I’ve been seeing a lot of internet chatter recently regarding Greg Halman, who has been putting up some impressive power numbers in the minors over the past couple of years. While Halman does posses the capacity to put up some very big home run totals at a young age, I want to express a word of warning to anyone who is sold on this young man and his future as a professional baseball player.
My argument against Halman is not so much based upon his ability or inability to make solid contact with a pitch, but more so based on his approach at the plate and inability to make good decisions during an at-bat. Right now, Halman’s closest comparable player is Billy Ashley, a big time slugger in the Los Angeles Dodger’s farm system about 15 years ago who put up some very impressive minor league home run totals, but then struggled to accomplish much in the majors. A quick look at their stats can tell us a lot about just how comparable these 2 players are.
I generally don’t like to use batting average as a projection factor, but in Billy Ashley’s case, his inability to post a decent average eventually cut into his playing time at the major league level, and he ultimately only had 681 plate appearances in the majors, retiring his late 20’s with a career OPS of .716.
At its source, Ashley’s struggles can be attributed to the exact problem facing Greg Halman. While they both have high BABIPs (Ashley was consistently up around .400 and Halman is in the same range), they both have a K% of 30% or higher, and a BB% well below 10%. Other sluggers like Jack Cust, who strike out nearly 30% of the time, are able to compensate for their high strike out rates by posting a BB% close to 20%, or maintain high isolated power (ISO) numbers. To examine this trend more carefully, the following chart provides a list of hitters that posted a minor league K% close to 30% and their accompanying BB%. Some of these hitters have long since retired from the game or are still playing at the major league level, while others are current minor league prospects. Take a look at the list, and then take a second to consider exactly how successful each player was as a major leaguer, or how likely they are to struggle once they reach the majors.
Just by looking at these 2 stats, it’s not very difficult to come up with a rough estimate of each player’s chances of succeeding at the major league level. Four of the first 5 hitters became productive major league players, while the last group of hitters includes Billy Ashley and Wily Mo Pena, and we all know how those guys have done in their professional careers.
Certainly given enough time and opportunity, these hitters will eventually be able to prove themselves and probably find a permanent place on a team for at least a few years. But if we look at just a few more factors, we can focus each player’s chances of major league success just a little bit more.
From this chart we can see that in order for a hitter with a high K% to succeed in the majors, they must be able to compensate for their K%-BB% difference by having a higher ISO and/or BABIP. Otherwise, their on-base percentage and slugging percentage take the brunt of the burden, and they become average or less than average run producers. Of the hitters seen in the chart above that spent significant time in the majors, Billy Ashley and Wily Mo Pena have the worst OPS numbers, averaging .100-.150 points lower than the guys at the top of the list. With Greg Halman sitting at the bottom of that list, I can't imagine that he'll do any better than Ashley, and I doubt he'll become much of a major league ball player.
If Halman some how finds his way into a regular starting role in the majors, he might be a .250 hitter with the potential for 30-40 home runs at his peak, but as I stated above, his OPS will probably sit in the .750 or worse range for years. Every day center fielders that post those types of numbers aren't in very high demand, even guys who play solid defense and can steal a few bases (Andruw Jones posted a .725 OPS last year, and even though the Dodgers signed him for $18 million a year, he's struggling to keep a spot in the lineup).
Obviously, I'm not very high on Halman, and I don't think he's got much potential. Too many strike outs, not enough walks, and not enough power to make up for it.