His one start, while impressive compared with his Double-A statistics, is far too little data on which to base a substantive evaluation; however, Thompson’s situation remains a very interesting one to monitor for Nats fans and baseball enthusiasts alike. He is scheduled to start Harrisburg’s game tonight against Bowie.

The Curious Case of Aaron Thompson

What would you think if I told you the following: there is a player in the midst of his sixth minor league season with his second organization, who has played at every level from rookie ball to Triple-A. This player, a left-handed starting pitcher drafted in 2005, has never won more than half of the games he has started in a full season at any of his myriad professional stops and has a career win-loss record of 25-45. He has only once posted an ERA below 3.50 (3.37 in 2007 in High-A ball) and has a lifetime ERA of 4.22 and 1.48 WHIP. His K/BB ratio is just 2.25:1 and in five seasons opponents have hit .310, .270, .266, .323, and .265 against him.

Fast forward to 2010. After being acquired by his second professional organization in a straight-up swap for arguably the team’s most attractive trade chip, he began the season and made 11 starts in Double-A. In those appearances he was 2-8 with a 6.87 ERA, a 1.69 WHIP, and opposing teams batted .336 against him. Yet rather than receive a seemingly warranted demotion, this individual was moved to Triple-A where, in his lone start to this point, he went five innings, allowed one run, and recorded a win.

The player? Washington Nationals’ minor leaguer and current Syracuse Chief Aaron Thompson.



Questions abound with regard to Thompson’s career. Why has a player with such mediocre lifetime numbers continually advanced throughout the minor leagues (though he has yet to make a major league appearance)? Why were the Nationals content with a trade that returned Thompson in exchange for on-base machine Nick Johnson? Why did he receive his most recent promotion?

Perhaps the Nationals (and Marlins, the organization that drafted him) see something in Thompson that statistics cannot reveal and the average fan cannot perceive. It is obvious that some subtle or unseen factor is enough to merit his progression up through the minor leagues, though what that is is not evident.

In his first stop in the Gulf Coast League in 2005, Thompson was 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in eight starts, after which he was promoted to the Marlins’ low-A squad. There, while going just 1-2 in five starts, he lowered his ERA to 3.10, though his K/BB ratio decreased by nearly 2.5. The 2006-2007 seasons progressed more logically, when a .500 record and 3.63 ERA in A-ball led to a promotion to High-A where Thompson logged a 4-6 record and 3.37 ERA all while lowering his WHIP over 0.3. Beginning the 2008 season in Double-A, Thompson struggled for the next two seasons. From 2008-2009 (all of which was spent in AA, albeit between the Marlins and Nationals organizations), the lefthander was 7-17 with a 4.54 ERA.

Not surprisingly, Thompson began the 2010 in Harrisburg with the Nationals’ Double-A club, where he recorded the aforementioned poor statistics and was subsequently promoted to Triple-A Syracuse. His one start, while impressive compared with his previous performances, is far too little data on which to base a substantive evaluation; however, Thompson’s situation remains a very interesting one to monitor for Nats fans and baseball enthusiasts alike.

Quantcast