WTNYNovember 01, 2004
Discipline and Stats
By Bryan Smith

In the comments of my Thursday notes piece, I had a reader ask me about the future careers of Jeff Francoeur and Joel Guzman. He was concerned that the prospect-evaluators were overrating these players, because both left a little to be desired in terms of plate discipline. I like both of these players, and will surely have both in my top 25 rankings, but like anyone they are not guarantees.

Another reader accused me of being too statistically-inclined, which I have accepted to be true before. While I promise to work on getting connections, and getting first-hand scouting reports, all I have now are my readings and The Baseball Cube. If I side too much with sabermatricians on prospect issues, I apologize, Im trying to convert.

Combining those two comments, I had the idea for my piece today: how much does plate discipline matter in prospectdom? Is it an essential trait, as some believe, or a learned trait, as the old schoolers will tell you? Today, we will be on the journey of that discovery

There is no real way to answer this question completely, but I have decided to take the Dayn Perry approach. I went to the Hardball Times statistics page, and got the name for every player who contributed 24 win shares, or 8 wins, to his team this year. This included 34 names, from Barry Bonds to Melvin Mora to Jimmy Rollins. I wanted to look at how these players walked and struck out in the minors.

First, I went through and got each players BB/K rates for short-season leagues. This includes the Arizona and Gulf Coast Leagues, as well as the Appalachian League, the Northwest League, etc. I did not include the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer Leagues, because I am not sure the competition is quite as strong there.

Combined, the 26 players had a 601/915 ratio (BB/K) in short-season ball, good for a .657 ratio. This includes drastically poor numbers from David Ortiz (37/98), Moises Alou (38/108) and Jeff Kent (33/81). Overall seven players walked more than they struck out: Gary Sheffield, Johnny Damon, Hank Blalock, Melvin Mora, Jimmy Rollins, Brian Giles and Juan Pierre.

The next level I tested was low-A, which is to say the South Atlantic League and the Midwest League. Eleven of the 34 players missed this level, with four (Teixeira, Bonds, Drew, Berkman) skipping both short-season and low-A ball. Overall, the 23 had a 1022/1508 K/BB, a 3.2% increase from short-season ball. This time four players had a ratio of more than 1.00, both Blalock and Pierre repeated, with Mike Lowell and Albert Pujols joining the mix. The worst of the ratios came from Derek Jeter, Ortiz, Michael Young, Carlos Lee, and Jim Edmonds.

Moving up the ladder, we see another improvement as the collaborative 1146/1583 ratio represents a 6.7% increase on the low-A numbers. Ill give Sheff and Jason Kendall the credit here, they had a 128/70 split between the two. Edmonds continued his struggles, as did Alou, and both Miguel Tejada and Manny Ramirez were far from perfect. Even the great Barry Bonds could just muster a 37/52 rate. So, they arent perfect, people.

The wall, as is usually recognized, is when a player reaches AA. Only three players (Bonds, Pujols, Cesar Izturis) skipped this level, leaving 31 to collect a K/BB of 1295/1615, a whopping 10.8% increase on high-A numbers. Eleven players walked more than they struck out, with Vladmir Guerrero, Adrian Beltre, Berkman and Todd Helton doing it for the first time. Four players had a ratio of worse than .5 (Ortiz, Carlos Guillen, Bobby Abreu, Edmonds), with another four right on the brink. Its good to be solid here, but its hardly disastrous if youre not.

Triple-A represented a different kind of barrier, when plate discipline got worse for the group as a whole. Overall, 1397/1933, a 9.8% hit from AA. Six players hit the 1.0 mark, with Bonds, Scott Rolen, Sean Casey and Derek Jeter doing it for the first time. Three players (A-Rod, Edmonds, Izturis) were really bad, with the former two obviously becoming great players. Seven players skipped the level completely, with another two not even spending 20 games there. If you hit 1.0 here, youre money, but if you slip (a.k.a. Dallas McPherson), you can still be Mike Lowell.

So, lets apply this knowledge to the aforementioned prospects, Francoeur and Guzman. Francoeur has never had a BB/K of over .500, and his high-A ratio would be the worst of the group of 34 players. While this is definitely perceived by bad by me, I still think that he can follow the paths of Bobby Abreu, Jim Edmonds or Moises Alou. The latter is the most applicable, because their K/AB ratios matched up quite favorably. Jeff has a bit more power potential than Alou, but remember, despite good batting averages, Alous OBP topped .350 only one in his first five seasons.

Guzman is far worse, sporting a 77/306 ratio over his minor league career. This season was the first where his performance matched his hype, and he still did not top a .350 OBP. I am probably less of a believer in Guzman than most people, which is the reason I find it ludicrous for him to change positions. He is showing power at a young age that Miguel Tejada did not, but I still consider Miggy to be Guzmans ceiling. This is fairly high praise, but Tejadas first two seasons were terrible. This is somewhat how I expect Guzman to be, reaching some great moments, despite a less than intriguing debut.

That is all for today, but if you want to know how other prospects match up, drop it in the comments and Ill tell ya. Fabian, I can tell you that both Carlos Lee and Scott Rolen are third basemen that drastically improved their plate discipline numbers when going from low-A to high-A. High praise for Eric Duncan

Comments

This might be a bit of a different assignment, but something I've been working on without finding a real answer is: Has there ever been a player like McPherson who's K/BB numbers went so far down the drain and still managed to become a star? Part of my reluctance in granting him top prospect billing is lack of comparable historical performances, at least as far as I can tell.

I don't think there will be any unhappiness on the part of the Dodgers and Dodger fans if Guzman produces "only" at the level of Miguel Tejada. But is there really any reason to believe that Tejada is an appropriate guy to compare to Guzman? Not really. Let's consider the two players statistically in the minors. When Tejada was a 19-year-old, he played in low A the whole season. These were his numbers: .245/.346/.428 with 8 HR's. Guzman does not turn 20 till November 24. He played at high A and Double A this year. At high A, he hit .307/.349/.550 with 14 HR's. At Double A, he hit .280/.325/.522 with 9 Hr's. Especially when you add in the age versus level of competition factor, there is NO comparison between Guzman and Tejada at Guzman's age. (Guzman's age in leagues filled with more polished pitchers than 19-year-olds almost ever face should also be taken into consideration when looking at his walk and strikeout rates. I would bet my last dollar he would have walked more, and struck out less, if he had been facing low A pitchers this year.) Guzman, quite simply, blows the 19-year-old Tejada out of the water.

And that is just the stats analysis. What about the scouting angle? Guzman is three-quarters of a foot taller than Tejada. That makes him far more projectable for the future than Tejada was as a 19-year-old, so Guzman should hit with more power at full maturity, and his power already outstrips anything that Tejada was capable of at 19. Guzman's size also comes into play in determining whether it is approprate to envision him as an MLB shortstop. He is just too big, plain and simple. He does a decent enough job now, but his huge frame has not filled out yet. His range at short is already borderline, and he is just going to get less and less agile as he ages and his body thickens. Attempting to make shortstop plays, with all the bending, could also, over time, cause an extremely tall man injury problems. Right field is the best place for Guzman. I could see him being a defensive asset there with his strong arm, and I can see him having his share of 40 HR seasons in the majors, so there is no question of Guzman not having the bat to justify having him hold down a corner outfield spot.

Bryan,

First and foremost, great work. It takes a lot of effort to do that kind of digging, something a lot of people (including myself) aren't willing to do.

Having said that, I can't help but wonder, do your numbers reflect an increase in plate discipline among the players in your sample, or does it reflect a different approach that pitchers began to take with these batters as they advanced through the system?

I can't take seriously a study that mentions Cesar Izturis in the same breath as Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds.

You also didn't bother to adjust for age, which is just a humongous flaw in your study. The idea of grouping player stats into chunks based on minor league level itself has so many flaws that it makes the data close to meaningless.

Overall, you are just trying too hard to compare apples to oranges, and it makes the whole attempt fall flat on its face.

"Has there ever been a player like McPherson who's K/BB numbers went so far down the drain and still managed to become a star?"

fabian, you write a minor league yankees blog and you couldn't come up with an answer? ever heard of alfonso soriano?

Well, if McPherson ended up hitting like Alfonso Soriano, he wouldn't be a star...

In addition, Soriano never struck out much in the minors, he just didn't walk much. So thanks, but that doesn't help.