Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TPC Quick Comps: Adrian Cardenas

Middle infielders sometimes don't get much respect simply because they rarely put up big offensive numbers. I'll admit that I often skim over second basemen stats without much thought. So, in an effort to break bad habits, it's time to give some attention to guys like Adrian Cardenas. I think a lot of people will be surprised by these comps. I sure was.

Adrian Cardenas Comparable Players:
(All stats reflect minor league totals)

Obviously, 2 of the players on that list are or were Hall of Fame caliber players, so it might seem like a bit of a stretch to compare Cardenas to them. However, the important thing here is that Jeter, Sandberg, and Phillips all hit between 20 and 30 home runs in their prime, while maintaining an average in the .280-.310 range, give or take a 10 points.

Of the 3 comps, I think Cardenas compares best to Sandberg, except that Cardenas hits from the left side of the plate which should add anywhere from 10 to 30 points to his batting average every year. Now that he's in the Oakland system, I also expect his K/BB ratio to drop a bit more. Depending on the source, Cardenas is listed as a second baseman or a shortstop, and I've even read a few times that he might end up at third base. I'm not sure what Oakland has in mind, but I'd like to see him make at at short, or moved back to second.

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TPC 2009 Top 10 Ground Ball Pitchers

Ground ball pitchers don't get a lot of street cred for their skills, but many of them have gone on to have very good (and even great) success at the major league level. Some of the most recent big name ground ball pitchers include Greg Maddux, Brandon Webb, Chien-Ming Wang, Derek Lowe, Fausto Carmona, and Justin Masterson just to name a few. The rising class of minor league ground ball pitchers looks to be just as impressive.

(Note: Players with no experience beyond A ball are ranked more conservatively than other pitchers unless they had over 200 total innings pitched. While ground ball rates tend to stay in a relatively small range throughout a pitcher's career, minor league rates at A ball can be overly inflated on occasion, especially in small sample sizes.)

1. Zach Britton -- Oriole Park at Camden Yards had the highest home run factor of any major league park in 2008 (1.359), so it's easy to see why a big time ground ball pitcher could be a welcome sight for the Orioles faithful. With a total of 245 innings under his belt, Britton has averaged a ground ball rate of 63.8% in the minors, with a high of 71% last year in April.

2. Jhoulys Chacin -- Like the Orioles, the Rockies need every ground ball they can get. In 2008, Coors field came in as the 3rd most home run friendly park in the nation, posting a home run factor of 1.299. Chacin has a career ground ball rate of 62.5%, helping him to post a 2.31 ERA last year in the hitter friendly California League.

3. Trevor Cahill -- The Athletics have done a great job teaching their young pitchers the importance of efficient pitch counts and keeping the ball on the ground, and Cahill is a ground ball champ. At just 21 years old, Cahill will most likely spend the majority of his season at the major league level, taking his 61.3% ground ball rate with him.

4. Rick Porcello -- Porcello actually has the highest career ground ball rate of all the pitchers on this list (65%), but with just one season under his belt, he conservatively projects as a 60% plus pitcher, thus the #4 ranking.

5. Brett Cecil -- With one of the best major league defenses behind him, Cecil is set to make a big impression when he takes his 60.2% ground ball rate with him to Toronto later this year.

6. Brett Anderson -- Anderson is just one more example of why Oakland is able to compete year in and year out. Like Cahill, Anderson will likely spend the year at the major league level at the ripe old age of 21, putting his 59.5% ground ball rate to work for the A's.

7. Evan Anundsen -- A bit of a sleeper prospect, Anundsen kept the ball on the ground 61% of the time last year at A ball, good enough for #7 on our list.

8. David Robertson -- After posting a minor league career ground ball rate of 58.2%, Robertson saw that number drop to just 44% last year with the Yankees. Look for him to rebound in 2009.

9. Jordan Walden -- The Angels should be very happy with Walden's progress up to this point, keeping the ball on the ground 57.7% of the time.

10. Clayton Mortensen -- Prior to posting a 48% ground ball rate at AAA last year
dropped his career average down to 57.3%, Mortensen had a career ground ball rate of over 60%.

Other ground ball gurus:

Nick Barnese - 55%
Bryan Augenstein - 57.3%
Jairo Heredia - 57%
Eammon Portice - 58.7%
Scott Diamond - 56.7%
David Price - 55.9%
Vin Mazzaro - 55.9%

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Scout.com 2009 Top 100 Prospects List

Scout.com recently published their top 100 prospects for 2009, and while the names look familiar, the rankings don't. This is by far the most radical prospect list I've seen this year by a major publication, and I don't personally agree with it all that much. Oh well, we're all entitled to our opinion, right? I'll be very interested to see how this list looks 3 or 4 years from now.

2009 N.L. Rookie of the Year Projections and Speculation

(Update Aug. 16, 2009: For a more up-to-date analysis of the 2009 Rookie of the Year contenders, check out my recent posts detailing the N.L. pitchers and position players still in contention)

I covered most of the candidates for the A.L. Rookie of the Year a while back, and now it's time to take a look at the N.L. candidates. I might be missing some eligible players, so if you think I should add anyone, just let me know.

When we looked at the A.L. candidates, I came up with the following chart of hitters that have won the award since 1990.

Using the averages at the bottom of the chart, we'll look to see which N.L. R.O.Y. candidates match up the best and narrow down the field. We'll also do the same thing using the following chart of pitchers that have won the award since 1990.

I think it should be noted that the odds of a pitcher winning the rookie of the year are very low. It's not impossible, but it looks like it only happens when the rookie position players are unusually below average. It's also worth pointing out that of the 8 pitchers that have won the award since 1990, two were Japanese pitchers with considerable experience at the professional level, and 3 of the above pitchers spent considerable time coming out of the bullpen. That means that a starting pitcher coming straight from the minors has roughly a 10% chance of winning rookie of the year any given year. Pretty tough odds.

Ok, so now we can make up a list of hitters and pitchers that are likely to meet the requirements for rookie of the year in the National League this year and come up with some basic projections to see what kind of shot they have at winning the award. (The following projections are based off of a combination of the projections given by Bill James, CHONES, Marcel, Oliver, Zips, and my own projections.)

There isn't really a standout among the group. I think Gamel might have the best shot, but everyone else in the group is completely capable of having a solid year and posting R.O.Y. worthy stats. I think McCutchen and Rasmus will probably come up short, and Gamel may not get enough playing time, so if I had to narrow down the field, I'd include Maybin, Fowler, and Sanchez. Overall though, I think this year's position players provide a relatively weak field of candidates, which opens up the opportunity for a pitcher to win the award.

So, let's take a quick look at the rookie N.L. pitchers.

Not really much going on there either. There are a few other N.L. players that have been mentioned as candidates for the R.O.Y. award (including John Mayberry Jr. and Jordan Zimmerman), but I think we've covered the names that are mentioned most often.

So, who's it gonna' be? I really can't single out any one player that I feel is going to stand out this year, and it might come down to who gets more playing time and doesn't screw up a whole bunch. To narrow it down, Kenshin Kawakami has the best shot at R.O.Y. simply because he has a secure starting role with major league team.

The N.L. field is wide open this year as far as the rookie of the year award is concerned. There are no clear cut stand-outs, and it's very likely that a player currently under the radar could spring to the forefront and win it. Be on the lookout for older players getting their shot at a major league roster spot due to injury or trades, especially power hitting corner outfielders or corner infielders. Also, look out for talented relief pitchers, especially closers, that could come in and save 25 or more games for a team in a division race.

If anyone can think of a player that has not been mentioned, be sure to let me know, and we'll throw him in the mix. I'm sure there are plenty of sleepers out there that no one is even considering right now. We'll check back in a few months and see how things look.

Edit: Pablo Sandoval is NOT eligible for Rookie of the Year (145 at-bats in 2008). Thanks for the heads up on that one Jim.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

TPC Prospect Smackdown: Matt Dominguez vs. Mike Moustakas

I got a recent request to do a write-up on Matt Dominguez, the up-and-coming third baseman for the Florida Marlins, and after looking over some stats, I realized that Dominguez and Mike Moustakas posted very similar numbers at A ball in 2008. So, I've decided to match up the 2 third basemen in a prospect smackdown, TPC style.

For those of you not familiar with Dominguez and Moustakas, here's a basic breakdown of their brief professional careers.

  • Mike Moustakas (6'0", 190 lbs.) was drafted with the #2 overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Kansas City Royals. Originally a shortstop, Moustakas looks more suited for third base, and there's an outside chance the Royals move him to the outfield in the future.
  • Matt Dominguez (6'2", 185 lbs.) was drafted with the #12 overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Florida Marlins. Dominguez has played exclusively at third base up to this point in his career, and will likely stay there.
Ok, now that we've got the basics covered, let's throw in some stats and then get down to business. Here are each players numbers from their time at A ball in 2008.

Overall, there weren't a lot of differences between the 2 players last year. Moustakas gets the edge on plate discipline and Dominguez gets the edge on power and age. With just one season of stats to go by, it's really hard to say which player is likely to have the most success at AA or AAA ball, and there's really no point in debating over which hitter has the most promising future at the major league level.

Although it's a bit early to declare either Dominguez or Moustakas the third baseman of the future, I would like to point out a few comparable players that posted relatively similar stats at A ball.

Players like Alex Rodriguez and Andruw Jones were incredible hitters very early. They had above average plate discipline, and they displayed above average power. Dominguez doesn't have quite the same capabilities as Rodriguez or Jones, but he does compare very well to players like Delmon Young, who showed a respectable strikeout to walk ratio and power numbers at an early age. Likewise, Moustakas isn't on the same level as previous elite hitters, but he compares well to Jay Bruce, showing good plate discipline and power numbers that will increase with age.

I included Prince Fielder and Corey Patterson in the above chart to illustrate the importance of balancing power with plate discipline. While Fielder's IsoP was much lower than Patterson's, Fielder had much better plate discipline, and eventually went on to have much more success at the major league level. In the case of both Moustakas and Dominguez, both hitters seem to fall somewhere between Fielder and Patterson in terms of plate discipline, so while they aren't the most balanced hitters in the world, they aren't the worst either.

The next couple of years should tell us a lot about Mike Moustakas and Matt Dominguez. If they continue to develop their power and plate discipline, they could be very good hitters at the major league level. If I had to choose between the 2 right now, I'd probably lean towards taking Dominguez, although it wouldn't be a confident choice by any means. At this point, they both project as .270-.310 hitters, with 30 plus home run power, and possibly 40 plus power in their prime years.

Edit: I forgot to throw in the Sean Burroughs comp for you James.

Burroughs was a great contact hitter, but never really had much power. Once again, another good example of why it's important to balance plate discipline with power.

I also wanted to add that while it seems popular among on-line conversations to discount Dominguez's power and forgive some of Moustakas' struggles in early '08, I think in the end it all cancels out. After looking over park factors and player progression, Dominguez hit well away from Greensboro, and given the age difference, I think he still displayed more power than Moustakas. But, we'll see how 2009 goes, and after another 500 plate appearances we should have a clearer long term picture for both hitters.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

TPC 2009 Top 10 Power Pitchers

Everybody loves a good strikeout performance, and these guys can do it with the best of them. Whether it's a 3 digit fastball or a ridiculous curve, batters just don't seem to be able to keep up.

Before we get started, I want to clarify that this list is not meant to reflect the minor league players with the most strikeouts in 2008, or the pitchers that I think will have the most strikeouts in 2009. This list is a ranking of the players that I feel have displayed a capacity to become average to great major league strikeout pitchers. The factors considered included stats, scouting reports, age, competition level, and comparable players.

(*As with my power and contact hitters list, this list excludes all players that either have not played in the minors, or have sample sizes that are too small for analytical comparisons. If you would like, you can consider Stephen Strasburg the #1b pick considering his recent performances and elite scouting reports.)

Ok, now for the good stuff.

1. Neftali Feliz -- Big time stuff, with decent control to boot. At just 20 years old, Feliz can top out at a cool 100 mph with his fastball, and he struck out 33% of the batters he faced at A ball in 2008.

2. Madison Bumgarner -- For a while, Bumgarner was a pure fastball pitcher, but has since developed some decent secondary offerings. At just 18 years old, his fastball had been clocked at 95 mph, and with a 6'4", 215 lbs frame there's reason to believe he could add a bit more velocity in the coming years. Finished out A ball by striking out 42% of the batters he faced over his last 32 innings.

3. Tommy Hanson -- Though his fastball was in the low 90's as recently as last April, Hanson has been in the high 90's range for the past several months, and has been throwing a nasty slider as well. Past stats aren't great, but perhaps the best is yet to come.

4. Christian Friedrich -- Friedrich had a great professional debut in '08, striking out over 12 batters per 9 innings pitched. His fastball usually stays around the 89-92 range, but he also throws a very good curve ball that misses a lot of bats. At just 20 years old,

5. Dellin Betances -- At 6'9", Betances can be a very intimidating guy. Toss in a 98 mph fastball (although it usually doesn't break 95 in games), and a promising knuckle curve, and it looks like the Yankees might need to make room for Betances in another couple of years.

6. Gio Gonzalez -- Although his stint in the majors didn't go so well (7.68 ERA, 1.68 WHIP in 34 innings), Gonazalez still struck out a batter an inning. He's got the stuff to be a major league pitcher, and at just 23 years old he still has plenty of time to develop.

7. Jeremy Jeffress -- Depending on the radar gun, Jeffress has been clocked as high as 102 mph, and while control remains an issue (both on and off the mound), he's got tons of talent and youth on his side. At 20 years old, Jeffress struck out 30% of the batters he faced at A+ ball, and has a career K/9 or 10.4.

8. Chris Tillman -- While control remains an issue for Tillman, he put in some very nice performances at AA last year as a 20 year old, averaging 10.2 strikeout per 9 innings. Tillman tops out around 94 mph, and mixes in a curveball and change-up to keep batters guessing.

9. Trevor Cahill -- Cahill shares several qualities with Tillman, managing to dominant at times, and lose control at others. He usually works in the low 90's, mixing in several other pitches, including a knuckle curve at times, as well as a change up and slider.

10. Will Inman -- Inman had great stats at A ball in 2006 and 2007, but doesn't quite yet have the pure stuff to blow hitters away on a regular basis at higher levels. Average fastball, decent curve, lots of time to work on both, and a future career in the pitcher friendly confines of San Diego.

Almost made the list:

Jake McGee (Tommy John victim) -- likely would have made the top 5
Cole Rohrbough (ankle surgery) -- should be good to go in '09
Nick Barnese -- good stuff, but needs to perform above short season A ball
Michael Bowden -- control has steadily improved, but strikeouts have steadily dropped
Brett Anderson -- AA stats were impressive, but previous stats suggest an emphasis on control rather than strikeouts
Henry Rodriguez -- has struggled with consistency
Brad Holt -- also needs to prove himself against advanced hitters
Jeremy Hellickson -- great stuff, just missed the list
Brett Cecil -- great overall pitcher, not dominant strikeout guy (yet)
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TPC 2009 Top 10 Contact Hitters

See the ball, hit the ball. Sounds easy, right? Well, for these guys it is.

1. Matt Wieters -- How many guys can say they made the top 10 power hitters list and the top 10 contact hitters list? In 2008, Wieters posted a .345 average at A+ ball before posting a AA average of .360. My only concern with those numbers is that they were supported by a BABIP of .383, which might indicate that Wieters will only hit in the .290 to .310 range in the majors in 2009.

2. Ben Revere -- Revere also posted an insane BABIP last year which topped out at .444 in June. He'll have a hard time repeating stats like that at higher levels, but he has fantastic plate discipline and should continue to develop into a very good contact hitter.

3. Brett Wallace -- When the Cards drafted Wallace, his weight and athletic abilities were a big question mark, but Wallace knows how to hit, posting a .327 average in his first 177 plate appearances at A ball. Odd fact for the day: Wallace had a 73% groundball rate at AA in '08, but still managed a BABIP of .385.

4. Max (Maximiliano) Ramirez -- He's no Joe Mauer, but following the trade to Texas, Ramirez has hit .300 or better over his last 929 plate appearances.

5. Angel Salome -- For some reason, a lot of the best minor league hitters are catchers right now. Salome hit .359 at AA last year, including .407 in May and .446 in August.

6. Jason Heyward -- At just 19 years old, Heyward is a very advanced hitter, showing above average plate discipline and a knack for getting on base, and as his power develops, we'll likely see his entire stat line rise. In 2008, his batting average stayed above .300 in every month except for June.

7. Josh Vitters -- According to his high school coach and Dr. Bill Harrison, Vitters has the best vision of any baseball player since Barry Bonds was in his prime. It's too early to say if that will translate into a higher average at the major league level, but Vitters did hit .324 last year at lower A ball, and showed adequate plate discipline. If he can replicate his production at higher levels, Vitters could be comparable to David Wright.

8. Lars Anderson -- As a first baseman, Anderson does not have elite level offensive skills, but he is a patient hitter with a good eye, and he'll fit in very well with the Red Sox. He should hit in the .290-.310 range early in his career, and should be able to maintain a very high on-base percentage.

9. Lonnie Chisenhall -- Chisenhall suffered from an extremely low BABIP (.262 in June and .290 in July) through his first 175 plate appearances in '08, but by August it was up to .349 and in September it shot up to .375. Though just 18 years old at A ball, Chisenhall struck out only 32 times in 305 plate appearances, and finished the year with a .290 average.

10. Yonder Alonso -- I stayed away from including college draft picks from last summer due to very small sample sizes, but Alonso has a history of being a very patient and selective hitter, as well as a propensity for maintaining a high average. He doesn't swing at much, but when he does he usually makes excellent contact.
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Monday, March 23, 2009

TPC 2009 Top 10 Power Hitters

Everyone loves a power hitter, even if the dude can hardly make it around the bases without stopping to catch his breath. If he hits the cover off the ball, and does it enough to make Sports Center several times a week, the fans won't care if he strikes out every other time up, or even if he spends most of the game on the bench eating hot dogs and scratching himself.

So, if you had to rank the top power hitters in the minors right now, who would you go with? Here's my top 10.

  1. Michael Stanton -- A .318 IsoP as an 18 year old? Are you serious? Nobody has done that since....well, since as far back as accurate minor league records have been kept (I might be wrong about that one, but I've looked through almost every player I can think of and still haven't found an 18 year old with that kind of IsoP at A ball). Is Stanton the real deal or Russell Branyan reincarnate? I guess we'll have to wait and see.
  2. Matt LaPorta -- LaPorta led the Southern League in IsoP last year (.288), and he'll probably develop a bit more power over the next several years. Not the most polished hitter, but a solid 30 plus home runs per year slugger with an upside of 45.
  3. Matt Wieters -- He can catch, he can throw, hit for average, and hit for power. Is there anything Wieters can't do? I like to think of Wieters as an "easy" .300 plus average guy, with 30 plus home runs year in and year out. At catcher, that's sick.
  4. Chris Carter -- His numbers might have been a bit inflated in the California League, but it really doesn't matter where Carter plays. He's got 40 plus home run power, and plenty of pop to hit in any stadium. Reminds me of another Oakland outfielder that used to play back in the 1970's.
  5. Kila Ka'aihue -- I'm really confused by Ka'aihue. First of all, he has a brother named Kala, and I always got the 2 mixed up. Second, for a guy with so much power and such great plate discipline, Kila has had a really hard time making it through the minors. He cranked it up last year (38 home runs in 529 plate appearances with 1.080 OPS between AA, AAA, and the majors), but who knows how well he'd do in a full major league season. I'd like to think he could be another Ryan Howard late-bloomer type, but the Royals have absolutely no room for him. I'd love to see him get traded to a team with a more hitter friendly park.
  6. Michael Burgess -- Lots of power. Maybe too much power. I don't know how long it will take for Burgess' plate discipline to catch up. My guess is at least another 3 or 4 years.
  7. Taylor Teagarden -- I've been thinking lately that Teagarden could fizzle out and never quite reach his full potential, but as long as he's in Texas, I like his odds of turning into a solid power hitting catcher.
  8. Brandon Allen -- I mentioned earlier that Matt LaPorta led the Southern League in Isop in 2008, but Brandon Allen unofficially led the Southern League with an IsoP of .339 over 173 plate appearances. Prior to 2008, Allen's highest IsoP was .196 in 2007, so who knows what he'll do this year.
  9. Josh Reddick -- I'm not sure if anyone else views Reddick as a power hitter, but when your IsoP is higher than your batting average and BABIP (.222/.214/.221 at AA in '08), you can't be considered much else. Of course, it was a small sample size, and I fully expect both Reddick's average and BABIP to go back to around .300, so it's really just a trivial point. Reddick has a lot in common with Ryan Braun, and I think he's capable of 30 plus home runs in a couple of years in Boston.
  10. Mike Moustakas -- Moustakas has a lot of offensive talent, and he's not just a power hitter. He ended the '08 season on a tear, and I expect him to put up some impressive stats in 2009.
Players that just missed making the list:
  • Jason Heyward
  • Freddie Freeman
  • Travis Snider
  • Brandon Laird
  • Colby Rasmus

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

From India With Love

I'm not sure how many people have heard the story of Rinku and Dinesh, two young men who won a game show in India and a shot at signing with a major league team. The only problem? Neither one has never even heard of baseball, much less played it.

Good luck to both Rinku and Dinesh. Cricket has long been a very popular sport in India, and there are thousands of young cricket players out there who might not understand baseball, but certainly have been exposed to the basic actions. Maybe baseball could catch on quickly if a couple of young guys can break a major league roster.

Bo Jackson Tribute

In the end, Bo knew what really mattered.

The Bo Jackson Theory Remix

Yesterday I posted the basis for the Bo Jackson Theory, which states that the future major league success of a power hitter is defined by plate discipline vs. IsoP vs. age. After posting my thoughts on the topic, I messed around with an Excel spreadsheet and came up with a rough numerical formula so that everyone can make their own charts and do their own slugger analysis and projections. It's not a perfect formula, but if you like numbers or are interested in player projections, it might be fun to play around with it. So, here it is.

The first part of the formula sets up a relationship between plate discipline and IsoP, with IsoP being weighted slightly more than K/BB Ratio.

IsoP *500 - (K%/BB% Ratio)*20

So, in the case of Albert Pujols, his minor league values (Isop = .229, K% = 9, BB% = 9) would result in the following formula values.

(.229)*500 - (9%/9%)*20 = 94.5

For now on this will be considered Value 1, which represents the basic influence of IsoP and K/BB Ratio.

So, now we need to account for age difference. After some cross analysis of players that played at the same minor league level over various years, I came up with some progression values to help eliminate the age difference problem.

Here's how it looks in the formula.

Value 1 + (Value 1 * 10%) * (24 - Age at AA Ball)

Essentially, if a player played AA ball at the age of 24, their power score is equal to Value 1. If they played AA ball at the age of 23, they get an adjustment of 10% to account for the age difference. Likewise, if a player was 22 at AA, they get a 20% boost (10% * 2 years), if they're 21 at AA they get an extra 30%, and so on and so on. In basic terms, for every year younger that a player plays at AA ball before the age of 24, they get a 10% increase in their Value 1 score.

So, if we apply that to Albert Pujols, we get the following.

94.5 + (94.5 * 10%) * (24 - 21) = 122.85

Pujols actually never played at AA ball, but he played very well at A ball as a 20 year old, so we would assume that had the Cardinals assigned him to AA ball, they would have done so when he was 21 years old.

Ok, now we have accounted for plate discipline, IsoP, and finally age, and
if we apply the formula to enough players, we can create a huge chart of past or current major league players with various scores, and then determine where minor league prospects fit in. For example, here is a short list of about 20 players, with their individual Bo Jackson Theory Power Score (for now on, I'll just refer to it as their "BoJa" score).

We could debate as to exactly how accurate the BoJa score is, but I think in general it gets about as accurate as we can expect from a basic model of just 3 factors and some very simple math (by the way, Jackson scored a 25 in this model). We must keep in mind that the score is only a power ranking system, and does not account for other skills. Guys like Tony Gwynn would probably not score well at all using the BoJa model, but it doesn't mean he (or players like him) were and are not great hitters. However, for players like Bo Jackson who relied on their power above all other skills, this scoring system may be very helpful in evaluating future major league success.

If anyone is interested in having their own BoJa scoring system in an Excel file, let me know, and I'll e-mail you the one I've created. You can mess with the numbers and values in the formula and try to improve on the accuracy of the BoJa system, or just use it to quickly evaluate player power potential.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

When Power Goes Sour: The Bo Jackson Theory

When I was a kid, I was convinced that Bo Jackson was probably the greatest baseball player ever. My friends and I would spend hours working out baseball card trades based around a handful of Bo Jackson cards, arguing over how many Steve Avery cards a "Bo Breaker" card was worth. Maybe it was all the ads Bo was in (Bo knows everything), or maybe it was the hype of a 2 sport star, but we thought Bo Jackson was incredible.

We never worried about stats or actual production, we just loved the idea of a guy who played football hitting home runs and breaking bats on the baseball field. Sadly, as we got older, the numbers became more important to us, and we soon realized that in fact Bo did not know everything. After 8 major league seasons, Jackson too called it quits on his career, taking home his lifetime .250 batting average, 141 home runs, and 841 strikeouts with him.

So, what happened with Bo? He had a couple of good years, plenty of athletic skill, speed, and some power, but he never seemed to put it all together. The same could be said for a lot of other perceived power hitters, too. Why didn't they become the players we thought they were going to be? And how can we tell the "good" power hitters from the "bad" power hitters?

While there's probably no sure way of predicting a power hitter's future success, I want to suggest a few basic stats that are highly indicative of a slugger's future major league success. I call it:

The Bo Jackson Theory

The origins of the Bo Jackson Theory came during an analysis of a childhood hero. Though my memories of Jackson may have been based around an image of a brute strength power hitter, when I began looking at his stats, I realized 2 things. One, he actually wasn't much of a power hitter at all, and two, his strikeout to walk ratio was way out of whack. His lack of success wasn't due to an inability to run or play defense, but simply that he missed a lot of pitches, and even when he did make contact, he usually didn't put much into it. It's a basic concept, and I guessed that if it could bring down the mighty Bo Jackson, surely I could find other examples of power hitters that bombed for the same reason.

So, to test out my theory, first I picked 50 hitters (some still in the minors), and ranked them by their average IsoP at the minor league level. For anyone unfamiliar with IsoP, it is a stat the "isolates" a hitter's power production from his batting average by subtracting it from his slugging percentage. In other words, IsoP is a simple measure for a hitter's pure capacity to hit for extra bases.

Here's the list I came up with for average minor league IsoP.

A bit of an interesting list. I was surprised to see guys like Dale Murphy and Carlos Beltran so low, but overall, I think all of the big name sluggers got into the top 20 or 30. But to be fair, I wanted to also have a ranking system to adjust for each player's age (it's obvious that an 18 year old in the minors is generally going to have less power and a lower IsoP than a 22 year old), so I made up a similar chart ranking each player by their average age at AA ball. Note that some players either skipped AA, played at AA for multiple years, or had some other type of abnormal career path, so I tried to adjust for that.

Obviously, some of the players on the list haven't played above A ball yet, so I approximated their expected age at AA.

Now we have a rank for IsoP as well as a rank for age. The last ranking I wanted to adjust for was minor league strikeout to walk ratio, so I made up one more chart.

Just as with the IsoP ranking, there were a few hitters that surprised me (I didn't realize that Ryan Klesko was such a balanced hitter), but in general it looks like most players are about where they should be. I would agree that Albert Pujols is probably the most disciplined hitter out there, and guys like Wily Mo Pena and Billy Ashley are pretty much the worst.

Alright, so now we've got a rank for IsoP, an age rank, and a K/BB ratio rank. To keep things simple, I took each ranking for each category and averaged out each score (lower scores are better than higher scores). Here's what I came up with.

As with the other lists, there were a few players that I felt were either too low or too high, but I think overall the better power hitters ended up at the top of the list, while the not so good power hitters found their way to the bottom. I could have weighted each category differently and messed with the formula until the list looked better, but I'm really only interested in creating a basic model that everyone can understand that doesn't require much thinking, and is generally accurate.

To ensure that this basic formula is dependable, I took the career home run totals for players on the above charts (I used only players that were either retired or were 35 years of age or older), graphed them out, and then added a linear trend line.

Obviously, it's not a perfect way of evaluating power hitters, but the general trend shows that the idea at least provides us with a range to project future potential. Of the players that either far exceeded or fell short of the trend line, most of them dealt with extenuating circumstances during their career (Strawberry did drugs, Fielder had to play in Japan, McGwire and Canseco did PEDs, Billy Ashley and Jose Oliva both had very short careers with few shots at a starting position).

So, what does the IsoP vs. Age vs. K/BB Ratio formula tell us? Essentially, it says that Bo Jackson was destined to be a very bad power hitter (and in the case of the 50 hitters on our chart, he was the worst). Jackson generally had the lowest power production, worst plate discipline, and was the least advanced in terms of age of all the players on the chart.

When I put it all together, I quickly saw why Jackson struggled so much in the majors, and why he never had a "break out" season. In simple terms, he actually did put all of his skills together and reached his ceiling, it just turns out his ceiling and group of skills never were that great in the first place. And that's why I decided to call this basic approach to analyzing power hitters the Bo Jackson Theory.

Right now, I don't have a true numerical formula for the Bo Jackson Theory, but I'll try to work one out. Then, anyone who is interested can apply the formula to any minor league player and deduce a basic score to analyze their future power potential.

Well, that's it for now. If anyone else has a formula to relate IsoP to plate discipline and age, feel free to post it. Also, please keep in mind that this approach to analyzing hitters is strictly to compare the power potential of each player. It does not take into account on-base percentage or capacity to hit for average. We'll save that for another day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Project Prospect 2009 Top 200 Prospects

The guys at Project Prospect put in countless hours to come up with a Top 200 Prospect List for the upcoming season. It's quite an extensive list, and I can appreciate the effort it must have taken to come up with it.

As with any prospect list, I agreed with some picks, and had issues with others, but overall found it to be a job well done.  Keep up the good work guys!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

TPC Video Break: Angel Villalona

I had a chance to watch Angel Villalona play in a couple of games last year at A ball, and while he's not the most impressive looking specimen, he could hit the ball pretty well for a 17 year old. Here are 2 shots of him (couldn't get one from the front - sorry) from last year at A ball (2nd clip) and this year at Spring Training (1st clip). The swing is a bit long (reminds me of Andruw Jones), but it's smooth, like everything Villalona does.

The Fallacy of Scouting Reports

It's obvious I'm a stat guy. I won't go so far as to say that you can know everything about a player just by looking at his stats, but numbers can tell you a lot -- and I mean a lot -- about a player. Even just the basic stats like contact rate, strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rates can give insight into a player's mechanics, speed, mentality, maturity, hand eye coordination, and even the late movement on a pitcher's fastball. After looking at thousands of stat lines, these types of attributes pop out at me more and more, and prove to be false less and less.

As much as I like stats, it's nice to take a moment to occasionally read a scouting report or 2 about a player. Sometimes I read scouting reports looking for certain information, as well as affirmation about my stat based analysis of a player, but I also read scouting reports that might help explain certain statistical anomalies that I can't attribute to any particular element of a player's game.

The problem with scouting reports is that unlike stats, they can have such a wide variation and observer bias that it's very difficult to determine which reports are accurate and which reports are worth ignoring.

Just as an example of why I shy away from scouting reports, here are 2 scouting reports of Greg Maddux when he was in high school. The first report was written by a Cubs scout named Jorgensen on April 20, 1984.

Not really a bad report, but if I were to read that report about a high school pitcher being considered in the 2009 draft, I'd probably not think much of him, and I'd move on to find someone with more promise. Nothing in the report would make me think that this could be a special pitcher, especially when you see that the scout has rated all of his pitches and skills as a '5' or a '6' with a future projection of '6' and one '7'.

But check out this scouting report written just 1 month later by a scout named Mapson.
All of a sudden, in the space of 1 month, Maddux goes from having a bunch of '5' pitches with a '6' potential to having anywhere from a '4' to a '6' with the potential to have an '8' fastball, a '7' curve, with a few more catergories receiving a future '7'. Instead of being a "hardthrower" who lacks "overall control", he's now good enough to be the #1 pick in the nation, with a big league curveball.

So, what happened? Did Maddux improve so much in one month that he went from being an above average high school pitcher to a possible #1 pick? Did his curveball suddenly start breaking an extra foot, and his fastball start moving at the last second? My guess is no. Maddux was the same pitcher in May 1984 that he was in April 1984.

In retrospect, it looks like Jorgensen wasn't such a keen observer, and Mapson was some kind of baseball prophet. But in reality, the difference was a variety of things, including the individual writing the scouting report, the conditions and competition, and the length of observation among other things. That's why the numbers don't match up, and that's why one report describes a good pitcher, while the other describes an elite pitcher.

For all I know, Jorgensen may have gone on to great things as a scout, and Mapson might be flipping burgers in Vegas somewhere. I don't know the whole story, so I can't really say. But what I do know is that people have opinions, and not everyone sees things the same. I might see a kid with an attitude, you might see a kid with spunk. I might see a kid with an average breaking ball that falls behind hitters, and you might see a kid with good arm action and a great mental approach. Over the course of a small sample size (like 5 innings of a high school or college game), who knows what a scout might see, and beyond that, who knows what a scout might think they see.

I'm not picking on scouts, but rather the process of scouting. I think that in most cases for most teams, it is severely flawed, and allows for heavy personal and group biases. For instance, take the following comments from scouting reports that several big league organizations used prior to the 2006 MLB draft. I'll first give you the reports, then the name of the player under examination.

"It looks like his head is going to snap off and his arm is going to fly off."

"He [is] short, not a real physical kid, and mechanically he [is] going to break down..."

The player in question? Tim Lincecum.

In 2006, 9 teams passed up the chance to draft Tiny Tim, instead taking Luke Hochevar with the #1 pick, followed by Greg Reynolds, Evan Longoria, Brad Lincoln, Brandon Morrow, Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw, Drew Stubbs, and Bill Rowell. Of the 9 players chosen ahead of Lincecum, only Longoria and Kershaw appear to have comparable talent, and none of them have had such an amazing impact on the game so early.

Obviously, in hindsight it's easy to see that Lincecum should have been at least in the top 3 picks in the 2006 draft. But at the time, teams felt like they had to look out for themselves, ignored the stats, and passed up the opportunity to draft a proven top tier talent simply based off of size and some poorly worded scouting reports. Perhaps those very same teams had never heard of Pedro Martinez, Tim Hudson, or Roy Oswalt, all of whom top out at 5'11" or 6'.

If Lincecum's draft position was the only time that teams made a mistake due to scouting reports, it wouldn't be such a big deal. But according to an article written by Lincoln Hamilton at Project Prospect, of the college hitters drafted from 2001 to 2005 the factor that had the least correlation with a hitters success at the major league level was draft position. That means that of all the college hitters drafted in that space of time (within the top 50 picks), the later a hitter was drafted, the more likely he was to become a productive major league ballplayer.

What does that have to do with scouting reports? Almost everything. Due to the wide variation in competition levels and sporadic stat keeping at the college level, the de facto mode of evaluating college players is primarily through scouts and scouting reports. And according to Hamilton, scouts were so bad at evaluating talent from 2001 to 2005 that teams actually drafted the worst players first.

It would be on thing if only a few factors better predicted the major league success of college hitter, and draft postion were somewhere in the middle of all of them. That would mean that in general, scouts were doing an average job of evaluating talent. But the fact that of all the factors out there, draft position was dead last (and in Hamilton's study it wasn't even close), which means that scouts were so bad at their job during that time period, a team would be better off drafting the exact players their scouts told them not to, and avoiding the players that scouts liked the most.

As one final example of why I find scouting reports so difficult to accept, I'd like to point out a basic review of scouting reports performed by Jeff Sackman and Kent Bonham at The Hardball Times. By comparing the statements made in various scouting reports of several college players with actual statistical data, Sackman and Bonham were able to gauge the accuracy of each scout's assessment. Though it was a small sample size (only 4 examples were analyzed in this particular publication), the results were quite surprising. Sackman and Bonham found that 75% of the scouting reports were not only inaccurate, but completely inaccurate. Players that scouts felt were spray hitters were actually pull hitters. Pitchers that were reported to be groundball pitchers were actually fly ball pitchers.

What does it all add up to? I'm not exactly sure. But one thing I do know is that the more scouting reports I read, and the better I get at analyzing stats, the more I've begun to listen to the numbers and not the scouts. I don't personally have anything against scouts and the work they do. I just don't believe everything (or most things) they say.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

TPC Video Break: Some Kid in Japan

I don't know anything about this video, or who is in it, but it looks to be a high school age Japanese kid that tops out at about 5'10" and weighs about 150 pounds (just slightly smaller than Tim Lincecum -- 5'11", 170 lbs). From the mearsurements that pop up on the screen, it looks like his breaking stuff is coming in at around 75 mph (120 km/h) and his fastball is hitting 89 mph (143 km/h). His slider moves so much it looks like he's throwing a wiffle ball. As far as I can tell he also throws a fastball with some kind of cutter variation, as well as a decent curve, but my favorite is definitely the slider. Fun stuff. Thanks YouTube.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

TPC 2009 Top Pitching Prospects Leftovers: David Price

So, I put David Price in at #5 instead of #1 like just about everyone else in the world is doing. I must be an idiot or something, right?

Maybe I am.

As much as I've written about Tommy Hanson, I've probably written more about David Price. I don't dislike Price, nor do I think he's a bad pitcher. In fact, I think he is very talented, and deserves most of the accolades that people have been pouring on him for the last 2 or 3 years. He was a great college pitcher, and so far has been a very solid minor league pitcher. In fact, after considering all the facts, I think Price could one day be a great major league pitcher, and might snag a Cy Young or 2 along the way.

But I don't think the problem here is whether Price is a very good pitcher or not. Most people are already convinced that he is. I think the real problem here is whether Price is or will be a great pitcher or not. At the surface, it seems like an issue of semantics. What I think of as very good, others may consider great, and vice versa. But when it comes to stats, performance level, and overall production, I think there is a definite difference between very good and great. For instance, becoming a millionaire would be a very good thing, but becoming a billionaire would be great.

So, before we move on, let me make it clear that I think Price could become a great pitcher in 3 to 5 years. I'd even put the odds at 2 to 1.

And that brings us back to the point of this post. If Price has such great potential, why the #5 ranking? Why put him behind Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Brett Cecil, and Madison Bumgarner? The answer, simply put is because I have reason to believe that all 4 of them are either currently better than Price, and/or have better odds of becoming a great major league pitcher.

As for Cahill and Anderson, I've covered the subject before. But to quickly review, here's a table comparing Price's AA stats (his largest professional sample size) to Cahill, Cecil, and Anderson, as well as a few other recent pitchers.

All of those pitchers have had a lot of success in their short careers, but of the the ones that have pitched at the major league level, the difference between the pitchers at the top of the list and Price is fairly significant. As I said before, Price has been very good so far, but if Tim Lincecum and Joba Chamberlain are true elite pitchers, at this point in time, we can't really make a solid argument for putting Price on the same level with them. There's plenty of reasons to put him in with very good pitchers like Zach Greinke (and yes, Greinke is a very good pitcher, even if he does pitch for Kansas City), but anything beyond that isn't really warranted.

However, Anderson has already put in elite level performances, and at 20 years old already compares well to the guys at the top of the list. Cecil has also done very well, and Cahill has essentially matched Price's performance level even though he's 2 years younger. If Cahill begins 2009 at AA ball, I think he could put up an average of 11 strikeouts per 9 innings with 3.5 walks, and a ground ball rate between 60% and 65%, putting him in the upper half of the list above.

To take this one step further, here are the major league stats for some of the above pitchers as they compare to what Price is expected to do in 2009 (I threw in Tommy Hanson's projection as well just for fun).

Good. Very good in fact. But not great.

I guess what I'm saying is, if Tim Lincecum, Joba Chamberlain, Francisco Liriano, and Zach Greinke were all about to make their major league debuts this year, how high would you rank Greinke compared to the other 3? I don't think it would take more than 30 seconds of consideration before he got the #4 slot.

That's how I see the situation between Cahill, Anderson, Price, and Cecil right now. They've all received top notch reviews from baseball insiders, they've all done very well in the minors, and they all have tons of potential. The only thing separating them is the numbers they've put up, and the age at which they did so.

To add a bit more perspective, here's a recent quote from Rays manager Joe Maddon concerning Price and the reason he'll likely start the season at AAA coming out of Spring Training:

"If he just blows people away, things obviously can change," Maddon said. "We can change our thinking. … (But) we still consider him in the development process. … If you were watching the playoffs last year, you see him as the finished product, but we don't necessarily see it there yet."

Sure, the Rays have a lot of pitching depth, but so do the Yankees, and there's really no question as to whether 23 year old Joba Chamberlain is going to get a spot in the rotation. If Price was an true elite pitching prospect, at 23 he'd be more than ready to take a spot in the Rays rotation, and Maddon wouldn't be saying things like, "...we don't necessarily see it there yet."

I felt pretty confident putting Price behind Cahill, Anderson, and Cecil, but I felt like the biggest stretch was putting Madison Bumgarner ahead of him as well. While Bumgarner has a very high ceiling, his experience level and pitching repertoire is far inferior to Price's. He was fantastic at A ball last year, and had one of the best seasons for any 18 year old in recent memory, but he still has a long way to go, especially when you consider the fact that he pretty much only has a fastball right now with a breaking ball and change-up under development.

However, when I started taking an in-depth look at Bumgarner, something that his A ball manager Andy Skeels said about him made me realize something about the kind of growth curve Bumgarner is on. "I've never seen a player grow that fast and quickly. What he did was staggering." It's a minute detail, but it speaks volumes about how quickly Bumgarner could become an extremely dominant pitcher.

Consider this. Prior to August 2008, Bumgarner used 2 pitches during games. A fastball and a slider. With just those 2 pitches he was very good, striking out about 26% of the batters he faced, while walking just 4%. In August, he began throwing a change-up, and his strikeout rate shot up to 41%. Obviously, his change-up made a huge difference, but it gets better. You would expect a young pitcher to increase his walk rate while trying out a new pitch, but Bumgarner's August walk rate actually dropped to 2.6%. For the month, his ERA was an amazing 0.28.

If Bumgarner never develops another plus plus pitch, and he has to rely on his fastball and an average breaking ball with an average change-up (the worst case scenario), his control and raw talent would put him on roughly the same development curve as someone like David Price, and by the age of 22, Bumgarner would be able to match Price's performance level. His future would be limited, but he would still be a serviceable big league starter.

But, if Bumgarner develops a couple of plus pitches to compliment his fastball, given his current skill set, I think he could easily surpass Price in terms of pure talent. Mix in another 3 or 4 years of experience, and Bumgarner has all the makings of an elite young pitcher.

So, when it came to ranking Bumgarner, I could have gone the extremely conservative route, but after seeing how quickly he mixed in a change-up and how well he handled A ball at the age of 18, I had to put him ahead of Price. It was a decision based off of 50% projection, and 50% performance. I'm usually not very comfortable relying so heavily on the future (and unforeseeable) development of a pitcher, but there are too many indications that Bumgarner is actually on a very impressive development curve.

In short, I put David Price in at #5 on my list because I thought there were 4 other pitchers with more promising futures out there. It doesn't mean I think Price is a bum or a hack. He'll be good. Very good. But when it's all put in perspective, I think Anderson, Cahill, Cecil, and Bumgarner are going to be just a bit (or a lot) better.

...Read more

Travis Snider Commentary from The Mockingbird

While putting off studying for upcoming exams, I was reading up on some of the Blue Jays young players, including Jesse Litsch and Travis Snider (I really like Litsch, but am mystified by how he does the things he does with the things he has and does not have).

Litsch wasn't exactly an athletic looking kid when he came up through the minors, but according to one unreliable chart I found, his weight has become an ever increasing issue.  

I have no clue how much he weighs now, but the following picture certainly shows a hefty fellow with a solid mid-section.

Anyways, none of that really matters.  What matters is that Litsch is a very talented pitcher who is still finding his way.  His closest comps include Fausto Carmona, along with a very young Greg Maddux.  Good stuff.

Anyways, the whole point of this post was to highlight a comment about Travis Snider (another not-so-svelte Blue Jay) I found at The Mockingbird, a blog written by someone who goes by the tag halejon.  It's a well written blog, with lots of stuff about the Blue Jays, pitch analysis, and what seems to be random thoughts and commentary on logos and other details.  

In a post titled Spring Cleaning, halejon has this to say about Travis Snider:  

Can Travis Snider control the strike zone?

It’s just swell that Snider is mashing the ball in batting practice, and better than nothing that can take a rusty piece of trash like Justin Lehr over the wall in his second game, but let’s not kid ourselves - this is not the real test, and his respectable cup of coffee last year should not silence those very real doubts that he’s going to be ready to contribute in a significant way at the age of 21, with almost no experience above AA.

It’s just a different game up here - opposing staffs are going to cut him apart in the video room (or with that fancy dancy pitch tracking stuff I keep hearing about) and he will struggle until he figures out how to adjust back and not fall for all the cute little tricks major leaguers do that make them major leaguers and not the powerful but inexperienced arms you’ve seen so far. A good way to figure out how easy that is going to be is his walk to strikeout ratio; it’s why guys like Chip Cannon don’t project very well - tons of K’s and no walks are a sign that you’re just flailing up there with no real control over your at bats, and occasionally running into a mistake fastball that won’t exist at a higher level.

Coincidentally, high K numbers in the minors have been the only caveat about Snider so far (although he’s been so young at every level it’s kind of silly). Not that strikeouts themselves are such a big deal, but for what kind of hitter he projects into. Anyway, forget the monster jacks off pitchers who everyone in the park knows are only throwing fastballs right now anyway - what we want to see is control and discipline. So far it’s been all contact and warning track drives. He’s screwed!

I pretty much agree with everything halejon has to say on the matter, and I've been trying to point these details out for over a year now, but perhaps in different words.  Snider just does not have the power to immediately overcome the strikeout rate he is going to put up in his first couple of years at the major league level.  I'm going to try and write up a post detailing the relationship that K% and IsoP have, and what IsoP it takes at certain strikeout rates in order to succeed in the majors.

Baseball and Life in the Dominican

After spending a large chunk of my morning highlighting the stats and downplaying the scouting reports of Tommy Hanson in my most recent post, my brain has been grinding through a lot of thoughts about the innate strengths and weaknesses of stat based analysis versus scouting based analysis. I don't like to rely too heavily on either approach, but as is evident by my propensity to cite statistical evidence, I probably give stats 2 or 3 times as much weight as scouting reports. I could go on and on about the subject, and why I approach it like I do, but it's an argument that has been up for debate for over a decade now (3 decades if you count the initial Bill James Era), so what's the point? Everyone has their own style, so whatever.

Anyways, as I was thinking about all this stuff throughout the afternoon, I came across an article at ESPN.com that serves as a decent introduction to baseball and the role of international scouting in the Dominican Republic. After years of corruption and deceit by local trainers, agents, players, and major league officials, the MLB is finally launching an official investigation into the practices and policies of the international scouting scene.

The article is a quick read, and absolutely essential for anyone who spends much time following young players. I've got my own opinions about the issues, especially when it comes to the ethical practices of trainers and scouts, as well as the education process of players, and the methods of producing teenage baseball machines. I've lived outside the country before, including 2 years in Thailand, so I realize that for a lot of people in this world education can be a farce, and any opportunity to make $10,000 or more is a rarity. The drive for Latin American countries to focus on baseball is obvious, so I can't really fault them for their zeal. But I do hope that Major League Baseball increases the efforts to use the game to better the lives of all the players involved -- as well as their families -- and not just to suck the talent pool dry and leave the rest worse off than when they started.

There are 7 more parts to the above clip on YouTube. Pretty interesting.

TPC 2009 Top Pitching Prospects Leftovers: Tommy Hanson

As with all rankings lists, the 2009 TPC top pitching list couldn't include everyone, so I would like to take some time to explain why certain pitchers didn't make the list. For starters, we'll look at Tommy Hanson, the #5 rated prospect in the nation according to Baseball America.

Hanson was considered a very solid prospect heading into 2008, and with a 3.03 ERA at AA in 98 innings in 2008, it looked like he might be ready to make a few starts for the Braves in 2009. Once winter ball rolled around, Hanson headed out to Arizona, where he garnered a lot of attention and the leagues MVP award after striking out 49 batters and allowing just 2 earned runs in 29 innings. Following the conclusion of winter ball, Hanson's stock began to rapidly climb, as several publications gave him the #1 spot among the Braves' prospects, and he was ultimately given the #5 overall spot by Baseball America. As a life long Braves fan, I was excited that so many people believed in Hanson, but there were several reasons why I couldn't fully accept the hype. In fact, after considerable research, I concluded while Hanson had above average talent, the hype had gotten way out of hand, and in scientific terms, a positive feedback system had been created, building hype off of hype. To give everyone a better idea of what led me to this conclusion, I'd like to take some time to discuss a few basic models of analysis that I use.

Last July I wrote a post highlighting some of the comparable pitchers for Hanson, and discussed why I felt the hype was beginning to get out of line with reality. While Hanson's numbers at AA last year looked impressive, once I started comparing them to other pitchers his age, they seemed above average, but not superb.

I ordered the following list of AA stats by fielding independent pitching (FIP), which according to Firstinning.com "considers all things that fielders cannot influence: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Most pitchers' ability to influence balls in play is relatively weak, so FIP or DIPS are more useful estimates of pitcher's ability than ERA." The official formula for FIP is ((HR*13 + (BB + HBP) *3 - SO * 2) / IP ) + (3.0 to 3.5). The last bit of the equation is league-specific factor that compensates for variations in league talent on a year to year basis.

FIP isn't a fail proof way of judging a pitcher's performance level, but it's fairly accurate, and is especially useful in analyzing minor league pitchers since the varying levels of defensive skill in the minors can wreak havoc on other stats like ERA and WHIP. If I'm looking for a quick summary of a pitcher's performance, I'll usually look at FIP first.

Anyways, according to FIP, Hanson's individual performance level at AA was below a lot of other talented pitchers, many of which pitched at AA at a younger age than Hanson. While several of the pitchers are very talented and were worthy of a top 10 ranking in the minors, others like Sean Gallagher and Wade Davis were generally considered to be in the top 15 or top 20 at best. With an FIP of 3.68, Hanson didn't even beat out Gio Gonzalez, who was ranked as the 97th best prospect in 2009 by Baseball America.

While FIP is a useful stat, it doesn't always tell the whole story. Sometimes I prefer to look strictly at only the stats that a pitcher can directly control, such as strikeouts, walks, and groundball rates (these 3 stats also happen to be the most important indicators of a pitcher's success at the major league level). So, if we take another look at the above list of players and base an analysis strictly off of those 3 stats, where would Hanson fit in? We can immediately put Hughes, Chamberlain, and Gonzalez ahead of Hanson since they did better than him in every category. Once you take age into consideration, Bailey, Billingsley, and Gallardo all performed as well as or better than Hanson at a younger age, so they get ranked ahead of him as well. Brett Cecil had essentially the same strikeout rate, much better control, and a far superior groundball rate, so he too gets ranked ahead of Hanson. That leaves us with just Bowden, Gallagher, and Davis. I can't really argue that any of those 3 are necessarily better than Hanson, but he didn't exceed any of their numbers by a considerable margin, so I also can't make a decent argument to rank him ahead of any of them.

So, if Hanson doesn't look so hot after considering comparable pitchers, FIP, and strictly pitcher controlled factors, statistically speaking there isn't much of a case for him as a current top 10 (or even top 20) talent. The only reason we might be able to justify putting a pitcher with his numbers in the top 20 is if we do so based off of scouting reports. In Hanson's case, scouts rave about his current and future capacity, and that's certainly a good indicator, but the current hype is generally based off of Hanson's performances against high A or AA level hitters, and we've already determined that for his age, Hanson hasn't exactly posted the most superior stats. We also have to keep in mind that scouting reports are very much open to interpretation, and can be written with a personal slant or bias. Scouting reports are also generally based off of a very small sample size, and usually only express data in qualitative terms with very little numerical data to support whatever a scout is assuming about a player's performance. When it comes to a concise scientific analysis of any subject, quantitative data is always preferred over qualitative, and personally, I tend to give statistical data more weight than scouting reports when it comes to minor league prospects.  There is no way to accurately and appropriately compensate for all of the variable factors involved in the writing and interpreting of scouting reports. Afterall, other than radar gun readings and some stop watch timings, scouting reports are basically someone's opinion about a certain player, and provide very few hard facts.  In most professional circles, theories based off of individual qualitative perception is generally considered bad science.  If we accepted as fact everything we think we see without proper analysis, we would all believe that magicians really can fly, and an infinite number of white rabbits can be pulled from a top hat. 

But let's say the scouting reports are right, and that they are just as accurate as any statistical data we have at our disposal. From what I've read, Hanson began throwing a slider halfway through the summer, and if you check his stats for July and August, his K% jumped up by about 10%, while his ERA dropped from about 4.00 to below 2.00. I've also read numerous accounts that this spring Hanson has looked very impressive, hitting the high 90's with his fastball, and throwing a slider that compares well to that of John Smoltz. If all of that is 100% accurate, and Hanson is in fact pitching at a level that would allow him at the age of 22 to strike out 30-35% of hitters at AA ball while maintaining the same walk rate and groundball rate, would we be justified in moving him into the top 20 or top 10? The short and honest answer is no. Once you consider his age, those stats still would not be considerably better than the 20 and 21 year olds we looked at above. The same can be said for the scouting reports on Hanson. Once they are interpreted in the appropriate context (age, competition level, comparable players), there are just too many other pitchers the same age or younger who have garnered similar or better reports.

There's just no way to justify naming Hanson one of the top 20 pitchers in the minors based solely off of current statistical and scouting data. We could argue that while he may not be top 20 material at this moment, there might be a chance that we could give him a top 20 spot based off of what we assume he'll do in the future, or in other words, what we believe his ceiling of potential to be. Afterall, if we knew for a fact that Hanson would be a future ace in a year or two, couldn't his current level of performance be overlooked? But here's where we run into a problem. The only resources we have for projecting future performance are stats and scouting reports, both of which can be viewed as data concerning a player's current talent level, or as data concerning a player's future potential. As we've already discussed, the statistical data suggests that Hanson is currently on track to be a good, but not great starter. If we judge him by his comparable players, he could be a solid #2 or #3 starter in a few years, and by his late 20's he could be considered a #1 starter if things go well for him. But after the age of 30, it's very hard to predict what a player will do, as evidenced by the vast array of both stars and average players that have seen their careers take a completely different path once they got past their 20's (see Andruw Jones, Dale Murphy, Jamie Moyer, Sandy Koufax, John Smoltz, etc.). While we'd like to say that Hanson will only get better as he ages, the majority of players see their performance levels decline as they get older, and only a handful are able to continue to play without sustaining some kind of drop off, and even fewer will actually see their performance levels improve. The appropriate thing to do in Hanson's case is to either apply the general trend (his production will decrease from his late 20's to his early to mid-30's), or not speculate about it at all.

So, once again, the statistical data doesn't help Hanson, even if we use it to project his future success. And while some scouts may project him as a future ace, it's really just speculation. Watching a player pitch and calling him a #1 starter doesn't actually make him a #1 starter. He might be given the #1 spot, but unless his performances justify keeping him in that spot, he'll get bumped. And just like we discuessed before, past statistical data doesn't support any type of theory that projects Hanson as a pitcher with #1 starter results anytime soon. If we assume he will actually be a #1 starter in the near future, that assumption will be based solely off of the personal opinion of the so-called expert scouts that have seen him pitch. I don't know about anyone else, but after watching recent events (the economic collapse), my faith in the "experts" is only as strong as the logical and well supported data they provide for their projections, and so far I have not seen any superior scouting reports published on Hanson that were accompanied by a rational and convincing statistical analysis.

Well, this post has gone on much longer than I anticipated, but what I'm really trying to say is that statistically speaking, Hanson is not currently a top 20 pitcher. In statistical terms, he also does not qualify as an elite pitcher when considering his future performance levels. As for scouting reports, current reports are promising, but when taken in context, do not justify a top 20 ranking. The only reason we have to put Hanson in the top 20 is because there are people in major league circles who believe he has the stuff to be a future ace. While it sounds good in theory, it is a very poorly supported assumption, and can be considered personal opinion at best, and speculation at worst. In more critical terms, the only thing suggesting that Hanson will be a future ace is hype, and while hype may sometimes be justified, in this case the only thing supporting the hype is the actual hype itself.